Walt Disney World Vacation Planning

2 01 2010

As we wave goodbye to 2009 many will be planning their vacations to come in 2010 and even 2011. With the economy still in a bad state those looking to plan a vacation over the next two years may be wanting to watch their spending a little more than usual. Here’s a quick guide to planning a successful vacation, with advice for before and during your trip.

The first thing to mention is that it’s not just the tourists looking at their financials for the coming year or so. The various firms in Orlando’s tourism industry are also constantly checking their back pockets, trying to find out where they can save and where there’s room to bring in more revenue. This can work to the advantage of a visitor, who will have a host of discounts on offer to them, from cheap motel deals on the 192 to discounted Walt Disney World tickets most of the high-cost parts of a trip will be discounted somewhere, it’s just a case of where to find the offers that will save you money.

Before anyone planning a trip to Walt Disney World in 2010 even considers looking up prices they should first set themselves a budget. Far too many people spend too much on things they don’t really need on vacation and a strict budget can cut down on some of the impulse buys vacationers make. When setting your budget you must take into consideration how much you can save as borrowing to fund vacations isn’t advisable, nor is it needed if you plan far enough in advance to save enough to cover costs. Robert Niles over at ThemeParkInsider.com create a great step-by-step guide to planning a vacation and my particular favourite sections are those where he gives advice on budgeting and saving in advance. Be sure to check them out.

The most expensive part of many peoples vacation is their accommodation. Thankfully for visitors the current economic crisis coupled with the huge number of hotels in the Orlando area has made prices very competitive in recent years, to the point where some motels will advertise prices as low as $18 per room per night. One thing to take into account when wanting to watch the Pennies is what quality accommodation you want to stay in. Do you really need to be in a Walt Disney World Deluxe Resort when you will spend most of your time out of the room anyway? Do you really need a vacation home when there’s only two of you? Ensuring you don’t book more than what you need will save a considerable amount. Hotels.com offers great deals on hotels outside Walt Disney World and discounts change often, so be sure to keep checking rates. Mouse Savers have a great list of all the discounts at Walt Disney World hotels so those wanting to stay on-site should look for deals there.

Visitors travelling long distances to get to Orlando often use air travel in order to get to Central Florida. Whilst this is essential for international visitors it may work out considerably cheaper for domestic travellers to drive. Although driving can take a lot longer than flying it allows for visitors to experience some other destinations on route to Orlando and in a way the journey becomes a vacation in itself. Of course time constraints will play their part and most long distance visitors will go with air travel, meaning making the right choice of airline and airports is integral. Sky Scanner offers a great, easy to use, search engine for finding cheap flights, making it simple to find a great deal on airfares, be sure to use Sky Scanner or a similar search tool when looking for flights. Visitors to Florida usually chose to fly into Orlando International or Orlando Sanford. Whilst cheaper flights are often found going to Sanford those who have booked on-site accommodation at Walt Disney World can only take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express from Orlando International.

Guests staying on-site at Walt Disney World have to make a choice, either pay for car rental or take advantage of Magical Express and use Disney’s Transportation System to get to destinations within Walt Disney World. Whilst using the transportation system will save money it can often be less reliable than renting a car and also restricts you with regards to getting to destinations off-site such as Universal Orlando and SeaWorld. Off-site guests may wish to rent-a-car simply to make it easier for themselves, however a number of hotels in the Orlando area (mainly the cheaper ones) do offer free or low-cost shuttle services to various attractions including Walt Disney World and other major theme parks in the area. RentalCars.com offers a search system similar to Sky Scanner which allows you to find the cheapest rental car deals, helping you save money if you do chose to rent-a-car.

Due to heavy discounts offered on resort-stays the Walt Disney World Dining Plan has become increasingly popular, making it hard to get reservations at many of the restaurants on=property. Reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance and it’s important to ensure you book as early as possible in order to make sure you get the table you want at the time you want. Dining reservations can be made online by visiting the dining reservations page on the official Walt Disney World website or by calling 407-WDW-DINE. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World also has a comprehensive list of WDW restaurants as well as how far in advance reservations need to be made.

Booking tickets for the various parks in Central Florida can also be an expensive business, with many guests spending far too much than they need to. The important thing many people seem to forget is not to book tickets that you wont use to the extent they could be. For example just because you’re going on vacation for two weeks doesn’t mean you’re going to need a Disney 14-day Ultimate Pass. If you only want to visit the WDW parks once or twice and plan on seeing other visitor attractions in the area then only book a seven-day ticket as it saves a considerable amount. Another consideration that needs to be made is if you’re going to visit Universal Studios, Island’s of Adventure, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa. If you plan to visit all of these parks it may be worth considering purchasing an Orlando FlexTicket. One small piece of advice. the cheap merchandise stores that litter the 192 and I-Drive often advertise cheap Disney tickets, avoid them at all costs as some tickets may not be valid and you’re not going to get a refund.

With all the major costs covered all you need to worry about now is the vacation itself. Budgeting whilst on vacation is one of the hardest things to do, the natural tendency is to let go and not worry about money whilst relaxing on holiday. Although this may leave you completely stress free while on vacation it’s going to leave you feeling the pinch when you get back. One tip I really like is to set yourself a budget for each day of your vacation. If you know you’re going to do something that costs a lot allocate a budget that represents that, the same goes if you won’t be spending too much. Setting a fixed average budget for each day usually doesn’t work as most people tend to spend more or less each day, leading to them not knowing exactly how much they’ve spent at the end of a vacation. Adjusting your budget to fit around your financial needs each day is usually the best option. I also enjoy Robert Niles’ tip on Theme Park Insider about setting children an allowance for each day.

The financials are just one aspect of a Walt Disney World vacation. Allocating time while visiting the various theme parks Central Florida has to offer is key. Many would say the best way to allocate your time at is to create touring plans for each of the parks you plan to visit. Many websites offer great touring plans for all of the parks, but I find the best touring plans are found in The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and on its site TouringPlans.com. TouringPlans.com allow users to create custom touring plans as well as see crowd levels for each day of their trip, allowing for highly detailed planning.

When at the parks following a touring plan  can save you up to four hours a day, however unexpected events can often increase wait times and have a major impact on plans. Using Lines, the mobile application from TouringPlans.com, can help in the park as it provides up-to-date wait times that are often more accurate than those posted outside of attractions. Lines also shows Fastpass distribution times as well as showing crowd levels for the day and the best parks to visit. Note that Lines can only be used by those with mobile internet access, Lines is currently free but may soon be offered only to premium subscribers to TouringPlans.com.

I’m not going to give all my tips for visiting theme parks, as most of the basics can already be found on my blog and on various other websites around the net. However, one final tip I will offer is for those visiting the parks with children, especially impatient ones. Waiting in lines at Disney is considerably better than in other amusement parks as the lines have detailed features that fit the attractions theme, however, even this cannot keep children happy in 40 minute + lines. For this reason I recommend the Disney Queue Line Survival Guide, a great book which offers hundreds of ways in which to keep the whole family entertained while waiting in line.

I hope you found this quick guide helpful.

M. Owen

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4 responses

3 01 2010
The Practical Disney Mom

Setting a budget for a Disney World trip is an important step, but without checking out prices first, a first timer will have a hard time knowing how much to budget. The best way to get an idea of what their trip will cost is to go to Disney’s website and price out several different scenarios. By registering, they can save up to 3 different scenarios. Prepaying will help with controlling spending. That’s one of the benefits of the Disney Dining Plan. Not only does it save money while allowing guests to experience all the wonderful dining Disney World has to offer, it helps stay on budget. Once you have an idea of what a trip like that is going to cost, then you can determine exactly how much you want to spend and make your plans accordingly.

3 01 2010
Michael Owen

Hi, thanks for the comment.

I certainly agree with you on getting price first, not only when staying on-property but also when off-site.

The only thing I don’t like about the dining plan is that it can end up dictating what you’re doing on each day if you make advance reservations. However, as you mention it does offer considerable advantages when trying to plan and budget.

5 01 2010
The Practical Disney Mom

Michael,
The Disney Dining Plan has been getting a bad rap from those who want to be more spontaneous and not have to plan what and where they will eat 6 months in advance. But, not purchasing the DDP will not solve that problem. With the popularity of the DDP it is imperative to plan and make reservations as far in advance as possible whether you use the plan or not. For those who want to dine more casually and without having to make advanced reservations, Disney now offers the Quick-Service Dining Plan. This offers 2 counter service meals and 2 snacks per person per night of your stay, plus a refillable resort mug for each person.

5 01 2010
Michael Owen

I agree if you plan on eating your meals on-property the dining plan is a good idea as the popularity of the dining plan means that walking up to the better restaurants in Walt Disney World and expecting to get a table isn’t a good idea during peak times.

However, my previous comment was referring more to those looking to eat outside of Walt Disney World, as there is a number of great restaurants that don’t need advance reservations. Naturally there’s no need for someone looking at other Central Florida dining options, other than those at Walt Disney World, to purchase the dining plan as it’s not good value if you’re going to eat even some of your main meals off-site.

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