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How a Disney Travel Professional Does Walt Disney World (Part I: Planning)


Hello fellow Disney Geeks!

 I was lucky enough to go to Walt Disney World this January for a 9 day trip and now I am really excited to share information, tips and a little pixie dust I collected along the way with all of you.  There is no way I could get all of the details in one blog so this will be a multi part project.  Keep checking back to get the whole magical, wonderful, pixie dusted story.

I guess I should start where every good vacation starts…the planning stage.  It may not be the most glamorous part and it certainly isn’t the best part but it is the most important part to having a fantastic vacation.  So...…how does a Disney Travel Professional plan her own trip?   Curious???? 

I start by convincing the other members of my family that it’s “THAT TIME” again.  My beautiful-raised-on-Disney- daughter, Melissa, is instantly on board and wants to know how she can help.  My husband closes his eyes and says, “Are we really going to Disney world again?”  Yes, sometimes even a Disney Travel Professional has to have this little battle at home as I know many of you do.  Let me explain that my husband loves our Disney vacations as much as I do; he would just rather have them spread out a little bit.  He would be happy going once every one or two years.  I prefer my Disney fix every 6 months and I like to start planning my next trip as soon as I return from my last trip so I can keep the magic going.  It gives me something to look forward to.  Does this sound familiar to any of you?  I know it does because I hear it from my clients all the time.  One spouse is usually more into the whole Disney experience than the other.  In any case, over the following weeks, I play the occasional Disney song quietly on the computer, pop an occasional Disney movie in the DVD player, mention what a great time we had on our last trip, and drag out the thousands of pictures we’ve taken in past trips.  My husband warms up to the idea eventually and I can start the first phase of my planning which I call “The Big Picture”.

I actually have three phases to my travel planning.  “The Big Picture” involves some research to find out what promotions are available, decide what dates we want to go and determine our resort and ticket type choice.  “The Nuts and Bolts” involves talking about and making dining reservations, tour reservations and any other special experiences.  Then there is the “Nitty Gritty Details” where I start spreadsheets to determine which Disney Park we will go to each day, a loose timeline of how we will spend out days, make changes to my last packing list, and other little details. 

I already knew that I wanted to make use of the Free Dining Promotion that Disney was offering so part of my Big Picture had already been drawn with a Disney Technicolor paint brush.  For those of you who are not familiar with this promotion, Free Dining is a very popular promotion that Disney has offered for the last several years from about late August to mid December.   Basically, you buy a non discounted package that includes a room and theme park tickets and you get a Free Dining Plan.  The Dining Plan you receive depends on the category of resort you choose.  If you stay in a Value Resort, you get the Quick Service Dining Plan for free.  If you stay at a Moderate or Deluxe Resort, you get the Magic Your Way Plus Dining Plan for free.  My personal opinion as a travel professional is that this is the best deal Disney offers all year and my family has been lucky to snag it several times.  This year, Disney extended the offer for most dates through March which was unusual and greatly appreciated.  Maybe Tink has been spreading her dust around the big executives who make these decisions, who knows?

After some talking, we decided on a Moderate Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort.  It’s been a while since we stayed there so it was time to visit our beach home away from home again.  On our last trip, we splurged on a Deluxe Resort so we needed to dial it back a bit financially on this trip.  The Caribbean Beach offers a laid back atmosphere and I love their hot tubs at the end of a long day at the parks.  When we added in the Free Dining Plan, it was the perfect choice for us on this trip. 

Speaking of resorts, I often get asked which Disney Resort is my favorite.  Honestly, each has its’ own charm and its’ own positives and negatives so it is very difficult to choose just one.  I suppose if I had to choose just one, I would choose Disney’s Polynesian Resort for its’ monorail access and overall South Seas theme.  Unfortunately, a stay at the Poly just wasn’t in the budget this time. 

The next step was to select dates.  For many of you, your choice of dates is limited to school holidays so that your children don’t have to miss school.  This makes it hard for parents who have to choose between taking their children out of school to visit Disney at a less crowded time of year or visit on a school holiday when the parks will be more crowded.  I hemmed and hawed over that decision for years while my daughter was growing up.  It was a hard choice every time and every parent has to decide what is best for their child.  Luckily, Melissa is 22 now so this is no longer a concern for us.  After checking with employers, we decided to go in the second week of January.  This week has historically low attendance which we really enjoy.  Disney is fantastic anytime but I definitely prefer to go when the temperature is cool and the crowds are small.

Now I had to consider what kind of theme park tickets to buy as part of our package.  There are lots of different schools of thought on this one.  My first choice was to decide between Base tickets and Park Hopper tickets.  Base tickets allow you access to one major Disney Theme Park each day, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot.  Park Hopper tickets, as the name implies, allow you to hop between these theme parks each day visiting as many as you would like each day.  Park Hopper tickets are definitely our choice for the convenience and flexibility of being able to visit one park during the day and then hop to another for dinner and fireworks.  When you get Free Dining, and you enjoy eating like I do, you want to get the most use out of the dining plan that you possibly can.  I’ve been on a mission for years to eat at every restaurant on Disney property. (I’m almost there) Epcot has the most and the best restaurants but I don’t want to stay at Epcot every day, all day so…..Park Hopper tickets are the way to go for us.  Now we can visit Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios during the day and hop over to Epcot for dinner on some evenings. 

The next ticket choice to make is whether to add the Water Parks and More Option to our Park Hopper tickets.  The Water Parks and More Option allows you visits to Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, Disney Quest, rounds of golf at Oak Trail Family Golf Course and admission to Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex.  So is this package add on worth having?  The answer is…it depends.  In order to make this package add on worth having, you have to use at least two admissions to make it worth the price.  If you are on a long trip, 7 days or more, I would say you could make good use of the Water Parks and More Option.  If you are on a shorter trip, you will have plenty to do at the major theme parks and really won’t have time for more than that.  If you are travelling in the summer months, either Disney Water Park is a great place to let the kids play while you lounge in a chair relaxing with a tropical drink. During the winter, one park is usually closed for refurbishment so there is only one to choose from.  The water in the parks is heated but the air is not so if your trip is in the winter months, this is not the most comfortable experience.  Disney Quest is a multi floor experience at Downtown Disney that has virtual games and video games which are neat to experience the first time.  Disney Quest is a lot of fun and is mostly geared towards children, ages 8-13.   So…the long and the short of it is…. I would recommend the Water Parks and More option if you are going in late spring, summer or early fall and if you are staying for 7 days or more.  If you are on a short trip or visiting in the winter months, I would skip it.  We decided to skip it this time which turned out to be the right decision.  It was cool for most of our trip and we would not have enjoyed chattering our teeth through several days in the water parks.

With the Big Picture clearly drawn in Disney colors, I really started to get excited about our trip.  I even caught myself singing “HI HO, HI HO it’s off to work we go” while I was doing the dishes.  I guess that’s what makes me a Disney Geek!  Stop by next time for the next installment of How a Disney Travel Professional Does Walt Disney World.

Katherine Schutte  

About the author:

Katherine Schutte first fell in love with Disney as a child on a family trip in 1976.  Her passion for all things Disney led her to her career as the Owner of Magical Castle Vacations where she happily makes the magic of Disney vacations come true for families, honeymooners, adult and senior travelers.  She is a graduate of Disney’s College of Knowledge (yes there is such a thing) and has extensive knowledge of Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line through her many visits.  Visit her website at MagicalCastleVacations.com

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