We booked our Walt Disney World Florida vacation on November 4th 2018 with 266 days to go. However, we are now down to the final 10 day countdown and honestly, I cannot wait. Although, no one ever said how much time and rigorous planning goes into a Disney holiday!
I wanted to share with you all what I have learned, read and done as a first time Walt Disney World visitor as well as all the things I wish I knew before I embarked on this very exciting journey. So, let’s get cracking!
Now, let’s face it, Disney holidays are far from cheap. In fact, for most people (me included), it is a once in a lifetime holiday. Therefore, it is important to get the planning part of the trip nailed down well in advance.
Joining the Facebook Group
One of the first things I did, having been recommended to join by a friend, was to put in my request to a Facebook Disney group. And honestly, it was the best decision I made as the advice on there from experienced Disney goers is second to none. They have been incredibly helpful throughout my entire holiday planning and the constant stream of WDW photos as made me very excited about our visit.
It’s simply a group of friendly individuals who all share the same passion, Disney!
Booking a Package Deal
When I was looking at booking our stay, the best option was to book everything through Disney. Our booking included our flights, hotel, tickets, photo passes and more. It was simple, straightforward and the most cost effective for us as 3 adults.
Our package included our 14-day tickets for the price of 7 as well as a dining plan. I paid a small deposit to hold our holiday reservation back in November and paid the rest off in May of this year. Upon booking, I received confirmation through email. All of our details can be found in our Disney portal as well as through our My Disney Experience account (which can be set up after booking).
Choosing a Hotel
For the hotel, we went for All Star’s Music Resort which is a Value Resort.
The hotel is music-themed featuring a guitar swimming pool, large music-icons outside and song-and-dance surprises throughout the day. It’s over-the-top but so very ‘Disney’. We decided that for the little amount of time we will actually be spending in the hotel, we didn’t want to fork out a fortune so this seems perfect for us. It has comfy beds, a food court and a merchandise shop, what more could you want?
Another major bonus was that they accept 3 adults per room, something that we found hard to find when booking for Disney.
Dining Reservations and Dining Plans
Advance dining reservations are available to book up to 180 days before your Walt Disney World vacation. In the UK, the reservations phone line opens at 11 am BST with the app releasing bookings from 10 am BST. You can book for up to 10 days of your stay and then one day at a time after that.
If you are planning on stopping by the unmissable Cinderella’s Royal Table, then this must be booked as soon as you can. One thing worth bearing in mind with this booking is that you have to pay for it up front but that does include your reservation slot, tax and tipping.
For our trip, we have booked:
- Cinderella’s Royal Table.
- Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater.
- Chef Mickey’s.
- 50’s Prime Time Café.
- Be Our Guest Restaurant.
We decided to vary between breakfast, lunch and dinner for all of our reservations. You can also select different dining plans which allow you prepaid food credits for your stay. For our upcoming trip, we have gone for the Quick-Service Dining Plan, which at the time of booking was free.
If you book your Walt Disney World holiday now (as of July 2019) then you will also receive a free food and drinks dining plan! Although, this offer is frequently available at certain points throughout the year on the Disney website.
As part of the Quick-Service dining plan we will get, for every night of our stay:
- 2 self-service meals.
- 1 non-alcoholic/alcoholic drink per meal.
- 2 selected snacks.
- A refillable mug (to use in the hotel resort only).
Therefore, we won’t be going hungry. However, premium restaurants, aside from Be Our Guest, are not included within our dining plan and therefore will cost extra.
Also, top tip: quick-service meals do not come with an expected tip!
Booking Fast Passes
If you are staying onsite at Disney, you can book your fast passes up to 60 days in advance or 30 days if you are not based onsite. The FastPass+ system allows you to queue for less time and ride more rides overall.
Fast passes were my biggest nightmare when it came to planning our trip. I had no idea where to even start but that we had to ride Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom (at least once). However, with the help of the Facebook group mentioned above as well as lots of research including the very helpful article Walt Disney World Fast Pass+ Tiers Strategy 2019 by Mouse Hacking, I managed to snag myself a really good Fast Pass selection.
Before you get started with the Fast Pass system, you need to get to grips with the tiered system. Magic Kingdom is the only park without a tiered system, therefore you are allowed to book any three fast passes that you wish. At the other parks, the most-in-demand rides are part of the tiered system meaning that you can only book one of those premium rides a day.
Top tip: work from back-to-front when booking your fast passes.
In order to grab the very best reservations, like Slinky Dog, Soarin’ or Frozen Ever After then you should start by selecting dates in the latter part of your trip as this is when the most amount of slots are available. This is precisely how we got ourselves 3 fast passes’ for Flight of Passage – something that is virtually unheard of in mid-August.
Also, you must plan out your fast passes in advance so you go into the process with a clear idea of what you want and when. Although, the Disney app will not let you clash your bookings nor book anything within the same hour, so that will give you peace of mind.
If you don’t get the FastPass+ reservations that you want, then don’t worry you can book them one-by-one on the day using the app once you have used your 3 prebooked ones.
Now when it comes to Disney planning, magic bands are a pretty exciting thing to choose. You select your magic bands on the My Disney Experience app/website. They must be chosen before you visit; otherwise, you’ll be gifted the complimentary all grey bands.
Magic bands are used to access all aspects of Walt Disney World. It is your room key, ticket, fast pass, photo pass, food and drinks payment method throughout your stay.
Disney recently announced they will now offer the premium bands for $9.99. This is an upgrade on the free pre-existing band collection. However, they are really hard to get hold of and frequently out of stock. Therefore, we ended up choosing just the solid colour ones for free. In the end, we went for a red, pink and yellow one!
Add On’s and Experiences
As part of our holiday, we have decided to add on the H2O Glow Nights at Typhoon Lagoon. This was an optional extra and costs $59.00 per ticket. It’s an after-dark pool party celebrating Toy Story this year. Part of your ticket allows you access to all the water slides in the dark; but more importantly, it gives you the Typhoon Lagoon experience with far less queuing and crowds. That was the selling point for us!
We also booked Discovery Cove, which is completely separate from Disney. However, a family dream is to swim with dolphins. So, we decided to do that whilst we still have the opportunity to do so. We also got 14-day SeaWorld tickets included within the price.
Also whilst in Florida, we would like to do a hoover craft boat ride with the alligators. Although, we are yet to book this.
After umm-ing and aar-ing, I decided on Holiday Extras for our health insurance. I have a lot of medical conditions and they seemed to give me the best deal for both health and holiday cover.
It was very easy but they asked a lot of questions. It is really important that you declare all medical illnesses and conditions. This is to ensure that you are completely covered should anything happen.
Holiday Extras have lots of good and fairly priced options available, they not only cover health but also travel, parking, holiday bookings, etc.
The last thing to do is… pack and get ready to jet off!
So, there you have it! I hope that with all the tips and tricks above you will be able to plan a fantastic Disney adventure.
***Disclaimer: some of the links on this page are affiliate links meaning that I will earn a very small amount should you wish to book anything using them.
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