Start the Countdown! Planning Your Trip to Walt Disney World

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Some people plan for retirement.

Disney fanatics plan their next trip to Disney World . . . the day after they return from their previous one.

Where do I fall? Well, I only recently learned that an IRA is not a  military group in Ireland . . . but I do have Bay Lake, Florida saved as a weather location on my iPhone and check it everyday! Yeah, I’m one of those people.

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The excitement of your next trip to Walt Disney World begins the moment you book your vacation and receive that coveted email counting down the days to the magic! I start having fun months before our trips because the planning gets us in the Disney spirit! Here is a helpful list — in order — of 10 things you can plan for your Walt Disney World visit before your vacation even starts!

  1. Download the My Disney Experience app.  If you haven’t already created an account on DisneyWorld.com, you should do so now. In this app you’ll have the opportunity to plan your itinerary, book dining, link tickets, reserve FastPasses, and more! Trust me, this account will be a huge help to you before, during, and even after your stay at Walt Disney World.
  2. Reserve the Magical Express.  If you’re flying to Walt Disney World and will be a staying at one of the resort hotels, a convenient, complimentary bus service is offered to you between the Orlando International Airport and your Disney hotel. I’m a big fan of this option. It is free, it eliminates the need for a rental car, and it adds some magical Disney smoothness to the airport (which, let’s be honest, isn’t an amusement park!) It also begins the magic as soon as you touch down. When you head toward the Magical Express wing of the airport, you’ll be greeted by cast members wearing Disney uniforms and those iconic name badges. You’ll feel safe in their hands in the hustle and bustle of the airport and they’ll direct you to the correct bus for your hotel. Soon you’ll board a clean, mouse-covered bus which brings you straight to your hotel while you enjoy Disney-Parks-themed television and air-conditioning. Let the magic begin!
  3. Make Your Must-do List. You know those rides, attractions, and shows you and your family have been talking about? Write them down! Whether it’s your 20th trip or your first, everyone has favorites or has heard of things they’d love to do and see at Walt Disney World. There’s SO much to do and see in the resort that most vacations don’t have enough time to do everything. So make your must-do list and categorize it by location to make sure you don’t miss the things that are most important to you.
  4. Buy Your Park Tickets. Once you know how many days you’ll be spending in the parks, you can buy your tickets on My Disney Experience. Your plans and your budget will determine if you’d like to buy a one-park-per-day ticket or a Park Hopper, which is more expensive but allows you to visit multiple parks in the same day. Once you order your tickets you’ll get an order confirmation number, which you can link to your account on My Disney Experience.
  5. Draft an Itinerary.  I always start planning every Disney vacation thinking about how many full days we have in the resort. Factor in travel days and the time of your flight (if you’re flying) and see if there is enough time on your arrival day for a park visit. On the shorter, travel days I usually plan time exploring the hotels or visiting Disney Springs. Then consult that handy must-do list you made (see #3) and make an itinerary of your ideal plans for each day of the trip. I know some people may read this and say, “I’m on vacation, I don’t want a schedule!” I get it. But remember that planning ahead for Disney enables you to do much more than if you just show up and wing it! So of course, your itinerary is flexible — especially with kids — but a basic plan helps you get more bang for your buck.
  6. Browse/Book Your Top Dining Picks.  This is one where planning ahead is a must. Restaurants — especially the popular ones — fill up long before your trip starts so you’ll definitely want to think about your dining choices in advance. In the “Things to Do” section of My Disney Experience, you can browse the hundreds of dining locations throughout Walt Disney World and its hotels, from quick service to elegant table service. If you have favorites in mind, bookmark them now. You can filter the search by location (for example, restaurants only in the Magic Kingdom) and meal type, like character dining. (If you need help picking the best spots, check out my Disney Dining Reviews post for my favorites!) Dining reservations are a must for a smooth vacation. The popular spots, especially with characters, fill up months in advance, so you’ll definitely want to book them from home. You can book dining reservations 180 days in advance so as soon as you hit that mark, get booking! Use your itinerary as a draft and book restaurants based on what day you’ll be in what park or hotel area. When choosing times, keep transportation in mind. If you’re booking a character breakfast at one of the parks, for example, it may take you up to an hour and a half from the time you leave your hotel, board a bus/monorail/boat, go through security, and check into the park.
  7. Order your Magic Bands. If you’re staying at a Disney resort hotel, you’ll receive Magic Bands which are digital bracelets that truly put the magic in your hands . . . um, wrists. They are personalized for each guest in your party and scan throughout the resort to do amazing things! Magic Bands act as a room key, park ticket, PhotoPass upload, FastPass ticket, and even a form of payment if you choose to link a credit card to it for cashless payment throughout the resort. Order yours (for free) from home up to 11 days before your trip and you can select the colors and have them shipped to your home before your trip. If you’d rather not pack them, just don’t order them ahead of your trip and they’ll be waiting for you at your hotel front desk.
  8. Purchase a PhotoPass Memory Maker. Memory Maker gives you access to all the professional PhotoPass pictures you pose for throughout the Disney resort during this vacation. If you’re able to afford adding it on to your order, it’s definitely worth it. Disney’s PhotoPass photographers are located at all the iconic spots like Cinderella Castle, at character meet and greets, and at some rides and restaurants. At $169 on My Disney Experience, you get $30 off for purchasing Memory Maker online at least 4 days ahead of your trip. Stop for as many photos as you can and it’s worth the price, especially considering that one photo purchased individually is pretty pricey. Each time you pose for a photo, the photographer will scan your MagicBand or Phand within hours your photos are on your My Disney Experience account and downloadable for 45 days after your trip! (See why that app is useful even after you return from your vacation?!)
  9. Schedule FastPass. If you’re staying on property, you can book reservation times for your favorite rides 60 days before your trip! Consult that must-do list and itinerary you made and you can start selecting 3 of your favorite rides and shows for each day of your trip. Once you’re at the parks and you’ve used up your 3 FastPasses for that day, you can start selecting more right from the My Disney Experience app. Pro tip: schedule your Fast Passes for late morning/early afternoon so you can use them up and add more . . . but don’t waste them on early morning. If you get to a park when it first opens, lines are shorter so just be an early bird and catch that ride!!
  10. Check in! If you want to head right to your first stop upon arriving in Walt Disney World, the My Disney Experience app helps you skip the front desk completely by checking in online. If you have Magic Bands to pick up, you’ll still have to stop by the front desk, but checking in online speeds that up too. You can even get text updates if your room is cleaned and ready earlier than typical check-in time.

I hope these top 10 Disney planning tips help you plan a truly smooth and fun-filled vacation.  Have a Magical Day!

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