Here are a few tips for planning your trip to Disney when you are in the beginning stages.
- Start at least 7 months in advance. I think planning a year out is even better, but at least get things finalized 7 months in advance. Once you know where you're staying, flights and buying park tickets, you can begin booking dining reservations. You can book character meals at 6 months out, so get everything in order before that point so you know exactly what you want for character meals. I booked at 5 months out and got reservations everywhere I wanted except one place (Cinderella's Royal Table inside the castle, high priority for people so tough to get). Booking right at six months you should get what you want.
- Dining reservations- There are SOOO many places to choose from. Book them! I booked 5 character meals at the start. You give your credit card but it's not charged until you go to the event. So it's free to book, so do that ASAP. Booking meals is what determined which park we went on which days. Try booking morning breakfasts, as this is a good way to get into the park with the least amount of people, and get to rides faster than others, before parks open. You can eat before the park even opens, so cool. Research to get the best ideas for what you want. I ended up canceling a lunch at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom, because while I heard it was amazing there, it's also expensive (about $200 a meal for four!) and we were already seeing those same characters the day before at another character meal place. Once you start researching and seeing who is where, you will know what you are looking for. But book EARLY and then cancel later.
- Research maps and YouTube- I researched for months leading up to our trip. I talked to other moms, asked questions of those who have gone, looked at a million YouTube videos (Disney's Food Blog videos are the BEST and on every topic you are looking for!). I Googled, searched the Disney Web site. It's fun to research honestly. I started a notebook and a Google Doc to write things down to keep track along the way of the info. Get maps- it's even better if someone you know is going on a trip and can bring you back some maps to physically look at. Otherwise, Google them and print them off. You will need these when picking which rides to Fast Pass. You pick rides you want (and ask around which rides you NEED Fast Pass for and which you don't need them for, based on wait times), and you pick the order of when you get the ride based on your map of where they are located. These parks are huge. It can take 20 minutes to walk from one ride to another with crowd factor. So be strategic. Do you research ahead of that time that you can start Fast Passing.
- Fast Pass prep- Get out your maps. Write a schedule. Put timers in your phone for the days that you can start reserving rides at 7 a.m. (60 days out from trip for those on property, and 30 days out for those off property). Write a list, make an itinerary idea agenda. Then have backup rides that are nearby in case you don't get a ride you want, if it's taken already. It's prep work, but it's worth it. I got everything we wanted except ONE ride (7 Dwarves Mine Train) and we were 30 days out.
- Get Birnbaum book aka the Disney Bible. This book is awesome to flip through for ideas of rides, how to get to and from parks, times, etc. It's an everything go-to book. AAA gives it out too I believe.
- Scour for deals on tickets. Look around, talk to people. Military discounts are there too. Check it out and then purchase.
- Sign up for My Disney Experience online. It's free, using your email address. It's a MUST have for planning. It's an everything Web site, all things Disney parks related. It's great. Sign in and get the lay of the land ahead of your trip, even practice signing up for Fast Passes.
- Get work dates off reserved. I had to submit paperwork to get dates off from work since I work in a school and we don't typically take days before vacation off. So get those things squared away WAY in advance.
- Join Facebook groups. There are so many to even mention, I can't include them all. Pick a couple and join. They can be overwhelming, too, but also helpful. Sign up to get ideas, tips, and talk through questions you have.
- Talk to an agent. The Magical Vacations agents are AWESOME. They are FREE to you if you stay on property. They help you with EVERYTHING. They can plan it all for you. I personally stayed off property so could not use this option and I liked planning my trip myself, but honestly if we were on property I'd definitely want help from someone who is an expert. They are so great. Reach out to one today if you have questions about where to stay.
- Make lists. I had a list going of what to pack (based on what friends told me, what blogs wrote about etc) and also which rides we wanted to go on. I had backup lists of which Fast Passes we'd try to get after we used our three FPs up for the day. I had ideas of where we could eat, what time fireworks would be, etc. I had ongoing lists on my Google Drive, and emails to my husband of things we had to figure out along the way.
My biggest tips are talk to people who have gone BUT do your own research, too. Everyone's trip is so different, just like having a baby is so different for everyone based on their personalities, the family traits, where you stay, time of year you visit, etc. So talk and get ideas, but ultimately stick to your own ideas and what you think is best. It won't be the same as another friend's trip, and that's great. That's what makes it magical!