We’ve been home from DisneyWorld for about 10 days and I think I’m finally ready to talk about it 😉 It was the most amazing, magical, exhausting, beautiful, draining week. We had so many wonderful moments as a family. I’ll eventually recap everything on the blog, but today I want to share our planning process with you in case it’s helpful for anyone thinking of heading to Orlando.
I should note—we are not travel agents. If you’re looking for someone to do the legwork for you, Disney has vacation planners who can help. I’ve heard great things about Starting With a Mouse too.
First, we determined when we wanted to go to DisneyWorld
To some degree, this was partially decided for us. We knew we wanted to tie this trip to our daughter’s fifth birthday which is around Thanksgiving. (I think I can check off item 2 here.) We also had to take work commitments into account.
Beyond that, it’s helpful to check a crowd calendar on one of the DisneyWorld fan sites. The Disney Tourist Blog can give you a general idea of when to go, based on weather, crowds, pricing, etc.
We wanted to see the holiday decorations so we knew later November or December was best for that; however, we also wanted to miss the crowds that show up as it gets closer to Christmas. Thanksgiving week is notoriously busy but the week after looked like a win from all points: better pricing, moderate weather, low crowds, and all the decorations!
You need a place to sleep
DisneyWorld has so many accommodations options. We wanted the benefits of staying inside the park, which include earlier access to booking FastPasses, Extra Magic Hours and a dining plan.
DisneyWorld breaks their resorts into three price tiers: value, moderate and deluxe, based on price. At this point, it’s helpful to have a rough idea of your budget. With our budget, the deluxe resorts were not feasible. Given that we were traveling with two young kids, spending that kind of money might not have been worth it either. For them, the main allure is the parks, not the hotel amenities.
Once we narrowed our search to the value and moderate resorts, we checked each hotel’s page on the Disney site for information, pricing and amenities. The web page will also let you know if the location is under construction on your planned dates, which is incredibly helpful. (They were doing a ton of work on Caribbean Beach Resort and I’m so glad we didn’t book there!) A cursory glance of the pages pushed us closer to the value resorts.
The All-Star Resorts are the most basic options. I’ve stayed at two of them in the past and they’re certainly adequate. In this case—because we saved enough money to afford something a smidge fancier, and because trips to Disney are few and far between for us and therefore special—we decided to look at Pop Century and Art of Animation. Both of these are value resorts, but newer than the All Stars.
We didn’t move fast enough though. Everyone else seemed to be thinking the same thing, and those hotels both sold out.
So… that left us with the All Stars, or revisiting the moderate resorts. After looking more closely at Port Orleans Riverside, we found something called a Royal Guest Room. It wasn’t much more expensive than a standard room, but came with just enough magic to make it worth it!
The room looks like a guest room at Tiana’s palace. There were photos of the princesses and silhouettes of the princes. The sink was outside of the bathroom which was great so we could brush teeth and get ready even if someone was in the shower, but I appreciated that there was a big curtain you could pull around the sink area for additional privacy. I think the coolest part of the room though was the fairy lights over the beds. There were beautiful paintings above each bed and with just the push of a button, each lit up with twinkling lights for 20 seconds. The kids were totally enamored by it, and my husband and I found it very charming too.
To meal plan or not to meal plan
I’ve heard varying opinions on the DisneyWorld dining plans. Recognizing that this was a trip with young kids, we could eliminate the possibility of many table service meals. That left us with the Quick-Service Dining Plan as an option and we decided to go for it. I knew that if we were swiping our credit card every time we needed to eat, I was going to stress out about how much we were spending, even if it was budgeted for. In that regard, the plan was worth every penny.
On this dining plan, each adult and child over 3 gets 2 meal and 2 snack credits daily. This was more than enough food for us, even with our son eating off our plates. (Being under 3, he was effectively free the entire trip!)
A quick-service meal includes an entree + a drink. Although you can get water or soda, you can also use that drink option to get a smoothie, milkshake, or even an alcoholic beverage (assuming you’re over 21!). My husband and I used the drinks for bottled margaritas one night, which we drank together in our hotel room for a treat after the kids went to bed.
There are tons of snack options at the parks and resorts. It’s also worth mentioning that most cast members seem willing to interchange drinks and snacks in terms of credits. For example, I selected a meal + a snack with no drink one evening, and rather than sending me back for a drink and using both a meal and snack credit, the cast member subbed the snack for the drink and only charged me one meal credit.
A watch-out here is that if you grab an extra drink though, some might charge you a snack credit for it! One evening, without thinking, I grabbed two bottles of milk—one for each kid. My daughter’s was included with her meal, but I was then charged a snack credit for my son’s, so I effectively used a snack credit for something that only cost $2.
Say cheese (if you want to)
An option that will be presented to you before you book your trip is the Memory Maker. I’ll make this short and sweet. If you have young kids and/or expect to spend a lot of time at character experiences (character dining, meet and greets, etc.), get the Memory Maker. If your kids are older and/or character visits aren’t a priority, it’s probably not worth the money.
With young kids who were much more into hugging Minnie than riding Test Track, I’m so glad we purchased the Memory Maker. We left DisneyWorld with more than 300 professional photos of our experiences meeting the characters and riding rides. It was great not always feeling like I had to have my phone at-the-ready to capture great shots, and we were able to get a ton of cute family pics this way too.
Use the available resources
We started checking out YouTube videos and DisneyWorld blogs months before the trip to get an idea for what we’d be experiencing. You can get rider POVs of different rides, learn about tons of food options and see the merch that’s available an the million shops and kiosks throughout the park.
Our favorite resource is The Tim Tracker. He’s a YouTuber who shares a new video every day! While some of these cover other locations, it seems the vast majority are taken in DisneyWorld. He gives you the scoop on resorts, eating, attractions, character experiences, merchandise and more. He’s also got a great personality and often brings in his partner, Jen (who is also great), to provide additional commentary.
Go into this with reasonable expectations. My husband and I have been to DisneyWorld together and we were all about the thrill rides and checking the box on as many things as possible.
With kids, that’s not the idea.
We planned what we wanted to do at each park, but made sure to stay reasonable. Could we go on EVERY SINGLE RIDE? No. Not without making everyone miserable in the process. Outline what your primary goals are and as for the rest? Just let it go.
Yes, I bought this sweatshirt while I was there 🙂