Disney Vacation Planning Tips: Pre-Trip Planning

The decision has been made. You’re going on a Disney vacation. Yay… How Exciting!!!

Can you see the smile of your little princess when she gets to meet Elsa and Anna, or Cinderella? Let’s not forget Tinkerbell.  A little bit farther along the path and your little Jedi can get training from a Jedi Master at Star Wars: Path of the Jedi. That’s all pretty exciting stuff to look forward to.

Disney Vacation Planning Tips: Pre-Trip Planning, as well as the other pages on this website, will become a valuable resource in the days ahead as you prepare for your adventure into Disney Magic. Here’s something you can start doing right now:

Cut out colorful Disney pictures from magazines and stick them on your fridge. Travel agencies are always a good place to get colorful brochures if you’re having trouble finding pictures, and they can help you plan your trip too. This really helps build anticipation for your little ones, and us older ones too.

As you are just beginning your Disney adventure, you may or may not know which Disney destination you will be going to. Even if you have a destination in mind, you might want to take a little time to look at some of the other Disney destinations as well. The last time we went to Disney, my wife and I had decided on Walt Disney World in Florida. About two months later we had changed our minds and went to Disneyland in California instead.

OK, enough of that already, what are we looking at? Well, if cost is a factor the first thing you need to do is set a budget, deciding how much can you realistic afford to spend. Come up with a figure and add ten percent. Next, get a blank piece of paper and write DISNEYLAND across the top. Then write your dollar amount on it and put it on your fridge. You could even make it as a bar graph or thermometer as a good visual aid to help you see how much you have saved and how much you have to go. This will serve as an anchor throughout your planning.

Saving for your trip

Your cost figure will most likely change in the end. Many people set up a savings account as they begin to save for their trip. That’s exactly what we do. We have a savings account called Disney in which I deposit funds each month. For our last trip we happily ended up with more than enough as, besides the amount I always put in each month, I also deposited anything extra at the end of the month. To be totally honest, I did have to raid our Disney account a couple of times. However you decide to do it, keep in mind you will want, and or need, more than your goal.

Choose your dates

Of course, you already know that crowds during holidays and summer are huge. Just about any time that school is out Disney parks will be crowded. However, walking onto rides without lines is really nice. Believe it or not, we have done this very thing on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day which are among the most crowded times in the year. There is more discussion on this topic in the section on Attractions, Rides, and FASTPASS.

As both a teacher and parent, I have no problem with pulling kids out of school for travel. Disney is most crowded around holidays, Christmas and Spring breaks, and summer. Actually, any time school is out. Off season makes a huge difference in hotel and travel costs, which can save you well over $1,000, as well as crowd levels in the park. My favorite time of the year to go to Disney is between spring break and summer break, or, end of April and beginning of May. The weather is warm but not yet too hot and the crowds are pretty much nonexistent.

If you put a little thought into it, you should be able to avoid those crowded times. For example: Taking advantage of the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, we started a Disney trip the Monday before Thanksgiving. My thought was that the crowds should be non-existent the three days before the holiday because everyone will be waiting for the holiday weekend.  That’s exactly how it turned out.

Prepare the Kids

Disney sends out wonderful planning videos upon request each year while supplies last. If Disney has run out, you can generally see them on You Tube and on the Disney website. As time gets closer for your trip you will definitely want to have some family showings of these videos. It helps the kids prepare and get excited. Getting the kids prepared for what they will find is important, including waiting in long lines.

Watch Disney Movies

A lot of the attractions and rides have themes from Disney movies that we are no longer familiar with. Movies that were popular when the attractions were first built. Some of these are Sleeping Beauty, Song of the South, Peter Pan, and others. All of these movies are available on either Amazon or eBay. You might have a weekly family movie night where one of these movies is shown. One of my favorite movies when I was a child was Song of the South with Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear and Brer Fox. To my surprise our youngest really likes it too. Song of the South is the central feature Splash Mountain.

Disney Dollars

I Googled Disney Dollars and then opened the images page where I was able to choose from a lot of different pictures of Disney, or Mickey, Dollars. For our little princess I found Disney Princess Dollars. These were printed then cut out. As the children did various chores or met certain behavior expectations, they could earn a Disney Dollar. When we went to Disneyland, these were changed into real dollars. The hard part was keeping them from spending it on the first thing they saw.

Getting there

If you are flying you will want to make your flight reservations as far in advance as possible. A year in advance is not too early. Ticket prices are often very inexpensive that far out. We usually make our reservations about six months before we leave. When you make your reservations early, your flight numbers will probably change at some point. Check your reservations online every two or three weeks. You don’t want to get to the airport and be surprised.

We fly at night as much as possible. The kids are excited but usually go to sleep right after takeoff. We also bring an assortment of seat activities for them for those times they aren’t sleeping. Don’t forget to bring snacks as the tiny package of pretzels are getting smaller. At least soda, juice, and water are still free.

Airline Refund

A little known fact is that many airlines will refund the difference in your ticket price if you find cheaper seats on the same flight after you make your reservation. The prices can change up and down several times a day. One time I had just finished making, and paying for, reservations for our family to fly to Asia. Before I turned off the computer for the night the prices for the same flight went down, a lot. We were refunded the price difference and saved close to $1,000. BUT you have to ask and have a copy of the price difference to present. They don’t do it automatically.

Choose your hotel

As you begin looking at where you want to stay, you have to consider the time of year. I have seen hotel prices at $65 per night during the off-season, then watch them jump up to over $300 or $400 per night during the busy season.  We have stayed both “on property” (a Disney Hotel) and “off property” (Disney area hotel)  in both California and Florida.  As your hotel is one of the biggest expenses, this takes some serious consideration. Much more on this in the Hotel Tips section.

Dining Reservations

Make these as soon as you are able. Some can be made 60 days in advance and some 180 days in advance. Character dining, where Disney characters are wandering around the restaurant, can fill up fast. More about this in Eating Tips.

Character Dinning

Character Dinning is having several Disney characters visiting tables at one of the restaurants set up for that. Each restaurant is a little different. We love Goofy’s kitchen where we usually see Chip and Dale, Pluto, Minnie Mouse, and of course, Goofy. Character Dinning is very, very expensive. Do it anyway if you have kids. The trick in making sure the characters visit your table is to take your time, eat slow, and wait. They eventually get around to all the tables. I have gotten reservations in for Character Dinning as close as a week before arriving but I wouldn’t suggest it. I usually make my Character Dinning Reservations at least 60 days in advance. Making them that far off should pretty much get you the time you want.

Bibidi Bobidi Boutique

Make Reservation for this as soon as possible. Just like Character Dining, the farther in advance you make your reservations the better chance you have of getting the time you want. Be aware, this is another very expensive activity. More on this in the Attractions section.

Bibidi Bobidi Boutique takes your little girl and gives her a Princess Make Over. Fairy Godmothers in Training take your little girl and work their magic. About a half hour later … POOF … your little girl is now a Disney Princess. As the Fairy Godmother in Training waves her wand, the curtains covering the mirror are pulled back, and she sees herself for the first time as the little princess she truly is. OK dads, it’s OK to get all mushy inside, even a bit teary. You won’t be alone in this when you see the smile on the face of your little princess.

There is a boy’s make over also. The Fairy Godmother in Training will turn your little boy onto a Knight. When the transformation is almost complete, it’s time for our little knight to receive his shield and sword. (Yes, they get a really cool shield and sword.) Then comes the big moment when the curtain over the mirror is pulled back and he has a smile as wide as the room. Pass the tissue please, I need more.

Fanny Packs

I consider fanny packs for the kids to be vital. They can carry snacks and packets of juice or small water bottles in them. They can graze at will and should not be bugging mom and dad to buy them something to eat at the expensive fast food stands that are everywhere. There should be at least one adult pack as well. We usually carry discarded jackets, water bottles, and everything else the little one can’t fit in their fanny packs.

Bring your own food

We have found great cost savings in packing breakfast, lunch, and snack food. We have found that cereal in the little boxes work well as do packages of Danish pastries or Bear Claws, or a variety of fruit. The hotels often have a few items of groceries such as milk, bread, and so on in their hotel store. In most locations there is a store close by where you can buy some things. Besides saving a lot of money, it is also convenient.

Meltdown Plan

For some of you, your child’s meltdown means pouting.  For others it can means crying, screaming, kicking, hitting, and so on. There is everything in between. The probability for young children to meltdown at least once is high. It’s not if they will meltdown, but when. Overstimulation, exhaustion, being told for the fifth time they can’t have something, long lines, and heat all contribute. What can you do? Pre-trip is the time to plan this out.

    • When the meltdown happens, ice water may help. Most food stands will give you a cup of ice water. Offering a small souvenir from you pack that you bought beforehand and kept just for this, may work to break the meltdown.
    • There are quiet areas in each park where you can retreat to when overstimulation is beginning to show.  Ask a Cast Member where.
    • Each park has at least one room for first aid/taking care of baby/a quiet resting place for those who need it.  This can be a great resource especially of some of our children who need a place like that.
    • See the #1 Way to Avoid Meltdowns in General Tips.Packing List

Packing List

Sun Screen, Sun Glasses, Camera, cheap poncho for everyone (If it doesn’t rain there are some rides where you will get soaked without a poncho.), two swimming suites (you will always have a dry one to put on.), Comfortable clothes and shoes, medications – prescription as well as Tylenol, Passports and I.D.s (If you ever get to the airport without them you will always remember to put them on your list afterward.), money, your touring plan, breakfast, snack food, juices, etc. We always have one complete change of clothes in our carry-on bag in case your luggage doesn’t make it the same time you do.

Disney Parks Maps

This pre-trip time is when you need to be pouring over the park maps and getting familiar with where everything is located. You are also starting to set up activity schedules so the maps are vital. Also, during this time, do more research. By the time you get to Disney, you should have a good idea of where everything is located and your plan of attack.

Daily Schedule

What are you going to do on the day you arrive? We usually don’t schedule Disneyland, or Magic Kingdom at Disney World, on the first day. Disneyland and Magic Kingdom is Disney so we schedule some slower, but awesome, things at the other parks on day on.

This is Pre-Trip Planning time so now is the time you buy into the online software that will put out your daily schedules. (More on this in the Attractions section, but keep in mind, this is one of the main ways we have always been able to almost walk onto every ride even during busy times.). Now is also the time to get the Disney App for your phone. When I first down loaded the Disney App I didn’t think much of it. However, … it became my right-hand adviser.

Don’t have a smart phone? You can buy one for very little and then buy air time for a month on Cricket, AT&T, Straight Talk, or Tracfone. A cheap phone and a month air time can be had for anywhere from $40 – $80 on up depending on which carrier you go with. Is the extra expense worth it? Absolutely.





4 Comments on “Disney Vacation Planning Tips: Pre-Trip Planning”

  1. Wow! What wonderful info on how to get ready for a Disney trip! I want to take my kids so bad because…..secret time…. I have never been myself!! I know. It is a tragedy.

    Now that I have kids of my own, I cannot wait to share the magic with them! 🙂 I want to wait until my youngest is just a little older, so he can truly enjoy it, but these tips are so helpful to get us prepared for when we are ready to start saving!

    Guess I got to start popping in those Disney movies! 😀

    Thanks so much for this article

    1. Wow, I keep meeting people who have never been. As for your kids, although people do take toddlers, it’s not until they are five or older that they will form lasting memories. Our tradition is to start at five but probably six to eight is the perfect age. I gues that give us reason to go back again.

  2. I went to Disney World in Florida a long time ago. It was one of the best times in my life. Going to Disney World is definitely something that has to be planned at least 6 months ahead of time to go. Your article was very informative about planning a trip to Disneyland.

    1. Thank you for your comment Roger. Disney is so amazing, I’m happy to be living during a time when something like it exists. Yes, planning is important. As time goes by there will be updates and more additions to the site. My eventual goal is to have something there for everyone. I even have a few wonderful surprises in the works.

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