Wednesday, May 9

The Ultimate Guide To Booking A Disney Trip | Walt Disney World 2018

Booking a trip to Florida is a big deal. I took my first trip as an adult in October 2017, with my second ready for September 2018. For my first trip, I saved up for a really long time; was counting down from 300 odd days, and couldn't contain my excitement in the lead up. The booking process is sometimes just as exciting, and there's so much more involved than you think. It takes practise and research to get your head around things, and can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. But let you tell you, once you know these handy little tips, you'll be on cloud 9, smug as anything, having sorted and organised everything! If you find this handy, be sure to share it with your family and pals, and if you have a trip booked and just want to check you've covered everything, then I wish you a magical trip! Here's everything I personally think you need to know, in the lead up to going to Walt Disney World and beyond.




Valid Passport
This is probably a really simple one, but first thing I always do is double check that all the passports for everyone going on a trip are valid. It can take around six weeks to get a new passport, not including submitting the application and getting new photos, so do this as early as possible. I'd heard rumours that you need at least six month validity on your passport to travel, but according to the Government website, for people entering from UK to US it says: "Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. You don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this." (source)

Tip: Take a photocopy or save a photo on your phone of your passport, it makes getting a new one a lot easier if you lose or damage it.

ESTA
Speaking of entry, to travel to the US from the UK, you're going to need an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). I'd recommend doing this BEFORE you book your trip, to avoid any disappointment if for some reason there is an issue with your application. It costs $14, around £10 per person, and is valid for two years of travel. It takes around 10-15 minutes to complete, and once it's submitted and has been passed as 'authorised', you're good to go! I always print a copy and take it with me, but it's not an essential and it'll flag up when you enter into the US.

When To Go
Deciding the best time to go to Disney is not completely flexible for everyone. Most people need to use holiday allowance from work, or might have kids, and are therefore restricted to school holidays. As an adult couple of two, we've always talked about May and September being the best times, but you might want to consider visiting for the Christmas Period, or for special events like Flower & Garden or Food & Wine Festival. September allows us to enjoy Food & Wine in Epcot and Mickey's Not So Scary, so Magic Kingdom is decorated for Halloween, sometimes I LOVE. It's also key to consider many of the American holidays too, as we were there in October over Columbus Day and it was noticeably busier. For the next trip, I've purposely booked date to avoid Labour Day. Something else worth considering is Hurricane Season. Generally from June to November, so outside of these months are lower chances of rain and much more comfortable temperatures for standing in line for rides. This of course doesn't stop us from visiting in September, we enjoy the heat and as long as you are prepared for on and off rain (sometimes several times a day!), then you're good.

Tip: Always bring spare shoes (flip flops!), a poncho and an umbrella in your park bag. Trust me.

Length Of Stay
In terms of how long you go for, this again is a personal preference, but if you're coming from the UK, I think 10 - 14 days is a good time frame. You'll never get everything done, so if you go with the expectation that you'll have a great time regardless, then you won't be so disappointed if you miss a thing or two off your bucket list.

Tip: Take regular breaks during your stay and allow for rest days. It's so tempting (especially with the excitement and adrenaline in you) to want to get up, run around and park hop everywhere, but even the fittest of people struggle. Two weeks is a long time to be in the heat and walking a lot, so don't over do it. (Been there and bought the t-shirt...)



Order the FREE books!
Did you know that there are free planning tools, catalogues and guides you can order? That's right! Get them as soon as you're ready to start booking, because they have SO much information inside. Attraction Ticket Direct do one here, which has been laid out so perfectly with little tabs and tips and hints! Their little tips book is genius, and have great ideas I hadn't thought of before. You can also order the Walt Disney World ones here; the 'Little Big Book Of Magic' has stickers inside too. Sold.

Flights
From experience, I always book my Disney trips (including Paris) as hotel and flights separately. Flights are a funny thing, they vary so much in price including which airline, which day you travel, time of year and of course, which class you choose. I always fly Economy to the US to try and keep my costs low, but I'm not too loyal to airlines. I used Virgin last year, but am opting for BA this time as it was half the price as Virgin and a real no brainer. I know people who like Norwegian Air for their cost efficient flights, but it's a personal thing. I'd love to upgrade Benji & I to Premium Economy or World Traveller Plus one day but for now, I like to pay extra for our seats, so we have extra legroom for Benji as he's over six foot tall. This is an added cost, but it makes a difference to us and our 9 hour journey to Orlando.

Tip: Use price-comparison websites like Skyscanner to search for the cheapest! I've searched 'whole month' before too to see when is good. If you can fly mid-week, that's even better. Clear your history and cache and use 'incognito mode' so your browsers don't remember what you've been searching for and therefore, allow you to get the best price flights.

Tip: Add your 'Advanced Passenger Information' to your booking (just log in and you'll see).

Tip: Allocate plenty of time when you arrive at Orlando International. It can sometimes take a long time to get through immigration, so don't make any reservations or bookings too close to landing! You can use the Automated Passport Control kiosks at the airport to save filling out a declaration form.



On-site or Off-site
Now it's time to decide if you'd like to stay on-site or off-site. I have only ever stayed on Disney property because I personally think the benefits are worth it however, I've also looked into staying at Disney for the first few nights, and then moving to somewhere else. This can be handy because you can still utilise the Extra Magic Hours, Advanced Booking for Fast Passes and Dining (more on that later), receive a Magic Band and often if you're early enough and stay long enough, there are packages for FREE dining and gift cards. As a personal preference, staying on-site is much easier and convenient, and I love being able to hop on and off the transportation buses straight to the parks without worrying about taxis or parking. You're right in the magic from the start to the end of the day. Plus, those Extra Magic Hours are golden! It's my preference for now, but I am not ruling out a hotel or villa off-site in future. I've also looked at staying at a Universal hotel before too, because they also offer similar benefits like Express Passes for the rides in the parks and early entry. It's worth looking into, but there are certainly pros and cons to both.

Hotel Choice
If you decide to stay on Disney property (yippeeee!), there are 3 main levels of hotels. Value, Moderate and Deluxe. They do what they say on the tin. Value are great for families or anyone on a budget, and include a great selection of bright and vibrant themed hotels. Moderate are more 'beautiful' and suited for couples or families with older children, you're closer to the parks and often get a few more perks. Finally, Deluxe are certainly more luxury and more expensive. However, you'd have an incredible experience if it's in your budget. I stayed at Caribbean Beach (Moderate) last time and found it HUGE. It was a lovely resort don't get me wrong, but I'm choosing All Star Sports (Value) this time for the price. It's got great pools, a huge food court and is close to Animal Kingdom (my favourite park). I'll be sure to discuss pros and cons of both when I return, but there are several great Value resorts like Pop Century and Art Of Animation, so do your research and see what works for you and your family. We're hoping to work our way around the different resorts each time we stay! If you're interested in getting your hotel and tickets together, check our ATD here.


Tickets
Now you need your tickets! There are many levels of tickets and you can book these from several places. I'd highly recommend Attraction Tickets Direct, they have Orlando Combo Ticket Packages to make your holiday cheaper. The comparison tool allows you to adjust your tickets to filter your favourite parks and compare prices for the best deal. It's cheaper, with the same park access. As you can book your Disney Hotel via them now too, and I always use them for Universal Studios Tickets, it's obvious logic to book everything in one place! They offer great priced tickets for Walt Disney World, including 14 Park Days for the Price of 7 with Memory Maker (more on that later), and Universal Studios has the 3 Park Explorer Ticket, which is not available at any park’s entrance; all three Universal parks for the price of 2! Pre-purchase is a must, and will certainly save you money. They also sell tickets for special events like Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney, and Halloween Horror Night at Universal, so again it's just convenient having them from the same place. They ship them really quick to your home address too which is always a bonus.

Airport Parking/Transfers (UK)
Now your holiday is all booked, these are the next things to consider. If you live close to the airport you're flying from, you might not need to do this however, we always drive to Gatwick as we're two hours away, and paying for parking for two weeks at the airport is often really expensive. If you're in the same boat as us, book this as far in advance as possible. I use the Valet parking at Gatwick, and just booked it via our BA flight booking. It's a bit more expensive than using an external company and getting a bus in (ie. Purple Parking etc), but I love having our car ready and waiting for us when we land back in the UK, and have found the service really convenient the last few times I've used it. If you book early enough, it's often around the same price anyway, so it's worth thinking about your journey from home to the airport. I know lots of people like to stay the night before in a hotel, especially if you have a really early flight, so book this is advance for the best deal too.


Ubers vs. Car Hire
Speaking of cars, now is a good time to consider whether you'd like a hire car or not. We used one last year because it was included in our Flydrive package with Virgin however, I'm skipping it on our next trip. I'm not confident enough driving in the US; and tolls, insurance, fuel and the cost of hiring can sometimes be expensive. Not including the adding worry of if it's scratched or damaged. A car hire is great if you're a family or bigger group, but not necessary for Benji and I staying on Disney property. You can drive in the US if you're over 21, but if you aged 21-24, you're required to pay an underage driver fee on arrival ($25 per day, plus taxes and surcharges). If we were staying off-site, I'd definitely consider it, but it's so easy to use the FREE Disney buses to get between the resort and parks, and Uber for anything else outside of Disney. Plus, Disney also have their own 'Minnie Vans' which you can book via Lyft (similar to Uber), learn more here.

Magical Express
Whilst we're on the subject of transport, if you're staying at a Disney Hotel, you can book the Magical Express Bus to take you from the airport, straight to your resort, for FREE. Be sure to book this in advance but if you forget, they will put you on the next available bus from the airport. They also offer a service where they can take your luggage and place it in your hotel room for you too, but I haven't used this as an International Passenger. I'd really recommend reading the FAQ's here, it explains more on the service.

My Disney Experience
This is a crucial part to your trip so if you don't have an account already, make one. I'd also recommend your other party members make one too, because you can add them in when making reservations. The app is a game-changer, and you'll need this later, so make your account and download the app. It's really handy when you're in the parks anyway for wait times, maps, showtimes, changing reservations, Fast Passes and tons more information. I even used it to find the nearest restrooms on my last trip.


Pick Your Magic Band Colour!
I wasn't sure how this worked before I booked, but you can pick which colour Magic Band you'd like once your reservation is in! You'll see the button for it in the app, or you can do it in the back-end of your My Disney Experience account and follow the instructions. It gives you the date you can amend and place your order. If you're from the UK, you pick it up from your hotel, and if you're staying off-site, you can purchase a Magic Band when you get to the parks if you'd like one. I actually bought a special design one, but this time I'll be alternating between that and a pink band. If you don't select your colour, Disney will automatically allocate you Grey (which I had last time and liked but, you might want a yellow, purple, blue, green, red or pink one!).

Dining Plan
I definitely didn't explain this well enough in my video but there are 3 levels of Dining Plans available. It's slightly confusing as the FREE Dining offer right now includes 'Free Breakfast' if you stay at a Value, which isn't classed as a plan as per say. However, if you stay in a Moderate or Deluxe, you can benefit from either a Quick-Service or the standard Dining Plan. There is also the option to have the Deluxe plan. To learn more on the different plans and what you get with each one, check out ATD Disney Dining Plans here. I also really love their 'Free Disney Dining Explained In 60 Seconds' video, so don't miss that too!


Make a Plan
There is certainly a divide with people who go to Disney, some like to plan every single bit of the day, and others don't want a plan at all. I'd like to think of myself as somewhere in the middle. I know the importance of taking breaks now, and I want a trip which is much more 'go with the flow', but to get the best out of a trip, it's worth making a small plan, even if it's just for dining and fast passes. I like to use a Crowd Calendar to view which parks are best to visit on which days, and I've started a spreadsheet so I can track roughly what we have going on each day. There IS such a thing as over-planning, and I certainly don't want to schedule every hour of the day however, once you've booked your dining, it makes logical sense to book your fast passes in the same parks, so you can really maximise your time.


Dining Reservations
One hundred and eighty days! This is the golden date you'll need to book your ADR's (Advanced Dining Reservations). If you're on-site, you can book for your whole trip and off-site, you can book a day at a time. For our next trip, we're on the Quick-Service Dining Plan, so we'll be eating across the 50+ counter service locations available in the parks. I have a few in mind I'd like to try, but will mostly be leaving it up to chance and seeing what we fancy on the day. The only restaurant which is quick service for breakfast and lunch, is Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom. It is notoriously hard to get a reservation here, but I managed to secure us one for Lunch on our 180 day mark. We also have 3 table service and 1 dinner show booked that we're paying for 'off-plan', so I've reserved these too.

Tip: Add your credit card information on your My Disney Experience account beforehand, it makes it quicker.


FastPass + Reservations
You can book Fast Passes for rides 60 days in advance if you're a resort guest, or 30 days in advance in you're staying off-site. Fast Pass are crucial for getting the best out of your day. You can book 3 per person, per day. They must be used in the same park. Once you've used all 3, you can book 1 at a time for the rest of the day. There are tiered systems in 3 of the 4 theme parks, and you cannot book fast passes for the waterparks. To learn about which rides are in which tiers, check out Touring Plans FAQ's on FastPasses. I also love 'ATD's Definitive Guide To Creating A Magical Disney Holiday' which is worth a read too. The rides I'll be mostly aiming to get Fast Passes for are: Flight Of Passage (Animal Kingdom), Peter Pan's Flight (Magic Kingdom), Slinky Dog Dash (Hollywood Studios - Opening June 2018), Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Magic Kingdom), Test Track (Epcot), Soarin' (Epcot) and Frozen (Epcot).  If you're interested in learning more, the best video is TPMvids 'Top Fast Pass Secrets + Tips' - it's explained so well.


Memory Maker
This is essentially Disney’s Photopass package. It's included into the price of your ticket and enables you to have professional quality photos taken of you and your group throughout the resort and loaded to your MagicBand or card. You can also get ride photos and little videos too. It's 100% worth it, and half of my favourite photos were from photopass photographers. You can then view and download these free of charge when you return home, or via the app straight to your phone when you're there. (Ideal for Instagram!) To learn more, check out ATD's Guide To Using Memory Maker.

Tip: You have 45 days to download images from the date you return.

Travel Insurance
This is a given, but make sure you've got your insurance sorted. Now I live with Benji, we're classed as a 'couple' and I've managed to organise our insurance together on one policy. I always pay extra for gadget cover to insure my camera equipment etc, but I normally use a price-comparison website like Compare The Market, and use a company I trust. I change the 'rating' to at least 4 or 5 stars, and go with what works for me.

Money & Pre-Paid Cards
This is a personal one but worth considering. Getting a pre-paid travel card will give you peace of mind, help budget and manage your money and spending, and is often cheaper that charges from your current bank account. I use Monzo at the moment, I find it works best for me, but there are many out there so it's worth doing some research. When it comes to cash, I'll get enough to cover tipping and some spending, and normally go to my local Sainsburys and collect Nectar Points.

Tip: Let the bank know you're out of the country.

Watch YouTube Vlogs & Guides
I love watching vlogs and guides before I visit, it helps me get excited and I've learnt so much! I'm going to plug my own vlogs first, so if you haven't seen them, this is the playlist for all my Walt Disney World related content. Other vloggers which I highly recommend are Tim Tracker and Adam Hattan, they produce great all-rounded content without spoiling the magic. Other people worth mentioning: Jade Billington, Sophie & Dave, Blair Lamb and Disney In Detail. Finally, my all-time favourite Walt Disney World related channel is easily DFB Guide. I've learnt SO much from their videos!


Things To Buy Beforehand
There are plenty of things you can buy before you go. I personally love getting Minnie Mouse Ears from Hannah Marie Magic, she sells beautiful niche designs and they're really comfy. Of course, you can buy ears in the parks, but just in case you're interested. If you're in the UK, Primark sell amazing affordable Disney tees and accessories, it's 100% worth checking out what they have in before you go!
I also think the following are must haves:
- Portable Phone Charger
- Poncho
- Flip Flops & Comfortable Trainers (wear them in!)
- Mini Fan
- Zip Lock Bags

Tip: Ladies, sports bras are amazing for running around the parks all day!

Thing To Consider Budgeting For
I often get asked "how much money should I bring?" and I really can't answer that, because it's so personal and depends on your situation. However, it's worth considering budgeting for the following things:
- Tipping (Table Service, Taxis/Uber, Magical Express, Mousekeeping)
- Tax
- Ubers / Taxis
- Spending & Merchandise
- Food (not on plan - Universal Studios, extra snacks, table service restaurants, souvenir cups etc)
- Universal Express Passes
- Locker at water parks ($10)
Obviously everyone budgets and spends their dollar differently, but this is just a guide of ideas that helped me personally.



So there we go! That's EVERYTHING I think you need to consider when booking a trip to Walt Disney World. Let me know if I missed anything and be sure to bookmark this page and share with a pal who's interested. Have a magical trip!
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