We were fortunate enough to visit Disney World during the summer of 2017 in celebration of my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Because my brother and sister-in-law had done Disney on several occasions, they, as well as my parents, basically prepared the whole thing for us. I loved it so much, I insisted on going back this summer! And because we learned so much last time around, we were able to duplicate what we found to be a magnificent time.
My wife, children, and I just returned from another magical trip, and I’ve already had a few people ask for advice on planning their own excursion. I thought our personal experience might be helpful, so I’m going to write about it during the coming weeks — from start to finish.
The first step is planning the trip. This is something you probably want to do several months ahead of time. There are people who will plan your trip for you (such as Jessica Parlier or Stephanie Reed), but you can also simply call Walt Disney World and work through it all with a cast member. (They call their employees “cast members.” It was really confusing at first. Everyone is a cast member — whether acting on stage or taking phone calls.)
We began this trip, just like last trip, by buying the latest copy of Birnbaum’s 2018 Walt Disney World: The Official Guide. Trust me when I tell you this thing is worth its weight in gold. It details every park (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot), every resort, every ride, every show, every restaurant, and every shop. Thanks to this book, we knew exactly what we wanted to do on a daily basis.
So, after settling on what we wanted to get out of this trip, we called Disney. Fortunately, we ended up speaking to an incredibly nice man named Cal. Cal spent well over an hour on the phone with us organizing our trip. He next answered several call-backs during the following days, as well as various emails. He is incredibly patient, helpful, and informative.
This is his job with Disney, so he does not charge a percentage. If you’d like to reach him, here’s his contact information …
Walt Disney World® Vacation Advisor
(407) W-DISNEY / (407) 934-7639 Ext. 5243362
Days Off: Wednesday and Thursday
Hours: 10:15 AM to 7:00 PM ET
There are a few items I want to discuss with you as you plan your own trip. Last summer, we went all out because my parents were willing to pay for us to go all out. Let me tell you, after paying for the trip myself this time, every penny is worth it. Allow me to explain …
We decided to stay on site. That means that our resort is actually connected to the parks. For example, Epcot was literally a five minute walk from The Beach Club Resort, the place we most recently stayed. At Beach Club, they also had (nice) buses that would transport you to any of the other parks at no extra charge. These buses run all day at about twenty minute intervals. They continued running up to an hour after each park closed. This means we could close down the parks without worrying how we would get back to our room! In the summer of 2017, we stayed at The Grand Floridian. This (best-of-the-best) resort actually had an elevated monorail that would drop you off right in front of Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Otherwise, you could ride buses to Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom. All of the resorts have these buses running all of the time.
Yes, these resorts are very expensive. However, the convenience of it all made it well worth the money. You also get to enjoy “Magic Hours” if you are staying on site, which means, on certain days, you get to open the park an hour early or stay an hour later than everyone else. (Be sure to check the schedule, though. Magic Hours change from day to day, park to park.)
Also, I heartily recommend that you purchase the “Park Hopper” pass. This means you can go to any park you want on any day during your stay. You can start the day at Animal Kingdom and then finish the day at Epcot to watch the fireworks. Yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s also very freeing overall and allows you to do what you want, when you want. Talk to Cal, he’ll explain it all to you!
Next, take a hard look at the dining plan. Again, this appears very pricey upfront, but it will save you money in the long run. Our plan basically provided us a quick service meal per day, a sit-down meal per day, and then several “snacks” per day. You pay a flat-rate and can then order basically whatever you want. I could order a $75 steak and it cost me no more than the $25 hamburger. A drink and dessert is also included with each sit-down dinner. Plus, many strange things can count as snacks. For example, a side of bacon at my resort counted as a snack. As did a muffin. Or a cinnamon roll. If you research, you can basically eat your breakfast off of your snacks. We never end up using all of our snacks, but that’s okay, because you can purchase packaged food items or candy in the gift shops with your snacks and then take them home with you! If you elect to pay out of pocket, you will spend $50 to $100 for a family of four eating a lunch consisting of a hamburger, soft drink, and fries. The food is grossly overpriced, but it somehow all evens out if you go with the dining plan. Ask Cal about it!
Finally, we all want pictures of our wondrous time, right? Disney offers something called a “Memory Maker” package. Again, you pay upfront for this, but it is so worth the money! Any time you see a Disney photographer in a park (and they are literally everywhere), you can have them take your picture. After they take the picture, they will tap your “magic band” (which is a wristband you’ll get in the mail well before you’re due to arrive) and then the pictures will automatically upload to the Disney app you will download to your phone. Once the pictures download, you are encouraged to save them to your phone and start sharing them via text, social media, whatever! These are high quality photographs that could certainly go in a frame provided you are not a sweaty mess from that Florida heat. We had Disney photographers take about 200 pictures of us between the park attractions, meeting characters, etc. (I’ve included one at the end of this article.) I don’t know how much these pictures would cost to purchase on an individual basis, but I heard somewhere in the area of $20 per photograph. If you’re picture people, this is a must.
So, that wraps up this first installment. My biggest piece of advice is plan ahead, do your research, and know what you want to get out of the experience. You’re going to spend a ton of money no matter what, but if you’re spending it on exactly what you desire, it’s worth it. I have not regretted one penny from either trip I’ve taken. I am financially conservative, but believe me when I say if you try to save a little here and there beforehand, that amount you saved will get spent in the park. If you’re going to Disney, you might as well go all out and get the full experience, right?
(Did you enjoy this review? Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)