Planning a trip to Disney World? Start here.

We are gearing up for a family trip to Disney World sometime in the next year or so. We don’t have specific plans yet, but because we’ll be relying on points and miles to pay for a good chunk of our trip, I’m starting to look into options now. Specifically, I am figuring out which airline we’d like to fly, so I can start to stockpile miles in that currency. I’m also mapping out a plan for how to put a TON of spend on our Barclay Arrival cards: since we want to stay on-property, we won’t be able to use hotel points at all, and we’d like a way to reimburse ourselves for as much the cost as possible – the Barclay Arrival card is perfect for that type of thing.

Anyway, in all of my fun preliminary research (I love planning trips, don’t you?), I came across the most amazing site called WDW Prep School.Β This woman is not messing around. She’s put together an incredible assortment of helpful tools and tips for planning a Disney World vacation.

Just as an example, check out this lovely, easy-to-read infographic:

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 2.30.10 PMOr her steps for creating a planning binder.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 4.14.41 PM

Like I said, she is not messing around. I love it.

If you are planning a trip to Disney World yourself, this site is worth a look.

Do you agree? What other Disney planning sites have you found?

Comments

  1. http://www.disboards.com was a great resource when I was planning our family trip. Tons of info and options in there!

  2. In additions to Cindy’s suggestion, I have found a lot of $ saving tips from
    http://www.mousesavers.com

  3. My number one tip is book early. You need to if you are interested in hot dining spots like beauty and beast castle. If you book at a Disney resort you can book I think 10 days earlier. You have to book on first day to have a shot at hottest spots. Same goes for fast pass at 60 days out. Literally better be ready to go first available minute. It’s absurd. And don’t even think about going during Xmas or spring break.

  4. Tammy/Churro says:

    This is the most amazing website for minimizing the wait time in line. My family has used it several times without fail. The family was skeptical the first time but after they “went off schedule” they became firm believers. We did extensive research before our first WDW trip and we were so glad we did. The parks are so massive and many things can be missed.
    ridemax.com

  5. Sorry you can’t use the Florida Resident discount, but since you can’t (and they can’t be bought and shared-fingerprinting is done)…..here are some ideas from me:

    1) when are you going? are you going around the school calender or whenever, because…

    2) decide if you are okay with crowds or CROWDS (there are no such things as “little” crowds at Disney. LOL Makes me laugh. Been there so many times over the years for many different reasons…nope, no real off season despite what others say (Florida resident here, so)…

    3) Are you okay with paying for extras?

    4) the reason why I ask? Because if you’re okay with CROWDS and paying extras, why not go during a special time? 4th of july, Food and Wine festival or the flower show (forgot offical title) at Epcot, Star Wars weekend. Not Scary Halloween, December for the Holidays (just went to Magick Kingdom on the same day they filmed the Christmas Day parade, plus Mickey’s XMAS party night).

    Also, don’t forget some 24 hour Magic Kingdom special dates. Been there, done that- awesome!

    Some of these are free. Some require extra $. Some have special character greeting that are only occur during these events (re: 7 dwarfs).

    And there are tours withing the park that cost extra $.

    Also, the week we stayed in December was on one of the aforementioned lady’s “light crowd” week. LOL WDW was sold out on the Tuesday we went. Sold out. It happens. Actually, been to WDW twice when it’s been sold out. *shrug*

    5) if you want to do Character meals, that costs extra too. OH, and if there is any special restaurants you want to try- make the resvervations asap.

    I suggest you start looking at the parks and hotel dining options- and download the dining menus to make a pre-plan for reservation possiblities.

    MK: If you miss the open tour of Beast’s castle before lunch service, it will not happened without standing in a long line for lunch or dinner reservations. And yes the “grey” stuff is that awesome. Plus, yummy potato soup.

    There are plenty of no-reservation places too that has quick and not-so quick meals (rotisserie chicken with mashed potatos and green beans. so yummy).

    If you want to eat with Cinderella, make reservations asap. I’m serious. Also, if you have $10,000 lying around- spend the night in the castle. Lottery- I’m looking at your for the win. #DreamBig

    Epcot: there is a cool “bistro” in France that has pain au chocolat that tastes like the real thing (it’s the only place outside France that makes them correctly). The workers are French- and yes, you will get 5 Star service if you speak French to them (they always move me ahead of the line. LOL). If you want to eat at the other real restaurants, however, you will need reservations asap. I recommend the caramel popcorn in Germany. There is a food court at Epcot, but one goes to visit the countries so…

    Also, at Epcot- decide where you want to see the fireworks early to pre-select your spot. (I ususally watch the fireworks at MK from the back of the castle, and catch the picture show afterwards. Some days, that is not possible, so seriously, pre-pick a spot!)

    Animal Kingdom- ususally just eat at the Rainforest Cafe, so I can’t give more advice here.

    Hollywood Studios- heard great things about the restaurants, had no reservations and ate at a outside cafe- so I definitely require them here!

    Disney really does have great ice cream and Starbucks.

    7) There is no such thing as moderate prices. It is what it is. As a Florida resident, I have no idea what she is talking about. Really, no such thing as cheaper prices and small crowds. BUT…..

    8) Hurricane season. I suggest skipping August and September. Good luck with late July (usually okay).

    9) Get the magic bands. Get to map planning the parks. Decide what kind of ticket works best- one a day, multi parks in a day, etc. Pre-select the rides, shows, amusements you “need to see” and fast pass them!

    Okay, so staying on site gives you some perks. Sometimes you can get freebies. Sometimes extra park hours. I have never stayed on site, so….I only mention this because extra park hours (before/after) can help you obtain entrance to the shows, ries, amusements you want to see. I suggest you make a list of “must-dos”, it’d be “really cool”, okay if we “skip it”.

    One can always change up the fast pass up to a certain time.

    The lines some characters are long- fast pass the princesses, esp. anything to do with Frozen. Most took about 20 minutes. Also, find out which characters are in more than one park: while it’s awesome to see Winnie the Pooh at MK- it’s also even more cool to see Winnie that the UK exhibit in Epcot. Belle is in France, Mulan in China, Donald Duck at Mexico. Some are in different costumes at the different parks too.

    Seriously, if you are big Frozen fan, and want to meet Elsa and Anna- do the fast pass.

    Find out which rides in which park break down the most and which consistently have an hour non FP wait- do those first. Like in MK: the water flume ride and Big Thunder Mountain break down a lot (both to me in 2014).

    And if there is a forecast of rain- remember which rides will stop during bad weather- they don’t run the car test ride in Epcot during the rain. Have a back-up plan.

    Epcot doesn’t have a lot of rides in the countries- and Norway’s cool ride is now shut down for renovations to a Frozen themed ride.

    Everyone likes something different- character greetings, roller coasters, fireworks- it’s best to jot them down and add priorities to them.

    This might see non spontaneous, but trust me- you will miss something you wanted to do. It’s okay. Whenever I get stressed, a hug from Winnie makes it all good. Find your happy Disney place and hang on to it. πŸ™‚

    On a personal note, it’s kitschy, but please ride “It’s a Small World” at MK. It’s dated but cute- and every year there’s discussion of replacing it. So, if you want to visit vintage Disney- ride “Small World” before it’s gone. There’s a raft ride in Adventure land- yea, you can skip that though. FYI, I am not a huge Star Wars fan, but I really enjoyed the ride at Hollywood studios.

    10) Disney World is going to be expensive. I don’t care how many discounts one gets- it’s expensive. And that’s before the souvenirs. Pre-plan souvenirs to make it more affordable. Do you want to buy stuff from the Epcot countries (Japan and China have a lot of stuff from the homelands)? Pins only and trade around the parks? A certain stuffed animal or shirt? There’s some cool Beatles stuff at UK. (I really like Epcot. LOL).

    11) Downtown Disney is free. It only costs if you go to the movies, eat, buy something. Seriously, you could spend an hour or two playing in the lego store. Yes, lego store. It’s awesome.

    12) Do you want to fit in Universal? How about during Mardi Gras nights? Loved the Harry Potter displays in bothy Universal parks. To be honest, I think it was more expensive at Universal though.

    13) Don’t know how long you’re planning to stay, but if you’re here for a week- schedule some downtime!!!!!! Sometimes the hour schedule is accurate- sometimes you get to the park, and find added open hours. But be aware of some of the holidays- they do “close” the parks, and you’ll have to pay extra for the special holiday party (i.e. Xmas). Animal Kingdom usually closes way earlier than the other parks so I suggest to pop it in-between MK and Epcot. The thing about MK- despite it’s offical closing time, most of the stores and candy shops/starbucks on main street stay open. So you can find yourself in MK without realizing it at midnight- but the park closed offically at 10pm (and no, these aren’t extra hours for property guests).

    Find some time to rest and sleep!

    14) If you are renting a car for whatever reason, and are looking for something else to do- Kennedy Space Center isn’t too far away. It’s awesome. I love that place!

    15) P.S. Gaston in MK is worth a visit. The youtube videos are spot on- if you’ve ever wanted to feel lik you’ve “met” a disney character come to life, he’s it! Sit in his chair while he’s doing a character greeting, and have someone “tell” on you. Do it- I dare ya! πŸ™‚ No seriously, watched it happened. It was surreal!

    *************
    If I think of anything else, I’ll let you know.
    Hugs πŸ™‚ Icicle

    • Sorry for all the wrong spellings. So excited to post. LOL I swear I also put spaces in-between the number listings. More from me:

      A) The Dwarf Mine ride consistently had an hour wait time in 2014 since it’s opening (just an FYI for FP).

      B) Download the Disney App for wait times, etc. Actually sign onto the Disney website, become a member. There are points to be earned, stuff to earn, etc. It’s just a good idea.

      C) I do know that the Disney Resort hotels are themed with different ways to get to the parks (tram, bus, boat. yup, boat).

      Are you sure you can’t use hotel points? For example, there are 2 Hiltons across from Downtown Disney. The Disney buses run all. the. time.

      http://www.expedia.com/Orlando-Hotels-Hilton-Orlando-Lake-Buena-Vista.h11652.Hotel-Information?chkin=01/19/2015&chkout=01/22/2015

      Okay, so one would use the Hilton site to book thru points, but it’s just an idea. It has shuttles to the parks…so are you sure about not being able to use hotel points?

      This might be one of the most expensive trips in your life. I’m not exaggerating- so any idea to save money is worth a look or two!

      D) Oh, and one more idea-depending on when you go- are you a basketball fan? There’s the Orlando Magic. And how about a concert? (Usher played at the Arena in December).

      *******
      Everyone else might have better ideas for you than me. There is no way I can afford to go to WDW without the resident discount but others might have smarter ways for you to save. It takes me around 5 hours to get to Orlando, so I understand some of the nuances of it all. And the last thing I want you to do is go to WDW and worry about things- it’s a place of magic, after all! πŸ™‚

      -Icicle

    • I am so, so sorry for all the words I spelled wrong. My college professors would not be happy! Eek!

    • Points Pixie says:

      ICICLE!!! I love you! Seriously, you are the best. Thanks so much for your detailed and awesome comments! I’ve missed “talking” to you πŸ™‚

  6. Last thing, really: Skip the last two weeks in August. Unless you’re able to just jump in a car and drive home in a few hours- skip it! It’s Hurricane Season, people! Not worth it. -Icicle

    • Points Pixie says:

      After our experience in Paris last August, I am going to take your word for it and SKIP AUGUST. Staying home. πŸ˜‰

      • I just really want you and your family to have a GREAT time. I can go almost anytime, so if I miss something- there’s going to be a next time. I know that others don’t have this option- so I want you to do as much as you can!! (p.s. I’m jealous of all the people in NYC or that live nearby- NYC is my “Disney” trip that I plan and plan and plan for months. So, I LOVED your blog post about NYC meals. Seriously, I made a copy!) We’ve all got to share, right? πŸ™‚ And I missed talking with you too!

  7. Why not use Starwood points and stay at Swan and Dolphin? I’d definitely rather other properties, but S&D is a great location!

    • Points Pixie says:

      Denise – Considering it, for sure. Just really want to stay at Grand Floridian…

    • Been to Disneyworld many times…..combine swa points and cp for free flights+ points stay at the Dolphin= perfect vacation! ( points only = 20k per nite,cash and points = 5k+75)Then we only need to save for park tickets and food…. Or the spg nights and flights option for 70k points is a great deal also…..thevSwan and Dolphin are pleasant,have GREAT pool area,are right next to Disney boardwalk and resorts( free nighttime entertainment,possible great fireworks views) most Disney perks apply here too(basically onsite hotels,just not magic express) staying on/near boardwalk means walking access to 2 parks,boat access to 2 parks,(more than any Disney deluxe offers) makes this option our favorite of onsite options for the price! The Epcot area is my fave,for scenery,relaxing,walking,entertainment,restaurants….

  8. Keep an eye on this site for your dates: http://store.usssa.com/Products/121-disney-world-theme-park-tickets.aspx for really good prices on tickets (the best I’ve found). You can search on disboards for info about them but I can vouch for using their Universal tickets last year with absolutely no problems.

    Unfortunately for me, I’m going to Disneyworld in 2 wks, and they have yet to offer any tickets for my dates. I’m thinking I’m going to be out of luck for this trip with them.

  9. Brendan Kelly says:

    Disney swan and dolphin, using spg points, on site and right next to Disney boardwalk…use the arrival points for the park tickets (through undercover tourist) and resort fees

  10. OMG I cannot think of a worse place to go than Disney World. Are you really sure you want to subject your family to that mess?

  11. Personally I would not go to Disney June to The first part of November. It is hurricane season for that period of time. As far as I’m concerned Disney world is a November to May attraction. Plus if I’m going to a theme park in the summer or fall its going to be Cedar Fair park using my season pass from Cedar Point. I have a standing date with cedar points coasters the last weekend they are open for the year. Very little waiting time so I can ride all sixteen coasters several times in a day. But you may need to wear winter woolies if its cold like it was this year.

  12. You will have an awesome time no matter where you stay at disney. It’s all got the disney magic! I’m also trying to earn Barclay points for our next trip too. A side note, I often read your blog entries aloud to my husband and we endearingly refer to you as Pixie Points….my husband will often say, “what’s pixie points up to today?” Thanks for your creative and fun writings.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Julie – Yes to Disney Magic! And thank you so much for the compliment! It’s comments like these that keep me inspired and motivated. πŸ™‚

  13. Off to Disney next week with my 6 yo, only booked it last week, and as said above you’ve gotta book in advance at 60 or 30 days as everything popular (meets, restaurants, rides) are all booked solid for our week there.

    The one booking I’m happy with getting is the Pirates & Pals fireworks cruise, it sounds awesome!

    Will take about 16 hours just to get there from Sweden πŸ™

    • Points Pixie says:

      Andy – Wow, you are a dedicated fan! Let us know how it goes! Hope you have a great time!!

    • Andy- you’re going to have a great time. No worries, ok? Sometimes the craziness of spontaneous “now what?” is what makes it all fun πŸ™‚

  14. I’m here at Disney World for the Marathon that took place yesterday. This is my second visit in six months. I would recommend looking into buying Disney Vacation Club points from a broker like David’s. I’m not an owner but have stayed on site twice now buying points. Barclays Arrival reimbursed me. Using Disney shuttles and Uber credit. More savings. Sign up for Earl of Sandwich email and get a free sandwich or two or three at Downtown Disney. Park tix are the most expensive items for families. Look for special events and tag along discounted tix. We paid $55 each for Pasta in the Park dinner buffet and got admission to Epcot at 6pm on an extra magic hours evening. Rode Test Track twice in 35 minutes total using single rider. Put on your hustle, points and pixie dust. Have fun!

  15. You can work with a travel agent specializing in Disney Destinations who can answer all these questions and more – help you sort through resort & ticket options and put together a day to day itinerary – all at no extra cost to you!

    • Points Pixie says:

      Jen – I actually love the planning process, but it’s good to know that I have a safety net. πŸ˜‰

      • Working with a vacation planner doesn’t mean you can’t plan the vacation – it just means you have someone who has reliable and correct information to help you out! Someone who has BTDT and can tell you where to scrimp and where to splurge. Someone who knows the ins and outs of what makes sense and what doesn’t. Someone who can advocate for you and make the planning process fun and easy, not overwhelming. I like to think of myself as much more than just a safety net πŸ™‚

        • Points Pixie says:

          Jen – YES! You are so much more than a safety net! I totally understand and agree to that. I know firsthand how much time and effort it takes to become a specialist in something, and I think that it REALLY saves time and money if a person talks to a specialist before/during the planning process. Let me know if you would ever want to write a guest post πŸ™‚

  16. The BEST Disney World property, for families with big kids, is Disney Beach Club Villas. You can’t beat the location! The Disney Swan and Dolphin hotels are also a great option if you want to use points (both Starwood properties). All are in the Epcot Resort neighborhood. From that area you can walk to Epcot (where you will be eating dinner every night anyway), walk or boat to Disney studios, and monorail to Magic Kingdom. Perfect location with big kids. Plus, you can watch the 9:00pm fireworks in Epcot every night and WALK back to your hotel!!! Oh, and buy a Tables in Wonderland Card (for dining), and buy your passes through Undercover Tourist (see http://www.mousesavers.com). If you have more questions, just email me. Love your website!

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