We just got back from an amazing (and possibly only) Disney trip so I made sure that we “did it all”. While I’m a big fan of those teary eyed SURPRISE Disney commercials, we told our kids (Cullen 12 ½, Sadie 7 ) as I wanted their input. I didn’t want this post to be 10 pages long so this first part (of 2, or 3…) will be what helped me before we walked out the door.
- We used the (no annual fee) Chase Disney credit card so most of our trip was FREE. Room, dining plan, park passes were all covered by points that we had accrued over the last 4 ½ years. We went through AAA to get even better deals than I found online and saved out of our monthly budget to cover our flights.
- We chose to take kids out of school for a few days and go at an unpopular time of year. I’m not good with heat or crowds so mid-January worked perfectly well for us. There were a few rides closed for repairs or refurbishments but nothing major.
- I’d read that pin trading was big at the parks so I went online prior to the trip and bought / bid on $1 Disney lanyards plus one ‘lot’ of 26 Disney pins ($25) so the kids had pins to trade with cast members (employees) from the minute they walked into the parks. In the parks, this would have sent me back well over $150 and they kids really got into it. Instead of asking for things when we went into shops, they were finding employees to trade with.
- Going online and getting a few ‘gently loved’ goodies before the trip (my son loves Stitch and my daughter Tinkerbell) can save you tons in the long run on t-shirts, backpacks, ears (got these new & personalized for 50% off-free shipping by watching Disney.com/ store), etc. A family member gave each child a $25 Disney gift card for Christmas so we were actually able to get out of the parks with out spending anything ourselves. I did a countdown of “The 12 Days of Disney” before we left and each child got a pin every morning and then I surprised them with a t-shirt and backpack on the day we left.
- I’d recommend two web sites (if you want to pay) to join for an incredible amount of information on all things Disney – tourguidemike.com or touringplans.com. They each have different positives depending on your needs but I’d suggest at least one as it helps to guide you to the least crowded parks on which days, sample touring plans, reviews on everything and more tips and hints than you would ever need.
- About.com has a list of 9 Useful Walt Disney World Apps that I reviewed before I left. Ones that I used that were and were not included in the list were WDW Trivia (great, while waiting for anything), WDW Maps & More, Secrets Gold (hidden Mickeys) and WDW Lines (wait times).
- When they say make your dining reservations 180 days in advance, they aren’t kidding even in ‘low crowd’ times and especially if you want to do something special like a character meal or signature dining. You can reserve online or over the phone. There are various dining plans but we chose the Deluxe Dining Plan because of some of the specialty meals we reserved and we also wanted to sit down and eat 2/day and not be elbowing our way through counter service restaurants for chicken nuggets. While this added cost would have been over what points we had accrued, Disney offered a special for a FREE basic dining plan during January which our travel agent caught & that saved us close to $500 which put us back into our allotted points.
- We chose to stay onsite at The Contemporary Hotel (my favorite from childhood) which allowed us to walk to The Magic Kingdom and has the monorail that comes right through the hotel, pretty cool.
- Last but not least, read books (Peter and the Starcatchers, Swiss Family Robinson, Alice in Wonderland or rent a few Disney movies to get in the magical mood.
While all this may seem a bit overboard, saving money & having a plan were my 2 biggest priorities and all this led to a wonderfully spectacular trip. To be continued…