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The Best Advice for Walt Disney World Vacations

By Christy J. Putman, PassPorter Guest Columnist

After almost a year of planning, this past December we finally took our first trip to Walt Disney World -- and what a wonderful trip it was! I feel as though I've learned so much even as a first-time traveler. Before our trip, I read many guidebooks, spoke with friends and family who were Disney regulars, frequented web sites and message boards, and planned accordingly. If you ask my family, they'd tell you I was obsessed with the planning -- I'd call it a passion, but that's another story.

My husband and I had always planned on taking our first Walt Disney World trip when our daughters were five and eight years old. So when the New Year ball dropped and 2004 began, we decided to finally schedule our first trip to Walt Disney World. My husband had never been, and the last time I visited was during Walt Disney World's tenth anniversary (Epcot was not yet open), so we knew we'd need some help with planning. A friend of mine had just taken her first family trip to Walt Disney World, and recommended PassPorter guidebooks. We decided to make the trip a surprise for our daughters, so I bought PassPorter when the girls were in school, and secretly began to plan. 

Each month brought more Disney trip planning and brought us closer to the big day. I checked our countdown clock on a regular basis as I made lists, searched for discount codes, and waited for the appropriate dates to make priority seatings. I dreamed of how we would surprise our daughters with the big news!

When all was said and done, we had a fantastic trip! My daughters were totally surprised, we loved our hotel choice, had wonderful weather and the parks did not feel crowded. I now think that I am VERY ready to plan our next trip based on the advice I'm glad I took, and the advice I wish I had taken. I've included examples of both to help my fellow planners:

Advice I'm Glad I Took:

Book your room early. I found that our hotel of choice (The Wilderness Lodge) was very popular and room availability was scarce.

Watch for discounts. I checked, as well as the Walt Disney World Resorts posting boards on, on a daily basis. I was able to book a woods view room at the Wilderness Lodge for a great discount because of tips I received from these web sites.

Use a car service. We had a driver waiting for us at the airport when we went to pick up our luggage. He stopped at a grocery store so we could pick up a few items for the week, then brought us directly to the hotel. We didn't have to navigate directions or make stops at other hotels.

Buy the unlimited refill mugs at the hotel. We bought our travel mug the second day we were there, and I don't know why we waited until then! We regularly enjoyed soda, coffee, iced tea, and hot chocolate.

Schedule when you will visit each park ahead of time. There's really something to be said for planning ahead. I reviewed early entry days, projected daily attendance rates, scheduled events, such as Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom, park hours, our priority seatings (especially Cinderella's breakfast since it was difficult to obtain) as I made our schedule for the week.

Plan some down time. Because this was our first trip, I wanted to plan as much as I could, but we were buying five-day Pass Hopper tickets and we were staying for eight nights. We had tickets for some of the night time extras, such as Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and Cirque du Soleil, so we used those days to relax by the pool. I also scheduled character breakfasts on our "down days." 

Tell everyone about a birthday and/or anniversary. This trip was full of celebrations. Both my daughter's and my husband's birthdays (which happen to fall on the same day) were while we were at Disney World. My husband and I were also celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary (which had occurred the week before we left). When I made our priority seatings, I told them about the birthdays, and we were pleasantly surprised. My daughter has a keepsake place mat, and enjoyed a cupcake for breakfast. Cast members constantly wished my daughter and husband a happy birthday, and one cast member in England even called Mickey Mouse to have him personally wish them a happy birthday. My husband and I also shared a delicious dessert to celebrate our anniversary that was delivered by Cinderella herself.

Advice I Wish I Had Taken:

Don't plan more than two or three character meals for a week-long trip. I wanted my girls to experience as much as possible, so I scheduled a character meal for almost every day. By about the second day, we realized it was too much. It's fun to see the characters and get autographs, but it definitely takes time away from the parks. Next time, I'll schedule two character meals.

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Follow the touring plans in the guide books. Each night, my husband and I planned our first few rides based on our guide books. We followed the plans for two or three rides, but then would somehow get sidetracked. Had we followed the plans for the majority of the day, we would have experienced more rides and attractions.

When "down time" is scheduled, let it be actual down time. On days which we had designated as "down time," I still planned character meals that involved going to other resorts. One of our down days seemed more hectic than our days when we went to a park! Next time, we'll stay put at our resort to enjoy the pools, restaurants, and even a nap!

Take the "classic" family photos. Everyone said, "Take lots of pictures," and we did, but we didn't take many of the "classics." I'm talking about pictures often seen in Walt Disney World advertising - smiling families in front of Cinderella's castle, Mickey's Sorcerer's Hat, and Spaceship Earth. We were often in such a rush to go to our first ride when we entered each park that we didn't want to take any pictures then. We figured we would take "the picture" later. Later, we would be tired and have cranky girls who didn't want their picture taken. We took several pictures of the various parades and of all the animals we saw in Animal Kingdom, but we neglected to take many pictures of ourselves. For many families, including ours, this type of a trip may only happen a few times in a lifetime -- don't miss out on taking the pictures! 

Now I'm ready for next time!!

This article originally appeared in our April 4, 2005 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

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