It’s now the middle of November and we have just returned from our first trip to Walt Disney World as a family. I have been planning this trip since April!! When we first found out that we were going, my husband and I decided to keep it a surprise for the kids. This was NOT an easy task!! Since we school at home I didn’t have a lot of time alone so I had to get creative. Here’s how I got started.
First, set a date and a budget. We thought about going in the month of May but this would have given me around 3 weeks to plan. That would have been a HUGE mistake, especially since this was our first trip and you must make reservations (dining and other activities) at least 180 day before your trip date. So we decided on November. This is a great time to go since the overall crowd level is a 2 with 10 being the highest (crowd calendar). We had right at $3500 set aside for this trip and we squeezed a lot out of this amount. I used cash envelopes. You can print your own here. At first I was nervous about keeping up with so much cash and it being inconvenient but this worked GREAT!! I’d definitely do it again!! I had envelopes for every reservation plus each child had over $200 in spending money (I act as their savings account here at home and they were thankful I’d been so frugal with them in the months leading up to our trip. Plus they had family members donate to their cause as well!!). I can’t say enough about how well this worked. Don’t forget to budget in tips when you are setting things up. I TOTALLY forgot restaurant tips (we don’t eat out a lot) and that’ll throw off your budget when you have a $30 tip that’s not in your envelope!! Thankfully, I had an envelope labeled “EXTRA”!! And you definitely need something set aside for incidentals, like having to buy $20 blankets so you’ll be able to endure a cold front that’s blowing through with 30 mph gusts!!
Second, make accommodation reservations. My husband took care of this side of things and did a fantastic job. To stay in the park or not– THAT is the question. There are definitely pros and cons to each….but honestly, I didn’t see any pros that were so great to make us stay inside. Our trip was from Saturday to Saturday and I wanted to be comfortable and not all sharing one room. Plus, I wanted to cook most of our meals. The most common tip I received when I was asking for trip advice was “You MUST do the dining plan; you’ll save so much money!!” This is only available to those staying in the park. I did a little math and for my family of 5 (3 adults and 2 children….10 and up count as an adult) to participate in the standard dining plan which includes: 1 table meal, 1 quick service meal, 1 snack, and 1 resort refillable mug it would cost $1079.90 for 5 days. With that in mind, we chose not to stay inside the park. We cooked most of the time and packed a picnic lunch, waters, capri suns and snacks every day. I budgeted $300 for groceries and we didn’t use all of that. We ate in the park 3 times (including character dining) and spent $300. So all of our food purchases came WAY under the cost of the dining plan. As for our accommodations, my husband chose Sunshine Getaway at Windsor Hills Resort. This is SUPER close to the parks and we paid only $79 a night!! It’s REALLY hard to beat that. This was the second time we had stayed in this particular resort and we loved it! It’s super nice and CLEAN and close enough to the parks we could take a break when we wanted!!
Third, start researching and PINNING!! You can follow my WDW board here. Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World guide is a MUST HAVE! I read this book from cover to cover and also took it with me to the parks on some days.
Fourth, put together a Disney World Binder and work on your daily touring plans. I chose a red 3-ring binder. I made dividers for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Misc. I found WDW Prepschool and easywdw.com to be VERY helpful in planning out our day. There are TONS of sites out there….these just happened to be two of my favs. Also be sure to check out www.disneyworld.disney.go.com.
Here are some printables I put into my notebook:
B. Park hours – You can get all of this information on apps as well. I used the My Disney Experience app and Undercover Tourist. I used the apps in the park but I liked having a printable version while planning just to help me wrap my mind around things. And believe me, there is a LOT to wrap your mind around. Don’t forget www.disneyworld.disney.go.com! This is Disney’s official website and is sure to be accurate.
D. MY touring plans – This was the tricky part for me. My children are 10, 8 and 4 and I wasn’t quite sure who would want to do what so I put in a little bit of everything. I’ll post them here and then talk about how they worked out later as I talk about each day.
These are totally personalized to our family so use this as a guide for your own.
Our schedule for the week looked like this:
Sunday– settle in and visit Downtown Disney with reservations at T-Rex Monday – Magic Kingdom…Tuesday– Epcot…Wednesday – Magic Kingdom…Thursday – Animal Kingdom…Friday – Hollywood Studios
Right before we left for our trip I transferred everything from my binder into folders. A folder for each park we visited and I took this with me so I would know what to do next!!
Be sure to put a copy of your tickets in each folder just in case you lose one. With park entrance and working fast passes it’s easy to see how a ticket could get dropped or misplaced.
Once you’ve got your binder together and you’ve hit the “180 days until Disney” mark be sure to start making any reservations you may need. You can’t make any reservations before 180 days!! Have a couple of plan B’s prepared just in case you can’t get exactly what you want.
I also began collecting “goodies” to put into a welcome bag for my kiddos. I found Minnie, Mickey and Princess bags at the Dollar Store and loaded them up with Disney goodies from the Dollar Tree. Puzzles, stickers, LOTS of glow sticks and glow wands (for when we were in the park after dark). I also put in some t-shirts we bought from Old Navy, Disney lanyards (for pins), special cups for them to have in the condo and special cups for Animal Kingdom (no capri suns or juice boxes allowed there). Plus, I made each one of them a Disney Folder filled with park maps I’d printed out, journal pages, attraction check lists, and coloring pages.
I did NOT design these checklists nor do I remember where I found them or I would give credit where credit is due.
I had SO much fun gathering goodies for this trip!! I KNOW I went overboard and Disney creates enough magic of it’s own but I enjoyed it nonetheless and they were tickled to get these surprises. We had no contraband items!! It was ALL Disney from facial tissue and hand soap to ziplock bags!!
Once all the planning was over it was finally time to hit the road and begin our first Disney journey. I think keeping this secret for over 6 months aged me about 10 years. It was TOUGH!! My husband and I went back and forth on how to reveal the surprise. We settled on telling them we were taking a trip to the beach which is NOT out of the ordinary for us. This way we could prep for the trip openly. We left on a Saturday morning and pulled over at the Florida welcome center (we live on the edge of Alabama and Florida so this wasn’t far). We took them out to the picnic tables and told them that we hated we didn’t get to attend THE National Peanut Festival this year. This is a big deal for our kiddos and it took place the week before we left and I didn’t want to take any chances with folks getting sick from riding rides in the November night air. Because we “felt bad” about missing out on the fair we wanted to give them a gift to enjoy at the “beach”.
Here’s how it all went down.
Here we are all piled in and about to leave home.
Here’s a look at our autograph books. I designed these myself and I had Office Max print, cut and bind them. They were $10 each and I felt like that was a splurge because you can buy an official Disney book for about the same price. BUT I liked the look of these so much better and the spiral binding made it super easy to have ready and waiting while we were in character lines.
We used clickable colored sharpie markers so our books are full of color. Each book had 25 pages (with 50 places to sign). We had every other page signed so we could put a picture on the opposite side. I have LOVED how they turned out and so have they!!
I hope this post helps you get started planning your own Disney vacation!! Please remember I’m totally a rookie at this and I’ll share with you my successes and mistakes in the days to come!!
Let the memories begin!!!