Thursday, December 14, 2017

2018 Disney World Vacation Planning Tips

by: guide4wdw - Collin

As many of you may know, we've spent around 20 years planning our personal Disney vacations and have had the opportunity to watch Walt Disney World grow and develop as new ideas and thought processes have come and gone. Of course, we don't know everything, and I wouldn't trust anyone who says they do, but we have learned quite a few things from our recurring trips and different vacation strategies. So, today we're sharing a large scale overview of what we do when planning a vacation and what has worked for us in the past time and time again. Along the way, we'll share some helpful hints on when to book,  how to get started, and quite a bit more which we hope will improve your vacation experience. 

When many first time guests decide to book a Disney parks vacation, many overlook the inevitable nature of the modern Disney experience. Today, there's very little room for guests to simply "wing it" on their first Disney vacation and successfully accomplish many of their vacation goals throughout their vacation. So, taking that into consideration, and the fact that many of you are repeat Disney guests, we're going to try and create a blend of information that can help everyone out in some way or another. 

As the new year rolls in, we'll try to keep this post as updated as we can as the year progresses similarly to how we've put out a few brief updates to our Updated: 2017 Discount Disney World Ticket Buying Tips - What is the Best Option For Your Situation? 

Disney changes incredibly quickly so there's always something new to add in the planning process and we're continually learning new and better ways to get the most out of the vacation experience. As always, a great place to start is by joining our Guide4WDW Community email list (and i'll send you a preview of my Disney Planning Book just for joining!) for genuine updates and special offers as they roll out throughout the year. Additionally, Disney themselves has a few unique special offerings for guests looking to plan as much as possible prior to their vacation no matter what your experience level may be. They've recently been pushing a free vacation planning video, but also be sure to utilize their free reservation planning services over the phone to truly get that level of personal service that Disney has become synonymous with. 

This article may be a bit tedious and a touch long winded, but hopefully it will help you out in some way or another. We certainly don't know it all, and Disney does change from day to day, but hopefully this will give you something to examine and build upon as your vacation approaches or you take the first steps in planning the vacation a lifetime. With all of that being said, we'll jump right into it and if you ever have any questions that aren't addressed or covered here, never hesitate to message me on Facebook (or any other social media avenue - we're on just about all of them). Honestly, don't hesitate to ask. I truly enjoy answering questions and it gives me the opportunity to address specific questions or to find answers to things I may have never considered myself. 

1. A Few Timeframes to Consider
Every once in a while I get the question from a friend or extended family member that goes a little something like this, "When do I want to go to Walt Disney World?" To be quite honest with you, there is no good answer to that question. The days of low crowd weeks and walk on attractions are unfortunately over. As technology has developed and become more and more precise Disney has found ways to monitor those "dead" times and find new ways to bring guests to the parks at less typical times. One of the best ways they've done this is by offering discounts during "unnatural" vacation traveling timeframes, but even more recently they have created special events and lengthened existing events to fill the gaps that once existed. 

Of course, I know that wasn't the answer you were hoping for, but there are a few other things to consider when choosing your Disney dates. First and foremost I would look into a few of the more prominent events that occur throughout the seasons at Walt Disney World. Each season has a way of welcoming guests into special events, but here's a few of the most popular events that occur in each season.

You see, there are a ton of events to consider working into your next vacation and many of these are truly wonderful events. Personally a highlight of my year is always the Flower and Garden Festival in the spring. The festival truly revitalizes the atmosphere of Epcot and brings a unique flair (and vast amount of food) to the World Showcase and overall theme park experience. However, the joy that experience brings to me, one of these other events may create for you. Additionally, I adore the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, but many guests prefer the Halloween Party. When it comes right down to it, it's all a matter of preference and what you want to see and do during your vacation experience. Thankfully Disney isn't a "one size fits all" vacation, so taking a moment to look over these special events and many others that appear throughout the year (believe it or not these simply scratch the surface of what is offered).

Truthfully, I would say to toss the idea of planning around the crowds out the window. At this point you just have to get lucky to catch the right day where the crowd levels are lesser than usual. If you're bound and determined to find a time where you might have the opportunity to avoid some crowds, your best bet is to travel at or around the time when schools start back to classes or possibly a week in mid to late January, but that window is becoming very limited. 

Last but certainly not least, you'll want to consider any big ticket attractions or lands that will be opening throughout the year of your desired vacation. I always tell guests not to bank on the dates set by Disney for new openings because they tend to change and sometimes drastically, but you'll definitely want to be aware of one major debut coming in 2018, Toy Story Land. The company has yet to give a definitive date on when the new area will officially debut, but we have been given a estimated timeframe of Summer 2018. Unfortunately that's a broad timeframe, but if tradition holds up, they'll likely try to get the area up and running by early June at the latest to take full advantage of the peak summer attendance numbers.

Additionally, we hope to see a new nighttime parade arriving at Magic Kingdom this year at some point, potentially a new nighttime spectacular at Epcot to replace Illuminations (which I'd hate to see go), and if you haven't already witnessed it first hand, Pandora is truly a must-see part of the magic that remains incredibly popular on a day to day basis. To learn more about it and all of it's incredible details I'd recommend taking a closer look at a few of our more in depth articles:

Of course some of this is simply speculation, but are certainly a few things and events you may want to watch for as the year unfolds.

In the long term, be sure to look out for the debut of Star Wars: Galaxies Edge in 2019 and the any accompanying resort openings and refurbishments that will be wrapping up in the timeframe following that big debut. Even further in the future, be on the lookout for big changes coming to Epcot in the coming years that could potential draw massive crowds. Many of you may want to participate in the upcoming debuts, but if you're looking to avoid sometimes chaotic crowds, I'd recommend planning your vacation before mid 2019.                      

2. Watch The Weather
For many guests, booking a vacation revolves highly around when the kids are out of school and trust me, I understand that one more than you may realize. I'm currently a college student, ave two elementary school teachers in the family, and have unfortunately faced the constraints of school scheduling for many years. 

Sadly that constraint typically leaves the warmer months of the year for traveling, but I will certainly caution you and urge you to consider the effects weather may play in your overall enjoyment of the parks. Summer is inevitably extremely hot in Florida. Unfortunately, that's just the way it is. However, I will never discourage anyone from visiting in the ridiculously warm summer months because it largely opens you up to a different vacation outlook. When we tour Disney in the summer, we go with a somewhat different goal in mind than our other vacations. Typically, a summer vacation means two things, shorter continuous timeframes in the parks and more time spent enjoying the resort. A summer vacation doesn't have to be difficult, but you'll certainly want to be prepare for the heat and take time to leave the parks and cool off at the pool or simply book a few extra dining reservations to escape the heat for even a brief moment. 

For those of you not facing those small constraints, or even if you are, try and consider a vacation in the early spring, winter months (as close as Florida gets to winter), or even potentially a late fall trip. The cooler weather will allow longer timeframes in the parks while still giving you the opportunity to enjoy the pool (typically) while avoiding the peak summer crowds and incredible heat Florida can encompass.

3. Buying Tickets 
To be quite honest with you, buying Disney tickets is more complicated today than it has ever been in the past. To explain everything in depth and help you avoid any ticket scams that are out there, we even shared an article about it that is being continually updated:

While it is a rather complicated process in buying the best ticket for your individual circumstance, the new system also brings with it some great options. You can buy a package from Disney or your favorite travel agency (we recommend Destinations to Travel), buy tickets in a stand-alone matter (just watch for expiration dates and cancellation), and can even catch a few deals from sources like the Official Ticket Center for extra free days and park-hopper upgrades. Personally, I see the park hopper option as a vastly important addition to any Walt Disney World trip. it not only allows you to return to that one attraction you loved or simply missed on your planned day in that particular park, but also opens you up to potentially longer park days due to the variation in hours across the different parks, and a vast variety of dining options for each day of your vacation. All in all, it creates a much more "free" Disney parks experience. We've tried it both ways and without a doubt I see the park-hoper as vastly beneficial if you don't have an annual pass. 

4. Picking a Resort
Picking a Walt Disney World resort is one of the toughest planning decisions and one of the most time consuming aspects of starting the planning process altogether. Disney currently owns and operates 24+ resort hotels (as they continue to build more) and each and every one of them have their strengths and weaknesses. 

The price point typically tends to be a selling factor for guests and in all reality you have to gauge your interest in the amenities and benefits of higher priced accommodations. Without a doubt, we enjoy staying deluxe and to be quite honest we truly enjoyed staying in a club level room on our last vacation. However, that isn't always an expense many guests are wiling to pay. I know many of you are thinking, "that's easy for you to say, you probably get discounts or are paid to do this." To be quite honest with you, our Disney trips are paid out of pocket and we make very little from this site, but we save up and pay extra for these experiences because of the benefit it brings to our style of travel. It's not out of the ordinary for us to set aside a day just to enjoy the resort, so as a result, the deluxe benefits tend to be our go-to option. Additionally, I can't remember the last time we've booked a vacation without utilizing a Disney special percentage offer or dining credit that is available to the public. If you book at the right time and are willing to put in a little bit of extra effort, you may be surprised at the rates you can find at Deluxe tier resorts. 

We don't always stay deluxe though. We've spent many trips at Caribbean Beach and even over at Port Orleans (which is a personal favorite). There's truly nothing wrong with any of the Disney resorts, but my largest piece of advice would be to find a way to stay on property. The benefits are vastly influential in the quality of your vacation, and typically the cost is quite comparable if you're careful about the dates you book and when you book. As mentioned in past articles, I understand much of this can be incredibly daunting for guests and it's one of the many reasons we recommend an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. Here's one such authorized planner that we've personally used and had great success with. If you're a returning guest, just like us, I understand it can be difficult to have someone else plan your vacation, but what I didn't realize at first is that a good agency will let you do as little or as much of the planning as you would like to do. As an added bonus, it also helps support the site without costing you anything extra. However, all things considered I never used a travel agent in the past, but it truly makes the booking experience that much easier, no matter what agency you choose to use. 

If a new rate pops up at a cheaper cost than what you originally booked, they can apply it right away (and often know about it ahead of time due to trends) without you ever having to worry about dealing with it yourself. It seems simple but can be quite helpful. 

Setting that aside, if you need any help picking a resort without a travel agent, here's a few of our articles that may get you on the right track: 

And an active discount you may want to look into:
For all intensive purposes, this is the easiest question for me to address on this entire list. If it is your first visit, or even if you're a seasoned veteran of the parks, I typically recommend staying at least 4 nights at Walt Disney World and for truly new guests I recommend no less than a 5 night stay. The reasoning behind that suggestion is quite simple. If you stay 4 nights, it will typically give you at least 3 full days in the parks. In that situation, if you plan your days carefully, you can successfully tour all four of the parks if you're willing to go sun up to sun down each day. 

Honestly, you can't experience all of Walt Disney World in one vacation and trying to do so will cause more headache than it will enjoyment. As I've mentioned before, and truly believe, I've been to Disney World an incredible amount of times over the years and I've come nowhere close to seeing and doing all that there is to offer. To be even more upfront with you, I wouldn't have it any other way. There's always something new to try and something new to experience which keeps so many of us coming back time and time again. (It's certainly a blessing to be able to return time and time again, but it definitely takes a toll on the wallet over the years. lol)

To really accomplish a lot in 3 full days, here is what I would do. First and foremost, you'll need a park hopper. Additionally, I would schedule two days to spend sun up to sun down in your two favorite parks (or what you think will be your two favorite parks). Then, on the third day, split your time between the two remaining parks. Personally, when we've been forced to travel this way in the past, we spend the two full days at Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The other day we'll split with Animal Kingdom in the morning and Hollywood Studios in the afternoon and here's why. 

If you get to Animal Kingdom early, you can ride about every attraction in the park by lunch time. You wont get everything done, but you'll get a full taste of the park before you head off to Hollywood Studios. Once you arrive there, hit as many early afternoon shows as you can and then proceed to the attractions after the shows have finished for the day. Once again, you wont get everything done, but if you're tight on time, this is often your best case scenario based on our past experience. On the other two days, you can easily accomplish a ton of attractions early on in the day at Magic Kingdom using the tips we shared in How to Ride 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+! and Epcot can be done effectively using our Our Tried and True "Epcot in a Day" Touring Plan. Unfortunately, these aren't perfect plans and you'll have to put your now spin on them but it's largely what has worked for us time and time again. 

Also, when planning your days, be sure to consider the dining plan in your cost analysis. For some, it's an excellent option, but for others it can and probably should be avoided depending on your unique situation. To get a better explanation of my thoughts on that, I welcome you to read Is The Dining Plan Truly a "Good Deal" From a Cost Perspective? - A Closer Look. Personally, we tend to avoid the dining plan unless it is being offered as a free option when booking (but you'll want to check if "free" is actually cheaper than what you'd be paying for the dining plan outright with a different resort-only stand-alone discount) simply because it tends to cost us more in the long run. Others find the convenience factor a huge bonus so you'll have to make your own educated decision based on your unique circumstances. No two Disney vacations are identical just as no two Disney guests are identical.  

6. Venturing Beyond the 4 Major Parks
If you have the time, or choose to make the time, to step away from the 4 main parks to experience something a little different, I highly recommend a few experiences. First, be sure to look into Disney's waterparks. Both Blizzard Beach (my personal favorite) and typhoon Lagoon are absolutely incredible waterparks that continually top the top 10 lists of best waterparks in the United States. 

If you journey beyond Walt Disney World, first check and see what it may be costing you to do so. Oftentimes adding an additional park day to your Disney ticket can be vastly cheaper than heading to Universal or Seaworld for the day. While you take that into consideration, there's one park I recommend more than any of the others (outside of WDW) and that is Discovery Cove. Recently we visited the property and were honestly blown away by the level of service and quality of the experience. I have absolutely no affiliation with the park in any way (Even though I wish I did! A couple free passes for Discovery Cove would be amazing. lol), and I would honestly put it next to any Disney park in quality any day of the week. Of course, as usual, that level of service comes at a price, and that price is not cheap. 

On average, a day at Discovery Cove will cost you $200 per person, assuming you opt out of the dolphin encounter which will bump the price up to or exceeding $300 (we opted out of that option). That rate does cover two meals and unlimited snacks for your day and additional access to both Seaworld and Aquatica on either side of your Discovery Cove day. Even with that in consideration, well over $1000 for a family of four is expensive by any standards. I can, without a doubt, say it was well worth it for our family and we'd go back again sometime. We even went as far as to write an unsolicited article about it here on our Disney site: An Honest Comparison: Discovery Cove From a Disney Perspective. I even bought a t-shirt at the end of the day and use the lanyard they provide as your "access" pass on a near daily basis as a name tag hanger. 

Wrapping Up
To finish things up here, I know this was a vast amount of information to take in all at once. There's a lot to consider when booking a Disney vacation or even returning to the parks for additional visits, but don't let that discourage you from experiencing something that could change your life and create memories that will stick with you forever. If you need help, reach out to me and I'll do whatever I can to respond as quickly and efficiently as I possibly can. 

Hopefully this article gives you a variety of resources and related information that will at least get you on the right track in booking your dream vacation. Disney has basically been apart of my life since the beginning, so sharing that experience with someone else is something that I not only enjoy doing, but hope that it will somehow inspire you to reach out to this Disney community and find friends and new people that you never thought you'd come in contact with. I've met friends through this website building process and met people I would have never come in contact with. It's great to see this community grow and we truly appreciate you being here with us! I hope you enjoyed this article and have a great rest of the day!  

Last but certainly not least, I ask you to share this article with a friend if it helped you out in any way. Your shares are honestly the only way we grow and they mean more to me than you'll ever know. Additionally, if you're interested in any of the links in this article, we do receive a compensation for any sales made, and that money goes right track into improving the site and continually building this dream of ours. We truly appreciate all of your support!              

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