Disney’s Dining Plan for First Timers

Disney's dining plan for first timers

Disney’s dining plan – something that I think is useful in some way, shape, or form to nearly every family who travels to Disney. There are a few exceptions to every rule, but truly without any of Disney’s dining plans, how are you going to eat? 

What are these exceptions? Family members with extremely limited diets due to medical restrictions (i.e. need to cook my own meals or else…) and potentially those that are staying in a 1 or 2 bedroom villas and have the ability to truly cook their own food. Disney fits the mold of everything else. Have picky eaters? No problem – Disney totally understands picky kids and adults, so there’s something for everyone if you know where to look (and we can plan together to find the best option for your crew). I think I’ve truly dealt with it all. Food allergies? Again, no problem! Disney has equipped kitchens (even with buffet style meals) to help accommodate all sorts of allergies. Even if there are multiple allergies or truly limited options, a chef will come to your table and get a sense of what you or your family member can eat and make sure it’s prepared in a safe, allergy free manner. I’ve been truly impressed with all Disney has done for guests with allergies (going beyond the simple gluten and peanuts!)

First, how does the dining plan work?

Each guest receives credits for their length of stay (breakdown below) – you cannot pick and choose dates or people in a room to have a dining plan. It’s all or nothing.  Guests age 3-9 will receive child credits while guests 10+ will receive adult credits. Your tiny guests under age 3 will be free, but will have to share from another guest’s plate. If you are choosing a buffet style meal, he or she may have a plate of food at no cost (because truly that’s what sharing is at a buffet!)

Your credits are issued to you at the time of check in and can be used in any way, shape, or form you wish. If you’d like to use all of your snack credits in one day (say during Food & Wine Festival in the fall), you may do so. If you choose to add 2 table service dining credits together to use toward a dinner show or Cinderella’s Table and then just eat quick service the following day, that’s perfectly ok as well! There’s no “per day” usage requirements, so the plan truly is flexible. The only “rule”, I have is USE ALL OF  YOUR CREDITS!!

In addition to your credits, each of your guests age 3+ will receive a refillable mug which can be used at any of Disney’s resorts (not inside the theme parks – but still useful to bring 1 to split soft drinks or use as a water cup). The refill stations at the resort include Coca Cola products, blue PowerAde, Coffee, Iced Tea, water, and hot chocolate. There’s a mug rinse sink as well but we bring a small container of dish soap because coffee followed by diet coke does not taste very good!

Next, what Disney dining plan is for you (since we’ve established, that it’s for almost everybody!)

  • Quick Service Dining Plan – This plan offers guests 2 quick service credits plus 1 snack credit per person per night of pecosbillstay. This is a good option for families that aren’t interested in sitting down to meals or those with extremely picky palates (especially if the picky palates are over age 10 as there are less options to choose at sit down meals for the “big” kids). While you receive 2 meals per day, there are ways to stretch your credits to feed yourselves for a full day – sharing a breakfast and lunch quick service is a good start (or using your snack at breakfast time and bringing a few snacks from home at the park). There are several options inside the theme parks that have very large portion sizes which can be shared between 2 adults.
  • Disney Dining Plan – This plan offers guests with 1 table service credit, 1 quick service credit, and 1 snack credit per person per night of stay. This plan is best for those that want a taste of some of the 80+ table service restaurants but don’t want to sit down to most (or every) meal. You have the option to couple your table service credits together for dinner shows or signature dining (the best of the best in steak and seafood). You can also redeem your table service credits for character dining. For families with at least 1 child under the age of 10 and interested in at least 2 character dining experiences, this is truly worth its while. I know it seems like a bit out of pocket expense, but it’s difficult to only spend $20 per day on a child’s food in the absence of a dining plan. Plus, a dinner at Chef Mickey’s is over $40 per adult and a dinner at Ohana (which is one of our favorites) is just under $100 for a party of 2 adults. Knowing WHERE to dine is how to make this well worth its while, and doing the math on paper with what is included in your plan, makes true dollars and cents!
  • Deluxe Dining Plan – If you need 3 meals each day, or you are a family that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, this is the plan for you! If you’ve got any “foodies”, this is also the plan for you. This plan offers 3 meal credits per day (and can be used in a mix of quick service and table service at your preference). You also receive 2 snack credits per person per night of stay. Those that feel most successful with this plan often plan 2 table service meals and use snack and quick service meals to “fill in”. Lunch and dinner on this plan come with an appetizer, entree, and dessert per person so it’s a lot of food but a great way to try new things and great for the adventurous people (or great for those that want a ton of character dining)! I’d never shy anyone away from deluxe dining, but would hesitate to schedule every single dining credit ahead of time (as many people end up cancelling a few along the way because they are just too full to eat 3 full meals per day – at least in my family that’s how it goes!)
  • Platinum Dining Plan – This plan is for families who want to PLAY and DINE! You receive all of the accompaniments of the deluxe dining plan plus additional water sports and activities. This plan is less about the park time and more about everything else and is most geared toward adults and older children. You cannot use this dining plan under any promotional rates, but it’s a great way to do some of the lesser known Disney experiences if you’re not a “theme park” person! 

What do my credits include? 

Disney’s dining credits are not just an entree, it’s much more!

Under the quick service plan & the Disney dining plan, your table service and quick service meals include an entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage per person. At some locations, you can get an “upgraded” beverage besides lemonade, iced tea, or coke products. If you choose breakfast for any of your credits, you will not receive a dessert (just entree and beverage). 

Under the deluxe and platinum dining plans, you receive an appetizer, entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage per person at lunch and dinner. Breakfast again does not include a dessert and on this plan; no appetizer either!

Any table service credit can be exchanged for a buffet meal which includes “all you can eat” and at least one beverage (as big fans of a few breakfast locations, you can get coffee and their delightful POG juice) which are both included. If you want coffee with your dessert, ask your sever if you can do coffee as your beverage and just order water with your meal or if the restaurant will allow both. 

Quick service credits are much more than just burgers and fries. You can find BBQ ribs, lobster roll, fish and chips, tacos, stir IMG_4418fry, and much more if you know where to look! For the picky eaters, you are able to find the basics, but try to go beyond it if you can because there are truly some unique and tasty options around Walt Disney World!

Snack credits are a really relative term. A snack can be a piece of fresh fruit, a pre-packaged drink like juice, milk or bottled water, but can also be used for caramel apples, gourmet cookies and cupcakes, pastries, and sometimes real “food” during Flower & Garden and Food & Wine Festival in Epcot. We can make a day out of snack credits and be completely full without every touching a quick service or table service credits during these events. You can receive sampler platters of tacos, sandwiches, and more under the “cost” of a snack credit. It’s truly a great value with some items holding an out of pocket cost of $6 or more!

But we’re not dessert eaters…

For the non-dessert eaters of the world like my brother in law (seriously, I don’t get it), there is an option for you. You can exchange your dessert portion of quick service or table service credits for something that is a snack credit. These are easy to ascertain at quick service dining locations as they are labeled, but please ask your cast member if you can sub in a cup of soup or a salad at your table service meals in lieu of dessert. This is NEW for 2016, and something I’m really excited about so the non-dessert eaters of the world are not just stocking up on bottled water!

How do I keep track of all of this?

Disney makes it easy and you have a few ways to track your dining credits – after you use a credit, the bottom of your receipt will show your remaining credits in that category (and the cashier will often verbally tell you the amount as well). If you are trying to get an overall view of the details, stop by your resort’s concierge desk and ask for a printout. It will give you an up to the moment review of all of your remaining credits for your trip and if you feel like something is incorrect, you may ask for a more detailed review of what has been used where!

I truly hope this makes you more comfortable with Disney’s dining plan. It’s a money saver and advantageous for about 99% of families! I hope it’s something you’ll consider for your next vacation.

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Interested in experiencing either a Disney World vacation in 2016?  Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free vacation opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

 

Top things to add on to your Disney World vacation package

 

When booking a Disney World vacation, you have many different options to customize your experience. The most basic vacation would be a room only reservation which is exactly what it sounds like. A room reservation with no tickets. Adding base park tickets to your reservation makes it a package reservation.

Not all “add-ons” are created equal. Some require a package reservation, while others are available with or without a Disney World resort hotel reservation. Here’s a breakdown of each item, cost, explanation, as well my opinion on the value of worth.


Park Hopper Passes. This cost is variable based on a number of factors including number of days of park tickets, number of children and adults, and any active promotions (including free or discounted days of park tickets). This add on allows you to visit any and all 4 Disney World theme parks in one day. This is a great option no matter what kind of trip you want to have! This may be too much for those with kids under 5 (although some families love to park hop no matter what the age!)

Water Park Fun & More. This cost is also variable based on number of days of park tickets, number of children and adults, and if you are also included park hoppers. Without park hoppers, the cost of adding this option vs. one day of water park tickets is more costly. If you add park hoppers plus water park fun & more, you may get more for your money with the ability to visit both water parks, Disney Quest, golf, and mini golf. Unlike theme park tickets, these tickets are per use, not per day meaning you can take a day off from the parks to golf in the morning and visit a water park in the afternoon.photo 2(2)

Disney Dining Plan. This is another option that requires park tickets to add this to your Disney World package. Disney offers 5 different dining plans, however the three most popular are: Quick Service, Plus Dining, and Deluxe Dining. Cost is variable based on the dining plan you choose, any available discounts at the time, number of nights stayed, and number of guests in your room. For more on the the Disney Dining Plan, review Flavorful Friday. The dining plan will be coming to you FREE this fall! Click for more tips and tricks regarding Free Dining at Disney World.

Memory Maker. This amazing new add on does not require any sort of package or even a reservation to a Disney World resort. This can be ordered through a travel agent or from Disney’s web site. Guests staying offsite can order Memory Maker. Rather than scanning your MagicBand, you are given an RFID enabled card to store all of your vacation photos. The great thing about Memory Maker is that for the $149 advanced price ($199 if purchased after your arrival), you receive an unlimited number of photos uploaded to your account. You are instantly able to share with family and friends and able to download them all to save forever after your trip. For more on Memory Maker, check out what it’s all about as well as all the must take photo locations around Disney World.

Travel Insurance. Another option that doesn’t require a package reservation, but understandably, this is for Disney resort hotel guests only. Disney offers travel insurance for all guests staying in their resorts to recoup the cost of their likely very expensive vacation in case of unforeseen issues. The details are spelled out clearly as well as the coverage. I suggest travel insurance to everyone I work with, and although I’d guess only half the people I work with elect to keep it, it’s a peace of mind I like to have on my trips. Kids get sick, adults lose jobs, life happens, luggage gets lost. It’s better to have the opportunity to reschedule your vacation than lose some of your hard earned money! Cost is $75.95 per adult (children are at no cost).


Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
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While this isn’t technically part if any Disney World package, it’s something to consider in your budget when making your reservation. BBB has 2 locations in Disney World: Cinderella’s Castle, and Downtown Disney. Both locations have Fairy Godmothers transform your child into the princess (or prince) they’ve dreamed of. Cost varies but starts at $54.95 (and goes well over $200 for the top of the line package). It’s an experience that is not forgotten. Plus, add more photos to your Memory Maker package with this one of a kind experience. Sessions take 30-60 minutes depending on the package you choose and the time of day you are scheduled.

Overall each add on feature has its pros and cons. My favorites are definitely Memory Maker and Park Hopper Passes. It’s something that I plan on adding to all of my vacations going forward based on the way we enjoy traveling. While each family is different and sometimes budgets put a cap on what you can do, it’s always nice to know your options!

Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free cruise opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

Tips and Tricks for Free Dining at Disney World

freediningdisney

It’s that time of year again, the whispers begin about free dining for fall travel dates. The latest rumor is that free dining for September will be coming out before the end of April due to low DVC (Disney Vacation Club) bookings for that time of year. Great news for those that want to save a few bucks at Disney World this year! Free dining sounds like a great deal, and for most families it really is, but you really need to do the math to see what the best option is; typically Disney also offers a room only discount at the same time.


The Basics

Free Dining is offered at most Disney World resort hotels. Value resorts come with the quick service dining plan. Moderate, deluxe, and deluxe villas come with the full dining plan. At any of the four resort classes, you are able to upgrade your plan (quick service to full dining plan or full dining plan to deluxe) at minimal cost. The cost of upgrade is based on the number of guests in each room, their ages, and how many nights you are staying

The Dining Plans

Quick Service dining plan: This plan provides 2 quick service credit and one snack per person for each night stayed.

Disney Dining Plan (the “full” dining plan): This plan provides 1 table service credit, 1 quick service credit, and one snack credit per person for each night stayed.

Deluxe Dining Plan: This plan provides 3 credits (which can be quick service or table service) and 2 snacks per person for each night stayed. This is A LOT of food!

Each plan also includes a refillable mug for each member of your party. This can be used at any resort, but not refillable at the parks. A great suggestion is to bring them with to use them in the parks and make it easier to split a drink at quick service locations.

Quick service meals (also called counter service meals) are those that do not accept reservations. You order of a menu board in front of cashier and then wait for your food to be prepared. Think of McDonalds, Burger King, or Hardee’s but with better food and better variety! Quick service credits cannot be combined to convert to a table service credit (nice try though!) Feel free to share meals at any time!

Table Service meals are sit down restaurants in which you order off a menu with a server. This also could be a buffet meal. Some table service meals are 2 credits (signature meals, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and dinner shows). Most meals can be shared with the exception of buffets for obvious reasons.

Snacks are everything from an apple, bottle of water, all the way up to a giant filled soft pretzel or cupcake. During the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, there are countless options considered snack credits that can make a meal.

You receive all of your credits upon check in to your resort. Children ages 3-9 will receive child credits for quick service and table service meals. If there happens to be no children’s menu, they are able to choose items off the full menu.There is no difference in snack credits for children or adults.

Comparing Discounts

A favorite argument of Disney fans is that “free dining isn’t free”. I will always disagree with them. Yes the dining plan is FREE, however you pay full price for your hotel room stay. In order to accurately compare the two discounts, you will need to price out free dining and then the room only discount PLUS tickets and the dining plan added. Free dining is a better deal at value and moderate resorts 99 out of 100 times (the exception is a family of two staying for a short period of time).

That math really becomes important at deluxe resorts and deluxe villas where discounts are typically 30% or more in the fall. Typically a 5-6 night stay makes for a $500 discount with room only. This deal would be greater for a family of 1 adult and 1 child or 2 adults during a short stay. For a group larger than two or three, the discount typically comes close or free dining is a better deal. Remember, if it saves you more money on a room discount, you can always pay for the dining plan and still save a few bucks along the way.

Making the dining plan work for you!

Even though the dining plan is free, it’s still good to know general dining plan strategy: choosing characters meals when available (these are all buffet but great if you’ve got kids), planning your table service meals ahead of time. You are able to book dining reservations up to 180 days in advance whether you have a resort reservation or not. Make sure you make enough reservations to use up all of your table service credits. These reservations are best made for lunch or dinner as these are typically the most expensive meals. A late lunch or early are my favorites – you can likely get away with meals each day plus a snack.

Depending on your arrival and departure times, you may need to plan carefully to use all of your credits. If you have an early departure on your last day, don’t be afraid to use all but one of your credits for a filling breakfast on your way back home. On the contrary, if you have a late departure, save at least one table service credit for a great lunch before you head home.

The Fine Print

Not all resorts are included in free dining. Typically Disney chooses resorts based on how many guests are booked in that resort at the time of the promotion (as a way to entice guests to fill specific resorts). Excluded for almost every promotion are all 3-bedroom villas, the Little Mermaid Rooms at Art of Animation, the campsites at Fort Wilderness, and the Villas at Grand Floridian. No specific information on what will be included this time around. The more flexible you are able to be, the better your chances of getting the dining plan for free!

Free dining requires a package stay (Disney resort stay PLUS park tickets). You are required to to have a 2 day base ticket if you are interested in adding free dining. This includes those that are Annual Passholders. You are able to put the cost of your 2 day base ticket toward next year’s annual pass if you wish to take part in free dining. You are also required a minimum of 2 night’s stay (while Disney’s promotional materials say 6 days, 5 nights, it’s not a requirement!)

Children under 3 are free at Disney World and therefore do not need park tickets or the dining plan. If you choose to eat at buffet locations, they are able to have their own plate of food. At table service and quick service restaurants, they can share with an adult or another child.

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Need help?

Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free cruise opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

 

Tips and Tricks for the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan

 

The deluxe dining plan. More food than you could ever imagine. This plan is great for foodies, people that really love sit down meals or want multiple signature meals.


As a refresher, here’s what’s included in the deluxe dining plan:

  •          3 table service or quick service credits per person (for each night stayed)
  •          2 snack credits per person (for each night stayed)
  •          1 refillable mug to be used at any Disney resort during your stay

Unlike the Plus Dining Plan (or the “standard” dining plan), you receive an appetizer with your meal. This is in addition to the entrée, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage. For any quick service choices, you will not receive an appetizer. And if you choose to eat breakfast, you will not have an appetizer or dessert.

Here’s some do’s and don’ts from those that have wined and dined via the deluxe dining plan:

DO schedule all of your reservations ahead of time via DisneyWorld.com/dining or ask your travel agent from help. Dining reservations open up 180 days before your arrival and with an active reservation you are able to book dining for the first 10 days of your trip which is a great way to get those hard to get reservations!

DO NOT try to eat three table service meals every day. Between 3 meals and 2 snacks, you’ll be dying. Try for two table service meals (either a breakfast and a signature dinner or an early lunch and a late signature dinner).

DO know what each credit allows you. On the deluxe dining plan you receive an appetizer, entrée, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage per person for lunch and dinner. Breakfast does not include an appetizer or dessert. Quick service meals do not include an appetizer. You can also use your credits for a buffet meal!

DO NOT feel like you have to clear your plate at every meal. It’s a lot of food, so enjoy what you want.

DO the math and see if this is what works best for you! While you may want to eat at many signature restaurants for dinner, you may not need an appetizer and dessert for each meal. It could be less expensive paying out of pocket. Plus you’ll get to save money through the date of your arrival. When choosing any dining plan, you are required to make final payment for your entire trip 45 days before arrival.

 DO try new things and be adventurous.

 DO NOT feel like you have to choose the most expensive item on the menu if you paid for the dining plan. The whole point of having credits is to not think about money!

 DO use your snack credits for things like Starbucks coffee. Now that it’s available in 2 parks AND Downtown Disney, it’s a perfect way to start the day, or keep you going.

 DO NOT just eat in the parks. Some of the best restaurants on Disney property are not located in any of the parks: California Grill, ‘Ohana, and Boma just to name a few.

DO share a meal if you’re too full! Almost every restaurant will allow you to share credits if you can’t eat everything. The exceptions I am aware of are buffet meals and Via Napoli in Epcot.

DO NOT  choose this plan if you are traveling with younger children. Signature meals can take 2 hours or more with appetizer, entrée, and dessert. The exception to this rule is if you want to hit all of the character dining restaurants which take considerably less time.

DO use all of your snack credits even if it’s to bring some souvenir snacks home to family and friends.

DO plan for tips in your budget. With lots of table service credits to choose from, make sure you budget for 18-20% gratuity for each meal.

Related Posts:

Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free cruise opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

More Disney World Dining Tips and Tricks

 

Well from what my blog is telling me, Disney World Tips and Tricks seems to be the most important things to viewers on Pinterest and reader suggestions. Adding to the previous dining tips & tricks, here is a continuing list of dining suggestions. Whether you are taking advantage of the Disney Dining Plan or not, these should be useful on your next trip!

  1. Seasoned veterans know that it’s most ideal to book dining 180 day in advance. Most first timers don’t book their trip that far in advance. It’s good to know some alternatives to the most popular meals. There are some great dining options at the resorts surrounding the parks. Don’t be afraid to venture outside your home resort!
  2. When on the Dining Plan, don’t be afraid to tell your server that you’re new to the dining plan and would like some guidance. They are there to help and not mislead you in any way!
  3. Water is free at any Disney quick service restaurant. This is especially popular in the summer months. No need to order anything. A cast member can give you a plastic cup with ice water for no charge.
  4. Book a late morning reservation for breakfast and save money on meals – this is more pertinent to those not on the dining plan.(bring a snack so you’re not starving).
  5. Along the same lines, snacks can be meals! If you plan correctly, a well timed cupcake can suffice as breakfast (hey, it’s vacation!)
  6. Only pay for the food you want. This was lightly touched on in a previous post, but I figured I would expand: Only want a hamburger, ask for no cheese. Don’t want fries or chips? Ask for just the burger or sandwich. it will cost a lot less as well!
  7. Plan for food cost, even if you aren’t planning table service meals! Check out AllEars.net for accurate food costs for both quick service and table service restaurants.
  8. If characters are a must in your trip, find out where you can see them in the parks. If dining with a character is not important, then set up a FastPass when possible!
  9. Adults, don’t be afraid to order off the kids quick service menu (if not on the Disney Dining Plan).
  10. Learn about the Disney World Must Eat Snacks and decide which ones you would like to try. My short list:
  • Dole Whip Floats (Aloha Isle – Magic Kingdom)
  • Zebra Domes (Animal Kingdom & Animal Kingdom Lodge)
  • Specialty Cupcakes (various locations)
  • School Bread (Norway Pavilion – Epcot)

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Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!) I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!