Walt Disney World: Back to Basics


It’s been a long time since I had some time to write so it’s time to go back to basics! Let’s talk about the basics of Walt Disney World. This is the perfect way to plan for a first time visit or the first time in a long time visit.

Packages vs. room and tickets ala carte

In almost every single scenario, having your package bundled together is the best thing for you. First, it’s the ONLY way you can include a dining plan and second, it gives you the most protection of your money. Disney packages require just a $200 deposit to confirm (which can include as little as your room and tickets but as much as dining plan, travel insurance, and more!) If you purchase items ala carte, you’re going to pay a one night + tax deposit on your room space, separate purchase for your tickets (which is non-refundable), Memory Maker (non-refundable), and you don’t have the option to include travel protection insurance in case something happens. With packages, you can add travel insurance which protects your entire package and in many cases, you stand to lose less if you have to cancel your plans for the unexpected.

So what is a package?

  • In the most basic form it’s room + tickets booked together
  • Guests can also book a “ticketless” package – if you aren’t planning on going into the park, are an annual passholder, member of the military, or have old non-expiring tickets from a trip long ago, you can book room + dining together and skip the ticket portion
  • Packages can include the optional additions of dining plan, travel protection insurance, Memory Maker, or even flights!

The Resorts

What do the resort categories mean?

Disney has 4 unique resort categories with their own pros and cons…

Value Resorts. These are the most cost effective options out of any resort category. This isBoardwalk Across the water.JPG best for guests that are looking to save money on their resort experience. Keep in mind that these resorts are at many times host to youth sporting events and international tour groups so it can effect your resort experience if you’re planning on spending any significant amount of time at your resort, this may not be the best place for you. These are resorts are great for those that are going to be spending all day in the parks and not thinking about a resort break in the day – essentially a place to sleep and shower! The exception to this rule is Art of Animation which have family suites and can feel a bit more robust in terms of offerings and experience than the other value resorts.

Moderate Resorts. These resorts offer additional resort amenities on site. Some notable upgrades from the value resort experience – larger resort rooms (some of these resorts sleep up to 5 guests), water slides at the main pool, additional on site dining options, and covered bus stops (so if it’s raining or really hot, it’s a nice feeling of relief to be out of the elements). These resorts are more middle of the road in term of pricing and many first timers find this resort a comfortable starting point in terms of price point and resort experience.

Deluxe Resort. This is my favorite resort category. You add even more to the available amenities from the moderate category and you’ll find stronger theming throughout the rooms and resorts (NOT Mickey around every turn – just stronger central themes – like African Safari, Yacht Club, a tropical oasis, and more) These rooms are larger yet – most of which sleep a total of 4 guests and some can sleep 5 (or more in suites). These resorts Beach Club Inside roomalso have additional dining options (at least 2 if not more choices to dine on site), things like watercraft or tours available in the resort, a room with a view (theme park, savanna, fireworks, etc.) and often special park access – whether it be a different way to get to the parks besides a bus – boat, monorail, walking. The key to most of these resorts is location, location, location! We also feel a little bit more of the warm fuzzies when it comes the guest experience.

Deluxe Villas. These are similar to deluxe villas in amenities. The difference in these are the room layout and overall size. These rooms come in different sizes – studio (similar to a standard hotel room), 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom, and 3 bedroom grand villa. This is more like condo living. Studios have a microwave in room, and 1 and 2 bedroom villas have both washer/dryers AND a full kitchen inside each unit. It makes it feel a bit more like home plus the same benefits of the deluxe resorts above!

Theme park tickets.

Choosing your park tickets can be a difficult piece of the planning puzzle for everyone. Single day tickets, park hopper tickets, park hopper plus which includes water park access. I like the convenience of park hopper tickets for my family so we can go back to a favorite park and open up additional options for dining.

Park hopper tickets are incredibly important during the fall and winter months when Disney hosts some special events in Magic Kingdom which limit park hours as well as dining in that parks. Additionally, days without parties become VERY crowded (over the last 2 years it’s been almost unbearable on non-party nights like holiday crowds on mundane October Saturday night)! Park hopper tickets allow you to start your day in Magic Kingdom on a party night and hop somewhere else for the evening. And on the other side, start in another park in the morning and hop one night to Magic Kingdom to see the amazing fireworks show!

Water park tickets. When is this a good option? Disney water parks are amazing and a great heat relief. It’s also a really great addition for guests with longer stays as well. It’s a nice way to do a little bit of relaxing and do a little less walking than a normal park day. And with park hopper tickets as a park of your package, it’s a very inexpensive addition!

Dining plan

Disney has 3 dining plans for 2018: Quick Service, Plus Dining, and Deluxe Dining. Regardless of your choice, each member of your traveling party will receive a refillable mug to be used at your resort. It can actually be refilled at any resort during your stay. No refills at the parks though!

The quick service dining plan provides you with 2 quick service credits and 2 snacks for each night stayed.

  • Each quick service credit comes with an entree and non-alcoholic beverage whether you use it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner

PLUS dining (or the Disney dining plan) provides you with 1 table service credit, 1 quick service credit, and TWO snacks for each night stayed.

  • Quick service credit comes with an entree and  beverage (it can  be alcoholic OR photo 1(2)non-alcoholic) whether you use it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • Table service credits come with an entree, beverage (it can  be alcoholic OR non-alcoholic) and dessert. No dessert will be offered if you choose to use a credit at breakfast.
  • Table service credits can also exchanged for a buffet or family style meal.

The Deluxe Dining Plan provides you with 3 credits which can be used for either table service or quick service and 2 snacks for each night stayed.

  •  Quick service credits come with an entree and non-alcoholic beverage.
  • Table service credits come with an appetizer, entree, beverage (it can  be alcoholic OR non-alcoholic), and dessert. No appetizer or dessert will be offered if you choose to use a credit at breakfast. (This is an appetizer per person – not for your entire group so if you have a group of 4 you will receive 4 appetizers)
  • Table service credits can also be exchanged for buffet or family style meals.

Dining plan makes your reservation a more “all inclusive” type of vacation. Cost wise, it’s close to “break even” in terms of paying as you go vs. using a dining plan (we often end up saving money with a dining plan. I also like the convenience of the dining plan so everything is paid in full ahead of time vs. spending a ton of money on a package and hen spending a ton more money on food (because people really under estimate how much money food actually costs once inside the Disney bubble!)


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

So that’s a primer of the basics of Walt Disney world? So what’s right for you? I’d love to talk about your next Walt Disney World vacation! My planning services are 100% free for guests who book a package with Magical Vacations! Talk to me about a free, no obligation quote today!

Tips and Tricks for Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation

Tips & Tricks for Planning a Disney World Vacation

So you want to plan a Disney vacation. Congrats! You’ve gotten to the first BIG step: RESEARCH

This step would ideally be completed 7-12 months before your travel date. Already feel behind? Don’t worry, I’ll catch you up! During the research phase, I’d suggest ordering a planning DVD from Disney’s web site. This will familiarize you with the parks and some of the great things Disney World has to offer presented in a fun way the whole family will enjoy.

Next steps, create your budget. I suggest creating multiple budgets underneath your full budget. This would include airfare or gas to get you to Disney, hotel and park tickets, food (or dining plan), souvenirs, and any extra spending money. During down travel times, a decent budget for a family of 4 (2 adults, 1 junior, 1 child) would be about $2500 for hotel and park tickets. It can obviously be a little less or a little more. During peak travel times, I’d suggest a budget of about $3000 for hotel and park tickets as prices increase during spring break, summer, and holiday time.

Once you have a budget, it’s time to start looking at resorts (hotels). Each hotel has their own pros and cons and with over 25 options, it can be VERY confusing! To make things easier, here’s some easy questions to answer to help get to your final destination:

  •          What are my options within my budget?
  •          Are we a family of 5 or more?
  •          Is location on Disney property important?
  •          What park do you plan on visiting the most?
  •          Do you have a little one who will need a nap in the middle of the day?
  •          Do you need Disney characters in your room or around your resort? (this is somewhat limited)
  •          Is bed size important to you?

All these important questions will help steer you toward the best location for you.


Remember, if you’re looking more than 6 months out from your vacation, the cost you see online will likely not be your end cost. Disney typically released special offers/discounts between 2-4 months prior to your arrival date.

Why do I suggest booking so far out? DINING! If getting some of the hottest dining reservations are important to your family, you need to have your vacation booked more than 180 days from your arrival date. This will allow you to get first pick of dining locations like Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table. Be Our Guest consistently is 100% booked 180 days from arrival and getting a reservation for dinner is extremely difficult after that point.  On top of that, you’ll need to be up at 6 am eastern time to secure a great reservation time (for you west coasters that’s 3 am!)

The next step in this process is RELAXING! Between 180 days and 60 days there’s not a ton of important things to do except get excited and think about the various attractions you’d like to see/do as well as any characters you’d like to meet. Check online Disney’s website for some information or order customized maps for your vacation. This will give you a list of all the available attractions in each park. Now is also the time to keep an eye out for discounts to be released through Disney’s web site. Once they are made available, it’s important that you call a cast member to apply the discount as soon as possible as rooms at some resorts go very quickly.  Be aware you may need to upgrade your room view to take advantage of the discount (you’ll still save money in the process, so don’t worry about it too much!) Also be aware that it may take over an hour on the phone to get a hold of a cast member when a new discount is released and Disney does not automatically apply any discounts to your account without your request.

At 60 days, we’re back to BOOKING. Now it’s time to book your FastPass+ reservations. When you do this, it’s very important that you know a few things:

  •          Do you have park hopper tickets?
  •          Parks with early morning magic hours
  •          Best and worst parks each day
  •          The best attractions to use your FastPass+ allotments on
  •          Do you have smaller kids that would be scared of dark rides or have height restrictions?

Around this time is usually the perfect time to get the lowest cost on flight reservations (if you haven’t already done so). After your flight, you’ll need to call Disney to add your flight information to your Magical Express reservation.  60 days prior to arrival is also makes online check-in available. This will allow you to provide Disney with your arrival time to your resort as well as provide a credit card on file during your stay. It’s another way to skip the line. If you’re planning on arriving later in the afternoon, this option isn’t necessary.

This is also a quick reminder that in 15 short days, your final payment is due for any package. If you have a room only reservation, you’ll pay the remaining balance on arrival.

Between 45 days and arrival day, there’s not much more to do in the planning phase. If you were unable to get any dining locations you were hoping for, you can continue to check back online for cancellations. Or, if you’re like me, you can change and update your FastPass+ and dining reservations until you make yourself crazy!

Have a completely confused you? Do you feel really behind? The good news is that you have another option to take all the stress and planning away. Use an authorized Disney vacation planner and the better news, is I’m happy to help! Four reasons to use a travel planner instead of doing it all yourself:


Reason #1 to use a  Travel Professional: KNOWLEDGE!

Did you know that some of the most popular Disney Restaurants can be completely booked 180 days in advance? Your best bet is to wake up at 6 am EST and get advanced dining reservations online. For you west coasters, that means 3 AM! Unless you have a newborn that’s already awake, that’s no fun for anyone. As part of my Disney Travel Experience, I take care of all of your planning needs, not only resort and ticket reservations, but also Dining and FastPass+. This is more time to spend with your family.

Reason #2 to use a  Travel Professional: CONVENIENCE & TIME!

Your ideal resort or room sold out on Disney’s web site for the promotion you were hoping to get? Well never fear, check with a Disney Travel Specialist to see if their access allows you to book your dream vacation. Also, Magical Vacations is the Home of the Minnie Box, a special gift that arrives on top of all the other goodies that Disney offers when you book a vacation package! Additionally, you’ll have extra time in the parks with a personalized itinerary tailored to your family’s wants and needs.

Reason #3 to use a Disney Travel Professional: SPECIAL BENEFITS!

Did you know that using a travel professional is absolutely 100% FREE? You read that right! Having someone else do all the heavy lifting, waking up early, and being available for questions costs nothing! PLUS, you have the peace of mind that everything is taken care of before your departure.

Reason #4 to use a Travel Professional: FREE!

There are just some of the great benefits of using an authorized Disney vacation planner. While you are able to use any travel professional, I suggest you choose one who is readily available, willing to go the extra mile to make your vacation magical, and someone with a great level of customer service. So what have you got to lose?

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!