Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Disney Trip Planning: Tips and Resources

Get ready for longest, most extensive Disney Trip Planning post ever! All the best resources for your trip planning can be found in one place-my blog! These really aren't in any particular order, but I did try to divide them into two categories!

Make a Countdown Calendar
This was one of my favorite things to do each day, especially as it got closer to our trip! Click here for the one I made, complete with printables! Mine is not the only out there of course, so check Pinterest for others! This is the first thing I would do after planning a trip-it makes time go by faster!

Download the My Disney Experience App.
The My Disney Experience App is a free app that contains all of the reservations you make online. (If you are planning a trip and you haven't gone to the website, click here and have fun!) The app is a great resource if you are on the go. It also is invaluable once you are in the park-it has current park times and wait times for each ride! I cant tell you how many times we referenced our app during planning and even while at the parks!

To ADR or not to ADR.
For those of you who are new to the planning process, ADR stands for Advance Dining Reservations. This is just a quick and easy way to make your meal reservations for your time in Disney. It covers most Table Service restaurants in the parks, in the resorts, and even Downtown Disney. We actually did not make a single ADR during our most recent trip. That being said, if we had gone at a busy time, we would have needed them to eat at the places we did. So should you do it or not? We didnt need them, but they would have been helpful. If you are an OCD planner or going at a super busy time or have super picky eaters, definitely do ADRs. If you are going at a less busy time of year or like to fly by the seat of your pants or eat when the whim strikes you, don't make ADRs. It really is up to you. There are Disney Addicts that would kill me for saying that, but we did just fine without them! That being said, there are certain restaurants that require them, like Ohana's, so check in advance to make sure you can get a walk up reservation! So where do you go to make these reservations? Well, the My Disney Experience is a great place to start. Check out the dining page here. If you are trying to get a coveted table at a specific place, start online. It opens an hour before the phones do, so you can get ahead of those people. So what do you do if you DONT make reservations? Check the app to see what is available. Then go here and see what sounds good! It also lists all of the counter service restaurants, so you can find something quick that is near to you! We did this and it really paid off! It also is a great resource when planning your ADRs-just plug in where you will be and select where you want to eat!

Stay in a Disney Resort!
I think this is the single best piece of advice I can give. Anyone who tells you that it isn't worth it is lying or crazy! The buses are great and easy to get around in-and I'm told take the same amount of time no matter what time of year it is! That being said, choose your resort based on your needs. If you want easy access to the parks, I would go with the Boardwalk, the Beach Club, or Saratoga Springs. They are all super close to multiple parks and easy to get around in! We stayed in the Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village. It was a beautiful resort, but it took FOREVER to get around. In addition to the ease of transportation, the Disney resorts provide service and amenities, as well as amazing themeing, that you wont find in a Hampton Inn. So do yourself a favor-stay in a resort! They have multiple types, ranging from value resorts to super expensive villas! There really is something for everyone and every budget. Plus you cant beat having such easy access to such great food in the resorts!

Disney binder
Some of you OCD planners out there are just itching for a place to keep all your maps and touring plans. Well, this binder is the best I have ever seen. She really thinks of it all! Do yourself a favor: check it out, even if you don't want to make one! She has some great links to awesome downloads that you might actually want!

Disney Addict Facebook page
This page was a great resource for me in planning and even in the parks! All you do is join the group! People ask questions all the time, so you can learn just from that. But every time I asked a question I got a multitude of answers that really helped me make decisions!

Disney planning timeline
This timeline really helps if you have the full time frame to plan out your trip. You don't have to follow it exactly (it is your trip after all!), but you may find it helpful to know when to do certain things (like make ADRs at 180 days out!).
This page is awesome. It really is the one stop shop for knowing when and how to do things. Check it out!

Packing list
Please make a packing list. You will thank yourself later. I actually had been working on one for quite some time, but since we bumped our trip up 9 days, I didn't have time to finish or execute my list. Take the time in advance to make and edit your list. That way, when it comes time to pack, you know exactly what to take and hopefully where it is! It also helps to pack ahead of time-pack away the things you know you are taking that you can live without. It will pay off when you don't have to do the mad dash to throw everything in a suitcase! There are a ton that you can find by searching on Pinterest, but here is a great option! Just keep in mind that you don't need EVERYTHING on these lists. For example- we didn't eat in our room but once so we didn't need a lot of food or utensils or cleaning supplies. Just use your judgement based on what you and your family will do!

Consult a Crowd Calendar.
Not only is this a great idea to help you decide WHEN to plan your vacation, but it also helps you decide what day to go to each park! This is the one that I used, but there are many others.

In the Parks:
What to pack in your park bag.
-I used this Vera Bradley backpack and it was perfect. I had plenty of room for everything and it wasn't too heavy even packed down. I was afraid that I would have a hard time bringing it on rides, but I never once had a problem. Each ride had a basket that you could place your belongings in, so don't worry about bringing a bag-you'll have room!
- I used this Vera Bradley ID case to hold my ID, room key, and park tickets. I liked having them in a separate container so that I could get to them easily.
-Pressed pennies. Some people make cute containers to hold them-there is a plethora of them on Pinterest! But I didn't have time to do that, so I kept mine in a zip lock bag. I brought our whole change jar and just separated out the shiny pennies! I could go on and on about how much I love pressed pennies. This was SO FUN and just about the cheapest souvenir you can get at Disney. Logan and I had the best time finding the machines, and Ben even got into at the end as well! It is fun to hunt down the machines, and I LOVED the machines were you crank a lever to get your coin. So fun, so easy, so cheap! For a list of pressed penny locations, click here.
-Sunscreen: Please please please take sunscreen with you. It is not enough to put it on first thing in the day! Please re-apply! I used sunscreen by Mary Kay because I like the quality, but you can take any kind. Sprays are good for reapplying, especially on kids!
-Bandaids/moleskin: Take it from me-you want this! I got the worst blisters IN BETWEEN MY TOES. It was awful and made it difficult to walk. Moleskin saved the day-it really allowed me to enjoy my trip and not be in as much pain! Please learn from my lesson and take it!
-Glasses case: We took an extra glasses case to put Ben's glasses in for rides. It was really helpful to have that protected case on the bumpy rides. If you don't wear glasses, I guess you wont need this, but it is also helpful as a storage place for small items like rings.
-Ponchos: If you didn't know you were supposed to take a poncho, you must be living under a rock. It rains all the time in Florida, and the showers can often dissipate before you have a chance to get out of the park. Take advantage of this time-there will be less crowds! We even got a picture in front of Cinderella's Castle without anyone in the background! So take your poncho and man up!
-Flip flops: If you are like me, you hate for your feet to get hot! Take a pair of lightweight flip flops to wear on the way home from the park or to change into for dinner. You will thank me!
-Gum: Did you know that they don't sell gum anywhere on the property? Crazy, huh? So do like I did-buy a big pack of gum in bulk. Not only does it keep stinky breath away, it is nice to have a flavor in your mouth when it is hot outside. Don't ask why, its just nice!
-Phone chargers: Ben and I both used our phones a lot while at Disney. We were constantly on the My Disney Experience App or taking pictures so we used a lot of battery. Having the phone charger (or an extra battery) allows you to use your phone to its full potential and enjoy your time that much more!

Big camera or small?
I took three different types of cameras to Disney-my camera phone, a point and shoot, and a big daddy DSLR with a lens. Of all the pictures that I took, my favorite came from the DSLR. I was a little apprehensive about taking it, but I found that it didn't get in the way at all, and it was easy to stow in my backpack when we got on rides. Every person will tell you differently, but if you really care about the quality of your pictures, take the better camera.

Photopass +?
Before we left, I debated between getting the Photopass+ or taking a camera. Based on the previous comment, you can tell that I brought my own camera. Many people swear by the Photopass+ (a card that you purchase that allows you to download all the pictures that the park photographers take as well as the pictures from your rides), but I found it to be unnecessary. I got most of the pictures that I wanted myself, and the Photopass Photographers were always willing to take a picture with my camera. Most of them didn't even bother taking one with theirs, so that was nice. I will say that EPCOT had the least friendly photographers of all the parks and they did not take the extra special care that the others did. The one thing that I found to be worth is the Attractions Photopass. This cost us $49.99 (that we divided between the 3 families) and allowed us to download all of our pictures from the rides. As a scrapbooker, I felt like this was well worth the cost! If I was to purchase anything again, it would definitely be this photopass for the attractions. It may be that we had a great experience, but in the future I wouldn't purchase the Photopass+. I got what I needed without the extra cost!

Pick up a Times Guide and Map.
This may be one of the best tips I can give you. As you enter the park, you will see stands with brochures. These stands contain park maps and a Times Guide for that week. These are great resources when trying to find princesses or parades or show times. It also tells you the park hours for that week, so it is great to keep on hand! The maps are great keepsakes and can make great souvenirs (I'll show you what I am doing with mine in a much later post!).

To Meal Plan or not to Meal Plan.
Our group decided to do the Disney Dining Plan, which included one snack, one table service credit (entree, desert, non-alcoholic beverage), and one quick service meal (entree, desert, fountain or bottle drink). This cost us about $50 a day per person. For us, this was an expense well worth it. It allowed us to eat what we wanted where we wanted and not have to worry about our budget. We did find, however, that we could have gotten one less day per person and STILL had plenty to eat-we were rushing to use all our credits at the end! It may not be worth it for everyone, especially if you plan to eat in your room or bring food with you, but it was well worth it for us. We ate at some great places and almost always ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, just because we could! I would recommend doing this on the meal plan-it helps you make the most of your money! (At some point in the near future, I will do a breakdown comparison of what we spent on the meal plan vs. the monetary value of what we ate!).

When in doubt, ask a Cast Member.
If you need help deciding what to do next, where to eat, or what to watch, do not hesitate to ask a Cast Member. They have great insight and can point you in the right direction-literally. We were trying to decided what to do and where something was, and 2 cast members made sure we got where we needed to go and gave us advice on what to do. These guys are super helpful, all you have to do is ask. Shoot, just look lost, and one of them will likely come to you!

Don't be that guy.
Have your bags ready and unzipped when you get to the gate. It makes the process so much better and it saves the other people around you from getting annoyed that you are taking so long :)

Magic Kingdom:
-Take the train to different lands instead of walking. We hopped on the train as soon as we came in and headed to Fronteirland. Not only is it quicker than walking, but it also gives you chance to to sit down and take a break. It got is to each park so quickly and we never waited in a very long line! Now all of this could be different at a busier time, but it worked for us!
-Eat a Dole Whip. Thank me later.
-I don't have a lot of tips for this park because we didn't spend a lot of time in it. I will say one thing-don't go on a day when the park closes early. We didn't get to see everything we wanted to and we didn't get to see fireworks. So unless you plan on coming back another day, don't come on a early-close day!

Animal Kingdom:
-Watch out for Devine. Devine is a costumed performer who is dressed as a vine. She is pretty good at hiding, but it is awesome to watch the way she moves and blends in with her surroundings! You can find where she will be in the Times Guide!
-Ride the Safari early in the day or when/after it is raining. I know this has been said alot, but it really makes a difference. The animals are more active and you can see more specimens. It also is a great idea to ride it more than once if you are an animal lover. No two safaris are the same, so you are bound to see something different!
-Eat at Yak and Yetis. I'm not kidding. Best food ever. Seriously. I cant even talk about it that's how good it is. Just do it, K?

Hollywood Studios:
-Interact with the street performers. They usually have pretty funny bits and are a great way to pass the time while waiting for a show or Fantasmic. Click here for what happened when our group interacted with these guys!
-Take advantage of the sit down opportunities. Hollywood Studios had some of the best shows at Disney. Grab a snack and a drink and rest a while-most of the shows are covered so you can get a little relief from the sun and heat!
-Share a turkey leg. I cant even tell you how good these things are. And they are HUGE. Ben and I split one and both had plenty to eat! They are apparently a staple here so get one!
-Stay for Fantasmic. Fantasmic is a light, water, firework, and character show that takes place around a lake that depicts Mickey's dream. It is amazing-by far my favorite show at Disney! There are many dinner packages that allow you to get reserved seating for this, and this is something we will probably try in the future. Either way, WATCH IT. SO GOOD.

-Eat at Seasons food court by Soarin' and Living with the Land. Yummy fresh food and GREAT deserts!
-Stop at Club Cool to get a refreshing FREE beverage on your way to the World Showcase.
-Drink your way around the world. That is, if you are older than 21! We had the BEST TIME doing this! For my report on what we drank and did, click here. Pinterest has many other posts and you can even google it! Trust me-it is well worth it to save your snack credits (if you are on the dining plan) for this park!
-Ride the boat. In the World Showcase they have boats that run you from one side to the other. This is a great way to relax and enjoy the breeze-if there is one. We loved riding the boats and will continue to do so on our future trips!
Downtown Disney
-I didn't have alot of experience here, so I don't have many tips to share. I look forward to spending more time here in the future to have more to share with you!

Best Planning Websites:
There are a TON of planning resources on the Internet. You can do a google search, but these are some of the ones that I felt were the most helpful!
WDW Prep School
Disney Food Blog
Chip & Co.
Disney Diva

For more Disney pins that I DIDN'T feature here, check out my Disney Trip board on Pinterest! (I'm currently pinning for a RunDisney run, so wade through all those posts to get to the planning goodies!).

For all six days of Disney trip reports, click the links below!
Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six

I hope you enjoyed this series! I cant wait for future trips so I can share more goodies with you!


  1. Thanks for mentioning the site! Glad you found it helpful. You've collected a lot of great resources and I'm happy to have been included.


  2. Thank YOU Shannon! Your site was such a help to me when planning my trip and I cant wait to use it again as we take a different approach to our next trip!

  3. Thank you so much! We are planning our first Disney trip this year and your post is one of the best I've seen yet.

  4. Thanks for mentioning articles.


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