Tips to Planning a Disney Vacation....
Updated: Feb 26, 2020
and Not Lose Your Ever-Loving Mind
Family vacations are supposed to be relaxing. A way to connect with each other, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and the stresses that come with it.
Studies have shown that just anticipating and planning a vacation can be a mood boost.
So why does it feel like a Disney vacation is the exception to the rule?
Instead of relaxing, it can feel overwhelming and stressful. And one look at that price tag can raise anyone’s blood pressure.
Believe it or not it is possible to plan an amazing, magical Disney vacation without all the stress and feeling of being overwhelmed. It’s just a matter of shifting your mindset, zeroing in on your ultimate vacation goal, and letting everything else go.
Here are my top 10 tips to planning an amazing Disney vacation. Follow these and you’ll be amazed at how relaxed you will be before and during your vacation, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything, and maybe even save a few dollars in the process.
Don’t Over plan
If you try and plan every single moment of your vacation, you will have nothing more than a stressful planning process AND vacation.
Sometimes the best moments and memories are made in the downtime. The unexpected and magical encounter with a character that just happens to be your daughter’s favorite.
The brief yet impressive downpour that drenches your entire family and sets you off in fits of laughter.
Those are the moments you’ll remember for years to come. Not whether you stuck to your spreadsheet schedule and hit everything on it.
I give my clients a special worksheet to help them plan their Disney days. (By the way, you can get your own copy of my planning worksheets for free here.)
These worksheets help you capture important details such as restaurant reservations, FastPass+ reservations, a show or parade you want to catch, etc. But there isn’t enough room to fill in every inch of your day with stuff.
This way you can feel prepared and organized -- which for the type A personality like me is essential to feeling relaxed on a vacation – without over planning.
Pick a Few Top Must Dos
What should you plan and fill in on those worksheets?
There are a TON of things to do at Disneyland and Disney World. It is impossible to do them all in one trip, or even two. I’ve gone to the parks many, many times and haven’t seen it all.
Each trip pick just a handful of things that you MUST do and focus on getting those done. Maybe let each member of the family pick the one thing they want to do each day and put those in the worksheet.
A show, a character meet and greet, a restaurant, a ride…whatever it is, just pick a handful of them per day to focus on.
Then see where the rest of the time takes you and enjoy those things as they come.
You will feel accomplished and like you got more out of your trip than you expected. Not disappointed because you missed out on one of the many things on your exhausting list.
Once you have your short list of must dos it’s important to be aware of certain deadlines so you can take the steps to make that happen.
If it’s a special restaurant you want to try, make sure you make that reservation 180 days before check-in if staying at Disney World, 60 days in advance for Disneyland.
For Disney World, if it’s a ride on your must-do list, get online 60 days before check-in if staying at a Disney World resort, or 30 days in advance if staying off property, and make that FP+ reservation.
If it’s a Disneyland ride, make sure you get MaxPass.
Not all things on your must-do list may require a reservation, and that’s okay. But it’s important to know what things do and its reservation timeline so you can make it happen.
Budget for Food & Tips
It’s easy to forget the sometimes-costly food bill that comes with going on a Disney vacation. The character meals, snacks, breakfast, etc. It all adds up. Make sure you account for those costs in your final budget, so you aren’t caught off guard at the end of your trip.
An easy way to do this at Disney World is getting the dining plan. There are several levels of the plan you can purchase based on your family’s dining habits. Pick the one that works best for you, add it to your vacation package, and now you know ahead of time exactly what your food will cost you. Check that off the list!
Still be sure to include tips and gratuities in your budget though. I also have a vacation budget worksheet that allows you to fill in these details, automatically do all the calculations for you, and give you a total number. (Again, get these for free here.)
Know the rules before you go
There is nothing more stressful and annoying than getting up to the front gate of the parks and being told something in your possession is not allowed and having to go alllll the way back to your hotel to put it away.
Make sure you know the rules on what is and is not allowed to be taken into the parks so this doesn’t happen to you.
Things like how big your stroller can be, what types of strollers are allowed (hint: if it’s a wagon, it’s a no go), what size coolers are allowed, etc.
It’s a short list and can be found here.
Check Park Hours Before You Go
Disney park hours are somewhat predictable, but do change for special events, extra magic hours, and time of year. Make sure you check the park hours for your travel dates at least a couple weeks before your departure so you can plan accordingly.
Hint, the saying the early bird gets the worm is very true for Disney trips. You can get so much done in the early morning hours before the heat and crowds pick up, it’s ridiculous. Maybe even all your must-dos, leaving the rest of the day to enjoy as it comes.
By knowing the park hours ahead of time, you can set your alarm and plan your mornings accordingly to take advantage of the first couple hours of park time.
Be Strategic in your FastPass Reservations
This applies to Disney World only, but there is an art to planning your FastPass+ reservations to make the most of your time. To make it more confusing, the strategy differs depending on the type of park ticket you have and your goals of the day.
But again, having that short list of must-dos makes this task so much easier. Focus on that list when making your FastPass+ selections and you will be golden no matter what.
Here is where a travel agent that specializes in Disney can really come in handy. He or she can help you come up with the perfect FP+ reservation plan based on your specific needs and desires. This is something I do and of course I have a worksheet for.
Build in Rest or Downtime
This goes hand in hand with not over planning. If you have a spreadsheet full of things you just must do, you might feel pressured to cram it all in and go go go from sunup to park close. That’s exhausting for anyone, let alone a kid!
If you allow yourself time to rest, you will be in a better mood overall, especially as the week wears on. Kids won’t be as tired and cranky, you won’t be tired and cranky, and everyone will have a much better time.
You don’t need to go back to the hotel and rest if that’s not your thing. Simply taking a moment to sit down, look around you and take in where you are and the magic around you can be enough to re-energize you.
Use a Disney Focused Travel Agent
There is a lot that goes into planning a Disney vacation, it can be a lot to keep track of. And all the different hotel and ticket options can make anyone’s head spin!
Using a Disney focused travel agent can greatly reduce your planning stress levels. A good one will save you money, listen to you, and help you plan the perfect trip based on your individual needs and desires.
They can help you narrow down your hotel and ticket choices based on your priority list and budget, come up with the perfect park planning strategy, and be a sounding board to answer your questions to name a few benefits.
If a sale comes up that will save you money, they will automatically apply it to your reservation. No calling an 800 number and sitting on hold required.
They can also help you while you are on your trip. If something goes wrong or you have a question when you are in the middle of Magic Kingdom, a simple text message to your agent should do the trick and you’ll be back enjoying your vacation in no time.
As in any profession, not all travel agents are created equal. Find one that you connect with and feel comfortable talking to.
And there is a lot to know so having one that lives and breathes Disney daily is important. Disney changes things all the time.
I like to have phone conversations to start out so I can get to know the family I’m working with a bit more. It’s much easier to connect on the phone or in person rather than in email. Then I can tailor my packages and recommendations accordingly.
I also take each client’s vacation personally. I want them to have a good time and I do everything in my power to help make that happen. Sometimes that means getting up at 4am to call Disney and make reservations. But getting those coveted dining reservations and making my clients day makes it all worthwhile.
My favorite thing is when my clients text me pictures of their kids having a blast at Disneyland or Disney World. I love seeing those happy faces! It makes my job and those early morning hours oh so fulfilling.
Relax and Have fun!
Most importantly, relax! Have fun! You are at a Disney park for goodness sakes!
Go with the flow, see where the day takes you. Don’t worry about all those people in your ear telling you to do Disney a certain way. There is no one way to enjoy and do Disney. What works for one person won’t work for another and vice versa.
Just focus on making wonderful memories with your family and the magic is sure to follow.
I am a travel agent with Magical Vacation Planner and can help you plan an unforgettable vacation with your family. Email me, head to my Facebook page, or set up time to chat if you’d like to start planning your magical vacation.
Or head here to request access to my Disney Vacation Planning Valult, which includes free Disney Vacation planning worksheets.