Thursday, May 26, 2011

Minnie Moms: Advance Planning Tips, Amy

Now it's my turn to contribute to the Minnie Moms topic of the month: advance planning tips.  See you tomorrow for the end of the mini-series.

My travel party is usually me, my husband, our daughter, Ridge, DisneyDad and Mom.  Sometimes an extra friend will join us.  Andy and I don't live near the rest of the group; we meet them at WDW. 

Accommodations: 6+ months out
We usually begin our planning by booking accommodations.  As Disney Vacation Club members, we can book at our home resort 11 months out and other DVC resorts 7 months out.  Generally, we don't worry about these timeframes too much, but they are important to remember if you want to try for something special like a Grand Villa or a concierge room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, both of which have rather limited numbers available.  Otherwise, DisneyDad or I call DVC whenever we've chosen dates that work for our group, typically with the help of and  Most of the time, we request a 2 bedroom villa at Old Key West, but we are flexible and will stay wherever is available.  Saratoga Springs usually has some space since it is such a huge property.

Travel Plans: 6+ months out
We now live close enough to drive again (YAY!) so this isn't a big deal anymore, but I used to begin watching flights and bargain shopping as soon as we had chosen dates.  Southwest frequently worked best for us since their prices vary less and bags fly free.  Once Tink was a part of the plan and carry-ons weren't an option, not paying for bags saved us a ton.  Also, with her in tow, we had to be more particular about our travel times.  No more super early or super late flights for a while.  We love Magical Express and I usually call them about a month out to reserve our space.  You can call before this but I've had flight numbers change on me before and I don't want to have to call twice.  (I had a heck of a time getting DME booked for our trip in October 2010.  Unfortunately they didn't know what to do when we were arriving on a DVC reservation and leaving on a cash reservation booked through a Disney Vacation Planner.  But it all worked out.)

Dining & Park Touring: 3-6 months out
Now the fun really begins.  As the family vacation planner, I like to book our ADRs (advance dining reservations) 6 months out, but if we aren't planning that far in advance, we'll just be flexible with our restaurant choices.  You never know, you might find something new you really enjoy.  I create a spreadsheet that lists the crowd calendar information from as well as any additional special event information I've found on or Disney's official site.  We use that information to choose which park we'll visit on each day and we generally like to book one ADR per day.  Any more than that is too much time, food, and money for us.  Since we generally split up during the day, having an ADR for lunch or dinner gives us a planned time to come back together as a group and relax and chat about what we've seen and done.  I ask everyone for any favorite restaurants they'd like to visit on that trip and do my best to work them all in.  On the occasions that we've used the Disney Dining Plan, the spreadsheet and all its iterations became rather complicated before we've reached our final goal.  (I'm not against the dining plans but I don't think they work for everyone.  Tables in Wonderland is better for us.)  I really like the new ability to make online dining reservations since it lets me work on our plan at any time of day.
NOTE: I find that this is where first timers really run into trouble.  I've had lots of people ask me about planning their first trip and they are all shocked to find out that they need to make dining reservations so far in advance.  Some are even surprised that they need reservations at all.

Kiddo Prep: As soon as the idea of a trip begins
With really small children, each trip is a whole new experience since they change so quickly.  As soon as we start talking about the next trip, I find myself in research (and sometimes shopping) mode as I look for a stroller, bag (I'm always on the hunt for the perfect diaper or camera bag), think about what attractions would be appropriate this time, which restaurants would work best for our current stage, and how sleeping arrangements will work out.  Add to that travel concerns and you'll want to allow yourself plenty of time to ask lots of questions of parents who have been there, done that.  (The Minnie Moms are always glad to help!!!)

Packing: 1 month out
My husband loves to pick on me for this one, but as I think of things we need for Walt Disney World, especially for Tink, it either goes on a list or in a bag.  If I can live without it, I'll go ahead and set it aside.  For things we use more regularly, I have lists.  Andy is a last minute packer but he only has to worry about himself.  I take care of everything else and don't want to have to worry at the end.  If it's on a list, I know I'll get it when the time comes and it keeps me relaxed.

Disney Visa Rewards: 1 month and 1 week
We use our Disney Visa for everything and then pay it off each month.  This helps us rack up Disney Reward Dollars to use on our vacation.  At about a month out, I make sure I have a card (they use a gift card-like system) and if I don't have an active one, I will go online and place my order.  If you aren't requesting overnight shipping, then requesting the card is free but you need to allow a week or two for arrival.  About a week before our trip, I will transfer any new Reward Dollars onto our card.  You can use this card practically everywhere on property, and we typically use it for treating the group (or ourselves or both) to a nice meal or for things we might not have splurged on otherwise, such as a massage after my first marathon.

Shoes and Clothes: 1 month + out
While this one may seem silly, it can be hard to find shorts out of season, so be sure in advance that you have appropriate and comfortable clothes that fit well.  I think a good pair of running/walking shoes is essential, but be sure to get some miles on them prior to your vacation.  You don't want to put a damper on a trip because those really cute shoes are rubbing enormous blisters on your feet.  Trust me, comfort is more important than fashion when you are on feet for the better part of a week.

--Amy, founder of Growing Up Disney and the Minnie Moms

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