Friday, June 21, 2013

Magical Blogorail: First-Timer Planning Tips

Welcome to the first stop aboard Magical Blogorail Red. Enjoy the ride as we share our tips for planning your first Disney vacation.

Magical Blogorail Red, Walt Disney World planning, Disney first timer

A good friend of mine is planning a very special Walt Disney World vacation for this fall and has asked me for help.  Technically she has visited WDW once but since it has been about 30 years, we're considering her as a first-timer.  On this vacation, Ann will be traveling with her husband, their daughter who will be almost 4, and Ann's retired parents. They are all looking forward to seeing the little one take in the magic and Grandpa really wants to spoil his grandbaby.

first visit to walt disney world

You have to admit the volume of information available about Disney World is daunting. The options are nearly endless and a first-timer could quickly get overwhelmed with the research project required for a Disney vacation. I've tried not to bombard my friend with tons of information as she begins the process but rather break it down into smaller tasks.  Here are the first few things to consider as a first time Walt Disney World guest-to-be.  I'll write additional posts on this topic as I help her plan for the big trip.

cinderella castle

The first step is to select travel dates. They were originally considering September, wanting lower crowds with weather still warm enough to enjoy some pool time.  Ann and her husband had not heard about the Food and Wine Festival but of course, it peeked their interest.  They were at our house for dinner, asking tons of Disney questions, when F&W came up.  Looks now like they'll visit in late September or early October, depending on which works best with school.  I reviewed Touring Plan's crowd calendar for my friend and that time of year is fabulous.  I also suggest checking the calendar at All Ears to see if there are any special events, conventions, tournaments, etc that a guest would either like to see or avoid.

Step two is to choose a Disney resort hotel.  There are some really good off-property options but you just can't beat the magic 'bubble' that staying on Disney property provides.  Especially for infrequent guests, the special touches, theming, and terrific Cast Members of a Disney resort hotel are really worth spending a little more.  Ann and her family are really interested in being very close to the Magic Kingdom and will likely book a room at the Grand Floridian.  Ann first let me know they were starting to plan via a text message.  She asked if I had heard of the Grand Floridian.  I told her I loved to visit there but I wouldn't personally pay the "Grand" prices and suggested Port Orleans Riverside.  What I didn't know was her father had already made up his mind that they were staying at the Grand and it was pretty much a done deal.  My husband and I had a suite there for our wedding night and it was beautiful.

If you are deciding where to stay for your first Walt Disney World vacation, know that Disney offers a wide variety of accommodations.  The prices vary widely from the cheapest value resort to the most expensive deluxe suite.  Once you've decided your budget for the vacation, you still have options within a category.  Be sure to browse Disney's site and check out the theming and amenities of a resort. For instance, a larger family might consider the Cabins at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort or a Family Suite at the new Disney's Art of Animation Resort.  Both sleep 6 and are about the same price but the experiences would be very different, as Fort Wilderness is rustic and AoA is as colorful as it gets.  That's one thing I love about Disney...something for everyone!

For a value resort, I've stayed at All Star Music twice.  Once in a standard room and once in a family suite.  It's not exciting but ASM has all the perks of being on property.  Pop Century is a very popular value resort in the Disney online community.  The newest resort is Art of Animation and I'm surprising the girls with a few days in a Little Mermaid room at the end of our fall trip.  They will love the theming and the gigantic pool.

The favorite moderate resort of the Growing Up Disney family and a fair number of our team is Port Orleans with most of us leaning toward Riverside.  This resort is divided into two sections, French Quarter and Riverside.  French Quarter is themed exactly like it sounds.  It's smaller and has a good cajun/creole food court.  Riverside has a more bayou feel, a little more space to wander, and a table service restaurant as well as a food court.  I don't think you can go wrong staying anywhere in this resort.

My favorite Disney deluxe resort hotel is the Polynesian.  I've stayed at all three of the monorail resorts and the Polynesian would be my choice for my family.  However, we are a Disney Vacation Club family and almost always book at Old Key West.  It's a lovely relaxed resort with huge villas and many of the comforts of home with full kitchens and washers/dryers.

Step three is contact a Disney Authorized Vacation Planner to reserve a room and purchase park tickets.  We use Travel with the Magic and they don't pay me to say that.  Yes, you can book on your own online or by phone but when you can get the help of a Disney expert for free, why not?  Your travel agent can check the latest deals for you and advise on ways to maximize your travel dollar.  They'll also watch for future offers to see if you could save more.  The current ticket pricing structure offers a myriad of options (park hopping, no expiration, water parks, etc.) and sometimes it's a good deal to purchase an annual pass for one member of your party in order to get annual passholder room discounts.  Back to my previous advice, let your travel agent run the numbers for you.

Step four TAKE A DEEP BREATH.  Again, it's easy to get in over your head in research so if you've wandered off into exactly how rider swap works at this point, walk away from the computer for a few.  You'll have time later to learn those things.

Step five is to make dining reservations.  Popular Walt Disney World restaurants book up far in advance.  This is the biggest surprise for pretty much everyone who has ever asked me for advice on a first-time vacation.  People just can't believe that they need to book a table six months before they'd like to dine with Cinderella or in Beast's Castle.  So if you are planning around the six month mark or less and are interested in the quintessential Disney dining locations, you need to get on the dining reservations fairly quickly.  If you are at around the one year mark when you read this...see step four.

Keep in mind that there are many options with Disney dining, just like with resort hotels.  If you have your heart set on having dinner with your favorite princess and it's booked throughout your vacation, try another similar restaurant.  I have two little girls and they will love Cinderella's Royal Table someday.  We don't tend to book far in advance and I'd like to save their first meal in the castle until they are a bit older.  However, we had a FABULOUS time at the Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus in Epcot's Norway Pavilion.  Hands down my favorite dining experience in ages and it's less expensive than Cindy's and a little easier to book.  You can always take a shot at last minute reservations for popular restaurants.  We managed to get a late breakfast a couple of hours in advance for Akershus.

We here at Growing Up Disney (and my blogorail pals) have shared many restaurant reviews and photos over the years.  When I am planning my own dining reservations, I always look at the menus at All Ears or the official Disney site.

Disney has a wide variety of dining options, from the character meals mentioned above to the exquisite five diamond/four star Victoria and Albert's to world cuisine to the casual cafe.  Check out our trip planning tab above for articles on the favorite restaurants of our family and guest contributors.  Our team of Minnie Moms has discussed our lists of best and worst restaurants for children.

Making reservations is simple.  Either send your list to your travel agent or book online with Disney or call 407-WDW-DINE.

Ok.  That's enough tasks to get you started on planning your first Walt Disney World vacation.  I'll be back later with more tips and you can always peruse our site for yourself in the meantime.  

Happy planning! 

Be sure to check out our First Timer Class series.

Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is My Dreams of Disney.

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:

1st Stop ~ Growing Up Disney
3rd Stop ~ Disney Donna Kay
Final Stop ~ A World View


  1. These are GREAT tips for first-time travelers. I've shared many of the same tips with friends. :)

  2. Great tips Amy!! As always I love your pictures!!

  3. I would love to stay at the Polynesian some day. I stayed at the Contemporary and loved being on the monorail.

  4. Great advice Amy! We "old pros" forget how daunting it can be for someone planning a first trip to WDW. They can either be overwhelmed with the parks or disapointed they couldn't use all of their dining plan if they haven't done proper planning.

    "First Timers" can always use the help of an experienced WDW traveler as yourself.

  5. Absolutely perfect tips for the first time Disney traveler. One of the best being the use of a certified Disney travel agent. Great article.

  6. Wow, Amy - we were on the exact same train of thought! Love how you walked them through steps, in order. Great post. :)

  7. Excellent post! I'm a Disney Travel Planner, I always get asked "first-timer" questions, and you did a marvelous summary just now!

    I'm also DVC, but Old Key West is the one property I have yet to stay on. I will have to check it out!


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