How to Plan a Disney Vacation Without a Travel Agent

When I set out to plan my own Disney vacation I thought that it would be simple. Pick a date, make a phone call, take out a second mortgage on my house, then go have fun right? No, it wasn’t quite that simple. I had to educate myself in Disney Language and features. I spent hours reading and learning all about Disney.

I have tried to compile everything I learned here to help my fellow DIY travel-bookers. Maybe you guys won’t be blindsided by some of the questions I was faced with. Here’s a list of steps to completely plan your Disney World Vacation.

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1. Learn the Structure of Disney World

First of all, let me give you a little info on the basic structure of Disney World Orlando. There are 4 Theme Parks (Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios) and two Waterparks (Blizzard Beach, and Typhoon Lagoon). There are also over 25 Disney Resorts, or hotels, to choose from. These range in price and luxury all the way from campsites to fine luxury hotels.

When people talk about the parks they mean the different theme parks. When they say resorts, they mean the hotels. Usually..

2. Check for Bargains

Before doing anything else I would check out the Special Offers Page and see if there are any discounts for certain dates or hotels, or anything you really need to look out for that would be a great savings. It’s always just a good idea to know what the sales are before you begin to shop.

3. Pick your Dates

There are tons of crowd calendars available online, but picking the perfect date is really just a gamble. Crowds are highest and during summer, major holidays, events, and Spring Break. Avoid these times, and you should be good. You could, however, pick the perfect week on the crowd calendar and there be a huge cheer/soccer/baseball event that week. So, just pick the perfect time for your family.

I last traveled in early April, and the weather and crowds were perfect.  I have also gone in early December, and found huge crowds even though they were supposed to be minimal.

4. Decide How You’ll get there

The next step will be to decide whether to drive or fly. We live very far away, and I found a good deal on flights from Spirit Air. (I know everyone hates them, but it wasn’t that bad.)

It actually ended up being cheaper for us to fly instead of drive. We would save on extra hotel gas and travel costs, plus take less time off work.

However, I know people that have driven and had a wonderful time.

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5. Pick your resort hotel.

There are tons of advantages to staying at the Disney Resorts Hotels. With such a variety there is probably one that meets your budget, and the perks are worth it.  The Perks of a Disney Resort are:  free transportation to and from the parks (you never have to get in your car), extra magic hours, and meal plan options.

You’ll need to browse through the three different levels of resorts and pick which one will best suit your family. The best hotel is going to vary greatly on your budget and your individual family’s needs. Every Disney Hotel is special in their own right.

Deluxe Hotels – From $345/night

Moderate Hotels – From $203/night

Value Hotels – From $110/night

There are some amazing hotels to choose from, and this is probably your biggest decision when planning your Disney vacation. Pick the best two, so you’re not crushed if your first pick isn’t available for your dates.

6.  Learn the Lingo of the Details

Once your on the phone they will ask you the details, about your trip. There are a few words you should know before you call.  Your Cast Member will be asking about them.

  • Park Hopper. A Standard Ticket will get you into one park per day. So, each day will you get a ticket to a specific park. For example: Monday you would have a ticket to Animal Kingdom; Tuesday to Magic Kingdom, and so forth. A Park Hopper Pass costs extra but allows you to move from park to park in one day. You can get into any park on any day. It will make it easier to plan your trip and easier to do things on a whim once you get there, but there is plenty to do to in each park for a whole day. So you just have to decide if the convenience of Park Hopper is worth the cost.
  • Magic Band. This is a bracelet with a chip in it that keeps track of your park tickets, fast passes, meal plan, room charges, and acts as your room key. It gets shipped to you weeks before your trip, or you pick it up at the hotel when you check in.
  • Meal Plan– These are prepaid meals that you pay for with the price of your tickets. You don’t have to worry about paying for food in the parks. You pay with your magic band. There are three levels of meal plans: Quick Service Dining Plan, Disney Dining Plan, and Deluxe Dining Plan. You can read all about them here.
  •  Memory Maker– This is a feature in which all of the photos taken by cast members on the trip can immediately be uploaded to your phone. This includes special photos with characters, photos taken on the rides, and photos taken in front of icons. There are photographers everywhere taking photos, you just ask for a photo, and you’ll get it uploaded to your phone. The cost is currently $169 for three days. If you can’t tell, I love this feature. Here are a few of the pics of our vacation we got with memory maker.
  • Magical Express-The Disney Magical Express is a bus that will pick you and your luggage up at the airport, and take you to your room for no extra charge. It was very convenient not to have to rent a car or worry about finding a taxi with the littles at the airport.

7. Call and Book

The Disney World Cast is so helpful every time you call. They will definitely make this call painless. You can book online at Disney’s Website, but I suggest to call.

This way you can talk to an actual person and you know you won’t forget anything. They also know so many details about all of the hotels, and parks. They know what is under construction, and when it will be finished. They are super helpful, and don’t try to up-sell a more expensive vacation. The lady I talked to actually talked me out of a deluxe resort. They just want you to go to Disney World and have a great time. The number to book a Disney Vacation is:

(407) 939-5277

Once you have confirmed your trip they will give you a reservation confirmation number. Keep this number someplace handy. They will need it every time you call to check on something and the first couple of times you log into a new device.

8. Download My Disney Experience App

This app will be your lifeline for the rest of your trip. You will need to create an account and link it with the reservation number you received when you called and booked your trip.

9. Dining Reservations

You can start making dining reservations as far out as 180 days. You are not doomed if you don’t start that early. There should be reservations available much closer to travel time than that.

However, for some of the most coveted restaurants like Cinderalla’s Royal Table, and the Be Our Guest Restaurant (both in the Magic Kingdom) you will want to book as far out as possible. If making a reservation to Be Our Guest, know that Characters will not be there at breakfast. So, try to get a lunch or dinner reservation.

You can make most reservations straight from the My Disney Experience App.

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10. Fast Passes

Fast Passes are designed to keep you from having to wait in long lines. 30 Days before your trip at 7:00 in the morning you can pick three fast passes for each day. You have to be fast with this. I got on at 7:30 and the fast pass for the new Toy Story Mania ride was already gone. You’re going to really have to use your fast fingers on this one. You register for fast passes right from your app, and you can use several strategies.

You can pick your three favorite rides that you don’t want to miss, or the three newest and most popular.

My favorites were the Pandora Rides in Animal Kingdom; The Seven Dwarves Mine Train in Magic Kingdom, Test Track in Epcot, and The Toy Story Rides in Hollywood Studios. However, the rides you choose will largely depend on your families height, and preferences.

Try to get all three of your fast passes for pretty early in each day. Once you use all of the first three, you can sign up for three more from your phone inside the park. You don’t want to have to wait till the end of the day to book the second three.

Fast Passes were your last piece of planning.

Your next step will be packing for the trip and having fun at the parks! Hope you have a blast at your Disney Vacation. If you  have any questions or any of your own Disney Tips please feel free to comment below.