Yeah! Main Street Pop In has received several reader questions lately, so I thought I’d add a Q&A section to our website. I’ll kick it off by answering the most common questions we’ve encountered:
Q: Why is planning a Disney trip so complicated? Do I really have to make dinner reservations 6 months in advance and know what rides I want to ride 60 days in advance?
Short Answer: If you want to experience the most hyped stuff at Disney, then YES, you need to choreograph your vacation like a royal wedding. Want to eat at Cinderella’s Castle? Six months prior to your trip, you better be on My Disney Experience (the website or the app) first thing in the morning ready to book. Want to wait less than 20 minutes to experience Flight of Passage? If you’re staying on Disney property, you need to be on My Disney Experience 60 days in advance to grab a FastPass. Don’t do what I did and think there will still be Flight of Passage FastPasses available 58 days out. There will not!
If attention to detail is not your strong suit, engage the services of a travel agent who specializes in Disney vacations. You won’t pay a cent extra, but you will benefit greatly from the experience and advice.
Long Answer: Every vacation takes a little planning and research, but we agree, Disney planning is pretty intense (we see a lot of spreadsheets).
Whether you’re a first-timer or a pro, I really do recommend using a travel agent that specialized in Disney travel to set up your trip. A good agent can walk you through the process and book you the best deal. MOST IMPORTANT, an agent can make sure you don’t miss your opening window for dinner reservations and FastPasses (which are reservations for riding Disney’s most popular attractions).
Using a travel agent is FREE. Agents make their money off of Disney, not you. They truly want to find you the best deal, so you’ll keep coming back to them. Yes, you can research rates and book a trip online, but using a travel agent gives you an extra set of eyes and ears to work through the process. I use Mouse Fan Travel and have received tremendous service, tips and reminders.
As far as dining goes, reservations at many of the Disney hot spots really do need to be booked 6 months in advance. It’s hard to get reservations at places like Cinderella’s Royal Table, California Grill, ‘Ohana, Chef Mickey’s, Hoop-Dee-Do Review, and 50’s Prime Time Café if you don’t book that far out.
FastPass bookings are allowed 60 days in advance for guests at Disney resorts or Disney-approved hotels and 30 days in advance for everyone else. If you are interested in the most popular Disney rides like Flight of Passage, The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Slinky Dog Dash, Rock N’ Roller Coaster, The Tower of Terror, Test Track, Soarin’, Frozen, etc. You’ll want to get FastPasses the minute your window of opportunity opens. Lines for these attractions can reach 90-120 minutes. Three FastPasses can save you more than 4-6 hours of waiting in lines.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to get FastPasses for every ride, but by using a combination of FastPasses and early-morning parks hours (or late-night park hours, if you’re not an earlier riser), you should be able to do all the fun stuff during your trip. Again, a good travel agent will have lots of tips for getting the most out of your day.
Q: Should I buy the Dining Plan? Will it save me money?
Short Answer: No. The dining plan entitles guests to significantly more food than most people normally eat. The end result is a vacation spent overeating or abandoning food. Unless you are a family of NFL players who only dine on steak, lobster, and all-you-can-eat buffets you’re not going to save money.
Long Answer: 99% of the time, my answer to this question is, “No.”
I think a person can break even with the Disney Dining Plan, but I’m not sure it reduces anyone’s food bills. Now if you are someone who likes the convenience of prepaying for your meals, there is definitely value in that. In that circumstance, I would say go for it and enjoy. Also, if you are receiving a free dining plan as part of a package, then I’d try it as well. Just make sure to check what the cost would be to book the same room, tickets, and dining plan a la carte. Sometimes that price of the latter is actually cheaper. Again, a travel agent can tell you if a “free dining” package is truly the lowest cost option available.
The main reason I usually skip the dining plan all together is because it’s too much food. Disney portions are huge, and it’s really hard to eat all that you are entitled to on the dining plan. I find a better strategy to save money is to skip the dining plan and share meals and snacks instead.
Q: Why should I stay at a Disney hotel when nearby hotels are much cheaper? I can rent a whole house for week for the same price some Disney resorts charge for a long weekend.
Short Answer: I’ll give you 4 reasons you’re going to want to stay on property.
#1 On-property guests receive Extra Magic Hours, so you get more hours in the parks.
#2 There is no need to rent a car while on property. Disney transportation is free, including to and from the Orlando International Airport.
#3 Better facilities, décor, and customer service at all price levels.
#4 You are closer to the action.
Long Answer: I can’t argue with the cost savings to be had outside the boarders of Walt Disney World, however, I generally recommend staying on property because:
#1 Extra Magic Hours
Resort guests get to spend more time in the parks. Each day a park opens early and/or stays open late just for resort guests. These extra hours are magical because the parks are significantly less crowded. So, if you failed to get a FastPass for a premier attraction, Extra Magic Hours give you the opportunity to rides those rides with very short wait times.
Transportation to and from the Orlando International Airport is free to Disney resort guests. Plus, once on property, resort guests can get anywhere by bus, boat, monorail or on foot. It’s not necessary to rent a car at all, which can be a savings of $300 or more on a week’s vacation. That savings pays for a two-nights at a Disney Value Resort.
Disney resorts are amazingly themed and extremely well-maintained. When you are at the Polynesian Village Resort, you feel like you are in Hawaii. When you are at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, giraffes and zebras will be right outside your window. At the Art of Animation Resort, it feels like you are inside of an actual animated film. The experience is worth the extra price. Also, Disney employees (known as cast members) are the best-trained people in customer service you will ever meet. It is rare to have a negative experience with a cast member. You’ll never question the service
If your vacation is all about getting to a Disney park each and every day of your trip, staying on property puts you right in the action. There is a lot of value in the ability to visit a park, return to your hotel for a nap, and get back to the park later in the day (especially with younger children).
That being said, if the choice is between an off-property vacation and not going at all, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose off-property. We’ve had loads of fun vacations this way and have found ourselves exploring more of what the surrounding area has to offer, like the Kennedy Space Center, downtown Orlando, or a day trip to the ocean.
Of course, there’s no law that says you can’t do both. Lots of families spend a few days off-property and a few days on—giving themselves the best of both worlds.
Hope this advice helps! Keep those questions coming. We can
Thanks For Popping In!