Many of my friends think I’m a complete dork for knowing how to find stuff about Disney touring. Okay, guilty as charged.
However, this also means I’m often who they turn to when it’s time to start planning their trips. Truth is, I love pointing folks in the right direction. After having written the “helpful pointers” email a number of times for friends, I thought perhaps it’d be more useful to post it here. It’s possible that I’ll break some of this out into separate posts, since there are several topics covered here, but that’s for a rainy day.
Question: “Where can I find a good deal?”
There are so many places to find “deals” on Disney trips. Seems like you can always see a ‘special offer’ on TV, likewise, you can find specials online (I’ve included a few links below to help), but there’s more than a few things to consider when starting to plan your trip. I thought I’d cover a few of the main points in this post.
Package or a la Carte?
Getting a Magic Your Way Package is simple, and it’s probably what Disney would prefer you do. Why? Most likely so they control more of the process (and predictability in occupancy), but there’s plenty of upside for the consumer: you’re staying on-property (lots of goodies with that) and you getting the deal they’re advertising. These deals are always stacked in their favor (read the disclaimer copy very carefully). You’ve got choices, and there’s a ton of info online to help you, read on.
I’ll tell you that we’ve always booked “packages” until our most recent trip. This time we booked a “room-only” deal and bought park tickets separately. Doing this can get really confusing, really fast, but it doesn’t have to. Consider working through a Disney Travel specialist.
Why? They know things that us mortals don’t. Like this: If just one person in your party buys an Annual Pass, you’ll be able to save on the room reservation, probably enough to offset the cost of the Annual Pass itself.
Our agent recommended the Annual Pass technique, and saved us a bundle. There are a lot of other benefits to having an AP. But we wouldn’t have known to do that without her help.
So, the first big tip is: Use a travel agent… preferably one who specializes in Disney bookings. They’ve got their ‘ears to the ground,’ and know about specials, and usually will re-book your trip as new specials come along. And what most folks don’t realize: they’re paid by Disney, not you.
Disney Specialist Travel Agents
Stay On-property or Off-property?
We always stay “on property” (that means literally on the Walt Disney World Property, at one of their resorts). There’s lots benefits to staying off-property, but you what you give up is:
Convenience: You’re literally “right there.” Easy in, easy out. And if you choose one of the deluxe resorts (The Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian), you’re directly on the Monorail. Bonus: many of the resorts are close enough for you to watch the fireworks from your room!
Extra Magic Hours: Disney’s term of letting resort guests into the parks early and stay after the general public, is a great benefit. I know a lot of folks that don’t use this, but our family rocks it. If you’re goal is to ride rides… then this benefit alone is worth it.
Disney Service: There’s quite literally no other place that “gets” guest service like Disney. Staying on-property is a wonderful extension to your park experience.
Disney’s Polynesian Resort (one of their “deluxe” resorts) is our family’s favorite. It’s beautiful for sure, which comes at a cost. What we love about it, though, is its proximity to the Magic Kingdom. One Monorail ride away and you’re on Main Street. Plus, O’Hana (our favorite restaurant) is located in the Poly, making it super-convenient to see if they can “squeeze us in.”
We’ve also stayed at Pop Century (a “value” resort), much more budget-friendly, but you give up some “experience.” Though, if all you’re worried about is a room, pool and food court, you’re all set here. In fact, pretty much all of the Disney resorts are similar in room size, what you pay for is the experience and decor. Two exceptions: DVC resorts, and family suites at a few of Disney’s resorts.
Here’s a full list of on-property resorts. And for some unbiased reviews and such, check out AllEars.net.
I have a good friend who swears by DVC resorts (Disney Vacation Club, Disney’s answer to timeshares). I’ve heard that if you go at least every other year, it’s a good deal. We’d love to do it, but haven’t just yet. My friend isn’t a DVC member, but instead “rents” points allowing him to stay at DVC resorts without committing to the program (a really smart way to go).
With DVC, you get a bit more spacious accommodation, and you’re still on property (with all the benefits). Really, it’s a great way to go. (His favorite is Old Key West.)
DVC Point Rentals
It’s true, you’ll save money staying off-property (and there are tons of options, many of which offer shuttles to the ‘World), but you lose some of the great benefits mentioned above. What you gain, though, is more room, less cash out-lay, and some flexibility in location. Another option is renting a vacation home. All have bedrooms for everyone in your party, pools, media rooms, laundry rooms… really, all the comforts of home. Transportation is on you, but if you’ve got a car, you’re all set.
Vacation Home Rentals
Where can I find more details?
There’s SO MUCH information out there on the open web. Sites dedicated to every aspect of Disney touring. Below you’ll find a few of my favorites. I regularly visit these places, not because I’m always planning a trip (though I’d love to), but to get a “Disney fix.” Yeah, that’s right, I feed my habit by living vicariously through those sites. Don’t laugh…
Whatever you do… go get a copy of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and a subscription to Touring Plans (the companion to the book). They’ve really figured out how to get the most out of a trip, but the Guide is chock full of research (reviews on rides, hotels, dining, everything…). And, if you grab their app, Lines, you’ll have access to even more, all on your phone, while you’re in the parks. It all works together to help you build touring plans that will rock the ‘World. On our last trip, we stuck to a touring plan, and by 2:30, we were done with the “must do’s” and on our way back to the Poly for a leisurely afternoon swim at the pool. Best money you’ll spend. Trust me.
Do your recon with All Ears. They’ve seen, and photographed, every inch of WDW, and posted it for you to enjoy. Rooms, pools, resorts… even menus to all the restaurants. This site is rich with content.
WDW Today Podcast
I’ve listened to these guys for years. Three times a week they publish a podcast that answers questions, offers tips, and speculates on rumors and more. If you’re into listening while you work, this podcast is a fantastic resource.
This site is probably the largest Disney Community online. Their forums are deep and wide, with topics for quite literally any question you could think up. The community that supports it is amazingly helpful… but be careful, you could lose yourself in there.
Produced by the folks behind The DIS, this podcast offers a ton of content: audio, video and commentary. They’re also the crew from Dreams Unlimited Travel. Bonafide experts.
Lou Mongello has a great show chronicling all things Disney World. Often he’ll have guests on, some of whom are literally Disney legends.
And for good measure, here’s a couple of links for deal-searching:
Official Disney Offers