So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!
I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.
So, I decided to share the
obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.
One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.
It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.
We are planning to go in May 2018, and we began planning last month, about one year ahead. So please consider this post the 12 months out step, even though it’s now 11 months until we go. I’ll publish an update every month to guide you through the planning each step of the way.
Now, the kids know nothing about this yet! A year is a long time to have two small people constantly asking if we go tomorrow! So, we’ll be surprising them with the big news much nearer the time. It’s your call how you approach this. Maybe your kids are a bit older and would enjoy being part of the initial planning stages. If so, go for it! I’m looking forward to the days when my gang can help pick the resort we stay at without going crazy waiting for departure day!
So, the first thing you need to do, about a year ahead of travelling, is take some time to consider these four elements:
- Duration of stay
- Your party, and any unique needs
- What kind of vacation you want this to be
Let’s get into some detail…
Maybe you already have the funds saved up, this is definitely the sensible way to do it. But perhaps you are budgeting in advance, knowing you will have it all covered in time. Either way, you need to know your budget before you book. This will help you determine everything else, from where you stay, how you travel, how long you go for, whether you get the dining plan or not… everything.
You should think about what you are comfortable spending on each of these general categories:
- Car Hire
- Park Tickets
Now, some of these are relatively fixed, such as park tickets, but others are highly variable. Your budget will likely play a significant role in determining whether you stay at a Walt Disney World resort, a Universal one, or another hotel or villa off site. There are pros and cons to each of these options, which I will talk about more in my next post in the series. Where you decide to stay will also determine whether you decide to rent a car or not. If you’re staying on property at WDW, and are not planning to check out much else in or near Orlando, then you probably don’t need to hire a car. Guests staying on site have access to free Disney transportation between parks and resorts, and on the whole, it’s pretty good. When we went in 2012, we just hired a car for a few days when we scheduled out days at Universal. This kept the costs down. We managed just fine without a car for the rest of the two weeks we were there, despite having a small baby with us.
It’s easy, when browsing package vacations online or in brochures, to see the cost per person and think it seems totally reasonable and doable, without thinking of the other costs associated with the trip. Don’t forget about eating while you’re there! This can be extremely costly. There are ways to mitigate the costs and save a bit of money, again, there will be more on this in a later post, but you need to factor it into your budget from the outset. Same goes for other spending money whilst away, and any other parks or destinations you intend to visit whilst in Florida, such as Sea World, the Kennedy Space Centre, Busch Gardens, and so on.
This will be determined by your budget and the needs of your family. When I was 11, me and my parents went to Orlando for just 5 days and had a blast. We only went to Magic Kingdom, of the WDW parks, but we also went to Wet ‘n’ Wild, Universal Studios and Busch Gardens.
The two times I have been as an adult, with my young children and all of my husband’s family, we went for two weeks. When travelling from thousands of miles away, it’s a good idea to consider the time it takes to travel, the recovery from that (hello, jetlag), and how long you will need to make the most of your trip. It’s often very economical to go for two weeks instead of one, with the price not being as much more as you might think.
But for our next trip, we are going all out and staying for three weeks! This might sound crazy to some folks, but for us, it makes a lot of sense. Both our previous trips were interrupted with brief illnesses (I blame economy flights and all those germs percolating in a pressurised cabin). There is so much to do, especially if you want to go away from Disney for a bit, and the weather is so hot for most of the year – us Brits with fair complexions have to think about our sun exposure! Both previous trips were exhausting and we would prefer to pace ourselves. When you stay at a Disney resort, one of the perks is Extra Magic Hours; when one of the parks opens early or stays open late for resort guests. When you can plan to take advantage of this, you can easily retreat from the sun and busy parks during the peak of the day (roughly 12 noon-3pm), then head back out late afternoon for a few more hours.
We want to do this and still have time to do everything we want to do. We don’t want to be contending with blisters, sunburn, fatigue and so on; all perils of this kind of holiday.
This is very much wrapped up in the above point; consider who is travelling with you and what they need from the experience. How many adults? How many children? Anyone with accessibility needs? Anyone autistic? These things will be important in deciding where you stay and how long for. What are the unique needs of your party?
Last time we went, we were a party of 5 adults, and 6 children, including a baby only a couple of months old. One of the adults had recently had a hip replacement, too. So we had to consider this in deciding where to stay and how to structure our vacation. For example, we hired cars for the entire duration, rather than just a few days like the previous trip, so that we had more transport options for the less mobile members of our family.
What Kind of Vacation Do You Want?
This might seem like a daft question, but it really isn’t. It’s not a simple matter of Florida = Theme Parks and Thrills. A Florida holiday can be a slow and relaxing one; with ample golf, sunbathing, and spa treatments. It might involve exclusively Disney, or completely avoid WDW! You might want the high-adrenaline of Universal at Halloween (totally on my bucket list for when the kids are older!), or the awesome experience of seeing a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. All mod cons and luxury? Or rustic wilderness?
Disney has a resort for everything. Never mind the myriad of non-Disney options.
If you’ve decided on staying at a Disney resort, think about which park or parks you’re likely to visit most on your vacation. If you have young children, that’s likely to be Magic Kingdom; older kids might be keen to spend several days at Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios; adults only may get most out of Epcot (though there is lots for kids too!). Consider this when looking at the resorts and their locations. Think about transport. WDW is huge, it can be a fairly long bus ride out to Animal Kingdom, for example, so if that’s your top destination, consider staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
My point is: do your research!
I highly recommend the following sites for all your Florida vacation prep needs (I am not affiliated with any of these sites or companies and only ever recommend people or products that I have used myself):
Walt Disney World – official travel site
Universal Orlando – official site
And you can’t beat Pinterest! Check out my Florida board!
Now, I’ve gone and dumped a whole load of information on you, I’m sorry. After what I said up top about overwhelm. Well, I want to help you beat the overwhelm and plan the vacation of a lifetime! So take a look at my free printable worksheet. This should help guide you through the initial planning stage and focus your thoughts. I’ve also included a basic planning schedule, with reminders of when you will need to organise the different aspects of your trip and plenty of space for notes.