Planning A Florida Vacation – 11 Months To Go

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.

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

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.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months Out – Initial Planning

11 months to go: accommodation

Last month I talked about figuring out your budget and how this would determine an awful lot of the rest of your decisions, such as duration and accommodation. Well, today I’m going to talk you through your accommodation options. Not all of them, because, you know, this is one of the top tourist destinations on the planet. There are literally thousands of places to stay!

Your most basic options come down to this:

  • A Walt Disney World property (often described as “on-property”)
  • A Universal Resort
  • Another local hotel
  • A private villa

Deciding which of these four options is best for your family comes down to a few basic, interlinked factors. The size of your family/travel party, your budget, where you intend to spend most of your time, what amenities are important to you, whether you want to hire a car or not, and how immersed you want to be.

I can’t tell you the answers, but hopefully, you went through the worksheet and figured some of this out.

off-property

A villa is great if there are quite a few of you. It can work out much cheaper than booking multiple rooms at a hotel. You also get privacy, your own pool, and can save money on food. The disadvantages of this option are that you absolutely have to hire a car and pay parking fees at the theme parks. You also miss out on significant perks of staying on-property, which also goes for the other non-Disney options. Although Universal has its own perks for guests staying there.

Local hotels can also be an economical choice if you are a family of 5 or less. Often the Orlando resorts will provide coaches to the theme parks, so a car isn’t always essential. You also get to retreat from the Disney experience at the end of the day, which might be essential for some members of your family. Or perhaps you’re only planning to spend a day at Magic Kingdom, and visit plenty of non-Disney attractions during your stay. In which case, it makes little sense to stay at a Disney resort. There is certainly plenty to see and do besides WDW. But more on this in a few months time!

universal

Universal now has several resorts to choose from, none of which are cheap, by any means, but there are two value options that offer the convenience of being nearby and early entry to the parks. The edge that the luxury resorts have, aside from the obvious luxury, is that you also get Universal’s queue-jumping perk included in the price.

The queues at Universal can get pretty monstrous and the only way to beat them is to buy their Express Pass on top of your park ticket. This is an extremely expensive option, costing upwards of $49.99 per person per day. It’s perfectly possible to manage without it, we have done so on all but one day that we have spent in the Universal parks. You can check the queue times and hop straight to rides with low waits, but this might result in missing out on a ride or two if the line never gets below an hour.

If you’re planning to spend a lot of time at Universal and can justify the financial cost, then staying at one of the luxury resorts to get this perk might save a little money on buying the Express Pass separately.

on-property

I’m unashamedly biased. This is our preferred option. It isn’t the cheapest option, but booking in advance in the UK holds a significant appeal: free dining. Disney offers three tiers of dining plan (well, four if you include the resorts that offer a breakfast only option) and for UK visitors booking the year prior to visiting, most resorts offer one of these dining plans for free. It’s a great money saver, not to mention the convenience of having the majority of your food paid for in advance. I’ll go into more detail on the dining plan in my next post because it deserves a post of its own. Guests from the USA can often pick up dining plan offers when booking in advance as well, but the offers vary. It’s worth keeping an eye on the WDW blogs for updates of offers if this applies to you.

Staying on-property also has other advantages. Disney provides various modes of transport around the vast World; bus, monorail and boat. All free. They also offer free car parking to guests staying at a WDW resort. So if you still want to hire a car for getting about then it’s not going to cost you an extra $20 a day to visit a Disney park. The other significant benefit is Extra Magic Hours; on certain days one of the parks opens early or closes late for guests staying at a Disney resort.

the Walt Disney Resorts

If you decide to go with a Disney resort, you then have a bigger choice: which one? There are nearly 30 options!

In the last post, I asked you to think about what kind of vacation you want. Whatever you’re after, Disney can provide it. Laid back comfort? Life on the wild side? Rustic charm? Sheer luxury? You got it.

wdw resorts,hotels, Grand Floridian, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Pop Century, Wilderness Lodge Cabins

Disney resorts by location

The first thing to consider is where in Walt Disney World you want to stay. Which park do you anticipate spending most time at? It makes sense to stay in the vicinity of that park. So to help you out, here is each resort listed by resort area. I also recommend you take a look at the official WDW map.

Magic Kingdom

  • Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Polynesian Village Resort
  • Wilderness Lodge
  • Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
  • Contemporary Resort
  • Bay Lake Tower

Epcot (also close to Hollywood Studios)

  • Beach Club Resort
  • Yacht Club Resort
  • Carribean Beach Resort
  • Boardwalk Inn & Villas
  • Swan Hotel*
  • Dolphin Hotel*

The Swan and Dolphin hotels are third party hotels located on WDW property. You still get some benefits of staying at a Disney resort, but they aren’t strictly considered to be WDW properties.

Animal Kingdom

  • Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
  • Coronado Springs Resort
  • All Stars Resorts – Music, Sports & Movies

ESPN wide world of sports area

  • Art of Animation Resort
  • Pop Century Resort

Disney Springs

  • Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • Old Key West
  • Port Orleans – Riverside
  • Port Orleans – French Quarter

resorts by category (price range)

You’ll probably want to cross reference the above list with the one that follows: each resort by category. Disney has three categories for its resorts; Value, Moderate and Deluxe. There are also Deluxe Villas and the campground at Fort Wilderness. The villas are essentially suites with basic kitchen facilities in-room, with separate bedroom/s and living area.

value resorts

The Value resorts offer basic, motel-like accommodation. You can expect these resorts to be clean, well-maintained, with excellent customer service and serviceable amenities. The pools are fun and simple, as is the food. The rooms tend to be on the smaller side, while the buildings can be quite spread out, requiring a lot of walking to travel between your room and the communal areas. If you’re on a tight budget or are not planning to spend a great deal of time at the hotel, then these resorts are perfectly suitable.

  • Pop Century
  • All-Star Resort – Music
  • All-Star Resort – Sports
  • All-Star Resort – Movies
  • Art of Animation (worth noting that this resort is priced like a moderate resort)

moderate resorts

This tier offers more comfort and variety than the Value resorts. The pools have more features and some of these resorts have table service dining options. It’s usually worth upgrading to one of these resorts if you can. Free Quick Service Dining is also available from the UK at these resorts.

  • Caribbean Beach Resort
  • Port Orleans – Riverside
  • Port Orleans – French Quarter
  • Coronado Springs Resort
  • Cabins at Fort Wilderness

deluxe resorts & villas

If you want to really indulge, then these resorts offer genuine luxury and exemplary facilities. Rooms and villas have more space, there are more dining options and the pools are stunning. Some resorts have spa facilities. The theming is also more detailed and immersive. Advanced bookings from the UK get Disney Dining Plan free for these resorts.

  • Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Polynesian Resort
  • Wilderness Lodge
  • Beach Club Resort
  • Yacht Club Resort
  • Boardwalk Inn
  • Contemporary Resort
  • Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • Old Key West Resort
  • Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
  • Bay Lake Tower
  • Villas at Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village & Jambo House
  • Boardwalk Villas
  • Beach Club Villas
  • Boulder Ridge Villas at Wilderness Lodge
  • Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Wilderness Lodge

You can pick up rooms at these resorts at lower rates if you book at the right time. Last time we went we stayed at Saratoga Springs and we almost booked this resort again for this trip as it crops up among the cheaper options this far in advance.

Each resort has its pros and cons, and it takes time to read up on each. Hopefully, this post will help you to narrow down your options. For in-depth reviews of the resorts, and details about their individual amenities, decor, and so on, I highly recommend Disney Tourist Blog.

For what it’s worth, we are staying at Port Orleans – Riverside next year, after MUCH deliberation! Animal Kingdom Lodge is also high up on my wish list. I love to hear from readers, so if you have a strong preference for a resort, or if you have any questions, do please leave a comment and I will do my best to reply.

That’s all for now, folks. Happy planning!

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “Planning A Florida Vacation – 11 Months To Go

  1. Becca Barracuda says:

    Wow, you really know your stuff! I LOVE Disney. I’ve been six times in my twenty-something years (I performed there with choir three times– what an experience!). I’ve stayed both on and off the Disney property, and I have to admit, if I’m going for Disney World, I want to stay on-site. My hubby has never been and I’d love to take him, so I will definitely be returning to your series!!

  2. josypheen says:

    Woah! That is a whole lot of planning!!

    For us less impressive mortals, what do you think is the shortest time you could plan a trip like this?

    • Holly says:

      When we went in 2012 we got a late deal in April for travel in June. It was fine, it was fun. We still got to eat at a few table service restaurants as walk-ins and booked on the day or just before, but advanced dining reservations help to shape the holiday, I find.

      It totally depends on your family and how you roll. I’m not terribly spontaneous, and I know I struggle in the heat if I’m not thoroughly prepared. So if I can plan ahead to avoid the hottest part of the day by being in an air conditioned building to eat, for instance, then I’m more likely to enjoy myself and less likely to feel stressed out and overheated. My kids also prefer to have a plan and know what’s happening each day.

      So my advice is to have a think about your family and how scheduled you like to be on holiday. If you’re happy to go with the flow, then you don’t need nearly as much time to plan this sort of vacation. Fast Passes become available to book for guests staying on-property 60 days ahead of arrival and as I feel these are indispensable, I would always allow at least 2 months to plan. Even if you are an easy-going, spontaneous family, trying to get through a day at WDW without fast passes would be really challenging. The queues can get over an hour long for top attractions. You don’t want to waste half your day waiting in line when it’s possible to almost entirely avoid queues!

      • josypheen says:

        That is fantastic advice!
        We only have a teeny family (no kids yet) so it is still super easy to plan and be spontaneous BUT I have a feeling I’d need to plan with more precision if I was taking little ‘uns!

      • Holly says:

        Ah yes. Spontaneity is easy without kids, almost impossible once you have them! And yet, paradoxically, you have to be very adaptable with kids as nothing ever quite goes according to plan;)

  3. collegeceliackc says:

    Great guide! As magical as Walt Disney World is, making the plans can definitely feel overwhelming. We’ve been to Disney World twice and definitely preferred staying in one of the Disney hotels. Not only are the early hours convenient, but the Disney hotels definitely add to the magic of the entire vacation!

    • Holly says:

      I completely agree! We really like being immersed in the Disney bubble. It is nice to venture out a few times during the stay, but I like being so close to everything.

  4. Gloria says:

    This is brilliant. I’m saving this in Pocket. We are hoping to visit Disney in the near future. We’re sooo far away – Ireland. Lots of planning 😁

    • Holly says:

      Thanks 🙂

      We’re in England, so going all that way is a big deal, not to mention a huge expense! Anything we can do to take the stress out of it while we are there is absolutely worth it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s