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8 Steps to Planning the Ultimate Disney Vacation

Planning your first trip to a Walt Disney theme park can be an overwhelming experience. The very reason why web sites such as this one are so popular is that nine out of top 10 amusement parks in the world in terms of visitors are owned by The Walt Disney Company. Since many people visit these locations on an annual basis (or even more often), many people you don’t know possess a lot more Disney wisdom than you do.

In order to maximize your entertainment and minimize your aggravation, here is a compilation of the eight steps you need to take in order to guarantee the ultimate Disney Vacation. Keep in mind that a lot of these tips are straightforward. Nobody is attempting to re-invent the wheel here. If you have visited Disney parks many times before, a lot of this information should be clear-cut. If, on the other hand, you are embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime trip and feel a bit overwhelmed, this is the guide for you.

1. Determine your budget

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No, this is not a fun way to begin thinking about your dream vacation. It is important, though. Establishing the price range for your trip will go a long way in identifying several of the steps that follow. If you are on a shoestring budget, you may choose to drive rather than fly to the appropriate theme park. Also, you may choose to stay further away from the chosen Disney Park in order to garner a cheaper hotel room. Conversely, if money is no object, feel free to stop reading this column. You can have Jeeves the Butler do everything for you.

2. Pick your resort

Image © Disney

This step is trickier than it may seem. Now that you know your budget, you can determine how far you are willing to travel to enjoy the ultimate Disney vacation. Statistically, the odds are good that you will choose Orlando, Florida, as your destination. 92% of all theme park attendance for the top 10 in terms of visitors travels to Disney. Out of that group, almost 45% of traffic is for the various Walt Disney World properties. In 2013, almost exactly 50 million visitors attended Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

Perhaps you want to do something a bit different, though. Tokyo Disneyland spiked in popularity last year, with its two parks increasing roughly 14% in visitors. Hong Kong Disneyland and Disneyland Paris are also wonderful options for people residing in Europe and Asia or for North Americans seeking a more exotic vacation. Finally, there is always the park that started it all, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, a place that will always hold a soft spot in my heart as well as anyone else’s who has ever visited there.

3. Select your travel plans

Image © Disney

Obviously, locality plays a huge part in this decision. Personally, I loathe flying, but I am located so far away from the various Disney Parks that it is my only option unless I want to waste an entire vacation day driving. If you prefer flying to driving, that will probably be your selection, but this conversation is not solely limited to those two options.

Disney cruises have a sterling reputation for good reason. If the idea of spending all of your vacation at theme parks sounds too hectic, they are a viable option as a key component of the Ultimate Disney Vacation. If you plan to visit one of the American parks, consider traveling to San Diego, California, or Port Canaveral, Florida. A trip composed of a few days at a theme park and a few days at sea represents a wonderful compromise for families who want a nice combination of entertainment and relaxation.

4. Determine whether you want to stay onsite or offsite

Image © Disney

This step and the following one will be somewhat correlated. In previous columns, I have stated my fondness for Disney’s onsite properties. I understand that many people feel differently, which is why so many major hotel chains have placed some of their finest properties within minutes of Disney Parks. Simply stated, there are few wrong choices for people who stay close to the American properties. If we widen the scope to Europe and Asia, well, the next bad Parisian hotel I stay at will be the first. Since I have not been to Japan or China (Hello, bucket list!), I cannot speak from experience in this regard. 

What you need to know about staying onsite at Disney properties is that company incentivizes you to do so. In order to claim as much of your entertainment budget as possible, Disney offers bonuses such as early FastPass+ selection windows and convenient transportation to the various parks. The last time I visited Walt Disney World, I didn’t even carry around my wallet. With the Magic Band working perfectly and easy access to all parks plus Downtown Disney, the company earned 100% of my tourist money.

If you are less Disney brainwashed, the idea of staying offsite will make sense. Orlando and Anaheim are teeming with marvelous entertainment options, and Paris is basically the entertainment capital of modern civilization. Sorry, Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi fans. The point is that if you are traveling with your own vehicle or renting one, staying offsite is not only viable but possibly preferred. Determine exactly how you plan to spend your days and nights and go from there.

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