How To Book A Disney Holiday: A Walk Through.

So you’ve finally made the big decision and decided to book a Disney holiday. Hooray! Booking your Disney holiday is where the magic truly starts. Disney is the place where dreams come true. Taking my children to Disney World certainly was a dream come true for me.

Magic Kingdom

My Disney Trips

We have been lucky enough to take our family to Disney World twice, once in spring of 2015 and again in Autumn of 2019. We’re hoping to book another trip for 2021 so I have recently been obsessively trawling all the holiday sites for the best deals.

I was also lucky enough to go on a Disney World holiday with my mum to Florida when I was about 10 years old. At age 22 my husband Rich and I (my boyfriend back then) went to Disneyland in L.A. Which is where I’m currently trying to convince him is the best idea for our next Disney trip but that’s another blog post.

How Much Does it Cost?

Booking your Disney holiday to Disney World Orlando with flights from the U.K. is going to set you back about 6 grand minimum (writing this Feb 2019). So congratulations! You’ve either come into some money or you’ve been saving like a genius. It’s going to be worth it I promise.

There is so much to say about booking your Disney holiday. This post is an introduction into the main elements to get you started. Now you’ve got the money, you’ve made the decision and you want to know how to book a Disney holiday.

Step 1 – Where to Stay

Choose your hotel.

Staying on Disney property (as they describe it) offers lots of perks to your holiday that we just couldn’t say no to.

  • Book your ride fast passes 60 days in advance (instead of 30 for other park goers)
  • Disney dining plan
  • Transport to/from Disney parks
  • Magical Express (airport transfer)
  • Book dining reservations 180 days in advance for the whole duration of your stay.

Other Accommodation

There are other options though. If you are a large group booking a villa could be good. There are also plenty of non-Disney hotels along International Drive that are near to the parks. Universal has also built some resorts that are obviously closer to the Universal parks. The Disney and Universal areas are only about 20 minutes apart in Florida so they’re definitely another option especially if visiting Universal is high on your agenda.

Disney Hotels

For our last two trips we chose to stay on Disney property.

Go to the Walt Disney World website and have a good look through all the hotels. The Disney hotels are categorised into:

  • Value
  • Moderate
  • Deluxe

All have family rooms (two queen beds and sometimes an extra pull out). They all have great pools, and a main dining area to eat at. Also all are within I’d say about 15 – 20 mins transfer to the parks. It depends which park you are going to and time of day etc. All offer free transport to and from the parks.

Some value resorts are:

  • Art of Animation
  • Pop Century
  • All Stars Sports

Some Moderate resorts are:

  • Caribbean Beach (our favourite)
  • Port Orleans
  • Coronado Springs
Caribbean Beach Resort

Some deluxe resorts are:

  • Polynesian
  • Grand Floridian
  • The Contemporary

The Walt Disney World website breaks all this down for you and you can see lots of info about each resort including the differences between value, moderate and deluxe.

Don’t Freak Out!

O.K. so you’ve chosen your perfect resort and weighed up all the prices but you may find you need to revise your decision when you realise the extra costs coming up. There are certain things that you need to add onto your Disney holiday. These are the things that make a Disney holiday so much more expensive than a regular family holiday, however, after your first trip you will see why the cost is higher and you do actually see exactly what you are paying for. That’s why Disney has so many guests returning year on year. It’s worth every penny.

Step 2 – Park Tickets

Add park tickets to your booking. There are 6 WDW parks and at the moment you can buy a 14 day ultimate ticket for the price of 7 which includes memory maker.

Memory maker is a photo package which is worth it’s weight in gold. Photographers around the parks take your photo at key spots and they are uploaded to your wdw app.

Epcot

Park tickets for our family of four are coming out currently at around £1,500. The ultimate ticket offer includes park hopper tickets. This just means you can visit more than one park per day. So if want to spend the day in Animal Kingdom but go to see the fireworks in Epcot the same evening – no problem!

Step 3 – Dining

Add a dining package.

Whenever anyone asks me how to book a Disney holiday I tell them to get a dining package. Although it is not essential, you are free to book a Disney holiday without paying for one and many people choose to buy their food and drinks as they go around the parks.

Food at Disney is expensive. We went in 2015 without a dining package as a family of 3 (our daughter was only 5) and we spent around £1000. on food and drinks in a week. Needless to say, when we returned last year in 2019 a dining package was top of our priorities.

Disney sometimes do deals where you can get a dining plan free when you buy park tickets. This deal usual comes out around April and applies for booking for the following year.

The Disney dining packages can only be booked before you travel. It gives you an allowance of meals and snacks per day, per person and a re-fillable mug which can be filled at any Disney resort with coffee/Tea/soft drinks.

There are 3 tiers depending on what you need. Quick service, Disney dining (which used to be called moderate I think) and deluxe. We went with the moderate and found it was more than enough for what we needed. Everything we wanted to order was included on it.

Tipping

The dining plan is loaded onto your magic band. Let your server know you have a dining plan and tap your band to pay at the end of your meal. Tipping is not included and it’s a high percentage (20%). The more expensive the meal, obviously the bigger the tip and it goes up again for tables of 6 or more.

We spent lots of money on tips (literally up to $40 per meal). Our first sit down meal was a bit of a shock as we were feeling fly having our meals pre-loaded felt like it was free. After a 45 minute self-serve buffet in the busiest and loudest cafe style restaurant you’ve ever seen we were obliged to tip our server $20 who essentially had brought us two drinks. Not as much as a shock though as family we were on holiday with got when they were chased down after a meal by their server to be told off for not paying enough of a tip.

But we found the service great, the servers plainly don’t have easy jobs to do and we were in the Disney spirit. Worth budgeting for tips though, I would say it was our biggest expense overall.

Disney dining plans is a whole warren of detail which I can go into in another Disney planning post but for now you can see the breakdown on the WDW website and AJ over at The DFB Guide has reams and reams of info about food at Disney. She really is the expert on it.

Step 4 – Flights

So you’ve got your hotel sorted, park tickets and dining. Soon it will be time to start planning your non-negotiables on rides and attractions. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, you’ve got to make your way to the sunshine state first.

This is your captain speaking with co-pilot Teddy

Two Orlando Airports

Flights go from all over the U.K. direct to Orlando. The flights take about 9.5 hours there and 8 hours back (something about how the world turns don’t ask me I’m not here to science). You can fly into Orlando international or Orlando Sanford. Intl is about a 30 minute transfer and Magical Express bus transfers only go from here. Transfer time from Sanford is about 50 minutes.

Orlando Sanford Airport approach

There are pros and cons with both airports. We’ve travelled both times with TUI who fly into Sanford so I’ve never been to Intl. Sanford is a smaller kookier airport which is in massive need of a refurb and not much going on in the way of shops etc. However, friends have told me that the customs queues at Intl are terrible. Like 3 hours wait time terrible. Not much fun after a 9.5 hour flight with little ones.

Airlines

Some of the airlines worth looking at for flights from the U.K. are:

  • Virgin
  • BA
  • Tui (Dreamliner is lush and has the widest legroom as standard available in economy)
  • Norwegian

There are others available too but these are the ones that kept coming up on skyscanner for me. Tui are now flying direct from Bristol to Sanford.

How to Book A Disney Holiday

There you have it, a walk through of how to book a Disney holiday. There are so many strands to a Walt Disney World holiday from character meet and greets to the latest ride technology available, that’s not to mention the princesses and fireworks. I really could talk for a long time about booking a Disney holiday. The planning is all part of the fun!

This is how I cost up our trips and I hope this post has helped to lay out how to book a Disney holiday a little clearer for you. It can seem a bit overwhelming at first but I guarantee once you get swept up in it you will yourself be a Disney expert in no time.

Don’t worry about missing out on anything once you’re there as there is so much to see and do you’ll never do all of it in one trip. There’s no right way to holiday at Disney, you will have a fantastic time whatever you choose to do.

Now go book something!

I wrote another post recently all about my top Disney planning tips.

Top Tips for planning your Walt Disney World holiday

I had no idea where to start with writing about the most magical place on earth – Walt Disney World.

Should I do a post about planning? Best rides for kids? Perks of staying on Disney property? Best shows to see? Best snacks? Disney dining plan? I had no idea where to begin. So here’s an overview of our holiday just for starters. We went to Walt Disney World Florida for 11 nights in October 2019. We are a family of four and our children are aged 9 and 3.

Magic Kingdom Disney
Main Street U.S.A.

Flights to Orlando

We booked with Tui and flew premium with them from Gatwick. We stayed overnight at Marriott Courtyard which is Marriott’s like budget sibling and I wouldn’t recommend it. While the main communal areas are very lovely the rooms are really dated, the beds well used (and ours was dusty which sounds really snotty but it is a bit off putting).

Tui fly to Sanford Orlando and not to Orlando International like other airlines (Virgin, Norwegian are some you can use for International). Tui now fly from Bristol to Sanford Orlando so if we went again we would definitely go from Bristol.

Sanford Orlando is about a 50 minute transfer to the Disney area whereas International is only about 30 minutes. Sanford is a much smaller airport so there’s less queuing. However, Sanford was looking really outdated on this trip and I think they are in the process of upgrading some of the areas.

The kids were awesome on the plane. We spent a bit extra to go premium and it was so worth it. I thought it would be like economy extra with a bit more legroom but it was much better. The seats were really spacious and comfortable, the food was lush and we got a little night pack each with a mini toiletries kit. Very posh service with prosecco and orange juice served before take off and alcohol included (though I’m T-total now after my last trip to Dublin but that’s another story). It was lovely and nice to not feel so cramped for the 9.5hrs. Another added perk of Premium is you can use the No1 lounge in Gatwick which has free papers and buffet breakfast included.

Choosing a Disney Resort

We stayed at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort which is a moderate resort. They have value resorts (pop century, art of animation etc.) moderate resorts (Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans etc.) and deluxe resorts (Grand Floridian, Animal Kingdom Lodge etc.). Disney are really good at taking care of their guests so you won’t be disappointed if you choose to spend the extra to go deluxe. We visited the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian and they are jaw dropping resorts. Equally, as the Disney customer experience is at the centre of everything Disney do the moderate resorts are lush too.

Caribbean Beach Resort Photo Credit: Disney Photopass
Caribbean Beach main pool photo credit: Disney Photopass

Staying at a Disney hotel means you get perks such as free Disney transport between resorts and parks, and you can book your dining reservations and fast passes for the rides a bit further in advance.

Disney Skyliner flying over Caribbean Beach Resort
Disney’s Skyliner

We’ve stayed at the Caribbean Beach before so we knew we would love it. It was lush to see it again but this time with an upgraded lobby and brand new restaurant Sebastian’s which we enjoyed so much we ate at twice.

Disney Parks

Our first day was straight to Animal Kingdom which was our favourite park on our last visit but also to meet up with Rich’s cousin and her family who had gone out a few days before us from Manchester.

Photo Pass spot at Animal Kingdom
Cousins

All of us love Animal Kingdom. It’s African themed and it’s very leafy which means shade (which is something you’re in constant pursuit of in the Florida heat) and gorgeous to walk through. My little boy is 3 and animal obsessed so it was his favourite place and he kept asking throughout the rest of our holiday if we could go back to ‘the zoo’. Pandora world of Avatar is also at Animal Kingdom. The floating mountains are eye-popping and the theming there is something else.

Pools

Florida is 5 hours behind the U.K. (it was when we travelled but Florida does change the clocks in October too so check your dates) for the first few days we found we were all awake super early. We’d visit the parks in the morning and be back to the hotel (and A/C) by about 3pm. So we mixed busy park days with hanging out at the hotel pool. Caribbean beach is a big resort divided up into villages. Each village has it’s own pool along with the big main pool which has slides and a toddler splash pool. Everyone is allowed to use any pool but we find the village pools are usually really quiet and easy to get to from your room.

Our holiday was 11 nights so we got to go to most parks twice. So you can kind of split the big rides between 2 days rather than trying to get everything done at once.

Personal Disney Highlights

Some highlights for me were Soarin’ which I’d never been on before. I loved that, that’s at Epcot. I really enjoyed the food at breakfast at O’Hana but my favourite character meal was Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary which was just far and away the best one we did. Ooh there’s so much I loved! The Frozen Ever After ride at Epcot was amazing and we also all loved the Na’vii river journey ride at Animal Kingdom but I had seen that on so many vlogs before I went I felt like I’d been on it already!

Entrance to Chef Mickey's at Disney Contemporary Resort
Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort
Goofy at Chef Mickey's
Chef Mickey’s
Disney magic
Disney Pirates of the Caribbean ride
Frozen Ever After Ride
Disney Epcot ball lit up at night

Rides for little ones

My 9yr/o daughter really enjoyed going on some of the faster rides this time and she loved 7 Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. My little 3yr/o son also loved the rollercoaster he went on called the Barnstormer at Magic Kingdom and he’s still talking about it. I didn’t rate The Haunted Mansion (sorry to all the die hard fans of that ride) which was a shame as it was one I was looking forward to. It did break while we were waiting though and we were crammed into this hallway which wasn’t much fun. I just thought it needed a bit of an upgrade into 2019.

The Haunted Mansion ride
Not scared honest
Disney 7 dwarfs mine train ride
space ranger spin ride

Disney Magic is Real

There is so much to say about a Disney holiday. It’s like no other holiday I’ve ever been on. It’s jam-packed busy but jam-packed with magic. You bound from one experience to the next like an excited puppy with the help of the lovely cast members in anticipation of what’s next. What amazing thing can top the look on my child’s face on that last ride? And there’s always something that does. Then just when you’re beginning to believe that Disney magic is actually real suddenly BLAM you’re on the plane home and it’s all over. No sooner have you touched down than you’re on airport wifi looking up deals for your next visit. Then your 3 year old looks up at you with hazy eyes and says “Are we back in the real world now?”

Main Disney Takeaways:

  1. Don’t fret about the ages of your children there’s really so much to see and do for all ages.
  2. The Disneylife app is essential, showing maps, wait times, plans, reservations and your photo passes.
  3. The Skyliner is awesome! Make sure you try it.
  4. Cast members make Disney. They all know their stuff and have degrees in how to speak to children.
  5. Don’t worry about queues. We didn’t queue for longer than 15mins for anything. Use your fast passes and away to go!
  6. If you can get a Disney dining plan definitely do it. The food is very pricey and it’s great to have it all pre-paid. It just takes away the stress of trying to get the best value for your money at each place.

Memories Made

All of these photos were taken by the very talented photo pass photographers working across the parks and experiences. If you are not sure about buying memory maker I would say to do it 100% . It’s so easy, just tap your magic band and lovely family pics (with you all in) go straight to your app. Keep an eye out because you might catch a deal where you can get memory maker for free with your park tickets like we did.

I will be doing other posts all about Disney soon. I know I read blog posts and watched vlogs like it was my job before we went. Partly for planning but mostly just for the excitement of the build up.

More Disney…

If you would like to see more of our trip you can watch our vlogs here.

If there is anything specific about going to Walt Disney World you would like to know about tell me in the comments below and I’ll include it in a post.

Catch me on Twitter or comment on one of my Disney pics on Instagram to let me know when you are going to Disney.

Watch our vlogs of our Disney trip here: YouTube

Here is a previous post I’ve written about Disney planning: 3 Essential Disney Planning Tips.

AJ over at Disney Food Blog is such a great resource for all things Disney.

Enjoy your Disney planning! It’s half the fun!

Disney World – 3 Essential Planning Tips

We went to Disney World Resort Florida in 2015. We were a family of 3 back then and I will always fondly remember the holiday for lots of magical reasons. The big one being that I know it was when I firmly decided I wanted to have another child. I was sat on the back of a Disney shuttle bus on the way back to the hotel from Epcot one evening, specifically. So even though he’s not physically in the photos, if you look closely, you might see my Beb in the twinkle of my eye. We are planning another visit back to Disney World in 2019 when Beb is a little older so naturally I’ve already started planning. 😉

Magic Kingdom castle

We had an amazing time and although I feel like we are the only family in the world who managed to have a bit of a row at the foot of the Magic Kingdom Castle on our first visit (we were hot and jet lagged what can I say) we soon got immersed into all things Disney and had a really wonderful, magical holiday. Once we’d slept a bit.

Part of the success of that is down to the planning. So read on if you want some tips. Disney of course provides the magic once you get there.

Planning the finer details of our trip fell to me/I grasped it with both hands like an over-zealous bridesmaid at a wedding jumping for the bouquet. Whatever . Tomato/tomato. (How many of you just read both those tomato’s in a British accent like me.) So as you may imagine I got straight to it researching the don’t miss rides and the ones suitable for smaller children, the best places and times to meet characters, the best restaurants to eat at, all of that hoo-ha. I went all out. As I have a tendency to do. Lucky for me there are hundreds and hundreds of interesting and useful blogs and write-ups all about planning a holiday (or vacation) to Disneyworld. I enjoyed a good few weeks feasting on all that juicy info. I was pinning like nobody’s business. Check out my Disney Pinterest board if you want some good tips.

When we got there and we were all three of us baking in the heat on our first day and my 5 year old was knackered from all the travelling I quickly realised all my plans would have to be dropped from a great height if we were to enjoy ourselves at all. So that’s my foremost top tip.

minnie-mouse-ears

Expect A LOT of walking in Disney Parks

 

Plan to have a very loose plan or no plans at all.

This gobble-de-gook warrants some explaining.  You’re in Disney, there’s so many iconic things to see. You’ve been dreaming about this trip most of your life and you don’t want to miss a thing. That’s where your planning comes in.

  1. Before you go decide which things (the smaller the list the better) at EACH park are the essential things for you and your family to see that you do not want to miss.
  2. Book your fast passes in advance for these attractions.
  3. Pad the day around the times of these top fast passes.
  4. Be prepared to throw everything out the window and go back to the hotel to chill in the pool.
  5. Point 4 is the most useful piece of advice about enjoying your holiday to Disneyworld! It’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness and excitement only to find everyone is exhausted!

 

Fast Passes

Fast passes are incredible; personally I wouldn’t want to do Disney without them. If you stay at a Disney resort hotel you can book them up to 60 days prior to your check in date. We stayed at the Royal Caribbean it is lovely check it out! As simple as they sound they are a queue jump system where you can take the express lane onto rides and for meets if you book a time slot in advance. So fast passes –

  1. Book them before you go. Yes you can actually book your time slot for fast passes onto rides before you even get off the Airplane. This is great for really popular things like meeting Anna & Elsa. You may even find all the fast pass time slots are taken on certain things weeks before your holiday.
  2. Spread them out across different things rather than use them just for all the big rides. I booked ours for rides, meets, and even a great viewpoint for the parade.

Royal-Carribean-disney-resort

The Royal Caribbean Resort Walt Disney World Florida

ariel-float-disney

Memory Maker

I paid quite a bit extra for this picture package when we went in spring 2015. It’s currently being thrown in for free as a bonus when you book with certain travel operators (sshh it’s Thomson/TUI group I think).  It’s so much more than a picture package. There are photographers wandering around the parks all day taking photos of guests. With memory maker, they beep touch your magic band and all the photos taken of you that day are uploaded to your Disney account. It’s awesome!

  1. Look out for the marked view points to have your photo with all the iconic landmarks in the background.
  2. Get all your professional photos from the character meets uploaded straight to your phone.
  3. All your great family holiday photos in one place. Be sure to download them within the given timeframe when you get home. (I think it was 30 days but check the Disney website).
  4. Enjoy the moments without worrying if you caught a good picture.
  5. Mum in the picture and family photos with everyone in that aren’t selfies.

So those are 3 of my tippety top tips off the top of my head for planning your Disneyworld holiday of dreams. Let me know if you found them useful and if you learned something that you didn’t know before!

We are planning another trip to Disneyworld Florida in 2019 and so there will be lots more posts coming up here all about planning a Disney holiday. Just imagine all the pins I can find in 2 years!

I will be sharing the most helpful YouTube channels and blog reviews I have found that are go-to places for vids and tips about Disney. So feel free to bookmark this page for future reference, pin the image below, and if you liked my 1st ever Disney post please share it with others via the social buttons below. Thanks!

 

3-essential-disney-planning-tips