Going to Disneyland is a regular occurrence for me. I usually go on Sundays, and sometimes a night after work. Before I moved to Southern California, planning to go to Disneyland wasn’t too involved. I usually just booked a flight or decided to drive, and figured out a place to stay. Potentially, I would make a dining reservation (Carnation Cafe for Mickey Waffles), but not much more than that. When I would plan to visit Disneyland when I lived in Northern California, I would plan 4-8 weeks in advance. Being a passholder made the process much simpler. I know the Disneyland Resort all too well, so, planning our Walt Disney World vacation was an entirely different adventure. The amount of planning that goes into a WDW vacation can take months, like it did for us. Actually, Annie and I started talking about going in February of 2016. That gave us plenty of time to figure out dates and budgets. We didn’t start the planning and booking process in the late summer/early fall of 2016. It’s safe to say that we were still lining things up the day before we left for our trip.
Hotels and Flights
To start planning our WDW vacation, we started with hotels, and were able to get great rates thanks to Annie. We booked our first four nights at Port Orleans Riverside in the Princess themed rooms. And for our last three nights, we booked Port Orleans French Quarter. We booked flights a few weeks later, as that is something I tend to do extensive research on.
*DAPs Tip: When booking flights, cheaper ones tend to have more layovers. But, research multiple airlines, as some have free checked bags and others don’t. For hotels, do what fits your budget or travel vision. If you need a room with a kitchenette, there are resorts that offer suites with a kitchen. Or, if you’re simply looking for a place on property with a bed and a bathroom, there are plenty of value options.
Once hotel and travel were booked, we could start making dining reservations. For us, it was the most stressful part of the planning process (up to that point). If you stay on property, dining reservations can be booked 6 months out, and Walt Disney World has hundreds of dining options. For some restaurants, like Be Our Guest, options were limited, so we took whatever was available. We made 5 reservations in advance, but this meant we were planning out park days as well, 6 months in advance. Two nights in a row, we had dinner reservations in Epcot, and the second of those days, we had lunch reservations at Magic Kingdom. This all worked out, as one day we had reservations at Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Hotel (Tonga Toast is a must!). That day actually became our non-park day, where we rested, checked out some resorts, and visited Disney Springs. The next day was an Epcot day as we had reservations at the Biergarten restaurant in the Germany Pavilion, which was such a fun experience! The following day was the one day we knew we had to park hop, because we had lunch reservations at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom, and dinner reservations at Via Napoli at the Italy Pavilion in Epcot. Fortunately, that was our only hop day, as the rest of the trip, we stuck to one park per day.
*Daps Tip: While Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table were cool dining experiences, I don’t know if I would pay for those again. The food wasn’t as fantastic, and I think there are plenty more unique dining options that I would have looked into, and for a cheaper price, too. Spend some time looking at menus prior to booking.
Park Hopping and Resort Transportation
That brings up another major difference between Disneyland and WDW; park hopping is drastically different between the two resorts. Park-Hopping (or getting anywhere) in WDW is not a quick and easy task. You actually have to plan on needing a half hour to an hour and a half to getting around the property if you’re using resort transportation. Needing an hour and a half is a little more normal if you’re there during busy seasons. At Disneyland, park hopping almost literally means park hopping, as it’s really easy to get to the parks, as the options are limited and it’s a short distance. For WDW, you can’t walk from park to park, which means you take a bus, ferry, monorail, your own car, or even Uber. William and I did Uber on one occasion. That’s why you have to plan on plenty of time if you have Fastpasses or dining reservations. Buses only come every 20 minutes to resort hotels to go to the parks. For our Kona Cafe reservation, we took a bus to the Magic Kingdom and then the ferry or monorail over to the Polynesian Hotel. At WDW, there is no resort to resort transportation, only resort to park or Disney Springs.
*Daps Tip: Try out all of the resort transportation! We took a boat from Riverside to Disney Springs, which took some time, but was fun! Mostly, you’ll be taking buses from place to place, so be patient if you miss one or if it’s full. The Monorail is nice too, because it stops at three different resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian).
We didn’t look into resort transportation too much ahead of time, except for Magical Express from the airport to our hotel. With Magical Express, Disney will take you in special buses to your specific resort on property for no charge. This, of course, will start the Disney magic right as you leave the airport before even arriving on property. Booking Magical Express is easy; you can book with your hotel reservation, or by calling Disney with your flight info. Disney does all the work for you, they schedule your round trip, send all documents, and luggage tags. You can opt to skip baggage claim by using these tags, and Disney will pick up your bags and deliver them to your room. When leaving the resort, you can drop off your bags with Magical Express and they’ll take them to your airline. They will also print your boarding passes for you!
*Daps Tip: The only downside to luggage delivery is that it can take hours before receiving your bags. If you are to arrive in the morning or afternoon, it probably not a bad deal. However, for us, our flight arrived at 8pm and 2 of our bags came at midnight, and the other at 1am. Had we known that it would take 4-5 hours after arrival, we would have picked up our bags ourselves. When you’ve been traveling all day, you just want to put your pajamas on and get some sleep once at the hotel! If your flight arrives after 5pm, I would suggest picking them up at baggage claim, there will be room on the bus for your luggage.
Probably the most prominent difference between Disneyland and WDW is their Fastpass system, which uses Magic Bands and Fastpass+. To be honest, I am not a fan of it the system. The My Disney Experience app wasn’t always reliable for us, as finding and loading Fastpasses wasn’t user friendly. We had a few problems with them, even though we did very few attractions. It was somewhat easier to book them before our trip, but not as much the day of at the parks or via the app. Now, we had Cast Member passes, which did make it a little more complicated for us. Even then, if the app isn’t fully functioning properly, you’re a little stuck. Resort guests can book 3 Fastpasses for each day ahead of time, but cannot add any more the day of till the last one is up. So, if your last Fastpass is for 8pm, you’re most likely not going to be able to add anymore for the day.
*DAPs Tip: I would highly recommend booking the following Fastpasses ahead of your vacation: Frozen Ever After at Epcot, Rock n’Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. I would also suggest them for Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Musical, both shows at Animal Kingdom. Please note, we went to WDW before Pandora: The World of Avatar opened, and I would guess to make Fastpass reservations for Na ‘vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage if possible.
The last point I want to get to is pretty simple: WDW is huge and has so much to explore other than the parks. I propose taking a day to explore other resorts, if you have the time. We explored the Boardwalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian, as well as Port Orleans, where we stayed. Just walking around Port Orleans, both Riverside and French Quarter, felt like we were walking around little cities. I absolutely loved the feel of them, but I was also really excited to walk around the Boardwalk. The vibe there makes you feel like you’re at a beachfront property, and not at WDW. I also suggest setting aside time for Disney Springs, as it’s substantially larger than Downtown Disney at Disneyland.
*DAPs Tip: Disney Springs is a hot spot for nights and weekends, and I would suggest checking it out in the morning when you can. We went on a Saturday night, and it was just as busy as you would anticipate it to be. I wish we would have gone during a less busy time so we could visit more of it!
The Disney Parks Difference
If you frequent Disneyland and have not been to Walt Disney World, go with an open mind. The two resorts are not the same by any means. I mean, sure, there are some similarities, but we still didn’t know where most things were. I will admit, we had to look at a park map on several occasions, which was strange. All in all, we had an AMAZING time, and I can’t wait to plan the next trip!
*DAPs Tip: Something I wish I would have planned on, was more time in Epcot. There is nothing that Epcot offers that is remotely similar to anything on Disneyland property, which I love! Epcot is so distinctly different, that I wish I would have planned for 2-3 days there. I would have done a day at both Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, a half day at Hollywood Studios, and three days at Epcot. Then I could have had a day and a half or 2 to explore outside of the parks. A week was still plenty of time for us, as we accomplished everything we wanted to and more!
Until Next Time!