Planning a Trip to Disney: Part 1

I am a Disney fanatic. It really, truly, is one of my favourite places on Earth. So much so, that on our 10 day trip to Europe next month we are planning to spend a day at Disneyland Paris. I know, I know, it’s the cultural centre of the world! The museums! The history! The food! Can I blame it on I have a 4 year old and I feel like it’s only fair to break up the trip doing something completely childish? I feel like I could get away with that if he didn’t absolutely adore museums and learning.

Because I have never been to Disneyland Paris I’m kind of in the learning stages in some ways myself, so I thought it would be a good chance to write up how to go about planning a trip to Disney. I have heard a few stories of people going to Disney and not enjoying it… thinking it wasn’t worth the money or it was too crowded or what not. Now, I am sure there are some people who just aren’t “Disney people” and while I may never convince you to don your own set of ears *cough* my husband *cough cough* I really believe that if planned properly, Disney is an unforgettable family vacation.

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Disney is the only place on Earth that I don’t feel dorky instituting family matching. Note the lack of ears on my husband’s head. (Yes, this is preemptive guilt for Paris.)

Have realistic expectations

No, Disney is not the thrill ride capitol of the world. It is about a family friendly, fully immersive experience. Yes, you will wait in lines. I am a child of the 90s with summer days spent in sweltering August heat and no fast passes – so yes, I used to get excited for a wait under 60 minutes. Now, however, if you plan it right, 60 minutes will probably be your longest wait. You will get more out of it if you’ve seen a fair amount of Disney movies, obviously. And I mean, it’s all about the attitude. I know first hand that smiling and letting your enthusiasm show can really get you some amazing Disney magic.

Which leads me to a warning: there is a lot of talk about special pixie dust being bestowed on park guests. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT expect it. I have been to Disney more times than I can count, and the thing that makes the pixie dust so special is that it doesn’t happen every time. Don’t be smiley and pleasant expecting something to happen. Do it because you’re a decent human being and it makes the day more fun for you!

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That’s a kiss from Princess Ariel ya’ll! That is pixie dust that does not happen every day, and let me tell you, it made my son’s day!

Plan your dates

I know this isn’t always possible. Work and school schedules can be tough to work with, so if it’s time to go, go! There are other tricks to beat the crowds. But if you do have flexibility, try to go in the off season. Don’t visit during major holidays or the summer. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the holiday spirit, though. The week before Christmas is just as magical minus the crowds. There are a number of crowd calendars available online and many of them are very good. Just to give an idea of how much the crowds can vary: for my son’s 3rd birthday we visited for 4 days. The first day you could have done cartwheels down Main Street and not hit a soul, the last day it was like ants in an anthill. I’m not even exaggerating.

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This was parade crowds on our empty day 1. PARADE CROWDS. For an accurate representation of busy parade crowds, think clowns in a clown car. Look how much space is between me and my fellow mouseketeers! Disney is never dead, but crowds can get insane.

Look for deals

It’s difficult to find a Disney deal these days, but they do exist. For the most part, it generally gets cheaper the longer you stay. Costco, AAA, and military discounts have all existed at some point or another. For our trip to Disneyland Paris, I discovered that I can save 30 euros per person by booking a ticket in advance online just because we are going on a quiet day. And that’s just through the Disneyland Paris website! If you’re only doing one day, you probably don’t need to stay onsite, but for a multi-day trip to Disney World in particular, it’s usually ideal. The transportation alone is worth it, and you cannot beat the theming of a Disney hotel. Try looking at a number of options whether you buy your tickets, flights, and hotel separately versus together. It can make a big difference!

Plan your parks

This is something that is for Disney World in particular as there are 4 parks as well as waterparks and Disney Springs. If you check the crowd calendars mentioned above (just google “Disney World [land/Paris/Tokyo etc] crowd calendar”) they will mention a best park and a worst park according to crowd levels. There are tons of factors that go into this, like any special events going on at parks those days, but in my experience they have always been spot on. Sometimes, I go against them, like for instance, if my first day is a “no go” day for Magic Kingdom. always start at Magic Kingdom. Nothing says “Disney” like a castle. But for the most part, if I’m there for multiple days I try to follow the crowd calendars as closely as I can.

Plan your attack

One of the reasons I can do Disney so efficiently comes down to the fact that I have been so many times. I know the general layout of the parks, I’m not wasting time looking at maps or getting turned around. I know which attractions are worth waiting for and which I’d rather skip. I know the general ebb and flow of the crowds and can therefore avoid them. It’s a sixth sense. I also know I’ll be back again, so if I don’t make it out to Tom Sawyer’s Island or to the Swiss Family Treehouse, I’m not heartbroken. *Arnold Schwarzenegger voice* I’ll be back. That is really difficult to do when it’s your first time. Now, I know some people may be against this because it could “ruin the magic” but I highly recommend researching which rides and attractions are the absolute must dos for you and your family. I don’t think it ruins the magic to be prepared. Ruining the magic is missing out on the attraction that would have been your favourite. But stuff happens, so if you aren’t sure about something, take a deep breath and ask a cast member. They’re always happy to help.

There is no “perfect” time to go

Don’t get too hung up on the perfect time to go. I know it can be expensive to go on vacation, and many see Disney as a once in a lifetime place and want it to be perfect, but that’s just setting yourself up for a crappy time. Nothing is ever perfect. (See “realistic expectations” above.) A lot of people are against going when the kids are young saying it’s just for the parents – and yes, it is. It’s for me to have in my memories with my child. Seeing his face light up when he saw Winnie the Pooh for the first time is right up there with watching his first steps. There is an inexplicable magic that happens at Disney, but it’s only there if the whole family buys into it. I seriously think there’s something to be said for going when your kid still believes in magic. But no matter what, if the time is right for you, go! You might just find your way back again.

I’ve been to Disney at nearly every stage of life: as a toddler, as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, and as a parent. They’ve all been their own experience and that’s one thing that I love about Disney – there really is something for everyone!

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I sure do a good job at rambling, so I turned this into a 2 part post! Be sure to check out Planning a Trip to Disney: Part 2 for on the day tips where I say controversial Disney things like “don’t go back to the hotel midday” and “I don’t bring a stroller.”

Are you planning an upcoming trip? What is your biggest question? If you’re as obsessed with Disney as I am, what’s your favourite tip?

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