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Disney World Planning, Part 1: Research

I have a confession to make: I'm a Disney freak. Over the last several months, I've fallen deep into the rabbit hole that is planning for a trip to Disney World ... and think I'm a complete convert. 

If you don't already know, I'm what most people call a "Planner" No, not planner. But "Planner." With a capital P, air quotes and a bit of a side-eyed smirk. When I get excited about something, I tend to research the hell out of it so I know ALL of my options. Then obsess over all the decisions. Compare costs. Look at pros and cons. Draft Excel sheets. Make itineraries and lists. And basically freak out until the big day comes. 

Examples of this OCD-like behavior include when I got married (I think my 3-inch binder is a better scrapbook than my professional photo album), when I got pregnant (HOURS after that pink line showed up, I was at the bookstore ... and I already knew which book to buy based on prior Internet searches), when I started running (Do you know how many running blogs I follow? It's crazy ...) and now: Planning a trip to Walt Disney World. 

Like a lot of 80s/90s kids, I grew up with the Disney animated classics: "Cinderella," "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," "Toy Story," etc. - all of the VHS tapes are still lined up in my parents' TV cabinet ... and I told my mom she's not allowed to get rid of them. Ever. 

And luckily, my parents took us all to Orlando to experience the magic when I was 8 years old. I can still remember meeting Mickey and Minnie, spinning in the teacups, singing along to "Beauty and the Beast" on stage, and watching the fireworks over Epcot from my dad's shoulders. 

Jan's rocking the fanny pack, I'm rocking the perm and Scott is rocking those chicken legs!

I knew the moment I left that I would be back with my own child someday. So when my husband kept dropping little hints about maybe taking our daughter, I had to have a come-to-Jesus talk with him. "We're either going or we're not," I said. He needed to give me the green light so we could get serious about planning and saving ... or he needed to put the idea on hold until he was really ready to commit. 

Sounds insane, I know. But my mind couldn't take the thought lingering in the back of my head any more. I either needed to push it out completely or let it take over. That's just how my brain works ... and he knows this. 

So luckily, Kyle gave me the go-ahead, and I'm currently in the throes of planning our family’s first adventure to the World. (And don’t think that I pushed him into this … He’s never been to Disney World before, so I think his curiosity played a big part in his decision to go sooner rather than later.)

I think our big talk was back in June … and I’ve been researching ever since. I told my mom I have NO IDEA how she planned our trip back then with just a book from the Disney Store and an 800 number!

Rather than hold all this knowledge for myself, I’ve decided to share it. Over the next few months leading up to our trip, I’d like to post about the planning process and tips I’ve used to create what I hope will be a wonderful, memorable experience. 

Part 1 is going to be research. Because that’s where it all starts. Before I made any decisions, I got my hands on as much information as possible. Now let’s be real… there’s no way anyone can really be a Disney expert in just a few months, but I think I’ve found some of the best resources to get started. 

For the Majority of First-Timers: WDW Prep School 
Shannon Albert is my hero. Seriously. She focuses almost all of her content on planning for first-timers. Her six-step planning process has kept me in check so I don’t get too far ahead of myself (we’re currently on Step 4: Pick dining options). If you’re into podcasts like I am (think radio on your mobile device), you’ll want to binge-listen to all of her episodes of WDW Prep To Go for great ideas and tips. You’ll also notice all the best planning pins on Pinterest come from her. In my opinion, you can skip all of the other planning resources and just stick to this website if you don’t want to be overwhelmed. 

For Those Who Like Details: "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World"
If you’re a details person, you HAVE to read this book. It includes tons of ratings, charts, lists and plans – all based on meticulous research and data from a team of, essentially, Disney scientists. The only downside to this book is that a new one is printed every year (they have to in order to keep up with the constant changes at the parks!). That leads me to my next recommendation …

For Those Who Want To Do It All: TouringPlans.com
This website is an extension of the Unofficial Guide, with up-to-date information about pretty much ANYTHING you want to know. You have to buy a subscription (a whopping $12.95 for an entire year … or less because there are discount codes everywhere you look) to access the step-by-step touring plans or create your custom plans to maximize your time in the parks. You can also look at plenty of FREE material without a subscription, including the blog posts, which are helpful and sometimes entertaining. 

For Those Who Want to Geek Out: Be Our Guest podcast 
I listen to several Disney World podcasts, but this is one of my favorites. The hosts are always upbeat and excited to help listeners plan their trips – the way they talk about the World always puts me in a good mood and gets me so excited for my own vacation. This show isn't as structured as WDW Prep To Go, but that's the appeal! You can learn a lot throughout their conversations and trip reports. Listener Questions are my favorite episodes because people ask about things I would’ve NEVER thought to ask. 

Keep in mind through all of this that I haven’t actually been to Disney World in 21 years, and my family’s wants/needs won’t be the same as yours. I’m just hoping that sharing my experience will help others get started when they’re ready. Remember, I’m a “Planner” so I prefer to do it myself rather than use a Disney travel agent … but the option is out there (at no extra cost) for those who’d rather let someone else handle the details. 


I think Part 2 of my series will be budgeting for Disney World. If you have any questions in the meantime, you should leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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