Great, we’re going to Disney!! OMG, what do I do next? What do I do first?

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By Colleen Parisi from A Walk in the Park with Colleen

Your trip to Disney World can be emotional in many different ways, from fun and magical to stressful and frustrating. I am going to walk you through the 10 steps of the planning process to help you maximize the fun and minimize the stress…let’s call it Disney 101.

Step 1: Who is going

This is the time to decide who will be in your travel party. It is important to know your group’s traveling abilities–this includes naps, walking, dietary requirement, etc. You’ll want to discuss and have a good understanding of your party’s needs PRIOR to the trip to avoid issues once you are there.

Step 2: When to go

What is important to you? It could be that you want to be there when it is cold here; it could be based around your children’s school schedule or your work schedule. Remember that the time of the year you go changes the price of the trip and the size of the crowds.

Step 3: How to get there

It’s a long way to Florida, so most people from upstate New York will fly to Orlando. Some people I know don’t like to fly, so they drive. Flying saves you LOTS of time, and I find that for me, driving makes me feel tired when I get there, even with stopping and staying at a hotel overnight. You need to do what is best for your party.

Disney provides transportation from their hotel resorts into all the parks (including waterparks) and to Disney Springs. Most transportation is by bus, but there are three deluxe resorts that are on the monorail for transportation as well. These deluxe resorts, as well as Fort Wilderness Resort, also have boat transportation to Magic Kingdom and the Transportation Center.

For guests staying at a Disney resort, you can ride the Magic Express from the Orlando airport (MCO) to your resort at no additional cost. Imagine being able to check-in both you and your luggage here at Albany airport, boarding the plane, and flying to the Orlando airport, where you get on the Magic Express, and a few hours later, your luggage is delivered to your room–amazing!!

When you checkout, you bring your luggage to your Disney resort’s airline check-in; you leave your luggage and get your boarding pass, then if you have an early flight, you board the Magic Express to go back to the airport.  OR, if you have a late flight, you can check-in your luggage, get your boarding pass, and go into a park for a few hours, then come back to the resort, where you board the Magic Express back to the airport.

Step 4: Where to stay

Options include the Disney resorts, timeshares, other hotels, renting a house or condo, or staying with family and friends. Each one has its pluses and minuses. For myself, I usually stay at my timeshare, but 1 in 3 times, I stay on-site because I love to be immersed in the Disney magic!

Step 5: How many days and in which parks

I am an annual passholder, but I will usually buy park tickets for people traveling with me to have for each day we are there. Once you get past five days, the amount to add additional days is relatively small, and I like the flexibility of being able to go into a park any day. This means I can spend a day hanging by the pool and just go in for dinner and fireworks for the evening.

Step 6: Plan your days in the parks, but do NOT schedule

Your days in the parks should be set up as a guideline, not as a set-in-stone schedule. By scheduling a day, you give up spontaneity and a chance for something wonderful to happen. Also, things can and do go wrong, so you must be FLEXIBLE with your schedule. It also gives you less stress. And P.S., study your park maps BEFORE going into the parks.

Remember to plan a down day, especially if you are going to be there for five or more days. A down day can mean hanging out at your resort–maybe by the pool–or it can be participating in resort activities.

BIG TIP: Start a walking regimen BEFORE you go. I recommend to my clients to start walking 30 minutes a day in preparation for your trip to Disney. I can tell you from personal experience that on a “short” day in the park, I will have over 12,000 steps, and on a “long” day, over 25,000. Be physically prepared!

Step 7: Dining plans

Whether you stay on-site or off-site, you can make table service dining reservations or you can do counter service; you need to determine what is best for your travel party. Personally, I enjoy a table service for lunch and for dinner (except for Epcot Food and Wine Festival) because I can sit down, relax, rehydrate (VERY IMPORTANT), and enjoy the air conditioning.

Dining reservations NEED to be done 180 days in advance–yes, six months in advance–in order to get your top choices and best times.

You also can have groceries delivered to your resort for a fee, either by a delivery company or by Disney, to help you save some money on food.

Step 8: Ride reservations are important

Disney has a great benefit called Fastpass. It allows you to pick fastpasses (or as I call them, go to the head of the line tickets) for three rides PRIOR to getting to the park. This helps to plan the day out for how to tour the park–remember, we want to maximize our time in the parks while minimizing stress. This is a FREE benefit that you get with your park ticket. Yes, free!

Step 9: Packing for the vacation and packing for the parks

It is helpful to create a packing list for your trip; it is a good way not to forget anything and to make sure you bring everything home with you.

I always make sure to pack ponchos, pain relievers, Tums, motion sickness pills, Benadryl (I have allergies), anti-diarrhea medicine, sunscreen, hand cream, lip balm, hand sanitizer, pens, and markers for characters to sign my vest. Remember: Everything costs more if you need to buy it on vacation, plus you might not get the brand you prefer.

Here are some other important items to put on your packing list: airline tickets, resort confirmation (yes, I am old school and still prefer paper for back-up), Magic Bands, wallet, credit card, driver’s license (for ID), park tickets (if separate from resort/hotel reservation–like for special events), and your cell phone.

Step 10: RELAX AND ENJOY!!

Remember: This is your vacation; it is supposed to be fun and relaxing. By planning ahead, you cut out the worries while in the parks, therefore cutting out the stress.


A Walk in the Park with Colleen is about planning YOUR magical experiences at Disney!!  I have been to Disney over 20 times since my first visit at age 19.  I continue to go multiple times a year to keep up on what is happening and any changes.  My mission is to learn EVERYTHING I can about vacations at Disney and pass it on to my clients.  I tell people “I take the stress out and put the fun in” My dream and goal is to help and guide people through their magical vacation at Disney.  Imagine a Disney vacation where you are relaxed and having fun, can you see it? I can.

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