Hopefully with this series I will be giving you an idea of what it's like to plan a Disney trip in the only way I know how, with gift of OCD. There are many levels of OCD, my particular brand leans very heavily on the obsessive side and not so much on the compulsive side (although I do have my moments), but needless to say, it makes for great planning! But my social issues wreak havoc and play a huge part in planning as well. But as Buck from the Country Bears says, "hey Henry, lets get on with the show"!
It never ceases to amaze me how people don't do research on this particular vacation destination. You wouldn't go to Europe or even new York without planning. I've discussed in the past how huge Disney World (or WDW for short) actually is, and considering it's twice the size of Manhattan, one would think a little bit of planning would be in order. But a lot of newbies make the mistake of thinking of Disney as their local amusement park, in need of no prethought, and it certainly is NOT an amusement park. One visit will cure that misconception, but for a lot of folks, that first goof is enough to keep them from trying again (and I've known several).
I've heard it all from "certain rides were closed" - which happens for refurbishment and are almost always announced months or weeks in advance. WDW is one of the few places I've been to that actually takes care of their "show" and keeping the rides in working order and the exteriors looking new and freshly painted are a priority. Plus, drop a piece of paper on the ground and see how quickly someone shows up to pick it up...it's kind of freaky!
"There were way too many people there and the lines were too long", well, yeah, if you go in the middle of July or at Christmas, expect wall to wall people anywhere, not just WDW. And it's sister complaint, "it was way too hot to have any fun". Yeah, go in the middle of August through September and see how hot "hot" actually is. It's central Florida and they are not immune to hurricane season. Plus the humidity can be high even in February (even if the mornings are freezing).
One of my faves, "we couldn't get in any restaurants to eat and had to eat hamburgers for a week". Well, if they had planned, they'd know you have to make your ressies 180 days out and even then, some restaurants are extremely difficult to get into. Which brings up another sister point, "everything was just so expensive!". Yes, you may pay $10 for a hamburger, but it's a big frickin burger! I will say this a lot, you get what you pay for at WDW.
The first decision to be made is when to go. Preferably, I need almost a year to plan and we pretty much prefer to go at Halloween time anyway. That makes planning pretty cut and dry for us. But for those that haven't been, it's a lot more complicated than that. Each season has a different event; spring has the Epcot Flower And Garden Festival, early summer has Star Wars Weekends, late summer has the Sounds Like Summer Concert series, fall brings the Epcot Food And Wine Festival and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, and then the holidays brings Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and the Osborne Festival Of Lights. Those are just the main events, but there are numerous others, from golf tournaments to concerts to marathons to spring training for certain big-name teams...you name it, WDW has it! You just have to decide what you're interested in and plan around that.
Or, if none of these appeal to you, you can always plan during an off-season...but planning is a definite must, because while by Disney standards it's an off-season, it doesn't mean that it's off-season for other groups who like to go in the slower seasons, from the "notorious" foreign tour groups (known for all kinds of hijinx-I've witnessed it myself and I avoid them like the plague) to the numerous band, cheerleading, and sports groups (encountered those too-too many teenagers together is never a good thing), to Gay Days (which never ceases to frighten the homophobes into coming out in droves to complain online-had they've planned, they'd known). You need to be aware of what is happening during the time you are planning and schedule accordingly...the fate of a happy trip rests on it! Decide what you can tolerate and move on from there.
Play around with your dates a bit, you could get cheaper packages from Disney or airfare by just adjusting your dates by one day. WDW weekend rates are higher than weekday rates. Holiday or peak season rates are also higher than lower season rates or off months like January or February. Sunday is typically the most expensive day to fly with Monday, Friday, and Saturday being the busiest. We typically start our trip on a Tuesday or Wednesday and end on a Thursday...best way to avoid the rush and only allows for one weekend of higher rates.
You can use the Disney World website to get some ideas of potential dates and even save offers for several days until you make your decision. Airline websites will pretty much do the same. Sites like Travelocity or Expedia won't really give you a good offer off the bat unless you are willing to book right then, and you have to put up with the tons of pushing they do.
But I can't stress enough...RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! There are numerous Disney websites out there - AllEars, WDW Magic, Orlando Theme Park News, mousesavers.com, to even the official Disney blog itself is gonna give you tons of information. I have a love/hate relationship with the DisBoards, and I'm always a bit hesitant to direct people there, but in the short term, you can find out tons of info (just don't get yourself caught up in all their drama). There are tons of other websites, some less accurate than others, but you'll soon be navigating through them like a pro!
Then there are the books...I don't buy them anymore, other than the precious Birbaum's Official Walt Disney World Guide (which is more of a collectors item than a true learning tool), but the best book is The Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World.
You've also got tons of podcasts, from WDW Today - with Len Testa (a co-author of the Unofficial Guide) to Mike Newell of MouseWorld Radio (to get you in the Disney mood) to Mike Scopa, a blog writer for allears.net, and Matt Hochberg, from Studios Central and brilliant host (as well as a total hottie!). Then there is the genius that is Lou Mongello at WDW Radio, who is also a co-author of an absolutely gorgeous Disney magazine called "Celebrations", as well as the author of The Walt Disney World Trivia books.
But that's about it for the first stage. Next up, what to do once you know when you wanna go.