7 Mistakes Even Teachers Make At Disney

{Here's a little guest blog from my fabulous Disney loving husband just in time for summer vacations and the TPT conference in July!}

I'm a planner by nature, I get it honestly.  We have been going to Disney parks since I was just a little kid.  Each trip was meticulously planned to ensure we maximized our value.  Let's face it... when you spend a lot of money on a trip, you want to get the most out of it.  Here are a few of the lessons I've learned through my 20+ trips to Disney.

1.  Not Planning Ahead
Fail to plan, plan to fail....it's the message teachers live by from August to May.  Just don't forget to plan out your Disney vacation too!

Know what to expect when you go.  Teachers are locked in to specific times they can travel for vacation.  But any guidebook will tell you these are the times NOT to go to Walt Disney World.  Good news... you can do it and live through it.  You're a teacher and if you can survive the smell of burnt popcorn from the teacher's lounge, you will be fine in Disney in the Summer or Spring Break.  Use a service like Touringplans.com (under $10 fee) to help you choose days with the lowest crowds for each park.

Plan out your fastpass+ selections.  Fastpass selections can be made 30 days from your vacation start day if staying off property, and 60 days if you are staying on property (and, yes, you should schedule asap for the best selection).  You can choose 3 fastpasses per day.  While some may say this takes the spontaneity out of your vacation, I look at it as a way to relax and enjoy your vacation because the hard work is done.  So sit down with your family and make a list of must-do attractions.  For small kids, the list might include rides like The Mad Tea Party or Goofy's Barnstormer (one of Cooper's Favorites).  These two attractions are FastPass+ attractions, but rarely see waits times, so using 1 of your 3 fast passes on a ride with little wait time isn't the best idea.  (Tip:  You can make your FastPass+ selections at midnight eastern time or after park closing (if it's later than 12:00) at 60 / 30 days out. )

Here are some great links to FastPass+ strategies / info by park.
Make sure you get your family's buy in on the entire process.  Knowing what their expectations are can really ensure you vacations is a success.  Watch YouTube videos of attraction rides, etc... Make crafts that get the family excited about the trip, watch Disney movies before you go... anything to build excitement.   We usually create some kind of advent calendar so that Cooper can count how many days until we go to Disney World.  This was last year's countdown...

And this year, we used Cooper's love for monorails to make a monorail countdown.

After all of the planning is complete and you are in the parks, RELAX...  Have fun.  Allow me to ruin some of the magic for a second...  It's going to Rain everyday you are there.  There are going to be rude visitors.  Someone is going to stand in front of you during a parade...  The only thing you can control is how you handle these situations.  You might think that some of these things would ruin a vacation, but at the end of the Day your kid might think it was a success because they met Mickey Mouse, ate a Churro and stayed up past their bed time.  Push through the vacation stresses and see Disney through your kids' eyes.

3.  Assuming a Dining Plan is the Best Option
The dining plan can be a mistake or your best friend... it really depends on how you use it.  There are two camps that are either very pro Dining Plan (DDP) or very Anti-DDP.  I'm somewhere in between, but I lean against it.  For starters, the DDP is a pre-paid meal service.  There are several tiers of DDPs each with their pros & cons.

Unless you are a Disney Vacation Club Member or a Annual Pass holder, you must add the DDP to your Magic Your Way package for the entire length of stay and for your entire party. It's an all or nothing option. This means that Mom and Dad can't be on the dining plan and kids eat scraps.  For a comprehensive look at the DDP, check out DisneyFoodBlog.com

I've traveled to the parks using dining plans and paying cash.  You can make either work.  Just do some math.  If you aren't great at math try an experiment.  Get a Disney gift card or Visa gift card and place the amount of money you would spend adding on the dining plan.  At the end of the vacation, if there is any money left on the card it can go back into savings and you'll know what to do next time.  There is a mythical "Free Dining Plan" promotion that Disney runs occasionally.  Typically, when you are buying a package with "free dining" you are paying the rack rate for your room.  This means you are paying more for the same room than if you would have purchased it separately.  Look at this question through this lens.  Is the Walt Disney Company a publicly traded company? (Answer: Yes) Is their number one job to provide shareholders with value for investing in their company by maximizing profits? (Answer: Yes)  Then they will not be giving much away for free.

My personal opinion is the "Quick Service DDP" is the best value if you are looking to maximize time on attractions.  Table service meals usually take a good amount of time and will slow you down.  Enjoy table service meals a couple of times through the week, but try to keep them limited to lunch time (or whenever works for your family)

On the subject of Food, We've all had that friend that came back from Disney World and said the following: "I'm tired of eating hamburgers & chicken nuggets."  But look closer.  You can eat good food for a decent price at some of the quick service restaurants.  There is a great Broccoli Peppercorn Salad at the Columbia Harbor House (Magic Kingdom: Liberty Square) for under $10 as well as rice bowls & other Tex Mex items at Pecos Bill's (Magic Kingdom: Frontierland).

4.  Spending a Lot of Money
You can stay at the sketchy motel by the airport and bring all of your food in to the park, ensuring that you only spend minimal money at the park.  You can also stay on the water at the Polynesian bungalows (roughly $2500 per night) and eat every meal at Victoria & Albert's at the Grand Floridian (AAA five-diamond rated). You determine how much money you would like to spend on this vacation.  You can bring as much food in as you want.  (You can literally bring an entire thanksgiving meal including table decorations and pilgrim costumes.)  The only limitation is bringing in glass bottles.  We typically will bring almonds, granola bars and fruit in our bag.  Every restaurant and snack stand will give you free ice water, so no need to pack heavy water bottles.  For our TPT trip, we have budgeted around $100 daily for food (2 adults, 1 child).  Probably going to eat breakfast at the resort, lunch/dinner in the part and will still have room for a churro.

Another way to save money is to bring your own poncho.  The first afternoon rain shower in the park you will be running to a stand to buy a rain poncho.  From experience, you don't want to wait until you need one.  Last summer we were caught in a downpour.  We bought the real deal ponchos and paid $40 for the 3 of us.  We won't every get rid of them now!  You can also pick up 200 disposable ones for about $15 before the trip.  Throw them away once you are finished and save having to fold and store them.  

Buying souvenirs in the park?  Ship from the park to your resort to save carrying them through the park the rest of the day.  There is even an option to UPS items to your home.

5.  Over packing
One huge mistake is packing more than you need.   This covers packing for your trip and packing for the parks.  First packing for the trip.  All Disney resorts have laundry facilities on site.  We bring a few sets of clothes and wash a few times during the stay.  If you happen to stay in a Disney Vacation Club room, you can do the laundry in your own room.  We typically bring a few sets of clothes and wash a few times during the week.  Tip:  wash all of your clothes before you head back.  Trust me, you'll thank me when you get home and have no laundry to do!

Another consideration is shipping items straight to your resort.  We ship breakfast items and snacks via Amazon.  This is typically cheaper than buying on property.  If you use an airline that charges for bags, this will save you the $75 for an additional bag.

When packing for the parks, think about your bag.  You want it light and easy to carry.  We use a backpack.  We have a stroller so the bag has to fit in the under storage and be accessible when we need it.  Typically, my bag consists of the following:
*rain poncho
*plastic bags to keep things dry
*snacks (we found we need less than we thought...too busy to stop and eat!  About 1 small snack per day per person was plenty for Mom, Dad and our 3 year old!)
*phone battery

You might think of a change of clothes for the little ones.  There are multiple splash pad areas and opportunities to get wet.

Like I said, we use a stroller so there isn't as much of a burden to carry a huge bag.  You want to think about how heavy the bag will be when the stroller is folded up.  When you are waiting for the last bus out of the park and you have a sleepy kid, the last thing you want is a heavy backpack.

6.  Staying off property
There is no sugarcoating what I'm going to say next.  I'm a hotel snob.  My idea of roughing it is a hotel without bathrobes.  The resorts on property rank anywhere from good to excellent.  The lowest class of hotels are "value resorts" and they start at $89 nightly.  They offer great value and the same perks as staying at the most expensive resort.  We have stayed at a value resort and it worked just fine for the little time spent in the room.

Moderate resorts start at $166 nightly and are a great option.  Typically these feature better food options, larger rooms and more activities at the resort.  Pools are generally themed better (although the pool at Art of Animation, a value resort, is one of the most elaborate pools at Disney).  Activities at the moderate level consist of fishing and bike rides as well as shopping.

Deluxe resorts start at $289 and are really top notch.  Food and shopping are upgraded from the moderate level and the service is a step above to match.  For example, the Yacht Club/Beach Club resort has a signature dining location, 3 casual dining locations, 3 lounges as well as a quick service.  You can have a character meal without leaving your resort.  If you stay at a deluxe resort, you might not want to go to a park at all.  There really is that much to do.

Staying on property also allows you to use Magical Express, a bus service from the airport to Disney property.  Resort guests can sign up for Magical Express before they leave.  You attach the luggage tags that Disney mails to you and check your bags at the airport.  When you get to Orlando, go straight to the bus.  Your bags will magically arrive at your resort at no cost to you.  (Make sure you allow a few hours for delivery and pack med or immediate things in your carry on.)

Staying on property can save time as well.  If you stay off site, you will need to drive to the park and find a parking spot.  Depending on which park you are going to you will either take a tram, boat or monorail to the front gate.  All of that after fighting Central Florida traffic.  (Tip: Save more park time by showing up approximately 45 minutes before the opening time scheduled.  If the brochure says the Magic Kingdom opens at 9:00, you will likely be in the park before 8:30 after watching a great rope drop show.)

7.  Buying the Wrong Park Ticket
There are a lot of options for the getting into the theme park.  You can often save a bit of money if you really plan out how many days you are going to be in the parks.

Single day tickets have recently been priced off of three seasons: value, regular and peak.  If you are a teacher, you are likely traveling during the "peak" season.  This means a one park for one day will cost $124 for the Magic Kingdom and $114 for the other parks.  This is the adult (ages 10+) price.  Kids will be $118 and $108, respectively.  

If you are going to be in the parks for multiple days, even if they are not consecutive, you can get a multi-day ticket.  Disney makes it cost effective to go to the park on mutliple days.   The same one park per day ticket over 7 days costs $52 a day ($370).  If you want to add on the ability to go to multiple parks in one day, add the park hopper option for an additional $60 for the 7 day pass.  This will allow you to attend multiple parks in one day.  Add the Water Parks and More option for an additional $40 for the water parks, golf, and Wide World of Sports.

Now...if you really want to do some math, try this.  If you are planning on making another trip within the next 365 days, look into an annual pass.  The break-even point of multip day tickets vs. annual passes is somewhere around 11-12 days.  Owning the annual pass will also get you discounts on dining, shopping and resort activities.  You can also get free parking for the parks.

For my family, the annual pass was the right choice this past year.  Our break-even point was a little lower because we get discounted annual pass prices through Disney Vacation Club.  We took a trip with extended family last July for 8 days in the park.  I had a half marathon scheduled for November which was an additional 4 days in the park.  So now, the days we spend in the park for this conference are just bonus.  

If you are still confused about what ticket to buy, use this ticket price calculator.  Input your info and they tell you what your best option is.  They even have links to certified discount tickets.  Pleas don't buy tickets from that ticket stand on I-4 that is in a strip mall.  If the price is unbelievable, it's probably counterfeit or a partially used ticket.

If you are headed to the TPT conference like Whitney, have fun!  And if you see us in the parks, say Hi.  If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I will do my best to answer them!

Mrs.  Mr. Shaddock

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