Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Going to Disney World? Start Planning. Then Plan Some More. Keep On Planning.

About a year ago, my wife told me some news that I had been dreading for years: "It's time to take the kids to Disney World."

Disney and Mickey Mouse have never been my thing. I grew up in the era before cable TV, back in the day when the only kids TV was what was on the three local stations or PBS. And in those days, it was all Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner.  The only time the Mouse showed up on my parent's 25" console TV were Sunday evenings for the "Wonderful World of Disney", which we almost never watched because it came on during Sunday dinner.

Now Disney has their own cable channel and if you have kids, it's almost impossible to NOT see it. It's the exact opposite situation now; it's almost impossible to find a Bugs Bunny cartoon anymore.  So I knew this trip was coming; the only question was when.  We had discussed it briefly a few years back, but my wife figured that the kids needed to be a little older when we did it.  So we waited.

I'm usually the vacation planner, so I dove in head first to see what we needed to do.  The first thing I realized was that a Disney World vacation is unlike just about any other vacation you might try to plan. There are dozens of web sites and books full of advice.  Scratch that: not just advice.  Plans.  Specific plans on how to attack each aspect of the trip, and how you need to make reservations for certain things six months ahead of time, others 60 days, and yet other things seven to eleven months in advance. Even specific itineraries.

And it's not like Disney World is just an amusement park; it's actually four parks surrounded by 30,000+ Disney owned hotel rooms in an area that probably couldn't fit between Westroads and Oak View Mall in Omaha.  So I started reading.  And reading.  And reading.  One web site says this, another says another.

It didn't help that Disney World fans speak their own language.  In fact, I found an entire subculture of America that I never knew existed:  Disney Fans.  (Think "Star Wars Geeks wearing ears".)  They even have their own language, as they communicate almost exclusively through abbreviations.  For example, this is a perfectly valid sentence to Disney Fanatics: "What time do we need to get ADR for pre-RD breakfast at BOG, and what time would we need to leave POFQ?"  (Got that?  Good!)

So I dug in and started reading.  And reading.  And reading.  Then started planning.  And planning.  Made room reservations nine months in advance.  Flights six months in advance.  And yes, dining reservations six months in advance, getting up at 5 am the morning to booking things.  Yes, that's right.  Restaurant reservations open 180 days ahead of time, and some, such as Cinderella's Royal Table quickly sell out. So I'm done, right?

Wrong. Now it was time to set up daily schedules: what attractions and in what order.  Continually checking the Disney site for updates to schedules.  In fact, I rescheduled several of my reservations as plans evolved. Some of the restaurants had dining packages for shows that we wanted to see, but reservations for those weren't available when the six month window opened.  So it was a continually evolving process.  I even added a dining package at another restaurant when a new show, Rivers of Light, opened a month before our trip.  Of course, that meant more changes to our schedule.

60 days before our trip, I was still moving stuff around, but it was time to start booking the FastPasses, which are reservations where you get to bump some of the line at an attraction.  So now I'm taking guesses as to what we want to see and when we want to do it, so once again, I'm up early to beging making those reservations.  You get three of these each day, and some of the more popular rides fill up quickly.

But here's the rub: since we have never been to Disney World, we really don't know what we want to do. Sure, there are plenty of books and videos for each ride out there...but what's the point of watching every ride online before you go? So by this time, I just took my best guesses as to what we wanted to do, and just started working with it.

So how did the trip turn out?  Well, that'll be in part two.  And what are my lessons that I learned?  That's part three.

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