A Virtual Trip in Reality:
Planning Your WDW Trip Using the Internet
By Elizabeth McCarthy
This article appeared in the September 23, 2003, Issue #209 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
It's a difficult thing to realize that you don't need your mom anymore. Well, I have to be honest here -- I'll always need my mother. But once upon a time she was also my travel agent. She took care of my honeymoon, two trips to Hawaii and two trips to Walt Disney World. For countless clients like me she was the sole source of tips and tricks. She informed me about good hotels, restaurants and gave me the Traveler's Golden Rule: Lay out all the clothes and all the money you intend to take on your trip, then take away half the clothes and double the money! It was quite a shock when she retired. A few of her clients still haven't forgiven her. But I kinda have to give her a break, because she's, well, you know, my mom. Besides, I found a new source planning resources, and also great information. The internet.
I recently returned from my third trip to the World, and this trip has the distinction of being the first that I booked entirely on the Web. It all started a mere eight weeks before we actually traveled with an innocent headline on the MSN.com travel section: Disney Offering Discounts. My husband and I had decided that we were not going to take a vacation this summer, but it couldn't hurt to see what they were offering. After all, everyone knows that Disney never openly offers discounts. So I clicked and read, and read again just to make certain that my eyes were not deceiving me. Seven nights' accommodations plus Unlimited Park Hopper Passes for the price of four nights? Wow!
For the next week, my husband and I had way too much fun playing with the reservation system on the Disney.com web site. Once you make your way to the Disney World section of the site, you can access the on-line reservation page. Enter the number of people and their ages, dates, and which hotel and room type (standard, courtyard, etc.) and it returns a price for the stay. The All-Star resorts were of course the cheapest, but my son wanted All-Star Movies, which was booked for when we wanted to go. None of the moderately priced hotels really caught my eye, but I remembered visiting the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge on our first trip and being mesmerized by the atmosphere. I plugged that in and came up with a number that was doable. A few more clicks and we had our reservations!
The initial plan was to drive, but I get emails from Expedia.com when the airfare to my selected cities gets within a certain range, and not long after I made my reservations, I received a quote for a great fare to Orlando on Delta. Expedia was one of the first travel websites that could be considered a one-stop shop. You can use the site to book trips almost anywhere. You can find cheap, last-minute deals or dream vacations. The site is set up to search for air, hotel, and car rental packages, but you can also just search for one segment. As previously mentioned, once you sign up for the free membership they will email quotes when airfares change. In the past, I have used Expedia for ideas, and my husband did a Vegas trip through the site. But, booking airline tickets for our family vacation on-line was really scary. I mean, you can trust Disney to make things right if the computer-made reservation was somehow lost or wrong, but to book flights on-line? It turns out it was no problem! Expedia sorts flights by price, by the number of stops or by airline. You can set restrictions when you search for fares so that you only see nonstop flights or request a certain time of day for departure and return. We selected our flights, even made our seat selections, and merely printed out confirmation numbers for each flight.
I need to make a confession here -- I'm a planning maniac. I plan corporate parties and charitable events for my company, birthdays, showers, even done a couple of weddings, parties in my home -- you get the idea. For our trip, we had a room and transportation, but now we needed a plan for our stay.
So at this point, even though I was feeling pretty computer savvy, I went to the bookstore. I'd had a great experience with a book I purchased for a Hawaii trip, so I was eager to see what I could find for Disney. One of the books I purchased had several links to websites with good Disney information. But I was reading a book that had 2003 on the cover, yet was actually written in '02. I was looking for more timely information. What I found was more than I could have ever hoped for.
The Internet in general has a great mix of factual information and personal opinion, but I relied heavily on Deb's Unofficial Walt Disney World Information Guide, ALL EARS® (wdwig.com). You can find the prices for staying at the Grand Floridian, pictures of the rooms, pool and grounds of the hotel, then go check out what people who have actually stayed there have to say about it! Once we decided to fly, we realized that our transportation to and from the airport would require a car seat for my daughter. Tiffany Town Car, recommended by ALL EARS® took great care of us and provided a car seat with no extra fee.
Another issue everyone faces is budgeting: Just how much are you going to spend on meals? ALL EARS® has the menus and prices for every restaurant at the World. But to me, the real value of the site went beyond the facts and figures. It was being able to share in the magic that other people experienced while on their trips. Tinker Bell sprinkled me with a little pixie dust and I was enchanted by many of the ideas, tips and secrets shared by other Disney vacationers. These little gems of information made a huge difference between this trip and our last trip to Disney World.
In the planning section of ALL EARS® there is a list of other Disney links. Each one seems to have its own niche, and all provided useful trip planning information.
My son is seven years older than my daughter, and what keeps a 3-year-old happy doesn't really work for a 10-year-old. My daughter can endure a long wait with snacks, bubbles and a toy or two, but for my son, we needed something more. That's where www.oitc.com/Disney/ comes in -- the Hidden Mickey website. I looked up the Hidden Mickeys for any attraction where I thought we might encounter a long line, and since we were going in July that meant everything! We all quickly caught the Hidden Mickey bug and looked for them everywhere.
Just before our trip, we checked out Steve Soares' Unofficial WDW Entertainment site (http://pages.prodigy.net/stevesoares/index.htm) for up-to-the-minute entertainment schedules and ride information. Here I found that a favorite Celtic music band, Brother, would be playing at Epcot while we were there. I quickly rearranged our schedule to include one of their performances. Steve updates the calendars on his site weekly, so it's always worth a look. You might discover other entertainment options that aren't headliners but are still very worth your time.
One of the benefits of being able to plan our trip completely on the Internet was convenience. We were able to consider prices, try other options, and make decisions on our time. Since my husband and I both work, the value of that is priceless. One of the things that was most frustrating about working with a travel agent was the endless phone tag (sorry Mom, but it's true). Another benefit to using the Internet is more information. My Mom was very well traveled, but she couldn't tell me what days were early opening days without making a phone call herself. Disney Reservations will happily tell you if you call, but that's a long distance call I didn't have to make because I was able to find the information online.
My husband and I did make a few phone calls in connection with our trip. We called to confirm our airline and hotel reservations a few days before the trip. We called to make our restaurant Priority Seating requests (I would LOVE it if Disney would automate that!), and to arrange a surfing lesson for my son at Typhoon Lagoon.
Although we had been to Disney twice before, we let ourselves be guided by the information we found on the Internet. So we knew about Hidden Mickeys, Pal Mickey and the best place to meet Mickey! We ate at Beaches and Cream, knew how to take a vacation from our vacation -- thanks to ALL EARS® writer Zamgwar -- and knew what to do when my daughter showed signs of a yeast infection on our second day of the trip. I'm not a "Trip Nazi," planning every second of the day, and madly dragging my kids around the park, but we had a good idea of what we wanted to do each day, and we usually managed to see and do everything on our list. We returned home tired, not quite broke, and happy, all signs of a great trip.
Now it's time to start thinking about next year. I know exactly where to start.
Elizabeth's Recommended Web Sites for planning a Disney Trip:
Disney's OFFICIAL Site: www.Disney.com -- It all starts here.
Deb's Unofficial WDW Information Guide, ALL EARS®: www.allears.net
Hidden Mickeys: www.oitc.com/Disney/
Steve Soares' Unofficial WDW Entertainment Site: http://pages.prodigy.net/stevesoares/index.htm
Walt Disney World Magic: www.wdwmagic.com -- Great for news and rumors!
Mouseplanet: www.MousePlanet.com -- General Disney news
Tiffany Town Car: www.tiffanytowncar.com -- For ground transportation
Expedia: www.expedia.com -- For airline tickets and other reservations
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.