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Mike Scopa

High-Tech Trip Planner

Popular Unofficial Guide travel book launches free online tool

Friday, August 20. 2004
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

Writers worth their salt should always have a handle on the audience they are writing for, and that goes for the author of this column.

That said, let me define my audience for today's session as being:

  • The novice or first-time Walt Disney World visitor who is trying to get a handle on how to plan a trip.
  • The Walt Disney World grizzled veteran who has been there a gazillion times and can put together a trip plan in the dark.
  • The most unorganized person in the world.
  • The most organized person in the world.
  • The person for whom money is no object.
  • The person for whom money is the only object and watches every penny.

Have I left anyone out? If so please raise your hand.

Just as I thought.

I've included everyone because this session should help just about anyone who is planning a trip to WDW. This means everyone from the first-time guest to the real Disneyholic who visits a few times every year.

In this session, we look at a recently launched web-based trip planner tool from TouringPlans.com (link) that everyone can use to plan a trip. This tool is easy, very thorough, and makes use of the best resources on the web. I need to make you aware of one more important point about this tool… it's free.

Let's take a look.

Expertise from the experts

This tool was launched on August 6, and it “hangs off” the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World Web site. It is the brainchild of Len Testa, Director of Data Collection for the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and his team of experts.

The Unofficial Guide team has put together a tool to, as they say, “…help you stay organized while planning your next trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland.”

This team spent many hours talking with experts and collecting information to help them design the ultimate trip-planning tool. This tool has just about anything you would need to plan your WDW trip. This includes several checklists to remind you what you need to do before your trip, lists of items to pack, special forms to keep track of important information like hotel, air, rental car, and any other specifics, and day sheets to help in park touring.

Let's take a closer look at how this tool can help with what some feel is the overwhelming task of planning a Walt Disney World vacation.

Getting started

Before using this tool, you must register yourself on the site. This registration process creates an account that is used to recognize your trip plans so you can share them with friends, relatives, or even your travel agent.

That's right. I said “share” your plans. Think of this: You have instructed your travel agent to make some reservations for you. Dinner, shows, restaurants, and have given your agent privileges to edit your travel plans. This lets the travel agent enter the reservation information as plans are completed.

How about those friends and relatives who you plan to meet in Orlando? By sharing your trip with them, they can see when you are going, where you are staying, and any special plans you may have.

Your plans are secure with your username and password. You can specify with whom you want to share your plans.

After you've registered, you are ready to create, edit, and share your trip.

Timeline checklist

Ask any WDW veteran, and you will be told about the many lists that are prepared for a trip to see the Mouse. There are lists on items to buy, things to pack, reservations to make, and other tasks to do prior to taking off for Orlando.

This trip planner has the ultimate timeline and to-do checklist. This checklist has over 40 line items to help you identify those important things to do, and more importantly, when to do them.

For instance, this timeline checklist covers your pre-trip planning time from one year before your trip up to the day before you leave.

One year before you take off for Orlando, the Unofficial Guide Trip Planner instructs you to begin doing things like researching your hotel options, reserving your hotel room, and even making priority seating reservations for dinner shows.

The Unofficial Guide Trip Planner has 11 time milestones, with each one containing specific checklist items to make for a smooth plan. The planner covers everything from making arrangements to hold your mail to filling any prescriptions you need to take along with you.

But this is just the timeline/to do checklist. There's more.

Pre-trip checklist

Have you ever panicked before a WDW trip and said, “Did I forget anything?” How about the time spent writing down a list of things to pack? The Unofficial Guide Trip Planner does that for you. The pre-trip checklist has over 80 items for you to check prior to your trip.

Sure, we all remember things like toothpaste and toothbrush. Besides the basic items that we all pack for our trips, the Unofficial Guide Trip Planner also covers pet boarding information, foot care supplies, pool and water park items, medicine cabinet type items, infant care supplies, park touring needs as well as travel agent information and those important phone numbers… all in one handy list.

Planes, trains, and automobiles

The Trip Planner provides special pages that contain your air travel information, car rental information, and insurance information.

This information is very handy for those whom you will share your information with. When Aunt Rosie sees that you are arriving at Orlando International Airport at noon, she can coordinate her flight to arrive in Orlando the same time as you. She can even share her trip planner with you. Once you know when she is arriving then you can change your plans. Just kidding.

You can also print out this information, but we'll get to that in a moment.

Pillow talk

The Unofficial Guide Trip Planner has a section that contains all your hotel information, such as the name and telephone number of the hotel, your reservation number, time you check in, and time you check out. Again, this tool is very thorough.

This page allows you to enter in the financial information about the reservation and even provides space for information on more than one room in case you happen to be bringing a small village with you to see Mickey and the gang.

Early on, we talked about the notion of giving your travel agent sharing privileges with your trip information database. This is the section in the Unofficial Guide Trip Planner where the travel agent could fill in this information for you.

Day sheets

The Unofficial Guide Trip Planner has allowed several individual day sheets, each of which can be structured to plan your day.

These day sheets contain information such as what park you intend to visit, the operating hours for the park, any special events you plan to attend, as well as any restaurants you plan to visit and your priority seating information such as time and confirmation number.

There is also an area to list your planned activities and a budget area that lets you forecast your anticipated expenses for the day and record the actual expenses.

For those on a tight schedule, these pages offer a sanity check to make sure you can easily record all that you have planned to do for that day. You just take this sheet along with you.

Money talk

Let's talk money. I have a better idea: Let's let the Unofficial Guide Trip Planner do the talking. The budget page has all your trip expense information neatly organized.

This page includes itemized budget listings for airfare, ground transportation, lodging, park admission, and a notes area. Actually all pages have a notes section.

The budget area for the Unofficial Guide Trip Planner gives you your budget information in a format that allows you to monitor what you are spending and how well you are following your budget.

The best benefit this section of the Unofficial Guide Trip Planner provides for you, however, is that it helps you prepare for your next trip. By providing you with an easy way to keep track of your actual expense, the Unofficial Guide Trip Planner gives you a head start on the planning, at least financially, of your next trip.

Printing plus

The Unofficial Guide Trip Planner gives you many printing options. You can print your pages in 3.75 by 6 inch format, 5.5 x 8.5 inch format, or 8.5 x 11 inch format, allowing you to use whichever format best suits your needs.

This site lets you print these Trip Planner pages out, plus the site tells you have to put together an organizer with materials you can pick up at your local office supply store. The cost of the materials varies. You can go the economical route and spend about $2 or splurge and go for the $4 package.

The site gives you step-by-step instructions on how to assemble the organizer. You can also print any of the organizer pages from any section of the Unofficial Guide Trip Planner and use them instead of the online version. Remember, this is all free.

Best of the best

The Unofficial Guide team recognized the pockets of expertise across the Disney Internet community and quickly realized that it was in the best interest of their users to tap this expertise rather than try to duplicate it. Testa put it best when he said, “We are tying in the best of the Disney Internet communities.”

Thus the planner throughout has links to such familiar Disney fan sites as MouseSavers, the PS (Priority Seating) Calculator, AllEarsNet, TicketMania, and Steve Soares' Entertainment Guide.

The point here is to make use of this expertise and the Trip Planner is the hub for reaching out and extracting the specific information needed for each facet of your trip.

The team worked with Innovative PHP Solutions to design, develop, and deliver this robust tool.

So if you are looking to simplify your trip planning experience and want to eliminate a lot of paper and maybe even share your trip plans with friends or family follow my lead because I have already registered myself on this site and am planning my next trip already.

Next time

When we next meet I hope to entertain you with a debriefing on my latest visit to Walt Disney World. Yes, as you are reading these words I am currently “Zoning” or at least I hope I am.

At that time I will share some of my experiences with you, maybe toss a few tips your way, and, as always, try to give some idea as to the state of The World.

Class dismissed.

Full Disclosure: MousePlanet and the creators of TouringPlans.com are in discussions about a possible relationship for future versions of this tool.

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.

Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.

Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.

Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

You can contact Mike here.

OTHER LINKS

Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, “The Trip Planner” for more travel planning information.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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