|Why a notebook?
Every trip to WDW requires some
amount of planning. Mike explains how to be organized about it.
Planning a Walt Disney World (WDW) vacation the right way requires you
to have some kind of control over all that goes into the planning process.
Over the last decade I have become convinced that a successful WDW vacation
takes a bit of science, a bit of art, and a bit of luck. While we can't
control our luck, the science and art portions of this formula are certainly
within our grasp. Putting together a notebook gives us a huge boost and
a chance to put together a great vacation for ourselves.
When I first introduced the notion of a WDW vacation notebook, some of
my students didn't immediately understand the benefit of documenting all
this information. The answer is very simple. While you can take WDW trips
without one, the intricacies of planning a WDW trip really make a strong
case for assembling this notebook.
Before beginning your planning process, you should get organized, and
put into place any and all tools that can help you in this phase. This
tool is your notebook.
This notebook serves many purposes.
- It allows you to keep all your important information in one place.
- Makes it easy to find specific information fast... quick information
- Simplifies the planning process and helps you from getting stressed
out about planning your trip.
- Helps you before you go, while you're there, and also when you return
from your trip.
- Prevents you from forgetting anything.
- Becomes your most trusted resource while making decisions for your
I can list many more benefits, but you'll begin to understand how this
book can help you as we go along.
When planning a trip far in advance, you should keep important information
in a centrally located place such as your notebook.
Remember what I said at the beginning of this session: we want to have
control and be organized. This means you should arrange the notebook into
several meaningful sections so the information does not run together or
The sections I strongly recommend
for your notebook are:
- Decision time: when to go
- Getting there from here
- Pillow talk
- Tickets! Tickets! Tickets!
- Trip tickler & log
- Number, please?
- Lists for dummies
- Money for Mickey
- Dear Diary
I cover each of these items in this column.
What Do I Really Need?
What you need is either a college-ruled notebook or a loose-leaf notebook.
I tend to use both for my trips. I use a small notebook to jot down my
information, then enter the information on my computer so it's legible
(my penmanship would make a pharmacist cringe). I then print out my notes
and put them in a binder. The binder actually accompanies me on my trip.
Do what's best for you, but make sure to divide your notebook into sections.
Don't forget that you are taking this book to Orlando.
You should start this trip notebook as soon as you decide you want to
go to WDW, even if aren't sure when to go.
Section 1: Decision Time: When to Go!
This section discusses the information you gather to help determine
what time of year is best for you to go WDW, as well as how long to
This is an important section that serves as a launching pad for the
rest of the planning process.
Jot down the pros and cons for going during different times of year.
Hopefully over the next month or so, I can serve up some guidelines
to help you choose.
Record all comments made by family members regarding their preferred
time to go. Encourage all family members to contribute to this section,
as the decision should be made as a family.
Here are some samples of what you may write in this section:
- "Jim prefers the fall because it's less crowded and not as
- "I like the summer because of the extended hours."
- "Susan loves Christmas and wants to go in December."
- "If we go in the fall we may get a better deal."
- "Maybe we should start saving for three months and then decide."
- "I like the idea of getting on a plane in my coat and getting
off the plane in my shorts."
- "If we go for ten days let's wait until school lets out."
Section 2: Getting There From Here!
This section contains transportation information to helps you decide
how you get to Orlando, as well as details once you decide how you will
Jot down notes specific to your preferred mode. For instance, if you
are flying, what airlines are available to fly to Orlando? Do you want
to fly non-stop? Do you want to limit how much money you spend on airfare?
Are you torn between two modes? If so, all notes and discussions on
the pros and cons of each mode should go in this section. It's important
that you not only explore all possibilities, but also document any discussion
and notes to help you decide what's best for you.
When pitting one mode against another, consider the time, money, and
convenience of both, and jot down any information that you feel is important.
Here are some ideas of what to put in this section:
- "Hmm, time is more of a premium than money so maybe flying
is best for us."
- "Gee driving there would save us some money and it would be
- "If we fly we will have to rent a car, too!"
- "By driving down we can also save money on a car rental!"
This section is very strongly tied to the section #1 (Decision Time).
Deciding when to go and how long to stay may actually help you determine
your travel mode. In fact, deciding on your travel mode first may help
determine the time and length of your trip.
I'll talk more about this in the weeks to come.
Section 3: Pillow Talk
With apologies to Doris Day and Rock Hudson, I call this section "Pillow
Talk" because it is here where you determine where you'll be sleeping
at night. Picking a hotel or resort can be difficult for many people.
Hopefully this approach can simplify things for you.
Again, MousePlanet and yours truly will help you make this decision.
You should divide this section into three subsections, although you
may only use two of them. Let's look at these three subsections.
Section 3A: On or off the property
This first subsection contain notes on whether to stay on-property
or not. Use this section to list the pros and cons for each and any
notes or comments from family members that can help make the decision.
Most people who plan to visit WDW for the first time find that this
is the hardest decision to make, second only to what kind of admission
media to get.
If you decide to stay on-property, then subsection 3B is your next
stop. Otherwise go to 3C.
Section 3B: Choosing a WDW resort
This second subsection contains information on those WDW resorts you
are considering. This can be frustrating because there are many resorts
to choose from, all with distinct personalities.
Wilderness Lodge was brand-new
when Mike and his family stayed there in 1994.
Over the next several months, I will help guide you towards a decision.
We'll investigate this amazing area of resorts and look at the best
ways of deciding the best resort for you.
Section 3C: Choosing a non-WDW Resort
The last subsection contains information on hotels outside the WDW
property. Your decision doesn't get any easier by going off WDW property,
since there are quite a few resorts and hotels in Orlando. Choosing
the right one for your family is a big responsibility.
Section 4: Tickets! Tickets! Tickets!
This section is extremely important and is linked to section #1. Do
you recall that I said this is the toughest decision for first timers?
I promise, it does get easier the more often you go... except when Disney
keeps changing the type of admission media available.
List all the admission media that meet your needs for your stay in
this section. List both the type of admission media and price. Don't
overlook extra stuff that you might want to do, such as dinner shows,
water parks, Disney Quest, Cirque du Solei, or Pleasure Island. Make
sure you list any discount prices too.
When determining your admission media, keep your length of stay at
WDW in mind.
Ticket artwork © Disney
The Annual Pass is one
type of admission media to consider for your trip.
In future weeks, we look at WDW admission media and figure out what
may work best for your trip.
Section 5: Trip Tickler & Log
This part of your notebook contains milestones regarding your trip
plans. A chart noting your important dates represents these milestones
This section might end up with the most dog-eared corners, because
it contains important information that you find helpful.
The best way to construct this chart is to work backwards from your
actual trip date. By working backwards from the day you leave, you can
best judge when you would feel comfortable having certain tasks completed.
For instance, when do you want to secure your room, your flight, and
your car rental? When do you want to stop your mail, or even get that
vacation hairdo? This section helps reduce that pesky trip anxiety by
laying out a schedule of tasks that will give you piece of mind.
Some examples for milestones / tasks include when to:
- Book your airfare
- Book your room
- Purchase admission media
- Book your rental car
- Buy any clothes for your trip
- Buy film and videotape.
- Get fresh batteries for your camera
Your chart should look something like this:
||Book hotel room
||Buy fresh batteries for the
When you begin to put this chart together, leave several rows between
each task in case you think of additional tasks for those dates. You
must constantly revisit this section to make sure you document and date
the tasks you must perform.
The idea of planning ahead is to make the trip
itself a serene, relaxing experience.
From the first day you start planning a WDW vacation, start thinking
about all the things you'll need to do and write them down before
going on your trip. This makes the whole process fun as you get closer
and closer to your day of departure, instead of filled with anxiety.
You can keep the log and tickler as separate sections, although it
makes sense for some to combine the ticker chart with a log of what
was done. The main difference is that a tickler lists future tasks,
while log file lists completed tasks. Keeping two separate charts may
be confusing for some people, so use what's best for you. If you prefer
to use one then go with the tickler.
Whether you choose to combine or keep them separate, I cannot stress
the importance of mapping backwards from the day you plan to take off
for WDW and recording everything you think you need to do before you
leave and when to do these tasks.
At the same time that log entries help you keep track of the planning
process, it also helps you in future trip planning.
Here's what a log entry should look like:
||Called CRO and booked room
at the CBR
Next time book earlier for better selection.
||Received confirmation in mail
For those who drive...
Think about making your own Trip Tickler to help you plot out driving
schedules for the trip.
Estimate how far and how fast you'll be going, then make a chart that
indicates how far you'll be at a certain time on a given day. Be realistic
(or better yet, conservative) in your planning. Do not cause yourself
undue stress by overestimating your plans. Figure out how many miles
you'll be traveling on an hourly basis, where you should be at certain
times and other information. This breaks the trip into mini-trips and
keeps you on a steady track.
Your chart should have the following format:
||Light traffic; dry roads
Section 6: Number Please
You will be making a lot of phone calls so why not list all the important
numbers in this part of your notebook? You may also need to have fast
access to them.
Some numbers to keep in mind include:
- WDW Central Reservation Office (if applicable)
- Disney Club (if Applicable)
- Car Rental Company
- Travel agent
- Any other important number
Actually, if you use a cell phone and plan to use it during your vacation-
planning process, you may want to enter the numbers in your cell phone.
You'll have the number at your fingertips even if you don't have the
notebook with you.
Section 7: Lists for Dummies
The first time I drove to Orlando, I knew I would be on the road for
three weeks. With this in mind, I started making lists for everything
because I wanted to make sure my vacation would be as close to perfect
as possible. Since then, I have continued to make lists every time I
go. I have a special section in my notebook for my lists.
Here are the kinds of lists I create in my own notebook:
- Countdown lists - contain
last-minute details on what I need to do before leaving on vacation.
They help me remember all the little things that ensure I won't forget
anything. These lists include the week, as well as the last 36 hours
An example of a countdown list:
|48 hours before leaving
|24 hours before leaving
||Get Traveler's Cheques
- Packing Lists - usually include
the clothing I'm taking, toiletries, cameras, tapes, batteries, virtually
everything I plan to bring with me. As I pack, I check these items
on the lists.
An example of a packing list:
|Five pairs of white sox
|12 Video tapes
- To-do lists - Every WDW trip
has its own personality, and I usually have priorities of I want to
do when I'm in Orlando. To avoid forgetting to do everything I planned,
I list what I want to do there... be they attractions, restaurants,
shopping, what to film, or whatever else. I hate leaving at the end
of my trip and saying, "Oh I forgot to ..."
An example of a To-do list:
|Visit our brick
|Video tape "Kiss Goodnight"
in The Magic Kingdom
|Visit Animal Kingdom Lodge
This may seem like over planning, but many whom I consider experts
in WDW trip-planning use similar lists. Over the last 10 years we have
been either very lucky or very good with our lists, because our trips
have gone off without a hitch.
Always on Mike's to do
list is a visit to his "Walt Around the World" brick at
Luau Cove at the Poly.
Maybe there's something to these lists after all.
Section 8: Money for Mickey
There's no question. The question I get asked most often from first-time
visitors to WDW is, "How much should I expect to pay for my vacation?"
There are many ways to answer this question and it all boils down to
Budgeting is an important part of planning
any trip since you can't print more money in the middle of your vacation.
The best way to determine the cost of your WDW trip is to study your
vacation profile. How do you intend to get there? How long you intend
to stay? Where you will stay? In a simple word... your budget.
Jot down rough estimates of what you expect to spend on your trip.
Other sections of the notebook help you put together a line- item list
of how much everything costs.
This section should contain the following costs:
- Your transportation to and from Orlando
- Your car rental (if applicable)
- Your room
- Your admission media (Include dinner shows, DisneyQuest, etc.)
- Estimates for food
- Estimates for souvenirs
All these line items will be discussed in upcoming columns, but remember
that you should have a pretty good idea of exactly what you want to
You can make a little chart and take it with you to track your expenses
while on your trip to help you plan future trips. Here is what I use:
||$150 / $150
||$100 / $125
||$50 / $0
||$150 / $150
||Hoop Dee Doo
||$200 / $200
||$50 / $40
||$25 / $40
It takes just a few minutes each day to keep track of where your money
In the sample table, this particular family had an extra $20 in their
budget at the end of May 2, which they can use the next day. The idea
here is not only to keep track of your money, but also to reward yourself
if you happen to be under-budget.
Many times I have put such a table together and have found that after
a few days I was so under budget that I would say to my family, "Hey
let's do something special today." This could mean a special restaurant,
dinner show, souvenir shopping, or something else that we never initially
It's a good practice to estimate what each day might cost. Some days
will cost more than others. Obviously hotel and car rental are the easy
estimates. You can eliminate the hotel line if you remember to record
all room charges (such as room service or long-distance phone calls).
Use this chart for things beyond airfare, car rental, hotel, and admission,
and anything else you have not prepaid. The chart should contain only
your daily expenses, which will most likely vary from day to day.
I have used the chart for things like gas/tolls and hotels when I've
driven down to Florida, and then the usual, food, souvenirs, admission
(beyond the parks).
This worked out so well the first time that we were able to stay for
two additional days at WDW. We stayed at the Contemporary Hotel one
time and the Wilderness Lodge on a following trip. This also made for
an even better second half of the vacation.
You do not need to spend the maximum you have budgeted for. If things
are going well and you can do more with the same amount then go for
it. This table helps you reach that goal.
Section 9: QRS (Quick Retrieval
Use this section to compile a summary of vital ready-reference information.
Other sections may have some of this information, this section contains
the final bits of info for the trip.
You really do need some
information to be available at your fingertips... just in case check
in, car rental, or some other trip task goes less than smoothly.
A page from this section should look like this:
|Departure Date / Time
||May 2nd / 9:45 A.M.
|Arrival Date / Time
||May 2nd / 12:45 P.M.
|Resort / Hotel Confirmation / Reservation Number
|Resort / Hotel Phone Number
|Car Rental Reservation Number
|Car Rental Company Phone Number
|Return Date / Departure Time
||May 9th / 2:30 P.M.
|Return Flight Number
|Arrival Date / Time
||May 9th / 5:30 P.M.
|Dinner Show Reservation Number
||(Hoop Dee Doo) 99887766
Place any information you feel is important to have at your fingertips
in this section. Keep a copy of this table in your notebook so the information
You should also leave a copy of this information with a relative or
trusted neighbor who would be either watching your house or taking you
to and from the airport.
Section 10: Dear Diary!
I never realized how important a trip report was until I discovered
how helpful someone's trip report was in my own trip planning. Because
of this, I decided to make sure to take detailed notes and put together
a comprehensive report for others to read.
Use this section to jot down your daily activities. If you come back
to your room in during the day, jot down what you did that morning.
When coming to your room at night or when you get up in the morning,
record what you've experienced.
We'll talk about writing trip reports later in this course. I cannot
stress how beneficial a good trip report is, not only to those who read
your report, but to you. Trip reports help you plan your next trip,
and go a long way towards helping you remember all your trips.
No two notebooks are alike, and you may only need to keep a subset of
what we have discussed today. Recognize what you need for your notebook,
and use it religiously.
Once you start your notebook, visit it frequently, and keep a pen or
pencil near it so when you have a thought or need to record some information
you can do so quickly.
Encourage your family to help maintain the notebook, making entries themselves,
or appoint someone enter the information.
Finally take your notebook with you on your trip. You wouldn't want to
leave that information on your coffee table while you're walking on Main
Street U.S.A. thinking, "Now what was it that I wanted to do this
time that I forgot to do last time?"
Next Time: Deciding When to Go!!!
Until next time... class dismissed!