A Disney World vacation starts as soon as you book

I love to travel. In my younger years my adventures were to far flung locations such as Iceland, Bora Bora, Thailand, or the Czech Republic. Planning for these trips followed a rote routine. We would decide on a destination, my wife would buy a travel book, highlight our itinerary and make a plan shortly before departure.

Today, as a parents of two young children our international adventures are limited to the World Showcase at Epcot. While Disney World may not have the same je ne sais quoi as eating a baguette in Paris, my trips to Magic Kingdom have in many ways been more exciting because the interactions starts when you book and don’t end until after you get home.

A Non-Stop Experience

For the uninitiated, a Disney vacation encompasses more than just “let’s book a Disney trip, surprise our kids and post their reaction on YouTube.”

This is especially true in my case as my three year old’s reaction to our peppering him with the question “Do you want to meet Mickey?” always results in a disregarding “Nope.”

Disney vacations have several components and each trigger a new wave of interactions intended to build excitement. They also provide Disney with a light touch upsell opportunity and a gentle reminder how wonderful it is to book through Disney and stay on the property.

Post Booking your trip.

Within a few weeks of booking a trip you get a personalized book with Toy Story characters, your family name and a wealth of information about Disney. The full color book contains information on your hotel, restaurant options and other things you may want to do. Lest I forget the fridge magnet that reminds you of important days coming up to plan for your trip. For first timers it’s an exciting reminder that your trip is happening and Disney is excited for your visit.

180 Days Out. Book your Dining.

Disney has many signature dining events from the Princess themed Cinderellas Royal Table, the always sold out Be Our Guest or adult favorite Victoria & Alberts. All told there are dozens of signature experiences, character meals, sit down restaurants and quick serve options. For anything other than the latter it is highly suggested to get a reservation. Facebook is awash in stories of people up at 6 am to book as soon as reservations open. So, more than six months before my trip I’m deciding where we want to eat, what my kids will enjoy and if my wife and I may enjoy a meal without a character. I’ll admit, the excitement is building as you learn about all the dining options. Inevitably a desired restaurant is not available at the ideal time or at all which leads to regular re-checking over the next few months as you await the Fast Pass booking window to open.

60 Days Out. Book your FastPass+

From classic yet always line riddled favorites like Peter Pan to new beloved rides like The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, FastPass+ guarantees minimal waiting at up to three pre-booked rides per day during a pre-defined window of time. Want to meet Anna and Elsa? Book a FastPass+. Similar to dining, FastPass+ requires quite a bit of advanced planning as current restrictions limit your pre-selected ride (or parade) choices to one park. So, basically two months out you are committing to a schedule. This requires advanced planning. What about Extra Magic Hours? What does the crowd calendar say? What rides will my kids enjoy? So many questions! I’m sure this is off putting to some but I find it interesting. All the effort pays off when you can tell your son he can ride Test Track and your Daughter she can meet The Little Mermaid. After securing Fast Passes I inevitably revisit our dining plans and tweak accordingly.

Within 60 Days. Check into your hotel

Within two months of your trip you can check into your hotel. At this time you have the opportunity to see more about the resort and what it has to offer. Since you presumably already did your research in advance of actually booking there may not be a ton of new information but it keeps the interactions coming at a regular pace. Excitement level — 4/10

30 Days Out. Finish Customizing those MagicBands!

Magic bands are your key to the proverbial kingdom serving as a room key, credit card and ride/photo pass. Customization options are limited to a handful of colors but at this point the trip is becoming more tangible. Customization is another reason to log in to the website and read more about events happening during your trip — it’s within a few weeks now — so maybe you want to attend Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or The Villian’s Ball after all?

Less than a month

About three weeks before your trip, the travel collateral comes FAST AND FURIOUS. First are Magic Express tickets (free Disney transportation to/from the airport for those staying on property). Later your bags tags arrive and other coupons. Finally your magic bands arrive your trip feels like it’s about to start. Peak excitement level.

30 Days After. Remember the Memories

Disney offers Memory Maker (f/f/k/a PhotoPass, f/k/a PhotoPass+) which is a photo package offering digital snaps taken on rides, at meals and by Disney photographers throughout the park. It’s not cheat at $199 ($149 pre-purchased) but it’s an option we intermittently purchase. Having the photos taken and viewing them are free but only those that buy the package (or individual photos through the website) can download them. Thus the interaction with Disney then continues post-trip as you have a month or so to look, edit, add borders and stickers, share and ultimately download your pictures if you purchased the package.

Overall, a five day trip turns in to a multi-month process of continued and exciting interactions, momentum building and memories. I’m sure this isn’t for everyone. Some want to take a trip as it comes and not be proactively planning what to eat in six months but the continuous interactions, the promotional materials in the mail and the countdown to your trip contained on the Disney make it seem that the investment in a vacation is much greater than just a few days in Orlando. I’m hoping other tourist associations can take a small lesson from Disney and when we start traveling the globe again our future week long trips feel like a year-long adventure.