Even though I’m no longer a professional in the travel industry I take travel planning very seriously. I think things run so much more smoothly with three kids when you follow a plan. Of course, I plan for everyone’s needs and wants, wiggle room, spontaneity, and randomness 🙂
I really try and make each trip the best possible. I don’t overspend but I also don’t skimp. If you’re going to spend $1500 on a vacation it better be worth spending that kind of pizza dough! Here’s my methodology. If my budget is $1500 but the hotel in my price range is less convenient or a little grimy, then I don’t hesitate to spend $200 more on a hotel that makes me feel comfortable and like I’m actually on vacation. The same thing applies to flights, car rental, food, etc. You’ll often find that by spending just a little more (in the grand scheme of things), you’re experience is much more enjoyable. So in the end, I could have spent $1500 for a decent trip but with more stress or I could spend $1800 for a great and relaxing time. It is well worth the extra $300. Otherwise, it’s almost a waste to spend $1500. Does that make sense? In the end, your joy compounds more than your budget does.
I’ve tried so many websites and guides over the last couple of decades. Last year when I was making my plan of attack I utilized “The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland”. I’ve used the “Unofficial Guides” for many of my trips and I LOVE them. Indispensible. These are the real deal. SO much more worthy of using than Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, Frommers, etc. which are too generic and depend too much on the location’s tourist boards and chambers of commerce rather than their own people being there and experiencing everything first hand.
I need to give serious props to the Unofficial Guide’s companion website and app that I 110% depended on the entire trip. Touring Plans (which covers Disneyland, California Adventure, and Disneyworld) uses data they have personally collected ON THE GROUND in these parks for the last ten years. As far as crowds, they take everything you can think of into account. They don’t only consider obvious things like spring break but other conventions that take place in Anaheim throughout the year. They have a Crowd Calendar which we used to plan exactly which days to go. We were somewhat open concerning our dates so we checked the calendar and, sure enough, there was a 4-day window with crowds MUCH lower than other days and weeks in our time frame. We went and, yes, we didn’t wait longer than 15 minutes in all the days we were at the parks. Most of the time we only waited 5 minutes (even the new Radiator Springs Racers, which has a typical wait time of up to 2 hours! We went on it 3 times in a row with only a 5 minute wait each time). Had we gone a few days before or after, we would’ve been waiting 20-45 minutes for almost everything. This worked brilliantly for us last year, too.
There’s WAY too much for me to include here but the website also has tips and suggested touring plans (which I didn’t use because they’re mostly geared for busier days where you have to scramble to get on anything). They describe in detail and rate every ride and show so you know if it’s something you want to go on or see. We used their detailed Dining Guide which shows not only all the menus and prices so you can plan without wandering around wasting time but they also personally rate food quality and value for the price. We ended up being quite happy with our meals because we knew we were getting the best for our money. We downloaded the Lines app which gave us up-to-the-minute wait times on all rides. We were able to hop on many more rides because we knew there was only a 5 minute wait. Anyway, yadda yadda yadda. It’s $7 for a year’s access to their site which is a complete steal. I’d pay $50 or more. I’m frugal with my endorsements. I don’t throw them out there Big Willy-Nilly style, but in this case I will be their spokesperson. I’m in love with them. If I could, I’d marry them and co-produce their offspring.
Certified Travel Counselors are almost a thing of the past due to the ability of people having their own access to everything online, even though it can be very daunting. Even a little trip to California can take 10s of hours to plan! I don’t think people realize how valuable hiring a pro can be but I know that’s rarely going to happen anymore. I’m not saying you can’t have a fantastic time planning your own way. Some people would throw up at the very idea of planning like this, but as for me and my house, this way works best. I don’t like to settle for okay. I want optimization. So this way, I get to utilize my travel education and passion and my family gets to reap the rewards. Win-win.
PS. Rob’s also an optimizer. One night I found him trying to optimize my optimized plan. Boy, that didn’t end well 😉
PPS. After reading this you would think that our plan was executed perfectly. You would be wrong. As much as we can predict crowds and wait times, I wish we had an app to better predict weather (literally up-to-the-minute), sickness, and the general cooperativeness level of toddlers. More about this in future posts.