Christmas at Walt Disney World – Pre-Trip Planning! {Updated}

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I’m so excited to share our latest holiday news, and that is we are spending Christmas at Walt Disney World! If you are a long-time reader of my blog, you will know that I have shared my Disney Trip Reports – sharing our daily adventures during our Disney vacations. I also share my Pre-Trip Planning Reports to show you how I plan our holidays to Walt Disney World, and the plans we have.

Any trip to Walt Disney World requires planning – there are flights, accommodation, theme park tickets, FastPass+ selections, Advance Dining Reservations, and so much more!

» 10 Tips for your First Visit to Walt Disney World

This will be our first time visiting during December, one of the busiest times of the year, and I need to know that I’ve got all of my Donald Ducks in a row! So read on to see what I am planning for our trip – Hibiscus & Holly at The Poly 2017!

Hibiscus + Holly at The Poly 2017. Planning a Christmas vacation to Walt Disney World

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Christmas at Walt Disney World

The Cast Members – Who We Are!

If you’ve been reading along with my trip reports for the past 7 years, you will know who we are! But if you’re brand new here, let me introduce us!

Me – Michelle, 40 years old, but will be 41 *sobs* by the time we go back to Florida – you’re never to old for Disney! When it comes to our holidays, anywhere, I am the planner/organiser, trip report writer, photographer, and driver. I’m a plus-size woman, and have been to Walt Disney World at various sizes through the years from size 24 – 32. I write about the rides, and [some] experiences as a plus-size guest, and often receive emails from others that are concerned about fitting in rides, in plane seats, and other questions. I am always open and honest – my size is not something I can hide, and I’ve learned to embrace it somewhat in being able to help others. You can always email me with your personal concerns, and I will do my best to help you out.

Him – Steve, 44 years old, but we will be celebrating his 45th birthday when we are there! He will get to decide exactly what he wants to do on his big day – from the theme park and rides, to where we have our meals that day! He’s the pack horse, videographer, chief keeper of documents, and money manager when on hols. He keeps a track of every dollar that we spend! He also loves to eat! I’m not sure where he puts it, but he knows his way around a Disney buffet!

The Boy – Liam, 18 years old, (not so much a little boy any more, but The Man just reminds me too much of the character in Z-Nation!!) my son, and Steve’s step-son. This is Liam’s return holiday to Walt Disney World as he didn’t come with us in 2016. As soon as I told him we were thinking of going for Christmas and would he like to come with us this time, it was an immediate yes! I’ve always been lucky that I don’t have a moody teenager on my hands – he has as much fun as we do when meeting characters, and going on rides! He loves a good American hamburger, and he exists on those and steak when we go out for dinner!

We became Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Members in 2015, and our home resort is Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows. You can read more about DVC in my trip report here. This will be our 6th visit to Walt Disney World.

Us at Magic Kingdom
One of my favourite family photos at Magic Kingdom, 2014.

Come Fly With Me – who we are flying with

We have flown to Orlando with 3 different airlines over the years – Virgin, British Airways and Delta. We are not fussy who we fly with, as long as they get us there safely, and as cheaply as possible! The more flights I book, the more knowledgeable about them I become. I know the best time to book flights, and even the cheaper days to fly on. Having always done a ‘DIY’ holiday rather than a package through a tour operator, I’m used to comparing flight prices on sites like Opodo, and shifting dates to get the best possible price. I’m also a bit more fortunate these days that we don’t have to stick to school term time (saving a lot!)

For us this year, it was British Airways that came out on top. This will be our 4th flight to Orlando with BA, so it does mean we are racking up reward points that helps us bring down the price of flights as well. That said, we did also book the car hire with BA, which turns it into a package deal, and we can use reward points to reduce the cost – but it is all swings and roundabouts! Now that Liam is 18, he has been able to set up an account too – we pool all our points into a family account.

Looking back at the flight prices we’ve paid over the years (I’m quite sad, I keep a record!) at £1540 for this year’s flights, it’s the cheapest we’ve ever paid for the three of us! Just shows how different times of the year can make a big difference. The same flight in August in 2011, cost us £2822!

With flights booked, I just need to make sure I fill in the API – Advanced Passenger Information. Many countries require airlines to collect some passport and travel information about who’s flying into their country. I need to dig our passports out (and make sure that they are still valid for our flight times!) and I will be able to complete the API for the three of us.

We also need to apply for an ESTA – (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) is administered by the US government, and provides authorisation to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Each passenger, including infants, must have his or her own ESTA. ESTA will be valid for multiple visits to the US for two years, or until your passport expires, whichever is the sooner. The charge is $14 per person (at time of writing this) and authorisation is normally granted immediately – but can take up to 72 hours. We always get our ESTA done in plenty of time. Without an ESTA you will not be allowed to enter the USA, and will be sent back to the UK.

British Airways at Orlando International Airport MCO

They See Me Rollin’ – what we are driving

BA use AVIS for their car hire, and they assign you a car when you go to pick it up, rather than giving you the opportunity to pick one like Alamo (which we have also used). The website says we will receive a Ford Fusion, or similar, which is a full size car with automatic transmission and can seat five passengers. In general, the boot space of cars in the US seems to be smaller than what we have here in the UK, so invariably, we use the back seat for the extra cases we end up bringing home!

Driving in Orlando is very easy, and I absolutely LOVE it! But then, I love driving anyway, and am a confident driver, so it didn’t really phase me to drive on the wrong side of the car, and of the road. I certainly have improved as an “American” driver, but did get stopped once by the County Sheriff for speeding… luckily I didn’t get a ticket. The are certain rules to driving on American roads, so I wrote this guide:

» 20 Tips for Brits Driving in Orlando

Orlando Roads - MCO Sign

Airport Hotel – the night before we fly

Because I like to be as stress free as possible on travel day, we have always stayed in a hotel the night before our flight. It marks the start of the holiday for us, and I call it Day 0 on my Disney Trip Reports! It means we can have a nice dinner together as a family (or couple, as we did in 2016!) and just chill out without worrying about being stuck in M25 traffic on the way to the airport in the morning! British Airways have a twilight check-in service, so we use that service to bypass the lines the next day too. We drop off our luggage, at the same time, and can go straight through to security on flight day.

For the past few trips to Orlando, we have stayed at the Premier Inn, Gatwick North, as we’ve flown British Airways, and their gate is at the North Terminal. However, they have now switched terminals and are at the South Terminal – I’m not sure why!

Since there is a shuttle service that runs between the two terminals at Gatwick Airport we had planned to stay at the Premier Inn as usual. However, because my son is now 18, we couldn’t book a family room, and I didn’t really want to have to fork out for two rooms just for the night, so we looked at booking at another hotel.

We eventually decided to book the Hilton at Gatwick Airport as they had a Triple Guest Room available. It does mean single beds for hubs and I, but I think we’ll cope for the one night! The price was a flash sale price: for Bed & Breakfast for the three of us it was £164, which was a lot less than the other option of a King Deluxe Family Room, which was over £200. I’d rather have the extra spending money for Disney!

Now, we have stayed at this hotel before – The First Time we went to Florida in 2011. (We flew with Virgin Atlantic who were based at the South Terminal.) It had the benefit of being within walking distance from the airport which is why we booked it. We were not overly impressed with the hotel all those years ago (read about it here), so it’ll be interesting to see if our opinions have changed. I described it as an overpriced Premier Inn – at least you know exactly what you’re getting with that chain of hotels; but I know we expected more from a Hilton Hotel. Anyway, that is by the by now, the Hilton is booked!

Ooh! I forgot to mention the Hilton Honors App, which says “Check-in, choose your room and unlock your hotel room door – all in one place.” which sounds very fancy – will report how that goes, as well as what we thought this time around in the Trip Report (coming January 2018!)

Hilton at Gatwick Airport
I’ve had to delve into my archives to find a photo of the hotel, but I didn’t like to not have an accompanying image!

UPDATE 2018!! – Unfortunately I never did finish up this pre-trip report. 2017 went by in a bit of a blur with family issues and so a lot of my blogging fell to the wayside. I’m about to start writing up the Trip Report for this 2018 vacation to Walt Disney World at Christmas so look out for that soon!

This is where I’m leaving things for now, as I have more things to do before actually writing about them all! But here is what you can expect from the rest of the pre-trip planning report:

  • Welcome Home – where we are staying
  • Theme Park Tickets – where we buy them from
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
  • Good Eating – onsite and offsite restaurants, and booking ADRs
  • Christmas at Walt Disney World – activities we want to do
  • Must Dos – the things we simply must do!
  • Won’t Dos – the things we really won’t do
  • Retail Therapy – Christmas gift shopping!
  • The Plan – a rough guide to our days » get my free printable Disney planner here.
  • Packing List – it’s winter in Florida!
  • Disney Bucket List – updated!
  • Misc – everything else!

I will be adding to this pre-trip report over time, so if you are following along, bookmark the page, or save it to Pinterest so you know where to find it! Don’t forget that you can subscribe to The Purple Pumpkin Blog by email, on Feedly or on Bloglovin’ so you don’t miss out!

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