When You Wish Upon A Star: My Stress-Free Disney Planning Experience!

We did it! We bit the proverbial bullet and decided to plan a Disney vacation with our two-year-old!

 I am a planner.  Let’s be real: that translates to “control freak“. I like to plan everything, and this trip was no exception. I have been fortunate to experience Disney World several times throughout my life, so knew what I wanted. Planning was going to be a breeze …..or so I thought! 

Disney Vacation Planning

I’m not going to lie when I tell you it all started out very overwhelming. I eventually thought, “what can I do to make planning this vacation easier…and FUN?” I didn’t want to get stressed out or stuck in the details, especially when there were SO many! This was supposed to be exciting, right?!

So, I decided to find the perfect travel agent. Enter Karen Cinelli, of Magical Travel with Karen.  

I immediately loved Karen’s story! She fell in love with Walt Disney on her first magical trip with her parents in the 1980s. Her vacation was filled with special moments, family fun in a way she’d never quite experienced before, and a whole host of special memories that she still carries with her. Now, she and her husband love making those same memories every year with their own kids. I instantly loved that Karen was a mom! She knew just how important it was for me to create a memorable {and stress-free!} Disney experience for my family. Plus, Magical Travel has been an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner since the program’s inception in 2004, earning the Earmarked Agency designation. I knew I couldn’t go wrong!
Karen truly focuses on planning the perfect vacation specifically for your family and your needs and takes the stress out of the process. Tailored to your budget and your family’s tastes, Karen can take care of it all – from making your dining and Fastpass+ reservations to providing a detailed, personalized itinerary and everything in between. Karen’s recommendations are based on having personally stayed at all but three of Disney’s resorts and having eaten at over 90% of the restaurants in the parks, resorts and Disney Springs.
With extensive experience planning trips for military families, families with special needs, large groups, families with wide age ranges, couple’s getaways and girl’s weekends, Karen plans each trip with the same attention to detail and eye for magical memories as she would for her own family.  I can 100% attest to this!


My initial talking points with Karen included wanting to book a vacation, and whether or not she could help my family. Karen emailed me back immediately, and was very enthusiastic: of course she could help! She bounced back some important questions for me:

     – What was our budget? 
     – How long did I want our vacation to be?
     – What type of hotel do we want to stay at? 
     – Do you want to drive or fly? If flying, we should start looking at flights.

While I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Karen in person yet, she has truly been amazing! She has answered countless emails and text messages from me. While she was on vacation this summer with her family, she woke up at the crack of dawn {seriously at 4:30 a.m.} to book our Character Dining meals! And I can’t believe I haven’t said this yet, but we did not have to pay Karen for all of her amazing services she has, and is, providing! She is FREE.

With Karen’s help, I had the confidence to dig into the little details that would help make the rest of our trip the most budget-friendly and stress-free that it could be! Here are some secrets for saving and getting the most “bang for your buck”:

Take to the World Wide Web for Flights, Deals and more!

  • I frequented the Walt Disney World website. A lot. 
  • Pinterest = ideas galore! I have a board called “Disney…let’s go!” – check it out for ideas if you’d like! 

Plan. Plan well in advance! Pull Out That Calendar. Pick a date. You will not regret it one bit. We started talking about wanting to plan a trip last April. We picked our date based on what we were looking for crowd-wise. Ask yourself:

  • Do you want to go in the heat of summer?
  • The crowds of Christmas?
  • The madness that is spring break?
  • Or are you like us, and prefer a less crowded time of year?

 Look on travel websites and airline websites. But don’t book the first search you find, and don’t wait too long. Just to give you an idea, I searched for about two weeks before committing. I took to the internet to find the best deal and I found it – eight months before we were scheduled to leave. My advice to you is to start looking as soon as you know when you want to go.

Save. Save. Save. If you are like us, you probably aren’t going to be able to fork over the bill for a Disney vacation up-front without saving {unless you take out a loan or use a credit card – which we didn’t want to do}. This was my number one reason for planning well in advance! 

Take advantage of some other amazing Disney offers. These discounts are often based on the type of resort you want to stay in: value, moderate, deluxe {think good, better, best}.

  • Free dining: Historically, Disney offers free dining from September to December, with some black out dates.
  • Hotel discounts: Disney almost always offers hotel and package discounts throughout the entire year!

Children under the age of three are FREE! Children who are three or who will turn three while you are at Disney get free dining, hotel stay and park tickets. Free! Music to my {Minnie} ears! 

Disney Vacation Planning    

Check your bank/credit union and even credit cards for rewards! Our banking institutions allow us to earn rewards on money already in our account by doing things we do every day. This includes buying gas, groceries, paying bills, and more! I was able to earn enough rewards points to get “free” Disney gift cards, Target gift cards and Walmart gift cards! I used the Target and Walmart gift cards to purchase Disney gift cards. 

Buy Disney gift cards at Target using your Red Card.  You get 5% off your gift card purchases! And at certain times of the year, they offer an additional 5% off! Say you purchase $500 in Disney gift cards during this promotion – you could save almost $50! It may not sound like much, but it adds up!

Buy Disney gift cards at Kroger. On a normal shopping trip, you earn 2X the fuel points on gift cards. There are times when they offer up to 4X the fuel points on gift cards when using your Kroger Plus Shopper Rewards Card. Now, this won’t save you money off of your vacation per se, but you fill up your vehicles, don’t you? Think of the savings there! When doing your grocery shopping, swing by the gift card kiosk and pick up a Disney gift card. We made it a point to pick up a $25 gift card every week. Over the course of eight months, well, it really adds up! All of those Disney gift cards you just purchased {we ended up with about 32 individual gift cards}, well, they can all be combined onto ONE gift card {but make sure to keep the others}!  You can use the Disney gift card to pay for your vacation…really anything within the Disney properties can be paid for with it!

Disney Vacation Planning
 I can’t thank Karen Cinelli, of Magical Travel with Karen enough, for her help throughout the planning process! What started out as a stressful and overwhelming process, was automatically streamlined and put into focus once Karen was on board! We’re SO excited for our Disney vacation!  

I can’t wait to share our magical experience with you upon our return! Look for my next blog post, “Survival of the Fittest:  Disney with a Toddler” to come after our trip! This will include more tips for preparing for your Disney vacation and surviving the parks with a toddler!


*This post is sponsored by Magical Travel with Karen, but my experience and opinion are 100% my own!


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