Here at PBE, I tend to be the more organised one, I'll have everything written down, have contingencies in place and have budgets set to the penny. I thought I'd take you through some of my tips for planning your next big trip as I am currently doing just that for my bucket list trip over to California to get some of my bucket list items ticked off! I am writing this in the assumption you have a good idea of the parks and attractions you'd like to do on the trip.
This is a biggie, before getting excited about what kind of cred count you'll be picking up there are a number of things to check and for different reasons! You should start with a range of dates, if you can, and see which fits in. If you're especially stuck to certain dates, the next few points could be especially important for you!
Are the parks open?
This is especially important if you are planning a trip to mainland Europe, especially France! I have spent hours plotting out the most amazing looking road trip to find out they open quite randomly, even in what we might call 'normal' months. If you're hoping for a quiet mid-week visit, especially, have a check on their website for opening hours.
This is often the part that will decide which crazy trip I'm going to continue with plotting if there are a few in mind.
If they are open, do they publish a maintenance schedule?
You only need to have seen our Florida vlogs over on YouTube to see that this even tripped us up, I mean who'd have thought Sheikra would be closed in May! We know better now, especially when it comes to all year round parks, check, check again and if in doubt, reach out to the park!
Write everything down!
When you're planning it can be so easy to get carried away and forget things, if you're about to open up google, RCDB, Skyscanner or anything like that, have a pen and paper handy. I have so many notebooks scattered around! I have a drawer full at work, there's at least one in my car, there is always one in my bag and every nook and cranny at home. You never know when inspiration might strike!
I also suggest sketching out a crude calendar section of the days you're planning to be away, that way it's easier to visualise when you'll be fitting things in and laying out your budget.
Write it down! Put it at the top of your planning notes, but be realistic with it, if you need to, write down how you're going to make up that budget, are you putting £50 a month away? pop it down and it'll keep you focused and give you something to weigh up options against. Keep in mind what that budget is to include; flights, fuel, airport parking, hotels, spends? By thinking your budget through and writing it down now it stops you getting too carried away and could help avoid some disappointment later down the line if you get a little too adventurous. Also create yourself some space to jot down all costs into your budget to make it easier to total up where you are at, it's good to have a count every so often to make sure you've not overestimated where you're at.
Start with transport
So this may seem obvious, but it is so easy to get carried away when you are getting excited about a trip. Provisionally sort out your flights first, and make sure you have a reasonable amount of time to get to the airport at both ends, if you're driving into mainland Europe, get your Eurotunnel or ferry scoped out and make notes of travel time and cost so you can build a full trip picture before you jump to booking anything. What transport are you taking when you get there? Hiring a car? - check out the deposits and any documents or insurance you'll need, hunt around though, car hire deposits can range from £100 to £2000! They can be so well hidden on the websites, but be patient and you'll find them. You'll also need a credit card handy to book most.
Now think about how are you getting to the airport (If you are flying) do you need to do a check on parking charges? Maybe it's train tickets? If you are planning on driving to mainland Europe, check your car insurance covers you there, and that you will have breakdown cover! You should also make sure you have the appropriate equipment in your car to comply with any country laws that you are driving through! Do your research and you'll be good. You'll also soon need to think about any additional documents you may need post Brexit. If you are driving, even if its hiring a car from an airport, remember to budget for fuel, it's an easy item for people to forget!
Here's a quick mock up of what my notebook looks like at this point;
So, this is where we need to get the map out, this is where you will need to decide if you can find a nice central area to look in for somewhere to stay, or if you need to consider multiple hotels. First things first, get a list of the parks and attractions you are planning to visit, grab their addresses and pop them in google maps, don't worry about order for now, just pop 'em all in and drag and drop 'em into place later.
Now, get the airport(s) in there, you don't want to forget about your arrival and departure, especially if you are getting to your destination late, you might need to consider available check in times for your first night, the same goes for if you are landing early and planning to hit a park first! So from your map you should now be able to see if there is some kind of obvious area to start searching in or if you might be looking at more than one hotel. If you are looking at booking multiple hotels (An example would be my trip plan in THIS blog) you need to give some thought into when you're going to travel between hotels, you might even have to do parks in a different order than you expected to make it work better for hotels and making it back to airports (or any other ports for that matter) without giving yourself a massive journey on the day you're getting your flight/ferry/train home.
The travel could very much depend on park operating times, so you might need to look at a few options and bring all of the facts together a little later on, you're not likely to want to drive 6 hours to the next stop after an 11pm close, and if you're like me it's just not ideal to have to plan to leave a park too early to get to the next stop. Sometimes it can be handy to print out a map of the area you are visiting, plot all of the parks and attractions you plan to visit on it and use sticky notes to add things like park opening times and the distances between them, it might be one morning or night you drive a little further to stay in between a couple of parks to give you a few nights in one place or you might decide a rest/travel day is needed for that part of your trip.
If you don't have access to a printer, have a go at just placing dots on a piece of paper, giving yourself space to put notes about distance and travel times. Below is a little look at what this page of my notebook might look like! This is where the maps function of sites like hotel.com and booking.com come in handy! To start with, choose a town/city/area name in the middle area of the parks (in red below) and use the map to zoom out and search a bit wider, then you can add good candidates into your map and see if they are a good fit for your travelling times.
Theme, amusement or otherwise, it's time to sort out the parks. This bit can be both exciting and frustrating! Some parks have wonderful sites that make it so easy to look at all of your options, easy to find opening times and book tickets, then you have some that will have you pulling your hair out, you do need a bit of patience and your trusty notebook!
So you have likely already had a look to find out the park opening times if you've got a fair bit of park hopping to do, but if you've not yet done that, this would be a good idea to check. In your notebook, take a new page and write down the name of the first park, now you need to find out a few things:
Opening times - Best to jot these down again even if you've already looked for ease of finding
Park Entry - (Where applicable) So you'll need to have a look at two things here, get the book in advance price where it is available, and check the on the gate price, this could be handy if you are having thoughts of just popping back in on your way somewhere, best to have all the facts on you already! You might also find that it's pay-per-ride, something good to know in advance!
Ticket collection - Do you need to print a ticket? Are there self service machines to collect your ticket? Perhaps there's an app to download for your tickets. Best to get this info now rather than scrambling in the days before you travel.
Parking charges - (Where applicable) If you are driving this is a must know for your budget!
Fastpass / Fastlane / Express / Whatever - You may not be interested in this, and that's absolutely fine, I'm not a fan of buying it for the sake of it, but for some parks, where you only have one day, you might want to keep it in mind if there are rides you don't want to risk missing, best to be prepared, especially if the park you are looking at does 'one-shot' passes, it could save some heartache over missed coasters.
Catering/Drinks passes - This can be handy if you are on a tighter budget and want to just get that cost done with in advance, it can also be a good indication of just how expensive food and drink is in that park.
Photo passes / other - What other extras do they have and are you interested in them? If there are some, jot them down and how much they cost and you can see if they fit into the budget at the end!
Do this for each park and you'll be able to quickly tott up the cost and add it to the main budget.
Put it all together
At this point I like to take a fresh page and write the trip down, in full, in chronological order. This is a bit of sense-checking and it's fairly satisfying seeing it all laid out!
You'll have a full set of prices to work out your trip total, is it in budget? If so, get booking what you haven't already. Of course some things like parks may need booked a lot later than other things, but you can make a good start! It might be handy to stick a reminder on the calendar on your phone for when to book.
If you're not in budget, have a look at what you can change. Perhaps you've gone for a swanky hotel(s), would you consider somewhere cheaper? Maybe you need to look at different flights (if flying of course) as different time or maybe slightly different airports really make a difference. (For example, where I live it makes zero difference flying to/from Manchester or Liverpool, and even though a bit further there's no hassle flying from London, there is also everywhere else, personally, I'm not fussy if its a good flight at a good price!) If you've already gone for the very best flights and cheapest hotels you may have to look into missing a park or two, this will depend on just how far out your budget is from the real cost.
Once you do start booking things when your budget is all in place, create an email folder to keep track of all correspondence regarding the trip, this will make details far easier to find. I also like to print things off and add them into a folder just for the trip and add to it as I go along. You'll also need to think about travel insurance for the trip, better to sort that early incase of any issues, you never know what's around the corner!
So it's that easy, take one step at a time and keep everything written down. Time to get excited!
What tips do you have for booking large trips, have I missed any tricks? Let me know!