Disney does require planning and research. For some people this is overwhelming or a turn off when talking about vacation.
Planning is right up my alley. My husband (boyfriend at the time) was shocked back in 2004 when we went on a trip to Boston and I had a folder with our flight details, hotel reservation, a list restaurants to try, and places to visit along with their hours of operation and admission price. I did the same for trips to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Cancun, Italy, Jamaica, and a group vacation for 12 to Las Vegas. So it was no surprise when I broke out a binder and excel spreadsheets for our Disney planning!
He was a little surprised when I said you can’t just walk in like it’s Cedar Point (an amusement park in Sandusky, OH).
Do you need to plan each and every minute? Absolutely not. You shouldn’t! But, The Walt Disney World Resort is approximately 40 square miles with many resorts, four theme parks, two water parks, shopping, and other entertainment venues. If I’m remembering stats correctly over 20ish million people go to Disney World every year. Having a plan helps.
I studied park maps. A lot. It’s actually my favorite thing to do with anyone that’s planning their trip too. Having an idea where to go really helps. It is no fun to be in a crowd of people, even a small one, with one person trying to read a map and another trying to navigate with a double stroller. Even though I studied the maps we still were those people. I had was overhwelmed and turned around. MyDisneyExperience helped with that too. While it kills your battery there is a GPS function on that map that will get you where you need to be. It ended up walking us out of dead-ends we somehow turned into at both Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Now after two trips I can give a pretty good overview of Magic Kingdom without a map in hand. Though I’m sure I’ll manage to walk past the Pirate’s League… again!
There’s dates for Disney planning. There’s even websites out there that calculate the important dates for you. When to reserve dining, when to make FastPass+ reservations, when to do online checkin to your hotel room, when you final payment is due.
Do you have to reserve dining? No. But if you want certain sit-down meals, especially any character meals, you should. And can do it as early as 180-days out. Six-months? I don’t know what’s going to be on the dinner table most nights, but Disney wants me to plan a meal six months out? Yes. It seems impossible to make those decisions ahead of time. But it’s actually easy. And guess what? You can change them if your plans change. Dining reservations can be canceled 24 hours before the reservation. I switched times on a few reservations the day before and the day of. Hard to get reservations may be hard to change but with some luck (or use of Touring Plans) you can usually make it work.
A little closer, at the 60-day mark if at a Disney or select Disney Springs resort (30 days if at an offsite property), you make FastPass+ reservations. These are just what they sound like: a fast pass to the the “front” of the line. While it may not be the very front it usually drops your wait from the posted, or standby, time which in some cases is over an hour to usually just a few minutes. There may be lines that still have a wait but it’s nowhere near the standby time. These are highly recommended for popular rides at each park. Rides like Peter Pan’s Flight, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Toy Story Mania, Frozen, Test Track and new rides Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage in the World of Pandora at Animal Kingdom are known high standby waits and little to no FastPass+ availability on the day you arrive at the park– or even the week or month before. So, definitely plan some FastPass+. You get THREE initial FastPass+ per day to be booked at the same park. After those three are used you can book additional from the app. FastPass+ will save you so much time in line. If you’re traveling with kids it’ll cut down on the whining. It’ll probably help with adult whining too. You’ll see and do a lot more in the parks too.
So make your plan at your 180-day mark, tighten it up at the 60-day mark (or 30), complete online check-in for your hotel, and make sure you make your final payment on time. Then when you arrive be ready to change your plan.
What?! You just told me to plan 6 months in advance and now you want me to change it?
Yep! If you or someone in your group see, hear, or think of something you want to do look it up on MyDisneyExperience, ask a Cast Member, or ask the person you just overheard talking about it. Go find it! While dining reservations do have a no-show fee, there is no fee if you end up missing a FastPass+. We made several changes during both of our trips including moving and cancelling dining reservations. We missed a few FastPass+ for a variety of reasons.
My son, on his birthday, turned to me and asked if he could meet Peter Pan. I had never once even looked for Peter Pan while planning. They only know him from Jake & the Neverland Pirates. It’s the his birthday, of course I’m going to find Peter Pan! Or I’m going to go stand in line to ride Peter Pan’s Flight without a FastPass+. Luckily, I quickly learned Peter Pan meets in Magic Kingdom and in about 20 minutes. Let’s head that way.
Some of the best things we’ve done have been the spur of the moment stuff, so don’t ignore something just because it isn’t on your list. There are literally thousands of activities on the Disney properties. You can’t put them all on your agenda. You may not even know they exist until they’re right in front of your eyes!