Planning your Days at Walt Disney World

| May 15, 2012

Planning!  Planning!  Planning!  One of the best parts of a Walt Disney World vacation are the days leading up to your vacation where you get to pull out a sheet of paper, open a spreadsheet, or grab a piece of construction paper to build a countdown calendar and begin your vacation planning.  There are several different levels of planning for your Disney theme park vacation.  Some find it necessary to plan every 30 minutes of their vacation while others are a little more relaxed and only plan which park on which day and ADRs (Advanced Dining Reservations).  A lot of our Disney World vacation planning is based on other factors like time of year, number of people traveling with you, and even what resort you’ve picked.  Continue through the page break and let’s look at the different ways of planning, and how other factors influence our vacation planning decisions.

Planning Before the Planning

Okay…Okay, somebody grab that white straight jacket because we may have gone mad.  Do we seriously have to plan before we can really plan our days at Disney World?  Throw that straight jacket on because the answer is absolutely yes.  Before you can plan your days at Walt Disney World certain decisions have to be made ahead of time.  Like “what” you ask?  Well for instance, the time of year you decide to visit Disney World will have a dramatic impact on how you plan your days.  There’s a huge difference between visiting in the summer, holiday season, or during the fall season.  The daily temperatures in the theme parks and even crowd levels are impacted greatly based on the time of year you decide to visit.  Also consider what special events are occurring as that can have an impact on your planning as well.

What about the number of people traveling with you?  Will only two of you travel, are you going solo, or are you part of a large family vacation?  There’s a huge difference in planning your days at Disney World if you are traveling as a couple or a large group.  It’s difficult for large groups to stick together like “The Borg” so it will certainly slow you down.

Another consideration before you start planning your vacation days is your resort hotel.  Will you be staying at a value resort or go all out for a deluxe hotel?  If you are staying at a value resort you may feel more inclined to visit the parks more often and not feel the need to use the resort’s amenities.  If you are staying at a deluxe hotel and paying a nice sum of money you may feel more inclined to spend more time at the resort utilizing the wonderful amenities.  Once again, this decision will have a big impact on how you plan each day of your vacation.

A final consideration is the length of your stay.  The longer you stay will greatly impact how long you wish to stay in the theme parks versus your resort hotel, or spend time shopping at Downtown Disney.  The shorter your visit the more valuable your time becomes.  The length of your stay may also influence your theme park ticket purchase.  Will you go with a multi-day park hopper ticket?  Not including the park hopper option on your multi-day ticket will impact your planning as well.

Now that the “Pre” Pre-Planning is Complete…..

Time of year chosen, check….Airfare purchased, check….Resort hotel booked, check….Check, check, check.  Now that we’ve made our pre-planning decisions and spent some of our money along the way on airfare, theme park tickets, and room deposits we can now get into the fun part of planning our days at Disney World.  The level at which you plan your days at Disney World really depends on you.  Are you a super-planner “type A” personality, or do you consider yourself a more laid-back “type B” personality?  Does a trip to Disney World fire you up to the point where you need to have every daily detail laid out?  How detailed you get with your planning really depends on your personality and creativeness.  I’ve seen some visitors to Disney World bring their spreadsheets with them.  I’ve even seen guests who had laminated index cards outlining each day of their trip.

What are some of the first activities you think about when planning your days at Walt Disney World?  Do you like to book your ADRs (Advanced Dining Reservations) first and let your dining dictate which parks on which days?  For me personally this is where the fun begins.  I’ve experimented with all types of planning situations and what I’ve discovered is starting broad and narrowing your planning activities works best.  For instance, picking your park on a specific day of your visit is a great way to start and then plan your daily activities inside that park, like dining, tours, shows, etc.

Time of Year – The Ultimate X-Factor

It can’t be stressed enough: the time of year you visit Disney World will have a dramatic impact on planning your days.  If you visit in the summer expect the afternoons to be terribly hot and humid in the theme parks.  A lot of guests will plan their morning at a theme park, head back to their resort for the afternoon, and then head back to a different theme park in the evening to avoid the hottest point of the day.  That’s typically a great daily plan (provided you have the park hopper option on your theme park tickets).

Also consider that the summer is when more guests visit the theme parks.  It’s safe to say there isn’t a slow time of year at Disney World, but there are times when crowds are heavier and the summer months are one of those times.  Crowds in summer at the theme parks tend to be at their highest in the afternoon.  You’ll be doing yourself a favor by avoiding the theme parks in the afternoon.  The heat and the crowds won’t be as big of a factor if you tour a theme park in the morning and evening.  Also, keep in mind the theme park hours are longer in the summer months to accommodate for higher crowd levels.  Disney releases their park hours 6 months in advance for extreme planners like us so make sure to take advantage of it (park hours can change so check periodically to see if adjustments have been made closer to your vacation).

If you are visiting Disney World at a time when temperatures are more moderate and comfortable you’ll probably want to alter your daily plans to include more theme park time, especially if the crowd predictions and levels are not as high.  Our family will typically spend an entire day in a theme park during the fall or winter months.  In some cases we’ll stay in the same theme park all day and not hop to a second park since the afternoon temps and crowds are more reasonable.  Why go back to your resort when you are having a more comfortable and enjoyable time in the parks?  You might as well take advantage of the comfortable conditions.

The Influence of your Resort Hotel

All of Walt Disney World’s resort hotels are amazing in their own special way.  Each guest has their own reason why they love a specific resort.  One of the decisions a family may base their daily Disney activities on is how much they’ve paid for their resort hotel.  We are more inclined to spend more time at our resort if we’ve paid deluxe hotel prices and less inclined to spend time at the resort if we’ve paid far less.  The deluxe hotels offer some great amenities and you certainly want to take advantage of them if you can.  Even the value resorts have some terrific activities and amenities to enjoy.  Also a consideration are the great pools at all of the Disney resorts.  They make great afternoon rest and relaxation spots, especially in the summertime when it’s essential you cool off in the afternoon.

If you are traveling with elderly family members or very young children you may need to consider planning the afternoons back at your resort to rest.  Just spending some time in your room is a good idea to cool off and recharge your batteries for the evening hours.   Elderly adults and young children are more susceptible to the afternoon heat and crowds than middle-aged guests.

The Length of your Stay

Another key consideration when making your daily plans is how long you’ll be at Walt Disney World.  The longer you stay the more opportunity you’ll have to experience more of the theme parks, resorts, dining locations, etc.  If you are operating under a very short time window you’ll probably be more inclined to spend as much time in the theme parks and less time at your resort hotel.  When your time is limited you really have to look at every aspect of your trip; even the transportation considerations between theme parks and resort hotels.  You may want to consider a rental car.

If you have more time on your vacation than you know what to do with then you may want to build in more rest and relaxation time in between your theme park visits.  You may also want to enjoy more table service dining at the various resort hotels.  Even a day away from Walt Disney World may not be a bad idea.  There’s great outlet shopping and other theme park destinations in the Orlando area that any family would enjoy.

Operating Under a Budget

Unfortunately, we simply don’t have unlimited funds available to us during our Disney World vacations.  Like everyone else we have to set limits when it comes to our spending, especially if you have a larger family.  Depending on your budget it will have an impact on how you plan your days.  If you have a little extra money to spend you may find yourself in more table service restaurants versus counter service outlets.  If you want to save a little money, you may even find yourself eating food you brought with you into the theme parks at a picnic table.  These types of situations are ultimately going to change how you plan your time and days at Disney World.

How much you spend on your theme park tickets will also dictate your time.  The cost difference between a park hopper and non-park hopper ticket may force you to decide to stay in one theme park per vacation day instead of hopping from park to park.  Again, this will have a direct affect on your plans.

Don’t forget there’s a big difference in prices from value to deluxe resort accommodations.  This is another area that is going to affect your planning based on your budget.  You may be less inclined to stay at your resort if you are staying at a value resort and more inclined to stay at your resort if you have deluxe resort amenities at your disposal.

Sample Planning Itineraries

Let’s take a brief look at a couple of sample itineraries I threw together based on a couple of different vacation scenarios.  As you’ll find out there are several different scenarios that can have a dramatic affect on the way you plan your days at Disney World.  These are just a few common scenarios.  Also, they are not detailed, but the intent is to give you an idea of how each segment of your day can be planned accordingly.

Scenario 1 – 7 nights at Walt Disney World at the end of June staying at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, family of 4 (2 adults and 2 children – 4th ever visit to Disney World) no dining plan and 5-day park hopper tickets.  

Saturday – Arrive at MCO – Catch Disney’s Magical Express – Check-in Polynesian Resort – Volcano Pool – Dinner at Kona Cafe – Watch Wishes from the Polynesian beach

Sunday – AM Hollywood Studios – Light Breakfast at Starring Rolls Bakery – Polynesian Volcano Pool – Lunch at Captain Cooks – PM EPCOT – Light dinner at Sunshine Seasons (Land Pavilion)

Monday – AM Magic KingdomCrystal Palace character breakfast – Polynesian Arcade, pool, and rest – PM EPCOT – Dinner at Tangerine Café – Illuminations

Tuesday – AM EMH Animal Kingdom – Breakfast at Pizzafari – Animal viewing at the Animal Kingdom Lodge – Late lunch at the Mara – PM Animal Kingdom – Mickey’s Jammin Jungle Parade.

Wednesday – No Parks – Ohana character breakfast – Shopping at Downtown Disney – Miniature golf at Winter-Summerland – Horseback riding at Ft. Wilderness – Hoop De Doo Musical Revue.

Thursday – Breakfast at Captain Cooks – AM EMH Hollywood Studios – Volcano pool – PM Magic Kingdom – Early dinner at Plaza Restaurant – Dole Whips for Dessert – Magic, Memories, & You – Wishes

Friday – AM EMH EPCOT – Light breakfast at Sunshine Seasons – A visit to Disney’s Boardwalk – Late lunch at Beaches & Cream – PM Hollywood Studios – Fantasmic!

Saturday – Check out Polynesian Resort – Character Breakfast at Chef Mickey’s – Magical Express to MCO –

Scenario 25 nights at Walt Disney World at the beginning of October staying at the Dolphin Resort, a married couple and one of their parents who are Disney World veterans with annual passes and no dining plan

Wednesday – Arrive in Orlando via car – Check-in Dolphin Resort – EPCOT for Food & Wine Festival – Dinner at Chef’s de France – Illuminations

Thursday – Breakfast at the Boardwalk Bakery – AM Magic Kingdom – Grotto Pool – lunch at The Fountain – PM EPCOT for Food & Wine – Wine Seminar

Friday – Light breakfast at the DolphinShopping at Downtown Disney – High Tea at the Grand Floridian Resort – PM Hollywood Studios – Dinner at The Hollywood Brown Derby – Fantasmic

Saturday – Breakfast at the Boardwalk Bakery – Outlet Shopping in Orlando – The Swan & Dolphin Food & Wine Classic

Sunday – Breakfast at Fresh – Grotto Pool – PM EPCOT Food & Wine Festival – Eat to the Beat Concert

Monday – Check-out Dolphin Resort – Light breakfast grab & go – AM EPCOT – Lunch at Le Cellier – Depart Orlando for home via car

Scenario 3 – A 3 night weekend get-a-way with a family of 5 in late February staying at a Ft. Wilderness cabin with 3 day base tickets and the dining plan

Friday – Arrive MCO – Magical Express to Ft. Wilderness – Magic Kingdom – Early dinner at Crystal Palace – Wishes and Electrical Water Pageant

Saturday – Animal Kingdom – Breakfast at Pizzafari – Mickey’s Jammin Jungle Parade – Dinner at Chef Mickey’s – Shopping at Downtown Disney

Sunday – EPCOT AM EMH – Princess character breakfast at Akershus  – Character autographs at the Character Spot – Kim Possible Adventure (soon to be Agent P) – Dinner at Sunshine Seasons – Illuminations

Monday – Breakfast in the cabin – Pony rides at Ft. Wilderness – Depart Ft. Wilderness via Magical Express to MCO.

As you can see from these examples there are several different reasons and scenarios to have a specific plan at Walt Disney World.  There are external factors that drive your day-to-day planning decisions.  Some of it may have to do with the people you are traveling with, your budget, whether you are on the dining plan, the length of your trip, etc, etc.  Your plan could even be based on your attempt at new and different experiences you haven’t tried before.  Ultimately, you tailor your day-to-day Disney World planning based on these factors.  My examples above are very generic.  You can certainly get much more detailed and creative with your plans.  I’ve come to the conclusion that building your daily vacation itinerary is similar to baking a cake.  Your vacation factors like length of stay, budgets, size of your group, and resort selection are like your ingredients.  When you mix them all together and bake them in the oven you come out with a plan.  Depending on your ingredients (vacation factors) your cake will look and taste a certain way.

Conclusion

We are not “crazy”!  We are just Walt Disney World planners.  People who love to analyze park hours, certain theme park situations, and scenarios and put them into a plan that maximizes our visit to our favorite vacation destination; Walt Disney World.  It’s not often we visit Walt Disney World and when we have the opportunity we want to take full advantage of it.  We want to outsmart and beat the ordinary vacationing guests by jumping in shorter theme park lines, making more desirable ADR times, and understanding the best places to visit characters.

How do you plan your vacations to Walt Disney World?  Do you get very detailed and creative in your plans?  Do you become a Disney actuary by analyzing park hours and parade times so you can maximize your day in the theme parks?  What factors do you use to create your plan?  Do you let dining dictate your days or do you pick the theme park and plan your dining around your location?  There are so many possibilities when it comes to planning your days at Walt Disney World.  Maybe that’s what makes it so much fun.

I’ve always wondered why we like visiting Walt Disney World so much.  I think the answer is when we’re at Disney World we are in our comfort zone.  We know where everything is, we know how to react in certain situations, we know what to expect when we’re there.  This is also why we, as fans, love to plan.  We know what to expect and where everything is when we are planning our days.  It’s almost as if we are visualizing our vacation in our head before we even arrive.  Let’s call it a virtual pre-planning vacation in our minds.  However you wish to describe it’s a lot of fun and a great way to get you in the mood before your actual Disney World vacation begins.

Phew!  There’s a lot to consider when planning your days at Disney World.  So get your colored pencils, construction paper, scissors, Abacus, and any other Disney planning tools you may want to use.  Whether your vacation is next week or a year away you’ve got some planning to do.  Remember, time flies when you’re having fun and planning is the key to maximizing your Disney World vacation.

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