Disney World Bound? Under Versus Over Planning

Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, finding the just right when planning a Disney World vacation can be challenging!  With all there is to see and do, it’s easy for seasoned Disney vacationers to imagine the horrors of under planning.  For the uninitiated or infrequent visitor, knowing how to plan appropriately can be highly intimidating.  Again – So much to see and do!

Disney World Bound? Under Versus Over Planning

Under Planning – This plan is too small.

I understand a low-key, go-with-the-flow vacation mentality.  If you dream of drifting through quiet days in a tropical paradise, rethink that decision to visit Disney World.  It’s huge, often crowded, expensive and requires at least a little bit of planning.  Some advance research is advised.Memory Maker - Rafiki

Luckily there are many books and websites like Tips From the Disney Divas and Devos, All Ears.Net, Your First Visit, WDW Prep School, Disney Tourist Blog, and more.  These sites offer a variety of perspectives on how to plan a successful Disney getaway.

At a bare minimum…

Review Park Attractions – You can’t do it ALL, but you can do a lot.  Pick some attractions in each park that you think your family will enjoy.  Check out point-of-view videos on YouTube to get an idea of a particular ride’s scare-factor.  Prep for vacation by letting your little ones watch these videos.  They’ll have realistic expectations about what’s going to happen – for many children, this preparation makes trying new attractions less scary.  If you’ll be staying on Disney property, 60 days pre-trip book those FastPasses (like ride reservations to skip the long lines) for your top must-do choices.  Off-property guests can book up to 30 days in advance.Memory Maker - Tower of Terror

Review Restaurants – (menus are always available at Disney’s site) and please, make some Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) for at least a couple of places.  Popular restaurants like ‘Ohana (Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort) and Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom) and many Character Dining experiences book up way in advance.  You can always cancel up to 24 hours before your dining time with no penalty.  Please!  Better safe than sorry.

Over Planning – This plan is too big.

Four parks, Disney Springs, Advance Dining Reservations, FastPasses, special events, nighttime spectaculars, Memory Maker – What do you need, what don’t you need.  Are you planning too much?  I’ve been guilty of over planning.  Once you get the hang of ADRs and FastPasses, it’s easy to try to cram too much in and leave little for spontaneous fun.

When Megan and Grant honeymooned at Disney World, they had the Deluxe Dining Plan and made a ton of dining reservations.  Later, Megan felt they’d have been much better off with fewer meals booked.  They often felt like they were rushing around to fit attractions in between dining reservations.  They got to experience some fantastic meals, but the travel time to and from restaurants really cut into their vacation.Yellow Monorail / Walt Disney World

I’m a fan of park-hopping and will often plan a morning at one park with no FastPasses, get there at park-opening and go, go, go!  Then hop to the park where I’ve scheduled our three FastPasses before moving on to a dinner reservation, usually at a resort.  This plan maximizes the attractions we get to ride/see, but is not relaxing and leaves little room for simply soaking up the amazing Disney details.  Classic case of over-planning.

Too busy for Memory Maker.  If you’re prone to over planning, you may want to skip the Memory Maker photo package (currently $149 purchased 3-days in advance of your trip / $169 regular price).  We’ve found that planning time for pictures is critical or Memory Maker can be a waste of money.  If you’re rushing to a FastPass or dining reservation, you won’t stop and wait for a Disney photographer.Memory Maker Buzz Lightyear

Making plans that are just right for your family depends on what’s important to you.  A successful Disney vacation takes at least a little advance prep, but trying to do too much can lead to a less-than-relaxing experience.

Have you been guilty of planning to little or attempting to do too much?  What’s the best planning tip you’ve learned?

WDW in October – What we Plan

Epcot in SummerJust 52 days from now, Raymond and I will be off on our dream vacation – solo, alone, sans kids, as a couple – and pretty stoked about it (in case you were wondering).  Yes, indeed, we’re celebrating quite a few things at our house this year – Raymond and I both have milestone birthdays, our 25th wedding anniversary is this fall, and, after the first year, we’ve adapted (admirably, in my opinion) to our empty-nested-ness.  Time for a well deserved sort of second honeymoon!

Trying not to break my own Walt Disney World vacation planning rules, we’ve tried to strike the perfect balance between over- and under-planning.  Usually, when we hit the World as a Epcot's World Showcasefamily, we rope-drop, park-hop and squeeze as many rides, attractions, and experiences into each day as possible.  I’ve always been a little envious of those travelers who have the luxury of not planning blocks of time between parks and FastPass+ appointments.  I’ve wanted to try being one of these UN-planners and now is my opportunity!  I’ve also asked a bunch of you guys out there on social media and really tried to take your excellent advice to heart (see Safari Mike’s Food & Wine Festival tips here).  On 3 of our 7 nights there, we have no ADRs – this is unprecedented UN-planning!

DVC Resort Bay Lake Tower / Walt Disney WorldI’ve divided our plans into three categories –

  1.  Must Do – Includes special events we’ve pre-paid for and some plans we’re super excited about – all are things we have never experienced before,
  2. It’s on the Agenda – the things we’d love to fit in if at all possible, and
  3. If We Get to It – the rest of our plans that we hope we get to, but we will be okay if we have to pass.

Let’s get on with the plans…

Must Do –

  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party – We’ve heard so many positive reviews and comments about this seasonal bash, we can’t pass up the chance to see what all the Epcot's France Pavilion / Monsieur Paulhubbub’s about.  I’m working on a couple of semi-costumed looks for the big event.
  • Italian Food & Wine Pairing – Gosh, there’s nothing about the sound of that we don’t love!  Available at Via Napoli, Italy Pavilion, 1:30 – 3:30 pm on Thursdays during the Festival.
  • French Regional Lunch – This takes place at the French Pavilion’s Monsieur Paul (Fridays and Sundays during the Festival) from Noon – 3:30 and includes 4 courses (highlighting a specific region of France) and information on the wine pairings from a visiting winery representative.
  • Dinner at California Grill – We haven’t eaten at this restaurant (Contemporary Resort) since it’s extensive refurbishment in 2013.  This is our official Anniversary Dinner Celebration.
  • Massage for Two at the Senses Spa (Grand Floridian Resort) – It sounds romantic and relaxing – just the ticket for a trip like this one!
  • Tutto Gusto in Epcot's ItalyEpcot After Hours Wind Down – This sounds like the perfect way to end an evening (especially during Food & Wine).  We’ve got FastPass+ for special seating at Illuminations before we head on over to Tutto Gusto (Italy Pavilion) for a late night snack and wine flight.
  • FastPass+ for Meeting Talking Mickey Mouse – Why not?  We haven’t seen the Big Cheese in this new high-tech version and I’m a big advocate of at least one character meet-n-greet on every Disney vacation.  I picked this one.
  • Dinner at Sanaa – This is on the evening of our fist day.  We have to visit Animal Kingdom Lodge (unbreakable tradition for every trip) and have yet to try Sanaa after hearing its praises sung repeatedly.  Now’s the perfect time!

It’s on the Agenda –

  • Dinner at Citrico’s (Grand Floridian Resort)- We’ve never been before, so we made an ADR.Festival of Fantasy Parade  If something interferes with this, we won’t be heartbroken – it was just something new to try that sounded good.  Since it’s on the monorail loop, it’s an easy ride back to the Contemporary (we’re staying at Bay Lake Tower).
  • Dinner at Be Our Guest – If there’s anyway possible to make this into a lunch, we’re doing that instead.  I’ve not heard the food’s all that great, but getting inside for a look around was on my Disney New Year’s Resolutions list and I’m running out of time to get that accomplished.
  • FastPass+ for the Festival of Fantasy Parade.  We loved this parade when we saw it for the first time in May and would like to see it from the special FP+ area this time.
  • Trying a certain 10 of the 66 special dishes at the Food & Wine Festival booths.  I let Raymond pick these by himself for two reasons:  First of all, I chose all our FastPasses without asking for his input and second, Raymond’s a more discriminating diner than I am – Let’s face it; if it’s food, I’ll eat it.  Pretty much everything sounds good to me!  It’s “All in WDW” had the list Raymond used to make his selections here.  I’ll share our 10 foods in another post (coming soon) and write up a review on each when we get back.

Schofferhoffer Grapefruit BeerIf We Get to It –

  • The rest of the FastPasses I selected.  I did pick some in each park, but if we don’t get to them all, no big deal.  One day for Epcot, I was somehow allowed to only choose two, probably because the first one is for 6:00 pm.  We’re taking it easy, ride-wise.
  • Specialty beers and adult beverages around the World Showcase.  We know those will be available and would like to sample a few.
  •  The Kiss Goodnight in the Magic Kingdom.  That would require us to make it to park closing and beyond, but it’s been recommended and we’re going to do our best to be there Cinderella Castle at Nightfor it one night.
  • Electric Water Pageant – We haven’t seen it in a few years and I love this perky little show on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake.  Hopefully, we’ll get back to Bay Lake Tower early enough one evening to catch at least some of the pageant.

I’d like to give a BIG Shout Out to the Mighty Men of Mouse the podcast that gives back!  In exchange for an iTunes review, the hosts of this show (Russ Shuttlesworth, Kip Springfield, and Dutch Lombrowski) will give you “Three Good Minutes” on their show, discussing a topic of your choosing.  I emailed the Mighty Men recently, having finally decided on a topic (I left a review back in January) and requested ideas for our October vacation.  Thank you, Mighty Men of Mouse (Episode 167)!  Many of your suggestions were incorporated in the plans detailed in this post.

As always, I’d love to hear from you!  Anything you think we should add, change, skip?  What Must-do’s have you planned for your next trip to Walt Disney World?