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?

My FastPass+ Rankings

FastPass+ Mailer EnvelopeThis is our family’s strategy.  We’re all adults, we’re thrill junkies, fans of park-hopping, and are nostalgic about certain attractions based on 25 years of Walt Disney World vacations.  This list ranks all FastPass+ choices into three categories:  Must Have, Might Have, and Do-Not-Care.  The Must-Haves are the attractions that we are going to definitely ride and feel strongly about not waiting in line for (at least once).  The Might-Haves are attractions we like, but will wait in line for if we need to and know we’re probably not looking at waits of more than 40 minutes or so under most circumstances.  The Do-Not-Cares are attractions we either won’t waste a FastPass on, are pretty sure will have short lines anyway, or don’t intend to experience at all.

I should add that because of FastPass+ tiers at Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, our ranking does not imply that it’s possible to book all our must-haves at a given park in a single day.  We’ll book different combos on different days to end up with at least one FastPass+ for our must-haves during our vacation.

My FastPass+ Rankings

Must Have

Magic Kingdom:

  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – This is a fantastic ride!  It’s thrilling, has loads of details, wonderful theming and is long – almost 4 minutes of fun!  The queue is good, but this is one attraction that we’ll book a FastPass for and also wait in line to ride again.Exterior track for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – We don’t care how wonderful the interactive queue is – the line will be long and will take up more time than we’re willing to spare for a two-minute experience.  If we can’t get a FastPass, we’re most likely skipping this one.Walt Disney World's Splash Mountain
  • Splash Mountain – Unless I know for sure we’ll hit this one first thing after rope-drop in the morning, we’re getting a FastPass for it.  Unlike Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, we will wait in line if we have to, but always try to book a FastPass every time.

Epcot

  • Soarin – This attraction deserves a better queue.  So popular – it’s a great experience (even in its current badly-worn condition) with a queue so torturously boring we cannot make ourselves wait for this one.  FastPass or just pass.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

  • Toy Story Midway Mania – We LOVE this attraction – It’s all me. I’m the reason we don’t wait in line for this one. I hate the queue with an unequaled passion.  I’ve gotta have a FastPass and I make it a priority!Entrance for Toy Story Midway Mania
  • Rock’n’ Roller Coaster – The queue’s pretty boring and usually extremely long and hot (most of it being outdoors).  We’ll wait if we have to in the early morning, but will always book at FastPass in advance, at the earliest possible time, to get at least one ride in our super-stretch limo without the long wait.Famly Pic on Rock'n' Roller Coaster
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – We actually love the queue for this and will book a FastPass AND ride it with a wait. We cannot get too much of this one.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

  • Expedition Everest – Love this attraction!!!  Since we’ll ride it multiple times, having a FastPass once or twice saves time.  The queue’s the best, so we’ll also wait in the stand-by line at least one time too.RM-Expedition-Everest-Sign
  • Kilimanjaro Safari – We always ride this first thing in the morning without a FastPass…then we’ll ride later in the day at least once during our vacation and we use a FastPass for that later adventure.

Might Have

Magic Kingdom

  • Haunted Mansion – Unless we’re there during peak season, we will monitor the wait on the My Disney Experience app and hit this one when we’re looking at 30 minutes or less.  Don’t get me wrong – this is a must-do ride, but we’ve found we don’t need a FastPass for it.Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion
  • Pirates of the Caribbean – Like Haunted Mansion, we are riding Pirates on every vacation.  What makes us pass on the FastPass most of the time is that the queue is inside, is cool and dark, and totally bearable.
  • Jungle Cruise – I love the punny humor of this attraction.  We don’t care for the queue (boring, long, hot) yet won’t burn a FastPass unless it sort of falls in our lap.  We’d like to take the Cruise on every trip, but if it doesn’t work out that way, we’re okay with it.WDW Jungle Cruise Jeep
  • Space Mountain – Similar to how we feel about Jungle Cruise with two notable differences – the queue isn’t horrible (indoors, cool and dark with a few interactive elements), but Raymond and I feel the jerkiness of this ride more now than we used to (I KNOW! We must be getting old!), so we kind of hesitate to use a FastPass for it when we don’t love it as passionately as we once did.
  • Enchanted Tales With Belle – I want to see this!  We’ve yet to fit Belle into our plans.  Gotta change that next time we go.
  • it’s a small world – Not everyone in our family loves this attraction as much as I do. RM-It's-a-small-world1
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – It’s cute, but not a must-do, we’d rather see if we can work out a trip to London and Neverland on the next attraction on the list.
  • Peter Pan’s Flight – If we see an opportunity to add a FastPass for this one, we’ll usually take it.  It’s cute and fun and the line’s normally crazy long.

Epcot

  • Spaceship Earth – Sometimes we have a FastPass, sometimes we don’t.  This is absolutely a must-do for us, but we don’t have to have a FastPass.RM-Spaceship-Earth-Early-Backup-System
  • The Seas With Nemo and Friends – We usually end up with a FastPass for this at least once, but we like this ride.  The line’s usually pretty short and we’ll happily wait in line, no FastPass necessary.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

  • Star Tours – It’s popular and we’d rather not wait in too long a line for at least one of the times we ride (which might be several, depending on who’s in our travel party).  If the wait’s not bad, we’ll ride without a FastPass.Star Tours Queue, Disney's Hollywood Studios
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular – Really no need for a FastPass, but sometimes we end up with one in our selection for a particular day.
  • MuppetVision3D – Same as Indiana Jones, but we’ll see this with our without a FastPass and, except for extreme crowds / peak seasons, never need one.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

  • Festival of the Lion King – We have waited on may occasions for this, but will certainly book a FastPass if we can.
  • Dinosaur – Like some of the other attractions -if we end up with a FastPass in the mix for the day, we’ll ride Dinosaur.  If not…no big deal.  It’s not a must-do.Dinosaur Ride Photo
  • Primeval Whirl – I believe a FastPass in our lineup was the reason we ever gave this ride a try in the first place.  Who knew we’d find it weirdly adorable?  Not a must-do for us though.

Do Not Care

Magic Kingdom

  • Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid – It’s cute and we’ll always try to fit this in our schedule.  The queue is as entertaining as the ride.  We’ve yet to need or use a FastPass for this one.Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid
  • Ariel’s Grotto – We’ve not been here before.  Have you?  Would you use a FastPass?
  • Barnstormer – Nope.  It’s 57 seconds of kiddie-coaster and doesn’t currently fit into our touring plans.
  • Tomorrowland Speedway – *cough, cough* We prefer to watch this from the PeopleMover as it makes its way around Tomorrowland than actually “race” around the track.
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – We’ll ride this if the line’s not too short, but won’t deliberately book a FastPass – if one ends up in our lineup, so be it.RM-Buzz-Lightyear-Space-Ranger-Spin-Interior
  • Princess Fairytale Hall – Never been and won’t be going until we have a little on traveling with us again.
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic – This is certainly a must-do for us, but doesn’t need a FastPass.
  • Dumbo The Flying Elephant – I’m honestly not sure how the rest of my family feels about this ride.  I almost rode it once.  Can’t imagine booking a FastPass for it.
  • Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor – We love this attraction, but don’t find the line long enough to make a FastPass necessary.
  • Festival of Fantasy Parade – We’ll wait in one of our favorite spots.  The FastPass viewing area isn’t all that great to us.RM-Festival-Of-Fantasy-Skull&Ship
  • Main Street Electrical Parade – Booking a FastPass so late in the day means you’ll never use your allotted three and get the option to book another.  Plus, even if we had a FastPass, there’s a good chance Raymond and I will be too tired to wait up for this.
  • Wishes Nighttime Spectacular – We love Wishes!!!  Like Festival of Fantasy – we’ll wait for it where we can find a place and don’t need a FastPass for it.
  • Mad Tea Party – Too much potential for motion sickness.  Pass.
  • Magic Carpets of Aladdin – We don’t want to ride this one.

Epcot

  • Living With the Land – Line’s usually short and it’s not an every-visit attraction for us.
  • Test Track – Only occasionally do we care to do this one.  If we get the urge, we’ll try to get a FastPass.RM-Living-With-The-Land-Produce
  • Illuminations – I don’t mind waiting in a prime location IF I want to see Illuminations.  The FastPass+ viewing area was not that great to us the one time we tried it – although being able to arrive last minute and have a spot was pretty cool.
  • Mission: Space – Not unless a double-dog-dare is involved in some way will I be on this ride ever again.
  • Turtle Talk – I like crush, but am probably not wasting a FastPass on him.  Maybe someday when we have grandkids.
  • Journey Into Imagination With Figment – Figment’s cute and if the line’s not long, we’ll jump in.  Otherwise, we’ll pass.Journey into Imagination with Figment
  • Captain EO – NO.  Not under any circumstances.  No.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

  • Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage – We’ve seen this many times.  Unless Megan begs to see it again, we’ll pass altogether or wait for it…no FastPass necessary.
  • The Great Movie Ride – The line’s usually not too long.  This isn’t a must-do attraction for us – if we get the chance and have time, we’ll get in line.The Great Movie Ride
  • Fantasmic – We’ll get there early if we want to see this.  Or we’ll do the meal package (at participating restaurants), but we won’t be booking a FastPass for it.
  • Lights Motors Action! Extreme Stunt Show – This falls in the “once and done” category.  We saw it once and that was enough.
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid – Sure, we’ll watch this if we have time and the opportunity presents itself, but no with a FastPass.
  • Disney Junior Live on Stage – We’ve never seen it.  Aren’t planning to anytime soon.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

  • Kali River Rapids – We don’t dislike this ride, we just hate getting completely soaked on it.
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug – We like this one, but don’t need a FastPass for it.Kali River Rapids Boat
  • Finding Nemo – The Musical – We really don’t feel a FastPass is necessary.  If we check the app and the line is short, we’ll head that way.

Wow!  If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me this whole time!!!  What jumps out at you as completely opposite of what you’re family does?  I bet if you have little ones your ranking is totally different.  When you book your FastPasses, what are your top picks for every visit?

Magic Kingdom – Wait Here Not There

IMG_3279The opinions expressed here are my own (as if you didn’t already know that).  I’m crazy about Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and it’s probably my favorite park, followed closely by Animal Kingdom.  Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of fun to be had in Epcot and what’s currently left of the Studios, but Magic Kingdom holds the most happy memories and has so much entertainment to offer me when I’m there.  When I daydream about being at Walt Disney World, I’m almost always in Magic Kingdom.

It won’t be long before we’ll be selecting FastPasses for our next visit to the World and that got me thinking about how I’ll be weighing the pros and cons of different attractions – including the entertainment value of specific ride queues.  This is just me now, but I’m much more willing to wait in some queues than I am in others solely based on the quality of the wait.  If we start in Adventureland and work our way around the park, land by land, here are my recommendations for:

Magic Kingdom – Wait Here Not There

RM-Adventureland-Magic-KingdomAdventureland – Wait for Pirates of the Caribbean not Jungle Cruise.  Yes, if we are strictly speaking Adventureland attractions, I’d much rather FastPass Jungle Cruise and wait for Pirates.  The queue for Pirates is cool and dark with excellent mood-setting elements – it’s actually an excellent place to cool off on a hot day and let your face rest from the pressure of your sunglasses on your nose.  WDW Jungle CruiseThe wait for Jungle Cruise is hot and has less to enjoy.  Personally, I find it somewhat frustrating although I do enjoy the announcements.

Frontierland – Wait for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad not Splash Mountain.  Big Thunder’s queue is interesting with loads of interactive elements to enjoy – in fact, I enjoy it so much, I sometimes wish the line were moving a tiny bit slower.Interactive Queue for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Interactive elements for Big Thunder Mountain QueueSplash Mountain’s queue, while possessing some cute features (like the adorable bird houses) is not nearly as interesting.

Liberty Square – Save your FastPasses!  Haunted Mansion is the only attraction that will ever have a significant wait and the queue (unless the day is super hot and humid) is great! Check out all the interactive components, search for the Bride’s Ring on the ground (embedded in the pavement) as you move along.  RM-Liberty-Belle-Haunted-Mansion-ViewPay attention to the excellent (and plentiful) Disney details.  If heat and humidity are factors – cool off in the Hall of Presidents during the day and save Haunted Mansion for after the sun goes down.

Fantasyland – Hmmmm…This is the toughest one!  Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is going to have the longest wait – maybe for the entire park.  Seven Dwarfs Mine Train SignThat being said, it also has an excellent, highly entertaining and interactive queue.  Peter Pan’s queue has just been “plussed” and is worth waiting for.IMG_2542If you have little ones, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh has a very kid-pleasing wait.  IMG_0899Personally, I’d burn a FastPass on Dumbo if it’s a must-ride attraction.  I hate the wait for Dumbo so much, I’ve never made it to the ride.  (You can read the story here.)  Based solely on time-savings, excluding Dumbo, the FastPass would have to go to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Tomorrowland – Remember that FastPass I told you NOT to use in Liberty Square?  I’d use it here for Space Mountain.  While the queue is dark and cool, it’s also a snooze-fest.  Even though it was one of the first attractions I can remember that got a few interactive parts added to the queue, they’re not all that interesting.  RM-Space-Mountain-SignOnce you reach the top of the upward climb to the boarding area, the queue reverts to old school back and forth, metal-partitioned, waiting.  And waiting….and….you get the idea.

Your turn to weigh in!  Where would you select FastPasses in Magic Kingdom – and where would you stand in line?

Walt Disney World – Perfect Day at Magic Kingdom

RM-Magic-Kingdom-SelfieSo many touring styles!  Park-hopping, rope-dropping, FastPass-choosing, where to start, where to eat, when to leave, where to sit for optimum parade-viewing.  Get the idea?  Everyone has an opinion on how to best enjoy Disney World’s Magic Kingdom…including me!  (You’re shocked, I know.).  I’m not here to give you advice (unusual, right?) and you should know (if you don’t already) that I’m currently in a life-stage that does not involve vacationing with children.  So, keep in mind that my perfect touring plan for Magic Kingdom is heavy on the classics and light on the kiddie attractions.

To ensure I get the most out of my Magic Kingdom day, I’m planning where and when I’m going to eat dinner in advance and I’m booking an ADR (Advance Dining Reservation) 180 days before my vacation.  Being me (I’m picky about where I eat dinner), I’m not actually eating a table service meal in Magic Kingdom, but will be leaving at the appropriate time for someplace like Raglan Road in Downtown Disney/Disney Springs or one of the fabulous restaurants in the monorail resorts.  ‘Ohana or Kona Café at the Polynesian Village Resort would be good choices since unlike California Grill at the Contemporary or Citricos at the Grand Floridian, I’d feel fine arriving in my park-touring attire.RM-Kona-Menu

I’m also selecting my FastPasses as early as I’m allowed (usually 60 days out).  I’ll choose FastPasses starting very late in the morning and during the afternoon (before or after the Festival of Fantasy Parade at 3:00) OR later in the evening (depending on my dinner plans).  RM-7DMT-Train2I’ll try to book Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (otherwise, standby wait times are typically high enough to ruin my plans), Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain (because my goal is to ride it as many times as I can).  Alternate FastPasses (if my favorites are unavailable at decent times) would be Peter Pan (I know what I said about kiddie rides, but this one’s cool!  Don’t judge), Jungle Cruise (I really hate the queue, but love the ride), Splash Mountain (depending on the time of the year – I don’t like to be cold and wet), or maybe Haunted Mansion (I don’t mind the queue, but it is a pretty hot wait in the summer).

If all the planets align and my planning works out as described, my perfect Magic Kingdom Day would be…drum roll, please…Magic Kingdom Entrance in October

I’ll arrive 30 minutes before park opening (a.k.a. Rope-Drop) to watch the opening show  (which I love beyond description).  I’ll take pictures (mostly selfies) while waiting, then some of the show before heading into the park and straight toward Frontierland.  My objective is to ride Splash Mountain then Big Thunder Mountain first.Walt Disney World's Splash Mountain RM-Liberty-Belle-View-BTMRR If the lines aren’t long yet, I’ll ride one or both again.  While I’m in Frontierland, I’ll visit the Country Bears in Grizzly Hall (I like them, deal with it.) RM-Country-Bear-Musical-Numberand then I’ll check the wait time for Haunted Mansion and ride it next (if the wait is less than 30 minutes).  I’ve been known at this point to squeeze in the Hall of Presidents if it’s warm out because I can cool off AND listen to Morgan Freeman (win/win). RM-Hall-of-Presidents Again, I’m checking wait times.  If I have a pre-noon FastPass booked, I’ll wait until it’s almost expired and do that last before lunch.  For today, let’s say I do and it’s Jungle Cruise.  If I have no late-morning FastPass, I’ll try to squeeze in Pirates of the Caribbean (I don’t mind waiting since it’s indoors) OR Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

I know at this point I’ll be hungry and I’ll want to eat at Columbia Harbor House.  It’s my perfect day and, call me crazy, it’s going to include a tuna sandwich (no, it’s not just a tuna sandwich, it’s the best one in the World!).  RM-Columbia-Harbor-House-Tuna-SandwichPost-lunch, I’ll have time for at least one ride, probably with a FastPass, before I’m looking for dessert and a good seat for the Festival of Fantasy Parade.  If I’m really lucky, I’ll have time for two attractions, so let’s say I use my FastPass for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and then catch Mickey’s PhilharMagic (if I didn’t see it in the morning) OR I’ll hit Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin or maybe Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor.

Festival of Fantasy is the best parade I’ve ever seen and I want to watch it again and again.  I’ll grab my snack (a churro or ice cream cone, hopefully) to eat while waiting for the parade to start.  Festival of Fantasy Parade Ostrich Ariel in Festival of Fantasy RM-Festival-of-Fantasy-Maleficent-2015So exciting, Festival of Fantasy is packed with Disney magic, favorite characters, and awesome details.  I like sitting on the Tomorrowland side of the hub OR at the end of Main Street U.S.A. in front of the train station.  I only use that second choice if I’m leaving for dinner right after the parade.  So, let’s pretend I’ll be watching the parade near Tomorrowland.  Again, if I’ve worked this right, I’ve got a Space Mountain FastPass I can head for right after the parade passes by.  After Space Mountain, I’ll see Carousel of Progress and ride the PeopleMover.  PeopleMover wins if I don’t have time for both.RM-Space-Mountain-Sign

At this point, I’ve used all my FastPasses (most likely), but that’s great.  I’ll leave the park around 5:00 pm and I won’t make it back until nearly 9:00 pm.  If my Dinner ADR is at 6-ish and I don’t want to eat and run, that’s the sacrifice I’ll have to make for a nice meal.  When I get back to the park, I’ll grab the first decent spot I can snag that will let me see both Wishes and the Main Street Electrical Parade.  RM-HalloWishesI’ll have a full belly, so sitting on the curb in Main Street will be just fine with me.  Once the Electrical Parade passes by, I’ll be ready to call it a day.RM-Main-Street-Electrical-Parade-Dragon

No, I didn’t see and do everything I could have, but that’s okay with me.  I’ll have plenty of time on a future visit and someday, If I’m really fortunate, with a grandchild (or two or three).  In the past, my idea of the perfect Magic Kingdom day looked a lot different, as I’m sure it will in the future.  But for now?  This is what I like to do.  It’s the way I love Magic Kingdom most and, in my lifelong, ever-changing love for Disney World (the place that makes me happy at every age), keeps me coming back as often as I can.

How about you?  What are your must-dos?  What FastPasses will you choose and where will you eat on your perfect day in Magic Kingdom?  How has your touring style changed over the years?