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How Much Planning Should You Do for a Disney Vacation?

Splash Mountain® AttractionLeap and I had a good discussion over this question after reading some of the responses to the Walt Disney World Resort’s coming FASTPASS+ and MyMAGIC+ system. You may recall the new system will allow guests to make advance reservations for experiences and attractions at the parks — a 3:30-4:15 p.m. window, say, for Space Mountain® Attraction perhaps 60 days in advance of your visit to Magic Kingdom® Park. It’s probably fair to say the planners among you see this as a great benefit and an extension of what you already try to do when you map out your itinerary for a day at Magic Kingdom® Park. But some responders deemed it “overplanning.”

While many of these comments were in reference to the very granular business of in-park planning, it got us thinking about the much broader, long-term planning that goes into a Disney vacation. Taking FASTPASS+ out of the equation since it has not yet launched, we wanted to address the bigger question of: “How much planning should you do for a Walt Disney World vacation?”

While we feel like the easiest answer is … It’s really up to you,” we know that’s somewhat of a non-answer. The better question is probably … “How much planning do you want to do?”

Here’s why:

It’s entirely possible that you could get in your car today, drive to Walt Disney World, walk right up, buy your ticket from the gate and enter the park without a single premeditated thought about what you would do once you got inside.

But for us personally, we can’t imagine not planning our trip to Walt Disney World. We know how many choices there are to make — and we also know you can save time and money by doing a little bit of research.

If you do nothing but buy your tickets from us, you’ve at least had to explore which tickets you want to purchase. You’ve also had to know how many days you wanted to spend in the parks and even how long you were planning on being there.

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

Buying tickets doesn’t require an actual date since tickets don’t expire, but most folks have dates in mind when they purchase tickets. They may consult our crowd calendar, or for many parents with school-age children, when to go is scheduled in the summer or around holidays. Where to stay is another big question, and again, there are numerous options — as well as benefits and costs associated with them. Even if you know you’re going to stay on property, it’s not always easy whittling down the list.

While the decision to fly or drive is probably one of the easiest based on where you’re coming from, where you stay and which parks you visit often dictate whether you rent a car.

That’s already a lot of decisions — but if you’re like me, you actually savor that time “researching,” since you’re looking ahead to that fantastic Disney vacation!

Akershus Royal BanquetSome of you may stop your planning there and not actually do any more. Others, will go on to research restaurants so that you can make advance dining reservations — a character breakfast buffet at Akershus or perhaps a fancy dinner at Victoria & Albert’s (a full 180 days in advance for the most sought-after restaurants). You may look again at the crowd calendar as you get closer to your vacation to evaluate  overall crowd levels and park recommendations to factor where you go each day. A few more will continue to research, reading about each park and its attractions, following our touring plan or making your own by prioritizing experiences based on individual family member’s ages and tastes as well as where attractions are located and how popular they are.

We always look at the crowd calendar just before our trip and map out which parks we’ll be visiting based on the crowd levels. We also make a general plan for which attractions we want to visit, and which FASTPASSES we’ll need and when to get them, so that we ride the most crowded attractions early in the day when crowds are lowest. And here’s where Leap and I tend to disagree. I like following a park plan, especially in those precious morning hours. Leap likes to have a general park plan, but he also likes to be able to make a deviation or two, especially if it’s at Tad or Lily’s request. We’ve given and taken a bit on this over the years, but now I factor “deviations” into the plan, so that we’ve seen our nine by noon at Magic Kingdom® Park and everyone’s happy!

Some might call that overplanning, but by and large, when the biggest crowds roll in, we’ve experienced our must-do’s. Then we spend the rest of our time more leisurely (and spontaneously) exploring the park. We think it’s a smart investment in our vacation happiness, and it never really feels like a chore because it’s a way to while away the months and days leading up to our Disney experience.

How much planning do you typically do for a Disney World vacation? Share your thoughts below. 

Related: Take the Nine by Noon Magic Kingdom® Park Challenge

Here’s to many hoppy vacations!
– Mommy Frog

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5 Responses to “How Much Planning Should You Do for a Disney Vacation?”

  1. joni little says:

    I plan everything down to what outfits we wear on what days. My time saving tip for families is to put one pair of underwear, one pair of socks and shorts and a shirt all in a Ziploc bag labeled with the childs name and day of the week they will wear the outfit! It really helps with the time needed to get ready for the parks!

  2. Wendy Edwards says:

    Planning is almost an extension of the trip itself. We plan and research and research and plan. We count down to the 180 day mark and make our dining reservations first thing that morning. We make countdown calendars for the kids, play with our phone apps, chat it up on the Disney discussion boards, and start stockpiling the little things we’ll “need” for the trip. Then we wait for our luggage tags and final paperwork to come and the real countdown begins! By the time we get to online check-in time, we have our trip laid out – what parks, what restaurants, what quick-service meals, which parts of the parks we’ll do when we’re spending multiple days in them. Then, the day after we get home and unpacked, we start all over! It’s the best cure for the Disney Blues!!

  3. Donna says:

    I’m planning a weeks vacation at Disney World in October 2014 for my grandchildren ages 10 mos to 16 yrs. Can you give me any suggestions on how to plan for this trip. None of them have ever been to DW. Thanks so much for your help.

    • FrogBlog says:

      Hi Donna,

      What a great trip for your grandchildren. We recommend you start with our Planning Pages, which covers a lot of the basics. Since you are traveling with a big group, it would be helpful to find out what the must-dos are for each of them.

      This post has a lot of helpful information.

      Let us know how it goes!
      - Mommy Frog

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