April first through eighth, 2008. Our first trip as adults to “modern day” Disney. With kids. Recommended touring plans from our Passporter book were adjusted to our ride preferences and entered in to my Outlook Calendar and Task List. Daily park choices were based on the Extra Magic Hour schedule. Dinner reservations were based on daily park choices. From the minute we arrived in Orlando, to the minute we had to depart Orlando, we had just about every minute of every day planned in as much detail as possible. We knew it was an aggressive schedule. We didn’t care. We were going to do it all. With seven nights and eight days, we even had one morning, and one whole day left “unplanned” as slack time to do the things we might miss because our plan was too aggressive as well as leave some down time for “relaxing” at the pool. The entire schedule was printed in a daily format and carried with us for each day. It included lists of rides and attractions in the order we would attempt to do them, dining reservation info, even ideas on when and where to grab snacks and quick service meals. How did all this Disney planning work out? Fantastic for several reasons…
What’s so great about all this planning?
To start, we involved the kids in as much of the planning as possible. This maintained their excitement level for the months leading up to the trip. After all, Disney is all about the kids, right? Well, not necessarily, but we’ll leave that subject for another post…
I chose the parks we would be at each day based on the Extra Magic Hours schedules. We gave ourselves extra touring time and flexibility by only making three sit down meal reservations, and winging it for the rest of our food. We chose to do the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Resort, Donald’s Safari Breakfast at Animal Kingdom, and The Coral Reef at EPCOT. The adults made these reservations as a bit of a surprise, but the kids helped with the restaurant options for the “winging it”. Having the basics of each day all decided and written down long before the trip not only avoided daily disagreements between the kids (and adults), it also gave us something to look forward to at the end of each day.
Looking at the magnitude of the plan, and all we wanted to accomplish, one may think it impossible to actually stick to it, especially with a seven and ten year old in the mix. Surprisingly, we were able to loosely follow the schedule and see, do, and experience most everything we planned. There were certainly no disappointments.
An unforeseen benefit of all this planning is its usefulness after the trip. Now we have a list of what we thought we wanted to do to compare with what we were unable to get to, what we don’t need to do again, and what we do need to do again. This led to a spreadsheet I now keep called the “Missed it, Gotta Do It Again List”.
Does all this planning make the family vacation seem too much like a military exercise?
It probably could be if we stuck to the plan too closely. Designing a schedule with the help of a park map creates a general path to follow thru the parks to accomplish what you want without doing a lot of backtracking and crisscrossing of the park. Using the Fastpass system wisely saves time otherwise spent standing in lines. You may jump on an unplanned ride because the line is short. You may skip a planned attraction because the line is too long. You may get lunch at 10:30am because you are already starving. Sticking exactly to a sequential schedule removes the spontaneity from your vacation, and at Disney, especially during the busy seasons, it is likely impossible.
So did all this planning make the trip better?
Since all three trips we have done to this point have had fairly detailed plans, I can’t say for sure if not having a plan would make it less enjoyable. For us, the driving forces behind these detailed Disney vacation plans are park hours, meals, and budget. When it comes to sit down meals, advance dining reservations are almost a must. If you don’t want to leave the parks for meals you will need to plan dining reservations with park visits. Dining will also take up a significant portion of your vacation budget. You will want to plan your park visits around the park schedules. The park schedule can be a bigger factor if you are staying at a Disney resort and want to take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours you will have available to you. There are also attractions like fireworks and the Fantasmic! show that may drive your park schedules. Sound a bit complicated? Yup. If time and money were not a consideration a decent plan would probably not be too important. In our case, a well thought out plan for visiting Disney World is indispensable.