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How Much Planning Should You Do for a Disney Vacation?

by Mommy Frog on November 16, 2014

Splash Mountain® Attraction

With the launch of Disney's FastPass+ system has come a fair amount of moaning from those of you trying to hold onto your vacation spontaneity. The system allows you to pre-book up to three attractions per day at any one Disney World theme park up to 60 days in advance for resort guests and up to 30 days in advance for non-resort guests. After reading some of the initial responses and comments to FastPass+, Leap and I had a good discussion about the planning of a Disney World vacation. 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."

The topic of FastPass+ got us thinking about the much broader, long-term planning that goes into a Disney vacation, and it led us to 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 plans 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!

Keep hopping, Mommy Frog!
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joni little Jul 15, 2013 at 11:38 p.m.

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!

Wendy Edwards Aug 13, 2013 at 6:40 p.m.

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!!

FrogBlog Aug 13, 2013 at 7:09 p.m.

Hi Wendy,

I agree whole-heartedly! Planning beats the blues!

-- Mommy Frog

Donna Dec 30, 2013 at 7:11 p.m.

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 Jan 6, 2014 at 1 p.m.

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

Tracy Jun 22, 2014 at 9:06 a.m.

I have received my tickets from Undercover so ow what? Do I have to go online to do anything? Plus we are 40 and 50 year olds going to Disney World. Do we need to book a restaurant that is special or has characters?

FrogBlog Jul 14, 2014 at 2:33 p.m.

Hi Tracy,

Sorry for the delay in responding, but your comment was caught in our spam filter. Once you have received your tickets, you can make FastPass+ reservations. Here are details on how to do that:

There are plenty of quick service dining options, but we do recommend you make at least one or two advance dining reservations. More details here on some of our favorites:




Mommy Frog

Michelle Jul 26, 2014 at 8:53 p.m.

I am glad to know that I am not the only super planner. I have not planned the clothes to the day like that. I just know that I have to have a plan because I don't want to forget to do anything at the parks.

Katie Jul 29, 2014 at 10:45 p.m.

I almost overplan. I packed my suitcase a month before the trip. And once I decided I will be literally first in line for Magic Kingdom, eating my bagel sitting on the turnstile you use to enter the park.

John Sep 3, 2014 at 10:44 p.m.

Planning is important the first couple of times to Disney but now that we've been there a couple of times we like to make our decisions the night before. We've had good luck getting reservations for restaurants and the fast pass+ the night before we enter the park but we only go during the slower seasons. I like the flexibility of deciding at the last minute now that we know there's always many options for food and fun.

Mook Oct 9, 2014 at 1:52 p.m.

Oh man...we are so underprepared for this trip.

Carlen Nov 18, 2014 at 9:32 p.m.

I've been planning our upcoming trip (4 days away!) for several months. It will be my six year old daughter's first trip to WDW. Her grandparents/my parents are going with us, the last time they went was 15 years ago. They've been making fun of me for months about the planning but I've really had a fun time doing it. Now that it's all planned, I kind of feel like "NOW what do I do??". I still have to pack and then enjoy!

FrogBlog Nov 19, 2014 at 8:41 a.m.

Hi Carlen,

Waiting is always the hardest part! Get your packing done, and then you can spend the rest of the time watching our YouTube videos!



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