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?"
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.
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!
Some 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.
Related: Take the Nine by Noon Magic Kingdom® Park Challenge
How much planning do you typically do for a Disney World vacation? Share your thoughts below. For more Disney vacation planning help, hop on over to our When To Visit Orlando page on our Orlando Vacation Planning Timeline!