Disney Travel Planning: What’s Changed & What Hasn’t Since 1971

Has Anything Changed in Walt Disney World Vacation Planning?

When it Comes to Walt Disney World Travel Planning, Has Anything Really Changed?

Over the years there have been many changes when it comes to recommended planning strategies for a Walt Disney World vacation. As a regular traveler to Walt Disney World since the Resort first opened on October 1, 1971, I have lived through all phases of growth at Walt Disney World and have adapted strategies along the way.

However, while a lot has changed in Walt Disney World vacation planning over the past 45+ years, other tried and true strategies have remain virtually unchanged — which may be even more surprising.

In this post I’ll take a closer look at both the changes and the constants in Walt Disney World vacation planning since 1971.

Crowd at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Disney Parks are more crowded these days compared to the early days of Walt Disney World Resort. Pictured: Disney’s Hollywood Studios 2017.


What Has Changed in Walt Disney World Vacation Planning

Not surprisingly, the volume of crowds visiting Walt Disney World Parks — along with the sheer number of options available in terms of dining and attractions — have increased exponentially over the years. As a result, there is a greater level of planning and expertise required in order to craft a well composed Walt Disney World vacation plan.

If you are planning your first visit to Walt Disney World, it won’t take long until you have more questions than you ever imagined. Trying to find the answers to those questions online only uncovers even more questions. Advice is often conflicting and you don’t know who to believe.

Concierge Tickets Dining Sign

At times during the Disney vacation planning process you may wish you had your own personal concierge to help show you the way.


This is one very significant change compared to the early years of Walt Disney World.

Back in the 1970s the entirety of Walt Disney World consisted of the Magic Kingdom and three Disney Resorts (Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Village and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground). That was it.

Disney life was simpler in the 1970s. Rides and attractions were rated by tickets (an E ticket attraction generally being the most popular and in demand) and park access was much less strict than it is today. I remember Cast Members at the gates of the Magic Kingdom allowing my mother to just pop-in to the bakery on Main Street U.S.A. to pick up a birthday cake for my sister. “No problem ma’am. Just come right back!” No ticket required: it was all based on trust.

Of course those easygoing days of Disney travel are just a fond and distant memory now.

Dining reservations pretty much rule the day when it comes to planning your Walt Disney World vacation itinerary, at least where the most popular restaurants are concerned. Whenever you can get that hot reservation that you’re after will determine the rest of your Disney schedule for that day. So when booking your dining six months in advance, at least you know you’ll be at the Magic Kingdom on Tuesday because that’s when you got a reservation for Cinderella’s Royal Table.

My Disney Experience

Disney technology innovations have really helped to make it easier to manage your overall Walt Disney World vacation experience.


Disney Technology Enhancements Have Been a Big Help to Manage the Change

At the same time, however, the advancements in technology at Walt Disney World — particularly over the past five years or so — have made it much easier and more convenient to manage the effects of all this change. With the introduction of the FastPass+ system, vacation planning was made less stressful. Paper FastPasses are missed by some, but the current reservation system can be used to ease stress levels.

On top of that, the regular and ongoing improvements to the My Disney Experience app and website are making it even easier and more convenient to manage every little detail of your vacation from the palm of your hand (and on a second’s notice). Want to cancel or change a dining reservation or FastPass+? With a few simple swipes you can see what may be available and make any changes right on the spot — and all while taking advantage of the free WiFi that is now available almost everywhere across the Walt Disney World property.

So while much has changed, Disney has done a commendable job of implementing technology (and other) solutions to help their guests manage the impacts of this change. It all combines to make the WDW vacation experience go much more smoothly for those who take the time to understand and leverage these options.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Park sign

It’s still a great strategy to get to the parks at least 15 minutes before the gates open.


What Has Stayed the Same in Walt Disney World Vacation Planning

Admittedly, not much is the same in terms of Walt Disney World vacation planning as it was back in 1971, but some strategies do, indeed, remain unchanged and are still quite relevant today.

For example, it’s still the best strategy to get to the parks a few minutes before opening in order to get to the most popular attractions before the park fills. This was true in the 1970s for E-Ticket attractions like the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarines, and it remains true to this very day. This tip has stood the test of time. So if getting the most out of visiting Disney Parks is on your trip list, keep that in mind. (Want to visit the Disney Parks like a pro? Here are even more Walt Disney World Park tips.)

It’s also still true that staying onsite at a Disney Resort (and particularly a Disney Deluxe Resort) is the optimal way to experience a Walt Disney World vacation. From the added convenience of being close to the Disney Parks, to the extra magic of being fully immersed in the Disney experience, there is no substitute for the real thing. (See my list of the top rated resort hotels of Walt Disney World for more information.)

Need Help With Your Walt Disney World Vacation Planning?

Booking a Walt Disney World vacation isn’t difficult. It’s the itinerary planning after the booking that really gets many guests stumped (and then seeking out expert advice and assistance).

Be sure to read my Guide to Planning A Walt Disney World Vacation and my post on the Five Golden Rules of Walt Disney World Vacation Planning.

Mike Belobradic: The Finer Side of Disney Travel
Luxury Travel Blogger – Deluxe Disney Travel Specialist
The Finer Side of Travel