Walt Disney World Travel Planning Tips

Walt Disney World Travel Planning Tips

Plan for success, not for volume on a Walt Disney World vacation

A little planning goes a long way on your first Walt Disney World vacation

While most readers of my blog are aware that Disney vacations require some amount of pre-planning, there are still some of you out there who don’t have a lot of experience with Walt Disney World vacations. I get planning questions from readers quite often, so with that in mind I’ve put together this post with my views on how to prioritize your approach to Disney vacation planning.

There are those of us who spend endless hours researching the smallest points of every Disney vacation (and if that’s you, please consider joining the Disney Travel Survey Panel). We gather information from widespread sources of public opinion and vet it against our own personal experience. Sound familiar? Ultimately we net out all that we’ve read and create a list of distilled plans for our next vacation.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, are those of you who may be planning to book your first Walt Disney World vacation without much thought. The risk in that approach is that you’ll arrive onsite and enter a Disney park bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed, brimming with anticipation and wonder. Unfortunately, the days are long gone when you can walk in to the Magic Kingdom and see Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters waiting to greet you.

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse in a parade.

The days of Disney characters roaming the park freely and interacting with guests are long gone. But with a little planning, you can get to meet just about any characters you like (as long as they are actually available for meeting).

If you’re picturing a Disney vacation where you can casually walk around and pose for photos with Disney characters, think again.

Anticipation and wonder can quickly turn to sadness and frustration if you haven’t done any advance preparation. The freestyle approach to vacationing may work at a beach destination or if you are very frequent Disney traveler, but it’s not a great idea for the first time visitor to Walt Disney World Resort.

There’s a reason why an entire industry of park planning and travel advice has sprung up around Walt Disney World vacations.

Not everyone is an uber planner and not everyone appreciates the merits of a Disney schedule or cares to have every minute of their day accounted for. (You can find out here what kind of Disney traveler you are.) But one thing is common to all Disney travelers: everyone has some expectation of the Disney Parks and for first-time visitors this is often around meeting characters and experiencing their most anticipated attractions.

The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot

The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot.

So what’s the best way to go about planning?

Always remember this: Do what is important to you, not necessarily what a website says.

To make the most of your visit and in lieu of a very detailed plan, it will benefit you to put in at least a little bit of advance thought and research. But when you do this, the focus should be on what is important to your family–not what a single website or friend may say is important. Listen to advice, but most importantly ask your family members what they are most expecting to see and do at Walt Disney World (or Disneyland Resort for that matter).

If you work in the business world, put it in business terms and think of it this way: success for this project will be based on…what?

The answer to this question is what you’ll need to know before you go.

What are the most important things for your family members? Knowing this critical bit of information means you won’t necessarily need to have a strict plan for your day or a mapped out route for walking the park. But you can plan to at least ensure that you will hit the highlights for your family and that the lifelong memories of a Disney vacation will be created successfully.

As a general guideline, I created an infographic that covers the seven steps to planning a Walt Disney World vacation.

Disney Avatar Pandora Masks

Pandora in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is where the Avatar film comes alive for guests.

Ask your children: If you could only do three things on your Walt Disney World vacation, what would they be?

If meeting Cinderella is your daughter’s most important must-do for this vacation–if she has desperately wanted to meet Cindy for so long–then there’s no point to marching her around on a schedule that takes her to five other attractions first. Don’t head to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Enchanted Tales with Belle and think that you’ll easily get around to meeting Cinderella later. Getting to Princess Fairytale Hall early in the day at the Magic Kingdom will likely get you in and out in less than 30 minutes. Your daughter will have met her favorite character and the spirit of her experience will lift your entire day. Plus, you will still have time to get to one or two of the most popular attractions with relatively short wait times. And if you did your advance planning right, you’ll still have three FastPass+ reservations on top of all that.

If there are multiple goals for multiple children, you can divide and conquer and set a location to meet up afterwards. But if you leave the most-wanted things until later—focusing first on visiting another attraction because it’s the hot new thing or you’ve heard it’s popular—you may or you may not get to see Cinderella at all. Lines get long, the sun gets hot and little people (and big ones too) get tired and cranky.

My advice is to prioritize your day around what is most important to your family and not what popular convention says.

Tom Sawyer Island Map.

Tom Sawyer Island explorer map.

Disney park plans are a good thing

There are absolutely benefits to having a park plan, but make sure that it is your park plan.

If it’s not something you have put some thought into for yourself, or tailored to the wishes of your family members, then you risk missing out on the most magical experiences of your Disney vacation. And if you and your family are simply not the type of travelers who can enjoy the parks by following a regimented park plan, then by all means don’t go that route. That’s okay. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. Aggressive or detailed park plans are great guidelines and they can make a big difference, but they are not for everyone.

Learn about the Disney FastPass+ system and use these to your advantage

Disney’s FastPass+ system can be a great helper in getting your must-dos checked off your list. You may or may not be surprised to learn that there is still a large percentage of park visitors who do not understand the concept of FastPasses and how to use them. So take the time to learn about the FastPass+ system and use it to your advantage There are many strategies about how best to leverage Disney’s FastPass+, this is mine.

Etch a Sketch Toy Story Mania, Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Plan for success at Walt Disney World.

Plan for Success and Not for Volume

The first step to success on a Walt Disney World vacation is knowing the two or three things that will define a successful visit for your family and then focusing on a plan to make sure that those things happen.

It’s a simple as that.

This will ensure that the magical memories become a reality during the course of your vacation. Don’t wait until you are in a park to figure out where to go or how long something will take to knock off the list. Focus first on researching your must-dos up front, before you leave home. Find out what is most important to everyone in the family and get some sort of plan in place for how you are going to achieve those goals. Then you can move on to all of the other wonderful things that there are to see and do at Disney Parks.

Finally, remember that this is probably not going to be the only time in your life that you will visit a Disney Park. But even if it is—and most importantly if it is—you will be comfortable in knowing that the most magical memories were successfully made due to a little bit of time well-spent on advance planning.

Are You Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation?

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