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5 Reasons Proper Planning is Critical at Walt Disney World

By Jennifer L. Nelson

Once upon a time, you could stroll up to the gates of the Magic Kingdom and wander around aimlessly, enjoying your favorite attractions and shows, mingling with Disney characters, and grabbing a bite to eat whenever you felt like it.

Those days are long gone. While there has been a bit of controversy surrounding the introduction of the MagicBand and new FastPass+ system — which allows you to reserve appointments at popular attractions weeks in advance of your trip — the fact of the matter is that they seem to be here to stay. Combine that with the increasing popularity of Walt Disney World’s table-service dining and the necessity to make Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) for most restaurants (lest you be turned away at the podium), and some Disney-goers are learning the hard way that you if you show up without a plan, you will likely spend your day disappointed.

Here are five things that could happen if you fail to make a proper plan for your upcoming Disney trip. Don’t let this be your family!

1. You’ll Waste Hours in Long Lines. No parent of an impatient six-year-old wants to find a 75-minute line at Peter Pan’s Flight. Meanwhile, if your daughter has her heart set on snuggles from the Frozen princesses, you could be looking at an hour or more wait or more if you simply stroll into Epcot’s Norway in the middle of the afternoon. And that’s why you absolutely must plan your park touring itinerary ahead of time.

With the introduction of the MagicBand and FastPass+ reservations, it may be even harder to ride your favorite attractions without an advance plan — your little ones may not take too kindly to watching family after family admitted to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin ahead of them because you failed to secure a FastPass+ reservation. Meanwhile, without at least a basic understanding of which attractions draw the longest lines, you could waste precious morning hours (when the parks are at their least crowded) enjoying a leisurely character breakfast or experiencing less popular attractions and shows only to be faced with a 60-minute line at Test Track or a 90-minute wait at Toy Story Mania by 11am.

FastPass+ may have taken a certain level of spontaneity out of a Disney vacation, but it also offers you the opportunity to experience your family’s favorite attractions with a minimal wait. Embrace the opportunity by making your plans 60 days in advance (off-site guests can log-in 30 days prior to their visit), particularly for hard-to-get reservations like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

2. You’ll Be Turned Away From Your Favorite Restaurants. Dying to try a newer restaurant like Be Our Guest? Or is it a family tradition to dine at California Grill during Wishes? If you have any hopes of eating anything other than burgers and fries on your vacation, then you’d better plan your dining reservations in advance.

Reservations for Disney’s table-service restaurants open 180 days in advance, and if you’re staying at an on-site Disney resort, you can book dining reservations for your entire trip 10 days earlier than the general public. Think that sounds crazy? Try telling your Belle-obsessed daughter that she will not be a guest at Beast’s castle this summer because you assumed they’d accept walk-ups.

When it comes to nabbing a table for the most popular restaurants and dining experiences, like dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table or breakfast at Chef Mickey’s, it’s recommended that you have your fingers poised to log-in to Disney’s on-line dining reservation system at exactly 6am EST on the first day your reservation window opens (you can also make reservations via phone, but they don’t begin taking calls until 7am).

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3. You’ll Deal with Meltdowns. Nothing can ruin even the most magical day faster than a sobbing toddler who got drenched in a sudden downpour, or a cranky ‘tween whining about blisters from uncomfortable shoes. If you’re going to have a successful day at the Disney parks, you have to plan for every contingency. No rain in the forecast? Pack a poncho anyway; there’s little in life that’s more unpredictable than Florida weather.

Remember that a full day at the parks can prove arduous for even the most seasoned Disney traveler. That’s why it’s crucial to plan for every possible scenario, and make sure you and your family are always suited up in the proper footwear, lathered in sunscreen, properly rested, and well hydrated to avoid any potential catastrophes that can put a damper on your Disney day. It’s also never a bad idea to toss a couple of bandages, Moleskin, sunscreen, or any other supplies that you or your child may need at a moment’s notice in your bag (additional supplies can be found at the First Aid Centers at every park).

If you have little ones, you may also want to plan some downtime in the middle of the day, particularly in the hot summer months. An hour or two back at the resort for a nap or a swim can work wonders when it comes to avoiding temper tantrums after a long day at Epcot.

4. You’ll Get Trapped in Crowded Parks. Without at least a quick glance at Disney’s park calendar, the average Disney-goer may have no idea that an already busy day in August also happens to be an Early Extra Magic Hours morning at the Magic Kingdom. So your plan to make a beeline for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at park opening will prove utterly fruitless, because on-site guests have been lining up for the newest Fantasyland attraction an hour before the gates opened for the general public.

Take advantage of the Walt Disney World park calendar to either utilize or avoid Extra Magic Hours, which provide special morning or evening hours for on-site guests to enjoy each park on a rotating basis. It can also help ensure that you’re in the right park on the right night to catch your family’s favorite nighttime entertainment. You may also want to look up which attractions will be closed for refurbishment during your trip and give your kids a heads up if they won’t get to ride Splash Mountain this time around. The calendar changes frequently, so be sure to keep checking back as it gets closer to your vacation.

There are no shortage of websites, books, and other resources that can give you a clear vantage point into which parks may be most crowded due to special events like the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, if a park is closing early due to a nighttime event like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, or to provide general pointers on the least crowded times of year —or even specific days — to visit (think the first week of September instead of the first week of July, or Thursdays instead of Saturdays).

5. You’ll Spend More Money. A Disney vacation is expensive. End of story. But you’ll likely pay even more if you don’t take the time to plan out all the finer details of your trip in advance. Many Disney fans begin planning — and saving — for their trip years ahead of time, and with good reason.

For families, it never hurts to set a strict budget in advance — and stick to it. That may mean scheduling a sit-down with the kids before you leave to discuss exactly how many stuffed Pooh Bears, pirate swords, or sparkly tiaras they’ll be allowed to take home with them. You may also want to plan how many special treats (Mickey ice cream bars, churros, and the like) will be factored into each day’s food budget.

Without a firm park touring strategy for your vacation, you may spring for the Park Hopper or Water Park Fun and More ticket add-ons and then not use them, or book dining reservations you can’t keep (which are subject to a per-person cancellation fee). Plus, if you wait too long to book an on-site hotel, you may find rooms in short supply and end up having to upgrade to a moderate or deluxe resort or pay more per night when only preferred rooms are available.

Between missing out on promotions that Disney may release on hotels or dining plans to potentially paying more for your airfare, car rental, or other travel expenses — especially if you wait to book until the last minute — you could end up spending hundreds of dollars more on your vacation if you don’t take the time to compare prices and search for the best deals.

About Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer L. Nelson donned her first pair of personalized mouse ears at age 4. A lifelong Disney fanatic and avid runner, the New Jersey resident visits both Walt Disney World and Disneyland several times a year to cross the finish line of one of runDisney’s half or full marathons; among her proudest accomplishments to date was completing the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend’s 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon to earn the coveted inaugural Dopey Challenge medal. When it comes to theme park touring, she’s a self-described “commando” visitor who arrives at rope drop, follows a strict touring plan (and never waits in line!), and soaks up the Disney magic until the final gift shop has closed. She is a freelance writer and editor who blogs about her personal weight loss journey, running exploits, and Disney obsession at www.thefinalforty.com.