Diving into Disney Planning

The Disney trip is fast approaching, and that means that (no matter what else I’ve got going on) I needed to get serious about planning what we were actually going to do. Why? Because it’s Disney at Thanksgiving, which means the parks are going to be filled to overflowing. As longtime readers know, I’ve been to Disney a fair bit over the years, and I remember the days growing up when I’d wait in line for an hour or more to be able to go on Big Thunder Mountain. Two hours wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So when I do Disney, I plan fairly extensively. There’s a service called Ridemax that I’ve used in the past, and I’m using it again this year. (Though this year I almost chose Touringplans, instead. And in hindsight, I’m wondering if that might have been a better option. They seem like they have a lot more resources at their disposal. I held off because they were new to me, and I’d rather go with the tried and true method that’s worked for me in the past.)

With Ridemax, you basically enter all the rides you’d like to go on each day, and it spits out a schedule for the order to go on those rides so that you have as little wait time as possible. I used it a spring break six years ago or so, and it worked wonders.

I know that some people would rather keep things open and free. Disney has an app that shows the current waiting times for all the different rides, and that certainly is an approach. But my problem/fear with that one is that it really only works for the lesser rides. The big ones (Big Thunder, Space Mountain, Seven Dwarves, Frozen, etc.) have long lines almost the whole time, so you need to have a gameplan for getting on those rides if you want to avoid sitting in line for hours on end.

The way I use Ridemax is to set up a plan and then give myself a bit of redundancy. Have a second time planned to go on favorite rides. Plan things out ahead of time so that I know I’ll be able to go on everything we want at least once, and then if I feel like going “off schedule,” I know the times in the schedule when that will work. In other words, skip a ride here or there if it isn’t vital or you know you’re going to come back to it later. Though honestly, my experience has almost always been that the schedule adds in padding time as it is. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself and have extra time anyway.

Of course, a lot of a successful Disney gameplan during busy times boils down to a few principles:

  • Arrive first thing in the morning. Be there when the park opens. That way you can knock out some of those big rides when there hasn’t been a chance for a line to really materialize.
  • Stay late. People go back to their hotels at night, so you can just walk on rides that usually have long lines.
  • In light of this, you might want to head back to your hotel for a break in the middle of the day. That’s when lines are longest and crowds are biggest.
  • Book your restaurants ahead of time. Anyone thinking they’re going to walk up to a place that only takes reservations is in for a rude awakening.
  • Avoid parks with Extra Magic Hours. Sure, you can get into them early and go on a few rides fast, but as soon as those extra hours end, then the normal crowd shows up, and the majority of people don’t park hop. You end with a park that’s just jam packed for most of the day. No. Fun.

This time, since I’m going with my sister as well as my family, it required a bit of extra planning. We had a quick chat to make sure we were on the same page when it came to the rides we all wanted to go on. That’s why I’ll be going on Dumbo for the first time ever. (Her kids love it. Who knew?)

Disney takes a lot of planning my way. The day free dining opened, I was on the phone getting my hotel reservation. I didn’t get the place I wanted, so I kept checking back every day until I did. Then I checked plane flights for forever until I found something that worked in my budget. Next up was making dinner reservations 180 days out, followed by selecting FastPass+ 60 days out. Now I’m scheduling each day for which ride to go on when.

I know it seems strange to some people to plan things out so much in advance, and I can understand the argument that it takes away the spontaneity from a vacation. It’s a big pain to plan it all, true. But once you’ve got it all planned out, if you’ve done it right, then you don’t even really notice the plan that much.  Everything just works how its supposed to. To me, people who don’t plan a Disney trip are like people who decide to drive to California from Maine and just kind of wing it on the way when it comes to what to do and where to stay. I understand that it can be done that way, and that you can have a lot of fun doing.

It’s just not how I would approach it. Not with three kids who all want different things out of a trip, for one thing. Not while I’ve got to keep track of a budget. So I go the heavy planning route.

Thank goodness it’s almost done!

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