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How a Disney Travel Professional Does Walt Disney World (Part II: Planning: Nuts and Bolts)


Hello Fellow Disney Geeks!

In my last blog, I explained how to plan a vacation to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.  You know…the big stuff like how to pick a resort, what kind of tickets to buy and all of those basic decisions that mark the beginning of a great Disney World vacation.  So…that’s it right?  Isn’t that all that the planning that is needed?  Nope!

Disney World is a very big place with an almost infinite amount of dining, tours, attractions, experiences and things to see and do.  You can’t see everything in one visit… or two… or three and Disney’s offerings are ever changing.  Travel professionals know that what separates a good trip from a great trip is a basic plan to guide you towards the activities that are the most important for your family.  I call this part of the planning the Nuts and Bolts and it includes figuring out which parks to visit on which days and dining reservations.

Now, at this point, many guests ask me, “Won’t making a plan ruin the magic?  What if I just want to wing it with no plan and see what happens?”  To these guests, I reply, “AAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!”  Maybe it is just the planner in me that has a small panic attack at the words, “wing it” but I can tell you that a Disney World vacation is not something that you “wing” for best results.  Don’t get me wrong, there should be plenty of time in any great vacation to relax and have unscheduled time but a basic plan is needed.

Some of your planning will depend on which kind of theme park ticket you purchased.  Having the Park Hopper Option added to your tickets offers the most flexibility.  I recommend them for families who have some stamina and would enjoy spending the day in one park and then hopping to another park to enjoy dinner and fireworks.  Epcot has the more fine dining experiences than the other parks so if you would like to try several, I would purchase the Park Hopper Option. 

However, there are some guests for whom the Park Hopper Option is a waste of money.  For example, if you have guests in your party that do not have the stamina for more than a few hours per day in a theme park, I would stick to one theme park per day and skip the Park Hopper option.  Most families with only very small children will likely enjoy a theme park for around 6 hours before being over tired, over stimulated and done for the day.  If your family would prefer to spend a few hours at the parks and then the rest of the day at your resort, you would be better off with one park per day base tickets. 
Personally, we are definitely a Park Hopper family.  We tend to get to parks first thing in the morning and stay until they close.  We enjoy visiting any park and then heading to Epcot for a great dinner at night several times during our stay.

So how do you decide which park to visit on what days?  Well, that depends on what is most important to your family!  Many families choose to visit the Magic Kingdom first because their children are excited to see the Magic Kingdom and just can’t wait another minute longer.  You might decide based on the park that is likely to have the lowest attendance on each day.  Depending on the time of year, you may decide to go to a specific park because it is offering a show or parade that is only available on certain days during your trip. Maybe you choose the park of the day by the operating hours or by the Extra Magic Morning or Evening hours being offered on that day.  Your plan might be contingent upon what dining reservations are available.  If you want a reservation for Cinderella’s Royal Table, you need to be on the phone 180 days ahead of time.  If not, you may have to accept whatever reservation is available when you call which may alter your overall plan.  You will want to arrange your dining reservations around any parades or shows that you want to see so it helps to do a little research about what you want to see. Every family is different.  A good travel specialist should listen to your needs and be able to help sketch out a plan that’s right for you.

So how do you know what restaurants are right for your family?  If this is a repeat visit to Disney World, you may already know of a few places you would like to experience again. If this is your first visit, you may wish to ask your travel agent or friends for some recommendations specific to your family.  If you are travelling with children, consider at least one character meal.  These are dining experiences where Disney characters stop by your table to interact, take pictures and sign autographs for your family.  This is a great opportunity to get some one on one character time for your children and get some really awesome pictures without waiting in line.  My guests often tell me that this was the highlight of their trip. 

We made a list of all of the restaurants we wanted to try since this may influence which park we go to on what days.  We love the huge variety of dining available at Disney Parks and Resorts and wanted to make the most of our Free Dining Plan.  Each member of my family made their own list of the restaurants where they really wanted to dine and then we combined them.  This is a great way to get older children involved in the planning process.  Cinderella’s Royal Table topped my daughter’s list, of course.  Teppan Edo was number one on my husband’s and my number one pick was Le Cellier.  We have eaten at these before so we knew we would enjoy them.  We all decided that we would also like to eat at the Sci Fi Dine In Theater again.  We added Biergarten in Epcot, The Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom and The Prime Time Café in Hollywood Studios to the list as new experiences.

There are so many dining experiences in Walt Disney World that it can seem like an overwhelming amount of information to sort through.  The key is finding the right ones for your family and your agent should be able to narrow it down for you.  Let him or her know what kind of food you like, which characters are favorites, any food allergies or intolerances and he or she should be able to make personalized recommendations.  After my guests have made their decisions, I make the dining reservations for them to save them some time and stress.

We are late night people so we chose to make the most use of late night Extra Magic hours as possible.  We also had the Free Dining Plan so we wanted to take advantage of the many restaurants of Epcot even if we did not want to spend every day in that park.  This is how our plan worked out for us:

Wednesday: Arrive, check in and go to Epcot. Eat dinner at Beirgarten.
Thursday: Go to Magic Kingdom all day.  Eat breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table.
Friday: See Hollywood Studios during the day and have lunch at the Sci Fi Drive In Theater.  Hop to Epcot at night for Extra Magic Hours.
Saturday: Go to Animal Kingdom and have dinner at the Yak and Yeti.  Then hop to Magic Kingdom since it is open until 1am tonight.
Sunday: Go to Magic Kingdom all day and enjoy Extra Magic Hours at night until 3am.
Monday: Go to Hollywood Studios all day.  Have dinner at the Prime Time Café.
Tuesday: Go to Epcot today and have lunch at Le Cellier.  Then hop to the Magic Kingdom.
Wednesday:  Go to Animal Kingdom and then Epcot.  Have dinner at Teppan Edo.
Thursday: No plan for this day.  We will see what we feel like doing on our last day.

See how our vacation is starting to take shape?  The Nuts and Bolts of the planning are now complete!  The more planning that gets done, the more excited I get for my vacation to finally arrive!
Next time we will talk about the Nitty Gritty Details including using spread sheets to plan out your days, packing list suggestions, arranging for celebrations and other little details that help make a trip special.

Katherine Schutte  

About the author:

Katherine Schutte first fell in love with Disney as a child on a family trip in 1976.  Her passion for all things Disney led her to her career as the Owner of Magical Castle Vacations where she happily makes the magic of Disney vacations come true for families, honeymooners, adult and senior travelers.  She is a graduate of Disney’s College of Knowledge (yes there is such a thing) and has extensive knowledge of Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line through her many visits.  Visit her website at MagicalCastleVacations.com

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