Sunday, September 2, 2012

Disney World: Planning

Our family went on vacation to Disney World this summer.  The last time we went was about 19 years ago, so this trip was much anticipated, and excitement was high.  Disney World is amazing and really like a whole other planet.  And so, we put about as much time into planning this trip as would be necessary for a mission to Mars.  There are a couple of reasons that I think careful planning is important for a Disney trip:

1)  It is big.  Disney World covers more acreage than the island of Manhattan.  So clutching your map on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom with the seven other members of your party and saying, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" is burning time.
2) It is busy.  You can spend hours standing in line behind the 300 other people who also want to ride Space Mountain.  Restaurants are booked months in advance.

My mom masterminded the whole plan: she booked our rooms (we stayed at the Pop Century Resort) and dinners about six months in advance, and rented a fifteen passenger van.  With eight of us going, it was easier to ride together than to caravan it in three separate vehicles.  Staying in the resort has some great advantages: the bus service picks you up at the hotel and drops you off at the various parks; your room key is also your admission ticket which is also your Fast-Pass ticket (more on that later); and, you get to take advantage of early (or late) park hours (called Extra Magic Hours).

I took over planning the itinerary.  I found a copy of The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa, which is a Type-A planner's dream come true.  The book has detailed itineraries for each park; descriptions of every ride, show, and event; a chart showing travel time between each park and hotel; a fright-potential rating for everything; and a lot more.  I devoured the book and used it to plan our itineraries.  The trouble with using their itineraries as they were was that our group was very diverse.  It included my parents (who don't do roller coasters); my sister (no coasters) and her husband (who would do roller coasters) and their two-year old (height restrictions); my 14 year old cousin (he's a roller coaster nut); Jordan (ditto), and myself (I ride baby coasters).  So basically, we had a group that wanted to hit the thrill rides and a group that wanted to watch the toddler.  But, a lot of the rides actually appeal to both groups.  So, what I did was create an itinerary that split the two groups and then brought them back together.  This is an example from our first day, at Animal Kingdom:

Monday: Animal Kingdom (Extra Magic Hours am)
Catch bus around 7:00 am; arrive around 7:20
Ride Kilimanjaro Safaris
Walk the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail in Africa
Get Fastpasses for Expedition Everest, then ride DINOSAUR
See It’s Tough to be a Bug! And exhibits at The Tree of Life on Discovery Island
Ride Expedition Everest
After the rest of the park opens:
Ride TriceraTop Spin
Ride Primeval Whirl
Play at The Boneyard
Ride Kali River Rapids
Watch Flights of Wonder (if wait more than 20 minutes, switch with Maharajah Jungle Trek)
Walk the Maharajah Jungle Trek
Take Wildlife Express Train from Africa to Conservation Station and Rafiki’s Planet Watch.  Tour the areas and take the train back to Africa.
Meet characters along the way to Camp Minnie-Mickey
See Festival of the Lion King
See Finding Nemo—The Musical in DinoLand
Anything else we want to do or see.
Return to hotel to swim, nap, refresh, as time permits
At 5:50, catch bus to Magic Kingdom and transfer to monorail or walk; Dinner at Chef Mickey (Contemporary Resort) 6:50

Yellow was the thrill group, blue was the chill group, and green was for the combined groups.  I also included our travel times and dinner times on the itinerary.  I should make clear that the itinerary represented an ideal: not absolutely everything on the list got done, but we made quick decisions in the moment, and really, we got to do and see everything we wanted.  And, here's the thing: we spent almost no time waiting in line.  We more or less walked onto everything, but our absolute longest waits were maybe 15-20 minutes.  And this was in peak season when the parks were filling up each day.  We were usually done a little after lunch and could leave about the time the park was getting crazy.  There are a few things that allowed us to do this:

1)  The order of the rides: I based this primarily on the suggestions from The Unofficial Guide.  They have done extensive research on crowd flow and movement at the parks and know which rides get busy quickest.  We followed their suggestions with some changes based on our preferences.
2)  We got there early.  Very early.  Like, a half hour before the park opens, even when we had Extra Magic Hours.  This was absolutely worth it.  And, at Magic Kingdom and Epcot they have cute "opening ceremonies."  We also ate lunch early, usually around 11am.
3)  We took advantage of Fast Passes.  For many popular rides, there are kiosks in which you insert your park admission card and you are given ticket with a time to return.  You come back and walk onto the ride.  Amazing.

I am including our full week's itinerary:

Domestic Scholar's Disney World Itinerary

Any tips on how you planned your Disney World trip?  Any questions you would like to see answered here?--I am not an expert (and there are definitely Disney experts out there), but I'll tell you what I know!

Work Referenced: Sehlinger, Bob and Len Testa. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World  2011.  Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley, 2011.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love the new blog design!

Looks like you guys had a great trip to Disney - I love your plan. :)