Let’s face it: some of us are planners and some of us would rather see where the wind takes us. If there’s even a remote possibility of a Walt Disney World trip, I’m on the computer researching projected crowd levels, creating daily itineraries and making a list of must-do restaurants. For me, planning is part of the fun.
While it may be possible to wing it at your run-of-the-mill theme park, Guests who take this approach at Walt Disney World will most likely find themselves frustrated and overwhelmed. When it comes to visiting Walt Disney World, planning is key. This is especially important for first-time visitors. Guests don’t need to go overboard and create an itinerary including potty and snack breaks; however, Guests DO need to have a loose idea of what they want to see and do while at the Parks.
Below are what I consider the “bare necessities” of planning when visiting a theme park at Walt Disney World:
Get to know the lay of the land.
Most Guests equate Walt Disney World with the Magic Kingdom. In fact, there are a total of four theme parks, each with its own unique theme and experiences. Guests should read up on each of the Parks and decide which they want to visit.
DIStracted Tip: With the exception of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot, which are within walking distance of each other, the other Parks are far flung and require Guests to utilize monorails, buses, boats or their own cars for access. Guests using a ticket with the Park Hopper option should allow approximately one hour to move from park to park.
Once Guests have zeroed in on the Parks they plan to visit, it’s a good idea to reference the park maps. There’s no need to memorize the exact location of desired attractions, however, Guests should take the time to note the general vicinity (for example, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is in Frontierland) so they can move more quickly and efficiently once in the Parks.
Make a list of must-do attractions in each park.
It’s impossible to see everything, so it’s important to make a list of must-do attractions and experiences. Guests should prioritize this list. Attractions that make it to the top of the list should be considered FastPass+ candidates. If that sounds like too much work, check out our previous article on must-do experiences for first-time visitors.
Use online tools to determine appropriate attractions.
- Use the filters on the official website.
Once Guests have determined the Parks they plan to visit, it’s a good idea to learn more about the attractions in each park. Luckily, Disney offers Guests the ability to filter attractions via five criteria: thrill level, interests, age interest, height and accessibility and advisories. Using the filters makes it very easy to see which attractions are appropriate for your travel group. Have a child that’s afraid of the dark? Select ‘dark’ under the Thrill Level filter to see which attractions may make your little one squirm. Are you expecting? Make sure to select the ‘expectant mothers advisory’ under the Accessibilty & Advisories filter to find out which attractions to avoid.
- Preview attractions on YouTube.
Even after filtering attractions, Guests should take the time to preview their must-do attractions on YouTube. It’s a gimme that the Haunted Mansion will be dark, however, what about Peter Pan’s Flight? It sounds tame, and it is. However, the attraction is extremely dark and could be scary for little ones. By taking the time to preview attractions on YouTube, parents and guardians will be able to make an educated decision on how appropriate an attraction is for their child.
Create a My Disney Experience account
Whether staying at a Walt Disney World resort or an off-site hotel, all Guests should create a My Disney Experience account. Once created, Guests can track all their plans including accommodations and tickets as well as any Advanced Dining Reservations or FastPass+ reservations.
Guests that own a smartphone should also download the corresponding My Disney Experience app. Guests can use the app to access maps, parade, fireworks, show and character locations and schedules. In addition, Guests can view their itinerary and make changes on the fly.
DIStracted Tip: Save your data and use the free WiFi available in the theme parks!
Make FastPass+ selections.
FastPass+ is a free service that allows all Guests to reserve access to attractions, fireworks and parades in advance. Once in the park, Guests proceed to the FastPass+ entrance at the designated time and have little to no wait.
Here’s where the planning comes in: with the advent of MyMagic+, Guests can reserve three FastPass+ selections per day before even leaving home. Resort Guests can make these selections up to 60 days prior to their arrival date, while off-site Guests can make selections up to 30 days prior to the day they plan to visit.
To those Guests breaking out in a sweat just thinking about making such specific plans two months in advance: trust me, it’s a necessary part of planning a trip to Walt Disney World. Skipping this step will lead to longer wait times and frustration at the Parks.
The good news? Making FastPass+ selections is fairly straightforward for a Guest who has a My Disney Experience account, and has done a little preliminary research. For more tips on FastPass+, check out our articles about using the service at Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
DIStracted Tip: Once Guests use their three pre-booked FastPass+, they are able to make additional FastPass+ selections at kiosks located throughout the Parks. While Guests are required to make additional FastPass+ selections at kiosks, Guests can make changes to the selections via the My Disney Experience app.
Still feeling overwhelmed? It may be in your best interest to book your upcoming Walt Disney World trip via a travel agent. In addition to reserving accommodations and making travel arrangements, many offer full-service vacation planning, allowing you to just sit back and relax.