It’s the weekend, so let’s go a bit off topic for a moment and talk about Disney World and, specifically, how to organize a trip to this incredibly immense and downright complicated magical wonderland. Anyone who’s been to Disney most likely learned how important it is to have your shit together and activities at least somewhat planned each day, or the sheer square footage of the parks will have you wondering what in the hell to do next.
My family recently completed our own little adventure through the planning process of a Disney World family vacation. We were all amazed at how much there is to do, places to eat, shows to see, rides to ride.
There are four main parks that make up Disney World: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Each park offers their own collection of shows and adventures for guests to choose from, and Epcot is home to the nearly world-famous “eating around the world” experience.
Disney World offers fast passes, which are passes that allow guests to hop into a fast track line that will literally save you HOURS of waiting, especially for the popular rides. Disney allows each guest three passes a day (at any ONE park) for specific times during the day, but allows guests to request more at local kiosks when all three have been used.
Planning your fast pass use is both an art and a science, and believe it or not, there is definitely a technique to getting this right. Some rides are busier than others, so you’ll probably want to use your fast passes on the busier rides. But, fast passes are time specific, and choosing the right ride, at the right time, will ensure that you haven’t wasted a fast pass on a ride that doesn’t have a line anyway at that time.
Equally exciting as the number of rides and shows available to guests throughout the park are the number of restaurants available to keep tummy’s full. Disney World offers all kinds of restaurants from all parts of the world, and if you’re in Epcot for the day, try the “eating around the world” experience that offers food options from – you guessed it – around the world in a single venue. We’re talking Mexico, Norway, China, Japan, France…even Canada. There is definitely something for everyone here.
Beyond Epcot’s worldly eating adventures, each of Disney’s four parks offers a huge variety of restaurants to choose from. Some restaurants have air conditioned seating inside, which tends to be the more desired option for guests, especially when it is hot outside. Reservations for most restaurants go fast, so keep that in mind and reserve your spot early. I’ve seen restaurants completely sell out a month or more in advance.
A helpful Disney web app
Disney World is so complicated, in fact, that they give you a web-based application, called “My Disney Experience“, to help you organize and plan your trip. This is almost like the coordination necessary for a wedding, and the My Disney Experience app is your wedding planner. Use it, it helps.
We planned each of our 5 days at Disney World using this app. We choose a particular park to explore on each day and reserved our fast passes and made our dinner reservations in this application. We started about 2 months in advance of our trip, which is coming up towards the end of this month.
The application tracks details down to the individual friend or family member in your party. For example, register each member of your party within My Disney Experience and manage each fast pass for each member quickly and easily. The application will display the park, ride name and time to show up for each guest, making the process of remembering what the hell you signed up for months ago a much less painful process.
The application should also be your one-stop-shop to browse through the wide variety of rides and restaurants available at each park. Drill down quickly to what you’d like to do by filtering on one or more of the many parks and resorts available at Disney, then filter down again on what you’re looking to do, like rides and shows, restaurants, spa days, shops and special events. Then, make reservations straight from the application.
It’s quick. It’s relatively easy. It makes planning your stay at this monstrosity a heck of a lot easier. One thing is clear during all this: it’s evident that even Disney knows how involved the planning process can be for a Disney World trip.
Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead
The #1 rule to not looking like a complete idiot at Disney World is to know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it – at least the important elements of your trip, like reservations to restaurants and what rides that you want fast passes for.
That means you need to plan ahead, and start early. Months early.
If you leave those details to after you get there, you will probably find yourself doing a lot more compromising than you would otherwise like, not to mention standing in extremely long lines for some of the more popular rides and attractions.
Use the My Disney Experience web application to organize the trip and, depending on who you are traveling with, give the login information to them so they can do some of the work of organizing, booking reservations and figuring out what rides they want to skip the lines at. Remember that the more popular the ride, and the more popular the time, the more likely you are to be waiting an hour or more to ride.
Be prepared to walk, and walk a LOT. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a bag or small backpack for snacks and water. All that stuff is available at the park, of course. However, you’ll pay a premium for them compared to taking care of this yourself.
Expect a full report of the experience once we return from our adventure in late February or early March. Until then, I hope you can learn from our Disney World planning adventure to make yours as pain and stress free as possible.
Start early. Make reservations as soon as you can. Make fast pass choices as early as possible. Use the remaining time to look forward to your trip and resting easy because everything that you and your party want to do is all scheduled, organized and reserved.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.