Welcome to part two of my Walt Disney World tips. Today’s post is all about planning! (See part one here – it’s all about keeping comfortable in the Florida heat.)
An Orlando holiday is a busy but fun packed holiday There are the four Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios); there’s the two Universal parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.) Don’t forget the other theme parks: SeaWorld, Busch Gardens (out in Tampa) and Legoland.
To cool off, there are lots of water parks…Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach (Disney) Wet ‘n’ Wild (Universal) and Aquatica (SeaWorld). Oh, and there is also Discovery Cove. Don’t forget everything else there is to do – Kennedy Space Center, shopping, mini golf, relaxing, the coast, the swamp tours…and loads more besides!
The key (for us at least!) to a great holiday in Orlando and Walt Disney World is PLANNING!!
Now, some people like to plan their holiday with military precision. Knowing what they are going to do, at what time. To. The. Letter. Some people, don’t plan, they go with the flow. Us, we fall somewhere in the middle, so I’m going to give you my tips for planning a holiday at Walt Disney World (and all the rest!)
Tip #1 – buy a guide book
Knowledge is power, so get a guide book! A Brit Guide to Orlando is packed from the first page to the last with everything you need to know. We bought it the first time we went to Orlando and found it invaluable. I go through each section of the book, highlighting the things that are relevant to us. A bit like doing exam revision!!
I highlight the rides we want to go on and the restaurants we want to eat at. Plus any other helpful tips along the way – like the rules for driving in Florida, and how to navigate the airport. I can then easily flick through the book and find what I need, without have to re-read everything.
Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World is another great guide book – it is HUGE, and has so much information you wouldn’t believe!
Tip #2 – join a Disney forum
Following on from the whole knowledge is power vibe… get online and join Disney forum. I used the Dibb a lot when planning our first holiday, because I didn’t know a thing about Orlando and needed all the help I could get. There are also the Dis Boards which I browse through from time to time. There is also a great planning website called All Ears which has tons of useful information. There will always be someone out there who can help you with your query – or search the forums as there is bound to be a simliar question to yours.
Tip #3 – check busy day guides
There is no denying, that theme parks are busy – you’re going to have to queue for a ride at some stage, and if you can plan what days are less busy at certain parks, then all the better! Luckily, there are a couple of places online where you can find out that information! The one we used in 2011 to help us plan our days is Touring Plans. They have both a free and paid for service, as well as an app for your smartphone. They give you crowd levels based on historical evidence, e.g., 5/10, as well as the best parks, the parks to avoid and which ones have Extra Magic Hours. Touring Plans is only for WDW (and also for Disneyland California), so you need something else for the other theme parks. That’s when I turn to the Busy Day Guide at The Dibb. It gives a fab picture view of what parks are busiest when. Using both of these resources helped us plan our 3 weeks Orlando holiday in 2011 and 2013.
Tip #4 – download a planner
Whilst virtual planners are great, I created my own planner that I could tweak and use whilst sitting at the table and using my guide book to plan our days…you can download and print my Orlando Vacation Planner [Free Printable] which I shared on my blog a while back. Or, of course you can create your own, or just scribble things down on sheets of paper!
Since I hate having a messy sheet of paper, with lots of crossings out and the like, I created a week to view page and then for each activity, created a token for it – this would enable me to switch things around without having to write everything out again! Then I can transfer it to print and take it with us on holiday!
Tip #5 – study park maps in advance
Try and look at park maps before you go in…this will help you plan your way around the park – the parks are huge and if you have a rough idea, it will take the stress out – especially if you have small children in tow. Again, I’m referring back to The Dibb who have park maps to download.
Tip #6 – check times
Check the times for things like parades, character meets, shows, fireworks, Extra Magic Hours (for onsite guests), opening and closing times. The Dibb once again is amazeballs for information when it comes to Walt Disney World and Orlando. You should also check out the official Walt Disney World website which will have the most up to date information
I remember when we went to SeaWorld and picked up the map as we walked in, then having to sit (whilst waiting for the Shamu show to start) trying to plan what times we should see each show. With all the excitement going on around us, it was hard to concentrate and plan effectively. I didn’t realise I could get this info in advance so was a bit blind the very first time we went.
Similarly, we missed out on several character meet and greets at Universal – I should have taken the time to work things out in advance – even if it meant a trip to City Walk to pick up a couple of maps!
Tip #7 – book ADRs
If you want to have a meal at a certain restaurant at Walt Disney World, you must make an Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) with 180 days to go (+10 days if staying onsite at Disney), especially in high seasons. And especially so if you want to do character dining! You get a guide time (and some ADRs you have to pay for in advance) and you turn up – you may still have to wait a while (most of the time we were sat within 10-20 minutes), but you know you’ll at least get a table at your chosen restaurant. Disney now charge a no-show fee, and you need to cancel 24 hours before to avoid being charged.
At the other restaurants at Universal and SeaWorld for example, you can book on the day. We got to eat at Mythos in Islands of Adventure, and Shark’s Underwater Grill at SeaWorld by getting to the parks early and reserving a table. You can also phone ahead at some restaurants off site, so make sure you have the contact number to hand!
Tip #8 – prioritize ride/attraction must dos
As I’ve said earlier, Walt Disney World and the other theme parks are huge. There is so much to see and do at all of them, that you can’t possibly fit everything in in one day – and probably not even in several days!
So, what we did was to prioritize ride/attraction must dos. This meant visiting the website of each theme park (and/or go through the guide book) and we all picked one ride and/or attraction that we wanted and must do. And so, we made a beeline for those first when entering the parks. That way, even if we couldn’t do a single other thing, we had at least done the things that we wanted to do the most.
We did the same with places to eat – we all had a list of ‘foods to eat in Orlando’ before we went, and we ticked them off as we went along (in our minds that is – we never wrote them down!) We also knew we wanted to eat at certain places due to recommendations from others, so they were at the top of our list!
Tip #9 – plan rest days
What with the heat, walking around all day, lining up for rides, the excitement, eating more than usual (I know we did!) and being jet-lagged, you are really going to want to plan in some rest days.
On our first visit I was paranoid about burn out. That we wouldn’t cope with the walking and heat and so, factored in probably a few too many days of not doing too much – but we coped a hell of a lot better than we all thought..or maybe it was because of those rest days? Who knows?! But, my personal advice is to give yourself a little down time – especially if you have little children.
I’ll never forget when we were at Magic Kingdom waiting for the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes Fireworks, a mum was getting really antsy with her husband and her kids were crying and falling asleep…I felt bad for her, because she must have planned this amazing holiday for her family, but I also felt sorry for her family who were just so tired! Even if it is just an morning in the pool, or an afternoon siesta before the night-time festivities, you’ll be grateful that you did.
Tip #10 – be flexible
Despite all of your planning and prepping, things may have to change, so my biggest tip is to be flexible!! As it turns out, the first couple of days in Orlando I wasn’t feeling 100% and so we ended up having to shift days around. It was no big deal, and the truth be told, we ended up switching lots of days around! The beauty of planning is that it makes you excited about your forthcoming trip, and it helps you to feel organised too, but as long as you have a basic plan in mind, it doesn’t matter if things have to change!
I just LOVED planning our first 3 trips and don’t think I’ll ever stop planning a holiday to Walt Disney World and Orlando!
I hope you’ve found these planning tips helpful!