A bit of an odd question - how do you keep track, how do you research?

I’m not sure either of those are the right question. What I think my problem is, WDW is so large. (Really, you don’t say?) I mean I know it’s large, and even breaking it down, there are so many parts. For my previous trip I had exactly NO time to plan. There was a lot of just taking what was open. This time I have all the time in the world - we’re about 10 months out.

When I start looking at places for ADRs, I get so…lost. I’ve tried so many different approaches but none of them seem to work out.

I guess here’s what I’m trying to do…I spend a lot of theme reading the forum, seeing what was said about different places, what their favorite menu item was and why. What the experience was. I’d like to be able to kind of have that info all in one place. I was attempting to keep track of simply how many times places were mentioned positively…I feel I’m over-complicating not only what I want, but my very question here.

So lets say you’ve met someone and they are planning their very first trip to WDW. They have loads of time to plan, and know they will need to make ADRs. But since they have absolutely no experience with dining at WDW, how would you recommend they begin to plan for their ADR date?

Well, the first thing I did was look at menus. If I don’t like the food, it doesn’t matter what kind of ratings the place has. Then, decide if you want character meals or not, how many and what characters.

For the other meals, are you looking for one day per park or more? That will also help to whittle down your research. Why not try doing each park as a group and pick one or two with menus that interest you, then do the research. After that, if you still need to choose restaurants, check out what the resorts have to offer, again, picking a few to research. Knowing what you like to eat and generally how you like to spend your day will help.

Good luck.


I honestly do a few things. In this forum I bookmark information I want to save. Then I just sort by my bookmarks to see what I wanted to use.

I tend to also copy and paste in portent information into my Evernote app in a note entitled “trip”. Although I almost always go to wdw I will return to DL one day so I have one labeled DL too.

Finally, I create a spreadsheet in Google sheets for the dates of my trip. In the beginning I list resort quotes, and possible ADRs. As I pick my resort I add that info and then the times of my ADR. I then tend to erase what I drop and finally start color coding…


I would think geographically and also mentally cut your days into chunks of manageable times. If you decide where you might be, and also how long you’ll be in those places, the restaurant choices become simpler. Even a rough plan like this hypothetical 5-day plan can help: 2 mornings and 1 evening in Magic Kingdom, 2 evenings and 1 morning in Epcot, 1 long day at Hollywood Studios, 1 evening at Animal Kingdom, 1 sleep-in morning, 3 afternoon rests/swims. I’m sure your plan will look different! But if you have a rough plan, then you can think logistically about restaurants that fit with the plan.

There are great resort restaurants in each of the 3 general areas (MK, EP/HS, AK) that can expand the options outside of the parks, but it makes sense to start with the in-park restaurants first. If you don’t see enough restaurants that sounds good to you inside a park, then look at the easy options nearby.


For me, the first step in planning any big vacation is prioritizing what is really important to me. In this case, ADRs are not very important - yes, I make them, but I don’t fret too much about exactly where I go.

We don’t go to WDW for the food - it is generally overpriced for what you get, and for the most part there isn’t anything that we can’t easily get close to home. Additionally, Character meals are not our thing, so for example it isn’t a priority to get CRT.

Therefore, I first plan out what our park schedule is going to look like, and then pick places to eat based on that. For example, on our most recent trip the plan was EP, AK hopping to MK for MVMCP, HS, UOR, and MK. For EP we wanted eat late to relax after a long day and hopefully watch Illuminations from our table, so I picked La Hacienda. For HS we wanted to avoid the long line at Fantasmic, so I picked the Fantasmic dine package at Hollywood Brown Derby. For the AK/MVMCP day I wanted a break between park touring but did not want to waste time going to a third location, so I chose an early dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern during the time we could enter MK before the party started. For UOR I found a place to eat off-site on the way back from UOR. And the last day was our travel day (late afternoon flight), so I didn’t worry about ADRs and we just got a CS lunch. As you can see, the driver here was what we wanted to do, which greatly narrowed down the ADR choices.

Not sure if this really answers your question in terms of how to organize all the details (I use a lot of spreadsheets), but setting priorities like this does help in limiting the amount of information you need to consider when planning.


I agree to start with laying out your days - how many at which parks. that will greatly depend on the children involved - with children under, say 13, I do not recommend Park HOpping. transportation can take a long time and kids get bored, tired and cranky.

we now know what we like in terms of food, but it has taken us 6 trips as a family, and our family has changed and grown up during that time, so this time we are only doing 2 tried and true ADRs for our family and lots of new places. Kids LOVE character meals, and we never liked to spend time in line to meet characters, so a few big character meals a trip worked great for us. Now that mine are 18 and 19, we are only doing BOG, because my son LOVES B&B. but there were years we did crt, OHana, Chef Mickey, etc.

Our family DOES go for the food, and we only go for FREE FOOD. we like at least one breakfast (we think 1900 Park fare is the best because its food is high quality and it has a bunch of great characters), one fancy meal that takes 2 ts credits - we’ve done a bunch of them, our favorite is Narcoosees for the fireworks viewing and boat parade, and a sprinkle of others, including the new Skipper canteen.

dont make yourself crazy about it - if planning isnt fun, it takes away fun from the trip. we use touringplans crowd levesls to set our days, then pick food from there. good luck, but enjoy!

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The very first step for me is reading the current Unofficial Guide to Disneyworld. I read it multiple times, each time with a different focus and I use sticky notes to bookmark pages and write notes. After my first read, I check Touring Plans for the crowd calendar and plan where I want to be on each day. Once I know where I’ll be on which day I create a list of notes ( I actually use paper and pencil) and organize my notes by day. Then, once I know where I’ll be, I can think about meals. As I read things here, I jot down notes on the appropriate page. For example, if I read something that I want to remember about Jedi Training Academy, I write it on my page for the day we’re going to HS. (I Should note, we don’t park hop.) When I’m ready to create my touring plans and ADR’s I do so one page at a time. After everything is booked, I print my touring plans and continue to write notes on those plans. When we’re on the plane, on our way to WDW, I review all of my notes, and those sticky notes in my book so everything is fresh in my mind. My family thinks I’m nuts, but it make me happy to be so well prepared:slight_smile:


I’d plan your itinerary first. Have a rough of where you will be at what time on what date. If that coincides
a time your party will be needing a meal, then get more granular at that point. You should be able to find something decent. I wouldn’t base my touring plan on my adr’s that I’ve made. I’d make a touring plan, then see where a meal fits. The reason I’d do this would be to not miss out on something like EMH, or prime am park touring time, or perhaps a nighttime spectacular show. If you have kids, you might want to make it a point to work in character meals and decide if that will take care of not waiting in lines in the park for character meet/greets and also that takes care of a break, and a meal all in one. For me, with kids, I think it’s easier. Just step back, and remember that you’re there to have fun. Give this a try - make a touring plan first. Plan out an entire mock day - from waking up, until bed - what park or parks you will be at. Then figure out what meal times will work. THEN narrow down to a few choices for adr’s - I’m guessing you already have ideas in the back of your head in the major areas. Hope this helps.


I think this is totally NOT an odd question, especially here! The only people here are people who like planning or strongly appreciate planning done by other people.

I have a spreadsheet and I just stick notes in about a anything I want to remember for later. I have one tab for budget, one for notes on hotels, one for food, one for schedule, etc etc. I’ll include links to threads or blog posts, too.

The closer I get to my trip, the tidier the spreadsheet gets. Once I made my final hotel choice, for example, I could delete all the stuff I’d collected comparing the different options and plug in my actual hotel cost to the budget sheet.

Up until FP+ time I had a couple different park schedule options in mind so I had ADR’s to suit both possibilities. When I wanted to make simultaneous reservations, I made one ADR on my account and one on DH’s.

My sanity saving tip is that once you’ve made a choice on something (like you’ve secured a room discount or booked hard to get FP+), just commit to it and delete all the “maybe” options. At a certain point, I need to force myself to stop planning for 9 possible backup scenarios.


I would direct them first to a very basic guide book. This is the one time I think Birnbaum’s is good. UG is the WDW bible to me, but it would be overwhelming, I think, for a first timer. Birnbaum’s is more simplistic. Breaks it down into very simple descriptions and is not too much info at once.

I’d have them go through that and begin to narrow down their interests. That would help me guide them in a touring plan – a very basic foundational one, not one that is specific and detailed. Touring plans drive my dining selections a good part of the time, so this is why I would do this.

After we carved out a basic plan, I would review with them the options for TS: character, signature, cuisine type, buffet/plated/family style, location (park vs resort) etc.

If there were a budget to consider this would be the next step. If on the dining plan, this would probably be less of a consideration, except where some dinners would be 2 credits.

Gently, slowly, and a little at a time, I would review each day of the plan and based on their preferences as discovered in the above, I would make recommendations. And voila. A plan.


@Ariadne - Duh! Menus! I seriously don’t know why I never though about that. Last time I made reservations based on, I guess, theme, what the buzz was and proximity to where we were going to be…and what still had an ADR. I know this time needs more thought.

I’m also not sure how we’re going to do parks. When DS (20) comes home for Thanksgiving we can probably get a rough outline. I’m just glad this time DH and DS understand the need for ADRs. They fought me so hard before the last trip and I get it. If you never done it, it makes no sense to try and plan your meals out 6 months in advance.

@PrincipalTinker - I didn’t know you could bookmark stuff. I guess that’s what one of those symbols down at the bottom of the posts mean. And bookmarks can be sorted? That changes my world. I read stuff, then I can’t remember where I saw it and spend a lot of time searching for it.

I LOVE spreadsheets (maybe too much). I got the resort selection done. A lot of that was price and availability since we’re using the armed forces salute offer. Color coding - sends my heart a flutter.

@SallyEppcot - I’ve kind of sketched park days based on the crowd calendar. We should be there for the start of MNSSHP and we might be there for food and wine - but since there aren’t dates for those yet, I’m not sure which days. We all know the cart doesn’t go before the horse, but I’m having a hard time figuring out which is the cart, and which is the horse. But I probably don’t need to at this point. I think I need to map out something more like the plan you described rather than going Monday-WDW, Tuesday-HS, Wednesday-HS - I mean, do we want to spend two days at HS? So I guess the horse is figuring out how we want to spend out time - and the cart is THEN plugging that in to which day would be best to do that.

@brklinck - that is part of my problem - I have no clue what’s important. My family is a little bit about the food and a lot about the experience of dining. It however doesn’t dictate our day. While my family now understands the need for ADRs, they still aren’t grasping the planning involved. Even though this will be our second time, I still feel like I’m winging it, or missing something. I’m just…well I’m more overwhelmed than what I thought I would be having done this once before.

@cowanfamily4 - that’s another vote for laying out days. No kids, well, DS who will be 21 at trip time, but he still gets bored, tired and cranky. Oh there are days I wish I could put him down for a nap. I’ve already had some redo requests. And while my family isn’t into character meals, I do think they secretly enjoy them. It’s so middle school. Like look, there’s Mickey, do you see him over there, look, look, oh he’s coming this way (head snaps down and nothing becomes more interesting than the food on the plate).

@jstagnaro - I have the 2016 version. You just gave me an idea. I’m a HUGE spreadsheet person and computer notes too. While I like the convenience of carrying the book with me, I find I don’t do much with it because I’m away from my computer, and won’t remember what I read or an idea I thought was important. But post-its to make the pages and make notes - I can then enter everything in a spreadsheet or my notes when I’m back to the computer. I have a note book too where I was trying to compile info as well - solves the no place to put notes when out and about. But I just - I’ve been having a difficult time finding a method that works for me and I keep jumping around. My family KNOWS I’m nuts. Nothing I do surprises them because I’m crazy.

@seebee - itinerary FTW! really need to know what or where we will be - then on to what days we will be doing it. I think part of the issue is since were so far in advance some times haven’t been set yet so it’s had to say. But I can say AK x days, MK x days and what not.

@natalie.lawy - I totally see the logic in what you’re saying about once the decision is made, delete the “maybe” options. I can be a huge what-ifer. I just don’t know if I’ll have the control to do so. I mean…what-if?? Do you not work with a ‘b’ plan at all?

@OBNurseNH - Like I mentioned, I have the '16 UG and lordy it IS overwhelming. Being a book junkie, Birnbaum’s is now on its way. You filled in a missing piece. I seriously feel like Dug but it’s like…parade! oh, fireworks! hey, ride! ooh, ohh what’s that shiny! Disneyland is so EASY, we just…go. But WDW - it’s on the other side of the country. I know there’s more to it than just the parks, but I’m having such a hard time compiling it all. How can I know what I want to do if I don’t know what there is to do. It’s overloading my brain. It’s the old conundrum of how do you eat an elephant. Yes, yes, it’s one bite at a time…but where do take the first bite? I’ll figure out how much park time will be enough for us, then the guides can fill in the fluff as well as well as what else there is to do. We are doing two days and UOR and a day trip to Cape Canaveral. So that’s 3 days I don’t have to deal with.

Thanks everyone for your replies you really helped.


If you click on your avatar (top right corner) it opens your notifications- but on top of that list is your liner name and three icons- bookmark, messages and settings. If you click on bookmark there will all appear!

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I worked with a B plan up until FP+ day got real close. I was going crazy with “I’ll try to get FEA at 11:30 on this day, but if I can’t I’ll try for 5:30, and if I can’t get it at all I’ll take TT at this time… well UNLESS I switched my Epcot day with my DHS day, but to make sure we got enough sleep before MK that would mean I should bump MK by one day, then I’d need to change my 7DMT preference to Friday, but i don’t have pre-RD breakfast plans for Friday, which would mess up the flow for fantasyland…”

I mean, it was daft. So I committed to a skeleton schedule and the only plan B I have is to remember that we are going to DISNEY WORLD and that whether or not we have fun, after all the planning I’ve done, is purely a function of our attitude. So plan B is to have a good time, even if we don’t get to ride FEA. :wink:

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Ah, it sounds like you had contingencies for the contingencies of your contingencies. I really don’t want to go there, but know I could slip down that rabbit hole quite easily.

I really think I should starting thinking of this whole process like setting up dominoes. It’s fun to set them up, and it’s the best thing ever when you tip the first one over and they all fall down like they’re supposed to. BUT if one goes out of line, because for me, they never fall perfectly, you just back up a little, fix the issue and then you can get going again.

My first step was to make a chart of my days in the world - from there, look at the crowd calendar and determine which park would be best to go to each day.
For example, we went for 5 night on our last trip and determined our days would be:
Sunday - Arrival
Monday - Magic Kingdom
Tuesday - Animal Kingdom
Wednesday - free
Thursday - Epcot
Friday - Departure

From there, I made a list of all things I wanted to do - restaurants I wanted to eat at, major activities I wanted to do, etc.
We knew we wanted to do a nice dinner Sunday (arrival day) so booked Ohana.
We wanted to do Chef Mickeys and Hoop Dee Doo - so booked an early character breakfast for our “free” day and then Hoop Dee Doo later that night.

The kids wanted to do the Chip-n-Dale campfire so we planned that for the night our 1/2 day at Animal Kingdom. My kids are still young (read: early bedtime!) so having a “free” day the following day meant I didn’t hesitate to keep them up later than usual for the campfire. (We stayed close by at BLT but probably would have done the campfire after HDD if we weren’t staying so close.)

We wanted to check out Disney Springs so made a plan to do that on our departure day.

If on the dining plan, it also helped me to visualize when we would be spending our credits - we didn’t want to overload a single day with too many table service meals, for example. I color coded meals and used RED for table service meals so that they stood out when taking in a wide view of our week.

We also considered transportation/travel time every step of the way. We did everything in our power to minimize travel time and avoid any backtracking! I studied maps and good visual of the world so that I knew where each activity took place and I could clump activities together based on location.

In short, start very high level and fill in the blanks as you go. I used excel to 1.) make a high level/daily overview of our trip and 2.) make a second tab that broke each day down a little further so that I could ensure we weren’t over-scheduling and making sure we had time to rest/smell the roses!


We’re in the midst of planning our very first trip, so full disclosure…no idea how this will all work out :slight_smile:

I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into when we started discussing planning our first (and likely only) Disney World trip. Googling kept bringing me back to a few websites - yourfirstvisit.net (YFV), TouringPlans, and WDWprepschool, and some forums on community boards I was already part of for other purposes.

I’m a planner by nature, and finance guru by trade, so Excel is the default for my documentation. Started a pricing spreadsheet to get a handle on what kind of itinerary we wanted to sign up for. Ended up heavily leveraging yourfirstvisit.net’s plan (they recommend 8 nights, 9 park days at Polynesian if you can afford it). Robust itinerary is included. So, that became our base (although we’re only doing 8 park days and some other minor mods).

Then I bought our TouringPlans membership and started plotting out more details around the days. YFV had restaurant recommendations, with that and some tweaks to customize for us, we had 75% of our meals laid out.

Watching lots of forums, I started a couple lists - recommended QS restaurants (there were many “choose your own” on the YFV plan) - I listed the restaurant, food type, location (MK - fantasyland), and any recommended dishes. Then if we had an open QS meal, I looked to see what was convenient to our TouringPlan location-wise and what I thought my family would like. Another list of recommended snacks - same info: restaurant, food type, location, specific recommendation and if it was a DDP snack credit.

So now I’ve got several tabs of spreadsheets with all different info. Some of it from the early planning stages (hotels, various ticket prices, ToDo list, packing list, dining lists, etc), others more for current activities and decisions still to be made.

Our Touring Plans are mostly fully baked, just waiting for our FP+ window to open.

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You nailed it!

Once your FP window opens you’ll crush it for the most part.
Just…do not be surprised if park hours change. Roll with it. You may have to modify your park days. Don’t get too frustrated with it. You have your trip’s bones in place, expect to have to modify. Once you get a better understanding of what park you want to be at and why, the modifications will just get annoying, but you’ll be able to apply your logic. If they change EMH, for example - that can change your plan on what park you want to be in at what time. If MK hours are 9am-9pm on one day right now, and you snag an ADR for BOG at 8:15 am expecting it to be a pre-rd adr - don’t be surprised if they change the park hours and the new opening time is 8am. Just be prepared to roll with changes like that. I got really frustrated when I thought I had my stuff together one month out - but they changed hours and emh on me a few times, and that had me making changes to plans, and switching park days. After they switched a few up, and I adjusted accordingly, they switched a few more, and I just started laughing it off.

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the first time we went this is what I did also.

I’ve done pretty much what you outline in the beginning of your post. I created a spread sheet - dates down the left side parks across the top including universal. I color coded…anything 4 and over was red, 3 - orange, 2 - yellow, 1 - green.

I was then able to see what parks have the absolute lowest on which days. I know things will change as we get closer, but it helped to at least figure out what days would be best for each park. We’re doing universal Sunday & Monday, those were the lowest days surprisingly. Saturday we’re doing Cape Canaveral.

I think what’s tripping me up is where you said, [quote=“egkleinmann, post:15, topic:29419”]
I made a list of all things I wanted to do
[/quote] Well the problem is, I don’t know what there is. I mean we’ve been once, a whirlwind trip. So I know for the most part, but I also know I missed A LOT. So when I’m looking, I’ll be reading and there is so much info coming in I’m on overload and I can’t keep track of it all.

What is funny is I type up my replies as I read the posts, and I was just thinking “smell the roses”. We have so much more time this time. 10 full days, we arrive from the red eye at 6:30am so that’s 11ish (the only plan for that day is pretty much food and a nap) and the day we depart, DME will probably take us about 4pm so actually 12ish days total. 1 at Cape Canaveral, 2 at Universal. So that’s 7 full and proper days with 2ish days to “do Disney”. I don’t want to OVER do Disney, I want to…maybe not stop and smell the roses (I’ve put my nose into exactly 4 rose blooms and each and every time - NO JOKE I’ve sniffed a bug up my nose) but take a stroll through the rose garden and enjoy the atmosphere.

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Do you ever just look at your children…usually sometime after they hit the teen years…and just want to tell them, you know, you suck! I love my son to the moon and back so don’t get me wrong. But sometimes…I really just want to give him a wegie.

He came home for Thanksgiving, and I didn’t want to overload him with WDW planning, but there were some things I wanted to sort out. So I asked…“Hey, any thoughts on how much time you think we should spend in each park? Anything on your must to list or won’t do that again?” And I kid you not…that 20 year old young man turned into a tween from the valley - eye roll, tongue pop, that “ukh” sound makes every parents head want to explode followed by “Really?” (whine whine whine) “That’s like so not until next year.”

My response was, “Sorry Ms. Kardashian.”

Which was met with another “ukh” and eye roll. Why oh why was I not recording this. It would’ve been youtube gold!

He did come around a little. Nothing really got settled except we must do animal kingdom mostly for Dinosaur. That was news to me. hopefully he will be more receptive with planning when hes back for winter break in 2 weeks. If not - I’ll have the camera ready.