Importance of a plan?

We are planning a trip to WDW for some January in the future. (Maybe 2018). We were thinking about this Jan, but we couldn’t, but with all of the research I found planning for WDW to be overwhelming. We go to DLR multiple times a year, so we are very familiar with the park, flow of people, crowds, etc. WDW seems to be a completely different beast.

If we are going during the slow time of year (between new years and MLK Jr. holiday) beyond the FP+ reservations, how important is it to plan? I figured that I would use FP+ for the most important rides that we want to go on, but after that we could wing it and get FPs at the parks, as necessary. Also, I was not planning on making food reservations. We don’t have any restaurant in particular we really want to eat at and our son is close to being done with character meals, so we were going to go with the flow there too.

I guess my question is, besides knowing which park we are going to on which day and the FP+s figured out in advance, is that enough? Will I be disappointed with winging it?

I would suggest some form of plan. Especially when it comes to food - and you’re plan could be “No ADRs” - but you need to realize it will likely be tough to get in many TS restaurants day of so you may be limited to eating QS with the masses. Which also means you need to time your eating well to avoid being stuck in massive lines for mediocre food. Basically little things like planning to eat at 11 or 11:30 this day or planning to wait until 1:30 to eat will go a long way to avoiding long waits. Also if you have some idea of the better QS options at a park, you can position your day to be near there when it’s time to eat. You may also be able to walk up to some TS restaurants at off times (right at open works as does mid afternoon) and get seated, but that’s no guarantee and could be frustrating if you wander around looking - although I guess you could snag a reservation day of via the app too which would save the wandering part.

I think being flexible is good, but do realize what no/little planning may cost you in time and frustration…

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Always have a plan - even during “slow” times at WDW there still are a ton of people there, and going with the flow can seem like a salmon migration at times. Also, as @damavs mentions if you want to eat at a TS restaurant you will need to make ADRs.

Think of it this way - planning takes the stress of a WDW trip (crowds, lines, decision making, etc) and spreads it out over the run up to your vacation so that it is easier to deal with. :slight_smile:


Plan. It is overwhelming at first but you’ll get the hang of it. Even the slowest times at WDW aren’t really slow anymore. WDW and DLR may as well not even be in the same universe. They are completely different creatures.


I think if you plan in advance the limited availability FP+ and ADRs you will be better off. Those types of things require you to have an idea which parks you will be in on which days, and think generally about where you will be in the park at the time of your FP+ and ADRs. If you get those basics covered, then you can go with the flow with the rest.

I would make sure you have the My Disney Experience App on your phone before you go (so you can book day of fast passes and book/changes ADRs, etc). Also get the Lines App for your phone.

From our experience, the Magic Kingdom fastpasses you really should get in advance are:
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (60+ days out if possible)
Splash Mountain
Peter Pan
the various princess meet and greets
Enchanted Tales with Belle
Space Mountain
Big Thunder Mountain (I assume. It was closed while we were there).

The above list are also the rides to do at rope drop if you do not have fast passes.
We found that scheduling fast passes early in the day worked well for us. Once we used up our 3 pre-booked fast passes, we were able to get same day fast passes for lots of other rides (often immediately available). If you are going at a low crowd time, you may be able to go from fast pass to fast pass from afternoon on. We were often surprised by people waiting in standby lines when that ride was showing immediate fast pass availability and we were using a fast pass we had gotten 5 minutes earlier.

We found the following to be good same day fast pass opportunities:
Jungle cruise
Pirates of the Caribbean
Magic carpets
Haunted Mansion
Buzz Lightyear
Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
Mad Tea Party
Tomorrowland Speedway
Winnie the Pooh

For Epcot, you have to pick which of the big three signature attractions you will get a fastpass for in advance (Frozen, Soarin, or Test Track), and should have an idea how best to minimize wait times for the remaining two attractions, assuming you want to do them all.

As for ADRs, if you have any must dos, then definitely get those in advance to ensure availability at the time you want, especially if they are at hard to get places, like Be Our Guest, Ohana, character meals, etc. I think advance reservations helps make your trip smoother since you can be assured that you have the time you want at a restaurant in or near the park you will be in. But if you are not picky about time or place, you can probably find lots of availability at the last minute, since people cancel reservations all the time. And there are good quick service options that may be preferable to you for the flexibility they offer (We liked Columbia Harbor House at MK, and Flametree Barbeque and the samosa truck at Animal Kingdom)

Another thing to think about in advance are show times. Hollywood Studios was difficult for us to plan since we wanted to sign up for Jedi training, and our itinerary was very heavy on shows that had set times. It would be good to at least have a rough sense of what is possible in advance.

If you are completely unfamiliar with some of the parks, then I’d recommend at least reading about the attractions and shows so you have an idea what interests you in advance.

I’d also recommend looking at park maps in advance, so you have an idea where things are. I found myself very confused by Epcot Future world, for example, and how to best cross over from one side of Future World to the other side. The layout of Hollywood studios also confused me. The MDE app does give you walking directions inside the park, so that is helpful.

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@dpolletta offers some great advice overall there. I’ll just caveat that in January, you really won’t need to Fastpass Splash - it will be low wait times then unless it’s unseasonably warm. The locals avoid Splash like the plague if it’s as cold as the 70s it seems. We’ve had many a time where Splash was effectively a walk-on that time of year…

I can see the clear benefits of a detailed plan of attack for the whole day. My motto has been to “even plan the spontaneity.” It’s gonna be my first trip with my family, and while I don’t plan on not being flexible at all, I have to realize what is going to be a waste of time, and divert back to the plan when needed. Those tiny little 5 to 10 minute diversions add up, and some of them might just be completely useless (especially if you are trying to get the kids to something you know they are going to LOVE.) So, while I plan on knowing my next attraction, I also am trying to figure out what the little things are on the way to that next attraction, and being prepared to divert, OR, being prepared to stop for a minute. I want everyone to have an absolutely magical time, but I know for a fact that they are going to be more crabby if they have to wait longer in line for a fantastic ride just because they wanted to stop and look at a snowglobe, or eat a sugar bomb treat, and then have a sugar crash an hour later. More time wandering aimlessly could also = less time at that awesome pool at your hotel you are paying a LOT for not using.

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Thanks everyone for your feedback. It confirms why we keep going back to California. I am sure some day we will make it. Right now, I am having an easier time planning a trip to DLR Paris than WDW.

You are probably asking the wrong group @lmbc!! We’re all planners here by nature, that’s why we’re here!!! Planning got us to this site! So I don’t think anyone will say don’t plan a thing here :wink:
But it’s not so hard really and you can super wing it and have a great time all the same. Please don’t let us and our manic planning turn you away from the best vacation of your life! I promise the planning will be so much fun! When you decide the time is right for you, please let us help you plan. We’ll point out the bare necessities you need to have and make it as easy as possible for you to plan! It’s easy!

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@quicha - Ha ha! :grin:

I am not anti-planning, just having to make reservations for EVERYTHING is annoying. I don’t use the touring plans, I may look at them for ideas, but in the end, I use my own plan. So I have a plan, but I want to the power to change those plans without huge amounts of drama. I can easily see, reserving the FP+ for the most on-demand rides. I will have a list of rides and shows we want to see. And I will have a list of restaurants, that don’t require reservations, that we might want to eat at. I am a planner by nature. I usually have lists and lists of things. I usually can name each potential restaurant and what they will have that we can eat. (Oh and I have a severely picky eater on my hands too, so that will determine our eating choices.) So yes, I plan. We eat during the slow times, instead of at the usual lunch and dinner hours, we plan our rides based on crowds. But, if I can’t make ADRs for a meal a day before or the day of it is not worth it to us. I am realizing that the spin at WDW on making reservations months in advance besides the hotel and plane is soul-sucking, especially when it is the off season.

I have to preface this by saying that I am a planner by nature, but I’ve been to WDW with family members who say they want to follow a plan, but then want to do their own thing when the time comes to follow the plan :smirk: So I’ve taken on WDW both ways, with an every minute detailed plan, and with chucking the plan to do what my family wanted and have had an enjoyable experience both ways.

Having been to both WDW and DLR, the main difference between the two is the fast pass plus system. At this point in time, if you want a fast pass to 7DMT or FEA you need to get those fast passes at the 60+ mark if you want them, or plan on spending more time in line than you would probably like. I recently did my fast pass selection for a trip mid-December (12 - 16) and was unable to get fast passes for 7DMT at the 60+5 date. So it really depends on the ride, but those are the 2 biggies for fast pass in my opinion. This will probably change by the time you end up going just due to what else might be the big new experience.

As for ADRs, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at what you can get the night before or the day of. This may change, but currently The Plaza only accepts limited ADRs and is now accepting walk ups for most of the day. You’ll probably be fine with deciding that day or the day before. Also, if you choose to eat outside of the parks at the resorts you’ll have better luck with same-day ADRs. This past August I had some friends get into Orlando earlier than we had planned and was able to change my ADR from a party of 1 to a party of 5 about 30 minutes before my reservation. You may not get the exact time you want, but it is possible.

I would recommend using a touring plan, but only as a guide. I’ve had incredible success with using a combination of a plan and using the extra fast passes. I still feel new enough to the world that I tend to go park commando - arriving before rope drop and staying until park close, trying to fit in everything! I use a plan as a guide, especially for the first 2 hours of the park being open, and then I start with my fast passes, adjusting the times on the my disney experience app to get them knocked out of the way quickly so that I can do the rolling fast passes. This allows for some spontaneity and freedom from feeling like you’re tied down to the plan.

While I know that most people will say that you need to have ADRs at 180+, and that is true for BOG at Dinner, but there really are plenty of ADRs available closer to your dates as well. I’m that person who plays with my ADRs right up to the 24 hour mark, so it is possible to get into places the night before or day of - this past August I was able to snag a day-of BOG lunch reservation about an hour before the reservation, so it is possible. Try not to get too discouraged, you’ll still have a great time at WDW!

Have fun at DL-Paris, that one is on my wish-list!


I would also like to add that once you’ve been a few times and have a really good grasp of the parks and how they operate it is much easier to wing it and not have to plan so much. I’ve done most of the hard to get ADR’s and I know that we have favorites that we can get reservations for the night before as people cancel to avoid fee’s. We know which FP we want for each park on any given day. I don’t feel the need to have step by step plans for each day anymore.

I have found that most people who say that they do not plan for WDW are veterans who know exactly what they are going to do based on all of their experience. It makes me want to jump up and down saying “But that means you have a plan!” :wink:

Planning is required for any kind of in depth trip, but you no longer need a TP or a dozen spreadsheets, and you don’t have to book anything that isn’t an absolute must at 180 days. We’re about to go for 11 days and I have like 6 adrs. I know anything else we want i’ll just book the evening before. And because we have tried so many if one isn’t available we know several others that we enjoy eating at.

Planning our first trip was stressful. Planning now is a breeze.