What You Can Realistically Expect from the Touring Plans

Though we present one-day touring plans for each theme park, be aware that the Magic Kingdom and Epcot have more attractions than you can reasonably expect to see in one day. Because the two-day plans for the Magic Kingdom and Epcot are the most comprehensive, efficient, and relaxing, we strongly recommend them over the one-day plans. However, if you must cram your visit into a single day, the one-day plans will allow you to see as much as is humanly possible. Although Disney's Hollywood Studios has grown considerably since its 1989 debut, seeing everything in one day is no problem. Likewise, Animal Kingdom is a one-day outing.

Variables That Will Affect the Success of the Touring Plans

The plans' success will be affected by how quickly you move from ride to ride; when and how many refreshment and restroom breaks you take; when, where, and how you eat meals; and your ability (or lack thereof) to find your way around. Smaller groups almost always move faster than larger groups, and parties of adults generally cover more ground than families with young children. Switching off, also known as baby swapping or child swapping, among other things, inhibits families with little ones from moving expeditiously among attractions. Plus, some children simply cannot conform to the plans' "early to rise" conditions. A mom from Nutley, New Jersey, writes:

[Although] the touring plans all advise getting to parks at opening, we just couldn't burn the candle at both ends. Our kids (10, 7, and 4) would not go to sleep early and couldn't be up at dawn and still stay sane. It worked well for us to let them sleep a little later, go out, and bring breakfast back to the room while they slept, and still get a relatively early start by not spending time on eating breakfast out. We managed to avoid long lines with an occasional early morning, and hitting popular attractions during parades, mealtimes, and late evenings.

And a family from Centerville, Ohio, says:

The toughest thing about your touring plans was getting the rest of the family to stay with them, at least to some degree. Getting them to pass by attractions in order to hit something across the park was no easy task (sometimes impossible).

If you have young children in your party, be prepared for character encounters. The appearance of a Disney character usually stops a touring plan in its tracks. While some characters stroll the parks, it's equally common that they assemble in a specific venue (such as the Town Square Theater on Main Street) where families queue up for photos and autographs. Meeting characters, posing for photos, and collecting autographs can burn hours of touring time. If your kids collect character autographs, you need to anticipate these interruptions and negotiate some understanding with your children about when you will follow the plan and when you will collect autographs. Our advice is to go with the flow or set aside a specific morning or afternoon for photos and autographs. Note that queues for autographs, especially for Princesses at the Magic Kingdom and Camp Minnie-Mickey at Animal Kingdom, are sometimes as long as the queues for major attractions. The only time-efficient way to collect autographs is to line up at the character greeting areas first thing in the morning. This is also the best time to experience the popular attractions, so you may have tough choices to make.

While we realize that following the plans isn't always easy, we nevertheless recommend continuous, expeditious touring until around noon. After noon, breaks and diversions won't affect the plans significantly. Some variables that can profoundly affect the plans are beyond your control. Chief among these are the manner and timing of bringing a particular ride to capacity. For example, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom, has five trains. On a given morning, it may begin operation with two of the five, then add the other three when needed. If the waiting line builds rapidly before operators go to full capacity, you could have a long wait, even in early morning.

Another variable relates to the time you arrive for a theater performance. You'll wait from the time you arrive until the end of the presentation in progress. Thus, if a show is 15 minutes long and you arrive one minute after it has begun, your wait will be 14 minutes. Conversely, if you arrive as the show is wrapping up, your wait will be only a minute or two.

Flexibility

The attractions included in the touring plans are the most popular ones as determined by more than 40,000 reader surveys. Even so, your favorite attractions might be different. Fortunately, the touring plans are flexible. If a plan calls for an attraction you don't wish to experience, simply skip it and move on to the next one. You can also substitute similar attractions in the same area of the park. If a plan calls for, say, riding Dumbo and you're not interested but you would enjoy the Mad Tea Party (which is not on the plan), then go ahead and substitute it for Dumbo. As long as the substitution is a similar attraction—substituting a show for a ride won't work—and is pretty close to the attraction called for in the touring plan, you won't compromise the plan's overall effectiveness.

A family of four from South Slocan, British Columbia, found they could easily tailor the touring plans to meet their needs:

We amended your touring plans by taking out the attractions we didn't want to do and just doing the remainder in order. It worked great, and by arriving before the parks opened we got to see everything we wanted, with virtually no waits! The best advice by far was "get there early"!

Likewise, a Jacksonville, Florida, family modified our touring plans to meet their needs:

We used a combination of the Two-day Touring Plan for Parents with Small Children and the Two-day Touring Plan for Adults. We were able to get on almost everything with a 10-minute wait or less. Our longest wait was on our second day for the Jungle Cruise, but the wait was still only 20 minutes. We were just amazed at how well the plan worked! Not only will I be recommending this to all my friends with kids but will use it when we visit again in December. Thank you!

What to Do if You Lose the Thread

Anything from a blister to a broken attraction can throw off a touring plan. If unforeseen events interrupt a plan:

  1. Skip one step on the plan for every 20 minutes' delay. If, for example, you lose your billfold and spend an hour finding it, skip three steps and pick up from there.
  2. Forget the plan and organize the remainder of your day using either Lines or Cheat Sheets. Lines will give you wait time forecasts for the rest of the day, and can even re-optimize your touring plan in the park. The Cheat Sheets are printable timetables that summarize the best times to visit each attraction.

A multigenerational family from Aurora, Ohio, wonders how to know if you're on track or not, writing:

It seemed like the touring plans were very time-dependent, yet there were no specific times attached to the plan outside of the early morning. On more than one day, I often had to guess as to whether we were "on track." Having small children and a grandparent in our group, we couldn't move at a fast pace.

Honestly, there is no objective measurement for being on track. Each family's or touring group's experience will differ to some degree. Whether your group is large or small, fast or slow, the sequence of attractions in the touring plans will allow you to enjoy the greatest number of attractions in least possible time. Two quickly moving adults will probably take in more attractions in a specific time period than will a large group consisting of children, parents, and grandparents. However, given the characteristics of the respective groups, each will maximize its touring time and experience as many attractions as possible.

What to Expect When You Arrive at the Parks

Because most touring plans are based on being present when the theme park opens, you need to know about opening procedures. Disney transportation to the parks begins an hour and a half to two hours before official opening. The parking lots open at around the same time. Each park has an entrance plaza outside the turnstiles. Usually, you're held there until 30 minutes before the official opening time, when you're admitted. What happens next depends on the season and the day's crowds.

  1. LOW SEASON At slower times, you will usually be confined outside the turnstiles or in a small section of the park until the official opening time. At the Magic Kingdom you might be admitted to Main Street, U.S.A.; at Epcot, to the fountain area around Spaceship Earth; and at Disney's Hollywood Studios, to Hollywood Boulevard; at Animal Kingdom, to The Oasis and sometimes to Discovery Island. Rope barriers supervised by Disney cast members keep you there until the "rope drop," when the barrier is removed and the park and its attractions are opened at the official start time.
  2. HIGH-ATTENDANCE DAYS When large crowds are expected, you will usually be admitted through the turnstiles up to 30 minutes before official opening, and the entire park will be operating.
  3. VARIATIONS Sometimes Disney will run a variation of those two procedures. In this, you'll be permitted through the turnstiles and find that one or several specific attractions are open early. At Epcot, Spaceship Earth and sometimes Test Track or Soarin' will be operating. At Animal Kingdom, you may find Kilimanjaro Safaris and It's Tough to Be a Bug! running early. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, look for Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania!, and/or Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. The Magic Kingdom almost never runs a variation. Instead, you'll usually encounter number 1, or occasionally 2.
  4. A WORD ABOUT THE ROPE DROP For many years at all four parks, Disney cast members would dive for cover when the rope was dropped as thousands of adrenaline-crazed guests stampeded to the parks' most popular attractions. This practice occasioned the legendary Space Mountain Morning Mini-Marathon and the Splash Mountain Rapid Rampage at the Magic Kingdom, the Tower of Terror Trot at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and the Safari Sprint at Animal Kingdom, among others. Each morning, a throng would crowd the rope barriers, waiting to sprint to their favorite ride. It was each person for himself—parents against offspring, brother against sister, coeds against truck drivers, nuns against beauticians. There was nothing to do but tie up your Reeboks and get ready to run.

This ritual insanity no longer exists—at least not in the tumultuous versions of years past. Disney has increased the number of cast members supervising the rope drop in order to suppress the melee. In some cases, the rope isn't even "dropped." Instead, it's walked back: cast members lead you with the rope at a fast walk toward the attraction you're straining to reach, forcing you (and everyone else) to maintain their pace. Not until they near the attraction do cast members step aside. A New Jersey mom described it thus:

You are no longer allowed to sprint to these [attractions] because of people being trampled. Now there is a phalanx of cast members lined up at the rope who instruct you in friendly but no uncertain terms that when the rope drops they will lead you to the rides at a fast walk. However, you are not allowed to pass them. (No one ever said what would happen if you did pass.) To my surprise, everyone followed the rules and we were splish-splashing within five minutes after 9 a.m.

You never know with Disney. The current rope-drop procedure may be abandoned, and the traditional insanity allowed to resume. But we don't think so. If Disney persists in walking the rope back, the only way you can gain an advantage is to arrive early enough to be up front near the rope. Walk briskly, but we'd like to take the opportunity here to ask you to remain a civil member of the otherwise early morning chaos. The difference between being 5th on the attraction, and 50th, is not worth the risk of starting a stampede.

Will the Plans Continue to Work Once the Secret Is Out?

Yes! First, all the plans require that a patron be there when a park opens. Many Disney World patrons simply won't get up early while on vacation. Second, less than 1% of any day's attendance has been exposed to the plans—too few to affect results. Last, most groups tailor the plans, skipping rides or shows according to taste.

How Frequently Are the Touring Plans Revised?

On the site, we revise the plans regularly through the year, based on new attractions, Disney changing operations, and the wait time research we conduct. Be prepared, however, for surprises. Opening procedures and showtimes may change, for example, and you can't predict when an attraction might break down.

Tour Groups from Hell

We have discovered that tour groups of up to 200 people sometimes use our plans. A woman from Memphis, Tennessee, writes:

When we arrived at The Land [pavilion at Epcot], a tour guide was holding your book and shouting into a bullhorn, "Step 7—proceed to Journey into Imagination!" With this, about 65 Japanese tourists in red T-shirts ran out the door.

Unless your party is as large as the Japanese group, this development shouldn't alarm you. Because tour groups are big, they move slowly and have to stop to collect stragglers. The tour guide also has to accommodate the unpredictability of five dozen or so bladders. In short, you should have no problem passing a group after the initial encounter.

"Bouncing Around"

Many readers object to crisscrossing a theme park as our touring plans sometimes require. A lady from Decatur, Georgia, said she "got dizzy from all the bouncing around." We empathize, but here's the rub, park by park.

In the Magic Kingdom, the most popular attractions are positioned across the park from one another. This is no accident. It's a method of more equally distributing guests throughout the park. If you want to experience the most popular attractions in one day without long waits, you can arrive before the park fills and see those attractions first (requires crisscrossing the park), or you can enjoy the main attractions on one side of the park first, then try the most popular attractions on the other side during the hour or so before closing, when crowds presumably have thinned. Using FASTPASS lessens the time you wait in line but tends to increase the bouncing around because you must visit the same attraction twice: once to obtain your FASTPASS and again to use it.

The best way to minimize "bouncing around" at the Magic Kingdom is to use the Magic Kingdom Two-day Touring Plan, which spreads the more popular attractions over two mornings and works beautifully even when the park closes at 8 p.m. or earlier.

Unofficial Tip

We've revised the Epcot plans to eliminate most of the "bouncing around" and have added instructions to minimize walking.

Disney's Hollywood Studios is configured in a way that precludes an orderly approach to touring, or to a clockwise or counterclockwise rotation. Orderly touring is further confounded by live entertainment that prompts guests to interrupt their touring to head for whichever theater is about to crank up. At the Studios, therefore, you're stuck with "bouncing around" whether you use our plan or not. In our opinion, when it comes to Disney parks, it's best to have a plan.

Animal Kingdom is arranged in a spoke-and-hub configuration like the Magic Kingdom, simplifying crisscrossing the park. Even so, the only way to catch various shows is to stop what you're doing and troop across the park to the next performance.

Touring Plans and the Obsessive-compulsive Reader

We suggest you follow the touring plans religiously, especially in the mornings, if you're visiting during busy times. The consequence of touring spontaneity in peak season is hours of standing in line. During quieter times, there's no need to be compulsive about following the plans.

A mom in Atlanta suggests:

Emphasize perhaps not following [the touring plans] in off-season. There is no reason to crisscross the park when there are no lines.

A mother in Minneapolis advises:

Please let your readers know to stop along the way to various attractions to appreciate what else may be going on around them. We encountered many families using the Unofficial Guide[who] became too serious about getting from one place to the next, missing the fun in between.

What can we say? It's a lesser-of-two-evils situation. If you visit Walt Disney World at a busy time, you can either rise early and hustle around, or you can sleep in and see less.

When using the plans, however, relax and always be prepared for surprises and setbacks. When your type-A brain does cartwheels, reflect on the advice of a woman from Trappe, Pennsylvania:

You cannot emphasize enough the dangers of using your touring plans that were printed in the back of the book, especially if the person using them has a compulsive personality. I planned for this trip for two years and researched it by use of guidebooks, computer programs, videotapes, and information received from WDW. I had a two-page itinerary for our one-week trip in addition to your touring plans of the theme parks. On night three of our trip, I ended up taking an unscheduled trip to the emergency room of Sand Lake Hospital in Lake Buena Vista. When the doctor asked what seemed to be the problem, I responded with "I don't know, but I can't stop shaking, and I can't stay here very long because I have to get up in a couple hours to go to [Disney's Hollywood Studios]according to my itinerary." Diagnosis: an anxiety attack caused by my excessive itinerary. He gave me a shot of something, and I slept through the first four attractions the next morning. This was our third trip to WDW (not including one trip to Disneyland); on all previous trips I used only the Steve Birnbaum book, and I suffered no ill effects. I am not saying your book was not good—it was excellent! However, it should come with a warning label for people with compulsive personalities.

Touring-plan Rejection

Some folks don't respond well to the regimentation of a touring plan. If you encounter this problem with someone in your party, roll with the punches as this Maryland couple did:

The rest of the group was not receptive to the use of the touring plans. I think they all thought I was being a little too regimented about planning this vacation. Rather than argue, I left the touring plans behind as we ventured off for the parks. You can guess the outcome. We took our camcorder with us and watched the movies when we returned home. About every five minutes or so there is a shot of us all gathered around a park map trying to decide what to do next.

Finally, as a Connecticut woman alleges, the plans are incompatible with some readers' bladders and personalities:

I want to know if next year when you write those "day" schedules you could schedule bathroom breaks in there, too. You expect us to be at a certain ride at a certain time and with no stops in between. In one of the letters in your book, a guy writes, "You expect everyone to be theme-park commandos." When I read that, I thought there is a man who really knows what a problem the schedules are if you are a laid-back, slow-moving, careful detail noticer. What were you thinking when you made these schedules?

Touring Plans for Low-attendance Days

We receive a number of letters each year similar to this one from Lebanon, New Jersey:

The guide always assumed there would be large crowds. We had no lines. An alternate tour for low-traffic days would be helpful.

If attendance is low, you don't need a touring plan. Just go where your taste and instinct direct, and glory in the hassle-free touring. Having said that, however, there are attractions in each park that bottleneck even if attendance is low. These are Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Dumbo, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Pan's Flight in the Magic Kingdom; Test Track, Soarin', and Mission: Space at Epcot; Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Mania! at Disney's Hollywood Studios; and Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom. All are FASTPASS attractions. Experience them immediately after the parks open, or use FASTPASS. Remember that crowd size is relative and that large crowds can gather at certain attractions even during less-busy times. We recommend following a touring plan through the first five or six steps. If you're pretty much walking onto every attraction, feel free to scrap the remainder of the plan.

Extra Magic Hours and the Touring Plans

If you're a Disney resort Guest and want to use your morning Extra Magic Hours privileges, complete your early-entry touring before the general public is admitted, and position yourself to follow the touring plan. When the public is admitted, the park will suddenly swarm.

A Wilmington, Delaware, mother advises:

The early-entry times went like clockwork. We were finishing up the Great Movie Ride when [Disney's Hollywood Studios] opened [to the public], and [we] had to wait in line quite a while for Voyage of the Little Mermaid, which sort of screwed up everything thereafter. Early-opening attractions should be finished up well before regular opening time so you can be at the plan's first stop as early as possible.

In the Magic Kingdom, early-entry attractions currently operate in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. At Epcot, they're in the Future World section. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, they're dispersed. Practically speaking, see any attractions on the plan that are open for early entry, crossing them off as you do. If you finish all early-entry attractions and have time left before the general public is admitted, sample early-entry attractions not included in the plan. Stop touring about ten minutes before the public is admitted, and position yourself for the first attraction on the plan that wasn't open for early entry. During early entry in the Magic Kingdom, for example, you can almost always experience Peter Pan's Flight and It's a Small World in Fantasyland, plus Space Mountain and Stitch's Great Escape in Tomorrowland. As official opening nears, go to the boundary between Fantasyland and Liberty Square and be ready to blitz Splash and Big Thunder mountains according to the touring plan when the rest of the park opens.

Evening Extra Magic Hours, when a designated park remains open for Disney-resort guests three hours (effective January 2013, this changes to two hours) beyond normal closing time, have less effect on the touring plans than early entry in the morning. Parks are almost never scheduled for both early entry and evening Extra Magic Hours on the same day. Thus a park offering evening Extra Magic Hours will enjoy a fairly normal morning and early afternoon. It's not until late afternoon, when park hoppers coming from the other theme parks descend, that the late-closing park will become especially crowded. By that time, you'll be well toward the end of your touring plan.