Disney Planning Beyond Meals and FastPass+

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Seasoned Walt Disney World travelers will try to impress upon friends and family who are planning first time and first-in-a-long-time trips to the Most Structured Vacation Destination on Earth the need to be on top of dining and FastPass+ reservations. It’s sound advice and will go a long way toward a pleasant trip. But have you thought about the other things you should do before you board your plane, train, or automobile to Florida? Luckily, there is a gap between the 180 day dining window opening and the 30 (day guest) or 60 (onsite guest) FastPass+ window that you can fill to your Type-A heart’s desire….

Check DIsney Store to get some seasonal apparel
Check Disney Store to get some seasonal apparel

Buy seasonal apparel. As teachers, we usually travel to Disney World during the summer months, and most of our packing includes shopping for summer travel. But outside that time of year, finding little items like sunscreen, bathing suits, or even shorts and t-shirts might be a little more difficult. Locating other items at a reasonable price like cooling items may be only available online. Instead, as soon as you make your meal reservations, start locating toiletries, swimming attire, sunscreen, and other necessaries.

Book and check transportation rates. In the months leading up to your trip, check and re-check rates. Airlines have wonderful habits of modifying rates. We always book Southwest, and if the rates drop, we re-book our trip – and gain a few extra dollars back. Over the last year, we even put enough credit back into our account to nearly pay for another round trip to Florida. Keep examining and checking out – you never can tell.

Check for seasonal events and situational opportunities. After you’ve been to Disney World a few times, it’s easy to get into a rut. Don’t! Almost through the entire year, Disney offers some limited engagement of events, opportunities, shows, characters, rides, and the like. Make sure to check for any upcoming events. We approach all of our trips with “What can we ONLY do here? Or now?” If you’re choosing between two items, try to find the one that may be ending soon.

Time to break in your Disney World Shoes!
Time to break in your Disney World Shoes!

Start to break in your Disney World shoes. You need a pair that fits well – and built for walking. But don’t have a new pair packed in your suitcase. Some of the best shoes I’ve worn gave me blisters the first few days. And some of the shoes I thought liked the best before my trips have ended up not fitting well. I can remember hearing advice that the most important things you can spend money on are shoes and a bed. Because most of your life will be spent in one of those two places. It applies even more for your Disney trip – because you might do more walking over a day than you do on any other. My days can easily supersede 15,000 steps – and you may be moving even more.

Begin a regular exercise program. Epcot itself is over a mile just around the world showcase. Estimates vary – and I am certain I have seen the worst – but some people estimated eight to ten miles per day. When we stayed at the Beach Club, we walked to and from Hollywood Studios each time we went (with one exception to try out the boats). The round trip there is three miles itself (including to our room). We probably aren’t the norm. Most of our neighbors probably think of us as the ‘chunky walkers.’ If you aren’t in a walking lifestyle – it might not be a bad idea to begin walking a few miles each day just to start building some stamina for the upcoming treks.

Check on special needs. Our daughter has a life-threatening tree nut allergy. Disney has always been relatively good at communicating about that. However, she’s also allergic to coconuts – and most cast members aren’t as excellent at checking on coconut oils. It took me three calls to finally confirm that my beloved Mickey Bars did, in fact, contain coconut oil, and would be dangerous for her. Most ‘mainstream’ allergens – peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and the like are easy to confirm. However, a quick call to the restaurant to confirm one way or another on questionable items goes a long way.

Start building your personal touring plan
Start building your personal touring plan

Research, research, research. I love the Unofficial Guide – but it can be overwhelming. It covers wide swaths of information, but can overwhelm. If it’s too much, read through information on blogs, other books, and message boards. Stay particularly aware of multitudes of new information, as well. Disney World will continually announce new shows, events, times, locations, characters, and closures. When new events announce, determine whether or not you want to add or change plans to fit your new ideas.

Build a touring plan. I love the touring plans app, but of course, I am terrifyingly prejudiced. I also supplement by reading multiple other touring suggestions. It seems that nearly any blogger online has a best suggestion. All of them are great, and multitudes have working options. I like taking other ideas and inserting them into the touring plans app with my own set of modifications – adding, deleting, and subtracting to fit our own interests. The touring plans app also can be set to suggest fast passes for your upcoming trip, too. Especially for a first time visitor – or an only time visit – this can make your day. I know that many other options are out there – but the personalized nature of the touring plans allows you to modify based on the day, and your personal interests, as well. Insert your reservations and tentative meal plans, and the program puts together best case scenarios for reservations.

Decide on snacks or other meals. So much discussion always covers table service meals – and markedly less discusses counter service restaurants and snack credits. It’s easy to choose larger meals – but take time to select a few more unusual meals on your trip. Get outside of the old burger, fries, nuggets, and turkey sandwich meals. Most of the parks have a few outside of the regular paces meals. Take time to check them out. Yes, even Hollywood Studios has a few options, too. Have you ever tried the Grilled Vegetable Sandwich at Backlot Express? Nice change of pace. How about the sausagee at Min & Bill’s? These more exclusive meals can redeem an otherwise dull experience. Snacks provide even more options. Although we continually find ourselves ordering one of the many ice cream sandwiches, we are also not immune to seasonal offerings at timely events.

Holiday ornaments on sale? Those will fit under the tree nicely!
Holiday ornaments on sale? Those will fit under the tree nicely!

Plan starts of each day – and down-time. The first two to three hours can make the biggest difference in the amount of ground that you and your family see. While many theories exist of best possible practice to cover Disney World, you need to choose a plan to effectively manage your time. I, for one, still can’t believe that it’s a better idea to get to Test Track first and then Soarin’, but to each their own. Planning a breakfast – in the hotel, on the bus, or with early reservations – and then sticking to that plan – can make serious impact on the rest of your day.

Hit up your local Disney store or disneystore.com. You almost never can tell when a great deal will pop onto either one. We still have a few great mugs that we spent under two dollars on each one – two coffee cups, and one mug for water. We love locating matching shirts and building our trip wardrobe. We even scored some great Disney pullovers for only $15 for our ‘cold weather’ trip upcoming. Picking up a few things can very easily help to build a wardrobe for your trip – and packing gets a little easier.

Plan your outfits for the trip. Check on your sizes. Especially if you are wearing ‘out of season’ clothes. A few pounds may have changed the wear. In addition, if you aren’t planning on wearing those clothes until the trip, put them in the suitcase. We love wearing outfits connected to the park – and matching together. We are that kind of a crazy Disney family.

Start to pack your carry-on or toiletries bag. This follows your locating of seasonal items – but we always try to keep a bag packed with first aid – and another with the daily necessaries. Usually, you won’t need to extensively refresh, but a few months before is a great time to hit up the disposable razors, the travel size shampoos, and check to make certain your band-aid supply is full. You can also check for sales on any of these items, too. A vacation can be a great way to get away from stress – even if I don’t think Disney is the best idea for a ‘vacation.’ It’s more of an excursion – one that you might need a few days to recover from afterward.

Plan to do nothing for a little while when you return. Just getting laundry done can be stressful. But a delayed flight, weather emergency, or even just lost luggage can throw off the next few days. That doesn’t even get into the relative exhaustion that you’ll feel when you return from a trip. We try to not even call anyone on the phone those days. Just relax. Look over your stuff. Write a reflection. Don’t plan much of anything else.

Check your password on mydisneyexperience.com. Multiple times. Even if you’re pretty certain, it can’t hurt to go ahead and check in – just to make sure everything is settled. You don’t need any extra stress at midnight. Have a plan – and a back-up. It’s not a bad idea to put some of your highest demand attractions toward the middle or end of the trip  if you are staying at a Disney resort. That way, you could push an Anna & Elsa reservation – or the elusive Mine Train booking to day 67 instead of day 60. Slots will be more plentiful, and probably more desirable, as well.

Keep everything together – and start making a list of things you will need to organize before your trip, too. While much of your stuff can be pretty organized – it never hurts to plan some time to get back on-task, too. And remember – you’re going to Disney World in just TWO MONTHS!

Kevin Bastos

Kevin has taught high school since 1998, and loved Disney World since a 2009 visit with his wife and three daughters. He loves the planning stages of the vacation, and tends to focus on details (while his wife manages the big picture). He also collects comic books, and sometimes maintains a blog reading them. You can follow my twitter @kevin_m_bastos.

11 thoughts on “Disney Planning Beyond Meals and FastPass+

  • December 2, 2014 at 11:19 am
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    Great tips!! But only 2 months to plan?!? I am already working preparing for our trip in December 2015! 🙂

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    • December 2, 2014 at 7:20 pm
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      Two months? Oh, PLEASE! We love planning! Don’t think that I only plan for two months – we LOVE the plan. Having our next trip to look forward to on planning keeps us going… Just sometimes in that lull between dinner reservations, and planning fast passes – we sometimes need to get the other stuff moving, too. Everyone counts at 180. Some people count down to the 60 or 30 days, too. But other stuff needs to wedge around that.

      Reply
  • December 2, 2014 at 11:21 am
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    Great advice – we go to Florida every year and every time we do something we haven’t done before. Not always Disney things but at east one thing. This is our 14th trip and we still have no problem finding something new to do. Some people ask me why we go to Florida all the time rather than other places – but they don’t appreciate that you can go and have a different holiday every time!

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    • December 2, 2014 at 7:17 pm
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      Tom Bricker wrote a great comment in a reading that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Essentially, he said something like when you get it, you get it. People who don’t perhaps never will. That’s okay, too. But the addiction has fueled our addiction, and there is always something new and great to do, if you just look for it. By the way, if anyone can find that quote, let me know!

      Reply
  • December 2, 2014 at 5:29 pm
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    I thought the wife and I were OCD but…. dang! All good advice. We’ve done it so much I think we just do many of those things automagically.

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    • December 2, 2014 at 7:13 pm
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      We change it up each time we visit. I have an thing about not wanting to stay at the same hotel twice. The last time we went without kids and LOVED nearly everything about the Beach Club. Staying at the Yacht Club wouldn’t technically be the same place, right? The only place that we so far have no desire to stay in is the Grand Floridian – but for strange reasons. I’m sure after we really explore there we might change our minds, though!

      As for the OCD – you have NO idea. We LOVE continuing to explore options. My brain is always working. I usually build up an optimistic plan, and a fall back one, too.

      Lastly, not sure if ‘automagically’ was a typo or intentional, but we LOVED that comment!

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      • December 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm
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        “Lastly, not sure if ‘automagically’ was a typo or intentional, but we LOVED that comment!”

        It was intentional. I’ve been using that word since before Disney started using it on the doors to Mickey’s Philharmagic. I think they owe me royalties LOLOL.

  • December 2, 2014 at 5:35 pm
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    Like some of your ideas, especially calling WDW trip an excursion rather than a vacation. And your last sentence about going in Two Months took me aback. Felt like you were talking just to me regarding my February vacation.

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    • December 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm
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      Funny – when I was putting the finishing touches on it, our vacation was two months away – and now we are MUCH closer than that. Enjoy your excursion. As teachers, we try to take our trips at the BEGINNING of summer – then we always have time to recover. This next trip will be a NEW experience for us!

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  • December 3, 2014 at 9:58 am
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    Because my mom and I love to plan vacations WDW was amazing for us. The extra planning paid off in a number of small ways, because we were a group of 5, ages 70-almost 2, and the logistics of that can be impressive.

    One thing we planned which worked out really nicely was what the adults were going to do in the morning to get ready — my mom packed the backpack and refilled the snacks, I got the kids ready and my step dad made coffee and went and got the car. None of these jobs were too big — but knowing what you were doing (and what you didn’t have to worry about) made getting to rope drop a lot easier for us.

    Also, we did a little loose planning about our “Plan B” for when things went awry. Which attractions were skippable, who would take the baby home early if he was tired, etc. That helped a lot too.

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    • December 3, 2014 at 10:25 am
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      Great ideas! For our next trip, we are moving our kids’ showers to the night before, and dressing them in park clothes for the next day to sleep. I tend to be the earliest riser, and although two of my three kids are prompt, one tends to slow us down tremendously. Having tasks for each part of the day can trim minutes.

      As for the plan B – I always have a second touring plan input. The first is the optimistic one. For example, touring plans app tends to start a Hollywood Studios day as if you entered the park at opening, and were in the middle of the pack getting to Toy Story Midway Mania. Just getting to the front of the crowd, you might even be off the ride before the official park opening. It tends to start running as soon as the gates open. I make one plan assuming that we got there early (just eliminating Toy Story from the first stop), and one that incorporates a stop there (with a 45 minute wait). Then, from there, I get moving. Especially getting around with kids, a ‘quick’ bathroom stop can move things around. I always prep my kids with our first three stops. We also refer to our ‘train wreck’ day when we didn’t follow the plan, and waits went awry.

      Reply

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