Using Disney Planning Tips for Non-Disney Vacations

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epcot1 skiA few weeks ago I took my first day trip to the mountains of Colorado for a day of skiing in Breckenridge. I had gone skiing before, and I had stayed with family while I did so. This time, I would be doing the trip on my own.

I did a lot of research before I traveled west, and as my little trip went without a hitch, I realized that many of the keys to my successful journey were because I did the same things that I would do on a Walt Disney World vacation!

If you are a regular planner and reader, you know many of the tips to a successful Disney vacation by heart. It is very easy to take those tips and use them for a vacation taken outside of Orlando or Anaheim!

Get to know the area

roadOne of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World‘s sections is all about getting around the resort. They recommend maps (or a good GPS app) and a knowledge of the main areas of Walt Disney World, like the Seven Seas Lagoon area, Bay Lake area, Epcot and Hollywood Studios area, Downtown Disney area, and Animal Kingdom area. If you are driving around the resort, have an idea where these areas are and what is in each. If taking Disney Transportation, you need to know if the monorail or boat will take you near your destination, or whether you’ll have to take one or two buses to get there.

For a non-Disney trip, understanding the lay of the land is very important, too. On a vacation to New York City, it is important to know that Times Square is not a block away from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and if you want to watch the New York Giants or Jets play football, you’ll have to go to New Jersey to watch them! While having your phone is incredibly helpful, just having an understanding of the city will help you get around even more.

Arrive early

emptymkA huge tip to take advantage of light Walt Disney World crowds is to arrive before the park even opens. Getting to the front gate 30-45 minutes before the scheduled opening means that the Disney guest can enjoy attractions with minimal wait times once the park officially opens.

Many vacationers can use this tip when enjoying a trip to a non-Disney location. If a trip to the beach is something you enjoy, arriving on the beach early in the day means you get to stake out your prime location and move those beach chairs where you want them. The later you arrive at the beach, the more crowded it is and the less likely you’ll get a great spot to set your umbrella. Not only that, but the sun will be more oppressive and your family may be more cranky the later in the day you arrive.

Have a plan

As I skied down the hills of the Breckenridge resort, I thought to myself, “I wonder if TouringPlans will ever expand to touring plans for ski resorts?” I doubt this could happen since resorts and trails are so dependent on the weather and snow conditions, but I could also see this being very useful.

At Walt Disney World, it is best to have a plan of attack for your day, even if it’s not a touring plan. Even on your most relaxing of days, it is best to know that Soarin’ needs to be done first, or at least needs to be one of your Fastpass+ options.

I spent a lot of time gazing at the Breckenridge trail map the day before I went skiing, so I would stay on the green (easy) or blue (moderate) trails and not find myself on the black (advanced) trails by accident. It was also nice to see the five peaks on the map, so I knew that I wanted to stay on Peaks 8 or 9 and avoid 6, 7, and 10. Ski resorts often mark their trails very well, and Breck has signs everywhere on their peaks, but I was still glad to have a bit of background.

Leave midday (whether for a break or for good)

Many Disney podcasters, writers, or videographers agree that if you’ve arrived to the park early, the best thing to do when the crowds are at their highest is to leave the park, take a nap, go for a swim, and relax before returning to your park of choice in the late afternoon or evening.

Noon on the mountain – really busy!

It is a little more difficult to follow this tip elsewhere outside of Disney. Ski resorts usually close up shop around 3 or 4, while museums and zoos have minimal evening hours. If you’ve gotten to your destination early enough and have been there since it opened, it may not be necessary to stay for all the operating hours. Hopefully you can fit everything in during the morning and early afternoon hours and leave when the crowds start to thicken.

Another option is to find out when attractions have special evening hours or evening events and take advantage of those times, kind of like Walt Disney World’s Halloween and Christmas parties. Some zoos have “Zoo Lights” during the holiday season and you can catch some of the animals in addition to the beautiful light displays!

Eat elsewhere or eat inexpensively

cakecupThe easiest thing to do when you’re hungry in Walt Disney World is to find the nearest food kiosk or restaurant and eat the first thing you see on the menu. It also might be the priciest thing to do. Disney park guests can find some inexpensive and tasty food if they do a little hunting. I recently discovered the gourmet cake cups at the Cheshire Cafe thanks to a recommendation, and was not disappointed. I would have never discovered that without some help! Another option if you can take advantage of it is to eat off site. Orlando has its fair share of delicious food choices – it doesn’t have to be McDonald’s if you don’t want it to be.

When taking a non-Disney vacation it’s actually easier to find the best and/or cheapest food locations in the area. Museums and other attractions will usually have a restaurant or food court on the main floor, but the food is usually a bit pricey and can also be not that great. By doing a little research into the area, you can find great restaurants, cafes, or shops with delicious food that doesn’t break the bank!


Have you found yourself using your Disney trip research tips or strategies on other vacations you’ve taken? Do you only take Disney trips and have no idea what I’m writing about? Do you have any other tips you’d like to share? Please comment below!

Claire Nat

I've been enjoying Walt Disney World since my Nana pushed my sister's and my strollers back in the late 1980s. I enjoy my day job here in the Denver area as a teacher and music coordinator at our church. I love music, reading, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and Michigan sports!

8 thoughts on “Using Disney Planning Tips for Non-Disney Vacations

  • January 7, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Great post, but for me it was the other way around. I learned most of what you call “Disney Planning Tips” traveling around the world for my job, long before I ever went back to Disney as an adult. Most of the “Disney Planning Tips” are things a seasoned traveler will have learned long ago.

    • January 7, 2015 at 9:50 pm

      My vacations at Disney were actually my first major trips I ever did, so I could use those planning tips on other vacations! But thinking of it in reverse would be a great topic, too!

  • January 7, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    I modify the Disney rest schedule when traveling the rest of the world. It works particularly well for Europe. Wake up early and get to attractions and museums when they open at 8 or 9. Tour hard, and eat a quick lunch-on-the-go while out (a picnic I brought or street food), then return to the hotel at 4 or 5 as attractions are closing for a power nap, guidebook reading time, and freshen-up. Head out to dinner at 8 (Europeans eat late typically) and stroll through parts of town and visit buildings you don’t need to go inside of (ex. visit the Trevi fountain in Rome, or Big Ben in London, or Times Square in New York). I also take one full “day off” per week while touring to sleep-in and simply stroll around.

    • January 7, 2015 at 9:48 pm

      That is fantastic! All of the things you talked about for European vacations could easily be used at Disney. I especially like the “guidebook reading time.”

  • January 7, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    My binder of Disney planning is now my travel binder!

  • January 8, 2015 at 6:10 am

    I was just saying the other day, I wish I had a crowd calendar (and other resources) for our trip to Gatlinburg, TN!

    • January 8, 2015 at 10:28 pm

      Fabulous! It always feels so strange to plan vacations without those trusty tools.


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