If you follow my articles, you know that over Labor Day Weekend I partook in a grand experiment in an unplanned day at Walt Disney World. Having now experienced that firsthand (and taking some time to mull it over) I’m ready to report back with this uber-planner’s perspective on completely making things up as I went along. What did I learn? Adventure is out there, but I’d prefer to plan for it.
For a quick review of my experiment, here are the rules that were applied to my unplanned day:
- Votes were submitted via Twitter, Facebook, and the comments section of my All It Takes is Faith and Trust article regarding which park my husband and I would visit on Saturday, September 5th – we did not tally the votes until we were ready to walk out the door and go to the winning park.
- We had to make our FastPass+ selections after we arrived at the park using one of the in-park kiosks (this was a rule change based upon a suggestion from a commenter on the original article – I was not allowed to use the MyDisneyExperience app on my phone).
- We could not make a meal reservation for that day until after we arrived in the designated park, and we had to make that reservation by calling the reservation line (another rule change based on comments).
- I would provide regular updates on Twitter and solicit feedback from people following along from home – they could make suggestions regarding what we would do once we were in the winning park and I would try to accommodate those requests.
- I would be allowed to utilize the Touring Plans Lines app throughout the day.
If you aren’t interested in the play-by-play version of the day and you just want to know my reaction to it, scroll on down to the “So, What Do I Really Think?” section and enjoy!
An Overview of the Day
Surprisingly, when it came time to tally the votes (many of which were received that morning after I put out the call on Twitter) I discovered that we would be going to Magic Kingdom. I assumed people would send us to Hollywood Studios, where the lack of attractions might throw us off our game. Instead, we were going to the most attraction-dense park in the line-up! Good news, right? (Right…?) My husband and I were pretty jazzed, but this did lead us to a rather immediate and uncomfortable situation. It is always my goal on our trips to never drive to the Ticket and Transportation Center. We had rented a car, and we were staying in a Downtown Disney resort, so, for the FIRST TIME EVER, we had to drive to the nightmarish Ticket and Transportation Center.
It was clear why I avoided the TTC for so many years. Although I’m not a fan of being herded like cattle towards a theme park, the one advantage of the TTC route was that it allowed us to do something we’d never done before – take a ferry boat to the Magic Kingdom! It was relaxing and low-key, but already Anthony and I were sweating pretty profusely. The day was HOT and it was only going to get worse from then on out.
The magic begins!! Right as we’re strolling up to bag check, they open the second bank of bag check tables and we’re the first ones through. Small victory, but I was ready to take what I could get.
Our first order of business was to hit up the FastPass+ kiosks on Main Street. I was nervous that the selection would be poor, but we strolled right up and landed FastPasses for the Jungle Cruise, Buzz Lightyear, and the Haunted Mansion. One big plus for us was that we didn’t even have to kill time before the first window would open – we were able to head right to the Jungle Cruise.
We made our way over to the Jungle Cruise where the posted standby time was 30 minutes. Using our newly acquired FastPass+ selections, we strolled right up to the load area. In record time (seriously, this was the fastest I’d ever made it onto a boat), Anthony and I were embarking on our cruise through the jungle.
Our skipper on this fine day was Skipper Anthony from Miami, and he was hands-down the BEST skipper I’ve ever experienced! He peppered in some of that improv that is so hard to come by on this attraction these days, and he made it the best Jungle Cruise experience I’d ever had. Looking back, this was easily one of the highlights of the day. (Although it helped that heat exhaustion hadn’t set in yet.)
After that fantastic experience, we decided that I would call and make a meal reservation for later in the day. I’d been communicating with the wonderful Liliane Opsomer, one of the authors of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids, and we were making plans to meet up later in the day. We’d narrowed down the restaurant choices to a few selections, and it was my job to call and secure one for us. I want to say, for the record, that the dining reservation hotline was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had.
When I’ve called before regarding reservations I’ve always been connected with a real, live human being. When did they switch to an automated system from hades?! Before you comment, yes, I’m sure I could have pressed 0 or yelled at the phone and I would have eventually been connected to a person. At first, my thought was that I wanted to use the exact system as they had put it in place. After about 15 minutes, my thought was that I was going to defeat this evil, magical-sucking, automated phone robot if it was the last thing I did. In the end, I secured us a reservation at 5 pm at The Wave at the Contemporary Resort, knowing we could easily jet over there on the monorail, or even walk. Unfortunately, my desire to defeat the automated phone robot at its own game also meant that I was a little irked by the time I got off the phone.
Needing a little respite after that experience, we took a relaxing ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, which is easily one of our favorite attractions. We were also starting to feel the effects of excessive heat and were in need of some time off our feet.
It was at this time that I realized my Touring Plans Lines app was malfunctioning. As much as I might be entertained by the thought that I was being sabotaged (it’s a trap!), the truth was that there were some other issues and in order for me to fix those issues, I needed to uninstall and reinstall Lines. I have a very vivid memory of reading the Touring Plans tweet with those instructions. I also know that for some reason those instructions did not actually penetrate my brain. So there I was, trying to do an unplanned day in the Magic Kingdom, with my only resources being the Lines app and FastPass kiosks. And because I wasn’t functioning at peak efficiency (I think I’ll blame the heat…), I counted the Lines app as a loss rather than following the instructions to fix it. I didn’t actually fix my Lines app until the following day. Some planner I am!
We headed to Buzz Lightyear to use our second FastPass of the day. Based on the way the line was acting I think there were some ride stops happening, but we really didn’t care. The queue was air-conditioned, and that was really all we needed! Plus, this gave me some time to communicate on Twitter with an individual who was following our progress that day. He suggested that after Buzz we head to PhilharMagic on the way to the Haunted Mansion. This seemed like a great (air-conditioned!) idea to me, and that is what we ended up doing. By 1:30 PM we were standing in line at PhilharMagic, and we made it into the theatre without a long wait. I am a huge fan of the PhilharMagic, and today was no exception. In retrospect, we probably should have experienced it more than once. Not only would it have kept us out of the heat longer, but because it is awesome.
When we make it over to the Haunted Mansion to use our last FastPass+ selection from the morning, the first thing I noticed was the 40 minute standby time and I was extremely happy to have snagged our FastPasses that morning. The heat had not tapered off in the least, and the people packed in the outdoor queue for the standby line looked miserable. The attraction was as fantastic as it always is, although I wouldn’t have turned down a nice ride stop in the dark, cool building. Unfortunately (?) the ride didn’t grant my ride stop wish and before long we were out in the sweltering heat again.
We’re hot. It’s crowded. And my husband isn’t super happy that I’ve spent the entirety of this day glued to my phone, tweeting updates. Anthony wanted to get out of the heat for a while by perusing the shops on Main Street, so we decided that I’d “go dark” on Twitter for a while so we could just spend some time together in the air conditioning. Then I realized that the Festival of Fantasy parade was not far off and we weren’t too keen on fighting the masses to shop on Main Street during that time.
We took a quick detour to a FastPass+ kiosk and snagged ourselves a selection for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, with a window opening five minutes later. A nice detour through the Hundred Acre Woods killed some time, and after that we started slowly meandering towards the front of the park, stopping here and there as we didn’t want to arrive at the height of the Festival of Fantasy madness.
We managed to time our arrival on Main Street with the very end of the parade, so we were able to make our way through some shops and relish in the air conditioning. After I scored myself a new Pandora charm, we decide to head over to the Contemporary for our 5pm dinner reservation. By this time we were feeling seriously shaky from the heat, and in spite of wanting to have this be a grand day where we accomplished a myriad of attractions, we also didn’t want to end the day early because we made poor decisions. We took the monorail over to the Contemporary at about 4 PM and killed some time until our dinner reservation by sipping bottled water and people-watching.
We met up with Liliane and we had a fantastic dinner at The Wave. It was awesome to be able to meet one of the Unofficial Guide experts, and as a bonus she even gave me a copy of the 2016 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids! This was a great highlight to the day, and we had a lot of fun talking about the Disney parks and our different experiences. I felt extremely fortunate to have this opportunity, and I think it was a great addition to my unplanned day! I also have to add that this was truly unplanned. Although we’d connected on Twitter prior to the trip, all we’d determined was that we wanted to meet up at some point during the unplanned day. The decision of it being dinner and with that dinner being at The Wave did not come about until Anthony and I were already in the Magic Kingdom that morning.
Following dinner we went our separate ways, but Anthony and I had been thrown another curve ball for our adventures. On Friday night we had met a fantastic pair of women from Australia at the Epcot IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party. We spent that evening chatting with them while we all gorged ourselves on desserts and sparkling wine, and we got along extremely well. At the end of that evening we connected on Facebook, and this was the first time that Anthony and I had made friends during our park adventures (outside of just casually chatting with people). Well, wouldn’t you know it, our new friends messaged us on Facebook and wanted to know if we wanted to meet up for drinks before heading back to Magic Kingdom for fireworks and some nighttime attractions! This was an unplanned day, right? What better way to spend it than by doing something unplanned?! We were in.
We decided to meet at Luau Cove at the Polynesian, which meant that all we needed to do was hop the monorail over there. By 7 PM we were relaxing at one of the tables at Luau Cove, sipping some drinks, and chatting with our new friends. We spent about 2 hours just soaking up the ambiance and having a great time before all four of us headed back over to the Magic Kingdom.
Having secured ourselves great positions a little ways back from the Partners statue, all four of us had truly superb views of both Celebrate the Magic and Wishes! Following that particular bit of magic, we all managed to hit the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, and the Barnstormer. Anthony and I were pretty tired at this point, so we parted ways from our new friends and began the long (LONG) trek back to the car.
My hatred for the Ticket and Transportation Center grew to epic proportions.
We still weren’t back to the car, but our delirious banter regarding our stamina levels and our Marine Corps days kept us going. Or we were sleepwalking. One of those two things is true. Possibly both of them.
I can’t actually tell you what time we arrived back at the resort, as I was apparently too tired to provide an update by this point. Safe to say, it was probably in the 12:30 – 12:45 AM range.
So, What Do I Really Think?
Okay, I’ve just given you a synopsis of the day, but aside from a few minor opinions on individual incidents I haven’t really provided you with my actual thoughts on the experience. Here it is, uncensored:
- I didn’t really like not knowing what I would be doing until I was doing it. I know that’s not a surprise, but even though I had a great day, I have to say that this style of touring is just not for me. This isn’t because it was hard or impossible – it just wasn’t our thing (at least not the way it was structured for this experiment).
- The most challenging part of this day related to my heavy use of Twitter for votes on what we would do as well as updates on what I was currently doing and how the experiment was going. If the experiment had been structured in such a way that it didn’t rely on social media for the planning of the day, it would have been much more to my liking. Because of my use of Twitter, I spent a large amount of time essentially ignoring my husband. As a result, I never really felt like I was “in the moment.” Anthony didn’t complain, but it was easy to see that he was disappointed at my lack of engagement with him. And I was disappointed that I couldn’t balance that better.
- There was a huge unintended consequence for the rest of our trip – since I didn’t know what park we would be visiting on Saturday, that couldn’t factor into my planning for our other days of the trip. I originally planned for us to go to the Magic Kingdom on Sunday, but after we were sent there on Saturday we needed to change that plan. So I began shuffling FastPass+ selections and dining reservations for Sunday and Monday (on Sunday evening, since we spent Sunday morning at Disney Springs) and it was an extremely unpleasant experience. My entire planning method was thrown completely off, and I lost myself in a vortex of blinding rage as I tried to apply my normal planning method to a day-of scenario. And then I was changing selections and second guessing myself and… Let’s just say I went to my angry place. As Nick Miller would say (if you don’t watch New Girl, you should), “This is my nightmare.”
In spite of these factors, I wouldn’t have a problem doing an unplanned day again, with a couple modifications. Firstly, I would choose the park before the day-of. That way it would fit in with my touring plans for the remainder of my trip. Secondly, I would swear off social media for the majority of the day. If I’m going to be in-the-moment with my planning, I want to be in the moment with my traveling party. This isn’t possible if I’m tethered to my phone.
In the end, my husband and I still had a great day. We experienced 7 attractions, plus Celebrate the Magic and Wishes! We did some shopping, spent time at both the Contemporary and the Polynesian, had a meal with one new friend, and drinks with two new friends. It was exciting to try something new, even if it wouldn’t exactly be my first choice of touring style in the future. I certainly don’t regret it!
Have you used this style of touring before? What would you have done differently? Please share your thoughts in the comments!