I have a friend who, no matter how many times I tried to explain, never understood what a touring plan is, what TouringPlans is, or why you would ever need either of them. To them, the concept of detailed planning seemed antithetical to the entire idea of a vacation. Just go and enjoy!
After years of fruitless explanations, a finally found an analogy that made the proverbial lightbulb shine above his head – grocery shopping during the pandemic. He gets it now!
This is long, but bear with me.
POINT ONE – Touring/Shopping with No Plan
Grocery: Pre-pandemic I would sometimes go to the grocery store with no set goal other than the vague notion that we were getting low on food and I’d have to feed my family at some point. I’d stop at whichever of the five or six supermarkets near my home that I happened to pass first during my errands, whenever that might be during the week. I’d browse, paying no particular attention to the amount of time my visit was taking, and then buy a few of my usual suspect grocery item, plus whatever happened to catch my eye for dinner for the next two or three nights. I’d have no prepared meal plan and knew that if I forgot something I could go back to the store any time I needed or wanted.
Disney World: The Disney equivalent is making a trip to Orlando with no plan. During the trip you wake up late and have a leisurely breakfast. Then show up at whichever park you happen to be in the mood for that day. Maybe have in the back of your mind that you want to hit an attraction a friend told you about, but mostly you wander around until a ride or activity strikes your fancy. When you get hungry, figure out where you want to eat on the fly.
- The no-plan travel/shop is easy on the front end. You’re not spending any advance time on planning.
- This accounts for your current mood. You woke up in the mood for steak, so you buy steak. Your kid decided this morning that he loves giraffes, so you head to Animal Kingdom because that’s where you think they are.
- You might be missing something that you need or want. For example, at the grocery without a plan, you could forget that you’re almost out of milk. Or at the parks, without dining reservations, you might not be able eat at that cute restaurant you just passed.
- You could be wasting money. At the grocery, this could take the form of buying a gallon of milk that will likely go to waste because you forget you already have a full jug at home. Or you could make your grocery run at Whole Foods rather than Stop & Shop because it was closer to the dry cleaner, which means you end up spending an extra dollar per pound on apples.
POINT TWO – Making a List
Grocery: At the start of the pandemic, I decided that, to reduce possible COVID exposure, I wanted to make fewer trips to the store. The first tool I implemented was to make a shopping lists for every trip. First I’d survey my fridge and cabinets to see what we were low on. Then I’d talk to my family about what they wanted to eat in the coming week, and maybe also consult a cookbook for ideas. From there I’d make a list of all the items I wanted to acquire when shopping.
Disney World: The list making equivalent for Disney is deciding in advance which attractions and restaurants you’ll want to experience during your vacation. You’ll gather information from friends who have been in the past (though make sure that their interests align with yours) and online resources. You might buy a book to thumb through. After a bit of research you make a list of the attractions you want to experience. Note: TouringPlans has lists of every attraction available at the Disney World theme parks, with links to descriptive information and reviews.
- With a list in hand, you’re unlikely to forget something important. If your shopping list notes you that need more of your child’s favorite yogurt, you’ll remember to buy it. Or if you’re researched vacation list tells you that your child is likely to enjoy Goofy’s Barnstormer, then you’ll make sure to ride it when you’re in the park.
- You include the wishes/needs of the entire family, making sure everyone gets what they want.
- You’ll probably save money. At the store you’re less likely to buy things you don’t need. At the parks, you’re more likely to choose, for example, restaurants that offer food your family truly enjoys.
- Sticking to the list might mute spontaneity. If your list says “strawberry jam” you might be so focused strawberry that you don’t notice the nearby peach jam that you’d like even more. Similarly, if you focus on a strict list of attractions, you might not stop to enjoy a found moment like seeing your toddler become enraptured by the ducks in the theme parks.
- Making a list takes time and mental energy that you might not have.
POINT THREE – Making a Touring Plan/Shopping Map
Grocery: As the pandemic wore on, I found myself wanting to spend as little time as humanly possible in a grocery store. In addition to making a list of what I needed to buy, I started organizing the list in the correct sequence in the store. Previously, if my list read something like broccoli, carrots, strawberries, turkey, milk, cereal, crackers, apples, I’d miss the apples at the end of the list and have to circle back to the produce section after I had already left that area. By grouping all the produce, dairy, meat, etc. together on my list, I cut down on backtracking and further reduced my time spent in the store.
Disney World: Shopping with an ordered list is akin to using a researched touring plan. A touring plan takes the list of things you want to do (rides, dining, etc.) and put them into the most efficient order.
- You’ll definitely save time. A well-thought out list, ordered in the most efficient manner could save you precious minutes in the grocery store and precious hours (or even days) in a theme park.
- There’s even less room for serendipity. In the supermarket, if you’re in and out quickly, you might miss a new or exciting product. In the parks, if don’t put an attraction into your plan, then you might miss something you would have loved.
- You need some background expertise to have a well-ordered plan. For example, to make a well-grouped grocery list, you need to know things like the particular supermarket you’ll be shopping shelves tortillas by the bread, not in the international foods section like the store across town. However, if you use TouringPlans, this negative does not apply to the theme parks because we’ve done the ordering of attractions for you.
POINT FOUR – Optimizing the Plan
Grocery: After several months of using an ordered grocery list I ran into a snag. One of my go-to supermarkets changed their layout. The prepared salads were where the sushi was and the sushi was moved near the meat counter. During that grocery trip I did quite a bit of unexpected backtracking. I later discovered that the Wegman’s supermarket app lists the aisle number of every item by store. (I’m sure there are other chains that do this as well.) By going through my shopping list on the Wegman’s app, I’ve subsequently learned of changes to the shelving locations of several of my typical grocery items. Periodic looks at the app help me keep my list in optimal order.
Disney World: The Touring Plans Lines app has constant data updates on changes to the parks. If a ride goes temporarily down for maintenance or a sudden rainstorm shifts crowds away from outdoor attractions, the app knows this. A quick click of the “Optimize” button ensures that the order of your attraction visits is exactly right for the immediate situation. Similarly, if you decide to stray from the initial plan by adding or subtracting a ride or by stopping for an extra long snack break, the “optimize” button can help you get back on track.
- With a well-optimized plan, you will always be assured of wasting the least amount of time possible.
- Optimization takes the current situation into account.
- For groceries, making a well optimized list requires more research, thus more planning time.
- To optimize your touring plans using Lines app, you will need to subscribe to the Touring Plans service. There is a modest fee associated with this. (Though you’re likely to reap benefits that well outweigh the nominal cost.)
POINT FIVE – Keeping Up to Date on New Products
Grocery: After several months of optimized quick in-and-out shopping, my meal planning got monotonous. Since I knew exactly where to go in the store, dinner turned into an endless cycle of the same meals week after week. As my family grew bored, we started checking meal planning and recipe websites for ideas of new meals. And of course my young adult children were looped into the TikTok trends so supplies to make sourdough, hot chocolate bombs, and feta tomato pasta were added to our list at various points.
Disney World: Disney is ALWAYS changing. On a macro level, attractions and restaurants are periodically added and removed from the parks. On a micro level, nearly every day there are new foods and new merchandise items added in the parks. Who knows, maybe that new donut shop will become your all time favorite dessert place EVER. The Touring Plans blog runs several articles every day that cover the new and interesting additions to Walt Disney World.
- Variety and new diversions help keep you sane, particularly during a never-ending pandemic.
- The new item you try might become your next favorite thing.
- Keeping up to date on new products takes a little time.
- You might not enjoy every new item you try.
POINT SIX – Finding Scarce Items
Grocery: Throughout the pandemic there have been various items in short supply. There have been scattered shortages of things like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, yeast, and canned beverages. My neighborhood Facebook group became a clearinghouse for information on where to find these unicorn products, with posts popping up saying things like, “The manager of the Post Road Trader Joe’s told me that they’re getting a shipment of paper towels at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday. If you need some, try then.”
Disney World: The reservations for some popular restaurants fill up almost immediately after they’re released. If you plan a last minute trip, you could be shut out of eating at a favorite spot. To work around this, Touring Plans created the Dining Reservation Finder. Input the reservations you’re hoping to obtain and behind the scenes we’ll constantly look for cancellations or added inventory. You’ll get texts popping up saying things like, “There’s an open reservation slot at Oga’s Cantina at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, go try to grab it.”
- Getting help with finding the things you need can be a lifesaver.
- To get help from others you need to be involved with others. For example, I don’t always love Facebook, but I stay because my neighborhood group is often helpful in finding scarce supermarket items. With Disney World, you must be a TouringPlans subscriber to use the Dining Reservation Finder feature.
POINT SEVEN – Choosing the Time of Year You Visit
Grocery: There are certain times of the year that I simply refuse to go to the grocery store, and that goes double during the pandemic. The day before a big storm is predicted – nope. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving – absolutely not. My years of experience have taught me that these are times when the stores will be packed, key items may be out of stock, and the other shoppers may be wound up a little too tightly. That’s not my cup of tea, but it might be yours.
Disney World: There are certain times of the year when the theme parks are PACKED, reservations may be unavailable even with the Reservation Finder, and other guests may be wound up waaay too tightly. Touring Plans’ research and experience knows exactly which days those are. You can find this information on our Crowd Calendar.
- Some folks get an adrenaline rush from being in a bustling crowd. Some folks get overwhelmed with too many other people around. Thinking about when to visit with help sure what time of year is best for you to visit, or avoid visiting.
- You might not always have a choice of when to visit.
POINT EIGHT – Choosing the Day/Time You Visit
Grocery: When I visit the grocery store during the pandemic, I like to minimize my time in the store (via an optimized list) AND I want to go when there will be the fewest number of other people shopping. This is another instance where the neighborhood Facebook group was helpful. I looked for posts like, “I’ve been to Shop Rite twice during the 5:00 -6:00 dinner hour and both times it was empty,” or “Whole Foods is dead before 8:00 a.m.” to help me decide when to go to which store.
Disney World: Even if you choose a relatively low crowd time of year to visit, there are daily trends as to which of the four WDW theme parks are more or less busy at a given time. The TouringPlans Crowd Calendar includes this granular level of detail to help you fine tune your visit.
- Choose the right day or time to visit can tip an already good trip into the perfect zone.
- You might not want to spend time on this level of detail.
POINT NINE – Getting the Best Value for My Money
Grocery: Early in the pandemic, it wasn’t immediately clear how my family’s income would be impacted by COVID. In this uncertain time, I took particular care to make sure that I was buying only what we needed and that the things I was buying were of good quality. I read reviews and looked at sources like Consumer Reports to increase my ability to make good choices.
Theme parks: Vacations can be expensive, to make help you make the best choices for your family, TouringPlans features extensive reviews of hotels, attractions, restaurants, and every other aspect of Walt Disney World.
- Doing research ensures that you’re making the best choices for your family.
- Without research, you could waste significant money buying things that your family doesn’t want or need.
- Research can be time consuming.
POINT TEN – Saving Money
Grocery: Even with a list of the exact items I want to purchase, there may be opportunities to save money on the things I want to buy. Grocery store apps and Sunday circulars often offer reduced-price coupons. Most stores offer certain items at a reduced price when purchased in certain quantities.
Disney World: Disney theme park tickets are priced differently on different days. There are discounts for hotels on various dates. And some categories of guests (Florida residents, annual passholders, DVC members) may qualify for reduced prices on some rooms, restaurants, or merchandise. The TouringPlans blog covers many stories about money saving – look for posts on topics like Priceline deals. And our friends at MouseSavers devote their entire site to Disney-related discounts.
- Saving money!
- Research can be time consuming.
POINT ELEVEN – Outsourcing the Task
Grocery: During weeks when the pandemic was particularly virulent in my area, I outsourced much of my shopping to Instacart and other delivery services. When planning things down to the last detail became overwhelming or when I didn’t have enough information to choose the very best time to shop, I let someone else do the shopping for me. I provided a list of what I needed and when I wanted delivery, but after that it became someone else’s job.
Theme parks: When vacation planning becomes more of a burden than a joy, it’s perfectly acceptable to outsource the planning – to a travel agent. TouringPlans Travel has a hyper-experienced team of agents who have been to the parks hundreds of times. You can give them a list of your vacation wants and they’ll create the best possible plan for you.
- Outsourcing a task can save you lots of time.
- See the second con below.
- You have to know what you want enough to ask someone else to do it.
- When outsourcing grocery shopping, there are often item markups or delivery fees. This is NOT true of using a travel agents. There is no fee to use TouringPlans Travel! And as an added bonus, if you use our agents to plan your trip, we’ll throw in a free subscription to the TouringPlans tool kit.
On a practical basis, I’ve been at all of these various points of my grocery shopping and my theme park touring, based on my varying needs and the situation at hand.
At Walt Disney World, if I’m by myself for a long visit and I’ve also been to the parks recently, I might bop around with no plan at all. But if I’m traveling with others, short on time, or short on money, the TouringPlans tools absolutely maximize my chance of vacation success. TouringPlans anticipates all your possible bumps in the road and provides solutions to anticipated and unanticipated problems.
If you want to save time, save money, and have the best experience possible, the Pros of having a touring plan far outweigh any minor Cons.
Does the grocery store analogy make sense to you? What level of preparation are you most likely to take? Let us know in the comments.