If you caught my previous article on planned spontaneity and MyMagic+, there is one flaw you might have noticed – it requires that you know far in advance that you are taking a trip to Walt Disney World. So the question is, “How do you plan for spontaneity when you decide to take a trip in the next 30 days?”
Before I launch into my method for planned spontaneity for last-minute trips, I first want to make one tiny thing clear: you don’t have to plan for spontaneity to be spontaneous on a trip to Disney World. (Don’t be alarmed, you read that right.) If you want to go sans FastPass+ and wing it with restaurants, you will still be able to have an awesome time. I prefer to use MyMagic+ to its fullest, and for me that means planning in such a way that I can go off-book about 50% of the time and have a plan the other 50%. If you’re a planner like I am, then this should be right up your alley.
A few years ago I would never have thought that I could plan a last-minute trip. I used to be a person who planned a single trip to Disney World a year, and I usually had the dates picked out more than a year in advance. (What can I say, I’m a planner!) Everything changed in March of 2014. We had the hardest, longest, most brutal Michigan winter that you can imagine, and the end was nowhere in sight. (I still remember the countless Elsa memes flying around Facebook…) When I say that my husband and I were going completely crazy, that is not an exaggeration. Then out of the blue, I made an off-the-wall suggestion. Let’s go to Disney World. In two weeks.
(Cue the sound of squealing brakes.) A five day trip that would take place in two weeks. Honestly, that was my nightmare. No time to plan out our Advanced Dining Reservations, and no opportunity to have the pick of the litter for our FastPass+ selections. And only five days? Up until this point we’d always taken trips that were a full week, and I was reluctant to break out of my comfort zone. But we needed this. Almost the instant the suggestion left my lips, I knew there was no going back. Spoiler alert – to this day, that trip ranks as my #1 favorite trip to Disney World of all time.
That particular visit changed my attitude about a lot of things. We’re now Annual Passholders who make frequent short trips to Disney World, in addition to our more traditional week-long excursions. I also learned that I can (gasp!) be flexible in regards to planning our itinerary. Getting to this point required an extreme overhaul to my regular system of planning, but it was well worth it in the end! What follows are my steps for leveraging MyMagic+ to its highest potential during a last-minute trip, while also leaving in room for some spontaneous fun (in addition to the spontaneous fun you automatically get out of a trip like this!).
1) Reconcile yourself to the fact that you’re going to have to make some compromises. (Okay, this step might just be for me…)
The hardest thing for me to come to grips with in planning my first last-minute trip was the fact that, if I wanted to get the most out of MyMagic+ , I had to let go of the idea that I could do everything I wanted to do. And (because I’m me) I actually had to stop and mentally prepare myself. The end goal was going to be the same in planning this trip as it was for all of my previous trips – cluster our ADRs and FastPass+ selections in such a way that we will have unplanned blocks of time to do anything we want. As you might have predicted, the next step in this process is to:
2) Check the Touring Plans Crowd Calendar.
The Crowd Calendar is ALWAYS going to be an important factor in my planning, regardless of the circumstances of the trip. There is a lot to be gained by being in a less crowded park, particularly when you are making a lot of your itinerary up on the fly, and this is a step I would never skip. The goal here is to figure out what you want your anchor park to be for each day of your visit. This is a fairly major deviation from my usual process, where I lean on my ADRs as my anchors for the day. With a last-minute trip I’ve found that it is easier to work backwards, choosing the park first and then basing everything else on that.
For example, let’s say you are taking a four-day trip and you have a Park Hopper or you are an Annual Passholder. You know you want to visit all four parks, but you don’t necessarily want to focus as much time on Hollywood Studios as you do Magic Kingdom. An easy way to accomplish this is to pick the two best days to visit Magic Kingdom, based on the Crowd Calendar, and make Magic Kingdom your anchor for those two days. Use the same method to place Epcot and Animal Kingdom as anchors. You’ll still visit Hollywood Studios, but you’ll do it with some of your “spontaneous time.” This will give you the extra time you want in the Magic Kingdom and keep you from getting bogged down by an ADR in a park that you aren’t as excited about (I, for one, also see more value in spending my three FastPass+ selections in Magic Kingdom than in Hollywood Studios right now, but I digress…).
3) Make your Advanced Dining Reservations (interchangeable with step 4).
In the case of a last-minute trip, I abandon the idea of making a comprehensive dining list and being discerning (*cough* – picky) about where we’re going to eat. Instead, I lean on my anchor park and see what’s available. Let’s go back to our hypothetical example and let’s say that the first day of the trip is designated as an Epcot day. You know you want to catch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, so that means you need to be in Epcot for at least the latter part of the day. All that remains is picking a time that you think would work well for a meal and checking the Disney dining reservations website for restaurant availability in Epcot at your designated time. I’ll admit it; it is possible that you’re going to be faced with slim pickings.
What I normally do is (try to) view this as an opportunity for something new by choosing a restaurant that I haven’t tried before. Let’s face it, many of the popular restaurants get booked because the food is fantastic or the atmosphere is perfect or the characters are top-notch. The leftovers (that’s the official term used in my brain) are usually fine, but they might not be blow-you-away awesome. A last minute trip is the PERFECT time to give less sought out (or hard to get to, like the Hoop Dee Doo Revue) restaurants a chance! So I book something open in the vicinity of the park I plan to be in around a time I know I’ll be there, and I do this for each day of the trip.
4) Make your FastPass+ selections (interchangeable with step 3).
The other major piece of the planning puzzle is your FastPass+ selections. Your awesome deductive powers may have tipped you off that I view steps 3 and 4 as entirely interchangeable. Which one you tackle first will depend upon what you view as the highest priority. Personally, I usually go for the ADRs first. When I’ve tried to do it in the reverse order, I often end up having to move FastPass+ times after the fact, since ADRs can be a little trickier in regards to availability and timing.
This is what I would classify as the most challenging step (aside from step 1) of this process, and I also find it to be quite the emotional roller coaster if I’m taking a last-minute trip during a peak travel time. It usually goes something like this (and I’m going to personify this, Inside Out style):
- Oh, look, all three attractions I want to experience are available! (Joy is dancing around in my head.)
- WHAT times are available? You’ve got to be kidding me. (Disgust has taken over.)
- Okay, I’ll switch it around. I guess I’ll have to skip Spaceship Earth. (Sadness slumps on the floor in a corner.)
- Captain EO?! (Fear faints.)
- Argggghhhh! Stop trying to change my Tier 1 selection to Living with the Land!! (Anger’s head bursts into a pyrotechnic frenzy.)
- And now… Wait for it… Just a little more maneuvering… Victory! I can live with all three selections and they’re clustered near my ADR time. (The five emotions have reconciled and are singing Kumbayah.)
Having led you through that dramatic re-enactment, I would like to point out that there are also times when FastPass+ selections are not that intense. If you’re closer to the 30 day mark (especially if you’re visiting at a slower time of year), you might very well get everything you want in the exact time frame that you want. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum and traveling during peak season, your choices will be more limited. Just don’t forget the objective in booking these FastPass+ selections: they must be clustered around your ADR time in order to give you a large, unplanned block of time for your spontaneous wanderings.
Regardless of what order you approach steps 3 and 4, don’t be surprised if you end up having to do some tweaking to either your ADRs or your FastPass+ selections. This is when you’ll have to make some compromises in one area or the other in order to complete your mission of planned spontaneity.
5) Embrace the excitement of a last minute trip!
By planning a last minute trip, you pretty much already embraced the idea of spontaneity. But being the savvy planner you are, you’ve now built just enough structure into your trip that you can still reap the benefits of MyMagic+. You won’t be wandering around, hungry and annoyed, trying to find an opening at a table service restaurant. And who knows, maybe you’ll absolutely LOVE Nine Dragons. The best part is, you barely even came up with the idea of a trip to Disney World, and you’re already in the final countdown to when it begins!
At this point, the advanced course in planned spontaneity circles back to my original, long-term planning process. To sum it up, be spontaneous and be willing to improvise, adapt, and overcome whatever challenges might arise during your travels. If you’ve never had the opportunity to take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Disney World (and you have the means to do it), I would wholeheartedly suggest that you give it a try! Our last-minute trip in March of 2014 was a defining moment that reigns at the top of my list of Disney World trips. (Remember in Tangled when Rapunzel is swinging around yelling out, “Best. Day. Ever!”? It was just like that, but with cupcakes.)
I’d love to hear about the shortest amount of time you’ve planned a trip in. Do you have any insider secrets for making a last-minute trip extra special? Please share in the comments!