I may have a problem.
On our first trip as a family to Disney World in 2009, I bought a stack of books. I won’t even mention the amount I spent, but it was exorbitant. And crazy. And when I flipped through all of them, I just hungered for more information. So I flipped through websites, joined Disney posting boards, and generally dug through nearly every possible nugget I could find. I joined the touringplans.com site, and planned multitudes of options based on our plan. I may have also planned a back-up plan. Or five. And still, I felt ill-prepared.
I probably have a problem.
When I got to the end of it, I realized a few things. Frankly, planning can’t plan for every single unforeseen circumstance. But it did really help to negotiate my trip, and get real information from every place I could. Planning for Disney World can be overwhelming, but calming down, and making quick choices can make for a better vacation for everyone. While sorting through all of it caused me headaches – certainly you can learn from my advice.
First – visit the library. Yes, the library. It’s free! Grab as many of the outdated books you can, and flip through them. Certainly don’t dig through all of them with any vigor – but at least to get an idea of the parks, and a generalized set of information. Background helps.
Second – not everything on the internet is real. Do I have a few bookmarked sites, and people I follow on twitter? Most certainly. I love reading through message boards. I waste WAY too much time sifting through menus for my own good. I plan snack credits based on reviews from people I have never met. I read trip advisor, and follow multiple levels of reviews. But in the background of all of this mess, I know that all of this is background and assistance. Certainly nothing set iron-clad. I treat this as entertaining fun – nothing more. Especially including every line you read from me. If you agree? Great. If you don’t, let me know. I love arguing.
Third – even when you find a set of information to follow, it must be treated as a guide – and not a master plan. I’ve learned to turn my head at many people who go without researching, or without a specific guideline for each day. for myself, I need constant reminder that even if my tour gets changed, it won’t wreck the day. Last year at Epcot, we turned over our day to our children, chasing characters that never arrived ( a piece of advice – lightning and rain cancels many outside character appearances). All of us were miserable. The kids, because the rains arrived, and characters did not. Us, because the remains of our day were lost to waiting in lines. At the end of the day, we all threw up our hands, danced in ponchos, and followed an Agent P mission in England’s pouring rain. Our smiles and laughter returned. Your deadlines and times aren’t a checklist. They are simply a best case scenario. When things go wrong – and they will – have a back-up plan. But even if that ends up in the garbage – you’re still on vacation.
Fourth – be prepared to read a lot of the same information. Over and over again. For our Christmas trip this year, I have already read one book, and have three more on pre-order. Even working for the Unofficial Guides website, I’m constantly looking for new takes on the same visit. It certainly sounds insane – but the immersion of information helps to solidify most of the decisions that we make as a family. The dissenting information, too, can really shed light on the places to really focus. When two sides disagree on the same sets of information – I know that’s a place to really dig. Unfortunately, it isn’t too often.
Next, admit you have a problem.
I have a problem.
Fifth – focus and consolidate. My first visit, I purchased a pile of resources. I joined websites. I even had four different touring plans printed and ready for one half-day visit to a park. Too much. Instead of destroying your sanity, pick and choose resources. While I still over-investigate, I now rely on a few places. I still look around often. It still rings to me that when my wife and I research while working in parallel – she on the computer, and me on the Ipad, she has her favorite website, and I have mine. But I return to the basic sets of information. While I still build personalized touring plans for each day, I still look around at other resources, too.
Finally – reflect. Not just after the vacation, but during, too. The best thing my wife and I did as a couple (that we never expected us to do) was record and evaluate. At the end of each day in the park, we tucked the kids into bed, and sat down, pen in hand. We wrote down the items that really worked, and honesty reflected on our day’s failures, as well. It gave the kids an opportunity to fall asleep, but more importantly, we recorded our visit while it was fresh in our minds. Then, when planning our next vacation, we returned first to our own reflections, and guided our next visits with that in mind.
Keeping a vacation planned and flexible has helped us immensely. While I examine every day- and when I’m done editing this, I will return to my personalized plan – I also remember to keep an idea on each moment. Of course, now that my 2015 Unofficial Guide has arrived, I will re-visit my spreadsheet yet again. Even though I won’t ever completely overcome my research, planning each vacation has helped me to be more spontaneous on each visit. That has been invaluable.