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Why First Timers Should Trust Disney Veterans

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I need some R and R.  Badly.  Work is stressful.  Home life is stressful.  Being a parent (of two animals) is stressful.  Luckily for me I am headed to Walt Disney World in a week with my husband and two of our friends.  There is no stress when you’re in a Disney park.  I feel so completely carefree and in my bliss on vacation.  I’m insanely excited to be taking Barbara, my friend that hasn’t been to Disney World since she was 10 and Ben, her boyfriend who has never set foot in a Disney park.  Lately I’ve been thinking about how many other repeat guests take newbies and the concerns that they may face.  Sure, us “Disney Experts” worry about if our friends and family are going to like the attractions, the food, the shows, the accomodations, etc.  The thing that is currently on my mind, though, is the practice of touring plans and how it’s going to work out with two people that not only are virtual Disney newbies but also are not used to using touring plans.

We’ve decided to make this a trip in which we do not park hop in order to save time and money.  This is my first time not park hopping so coming up with our infamous day plan was a little trickier than usual.  When I plan my days out I only note where we are going to start our day.  I determine that by taking a look at the crowd calendar.  I trust the crowd calendar 100%.  Either I pick the best park or a neutral park.  I make my advance dining reservations from there and make adjustments to my day plans if need be.  I don’t freak out if I have to make a park day change because I remember that the use of a touring plan is five times more important than choosing the right park on the right day.  It starts to feel like a science to me.  I have a process of how I choose park days.  This is what our plan of attack looks like.

Thursday – Arrival Day – Epcot is the best park due to the 7 Day Rule.

FridayDisney’s Hollywood Studios – Neutral Park

SaturdayAnimal Kingdom – Best Park – While this is a crowd level 9 day overall we’re only spending time in the park until about 2:00 p.m.  After that we are spending time celebrating Barbara’s birthday with lunch at Sanaa and enjoying Downtown Disney in the evening.  Not being the parks much on this crazy day will be wonderful in avoiding the crowds.

SundayMagic Kingdom – Neutral Park – While it’s going to be a busy day, the Magic Kingdom is open until 2:00 a.m.  To break up the day we’re having dinner at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.

Monday – Epcot – Neutral Park  – Finishing up what we didn’t do on Thursday.

Tuesday – Departure Day – We have no definite plans but we’ll probably hit whatever park we feel like for a few hours and then fly out in the afternoon.

See? I don’t stress about having the perfect park picked out.  I try and find a balance between what I want to do on a specific day and what statistics say I should do.  I have my key points all taken care of.  I’m avoiding Epcot on weekends due to the Food and Wine Festival.  I’m hitting up all four parks and giving time to Downtown Disney.  I’m even going to enjoy some bonus time at the Magic Kingdom by utilizing Extra Magic Hours.

To a newbie this all has to sound totally ridiculous.  It probably sounds insanely thought out and over planned.  When you add in the idea of touring plans this whole trip intimidates a Disney newbie.  As I understand it, a first timer wants to be spontaneous in the parks.  There’s this dream of seeing an attraction, pointing in excitement, and running at full force into the queue line.  I can understand wanting this very exhilarating idea.  You know why?  Because I dream of it too.  In fact, I don’t just dream of it… I get it.

The great thing about touring plans is that they’re flexible.  I stick to the general touring plans guideline which is to use a touring plan continuously, by the book, up until noon.  I, of course, substitute attractions and still find time to stop and smell the roses.  Though, once the afternoon rolls around I’m much more relaxed and I pretty much do things as I please while using the Lines app for my phone.  I do, however, advise that no one check the app while standing in the middle of a walkway.  I check it while I’m line for another attraction.  I like to make sure an attraction is still open or that the next show time is coming up soon so I won’t have to wait forever.  These are the amazing benefits of Lines.

Okay, I’m starting to sound like an infomercial.  You all must be thinking that I’m getting paid in dole whips to promote TouringPlans.com, Lines, and the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.  I’m not.  I just really feel passionately about the research team and all of their hard work.  I don’t just write about touring plans… I use them.  Why anyone would doubt ten years of research is beyond me.  With mentions in the New York Times and USA Today, it’s not hard to see that using a touring plan or consulting the crowd calendar pays off.  If the use of the crowd calendar and a touring plan can save you up to four hours a day waiting in line… why would you not do it?  I know when I’m at Walt Disney World I want to see and do as much as I possibly can.  If I get the key attractions out of the way that means I have more down time to sit on a park bench and people watch with my dole whip in hand (note my obsession).  Everyone loves that, right?

In the end, I think that the newbies coming along with my husband and I will trust my decisions.  I think that they’ll have trust in me that I will get them on Splash Mountain… just after we hit up Peter Pan’s Flight.  If you’re a Disney vet going with some first timers, try and put yourself in their shoes.  Sure, you’ve ridden The Great Movie Ride a hundred times and might be sick of it but they haven’t.  Let them take the reigns at some point and decide where you’re going to visit.  Enjoy touring the parks through a first timers eyes.  Make the adventure your own.

Does anyone out there have any experiences with using the crowd calendar and touring plans with Disney newbies?  Any tips for myself and others in the same position?

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Stacey Lantz

Born and raised in Southwest Michigan, Stacey believes she lives far too many miles away from Walt Disney World. In her spare time she enjoys singing/dancing, spending time with her nieces, and of course, talking about Walt Disney World to anyone that is willing to listen. She's been blogging about all things Disney since 2008. Follow her on Twitter @Stacey87.

35 thoughts on “Why First Timers Should Trust Disney Veterans

  • My sister in law considered herself a Disney veteran and been there several more times than I had so when I suggested using a touring plan on our trip with 8 people she was totally agianst it. My husband convinced her to give me a 1 day trial knowing how little time we wasted on our first trip.

    Lets just say by that afternoon she was asking me what the touring plan had in store for us the next day and on a subsequent trip NO ONE questioned my itenarary which included dining reservations for 12 people. Of course because we’ve been able to go on EVERY ride we now know our favorites and are a little more loose in our plans but when I took my four foster children last May I knew they would get to see everything and wouldn’t be dissapointed. Also having the Unofficial Guide was handy as I had never been to Disney with kids before so I needed to reference the height requirements and reviews of teh attractions.

  • Our family (with 2 young children) is going with 2 other families in a few months….. They basically wanted to go with us, because they want to benefit from our Disney expertise… But there is already shock and dismay about the planning. “We need to make dining reservations how far in advance?!?!?!?!” “Wait… you actually are planning a schedule of attractions???” “Arrive BEFORE park opening?!?!?!?!”

    They look at me, as if I’m running around with my head cut off.

    As the dates get closer, I’m debating how much to push… and how crazy do I want to look in advance. My wife thinks instead of discussing the plan with the other families.. just have our plan, and be like, “this is what we are doing, at this time… feel free to join us or not.”

    • That sounds like a situation where you let them know that is how you do it, and they are welcome to catch up with you when they make it to the park. I think when you tour with others, it is helpful to give each other space sometimes. You don’t have to tell them how to do it, and they don’t have to follow your plan to the letter. Giving them options like sticking to the plan till lunch, or showing them the two day afternoon plans, and meeting up for a meal or show may make everyone happy.

      • Totally agree. That’s exactly what I plan to do.

      • I say it doesn’t matter how crazy you look because it’s YOUR vacation too! I would take your wifes advice if you’re really worried about your traveling companions. Say, “we have this laid out and we’d really like for you to be a part of it but we understand if you don’t want to do it like this.”

    • I had a similar situation – bringing 19 people total (all extended family). Everyone knew I was the Disney guru. At first, they all thought I was crazy, but I explained the plans a few weeks in advance and WHY I do it. I said “here are the plans I’ve put together, and this is what my family is following. I would suggest you all give it a try with us the first day, but you don’t have to. I’ve made dining reservations – we can all hang out then if you want to do your own thing.”

      So we have our first day, Magic Kingdom, rope drop, and everyone rallied to make it. We did an AMAZING amount before our Crystal Palace lunch reservation. At lunch, everyone was so amazed at what we did. I said “as you know, after lunch, I’m going back to the hotel and we’re going swimming. But before you do, go take a look at Fantasyland.”

      The swarms of people at 1:30pm sold everyone for the rest of the trip! Although we did split up sometimes (it’s too hard to keep 17 people together), everyone was following similar plans.

      The best moment was the last day of the trip. My brother-in-law (who had to be dragged to Disney kicking and screaming) was at rope drop at the Magic Kingdom with us. They were doing their own thing, but he said “okay, so we’re going to hit Peter Pan and Pooh at rope drop, then I’m going to go get Splash Mountain Fastpasses while they do the carrousel, then we’ll meet up for Pirates and Aladdin’s Carpets. By that point, the Splash Mountain Fastpasses should be active, so we’ll get Thunder Mountain Fastpasses, and then…”

      I cut off my formerly Disney-hating brother-in-law, and said “Apprentice, my work here is done!”

  • I’ll chime in with my experience. My wife and I have gone to Disney a few times when our kids were younger and we could be in the off-season. We also didn’t have to worry about most of the big rides cause our kids were too small, so our days were very lazy and fun with lots of parades and characters. We knew how to use FP so that helped with any issues.

    On our last trip 2 years ago, the kids were tall enough to ride bigger rides, we were going in mid-dec and I finally discovered TP.com and touring plans in general. I planned things out like you said above and my wife was a bit skeptical. This time she was the newbie since I was doing all the research. I told her to bear with me for the first 2-3 hours of the day to see how it worked. After the first day she was HOOKED! At lunch she said how smooth the morning was and we could now be more “lazy” for the rest of the day. We had such a great trip and she likes to hear all the plans now for our next trip.

    • Another success story! Yay! It is so fun once you start using plans!

  • I agree that the ride descriptions were really helpful. So when our group walks by Stich’s escape (not on our plan) and wonders why we aren’t going on it, I can tell them what it is and why we aren’t spending time on it (while getting in Splash two or three times instead . . .).

    I’ve found you have to be very careful who you choose to vacation with. It’s like choosing a roommate. You can be great friends with someone, but you could drive each other nuts if you had to live together. Planners vs “wing-it”, parks vs shopping, sleep late vs first in the gates, mid-day breaks vs all-day warriors, parades vs rides etc. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, but it is a matter of having common priorities, else you are just setting yourselves up for frustration over people missing out on what they feel is important to them. I think the Touring plan might want to talk abou the “vacation temperament” issue a little more, because this is the kind of thing that can ruin a vacation if not dealt with in advance. Some people just shouldn’t vacation together, or at least, need to agree in advance when there will be separate plans, but maybe with meeting up for certain items (e.g. meals).

    • You could not be more right. I was told once before a trip, “We can do whatever you want!” And then I ended up waiting on someone to get up and get around, didn’t make it into the parks until 11, and after 2 attractions they wanted to leave to take a nap. I felt like I shouldn’t even had my camera with me at all because stopping to take a picture was just “silly.” You really have to know the people you are going with and know that you’ll all be able to agree to the same time table and “plan” before you even begin to book a trip.

  • I just went through this with some friends of ours. The only thing is, these friends did not want to provide input for ANYTHING. Since we already knew what we wanted to do, I provided them a list of every ride, show, and attraction in WDW along with a description and asked all four of them to rate them on a scale of 1 – 4 of how much they would like to enjoy the attraction based completely on the description. They did not do this. They simply wanted to follow us around and do what we did. I felt like I was a tour guide rather then just simply enjoying the parks with them except I wasn’t getting paid. One of the pleasures I always imagined was experiencing the parks through someone else’s eyes. Answering questions as they see things for the first time, etc…. Not in this case. They never left our side except to child swap on rides. I felt like I was the tour guide on flights of wonder with out the fear of birds and all. In the future when I try this again with other newbies that they can go off on their own when we want to simply rest.

    • Oh my gosh. That sounds like a nightmare for us Disney vets that hold the parks close to our heart. I bet you learned a lot though and will be more careful next time! I know what it’s like to go with someone that doesn’t seem as thrilled as you. Definitely a rough experience. I pray that next time you’ll have an AWESOME trip!

  • I’m going to be there on the same days and I’m going with the same touring plan! Guess it’s a good strategy…

    • Hey Heather! If you see me in the parks be sure to come up and say hi! I don’t bite!

      • Will do! You can look for me as well, I should be easy to spot. I’ll be the one horking down the Fisherman’s pie and Guiness in Ireland.

  • Touring plans and lines are a must. Taking newbies, especially a group of them can be a nightmare. Took a trip last easter week with two other families (a group of 14) – our family was the only veteran disney family that is used to using lines and touring plans. Despite all of my efforts and logic, the other families still wanted to do Spaceship earth first thing and make countless other choices that drove me nuts. Standing in the middle of a crowd staring at a park map trying to decide what to do next is not my idea of a fun vacation. The only good part of the trip was the all-star vacation home we rented. After hearing them mentioned so many times on the wdwtoday podcast, we had a beautiful house for the week. Anyways, the moral of my comment is that if you are a veteran planner and want to take newbies, make sure they understand and accept your approach upfront and that they won’t just freak out when you get there because you have a plan. We definitely paid the price for this when we were there. The Easter trip left such a bad taste that we had to book another trip in August just us and the kids.

  • I envy those of you who have family and friends willing to trust that you know what you are doing. My mother-in-law wants our entire family of 14 to go to Disney World together. However, everyone things I am crazy and they refuse to plan anything beyond what hotel to stay in.

    • Be very careful. People have different temperaments and priorities when on vacation. For some, it’s about the shopping. For other’s, it’s about the pool. And others, sleeping in is a priority. You may need a plan that allows for splitting up of the group, and having your own plan, which people can opt in and join you, or they can go off on their own. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, people just like different things.

      • This is why a touring plan isnt’ for all people. Some people love to wing it and could really care less if they get to do all the attractions that they want to. When I was a kid and went on any vacation, priority one was the swimming pool. It’s a difficult thing to balance but it can be done as long as everyone is willing to split up for a bit to keep everyone sane and happy.

  • One thing that has helped me plan trips with newbies in the past is having them read through the ride descriptions in the Unofficial Guide and rating their interest in each ride (using a chart that I provide!). This requires traveling companions who are willing to put in some extra planning time before arriving in the park, but I’ve been fortunate to have friends and family who are willing to oblige. This helps me to customize the touring plans to everyone’s interests, and also prepares first-timers for the attractions that they will see in the parks, easing their impulse to run toward the first empty line that they see. I haven’t had the opportunity to use LINES yet, but I plan to on my upcoming trip (with a friend who has not been to WDW in about 15 years) this Spring!

    • You make your own chart for your newbies? I LOVE IT! Thanks for contributing your tips!

    • Sarah, THANK YOU! This is an incredible idea. Love that this way I can revise the TP to what they want to do while sill touring in an efficient manner. Great idea!

      • I also had my friend make a list of attractions they really wanted to do and what they didn’t want to do, so that I could work with them. She seemed to appreciate it, and it got her more excited before we left!

  • I know it’s blasphemy to post this here – but I’ve never used any sort of touring plan. I’ll consult crowd calendars to give me a rough idea of which park to try. But on our last trip, we honestly didn’t find it to be all that helpful. We just go with the flow and still manage to get everything in, many times. I never consider a ride to be “out of the way” since we typically go on our favorites many, many times.

    • I don’t think it’s blasphemous at all! Kudos to you for finding a system that works for you! It helps once you know your favorite shows and attractions. You know you’re not wasting your time on attractions that you have no interest in.

  • Actually, now that I think of it… our last 3 trips were “taking newbies” with us! They all seemed to be willing to trust my (and my Wife’s) Disney knowledge & experience (and touring plans!). All 3 trips were AWESOME!

    • DANG! Great job! You must have been really great at not overwhelming them with all of the information.

  • I just got back from a week at the World with a newbie. While she may have thought I was crazy leading up to the trip with all the planning I did & memorizing the touring plans. While there – the use of the Touring plan proved very useful – especially thanks to LINES. She couldn’t believe we finished everything we wanted & then some with 4 hours left in the day! Also – it was so much fun to see the World through her eyes! And I got to see & experience some new things b/c they were things she was interested in. And now she’s saying it was the best vacation of her life! Success! 🙂

    • So glad that you like Lines, Melinda! I love that app too! Congrats on the successful trip with a newbie!

    • Wow. I never thought of memorizing the plan. It may sound a bit excessive, but it would beat constantly looking at a piece of paper. I guess I’d better start studying. Only 8 weeks to go…. 🙂

  • Yes, yes and yes! As a seasoned Disneyland veteran, I hear you!! I know the mystique and enjoyment of any vacation is to “wing it” – but really when sooooo much time and money go into your trip, it’s paramount to the success of your stay to utilize touringplans (there’s nothing else like it!)
    While I have the extreme luxury of leaving the park on a busy day, or simply going over to California Adventure and relaxing – I realize many do not. We recently purchased tickets for two of my daughter’s friends and we also did not park hop on that day. Time and money were absolutely the same factors.

    This is a great post!! Thank you! Amen to Touring Plans & Lines!


    • Hey, Dana! Thanks for your response! You’re right about wanting your time and money spent to be “worth it” and it’s great when just a little bit of pre-planning can get you so far!

  • For newbies, the Touring Plan is like having that friend with all the tried and true advice that they have from years of experience visiting the parks. There is so much to do and see at WDW that if you don’t have a plan, you can miss so much, be battling crowds at the worst times, and generally have a less positive experience. I find the plans (plus my other research) also means making good decisions about when and how to deviate from the plans. I remember on a trip to DL about five years ago, when one of our party wanted to go on a ride we were walking by (it looked neat, and there was hardly any line, I can’t remember what it was). I assured her this attraction was on our plan, when we would get to it, and how doing this now would mean a longer line elsewhere. By the end of our four days at DL and DCA, having done everything important once (and even twice or three times!), there were no doubters. A plan is like a map — it’s nice to know where you’re going, but it also helps if you decide to take a detour. I also think that going to the parks with someone who has never been before would be a wonderful experience, because it makes it all new again.

    • You mention the idea of a less positive experience for some people. I’ve heard a few random stories of people going to Disney World for the first time around Christmas and complaining about the crowds and how they couldn’t get on anything. My response was always, “Well, duh!” I feel like a touring plan or even a rough idea of what you’re going to do (like you said… a map) would really help first timers that are going without a vet from running into road blocks and big crowd shock.


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