What You Can Realistically Expect from the Touring Plans
Though we present one-day touring plans for each theme park, be aware that the Magic Kingdom and Epcot have more attractions than you can reasonably expect to see in one day. Because the two-day plans for the Magic Kingdom and Epcot are the most comprehensive, efficient, and relaxing, we strongly recommend them over the one-day plans. However, if you must cram your visit into a single day, the one- day plans will allow you to see as much as is humanly possible. Although Disney’s Hollywood Studios has grown considerably since its 1989 debut, seeing everything in one day is still possible. Likewise, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a one-day outing.
Customize Your Touring Plans
The attractions included in our touring plans are the most popular as determined by almost 53,000 reader surveys. If you’ve never been to Walt Disney World, we suggest using the plans in this book. Besides being the best our program can produce, these plans have been field-tested by tens of thousands of families. They’ll ensure that you see the best Disney attractions with as little waiting in line as possible.
If you’re a return visitor, your favorite attractions may be different. One way to customize the plans is to go to create personalized versions. Tell the software the date, time, and park you’ve chosen to visit, along with the attractions you want to see. The plan will tell you, for your specific travel date and time, the exact order in which to visit the attractions to minimize your waits in line. Lines also supports “switching off” on thrill rides. Besides attractions, you can schedule meals, breaks, character greetings, and more. You can even tell Lines how fast you plan to walk, and it’ll make the necessary adjustments. Plus, the app can handle any FastPass+ reservations you’ve already got and tell you which attractions would benefit most from using them.
Alternatively, some changes are simple enough to make on your own. If a plan calls for an attraction you’re not interested in, simply skip it and move on to the next one. You can also substitute similar attractions in the same area of the park. If a plan calls for, say, riding Dumbo and you’d rather not, but you would enjoy the Mad Tea Party (which is not on the plan), then go ahead and substitute that for Dumbo. As long as the substitution is a similar attraction—substituting a show for a ride won’t work—and is pretty close by the attraction called for in the touring plan, you won’t compromise the plan’s overall effectiveness.
A family of four from South Slocan, British Columbia, found they could easily tailor the touring plans to meet their needs:
We amended your touring plans by taking out the attractions we didn’t want to do and just doing the remainder in order. It worked great, and by arriving before the parks opened, we got to see every- thing we wanted, with virtually no waits!
As did a Jacksonville, Florida, family:
We used a combination of the Two-Day Touring Plan for Parents with Small Children and the Two-Day Touring Plan for Adults. We were able to get on almost everything with a 10-minute wait or less. Our longest wait was on our second day for the Jungle Cruise, but the wait was still only 20 minutes.
Finally, from a Magnolia, Mississippi, family of four:
One of the things we love most about the book and the website is the ability to adjust any of the plans to our family’s preferences sim- ply by omitting a step or two. The plans work for any style of tour- ing, from commando to laid-back.
Variables That Will Affect the Success of the Touring Plans
The plans’ success will be affected by how quickly you move from ride to ride; when and how many refreshment and restroom breaks you take; when, where, and how you eat meals; and your ability (or lack thereof) to find your way around. Smaller groups almost always move faster than larger groups, and parties of adults generally cover more ground than families with young children. Switching off (page 341), also known as “The Baby Swap,” among other things, inhibits families with little ones from moving expeditiously among attractions. Plus, some folks simply cannot conform to the plans’ “early to rise” conditions, as this reader from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, recounts:
Our touring plans were thrown totally off by one member who could not be on time for opening. Even in October, this made a huge difference in our ability to see attractions without waiting.
And a family from Centerville, Ohio, says:
The toughest thing about your touring plans was getting the rest of the family to stay with them. Getting them to pass by attractions in order to hit something across the park was no easy task.
The Disney Dining Plan’s required restaurant reservations impose a rigid schedule that can derail a touring plan, as this Wichita, Kansas, mom attests:
The [printed] touring plans were impractical if used with the dining plan. The hour-long meals wreaked havoc on the itinerary, and we never seemed to be able to get back on track, even with low crowd levels and rainy afternoons.
Along with dining breaks, the appearance of a Disney character usually stops a touring plan in its tracks. While some characters stroll the parks, it’s equally common that they assemble in a specific venue where families queue up for photos and autographs. Meeting characters, posing for photos, and getting autographs can burn hours of touring time.
If your kids collect character autographs, you need to anticipate these interruptions by including character greetings when creating your online touring plans, or else negotiate some understanding with your children about when you’ll collect autographs. Note that queues for autographs, especially in the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, are sometimes as long as or longer than the queues for major attractions. The only time-efficient ways to collect autographs are to use FastPass+ where available (such as for Mickey Mouse and the Disney princesses at the Magic Kingdom) or to line up at the character-greeting areas first thing in the morning. Early morning is also the best time to experience popular attractions, so you may have some tough choices to make.
Some things are beyond your control. Chief among these are the manner and timing of bringing a particular ride to capacity. For example, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom, has five trains. On a given morning, it may begin operation with two of the five, then add the other three when needed. If the waiting line builds rapidly before operators go to full capacity, you could have a long wait, even in early morning.
A variable that can give your touring plans a boost is the singles line, as this English reader explains:
We used the touring plans to the letter and found that not only did they work, but they worked even better in conjunction with single-rider queues. The only rides that we queued up for normally were ones with a 20-minute-or-less queue time and wet rides.
Another variable is your arrival time for a theater show. You’ll wait from the time you arrive until the end of the presentation in progress. Thus, if a show is 15 minutes long and you arrive 1 minute after it has begun, your wait will be 14 minutes. Conversely, if you arrive as the show is wrapping up, your wait will be only a minute or two.
While we realize that following the plans isn’t always easy, we nevertheless recommend continuous, expeditious touring until around noon. After that, breaks and diversions won’t affect the plans significantly.
What to Do if You Lose the Thread
Anything from a blister to a broken attraction can throw off a touring plan. If unforeseen events interrupt a plan:
- If you’re following a touring plan in our Lines app, just press “Optimize” when you’re ready to start touring again. Lines will figure out the best possible plan for the remainder of your day.
- If you’re following a printed touring plan, skip a step on the plan for every 20 minutes’ delay. For example, if you lose your wallet and spend an hour hunting for it, skip three steps and pick up from there.
- Forget the plan and organize the remainder of the day using the standby wait times listed in Lines.
What to Expect When You Arrive at the Parks
Because most touring plans are based on being present when the theme park opens, you need to know about opening procedures. Disney trans- portation to the parks begins 11⁄2–2 hours before official opening. The parking lots open at around the same time.
Each park has an entrance plaza outside the turnstiles. Usually, you’re held there until 30 minutes before the official opening time, when you’re admitted. What happens next depends on the season and the day’s crowds:
- STANDARD OPENING PROCEDURES At Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, all guests are permitted through the turnstiles, and you’ll find that one or several specific attractions are open early. At Epcot, Spaceship Earth and sometimes Test Track or Soarin’ will be operating. At Animal Kingdom, you may find it’s Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, and TriceraTop Spin. At Hollywood Studios, look for Tower of Terror, Toy Story Midway Mania!, and/or Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. At the Magic Kingdom, you may be admitted past the turnstiles 15 minutes before park opening, but you’ll usually be confined to a small section of the park, such as Main Street, U.S.A., until official opening time. A human wall of Disney cast members keeps you there until opening, when the wall speed-walks you back to the headliner attractions (to prevent anyone from running or getting trampled).
- HIGH-ATTENDANCE DAYS When large crowds are expected, you will usually be admitted through the turnstiles up to 30 minutes before official opening, and the entire park will be operating.
In the first scenario above, you gain a big advantage if you’re already past the turnstiles when the park opens. While everyone else is stuck in line waiting for the people ahead to find their tickets and figure out how the biometric scans work, the lucky few already in the park will be in line for their first attraction. You’ll probably be done and on your way to your second before many of them are even in the park, and the time savings accrue throughout the rest of the day.
Will the Plans Continue to Work Once the Secret Is Out?
Yes! First, all the plans require that a patron be there when a park opens. Many Disney World patrons simply won’t get up early while on vacation. Second, less than 2% of any day’s attendance has been exposed to the plans—too few to affect results. Last, most groups tailor the plans, skipping rides or shows according to taste.
How Frequently Are the Touring Plans Revised?
On the site, we revise the plans regularly through the year, based on new attractions, Disney changing operations, and the wait time research we conduct. Be prepared, however, for surprises. Opening procedures and showtimes may change, for example, and you can't predict when an attraction might break down.
Tour Groups on Steroids
We have discovered that tour groups of up to 200 people sometimes use our plans. A woman from Memphis, Tennessee, writes:
When we arrived at The Land [pavilion at Epcot], a tour guide was holding your book and shouting into a bullhorn, "Step 7--proceed to Journey into Imagination!" With this, about 65 Japanese tourists in red T-shirts ran out the door.
Unless your party is as large as the Japanese group, this development shouldn't alarm you. Because tour groups are big, they move slowly and have to stop to collect stragglers. The tour guide also has to accommodate the unpredictability of five dozen or so bladders. In short, you should have no problem passing a group after the initial encounter.
Some readers object to crisscrossing a theme park as our touring plans sometimes require. A woman from Decatur, Georgia, told us she “got dizzy from all the bouncing around.” Believe us, we empathize.
We’ve worked hard over the years to eliminate the need to criss- cross a theme park in our touring plans. (In fact, our customized software can minimize walking instead of waiting in line, if that’s important to you.) Occasionally, however, it’s possible to save a lot of time in line with a few extra minutes of walking.
The reasons for this are varied. Sometimes a park is designed intentionally to require walking. In the Magic Kingdom, for example, the most popular attractions are positioned as far apart as possible—in the north, east, and west corners of the park—so that guests are more evenly distributed throughout the day. Other times, you may be visiting just after a new attraction has opened that everyone wants to try. In that case, a special trip to visit the new attraction may be required earlier in the day than normal, in order to avoid longer waits later. And live shows, especially at the Studios, sometimes have performance schedules so at odds with each other (and the rest of the park’s schedule) that orderly touring is impossible.
If you want to experience headliner attractions in one day without long waits, you can see those first (requires crisscrossing the park), use FastPass+ (if available), or hope to squeeze in visits during parades and the last hour the park is open (may not work).
If you have two days to visit the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, use the Two-Day Touring Plans (click here for the Magic Kingdom and here for Epcot). These spread the popular attractions over two mornings and work great even when the parks close early.
Touring Plans and the Obsessive-compulsive Reader
We suggest sticking to the plans religiously, especially in the mornings, if you’re visiting during busy times. The consequence of touring spontaneity in peak season is hours of standing in line. When using the plans, however, relax and always be prepared for surprises and setbacks.
If you find your type-A brain doing cartwheels, reflect on the advice of a woman from Trappe, Pennsylvania:
I had planned for this trip for two years and researched it by use of guidebooks, computer programs, videotapes, and information received from WDW. On night three of our trip, I ended up taking an unscheduled trip to the emergency room. When the doctor asked what seemed to be the problem, I responded, “I don’t know, but I can’t stop shaking, and I can’t stay here very long because I have to get up in a couple hours to go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.” Diagnosis: an anxiety attack caused by my excessive itinerary.
An Omaha, Nebraska, couple devised their own way to cope:
We created our own 4.25 x 5.5 guidebook for our trip that included a number of pages from [your] website. This was the first page:
The Type-A Spouse's Bill of Rights
It was a much happier vacation with these generally understood principles in writing.
- We will not see everything in one vacation, and any attempt to do so may be met with blunt trauma.
- Len Testa will not be vacationing with us. His plans don’t schedule time for benches. Ours may.
- We may deviate from the touring plans at some point. Really.
- Even if it isn’t on the Disney Dining Plan, a funnel cake or other snack may be purchased without a grouchy face from the nonpurchasing spouse.
- Sometimes, sitting by the pool may sound more fun than going to a park, show, or other scheduled event. On this vacation, that will be fine.
- “But I thought we were going to . . .” is a phrase that must be stricken from the discussion of any plans that had not been previously discussed as a couple.
- Other items may be added as circumstances dictate at the parks.
Some folks don't respond well to the regimentation of a touring plan. If you encounter this problem with someone in your party, roll with the punches as this Maryland couple did:
The rest of the group was not receptive to the use of the touring plans. I think they all thought I was being a little too regimented about planning this vacation. Rather than argue, I left the touring plans behind as we ventured off for the parks. You can guess the outcome. We took our camcorder with us and watched the movies when we returned home. About every five minutes or so there is a shot of us all gathered around a park map trying to decide what to do next.
A reader from Royal Oak, Michigan, ran into trouble by not get- ting her family on board ahead of time:
The one thing I will suggest is if one member of the family is doing most of the research and planning (like I did), that they communicate what the book/touring plans suggest. I failed to do this and it led to some, shall we say, tense moments between my husband and me on our first day. However, once he realized how much time we were saving, he understood why I was so bent on following the plans.
Touring Plans for Low-attendance Days
We receive a number of letters each year similar to this one from Lebanon, New Jersey:
The guide always assumed there would be large crowds. We had no lines. An alternate tour for low-traffic days would be helpful.
There are, thankfully, still days on which crowds are low enough that a full-day touring plan isn’t needed. However, some attractions in each park bottleneck even if attendance is low:
- MAGIC KINGDOM Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Peter Pan’s Flight, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- EPCOT Test Track and Soarin’
- DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest
- DHS Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Midway Mania!
Immense lines also build for meet-and-greets involving characters from Disney’s latest films. In early 2014, for example, it was common at park opening for a 3-hour line to form to meet the princesses from Disney’s Frozen. For this reason, we recommend following a touring plan through the first five or six steps. If you’re pretty much walking onto every attraction, scrap the remainder of the plan. Alternatively, see the attractions above right after the park opens, or use FastPass+.
Extra Magic Hours and the Touring Plans
If you're a Disney resort Guest and want to use your morning Extra Magic Hours privileges, complete your early-entry touring before the general public is admitted, and position yourself to follow the touring plan. When the public is admitted, the park will suddenly swarm.
A Wilmington, Delaware, mother advises:
The early-entry times went like clockwork. We were finishing up the Great Movie Ride when [Disney's Hollywood Studios] opened [to the public], and [we] had to wait in line quite a while for Voyage of the Little Mermaid, which sort of screwed up everything thereafter. Early-opening attractions should be finished up well before regular opening time so you can be at the plan's first stop as early as possible.
In the Magic Kingdom, early-entry attractions currently operate in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. At Epcot, they’re in the Future World section. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, they’re in DinoLand U.S.A., Asia, Discovery Island, and Africa. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, they’re dispersed. Practically speaking, see any attractions on the plan that are open for early entry, crossing them off as you do. If you finish all early- entry attractions and have time left before the general public is admit- ted, sample early-entry attractions not included in the plan. Stop touring about 10 minutes before the public is admitted, and position yourself for the first attraction on the plan that wasn’t open for early entry. During early entry in the Magic Kingdom, for example, you can almost always experience Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Under the Sea: Voyage of the Little Mermaid in Fantasyland, plus Space Mountain in Tomorrowland. As official opening nears, go to the boundary between Fantasyland and Liberty Square and be ready to blitz Splash and Big Thunder mountains according to the touring plan when the rest of the park opens.
Evening Extra Magic Hours, when a designated park remains open for Disney resort guests 2 hours beyond normal closing time, have less effect on the touring plans than early entry in the morning. Parks are almost never scheduled for both early entry and evening Extra Magic Hours on the same day. Thus a park offering evening Extra Magic Hours will enjoy a fairly normal morning and early afternoon. It’s not until late afternoon, when park hoppers coming from the other theme parks descend, that the late-closing park will become especially crowded. By that time, you’ll be well toward the end of your touring plan.