Friday, January 4, 2013

Disney Trip Planning for the ‘Type A’ Planner

Please welcome back Rebecca for more amazing planning tips from a Type-A planner!
If you happened to catch my first guest post about Disney for couples, you may remember I mentioned I’m a planner. Most people who know me would lovingly tell you that I’m an obsessive, compulsive, type-A planner.  I am the child of planner and I plan things as part of my career in public relations.
Rebecca and her niece at CRT

Part of the fun of going to Disney World for me is planning the trip. That starts with the basics:
  • When to go
  • Where to stay
  • How long to stay

We’re creatures of habit, and usually go to the parks in either the spring or fall. When we’ve gone in winter or the start of summer, it hasn’t turned out too well for us. I know and appreciate that many families with school-aged children are limited as to when they can visit the parks (e.g., don’t want to take the kids out of school), but it’s just the two of us. The only master we answer to is work (ugh).

We have branched out a *bit* in our hotel choices over the years, but not much. On our trips, we have stayed several times at Port Orleans French Quarter (moderate resort) and the Polynesian (deluxe resort). We tried the Grand Floridian, but it was a little too stuffy for us and we loved the Boardwalk Villas which we got by purchasing a friend’s Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points.   
Note: If you stay at a DVC property, there is no daily maid service in your room. Major deal breaker for us!

Some of our trips have been five days, some as long as nine – I’m fan of the longer trips! And, of course, the ‘when, where and how long’ factors also depend on your budget. I usually set aside $5,000 for a 9-day trip and that’s my “soup to nuts” budget…it has to include everything: the taxis to/from the airport, our meal plan and gratuities, hotel, park tickets, souvenirs, pool-side snacks, etc.

Using the example of our most recent trip, the 1-2-3 breaks down like this:
  • When to go - October 2012
  • Where to stay - The Polynesian
  • How long to stay - 9 days/8 nights

Once the basic details above have been worked out, the real fun begins. I will make a basic plan for the trip that includes how we’ll split up our days, and it usually goes like this:

  • 4 trips to the Magic Kingdom (1 early morning)
  • 4 trips to Epcot (1 early morning)
  • 2 trips to Animal Kingdom (
  • 2 trips to Hollywood Studios (1 early morning)
  • 1 trip to Downtown Disney (1 afternoon/evening)
  • 1 day at a Water Park (this is a new addition to our itinerary, and we're SO glad we did it!)
To Hop or Not to Hop?
Since it’s just the two of us, we get park hopper tickets and have visited up to three parks in one day! But now that we’re savvier about what we like when touring the parks, we stick to two parks, tops, when hopping.

Party Time?
Taking the list above into account, I’ll also add in factors such as a celebratory meal on one evening or a holiday party like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Often, I’ll set this day aside as a break day and we won’t go to the Magic Kingdom until the party.  
Note: With just a party ticket, you can enter the Magic Kingdom as early as 4 p.m.  the day of the party, so you may not need to use a park ticket that day and save some money there!

Park Hours and Fireworks Play a Part
Disney posts park hours to their official website about 4 months out – because I’m a seasoned traveler, I’ll often use sites like to research the park hours from the same time period for the previous year and use that pattern to guess what the park hours might be for our next trip. Yes, this is insane and I can’t tell you WHY I do it…it’s just fun for me.

The reason the park hours are important is because they also factor in to what parks to visit or avoid. The best way to sort out crowd levels is Their subscription service is totally worth it, and their information is spot-on.
Note from the editor: With a current copy of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, you receive a 35% discount from the Touring Plans Subscription!  Both are very helpful in planning trips!
It’s also a good idea to try and sort out time of the parades and fireworks. We like to see IllumiNations at EPCOT at least twice during our trip, same with Wishes although we don’t really plan around the parades too much.

Putting it on Paper
With ALL of these items taken into consideration, I then figure out which parks we’ll likely visit on which days and the restaurants where we’ll eat. Of course, the meal plan figures into this as well…I just keep a running tally of our meal credits. I find that paying out of pocket for sit-down breakfasts, which my husband LOVES but I could take or leave, are a better use of funds.
Note from the editor: If you're paying out of pocket while still paying for the dining plan, you may want to rethink if the dining plan is worth it!  Check out this other option to pre-pay your meals here.
The spreadsheet that I used to plan our 5-year wedding anniversary trip is included here (see link). I took all of the factors listed above into account and basically it’s a puzzle to try and fit in all of the pieces where they belong. It’s not an exact science, and some days you’ll have to make sacrifices (e.g., an early morning wake up for Hollywood Studios rope drop so that you can ride Toy Story twice with no wait).

You’ll also notice in the attached that I like to include the live entertainment in the parks that we plan on enjoying throughout our trip. Our favorites are in EPCOT and include Off Kilter near the Canada Pavilion, British Revolution in the UK Pavilion and Voices of Liberty in the America Pavilion. Keep in mind, it’s just the two of us – for those with different ages in your parties, Disney Junior Live on Stage might be more your speed. Just note it in your plans if it’s a show you don’t want to miss.  If you are a first time park visitor, do your research and learn more about what’s available…guide books are a great help and so is the internet!

You can see all of my hard work in the spreadsheet.  If you have questions, please send me an email, or hit me up on Twitter, @RMZFarrell.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific article!
    I am also a planner, except on my last trip. I went solo and other than one lunch reservation, I just did whatever I wanted. I did get the park hopper so I could vacate a park if it got too crowded or a couple of times I went back to Pop Century for a nap and then went to a different park for the evening.
    I haven't used Touring Plans but am thinking it would be a good investment before my next trip! Thanks for writing.