By Teresa Dec & Stephen Ashley
At the Disney Parks, there’s something for everyone and enough activities to fill several vacations. Some people like to wing their vacations, and go without planning. Disney World is different. To get the most out of your trip and to be sure you get to try the things that you’re most interested in, we strongly suggest that you plan the activities for each day as far in advance as possible.
We’ll walk you through what you can do, but you can do as much or as little as you prefer. It’s all up to you! Many people enjoy planning their Disney trips. It’s part of the fun that starts before your trip even begins!
Before you start planning your daily schedule, if you haven’t yet, you’ll want to:
- Decide on the length of your Disney world vacation
- Pick your exact Disney World vacation dates.
- Consider how long it takes to see “everything” in each park.
- Create a calendar form for your Disney World trip.
Now it’s time to make your daily schedule. YOUR GOAL: Your perfect, fun and awesome trip.
How do you decide how to schedule your time at Disney World?
You’ll need to ask yourself the following:
- Are there things I want to do outside of the four main Disney parks?
- Which parks should we spend our time in?
- How many days should we spend at each park?
- What park should we visit on specific dates?
Here goes: Step by Step Directions for Planning Your Days During Your Disney World Trip!
1. Decide on anything you want to do outside of the parks.
PLANNING ACTIVITY: Make a list of all the activities outside the parks you want to include.
Here are some things to ask yourself:
- Are you going to visit anything off of Disney property? If so, what is it and how long will it take?
- Are you going to visit anything on Disney property outside the four main parks? For example, will you want to visit the water parks, Disney Springs, mini golf, etc.? Will you want to resort hop?
- Will you want rest days? Many people find they have a better time if they take time off to relax in between park days. They may hang out at the resort pool, rent a boat, go bowling, see a movie, etc. Some people feel that rest days are a waste of time, and they want to hit the parks every day. Think about what will be most fun for you and plan for that.
2. Decide which Disney World parks to spend your time in.
PLANNING ACTIVITY: Make a list of priority attractions.
Your list should include all of the “must do’s” for each park. This will help you decide which parks you want to spend your time in, and which parks will require more time in order to to try all of your priority attractions.
Start by doing some research:
— Check out the attractions at each park, including parades, nighttime shows and fireworks.
You can find this info in various ways. You can read a good guide book like The Unofficial Gude to Walt Disney World or Birnbaum’s Guide to Walt Disney World. You can also read attraction guides online. We like wdwinfo’s attraction guide, and we’ll be adding in-depth descriptions of all the attractions on this site shortly.
— As you check out the attractions, consider your traveling party.
Does your group include small children? teenagers? older adults? What are the primary goals and interests of the group? Which park will meet the majority of these? Again, you’ll be able to decide by reading the above resources.
— Think about which park restaurants you’d like to try.
Are there any restaurants you really want to try? Do you want to try some of the full-service restaurants? Or are you planning to wing it with fast food? Full-service restaurants takes more time than the counter-service options, so you’ll need to factor that in.
You can check out the restaurants using the same guidebooks as mentioned above, and you can check them out online here at wdwinfo.com’s restaurant page.
3. Decide how many days to spend in each park.
Now that you’ve decided on what interests you and you’ve made your list, it’s time to decide how many days you’ll need in each park.
PLANNING ACTIVITY: Write down the parks and other locations you want to visit, and the number of days in each location you’ll want to include.
Here are some things to consider:
— How many park days do you really have?
Your travel days may not allow you any time to visit, but that will depend on your plans. Personally we usually arrive at our resort in the early afternoon, and we’re able to plan something for the evening like dinner and shopping at Disney Springs. Travel day plans will depend on the type of ticketing you have and your travel days schedules.
— What are the crowd conditions like?
Keep in mind that crowd conditions will really play a part in this. Crowds will vary during different seasons, during holidays, and even on different days of the week. Weekends tend to be more crowded because the locals visit. Also the crowds can vary from one park to another.
If it’s very crowded you’ll be spending a lot more time in lines. Some of the more popular rides could have a 90 minute or more wait during peak crowds. If it’s not crowded, you’ll be able to move far more quickly through the lines.
While crowd conditions can be difficult to predict, it’s often possible to get a general sense of what the crowds will be like by checking out crowd projection calendars.
For crowd calendars you can visit:
- easywdw.com – This is a very popular site for crowd projections.
- Touringplans.com – This site charges a small fee to join and use their calendar. I like their calendar because it gives you the projected crowd levels for each park, each day. This can help you plan your park days. It’s also very easy to read and understand.
- wdwprepschool.com – This is a free crowd projection calendar, but it’s not as detailed as touringplans.com version.
- Dadsguidetowdw.com – Dad has a version that’s very simple to read.
- kennythepirate.com – Kenny the Pirate is well known for his crowd calendars. I find them a little more complex.
4. Fill in the park or activity for each day.
PLANNING ACTIVITY: On your calendar, fill in the park or location you’ll visit each day. You’ll also want to fill in days for other activities you’re planning.
Here’s what you need to research and consider:
— Find out park hours for each park for each day.
Park closing times can vary radically, and it’s worth paying attention to. Sometimes a park can close very early. You may prefer to visit on a day when it’s open longer, or if you have park hopper tickets, you can start at that park and move on to another after it closes.
To check out park hours, do this:
- Visit the Disney World website.
- Click on the “Parks & Tickets” tab at the top. On the right, it will have the park hours for that day.
- Click on “More Hours” just under the current date. On this page you can choose the dates you’re interested in at the top. Then you can see the park hours for that date below. You can also see Extra Magic Hours (see below).
— Find out which days and times any parades, nighttime shows, and fireworks will be run.
Take into account that on some nights, parks may not have the shows you’re hoping to see. They can also close very early for private or ticketed special events. Also, showtimes can vary for every night. To find out showtimes, fireworks times, etc., do the following:
- Do all the steps on Disney’s site listed above. Then if you click on the park name, you’ll be taken to a page that has times for all the shows, events, Meet & Greets, fireworks, etc.
If you want a good view, you’ll need to factor in the time it takes to get a good position to watch these. You may need to be in place an hour or more before, depending on the crowd levels.
Another option is to skip the parades and shows, and take advantage of shorter wait times for rides while crowds are waiting for these shows. (For example, you may be able to get on Peter Pan’s Flight in 20 minutes if everyone at the Magic Kingdom is on Main Street watching fireworks.)
— Investigate Extra Magic Hours.
On select days of the week, some attractions at one park will open earlier or stay open longer to guests staying on-property. This can be a great way to slip in a few rides in a short time period.
One thing to keep in mind: the attendance at parks hosting Extra Magic Hours can be especially high when most of the on-property guests have the same plan! It could be more strategic to avoid the park with Extra Magic Hours and choose an alternative park that may have lower attendance.
Or if you have Park Hopper tickets that allow you to visit all four parks in one day, you can visit one park during its Extra Magic Hours and another park for the rest of the day/night.
To see Extra Magic Hours for a specific date, follow the directions above to see Disney’s scheduling.
— Check for special ticked events.
Some special events, such as Magic Kingdom’s Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, require extra tickets. On nights when such events are hosted, the Park closes early to guests who do not have tickets for the event. Check out your proposed days of visit to make sure an event doesn’t shorten your day. These can be found on the Disney website under “Special Events:”
On the other hand, if you choose to attend such an event yourself, and not enter a Park prior to the event that day, you may be able to save an admission cost. Ticketed-event holders without other Park admission are usually allowed to enter the Park around 4:00 in the afternoon, although the official ticketed-event time usually starts at 7:00.
— OPTIONAL – Check for projected crowds in each park to decide which park you’d like to be in each day.
Some of the crowd calendars above will give you projected crowd levels for each park separately. If you wish, you could keep those projections in mind as you choose a park for each day.
5. Fill in any other info you’d like to have.
We like to add in:
- The daily hours for each park, and the Extra Magic Hours for each day.
- The nighttime showtimes such as for Epcot’s Illuminations, or Magic Kingdom’s Wishes
Now that you have the basics of your schedule filled out, you’ll want to check out our articles detailing all you need to know to schedule:
What’s your preference? Do you like lots of planning, some planning…or is it not vacation unless you’re totally winging it? Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help no matter what your degree of planning!
For more Disney World planning tips, check out this page:
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