Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Planning Tips, Tricks, and My Best Disney Secrets- Part II

This blog entry is the second installment of my planning page "Disney Planning and Touring How To Guide".  I will be posting a little bit at a time to the home page. If you'd like to read the touring page in its entirety now you can click here to view it. 

Decide Which Park or Parks You are Visiting Each Day
Disney generally releases its park hours 6 to 6 1/2 months ahead of time. Once park hours are posted, you are ready to start your planning!  If park hours are not released yet, you can look at the previous months' hours as a guideline for what the park hours may be while you are there.

The Mouse himself during Fantasmic!
The best place to begin choosing a park for each day is whether or not you have Park Hopper. If you have the Park Hopper option you can visit one park in the morning and another in the afternoon. If you have skipped the Park Hopper option, you need to pick the number one most important park for each day.
  • Start with planning your day for Hollywood Studios based on Fantasmic. During most of the year, Fantasmic is only offered on certain nights, generally Sundays and Thursdays. Sometimes during busy seasons they will offer it on more nights, or twice per night. If it is only offered on Sundays and Thursdays, one of those nights will need to be your Fantasmic night if you wish to see it. If you are not going to view it, avoid Hollywood Studios at all cost on those nights.  If there are two shows available in a single night, the later show will be less crowded.
  • Look at the Extra Magic Hours (EMH).  If you are off-property, you should not go to a park that is having either morning or evening EMH that day. Choose a park with NO Extra Magic Hours.
  • If you are on property, choose the park with morning EMH. Yes, I know getting up early does not sound like vacation, but you can get more done in that first hour than you can get done between 12 and 3 pm.
  • Evening EMH can be tricky.  For the Magic Kingdom especially, I think it can be even more crowded. Stick with morning EMH, and try to stay away from evening EMH, especially at MK.
  • Watch out for nights that a park, especially Magic Kingdom, closes early. This is often because of an after hours party like the Halloween or Christmas party. Avoid Magic Kingdom on those days unless you are attending the party.
  • Also, Magic Kingdom does not offer both the parade and fireworks on every evening during slower times. If you want to see both, take that into account while planning.
  • Animal Kingdom closes early. Generally 5pm or 7pm. This allows for a shorter touring day, and you can have a quieter night. This may be good to schedule in the middle if plans allow to get a mid-week rest.
  • Finally, consider that subscription to TouringPlans.com. While it usually posts the crowd estimates for the upcoming few weeks for public use, a subscription will give you access to a year's worth of crowd estimates.  It will rate the estimated crowds for a day on a scale from 1 to 10, and it will also recommend the best and worst parks to visit on any given day. If, for example, you are deciding between Animal Kingdom or Epcot on a certain day of your schedule, TouringPlans.com may recommend one over the other.
Tinkerbell's Nightly Flight Over the Magic Kingdom

Now, will you be able to make a schedule that follows ALL of the above guidelines? Probably not. But it will help you decide which parks might work better for your family on any given day. It's not supposed to be perfect, just better than going without a plan. You don't want to show up at the Magic Kingdom on your only day there, to find out the park closes at 7pm and there are no fireworks after you promised your Tinkerbell obsessed 4 year old she would get to see Tink fly. 

Making Advance Dining Reservations for Your Trip

Now that you know which park you will be in or near on each day of your trip, its time to plan your dining for each day. If you will not be eating at any table service restaurants, and will be eating at your resort, room or off-site, you do not need to worry about this.

If you do plan on eating a sit down meal on property, you should make Advance Dining Reservations (ADR's or "ressies") as soon as possible.  Most can easily be canceled, so its better to at least make some kind of reservation that fits your plan, rather than waiting. If waiting for family who says "I don't know, let us think about it", is going to make you not get a ressie at Chef Mickey's or Ohana's, just make ressies and you can change it later! Certain places are very popular, and fill up very quickly, and Le Cellier, or the Fantasmic Dining Package may be totally booked exactly 180 days in advance. I always call or get on the computer at opening exactly 180 days in advance and I have NEVER been able to book that elusive Fantasmic Dining Package! If you are more than 180 days out, I recommend getting up and loading Disney's Dining Reservation Page at 0600 Florida time on the 180 day mark to get the places and times you really want.

I have heard stories of people writing scathing reviews of how much they hate Disney World because they promised their granddaughter she could eat with Cinderella, and then when she showed up at the castle expecting to eat she was told they were booked. Disney ruined their granddaughter's dream. 
I'm sorry, but that's not Disney's fault. 

Dear Husband at Halloween Time with Chef Mickey!
If you are relying on Disney Transportation during your stay, be cautious about making ADR's at resorts other than your own. It can be very time consuming to travel from one resort to another, and it might take up too much of your time, or be a big hassle to change buses with kids. If you really want to eat somewhere at another resort, keep travel time and your daily location in mind.  If for example you would like to hit the buffet at Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club Resort, plan this for a dinner on the day you are visiting Epcot.  If you are going to Chef Mickey's at The Contemporary for breakfast, or 1900 Park Fare at The Grand Floridian for dinner, plan this for a day you will be vising the Magic Kingdom.  You may also consider the cost of a Taxi for early morning breakfasts at other resorts. The cost will be around $25, and it may be worth the time savings. Or just make life easy and make all your ressies within the park you will be visiting, or your own resort!

At this point you should have a plan of which park you will visit each morning and afternoon, your evening entertainment if any, and your sit down meal for the day. Here is a copy of my spreadsheet I used for our trip in August 2010.

The DizKrazKate Family Walt Disney World Vacation
Disney Vacation Club-Kidani Village, 2 Bedroom Villa, August 4-10, 2010
6 adults and 4 children- Disney Dining Plan
                     Wed.                  Thurs.                Fri.               Sat.              Sun.               Mon.             Tues.
@airport in Chicago
In our room
In our room
Chef Mickey’s @
In our room
In our room
In our room
Fly to Orlando! Mickey Here we come! Magical Express to Kidani Village
EMH @ Studios 8am
Magic Kingdom
EMH morning @Epcot 8am
EMH morning @ Animal Kingdom
Resort airline check-in, then to Magic Kingdom
Quick Serve@ The Mara
Le Cellier@ 11:30
Quick Service @ Studios
Snacks @ MK, Dole Whips, Funnel Cake, etc
Quick Service @ Epcot
Tusker House @ 1:15pm
Tony’s Town Square @ 12:00
Nap/rest/swim at resort
Nap/rest/swim at resort
Hollywood Studios
Nap/rest/swim at resort
Nap/rest/swim at resort
3:15 Reserved seats Nemo The Musical
Magic Kingdom, then Magical Express to MCO
Whispering Canyon Cafe, Wilderness Lodge
@ 5:10
Quick serve @ Hollywood Studios
Boma @ 5pm
Quick Serve @ Columbia Harbor House
Princess Dinner, Norway in Epcot
Quick Service @ The Mara
Quick Service take out @ MCO
Magic Kingdom!
Hollywood Studios
Relax at Resort, enjoy animals, resort activities
Magic Kingdom
Disney Family Photo Session at Jambo House @7pm
Fly home to Chicago-Midway
Rides while lines are short during parades and fireworks
Fantasmic! 9pm
Poolside movie at Kidani 8pm!
Nightastic @10p
Main St. Electrical Parade@11pm
Illuminations, Reflections of Earth 9pm
Last night swim, waterslide
Good-bye Mickey
ADR#’s etc….

** To choose which park for each day- Find what nights Fantasmic is showing, make that a Hollywood Studios evening.  Use Extra Magic Hours morning hours as much as possible.  If there are still multiple good choices for each day, consult Touringplans.com for best/worst parks ratings.

It can be a lot of information, and you can copy the above if you like, or create your own method.  For an easy way of keeping track, you can buy a PassPorter book.

You can also get one from Amazon.  It is a great tour guide with pull out maps, and full color photos. In the back are their famous PassPorter pockets where you can record and store information such as plans and ressie numbers for each day of your vacation.  I highly recommend it.

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