The Build Up To A Disney Vacation

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Last Call

We’re about a month away from our Disney vacation, and as I alluded to in another post, this is the time when things start to become exciting for us. We start to fine-tune our plans, looking at the Crowd Calendar, Park Hours, and Evening Extra Magic Hours schedule, to determine which day we should visit each park. We cancel Advance Dining Reservations that we deem superfluous. Of course we’re model Disney Guests who would never book an extra ADR or two because we don’t know in which park we’ll be 180 days in advance–when even Disney hasn’t released its final park hours schedule–and don’t want to get stuck with slim pickins’ when we are finally able to finalize our actual schedule. We’d never do that!

In addition to the typical planning that I’m sure all our fellow obsessive planning brethren reading this also do, we start doing more Disney-related fun things. We ease into “vacation-mode” with the usual suspects. We watch more Disney Blu-rays. We look at old vacation photos. We sit our kids down and watch Little Einsteins with them (okay, since they’re a cat and dog, we don’t actually do this, although they could both stand do be a little more Einstein-ish).

Let the Countdown Begin!

As the trip draws nearer, we start to go into “Super-Crazy-Geek” mode. This usually hits at right about thirty days exactly. I fire up Photoshop and make a countdown calendar. This calendar has dual purposes: it’s a great way to remind us of our trip every time we walk past the fridge, but more importantly, it helps us get into peak physical shape before our trips. This is because we’ve made a “rule” that each of us can only cross off a day if we work out that day (too much information? sorry!). Since our daily 8 am until at-least 2 am schedule can lead to fatigue over the course of a longer trip, this daily conditioning prior to our trips is absolutely essential. Even the act of working out is infused with Disney, as we get caught up on back episodes of our favorite Disney podcasts during workouts. After all, what better way to get fired up for working out than by listening to Len Testa and Henry Work talk about Disney?! We also eat more vegetables and drink less chocolate milk. (Well, Sarah never drinks chocolate milk in the first place, but I drink less. I don’t endorse this portion of our conditioning. Never give up your chocolate milk, kids!)

Of course, we have to offset the exercise, so we also do some Disney gaming! Once upon a time, this was accomplished by playing Walt Disney World Magical Racing Tour on the Sega Dreamcast (remember that?). However, apparently I am too competitive and a sore loser when it comes to video games, so I mostly play that by myself these days. Instead, we play a number of different Disney theme park board games we have accrued over the last several years. In recent years, “Disney’s Magic Kingdom Game” has been the highlight of these games. Last week, we managed to find a rare game from 1972 called “A Visit to Walt Disney World.” We have yet to play it, but in looking at the box contents we’re already quite excited. Much like the father in Carousel of Progress, I dream of a day that there will be a Disney game so ‘awesome’ that we won’t even have to exercise. Oh yeah, that day is this fall, when Disneyland Kinect Adventures is released!

The pre-trip fun doesn’t stop there! Our Playstation 3 is loaded with old trip planning videos, resort TV footage, and Martin tribute videos we’ve collected over the years. It’s fun to watch these to see what has changed over the years, but it’s even more fun to marvel in awe at the outfits tourists wore back in the early 1990s! I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with neon fanny packs, knee high tube socks, and dalmatian print sweatshirts, but they sure are interesting to see!

Sarah and Tom's Walt Disney World Top 30 Must Sees - #15

The most played title on our Playstation 3, by far, is the Top 7 Must Sees with Stacey from 2007 (the Year of a Million Dreams version). These shows seem pretty divisive, as some people find Stacey grating, but we are definitely not in that camp. We absolutely love the corny humor and exuberance of Stacey. We’ve watched these shows so many times that we have a good number of her one-liners memorized. “Look at all the lazy people in the lazy river” happens to be my favorite line. We enjoy watching these Must Sees so much that prior to one of our trips, we actually counted down our Top 30 Must Sees via photos!

Obviously, the way we prepare for trips is a little crazy and perhaps over-the-top. But it’s fun. You could just as easily spend the full thirty days before your trip fine-tuning your plans, planning out your schedule based on the TouringPlans.com per-park crowd levels and other resources. As I mentioned above, we do this, too. We examine the per-park crowd levels to determine where we’ll start each day, and then we always head to the park that closes the latest at around 7 pm, with a possible stop at a monorail loop restaurant for dinner (since it seems at least 80% of the time Epcot or Magic Kingdom is open the latest). It’s also not a bad idea to call (or look online) to double check your ADRs, check out TripIt to make sure all of your plans are contained in the app, and make sure you have all of the supplies you need. I always make sure to do an early round-up of my camera memory cards, because I invariably seem to lose a couple of these between trips, and have to order new ones. I swear, memory cards are like socks–they just mysteriously disappear!

Sarah and Tom's Walt Disney World Top 30 Must Sees - #1

As you can see, getting ready for trips doesn’t have to be stressful or an annoying task that simply must be accomplished for a successful vacation. If you start early, and think of ways to make it fun, it can be more like a preface to the vacation itself! For us, the month before our trip flies by thanks to all of the fun “Disney” ways we fill our free time, and it really helps build anticipation for our trips. I think that this in turn makes us appreciate the vacations even more, and continues to make our Disney vacations highly anticipated and special even after we have been so many times. Every time we visit we are still no less excited when arrive at the airport, pass through the “Walt Disney World Resort” gate, or catch our first glimpse of Cinderella Castle than we were the very first time we traveled to Walt Disney World together thanks to the way we preface our Disney vacations!

So what do you think? Do these ways of building anticipation sound fun, or are we totally over-zealous Disney nerds who need to find some other hobbies? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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Posted on August 26, 2011

15 Responses to “The Build Up To A Disney Vacation”

  • I can’t stress the importance of having a touring plan. It is imperative! Like you, I fine tune our plan in the days before the trip (we have only been to Disney twice). It maximizes our experience (more rides, less waiting) and reduces stress (avoiding standing around asking everyone – “what should we do next?”). Luckily my family doesn’t mind following along. And we are not rigid in our plans – we stay flexible! I also load up vacation photos into a digital picture frame and play the “slideshow” in the days before our trip. So – you are not alone! Planning and revisiting is part of the fun.

  • There is one thing I wish people told us prior to going to Disney, everything was covered except the pins. I never saw them mentioned except in passing. Had I known I could have outfitted my 4 and 8 yr old with lanyards and bought used pins on ebay to give them at the park for pin trading or just enjoying. As it was they spent a LOT of time choosing just the right pins because they were $9-12 each. They would have had more fun adding to their collection than starting it. Getting 50 pins for $25 at home was great, but kind of a let-down after the fact.

  • I recently started the planning phase for our fall trip. I’ve got packing lists, preparation lists, pet sitter lists, travel info lists, dining lists, and of course park schedules and touring plans to work on, and I’ll tweak and retweak everything until we actually leave. Planning makes the fun last even longer because anticipation of the trip is almost as much fun as the trip itself. And yes, I’ll also watch a few Disney movies and pop in an old trip planning DVD to get myself even more excited. But no pre-trip workout regimen beyond what I usually do. I walk 3-5 miles (occasionally more) several times a week already, so I’m always ready for Disney walking.

  • Several years ago, I heard a story of a woman whose husband surprised her with a vacation. He showed up at her work place with a suitcase and whisked her off on their vacation. I was told that although she enjoyed that surprise, she was upset that her husband took away the greatest part of a vacation… the anticipation. I agree 100%! Our trips to Disney are wonderful from start to finish but part of the fun is the build up. With all the running from park to park when we get there, time goes so fast. The planning and video watching and looking through pictures of past trips adds months to the fun. Our countdown is at 23 days…..

  • I am looking forward to trying out many of your ideas leading up to DW and my first trip to the World together! T-50 days and counting. We’re already working on our touring plans and we’ve been rewatching Disney movies for months!

  • by Andrew Carrieri on August 26, 2011, at 11:32 am EDT

    Tom-you’re planning doesn’t sound crazy at all compared to the way I prepared before my first trip in August 2003 (I was 13 at the time). Basically, I had some insane desire to watch multiple Disney movies per day. This was not fun for me because I HATE movies. Also, some of the movies I watched were not classics by any means-Touchstone Pictures’ “The Ref” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” I will say that I enjoyed the free Disney planning VHS, and reading the Unofficial Guide for the first time.

  • You have a lot of good ideas here! I may have to steal the one about the 30 day calendar and the getting in shape that goes with it. Some of this stuff I also do… we watch a few planning or other park-related videos, look at old vacation photos, make a packing list, make a parks plan. Our plan is pretty loose since we tend to go during low crowd times, but I peruse menus and make ADRs at the parks of intent… (Speaking of which, what’s the best way to cancel an ADR day-of? Or do they just give your table away so it’s not necessary?)

    Here’s an idea for consideration: Instead of a “Top N Must Do”, I make a “Maybe this time” list. It’s basically a list of things we haven’t done at WDW, mostly shows we haven’t seen or attractions we haven’t done or experiences we haven’t tried. Rather than just pack our days with repeats of our favorites, we try to work in a few of these. I get the ideas by going through park maps but also from fan sites, blogs, and podcasts. We visit roughly annually, so it makes sense for us but probably not for a very frequent visitor (too short of a list) or a very infrequent visitor (too long of a list and should probably maximize favorites).

  • Heading out in 15 days and yesterday I started listening to Sorcerer Radio. I haven’t been to Disney in a few years so some of the BGM isn’t very familiar. Going with my 2 and 4 yr old for the first time and have been watching park and ride videos with the 4 yr old to get him ready for all the rides. Park bags (carry-ons) are already packed, lists and plans packed, reservations made, itineraries emailed to the family, so I think we are almost there.

  • I do most of my trip planning months before my vacation, so that leaves less planning fun as the trip gets closer.
    To give myself some planning fun right before a trip, I re read online menus for the places I have ADRs for, read Steve Soares’ website to finalize show times and watch ride videos on Martin’s website.

  • I want to come to your house to prepare for my next trip. When my trips get close I start watching all of my old Disney souvenir videos – I have 4…one from when only the MK was open, one called “EPCOT Center, a Souvenir Video Program” which refers to Horizons as “a spectacular new attraction that will be opening soon,” and two VHS tapes with bright blue and pink covers for the MK and Epcot respectively. I can’t even tell you how many neon fanny packs and day-glo shirts there are in these videos.

  • I’m going the opposite way, I guess. We are going to Disney World in 22 days. I have a 7 year old daughter, this will be her first trip to Disney, and I’m not going to tell her until we get to the airport (she thinks that she and Mom are dropping me off for a training session in Orlando). Hopefully we’ll have plenty of memories to tide us over until we go again (in a few years). I’ve been on the internet every night for awhile to get our touring plans set up but i can’t do it in front of her…it’s very hard to contain my excitement.

  • How wonderful it is to hear that I’m not the only obsessive Disneyworld planner out there! Our household just started our month count-down as well, and now each evening is spent fine-tuning the daily schedules, tweaking packing lists, and adding details to the pet sitter’s notes.

    In addition to the Disney movies, we’ve found that listening to CD’s of Disney music is a great way to get in the spirit of vacation. Particularly for our young kids, listening to recordings of the music played around the park is a great way to recollect favorite rides and trips of the past. We picked up our favorite CD set several year’s ago during Disneyland’s 50th celebration and though it’s now scratch and a bit warped in a few spots, it still transports us back to the parks each time we play it.

  • The closer I’ve gotten to our vacations, the more Disney movies I watch. The first time, I watch the movies that have attractions directly related to the parks. It really helped when I rode the attractions and there would be some small detail on the attraction and I go “that’s from the movie!”

    I also make a grid for the final 10 days before the trip, and each day I put on a Disney sticker to mark the days off. I listen to Disney podcasts and walk for miles and miles to train my feet.

  • We are T-14 today and just made my 5 year old the “cross off the days ’til Disney” calendar and let him decorate it.
    You mentioned “TripIt” app- what is that and how do I find it to get my ADRs, Pirate Cruise and other pertinent numbers on my Droid??? That would be a lot better than my very crowded note pages.