Adventure is Out There! (But I’d Prefer to Plan for It): Results of a Totally Spontaneous Day

by on October 21, 2015 21 Comments

Filed under: Adults, FastPass+, In the Parks, Magic Kingdom, MyDisneyExperience, Trip Planning, Walt Disney World (FL)

Adventure is out there

How exactly do you unplan a day?

If you follow my articles, you know that over Labor Day Weekend I partook in a grand experiment in an unplanned day at Walt Disney World. Having now experienced that firsthand (and taking some time to mull it over) I’m ready to report back with this uber-planner’s perspective on completely making things up as I went along. What did I learn? Adventure is out there, but I’d prefer to plan for it.

For a quick review of my experiment, here are the rules that were applied to my unplanned day:

  • Votes were submitted via Twitter, Facebook, and the comments section of my All It Takes is Faith and Trust article regarding which park my husband and I would visit on Saturday, September 5th – we did not tally the votes until we were ready to walk out the door and go to the winning park.
  • We had to make our FastPass+ selections after we arrived at the park using one of the in-park kiosks (this was a rule change based upon a suggestion from a commenter on the original article – I was not allowed to use the MyDisneyExperience app on my phone).
  • We could not make a meal reservation for that day until after we arrived in the designated park, and we had to make that reservation by calling the reservation line (another rule change based on comments).
  • I would provide regular updates on Twitter and solicit feedback from people following along from home – they could make suggestions regarding what we would do once we were in the winning park and I would try to accommodate those requests.
  • I would be allowed to utilize the Touring Plans Lines app throughout the day.

If you aren’t interested in the play-by-play version of the day and you just want to know my reaction to it, scroll on down to the “So, What Do I Really Think?” section and enjoy!

An Overview of the Day

10:09 AM

Adventure is out there

A fine day for a drive to the Magic Kingdom.

Surprisingly, when it came time to tally the votes (many of which were received that morning after I put out the call on Twitter) I discovered that we would be going to Magic Kingdom. I assumed people would send us to Hollywood Studios, where the lack of attractions might throw us off our game. Instead, we were going to the most attraction-dense park in the line-up! Good news, right? (Right…?) My husband and I were pretty jazzed, but this did lead us to a rather immediate and uncomfortable situation. It is always my goal on our trips to never drive to the Ticket and Transportation Center. We had rented a car, and we were staying in a Downtown Disney resort, so, for the FIRST TIME EVER, we had to drive to the nightmarish Ticket and Transportation Center.

10:48 AM

It was clear why I avoided the TTC for so many years. Although I’m not a fan of being herded like cattle towards a theme park, the one advantage of the TTC route was that it allowed us to do something we’d never done before – take a ferry boat to the Magic Kingdom! It was relaxing and low-key, but already Anthony and I were sweating pretty profusely. The day was HOT and it was only going to get worse from then on out.

Adventure is out there

The ferry boat does provide a beautiful view for approaching the Magic Kingdom!

11:28 AM

The magic begins!! Right as we’re strolling up to bag check, they open the second bank of bag check tables and we’re the first ones through. Small victory, but I was ready to take what I could get.

11:34 AM

Our first order of business was to hit up the FastPass+ kiosks on Main Street. I was nervous that the selection would be poor, but we strolled right up and landed FastPasses for the Jungle Cruise, Buzz Lightyear, and the Haunted Mansion. One big plus for us was that we didn’t even have to kill time before the first window would open – we were able to head right to the Jungle Cruise.

Adventure is out there

Not too shabby for selections made in the park!

11:54 PM

We made our way over to the Jungle Cruise where the posted standby time was 30 minutes. Using our newly acquired FastPass+ selections, we strolled right up to the load area. In record time (seriously, this was the fastest I’d ever made it onto a boat), Anthony and I were embarking on our cruise through the jungle.

Our skipper on this fine day was Skipper Anthony from Miami, and he was hands-down the BEST skipper I’ve ever experienced! He peppered in some of that improv that is so hard to come by on this attraction these days, and he made it the best Jungle Cruise experience I’d ever had. Looking back, this was easily one of the highlights of the day. (Although it helped that heat exhaustion hadn’t set in yet.)

Adventure is out there

A Skipper who can photobomb our selfie, integrate it into his spiel, and steer us through the jungle at the same time!

After that fantastic experience, we decided that I would call and make a meal reservation for later in the day. I’d been communicating with the wonderful Liliane Opsomer, one of the authors of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids, and we were making plans to meet up later in the day. We’d narrowed down the restaurant choices to a few selections, and it was my job to call and secure one for us. I want to say, for the record, that the dining reservation hotline was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had.

When I’ve called before regarding reservations I’ve always been connected with a real, live human being. When did they switch to an automated system from hades?! Before you comment, yes, I’m sure I could have pressed 0 or yelled at the phone and I would have eventually been connected to a person. At first, my thought was that I wanted to use the exact system as they had put it in place. After about 15 minutes, my thought was that I was going to defeat this evil, magical-sucking, automated phone robot if it was the last thing I did. In the end, I secured us a reservation at 5 pm at The Wave at the Contemporary Resort, knowing we could easily jet over there on the monorail, or even walk. Unfortunately, my desire to defeat the automated phone robot at its own game also meant that I was a little irked by the time I got off the phone.

Adventure is out there

Early in day and we already needed a break from the heat!

12:37 PM

Needing a little respite after that experience, we took a relaxing ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, which is easily one of our favorite attractions. We were also starting to feel the effects of excessive heat and were in need of some time off our feet.

Adventure is out there

Almost every picture of me from this day features my phone in my hand.

It was at this time that I realized my Touring Plans Lines app was malfunctioning. As much as I might be entertained by the thought that I was being sabotaged (it’s a trap!), the truth was that there were some other issues and in order for me to fix those issues, I needed to uninstall and reinstall Lines. I have a very vivid memory of reading the Touring Plans tweet with those instructions. I also know that for some reason those instructions did not actually penetrate my brain. So there I was, trying to do an unplanned day in the Magic Kingdom, with my only resources being the Lines app and FastPass kiosks. And because I wasn’t functioning at peak efficiency (I think I’ll blame the heat…), I counted the Lines app as a loss rather than following the instructions to fix it. I didn’t actually fix my Lines app until the following day. Some planner I am!

12:51 PM

Adventure is out there

Another break from the heat.

We headed to Buzz Lightyear to use our second FastPass of the day. Based on the way the line was acting I think there were some ride stops happening, but we really didn’t care. The queue was air-conditioned, and that was really all we needed! Plus, this gave me some time to communicate on Twitter with an individual who was following our progress that day. He suggested that after Buzz we head to PhilharMagic on the way to the Haunted Mansion. This seemed like a great (air-conditioned!) idea to me, and that is what we ended up doing. By 1:30 PM we were standing in line at PhilharMagic, and we made it into the theatre without a long wait. I am a huge fan of the PhilharMagic, and today was no exception. In retrospect, we probably should have experienced it more than once. Not only would it have kept us out of the heat longer, but because it is awesome.

2:10 PM

When we make it over to the Haunted Mansion to use our last FastPass+ selection from the morning, the first thing I noticed was the 40 minute standby time and I was extremely happy to have snagged our FastPasses that morning. The heat had not tapered off in the least, and the people packed in the outdoor queue for the standby line looked miserable. The attraction was as fantastic as it always is, although I wouldn’t have turned down a nice ride stop in the dark, cool building. Unfortunately (?) the ride didn’t grant my ride stop wish and before long we were out in the sweltering heat again.

2:35 PM

We’re hot. It’s crowded. And my husband isn’t super happy that I’ve spent the entirety of this day glued to my phone, tweeting updates. Anthony wanted to get out of the heat for a while by perusing the shops on Main Street, so we decided that I’d “go dark” on Twitter for a while so we could just spend some time together in the air conditioning. Then I realized that the Festival of Fantasy parade was not far off and we weren’t too keen on fighting the masses to shop on Main Street during that time.

2:42 PM

We took a quick detour to a FastPass+ kiosk and snagged ourselves a selection for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, with a window opening five minutes later. A nice detour through the Hundred Acre Woods killed some time, and after that we started slowly meandering towards the front of the park, stopping here and there as we didn’t want to arrive at the height of the Festival of Fantasy madness.

Adventure is out there

A fortuitously timed FastPass+ selection.

We managed to time our arrival on Main Street with the very end of the parade, so we were able to make our way through some shops and relish in the air conditioning. After I scored myself a new Pandora charm, we decide to head over to the Contemporary for our 5pm dinner reservation. By this time we were feeling seriously shaky from the heat, and in spite of wanting to have this be a grand day where we accomplished a myriad of attractions, we also didn’t want to end the day early because we made poor decisions. We took the monorail over to the Contemporary at about 4 PM and killed some time until our dinner reservation by sipping bottled water and people-watching.

5:00 PM

Adventure is out there

An awesome addition to the day!

We met up with Liliane and we had a fantastic dinner at The Wave. It was awesome to be able to meet one of the Unofficial Guide experts, and as a bonus she even gave me a copy of the 2016 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids! This was a great highlight to the day, and we had a lot of fun talking about the Disney parks and our different experiences. I felt extremely fortunate to have this opportunity, and I think it was a great addition to my unplanned day! I also have to add that this was truly unplanned. Although we’d connected on Twitter prior to the trip, all we’d determined was that we wanted to meet up at some point during the unplanned day. The decision of it being dinner and with that dinner being at The Wave did not come about until Anthony and I were already in the Magic Kingdom that morning.

6:42 PM

Following dinner we went our separate ways, but Anthony and I had been thrown another curve ball for our adventures. On Friday night we had met a fantastic pair of women from Australia at the Epcot IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party. We spent that evening chatting with them while we all gorged ourselves on desserts and sparkling wine, and we got along extremely well. At the end of that evening we connected on Facebook, and this was the first time that Anthony and I had made friends during our park adventures (outside of just casually chatting with people). Well, wouldn’t you know it, our new friends messaged us on Facebook and wanted to know if we wanted to meet up for drinks before heading back to Magic Kingdom for fireworks and some nighttime attractions! This was an unplanned day, right? What better way to spend it than by doing something unplanned?! We were in.

We decided to meet at Luau Cove at the Polynesian, which meant that all we needed to do was hop the monorail over there. By 7 PM we were relaxing at one of the tables at Luau Cove, sipping some drinks, and chatting with our new friends. We spent about 2 hours just soaking up the ambiance and having a great time before all four of us headed back over to the Magic Kingdom.

9:44 PM

Having secured ourselves great positions a little ways back from the Partners statue, all four of us had truly superb views of both Celebrate the Magic and Wishes! Following that particular bit of magic, we all managed to hit the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, and the Barnstormer. Anthony and I were pretty tired at this point, so we parted ways from our new friends and began the long (LONG) trek back to the car.

Adventure is out there

I never get tired of Celebrate the Magic.

Adventure is out there

Make a wish and do as dreamers do.

11:51 PM

My hatred for the Ticket and Transportation Center grew to epic proportions.

12:09 AM

We still weren’t back to the car, but our delirious banter regarding our stamina levels and our Marine Corps days kept us going. Or we were sleepwalking. One of those two things is true. Possibly both of them.

I can’t actually tell you what time we arrived back at the resort, as I was apparently too tired to provide an update by this point. Safe to say, it was probably in the 12:30 – 12:45 AM range.

So, What Do I Really Think?

Okay, I’ve just given you a synopsis of the day, but aside from a few minor opinions on individual incidents I haven’t really provided you with my actual thoughts on the experience. Here it is, uncensored:

  1. I didn’t really like not knowing what I would be doing until I was doing it. I know that’s not a surprise, but even though I had a great day, I have to say that this style of touring is just not for me. This isn’t because it was hard or impossible – it just wasn’t our thing (at least not the way it was structured for this experiment).
  2. The most challenging part of this day related to my heavy use of Twitter for votes on what we would do as well as updates on what I was currently doing and how the experiment was going. If the experiment had been structured in such a way that it didn’t rely on social media for the planning of the day, it would have been much more to my liking. Because of my use of Twitter, I spent a large amount of time essentially ignoring my husband. As a result, I never really felt like I was “in the moment.” Anthony didn’t complain, but it was easy to see that he was disappointed at my lack of engagement with him. And I was disappointed that I couldn’t balance that better.
  3. There was a huge unintended consequence for the rest of our trip – since I didn’t know what park we would be visiting on Saturday, that couldn’t factor into my planning for our other days of the trip. I originally planned for us to go to the Magic Kingdom on Sunday, but after we were sent there on Saturday we needed to change that plan. So I began shuffling FastPass+ selections and dining reservations for Sunday and Monday (on Sunday evening, since we spent Sunday morning at Disney Springs) and it was an extremely unpleasant experience. My entire planning method was thrown completely off, and I lost myself in a vortex of blinding rage as I tried to apply my normal planning method to a day-of scenario. And then I was changing selections and second guessing myself and… Let’s just say I went to my angry place. As Nick Miller would say (if you don’t watch New Girl, you should), “This is my nightmare.”

    Adventure is out there

    All day long, on my phone.

In spite of these factors, I wouldn’t have a problem doing an unplanned day again, with a couple modifications. Firstly, I would choose the park before the day-of. That way it would fit in with my touring plans for the remainder of my trip. Secondly, I would swear off social media for the majority of the day. If I’m going to be in-the-moment with my planning, I want to be in the moment with my traveling party. This isn’t possible if I’m tethered to my phone.

Adventure is out there

All in all, it was still a memorable day.

In the end, my husband and I still had a great day. We experienced 7 attractions, plus Celebrate the Magic and Wishes! We did some shopping, spent time at both the Contemporary and the Polynesian, had a meal with one new friend, and drinks with two new friends. It was exciting to try something new, even if it wouldn’t exactly be my first choice of touring style in the future. I certainly don’t regret it!

Have you used this style of touring before? What would you have done differently? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Posted on October 21, 2015

21 Responses to “Adventure is Out There! (But I’d Prefer to Plan for It): Results of a Totally Spontaneous Day”

  • by Kristina Snowden on October 21, 2015, at 11:09 am EDT

    You broke the cardinal rule of park trips with no advanced planning-be there at rope drop! Our only plan ever is to be there when the park opens and you can do whatever you want for the first 2 hours. You were getting into the park when we are strolling out with 9-12 rides under our belts, depending on our selections. We never mess with FastPasses on these mornings. And we miss the mid-day heat and usually the parade crowds.

    Another tip. Eat breakfast at the Wave. You never need reservations (at least we never have), you can park at the Contemporary and walk over, and you skip the TTC.

    We are APs who visit at least once a month and I am convinced this is the only way to do the Magic Kingdom without a detailed plan.

    • by Angela Wilhelm on October 21, 2015, at 12:04 pm EDT

      Yeah, Kristina, we definitely knew what we were getting into with that! We had flown in the day before, and we had to get up at 3:30am on Friday to catch our flight. I have sleep issues, so napping on a plane or during the day is never an option (what I wouldn’t give to be 20 again with the ability to sleep anywhere!). Friday night we had the IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party, and since we were only in Disney for a couple of days that was our only chance to do it. Knowing this, we knew we weren’t going to make rope drop the next day regardless of which park we went to (side note – we were also crazy enough to go to Trader Sam’s on Friday night; don’t ask me what we were thinking…).

      I knew it wasn’t a good idea to forgo rope drop (I’m a Touring Plans gal all the way!), but I also figured that would give me more of the perspective of the unsuspecting new guest who doesn’t know the ropes. (For the record, not one of my better decisions.) Rope drop is a key component to successful touring (planned or not), but it isn’t always possible for everyone. Truth be told, I have a lot more sympathy now for people who can’t make rope drop for whatever reason! 🙂

      So to everyone reading these comments – Kristina is right! No joke – arrive at rope drop if you can! 🙂

  • Thanks for doing this experiment, very interesting. Sounds crazy to me. I don’t think I could visit any Disney Park without a touring plan…well maybe I could at Animal Kingdom…maybe. I am a huge planner and would feel like I was cheating myself and those with me without a solid plan going in. I do know some people who hate planning and just want to “let things happen”…definitely not me 😉

    • Thanks for doing the experiment, and thanks for reconsidering and adopting the “rule changes” I suggested!

      I agree that you would have had a totally different experience if you had not been tied to your phone all day on twitter!

      • by Angela Wilhelm on October 21, 2015, at 4:55 pm EDT

        No problem, Lee & Robin! I liked adding a little extra spice into the day – I thought your changes were great!

        My husband really was the best that day for putting up with my distraction. The worst thing – I just realized that I never even bought him a Dole Whip for his patience… (guess I’ll have to make up for that in December!)

    • by Angela Wilhelm on October 21, 2015, at 4:53 pm EDT

      Not even taking into consideration the challenges that arose during this experiment, I take so much pleasure in the actual planning process that it was kind of a bummer building an unplanned day into my schedule. Don’t get me wrong – it was neat to try something new, but I missed the careful calculation that I can usually exert on all of my days in Disney. I love weaving together the “perfect” plan, and even if I have to make on-the-fly changes when I’m there, the process of creation is still enjoyable. 🙂

      • “I love weaving together the “perfect” plan”.

        This. Totally me.

        I think planning is just as fun as the vacation. It’s like putting together a thousand piece puzzle where all the pieces are the same…you have to think about it, study it, try it again a different way until it just fits perfectly…that’s my vacation planning.

        I pull up crowd calendars and park calendars and print a few blank calendars I can write on. First I pick what parks on what days, we won’t do a late night park one day with an early open park the next day. I also don’t like to do 2 ‘big’ parks (MK and EP are the big parks to me with AK and HS being the small ones, lol) on 2 consecutive days and we go a minimum of 10 days so we can do 3 parks, day off, 3 parks, day off, etc… So it’ll be something like Epcot, AK and then MK and then a day off. Epcot, HS and them MK and a day off. When we go for 12 days, we do 2 park days and then a day off (usually spent at Downtown Disney or at another resort), rinse and repeat until we’re out of days. I do several variations of ‘what park on what days’ on my blank pages and then choose the one I like best.

        Once I’m confident in my park choices, I pick our dining. The kids still like characters so we do a very early character breakfast either in the park we’re going to that day or a resort that’s closest to the park we’re in that day…ie, Poly breakfast on a MK day. It’s a little more lenient on ‘off days’.

        Once I have that squared away I make my FP reservations when the time comes. I like to start them about an hour after we’re done eating breakfast so they roll one right after another (ie, 10-11am, next one 11a-12p, etc…)and I make them all in the same section of the park so we aren’t backtracking. Since we go to each park more than once, we can do one side/section one day and the the other side/section another. Also, we go to our first FP at almost the ending time so we can hit the second one right after and usually when we’re done with that one, it’s already the start time of the 3rd one. But also we’re able to ride a few things we don’t have FP for by getting to the park so early. After those are up, we usually wing it. I’m a big of fan of the lines app and we won’t wait for anything for more than 20-30 minutes. But by doing it like we do, we’ve never really had to wait longer than that and we always get on everything we want to…even the headliners.

        All this talk makes me feel the need to start looking into another trip to Disney, lol.

  • I have a question about parking if you’re staying off property. In the past you could park at Wilderness Lodge or Contemporary and go to the parks for the day. Is that still possible? What if you pay the Valet parking fee and have breakfast at the hotels and then go to the parks?

    • by Angela Wilhelm on October 21, 2015, at 5:46 pm EDT

      The rule in the strictest sense is that you have to have a meal reservation at a resort in order to park there. This is a method I use all the time – book breakfast at Whispering Canyon or The Wave and then leave my car there all day. If I’m on a trip and I’m using a rental car, I’ll absolutely plan my Magic Kingdom rope drop day(s) around a breakfast at a Magic Kingdom resort. That’s actually HOW I’ve avoided parking at the TTC all this time! 🙂

      I know that when Disney World is less busy some people have luck just going to the resorts and telling the parking lot booth attendant that they want to eat at a resort restaurant without a reservation, but I also know this doesn’t work all the time. I’ve never personally tried it since I’m not the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type, and I also get the impression they’ve cracked down on that a little bit and it’s harder to come by. I believe the same rules would hold true for valet parking.

      On the upside, I can definitely attest that I’ve had breakfast reservations as early as 7:30am at a resort and left my car there all day until a park closes. It’s just easier! 🙂

      • Technically I think if you are only going for a meal reservation you should only be parking for three hours. If you want to stay all day you should pay the $20 an park at TTC. Of course if you do valet you can pay for as long as you like.

        Realistically the guard doesn’t have a way to know how long you have been there for. But at busy times of the year remember that resort parking is mainly for guests of that resort!

        • You are right Jon, that is what I have read and been told about parking at resorts. I wish more people would follow the stated rules. Thanks for posting the reminder!

        • Are you sure they don’t do the chalk on your tire trick? walk by each hour and chalk the tire. Count the number of chalk marks?

        • by Angela Wilhelm on October 24, 2015, at 4:08 pm EDT

          Hi Jon! I’ve been trying to find the 3 hour rule on the Disney site, and I can’t find it. Can you provide me with a link to the info? I’d like to read it because I hadn’t heard that before. I know there is a 3 hour limit to valet parking with my Tables in Wonderland card, but I’ve never had a cast member inform me of the limit when I’m self-parking with a reservation.. (I’m not sure if that is different because we’ve always stayed in a Disney resort, except for this last trip.) I’d love it if you could point me to the info on the Disney site, though! Thanks so much!

  • Wow, Angela, congrats on a great day…however, as an Alpha Planner, I just don’t think that I would ever be comfortable enough to NOT have a plan. With anywhere from six to fifteen people relying on ME to take care of everything, I just have this nightmare that they will all blame ME for being in a long line or waiting for a restaurant, etc. (You should see how they look at me when the next bus to pull up at the shelter is not going to the park of the day… Like I should have access to all of the bus schedules for all the resorts! Len-are you working on this for the app?)

    Even when I purposely build in a “free” day for everyone to do whatever they choose, they still look to me to provide some type of structure to the day. With all the expense of the vacation, I just don’t ever feel like I have the luxury of allowing for a “spontaneous” day at WDW.

    • by Angela Wilhelm on October 21, 2015, at 6:19 pm EDT

      That sounds a lot like how it is when my husband and I travel with other people to Disney! I always make an effort to get our friends and family involved in what we’re doing, so if we’re in a park and I’ve planned a block of undesignated time, I always ask, “So, what would you like to do next?” (Another variation on this is – where would you like to get a snack from?) And it NEVER FAILS that whomever I’ve asked looks at me like I’ve grown an extra head with a are-you-freaking-crazy-you’re-the-expert look. I can’t even begin to imagine that on large scale. (Maybe you should give me some tips – I’m the planner of my brother’s Disney Springs wedding, and I think planning massive group park time is going to be my biggest challenge ever!)

      And truth be told – I never would have done this if it was more than just my husband and I. 🙂

  • Angela – Thanks for being the guinea pig! The idea of a day like this at Disney seriously gives me hives (lol)! I am an uber planner much like the many other people making comments. I am already planning a trip to WDW and a cruise for 2017. I agree the planning to me is so much fun. However, I appreciated the examples you gave for getting in park fastpasses (which will be helpful after we use the first 3) I found that to be incredibly helpful! Thanks again!

  • I wish I knew what I needed for my planning. To be perfectly honest this article is scaring me a lot! I don’t know what a good plan looks like, I only get the one day and I want to see everything having not been there before. And it seems like you hardly got any rides in. So I guess I follow the golden rule and go at rope drop. Hope my touring plan is sufficient and go with the flow… (I’m a crazy organized planner… my vacation binder is a 1 inch binder full of maps/lists/menus/ everything, colour coordinated and organized by days of my trip. I want to plan!

    • by Angela Wilhelm on October 24, 2015, at 1:28 pm EDT

      Don’t let this article scare you! Keep in mind that I didn’t go at rope drop, I didn’t use a Touring Plan, I didn’t pre-book FastPasses or meal reservations, and we were battling some pretty crazy heat that day. The odds were stacked against us from the beginning, but if you’ve got a Touring Plan and you make rope drop, you’ll completely rock it out! You’ve got this!