This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.
Are you planning a vacation to Disney World? Wouldn’t it be cool to just pick up and go right now? In my mind, I’m there already with nothing to do to but have fun. Unfortunately, a reality check reminds me that we all have jobs, many need to consider school schedules, and finances and budgets need to be in order. Given all of these considerations, how can you possibly make an informed decision about the best time for your Disney World trip?
Well, today is your lucky day because this article focuses on TouringPlans.com’sDisney World Crowd Calendar, a powerful tool designed to help you make a decision about when to go so that you spend the least amount of time in line. Plus, see a handy summary of how specific holidays and Disney World special events affect how much time you’ll be in line.
[Even more luck! If you are planning a trip to Disneyland or Universal Orlando—TouringPlans provides Crowd Calendars for these destinations too.]
How will the crowds be during your Disney World visit? Use TouringPlans.com’s Crowd Calendar to pick the best week for your vacation.
Deciding When to Go: First Considerations
First and foremost, as with any trip, there are two basic factors that are crucial to deciding when to go to Disney World and that provide the context for using the TouringPlans Crowd Calendar. These are: (1) when you can afford to go and (2) when your schedule allows you to go.
In terms of when you can afford to go, maybe your goal is to save up first, or you are expecting a work bonus to put toward vacation, or your budget will be a bit more flexible once that car loan is paid off. As for schedule, you likely need to work around school vacations, a project at work, or family obligations.
Another potential factor is Disney World’s schedule. Is there a special event or time of year you would like to visit? Is it a must-do or just a bonus if it lines up with your other best times for vacation? Also keep in mind that peak crowds bring peak prices at Disney World resorts.
Considering these factors is bound to narrow down the time when you will take your vacation, and this is when TouringPlans’ Crowd Calendar can become an integral part of deciding when to go. Matching up all of these factors—budget, schedule, and what you’d like to experience at Disney World—with the Crowd Calendar is an excellent way to pick the best week for your vacation.
It’s barely 2016 and we are already busy working on the 2017 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. While the book itself won’t be available until August, we can give you a preview of some of the research we have been doing. One thing that we’ve been looking into quite a bit lately is the availability of Disney Dining Reservations at Walt Disney World. While some of the hard-to-get reservations will not surprise you (hello Cinderella’s Royal Table, my old friend) some might.
What follows contains excerpts from the 2017 Unofficial Guide:
The Reality of Getting Last-Minute Dining Reservations
The longer you wait, the more effort you’ll have to put in to find a reservation. For example, if you’re trying for breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table within the next 7 days, your chance of finding any table the first time you check is less than 3%, based on our tests. But if you’ve got the time and patience to visit Disney’s website around 30 times over the next week (that’s not a typo), you’ve got a 50/50 shot at finding a last-minute cancellation.
Over the coming weeks we at the TouringPlans Blog will be going Back to Basics. We often write our posts from the perspective of people who have visited theme parks many, many times and we sometimes forget that there are those who need more basic advice. This entry is our first “Basics” post with several more to follow on topics such as characters, FastPass+, dining, hotels, and how to use our Touring Plans and Crowd Calendar. If there’s anything specific you would like us to cover let us know in the comments. Enjoy!
Sooooo, you’re planning your first trip to Walt Disney World, and you go onto the internet and ask the masses for advice. I see exchanges like this all the time:
You: Hi everyone! I’m planning my first ever trip to Walt Disney World, and I’m not really sure where to begin. What do I need to know?
Within seconds, responses start to pour in:
Helpful person number 1: Doug is the best Jungle Cruise skipper! He’s worth waiting for, so try to get on his boat!
Helpful person number 2: If you go to the phone booth in Tomorrowland and pick up the phone, you’ll hear some funny chatter! It’s a MUST do!
Helpful person number 3: I’ve never done it myself, but I heard from a bus driver that there’s a secret passageway on the pathway between Space Mountain and Storybook Circus that you can use to get to Animal Kingdom! Just whisper “Marcelline” into the third shrub on the east side of the path, and a Cast Member will appear and escort you to a high-speed underground rail that connects directly with Expedition Everest! It will save you so much time AND you get to ride Everest without a wait!
…and so on and so forth — good info to have, and well-intentioned, but not really critical from a planning standpoint for someone that has never even set foot on Disney property. Before you know it, the signal to noise ratio is unbearable, and you’re getting bombarded with so many niche tips and tricks that the information that is legitimately important for a first timer to have gets lost in the shuffle.
The biggest problem a first-timer encounters is that they don’t know what they don’t know, and knowing where to direct your focus is half the battle. With that in mind, I’ve tried to put together my “most important concepts” for a first time visitor that provides the bare minimum amount of information you need to successfully plan a trip, and then you can add on to that as you like. There is probably nowhere on planet earth that rewards a little advance planning like Walt Disney World, so I’d encourage anyone reading this to move beyond this guide, but this will at least provide the concepts that you need to be aware of to plan your first trip that you can use as touchstones if you start to feel a bit lost. Here goes with the most important things for a first time visitor to know:
While you Don’t have to plan every moment, certain planning is wise
Understand what FastPass+ is and use it liberally
Walt Disney World is probably larger than you think
There you have it, have fun on your trip!
Looking at what I’ve written with the benefit of a few seconds hindsight, it occurs to me that there might be a need for a little more detail. I promise I’ll keep it light, though, and will limit it to stuff that will really move the needle for you. Sooooo, without further ado, let’s jump in!
There are more than two dozen stateroom classifications on the Disney Cruise Line ships (and a variety of floor plan arrangements within some of those classifications), but overall there are just three main types of rooms on the Disney ships:
Inside staterooms: Those with no window to the outside world – though some do have a simulated “virtual porthole”
Oceanview staterooms: Those with one or more porthole windows
Staterooms with verandahs: Those with a “porch” outside the room.
Ask around and you’ll find that some guests will only travel in a verandah room, avowing that they MUST have an outdoor place of their own, while others prefer an inside room because they enjoy the cocoon-like darkness for sleeping. The truth is that the right stateroom type is the one that meets your individual needs. Here are some things to think about as you make your decision.
The ships have many public places to view the water.
What is your budget?
Your overall budget will obviously be your guide in all your travel decisions. If the sky’s the limit, then all other things being equal, a verandah room will likely be appealing for most folks, if only to have the extra square footage. However, if you’re watching your pennies, then getting an inside room may be an easy way to economize. You’ll also want to think about how your stateroom selection will impact your ability to enjoy other aspects of the trip. Will you have more funds available for excursions or fine dining if you opt for a different type of stateroom?
What is the price difference between the category types?
On some sailings, the price differential between the basic stateroom classifications can be many, many thousands of dollars, making the decision quite impactful to your trip. However, on other sailings, the cost variance between stateroom types is minimal. For example, on one 3-night May 2016 sailing on the Disney Dream, the least expensive room available is 204 square foot standard inside stateroom. The price for two guests is $1,464. On the same sailing, they could also get a 241 square foot oceanview (porthole) stateroom for $1,506 (a difference of just $42), or a 246 square foot verandah stateroom for $1,584 (a difference of $120 over the inside room, or $78 over the oceanview room). Given the macro cost of a vacation, these modest price differences may be small enough for you to be able enjoy whichever stateroom type suits your fancy.
Keep in mind that some rides on this plan, such as Peter Pan’s Flight, can’t handle large crowds and have high wait times. Because of this the following touring plan is one of the least efficient of our plans. But it does represent the best way to experience most of the child-oriented attractions in one day. We recommend arriving at Disneyland’s main entrance at least 30 minutes before park opening. That way you will be in line and ready to go as soon as the park opens its gates. After the park opens, head up Main Street, U.S.A. and go through Sleeping Beauty Castle to enter Fantasyland.
Step 2: Ride Peter Pan’s Flight
Peter Pan’s Flight is one of the most popular Disneyland dark rides, so unless you ride it first thing in the morning you’ll be looking at waits of 40 to 60 minutes through the rest of the day. Hundreds of other families will rush to Pan as soon as they are let through the turnstiles so that’s why you need to knock it out as soon as possible.
Should I bring my kids on my Walt Disney World vacation? That’s a joke, right?
Disney is the place for kids. If I want to go to Disney World, I have to bring them. Um, don’t I?
Well, no, you don’t have to bring them. And, depending on your needs, you may not want to. Here are some things to think about to decide whether bringing the kids on your Disney vacation is right for you.
Meetings and parties are just a few of the reasons to leave your kids at home when you visit Walt Disney World.
Is there an easy place to leave your kids at home?
This won’t work for everyone, but many families have a relatively (Get it? Relatively. Oy, sorry.) easy place to leave the kiddos — grandparents or a favorite aunt may be thrilled to step in for a few days. Or you and a best buddy could trade babysitting duties over a few long weekends. For some children, particularly younger kids, getting indulged by grandma might be more appealing than getting schlepped around in the hot sun. Or perhaps you and your spouse/partner could trade childcare duties, giving each some getaway time.
Will your kids complain if they know you went to Disney World without them?
Many elementary age kids or older will know about the wonderful world of Disney from hearing stories of their friends’ travel or from television advertisements. This may make it more challenging to ditch them at home. However, a preschooler may have no idea what they’re missing if you say you’re off at Disney World (or just Florida) for a few days. The reaction from the peanut gallery could color your decision.
If you’ve ever felt hunger pangs while trekking through a tropical jungle outpost or while traveling niles and niles and niles down a dangerous river, then you know what it’s like to be a skipper in need of sustenance. Luckily for you, I’ve got just the place for you to visit the next time you’re in need – the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen! The Skipper Canteen is a new table-service restaurant at the Magic Kingdom inspired by (and thematically connected to) the Jungle Cruise attraction. The skippers who traverse the wild leading guided excursions through the jungle have to have a place to eat, right?
One of the biggest victories from my latest trip to Disney World was the fact that we managed to catch the soft opening of the Skipper Canteen, and I’ve got lots to share! As of the writing of this article, advanced reservations are not yet being accepted for the canteen, but it is expected that they should be available in the near future. We learned of the soft opening simply by walking by the restaurant. Skippers were outside letting people know that the Skipper Canteen was open and they were taking walk-ups.
Do you love ginormous crowds of people, endless seas of strollers, and triple-digit wait times? If so, you’ve picked the Best Week Ever to visit Walt Disney World. But even if you are allergic to all of the above, it is actually possible survive the madness of Magic Kingdom holiday week crowds, and even enjoy a visit to America’s most popular theme park during the busiest week of the year, with the proper preparation.
In contrast to my relatively calm Christmas Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, my December 29 visit to the Magic Kingdom came smack in the center of 2015’s winter peak season psychosis. I braved the Magic Kingdom holiday week crowds in order to share with you a first-person perspective on navigating Disney when attendance is at its most extreme.
Without that professional motivation, I’d normally avoid Walt Disney World on days when our Crowd Calendar hits 10 out of 10, but many visitors don’t have another option due to work and school schedules. If the busy holiday week is the only time your family can visit WDW, I hope my experiences will help educate you about the perks and pitfalls of a peak season vacation.
Magic Kingdom Holiday Week Parking
As any Magic Kingdom veteran knows, simply arriving at the park is an adventure in itself; that’s doubly true during peak holiday weeks. My day of queuing began around 9 a.m., many yards before the Magic Kingdom parking toll booths.
Sometimes the smaller experiences at Disney World are the most meaningful. A perfect example is the opportunity to become an Honorary Citizen of the World. It was only after multiple trips to the parks that my family even knew that we could become citizens of Disney World, and then it took a few more trips before we actually got around to taking action.
If you too would like to become a Disney World Honorary Citizen, now is the time! Citizenship happens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is the most unpredictable Disney World park right now in terms of what experiences will survive from one day to the next. So if you would like a chance to call yourself a citizen of Walt Disney World, I advise venturing over to the Studios’ Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream at your earliest opportunity because you never know how long it will last. Read on for all the details.