The Basics: A Timeline for Your Disney World Trip

by on March 7, 2016

Castle (6)This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

My previous article in the TouringPlans blog Back to Basics series focused on using the TouringPlans Crowd Calendar to decide when to go to Disney World. Once you’ve made that all-important decision, it’s time to start planning the details of your trip. Using a timeline is an excellent way to keep your trip planning on track. It’s also a fun way to ratchet up the excitement as you count down the days to your vacation.

This article starts with a chart showing essential milestones in a Disney World planning timeline, followed by an example of a timeline used by a family preparing for their trip. Plus, learn how subscribers can receive personalized alerts and use their own Dashboard on to ensure they don’t miss the crucial dates in their timeline.

© Sarah Graffam

Use a Disney World Trip Planning Timeline to Keep You on Track for Making FastPass+ Reservations and More

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The Basics: Meeting Characters at Animal Kingdom

by on March 2, 2016

AK-Characters-1-467x700This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.


Character meet and greets – love them or hate them, they’re a pivotal part of a Walt Disney World vacation. I already waxed nostalgic on the magical memories that can be made at a character meet, and I encourage you to check out my first article (which focuses on Epcot) in the Character Meet and Greet portion of our Back to Basics series. For my second foray into the detailed world of characters and where they live, we’re headed off to the Animal Kingdom!

Animal Kingdom is not a park I traditionally associate with a large number of character meet and greets, but one major thing it has going for it is uniqueness. While you can find your traditional characters there (Mickey, Minnie, etc.) you can also find others who only appear in Animal Kingdom. In actuality, Animal Kingdom has a pretty solid line-up of characters! (I have no idea why I have some sort of mental block saying that Animal Kingdom isn’t prime real estate for characters – it is!) Before we start on the rundown of characters you can find here, let me give you some basic meet and greet tips. (Feel free to scroll past the following section if you read it in the Epcot article. Do I at least get bonus points for swapping out the photos?)

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The Basics: FastPass+ Strategy

by on February 29, 2016

TouringPlans logoThis is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

Welcome back! This is the second in a three part series about DisneyFastPass+ service and how to make the most of it.  It assumes that you already know what FastPass+ is and how it works, so if you have no idea what we’re talking about, please take a moment to read through my recent primer on that topic.  For the rest of you that know how to use FastPass+, be aware that FastPass+ should allow you to spend less time in line, but depending upon how you use it, it can either save you a lot of time, or essentially none at all.  This will hopefully help you fall into the former category!  Let’s go!  

Selection Strategy

FastPass+ Kiosk LogoSimply stated, your goal in selecting your FastPass+ selections is not just to reserve the attractions that are on your to-do list, but it should be to
select the attractions that are on your to-do list that generate the most significant waits.  For example, I love Mickey’s Philharmagic, and we make sure that we experience it at least once on every trip.  With that said, I would never spend a FastPass on it, because doing so wouldn’t actually save me any time in line. On the other hand, while Peter Pan’s Flight is nowhere near my favorite attraction, it remains a must do and not having a FastPass+ for it potentially sets me up for a soul-crushing wait of an hour or more, so it’s always one of my first picks, even over attractions that I prefer in the abstract. 

A detailed look at which attractions you should FastPass and which you shouldn’t is beyond the scope of this article (if you do want detailed advice for selecting your FastPass+ reservations, check out our advice pages for the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom), but here’s a quick list of attractions in each park that are no-brainer options for FastPass+ if you want to experience them:

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The Basics: A Cost Analysis of the Disney World Dining Plan

by on February 26, 2016

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to find links to our other Basics posts.

The first thing to understand about the Disney World Dining Plan is the transformation it has undergone since its introduction in 2005. At one time, the promotional material for the dining plan emphasized value, trumpeting savings of up to 40 percent. Today, the emphasis is on convenience. That’s because the potential savings of the Dining Plan is very dependent on how you use it. In fact, it’s fairly easy to lose money on the Dining Plan.

Disney Dining PlanDuring its debut, the Standard Dining Plan cost about $35 per day for adults and $10 for children. For this price, visitors would get the familiar offering of one table-service meal, one counter-service meal and one snack. The big difference from the original offering to today is in the table-service meal, which no longer includes appetizer or gratuity in the cost.

And, of course, that cost has gone up markedly as well. In 2016, the price per day of the Standard Dining Plan is $61.82 per adult and $20.98 per child (tax included). In addition to the table-service meal, counter-service meal and single snack per day, guests using this plan will get a refillable drink mug, valid for the length of stay.

The other dining plan options include the Quick-Service Plan, which includes two counter-service meals and one snack per day, along with the refillable drink mug. Per day, this package will run you $42.84 for adults and $17.47 for children (tax included). Then there’s the Deluxe Dining Plan, which offers a choice of 3 table- or counter-service meals per day at any participating restaurant. In addition to the three meals a day, the plan also includes two snacks per day and a refillable drink mug. Both child and adult credits can be used for adult meals, if desired, on the Deluxe Dining Plan. The cost per day is $111.73 for adults and $32.56 for children (tax included).

Read on to find out where you can find value in the Dining Plan and where you can fall short.

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The Basics: Selecting the Right Walt Disney World Hotel Category

by on February 24, 2016

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to find links to our other Basics posts.


One of the most exciting and often nerve wracking parts of planning a vacation is selecting a hotel. Some people view a hotel as simply the place where you sleep and shower, and nothing more. Others, like me, see the hotel as home base and a destination unto itself. I’ve even planned entire vacations around the hotel more so than the local area and attractions (but then again I work in the hotel industry and am a self-proclaimed hotel nerd).

If the weather is bad or if somebody gets sick, this is where you’ll spend much of your vacation time. At the end of a full day touring the parks this is where you can rest, or depending on which location you choose, you can come back in the middle of the day to relax. The amount of options in all of Central Florida can be astounding, after all there are over 400 hotels in the Orlando / Orange County area.

Old Key West Resort room

Old Key West Resort room

Let’s assume for the purposes of this post that you’ve decided you really want to stay on Walt Disney World property. You still have to sort through over 20 hotels in order to select your hotel. The main focus of this guide is to help you decide between Walt Disney World resort hotel categories. I will include some of the pros and cons of each category, as well as a general overview of the features of each category. This includes location, transportation, food and beverage, and amenities. In follow up posts, we will dig into the specifics of these features for each resort in particular.

Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels, Swan and Dolphin, and Bonnet Creek

If you’re looking for close proximity at lower cost, then the hotels near Disney Springs on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, as well as the hotels of Bonnet Creek, offer easy transportation. If you want the extra perks such as Disney transportation and Extra Magic Hours, however, you’ll need either a Disney-owned hotel or the Starwood Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, which offer these benefits with slightly lower room rates. The MagicBand (as a room key and ticket) and Disney’s Magical Express are exclusive features for Disney owned and operated. For some folks this is a major plus, while for others it is not worth the extra money that a Disney owned property can cost.

Walt Disney World Swan

The Walt Disney World Swan: Very close to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but technically a Starwood hotel.

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The Basics: How to Use FastPass+

by on February 22, 2016

TouringPlans logoThis is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.


Even if you’ve never been to Walt Disney World before, you’ve probably heard mention of the mammoth lines that certain attractions can generate. You might be thinking that a trip to Disney is essentially an exercise in standing and waiting, with occasional bursts of fun. While lines will indeed be a part of any Disney trip, there are steps that you can take to minimize the amount of waiting that you do and one of the best tools you have in your arsenal is the DisneyFastPass+ service, which is a ride reservation system that allows you to experience headliner attractions with minimal wait at Walt Disney World.

FastPass+ is free to use for everyone visiting Disney and it can make an enormous difference in the enjoyment of your trip. There are few things that make me cringe quite as much as someone coming back from a trip and being upset because people kept jetting by them as they stood in line because they weren’t aware of FastPass+. They assumed either that it was some sort of VIP line, or that it was a special line for people that had paid extra on top of what is already a costly vacation. Don’t be that guy. Read on to learn what FastPass+ is and how to use it!

What is FastPass+?


Legacy FastPasses

First, a little history and background to put things in context. When Walt Disney World first opened, the queues for attractions were handled the same way they might be at your local carnival — you got in line for the attraction you wanted to do when were are ready to do it, and waited your turn, which often meant standing in a really, really long line. In late 1999, Disney developed FASTPASS as a way to minimize the amount of time you had to physically be in line. To use it, you would go to the attraction you wanted to experience, put your park ticket into a kiosk, and it would print out a little ticket with a time window for you to experience the attraction with little or no wait. Once you had one FastPass, you had to wait two hours or until the start time printed on the ticket before you could get another one. This same system is used at Disneyland today, in fact.

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Disney Parks Basics: All About Touring Plans

by on February 17, 2016

Disneyland Book Touring Plans

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

In this Disney Parks Basics article, I am highlighting one of’s greatest achievements.

It has revolutionized how people see attractions and shows in the parks.

It is based on hours, days, months, and years of exhaustive research by dedicated park fans.

It is what got this little website off the ground in the first place.

It is…the touring plan.

Touring plans have been a staple of The Unofficial Guide books since the very first edition, and that has carried over to the website and Lines app. This is not just suggested material that will probably get you through a few more attractions in a day. The people in charge say that park guests can save four hours of wait time using touring plans.

Over the past five years, touring plans have increased in variety and become even more accessible, but this article will highlight some ways to get started with touring plans on your next Disney Parks vacation!

You can see my notes when I used this plan back in 2010.

You can see my notes when I used this plan back in 2010.

Background Information

I did my first touring plan back in 2010 when I was reintroduced to Walt Disney World as an adult. My friend Michelle had been doing them with her family, and wanted to do it with me, too. The two of us also listened to the WDW Today podcast, which featured Len Testa doing a few episodes about touring plans.

We each bought The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2010 as soon as it came out and gobbled up the giant book like it was a Harry Potter novel. In the back of the book (and this applies to the current editions as well) are some of the most tried and true touring plans that people have used. We used it and really did achieve so much more than if we’d just gone to the Magic Kingdom with no plan of action.

When I’ve used it in the past, I’ve always made sure to arrive at park opening, to maximize the amount of attractions conquered. Although I never have personally used a touring plan with children, I know that many people have and swear by them.

I have not only used the paper versions from the books, but have also utilized the website to customize my own, and have also used the Lines app on my phone to have my touring plan with me and be able to change it in the park at a moment’s notice.

However, I love to take a relaxing pace every once in a while. Touring plans allow for free time to be planned, but also can adjust if you’re not a Type A person and just want to do something that’s not planned at all!

How they work

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The Basics: Meeting Characters at Epcot

by on February 15, 2016

Character Meet and Greets

Nothing is quite so magical as meeting Mickey for the first time!

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

One of the quintessential Walt Disney World experiences is participating in Character Meet and Greets. That magical moment when your child meets Mickey for the first time is right up there with their first spin on Dumbo or the first time blasting off on Space Mountain. Like most Disney adventures, I would also caution those adult-only travelling parties not to overlook character experiences as just for the little ones – you can still have a magical experience with Mulan or Aurora even if you’re in the over-18 set!

This is the first article in my series on Character Meet and Greets, in which I will tackle every park and give you a run-down of who you can meet and where. I’ve decided to start with Epcot (this is traditionally the first park we visit on every trip – why not begin at the beginning?!), so buckle up for a tour of Future World and World Showcase and the characters who live there!

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The Basics: Using the Crowd Calendar to Decide When to Visit Disney World

by on February 10, 2016

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’s Disney 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.]

© Sarah Graffam

© Sarah Graffam

How will the crowds be during your Disney World visit? Use’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.

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The Basics: Walt Disney World First Timer’s Guide — The Minimum You Need to Know

by on February 8, 2016

TouringPlans logo

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
  • Relax

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!

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