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Have you ever experienced that overwhelming feeling of standing in the middle of a Disney park with no direction or plan? When you’re new to Disney, it can be a lot to take in. With so many attractions, shows, characters, and dining opportunities, it’s easy to get distracted and not get a whole lot done on a park day. Many people complain about the long lines, but our family has never waited in a line for more than 30 minutes! Want to know how? A simple piece of paper called a touring plan!
If you watch people in the park, you will see a scenario similar to this one…Mom, Dad and a bunch of kids. Dad’s studying the map with occasional glances around. Mom is trying to contain the kids while they whine about what they want to go on next. Mom says, “Dash wants to go on Space Mountain.” Dad responds, “That’s like on the other side of the park! Disney is too much walking! Let’s just go on Splash Mountain again. It’s right here!” Dash whines more!
Meanwhile, big sister Violet hasn’t looked up from her phone 1 time during this conversation. She now rolls her eyes and calls Dash a baby. They start to fight. Mom has had enough, “Bob we’re going on Space Mountain!!!!” Dad responds, “Fine Helen, but if you end up carrying all the kids tonight don’t come whining to me!!!” As they walk away, tired and frustrated, I have two thoughts. First, I’m just eyeballing it, but Dash doesn’t look tall enough for Space Mountain, that should go over well. And Second, this whole argument could have been prevented.
Now I made up this particular conversation, but it is a combination of different things I’ve overheard families say in the park. On every trip, I’m amazed how many people there are who aren’t smiling…cus I look like the Cheshire Cat all day! You ask anyone who knows me, I am not a relaxed person by nature, but something happens to me at Disney…I can let go! A huge crowd of people, multiple reservations to juggle, and two small kids should be enough to do me in! So why doesn’t it?
My Breaking Point
I learned something after our 1st trip to Disneyland on our honeymoon. We hadn’t planned at all and just showed up at the park one day, except for a special dinner at the Blue Bayou. With so much to do, we hadn’t left ourselves enough time to get to the reservation. As we’re trying to rush to the restaurant, we’re holding hands and weaving in and out of the crowd. Suddenly Shaun stopped! Because we were holding hands, I was walking too close and didn’t react in time. I ran into the back of him and kicked that back of his shoe…HARD! It ripped my pinkie toenail right off!
Well, we made it the reservation only a couple of minutes late, but by that time we were both upset and I was bleeding everywhere! What should have been a romantic meal, turned into us trying to avoid a fight. Had we done even a little bit of planning, the whole thing could have been avoided. I vowed never to let it happen again.
Five years later, we went back to Disneyland, but this time with two children. I planned my little heart out. I knew more about that park than many Californians. And a wonderful thing happened! Our trip was relaxed and fun! We went on every single ride in both parks and many of them multiple times! We even got to take a nap every day! And yes, we never stood in a line for more than 30 minutes. The key was making a touring plan!
What is a Touring Plan?
Basically, a touring plan is your to-do list for a day in a park. It can be as detailed as minute by minute schedule or as loose as a list of which order you would like to do things in. Many people show up to Disney without a plan and miss seeing all that Disney has to offer. If you’ve been to Disney many times and plan to go back this isn’t as big of a deal, but if this is your first time or you don’t go often, you can feel the need to get it all done. A touring plan will help you check off your must-dos for your trip.
Why have a Touring Plan?
A touring plan serves several purposes in my mind. First. It pre-makes decisions for you. For many people, the planning of a Disney vacation starts many months ahead of time. Once I’m on vacation, I don’t want to have to make any more decisions. With a touring plan, most of the decisions have already been made. I know what attractions we will go on, what shows we will watch, what characters we will meet, and even what restaurants we will eat at. I simply look at the list and head to the next thing on it.
It keeps us from arguing at Disney. Everyone in your family will have different priorities on your vacation. For some people, it may be about the thrill rides while others will want more experiential attractions. So how do you make sure everyone gets what they want? A touring plan! Before we leave I talk to the kids about what is important to them. I talk to Shaun about what his must-dos are. Sometimes their answers surprise me. I see families in the park arguing about what they will do next because they each have different priorities. Because I have our days planned, I can show everyone when we will check their item off the list so they are happy to go along with the plan.
How to make a Touring Plan
Hours and Reservations
First, find out how long the park you are visiting will be open. I don’t generally recommend Parkhoppers, but if you plan to visit more than one park in a day, find out the hours for all of them. You now have a time frame to work with. Now plug in your Fastpass and dining reservations you have made. Next mark the times of any shows you plan to see (parades, fireworks, etc.) You will fit in everything else around these.
Now let’s talk must dos! Even with the best touring plan, you probably won’t get in every single thing in a park. That’s the wonderful thing about Disney is that there is always a reason to come back. That is why it’s important to come up with a must-do list. This doesn’t have to be the most popular attractions, but what is important to you. When I ask my son what he wanted to do most on our last trip, he answered swim in the pool so I planned plenty of pool time for him and he was happy to go on any ride we wanted. Get together your list of attractions and shows you will be disappointed to miss.
Putting it Together
Now it’s time to put it all together. If you read Step 4: Fastpass+, you will remember that I suggest getting your first Fastpass for around 10:30. Now if you want to get a lot done, you’ll get there when the park opens, preferably a little before. Now take a look at your must do list. What items are the most popular (the ones that will have the longest wait times)? If your not sure which ones these are, take a look at the My Disney Experience App where you can see the wait times in the park as well as which Fastpasses are available or sold out. If you don’t have Fastpasses for these items, get them done first thing in the morning before the park gets busy.
Now, are there any items on your list that are “no line” attractions? This would include things like Tom Sawyers island, the Sorcerer Mickey Game, Rafiki’s Planet watch, or many of the shows. Go ahead and put these into the afternoon slots. The park will be the most crowded at this time so it’s a good time to do these things. Put anything that is left into the evening. The later it gets the fewer crowds there will be. Take advantage of this to finish up your touring plan.
When you get off schedule
Let’s talk about when things don’t go according to plan. This can be a bad thing because of rain or higher crowds or it can be because of good reasons. Once, cast member invited us to take a second ride through on Buzz Lightyear with no wait. Of course, we said yes and something else got bumped, but how do you handle a touring plan gone awry? First, try not to over plan. Leave yourself some wiggle room for a line to take a little longer or a street performance that catches your attention.
If we’re behind, I usually choose to skip something and try to make it up later. If we just keep going with what’s next on the list, we never get caught up, but there is usually something on the Touring plan we can agree to skip and come back to it later. This happens pretty often so I leave 1-2 hours at the end of the day to either make up a skipped item or to just wander and enjoy the Disney magic. Remember even a bad day at Disney is better than most days.
I feel it’s important to mention that you shouldn’t be a slave to your touring plan. Disney is a magical place. Let the Disney magic take you away when the opportunity arises. Some of our favorite experiences, we couldn’t have ever planned. That being said, I still believe in heading into your vacation with a plan. I use them myself on every trip. Whatever you choose to do, start penciling in those reservations and asking the family what they can’t wait to do.
As much fun as the parks are, the whole Disney resort is amazing. In Step 6, I’m going to tell you everything you can do outside of the parks! Take a minute and leave me a comment about your biggest Disney planning challenge! I’ll take the time to answer it and help you any way I can!