Given the number of variables that can affect your Disney experience, we put a lot of emphasis on flexibility and resourcefulness in our “Happy Day” formula. Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t start out with a plan.

Whether spontaneous, specific, loose or structured, a plan comes in many forms and any combination thereof. Yet regardless of your innate planning profile, Disney will surely challenge your skillset, for no one approach can ever sustain the breadth of variety a Disney experience affords. For example…

The Combo Plan

Mark loves planning. He loves everything about it, from time tables and transportation to maps and logistics. That’s very lucky for Amy, who lacks all those relevant awarenesses. What Amy has instead is a sense, a general idea of what the ideal day may hold. She can convey a contour, like a landscape, of possible scenes within the day, which Mark can then shape into something tangible, reasonable and potentially doable based on his grasp of all those valuable facts and figures.

Know Your Priorities

But before we get to the contours and specifics, we talk about what we want from the day: Is it a ride day or a mosey about and take photos day? Is there something we specifically need to accomplish, like replacing Mark’s worn and tattered Disney cap with a new one, or finding a special gift for a friend? It might be all about getting a Fastpass for Radiator Racers, no matter what time that may be.

Each of these approaches will make for a different day and a different path through it. The challenge is in marrying your optimal vision with the realities of the day: the weather may not be conducive to taking pictures, and the park may be too crowded to get on many rides. If we really want a ride day, we’ll go on a low-attendance day before we accept 40min. + lines. If we’d hoped for a good photo day and the weather is gloomy, we’ll alter our plan in favor of doing more hanging out, where we can enjoy the bands, catch a parade, watch the people go to and fro, and just listen to all the sounds of Disney over double espressos in a cul-de-sac off Main Street.

Sometimes we’re too busy enjoying Disney to stop and really enjoy it.

Add Some Structure

This is Mark’s favorite part: creating a mental map of the flow of our day. Left to Amy, we’d meander about pursuing whims and sudden inspirations and then pout when we can’t actually teleport to the other park. I.e., unrealistic and inefficient. Mark takes into account the maximum number of times we’re willing to park hop, divides that by where we need to be when (like a Radiator Springs Fastpass for 2:00), factors in time for lunch based on possible locations, then adds the final variable of where we need to end up for cocktail hour.

No kidding, not everyone can do this. Over the years, Amy’s learned to listen to Mark work out the plan, instead of just blindly agreeing to it and then holding him responsible when certain aspects fall short. As a result, Amy has improved her ability to see a plan, and in so doing, be able to improve upon it. Win-win! However, one doesn’t need Mark’s logistical genius to chart a course designed more for going with the flow than bouncing here and there and back again only to wind up exhausted and spent. NB: The first time we had a park-hopper ticket, we park hopped five times. Lesson learned, ohmygodwhathavewedone, we barely had the stamina to laugh.

Helpful Considerations

In our ongoing effort to make a science out of the art of going to Disney, we’ve found the following considerations to be consistent guiding factors:

Peak Attendance

No-oooooo-oooooo-ooooo!

  1. Know what kind of attendance to expect. Time of year, time of day, day of the week… there are certain consistencies that make for pretty safe bets where crowd prediction is concerned. Peak times and days can usually be confirmed or forewarned by going to any of the Disney fan sites that track such things, such as one of our go-tos, Mouseplanet. Check out our Resources Page for more.
  2. Avoid unpleasant surprises by checking the Disney site for planned closures. You may decide to postpone your visit if you see your absolute favorite attraction is undergoing a refurb for the next month. Bear in mind, though, that unexpected breakdowns will not be posted on the website, but on a friendly looking sign as you’re entering the park. (This is where flexibility and resourcefulness comes in.) We recommend downloading the official Disney apps (for Disneyland and Walt Disney World) for real-time status and wait times for your favorite attractions.
  3. If you plan on having a meal, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the available food options, particularly if you’re going to be park-hopping. A Fastpass might conflict with your preferred dining choice if you have to “hop” to a different park just to have lunch.

If three’s a crowd…

One of the most basic predictors of crowd size is a park’s closing time. The Disney site is generally pretty reliable about posting its hours months in advance (though this can be inconsistent depending on the park and the time of year). With a little deductive observation, you can determine whether the park is scheduled to close later than usual. This means crowded, as the extended park hours are usually in anticipation of greater attendance, or possibly for seasonal festivities, both of which would imply bigger crowds. However, the latter isn’t always indicative of longer ride lines if the big draw is a parade, fireworks show or dance party.

Depending on the anticipated crowds, we’ll plan our day around trying to be as out of step with the roaming herds as possible.

Park Guide For example:

  1. If you arrive when the park first opens (or shortly thereafter), head to the farthest point from the entrance. The greater cluster will tend to roll slowly forth, like a slow-moving blob. Choosing to start with the more distant attractions will be rewarded with much shorter lines—possibly the shortest they’ll be all day.
  2. Check the park guide (as you stand in line) for parade times. Parades mean shorter lines as people flock along the entertainment route. However, don’t wait until the last minute to dash to your fave attraction, as you’ll only get caught in the slog of static spectators. Anticipate and act!
  3. Rather than having lunch at the lunch hour, head to a favorite attraction instead whose line is normally prohibitive. Most people will be supping, and the difference between 60 minutes and 40 is substantial.
  4. Don’t apply the “lunch hour” gambit to New Year’s Day. You may think everyone’s going to stay home to watch the game, but those are the very people (a.k.a., parents) who will be overruled and forced to come to the park because someone convinced them the park would be empty. You’ll be standing in lines twice as long with people glued to their iPhones watching the game. And if you think you can escape the game by going Disney, you’ll be in for a disappointment: in it’s infinite desire to please the most people as much and as often as possible, Disney will televise the game wherever there’s a screen connected to a network.
  5. See a show! Even if you’re not the show-going person, give yourself an opportunity to surprise yourself. Disney is in the business of entertainment, after all, and they’re pretty darned good at it. Not only that, but a show is an opportunity not only to extricate yourself from the human horde, but to sit for more than a few minutes at a clip in a cool dark environment where you can give life to a second wind.

    On the other hand, if seeing a show—or shows—is your top priority, it’s a good idea to check the show times in advance of your visit so you can plan accordingly and know how much flexibility you can afford.

In Closing

We hope you can put to good use our collection of discoveries and best practices for optimizing your Disney experience. Certainly there are more, and some specific to each park, attraction, or event. For Us, we remain a student of the game, as nothing ever stays the same. That’s why, when people ask how we can keep returning to the same place again and again without it becoming repetitive, this is how.