Disneyworld Planning 101 – Making the best use of time

If “a penny saved is a penny earned,” then what of time?  Shouldn’t it follow that saving time is also merit-worthy?  Certainly using time purposefully is important, given that a guest has invested both money and time in a vacation.  What is “purposeful” varies from person to person, however.  Some guests at Epcot once shared that they were so enamored with the gardens that they hadn’t done any attractions – but they weren’t complaining; rather, they were complimenting … and beaming.  Here are some ways to “make time,” save time, add time and use time during a Disney park visit…

Disney’s FASTPASS system allows guests to avoid waiting at designated popular attractions in all four Walt Disney World theme parks.

Here’s how it works:

  • At the entrance to attractions offering FASTPASS, two times are posted – (1) approximate wait time using the normal queue and (2) return time for FASTPASS tickets currently being issued.
  • If the wait in the normal queue is long, guests can choose to obtain a FASTPASS ticket (at no charge) with an assigned return time (an hour-long window) and then use the time until then to enjoy other experiences in the park.
  • Upon returning to use their FASTPASS, the guest can hop on the attraction with little or no waiting.

A “rider swap” program lets both parents enjoy a ride – one parent waits with a child who is unable to ride an attraction while one parent rides.  Afterwards, the other parent can board the ride with minimal wait time.

Tip Boards located at strategic “crossroads” in each theme park provide guests with a heads-up concerning attractions’ wait times.  Guests can save time – and “steps” – by consulting the boards throughout the day.

Extra Magic Hours provide guests of select hotels at Walt Disney World Resort an opportunity for exclusive time in a Walt Disney World theme park.  The details:

  • The exclusive time is one hour prior to scheduled park opening or up to three hours after park closing.
  • The park varies from day to day.
  • In all, there are up to 16 extra theme park hours available each week.
  • The time is exclusively for guests of the 24 Walt Disney World owned-and-operated hotels, and Walt Disney World Dolphin, Walt Disney World Swan, Shades of Green and the Hilton at Downtown Disney.
  • Disney water parks sometimes open one hour early for guests of select Disney resort hotels.
  • To take advantage of the additional time in the parks, guests must have a Magic Your Way ticket valid for the park(s) offering Extra Magic Hours – and, of course, their hotel ID.
  • The Park Hopper option on Magic Your Way tickets allows guests to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours in a park or parks different from where the guest spends the rest of the day.

Guests arriving at park opening frequently head to a favorite attraction and enjoy it before it gets busy.

Guests who decide to forego viewing a popular parade frequently discover it’s a time to experience a popular attraction with less wait.

Festivals and special events are times when the theme parks feature extra entertainment and excitement –included with regular admission.  Several long-running events are the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (spring), Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (fall), ESPN The Weekend (spring at Disney’s Hollywood Studios), Star Wars Weekends (spring at Disney’s Hollywood Studios), and elaborate decorations and seasonal entertainment at all four parks for the holidays.

The “best time” to visit depends.  The busier times to visit Walt Disney World parks are when school’s out for major holidays, the summer and three-day weekends.  The very busiest times typically are Christmas to New Year’s and around Easter.  Some considerations:

  • Avoiding the busy times likely means shorter waits for attractions and shows and better access to dining reservations.
  • Busy times can mean extended operating hours and sometimes special incremental entertainment.
  • Disney planners attempt to schedule periodic attraction closures for refurbishment at times other than vacation peaks.

Quick Service meals can cut down dining time – and sometimes cost. Addin flexibility because you can catch a gulp on the go without a reservation, and quick service can make consummate “good sense.”

Table Service restaurant experiences can enhance the theme park experience. There are restaurants that are worth the extra planning effort of a reservation, the extra time at the table, and possible extra expense.  These eateries, replete with elaborate theming, extend the entertainment experience of the park to mealtime.  Dining and relaxing in an ambiance reflecting a different time or place is an entertainment experience worth the time sitting.  Sometimes these restaurants serve up entertainment acts along with meals.  And sometimes the meal may be part of a package that provides preferred seating at no extra cost for a signature entertainment performance (such as Candlelight Processional at Epcot or “Fantasmic!” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios).

A longer stay can yield a vacation at a more comfortable pace.  Guest surveys show higher satisfaction ratings for longer stays – with “pace” typically cited as the reason.  After a week-long visit, guests have reported that they “didn’t feel rushed” and they “discovered a pool at the hotel.”

For a short-duration visit, make a short list of “must-sees” and “must-dos” based on the vacationing group’s interests.  One of the worst mistakes a guest can make is over-scheduling.  Be realistic in planning.  Don’t attempt to see and do everything.  Vacation shouldn’t feel like a track meet!  And remember to take into account any relevant factors such as height restrictions or ambulatory concerns.

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