Planning a Walt Disney World trip can be a lot! There’s deciding what type of resort to stay in. Choosing transportation options. Choosing dining reservations. You need to choose rides and decide if you’re going to utilize Disney Genie+. There’s a lot to do, and sometimes, not a lot of time to do it! But having a plan is key to making the most of your time. Here’s how to plan your Disney Days.
Making a Plan for Your Disney Days
Walt Disney World can be overwhelming. Disneyland is a little less so. Regardless of which Disney Park you’re visiting, having a plan for your Disney Days is essential. Whether you’re a Disney newbie or a seasoned Disney traveler, it’s always good to have a plan at Disney. It doesn’t need to be broken down by the hour, but you should have some idea of what you’d like to do each day. And where you want to eat, even if you’re not eating at a table restaurant. We believe so much in the power of planning for your trip, that a few years ago we added printable Disney planners to our shop and they’re some of our best-selling items.
As a general rule, you should be able to achieve 3 rides, one table service meal, a parade or a show, and one character meet and greet in a day at Disney. This will vary widely between times of the year and who’s traveling with you. And more often than not, you’re going to be able to do more than that. But who wants to be disappointed about not getting to do something on their list? Not us. And we don’t want to be responsible for your disappointment either. So we’re giving you realistic expectations, and you can decide if you want to dream bigger than that.
Prioritize what you want to do at Disney
Why are you going to Disney? Rides? Character Meet and Greets? Special Experiences? There’s no wrong answer, but it’s important to establish priorities for your trip. We’ve been to Walt Disney World multiple times per year over the last decade, and well, not as much at Disneyland, but still more than the average traveler. And we still have not seen and done everything we want to do. There’s just a lot to do!
Ask everyone in your party what their priorities are and try to create a plan that accommodates each person to at least have one of their top choices included.
Planning for Rides at Disney
With the addition of Genie+, the ride situation has been…interesting. Genie+ will definitely help you cut down on wait times, but it’s not really necessary in all of the Parks if you have a strategy. You can use strategies like rope drop, riding during peak mealtimes, during nighttime shows, or in the case of Magic Kingdom, during the Festival of Fantasy Parade. If you’re staying at a deluxe resort, you can take advantage of Extended Evening Hours.
As a rule of thumb, you should try to pick your top 3 rides and do those first. Or come up with a plan to ensure that you can do them all during your day. Is it possible to ride more than 3 rides in a day? Of course! And most likely, you will. But if you prioritize your top 3, then everything else is just icing on the Mickey-shaped cake. On average, guests end up getting 3 ride selections with Genie+. You can get more than that, but that’s the average. It’ll depend on when you start your day, how busy it is, and how many other guests have also purchased Genie+.
Planning Disney Genie+ Selections
Genie+ and Lightning Lane are controversial topics amongst Disney fans. What once used to be free no longer is. And it’s understandable that guests are resistant to the type of change that costs them more. Plus, it’s a slightly confusing feature to use. It has weird rules that aren’t often shared by Disney. And since it all has to be done on your phone, the person in charge of making ride reservations could very well be on their phone all day. You’ll definitely want to make sure you have a portable phone charger on hand.
But even though Genie+ is done in the moment, it’s important to plan ahead for your selections. Some sell out earlier in the day than others, and if your first ride reservation isn’t until 3 pm, it’s going to be difficult to get much more accomplished. Plan to start selecting rides early, and understand how Genie+ works to make the most of it.
Planning meals at Disney
Your meal strategy is going to change largely on where you’re staying. At Disneyland, most guests stay at Good Neighbor hotels off-property, while at Walt Disney World the opposite is true. Regardless of which park you’re visiting, or whether or not you’re staying at a Disney resort or not, breakfast tends to be the most difficult meal for those hoping to get to the Parks early. This is again why it’s important to know your party’s priorities beforehand. If your number one objective is to get to the Parks as early as possible, you can grab something like a pastry from the food court on your way out or bring prepackaged foods like Kind Breakfast Bars or Belvita Biscuits.
But if that’s not your biggest concern, you should decide where you’ll eat at least by the day before. You should have an idea of which 3 places you want to eat at and around what time. Obviously, this can be a flexible plan. But during very busy times, if you wait too long to decide on a restaurant, it can impact the rest of the day. Mobile ordering sometimes gets closed at certain times. Lines can get very long. And sometimes, some quick service restaurants are actually closed for a short amount of time between traditional mealtimes and won’t be open at all until the next meal period begins. There’s nothing wrong with a little spontaneity at Walt Disney World. Just make sure it doesn’t affect your ability to find food! Being hangry at Disney is never fun, so try to avoid that when possible.
If you’re planning to have a table service meal, in general, you’ll want to allow at least an hour. Sometimes you have to wait for your reservation. Sometimes service is a little slow. And in the case of a Disney Restaurant with a Character Meal, sometimes you have to wait for characters. So be sure to allow plenty of time for sit-down restaurants.
Coffee at Walt Disney World
And of course, don’t forget about coffee! Every Walt Disney World Park has a Starbucks. And with the exception of Animal Kingdom’s location, Creature Comforts, they all tend to be pretty busy most of the time. So if you need your coffee fix and Starbucks is what you prefer, you’re going to want to plan for that extra wait time. As silly as it might sound to plan a coffee stop into your day, it can sometimes take half an hour to get thru the line and get your Starbucks fix. You can also try Joffrey’s for a shorter line.
If you’re not picky, however, just make coffee in your room. Or grab it from the food court on the way to the Parks.
Planning downtime at Disney
Everyone relaxes a little differently and that’s ok! You just need to make sure you take some time for that. Even if it’s just during the Carousel of Progress Show or Muppets 3D. Disney is a lot! There is a lot of walking, a lot of overstimulation, and sometimes a bit of chaos. Making sure everyone gets a break in a way that helps them get refreshed is essential to enjoying your trip. We’ve seen so many families fight at Walt Disney World. It definitely makes you reconsider calling it the Happiest Place on Earth. Most of the time these fights are the result of someone just needing a break. So be sure to take them! And be sure to plan them in your day.
This can look like finding a quiet spot to relax at Disney. Or have a full day in the middle of your vacation for a pool or resort day. For smaller travelers, maybe they need a nap midday. And during the hottest months of the year, taking a small break at midday is a good idea anyway to escape the heat.
Planning for Character Meet and Greets
If your main goal of going to Walt Disney World is to meet the characters, then it’s important that you get very familiar with My Disney Experience. While some characters are available almost all day, like the Princesses at Fairytale Hall, others are not so easily accessible. Checking the My Disney Experience account for characters will help you plan when to be ready to meet them. Some characters are also available as a Genie+ reservation, so if you’re looking to cut down wait times, you have that as an option as well. Check out where are Characters at Walt Disney World ahead of time so you can get your bearings, and make a plan.
Planning Special Experiences for Your Disney Days
Do you have any special experiences you’re hoping to have while at Walt Disney World? Maybe a trip to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, or a Disney World Tour? Be sure to plan meals around these activities, as they can take longer than expected. And if you have to travel to get to any of these experiences, be sure to allow for extra travel time if using Disney transportation. We always recommend planning an hour for travel between locations. If you need to get somewhere quickly, you’ll want to either use Disney’s Minnie Van Service or Uber.
Parades and Shows at Walt Disney World
Parades used to be a much bigger deal at Walt Disney World than they are now. With no nighttime parade, and Festival of Fantasy being the only active parade currently available, it’s a little easier to plan around than it once was. If you want to see Festival of Fantasy though, especially from a special location, like Main Street USA, you’ll need to plan to find a good spot about 20-30 minutes before the parade starts. And then you’ll actually have to wait for the parade to arrive in that location. If you don’t have any desire to see the parade, though, you can take advantage of lower ride wait times during the parade.
Other activities to consider include Disney Nighttime Spectacular Shows, like the fireworks at Epcot and Magic Kingdom. And you’ll need to allow extra time for securing a spot at these as well. At Epcot, you’ll likely want to find a good spot 20-30 minutes before the show starts. And at Magic Kingdom, depending on where you want to view the fireworks from, you could need an hour, or sometimes more, to secure the right spot. And again, this is an opportune time to take advantage of low wait times, as many people tend to want to see the fireworks.
How to plan your Disney Days
If you follow the formula of 3 rides, 1 table service meal, 1 parade or show, and 1 character meet and greet, you’re almost certain to be able to accomplish everything on your Disney day. You can substitute things you want for things you don’t. And add in things as you see you’ll have time. Most people will be able to accomplish much more than those 6 things. But knowing your must-dos ahead of time and planning accordingly for them will make sure you’re able to see and do the things at the top of your Disney list. Having a plan for your Disney Days will make your trip less stressful. It will help you prioritize what’s right for your traveling party and hopefully contribute to a more magical trip!
Melanie Renee is a photographer, writer, designer and mom. Visiting Disney destinations since 2010, she is also an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. When she's not creating her next coffee recipe, or designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's seeking beautiful sunsets and planning her next trip .