Thursday, April 23, 2015

Planning A Trip to Disney World-What the Heck is a Touring Plan?

Long gone are the days of picking out a week on the calendar a month or two in advance, loading up the family van and heading to Disney World for a fabulous vacation.  Now dining reservations are made out 180 days in advance, FastPass+ (FP+) reservations (this allows you to essentially skip the line) are made 60 days out for resort guests or 30 for nonresort, and any special extras like Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique also need 180 day advance notice.  It is difficult enough if you plan six months out-but if you are like us and only four months out-well it can get quite complicated!

I love planning and logistics so honestly, cultivating the details of our trip was really fun-almost as fun as the trip itself!  Researching, deciding on where we would eat, and the rush of getting a hard to come by Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR) was worth the extra headaches.

So where to start?  For me, since I was already within the 180 days, I started with my ADRs.  I googled meal reviews, stalked various forums and instagram for food pictures and narrowed it down to 7 different table service (TS) restaurants that I wanted to eat at.  I will go much more into the dining plan, but just know that I had 7 TS meal credits that were included which in most cases, would be an equal amount of ADRs.

The next thing I had to decide to do was figure out which parks would be best to visit on which days.  There are a multitude of websites that will give you crowd calendars, suggested parks, etc-the one I have found to have the best interface, the friendliest people and great results was Touring Plans (TP).

TP is a community that utilizes software that basically tells you when and where to go once inside the parks.  They have, as they put it, eerily accurate crowd calendars that suggest which parks will be the busiest vs slowest during your stay.  I utilized this information to rank which park I wanted to go to each day and then cross compared which restaurants/resorts my preferred dining locations were.

My method to my madness was to get an ADR for the restaurants I really wanted, even if it wasn't a preferred time.  Since I wasn't planning 180 days out-it took a lot of stalking Disney's reservation site and luck to get slots at each place.  Eventually I managed to get an ADR at every place I wanted, even it wasn't the perfect timing (for example, a 9:25 pm dinner the night before we are leaving).

The next step, which was probably the most stressful/satisfying was obtaining our FP+.  There were only a few things through all of the Disney Parks that are absolute must dos and luckily, we could arrange for a FP+ for those and know we won't have to wait three hours in line for something (ahem, Frozen sisters).

I did plan 60 days out and since I was a resort guest I was furiously searching for my FP+ at midnight hoping to grab all my desired passes.  About an hour later I had everything set up and knew that even if we only completed our FP+, Evelyn was going to be able to do the best of the best.

So at this point, I have my ADRs and my FP+ but you still can't just show up-what if your FP+ is at 10:00 am but all the rides have a 90 minute wait and its already 9 am.  Do you just have to sit around and do nothing?  Sound confusing?  Well it can be!  I started to get overwhelmed with everything so I started a spreadsheet to help me understand where I was going to be at what time.  Of course the one below has been tweaked tremendously, but it gives you an idea of how scheduled you are at Disney.

From here is where the sheer brilliance of what TP does for you-it creates an actual touring plan.  You put in your FP+ and ADR times, any breaks you may want to take, what hours you imagine you will be at the park and all the other rides and shows you want to see while at the park and it spits out a (hopefully) pretty little document that tells you not only when to go where, but approximately how long each line will be.

The best part of all of this-not once are any of my lines listed to be longer than 20 minutes!  Granted, it does have us walking in not the most sequential order of the parks so we will be getting in extra steps but it is worth it knowing we can maximize our touring time and not spend hours throughout the day waiting in a line.

Boyfriend and I have used TP before-on our trip in June 2009.  It was so successful that we managed to tour all of Hollywood Studios and be done by 1 pm that day.  It was actually one of our favorite days that trip because we went back "home" to swim and nap.  After that we went back to the park to hit up some our favorites from earlier in the day.  That year we didn't have Park Hopper passes, but had we upgraded-we would have just visited another park.  That experience was a prime motivator in us upgrading our tickets this trip.

Not only is TP a great tool to make your plans but the community is fantastic.  You can interact with individuals on their website, chat feature on your phone application or through a Facebook group.  I have come to them with serious questions (Will I get sued by Disney for using their font on my t-shirts?) to fun ones (What extra special things did you bring to make your kid's trip more magical).  I feel like I am learning something new every day and by being a part of their community I truly have made our trip extra special.

One last note about Touring Plans-this is a subscription based service.  I think I paid around $12 for a years worth of access and it was money well spent!  Even though I know realistically there is no way we are sticking to our TP exactly (nor do I want to be so rigid, we are on vacation afterall) my TP gives me a great base of where I could be at what time and what kind of lines I can expect. 

We are officially T minus 24 hours before our trip starts and I couldn't be more excited! I keep getting a lump in my throat thinking about all my magical moments to be, especially over revealing to Evelyn that we are finally going!  The blog will be quiet over the next week or so but please feel free to follow me over at Instagram-I promise I will be an over poster!

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