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What Happens if You Over Plan Your Disney Vacation?

You're going to Disney World!

The budget fairy says it's going to happen.

Oh, boy! You're ready to start planning all the fun you're going to have. You get a pretty binder, print out lots of free printables. Maybe you even buy a complete planning binder (those sure are pretty). You get the kids involved.

Six months to go! You've got it all mapped out! You are a planning machine! This is going to be the best vacation ever! (let me add some more !!!!!). Dining reservations open tomorrow. Your alarm clock is set. In two days, you'll be whistling Zippity Do Dah, the planning's all done.
Can you do too much planning for a Disney vacation?

At this point you are probably all over my excessive use of !!!!!!!!! and totally see yourself achieving planning nirvana. Alternatively, you might be cringing and thinking a Disney vacation might not be for you. That much planning sounds like one more thing to do.

I'm here to burst your bubble or give you some hope, depending on which of those two extremes you're more like.
Is it possible to do too much planning for a Disney vacation? Do you have to do too much planning for a Disney vacation?

I'll start with hope as that'll give us a nice baseline.

There's Still Hope for Anti-planners

If you don't break out a planning binder and map out the whole trip, what will happen?

Well, that's not an answerable question. Why? Because there's a lot of ground between doing absolutely no planning and mapping it ALL out in your pretty Disney planning binder.

A Disney vacation is one of those times when failing to plan is planning to fail. I almost had to laugh on our recent trip when we'd pass the road-side signs "WDW hotel rooms available" with the phone number to book right that minute.

I remember seeing those when I was a little girl. We only did day trips back then. I remember thinking how magical it would be to just call, get a room, and get to spend a second day at Disney.

Now I think how upsetting to call and find out there's nothing available tonight, or nothing in your price range, or there is a room tonight but not tomorrow.

Disney just keeps getting more popular. Less and less is available last minute. That includes rooms, restaurant reservations, FastPass+, we even saw merchandise "disappear" it sold so fast, and it was off-season!

Wait a moment. How is this hope for non-planners? Keep reading, I didn't say you could do no planning.

It is completely possible to show up for a spur of the moment Disney trip and have it go great. This will only happen if you have appropriate expectations. In most cases, that means you're already familiar with Disney World (and today's Disney, not even Disney five years ago).

If you're spending big bucks on a Disney vacation, do some planning.

That doesn't mean you have to have a binder full of minutely detailed plans.

So if you don't like all the planning, that's OK. My #1 tip is to hire a travel agent (even if you like planning that's my #1 tip, then you can just focus on the parts you like).

If you hate planning, an agent will take care of everything essential and ask you relevant questions without you earning a degree in Disney-ology (your agent has hopefully graduated from the College of Disney Knowledge, that's a real thing).

You don't have to plan every moment and you technically don't have to do the planning yourself. You do need a plan. Why not have it created for free by a qualified travel agent?

Now it's time for me to burst the planning nirvana bubble of the pro-planners.

Get Off Your Planning Bubble Before It Pops

You can do as much Disney Vacation Planning as you want. Technically, that means you can't do too much planning. If it makes you happy, do it.

Imagine this, though. You've achieved your planning nirvana. It's 150 days until your vacation. You made your dining reservations (flawlessly) a month ago. You can sit back and relax until it's time to book your FastPass+.

Then you get an email. There's been a change with one of your dining reservations. You thought you were dining with certain characters and now they've totally been changed. Your kids will DIE if they don't get to eat with those characters.

Back to the planner. You shuffle some stuff around, lose two hours of park time, but if the reservation is available, you can still make this work. But that reservation isn't available. Time to call. There's one reservation still available for THAT restaurant during your stay. You take it (if you don't, you likely won't get a reservation at all).

Back to the planner and do some more shuffling. You might just have to miss the fireworks this trip, but you're only down one hour of park time now. All set.

60 days rolls around and you're ready to make FastPass+. Drat! If you hadn't had to move that reservation your Epcot plans would have gone so much better. Little Susie is just going to have to wait in line for Frozen Ever After or Timmy will have to wait for Soarin'.

You're an awesome parent so you figure out a solution and planning nirvana is restored. Until some more emails arrive. Your FastPass+ times have been shuffled a bit (no big deal). You log on to My Disney Experience to check everything out, and they've moved the parade time! Now you're going to miss the parade, too, you can't move THAT dining reservation, it's impossible to get!

I can keep going with this example. Once you're actually on vacation, rides will break, hurricanes will strike, rain will fall, snow might even fall (ok, that's unlikely, but it can be colder than the clothes you packed).

What's my point with this "dire" scenario? Just because you plan it, doesn't mean it will happen.

If the planning makes you happy, great. If planning and then having all your planning work be changed by forces beyond your control makes you unhappy, you should plan less.

The scenario I described above is roughly the changes that happened for our recent trip (that happened just after Hurricane Irma, so it was close to not happening at all as we were supposed to get hit, too, but didn't).

My reactions were totally different than I described, though. I like to roll with it whenever I can. For me, I have to have a plan, and know why I made that plan, so I can adjust it. I know my plan will never actually happen the way it appeared on paper (and I'm 100% OK with that!).

However, it seems Disney is making more last minute changes than in the past. I don't know if this is a growing trend or just something that happened with this particular trip. I suspect it's the former.

Personally, if they'd just move the dining reservation date closer (say at 75 days or even 65), that would make me happy. Then there'd be less time between making those reservations and therefore less time for changes.

That's not something I can do anything about so instead, I'm planning to plan less.

If the act of planning in and of itself doesn't give you joy (either you don't like planning or only enjoy it when the plans work) you should consider planning less, too.

What Should You Do Instead?

I know for a lot of people, part of the fun of planning is more the "daydreaming" about what you can do at Disney. I used this as a technique to get my oldest child to help me plan.

We overcome our Disney hangover in part by starting to plan our next trip. I also use this to find out what the kids really liked (if they remember after we're home, it was obviously memorable).

Then, whenever we're itching to go to Disney (but can't) we work on our plan. With a four-year-old, it's pretty hard to get planning help. She can't read or write. So, I gave her a "Disney planner." It was basically a blank notebook. I told her to make pictures of what she wanted to do on our next trip (this was probably a year ago, we're just back from the trip).

I left this extremely open-ended so I'd find out what she remembered and what she really wanted to do. She's still very impressionable when you ask direct questions (everything at Disney sounds fun so getting an answer to a direct question can be hard).

This can work just as well for an adult to enjoy "planning" by capturing your ideas of what you want to do without making concrete plans.

When I was getting married I did this with pictures of wedding dresses. I just kept pictures of any dress I was interested in. I then went through all the pictures looking for the common theme.

My wedding dress budget was super limited so I didn't end up using my knowledge directly (I didn't have a lot of choices). However, I also knew there wasn't one thing I wanted so it was OK to pick something different than what I thought I wanted.

I did something similar with color schemes for my genealogy blog. I grabbed pictures I liked and then reviewed them to see what I liked about each. I quickly found a common thread that wasn't obvious without actually thinking about this for each individual image. I used what I found and am still happy with the result.

For a Disney vacation, if you keep finding a certain activity in your planner, that's obviously something you really want to do. This could be a ride, a picture you want taken, a restaurant, or even "rest."

I think we spent three times as much time at the pool on this trip. That meant a lot less time in the parks. I don't regret it. The pool was one of the first things my daughter put in her planner.

Keep in mind, just because you like to make detailed plans, doesn't mean following them is your family's ideal vacation. They might follow them, they might even like that they don't have to make the plans.

If your family would be happier doing less, don't plan more than will make you happy. And I mean, don't plan to do too much and don't do too much planning.

How Much is Too Much?

So how much planning is too much for a Disney vacation? You should do as much planning as makes you happy. If you hate doing any planning, get a travel agent that specializes in Disney vacations.

Even if you like planning, be aware that Disney might make multiple changes affecting your plans. If having to redo your plans "at the last moment" will make you upset, consider finding an alternative that makes you happy.

My suggestion is focusing more on recording your ideas of what to do (without actually making a concrete plan). This can be in a journal, "idea file," binder, Pinterest board, or whatever you want.

You do need to make plans and be aware of when you have to make certain hard-to-get plans (dining or FastPass+). You also need an idea of what you'll do if you need to make changes.

We had a lot of changes happen within about the last 200 days (so I had to change my plan before I made dining reservations and then multiple times after making our FastPass+ selections and then nearly everyday of our trip).

Most of the changes during the trip were because I have little kids and it's easier to change plans than fight with them that they have to use their FastPass+. Some were because rides were down (at least one due to the hurricane).

Does It Really Matter If You Over-plan?

My biggest reason for writing this post is I'm afraid more and more people are in for disappointment as Disney makes more and more changes.

I've seen multiple Pinterest pins where someone added a description like "can't wait to do this on our Disney trip next year" and it was something no longer available.

Who knows when the description was added but someone recently pinned it if I saw it! I cringe to think someone is going to be disappointed if they made too many plans far in advance.

You're less likely to experience disappointment if you collect ideas you MIGHT enjoy instead of things you WILL DO.
The main concepts I want everyone to take away from this post are:

  • do as much planning as makes you happy
  • do have some type of plan
  • have appropriate expectations

Appropriate expectations are the main thing that can take what would be disappointment and instead return joy. Inapparopriate expectations are probably the number one thing that "ruins" vacations.

Expectations are directly related to planning, especially more detailed planning. If you expect to follow your plan almost exactly, your expectations are for extremely specific scenarios which are highly unlikely to happen. Similar (but different) scenarios might happen but those scenarios are deviations from your plan.

Only you know what your expectations are for following your plan exactly. Some people would consider visiting certain parks on certain days following their plan exactly, regardless of what happens while at the park. That's very different from following an exact daily schedule.

You Write a Disney Planning Blog, Clearly You Like to Plan, What's Up With That?

When we went on our trip three years ago, I started planning just as far ahead as for this trip. There were nowhere near as many last minute changes. There have always been ride closures during the trip, weather to deal with, but not as many dining and scheduling changes created by Disney.

With all the new experiences in the works (because the 50th anniversary is less than 5 years away), things are going to keep changing. Detailed planning a year in advance or even six months in advance may no longer be practical.

If you make very detailed plans, you essentially have to do constant or periodic research to make sure your plans are still viable. Anything that shows up in My Disney Experience should get you an email if there's a change. Any other type of plan won't.

It's up to you to decide how much planning is too much. If you're planning your first (and especially if it's likely your only) trip, be very aware that extreme advanced planning might lead straight to disappointment. If you love the planning, even when you have to make drastic changes, go for it.

If you think this much planning is just wrong for a vacation, that's OK, too. You don't have to do extreme planning. Find a travel agent specializing in Disney that you trust, and let them create just the right amount of plan for you.

Just like in the business world, planning that can't be used due to changes is a waste of time. However, you might have gotten value from that planning if you enjoyed it.

We are talking about vacation, something that's supposed to be fun. If changing your plans makes you unhappy, make sure you don't waste your time. If planning in your pretty Disney binder is the highlight of your month, keep planning.

Remember my three main concepts and decide what works for you;
  • do as much planning as makes you happy;
  • do have some type of plan;
  • have appropriate expectations.
Vacation is supposed to be fun. Planning a Disney vacation should be part of the fun. That may mean doing lots of planning or leaving all to your travel agent. The choice is completely up to you.

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