Disney part III: Making the most of your time and philosophical musings

In this last post on Disney I am going to share my tips for time management/fun maximization and also, because I am a psychologist and former philosophy major, some thoughts I have about why Disney is so popular.

Disney time management

Being a tad OCD, I excel at maximizing time efficiency. It’s not always the best trait, as I sometimes (ok frequently) have trouble relaxing, but on a vacation at Disney this quality pays off if you want to make the most of your trip (i.e., do the most number of rides with the least amount of wait time). That said, here are my top tips for maximizing fun at Disney. Most of these I learned through my research from various Disney blogs and books, some are tips from friends.

Make a plan! It pays to research ahead of time when it comes to Disney. Because it is so darn predictable (my comments about that in the next section), there are people out there that can “forecast” your trip, in terms of crowds and events, much like a weather forecast except they can do so years in advance. So before you go, consult a crowd calendar online and plan which days have the lowest crowds for which parks. I don’t know the algorithms they use but I know some factors that go into it, including which parks have extra magic hours (EMH) that day. EMHs are when a certain park opens earlier or closes later but only for Disney resort guests. You probably want to avoid the park that has EMH that day because it will draw more people that want to take advantage of them. Disney also has events year-round that affect crowd levels. So for example the past two times we went were during the Disney marathon. On marathon day the race begins and ends at Epcot (they have a party for the runners there), so we made sure to avoid the parks that day).

You also want to know what rides you want to do ahead of time, and if you’ve never been to Disney, do your research on the rides! Otherwise you might get stuck in something like Tiki birds or Hall of Presidents when you could be doing Haunted Mansion!

Download some apps! You know how we always say, “how did we live without smart phones?” Well I don’t know how we did Disney without apps. There are several, including the official WDW app that will give you real time wait times for all the rides. That means you could be in line at Jungle Cruise and check your phone to see how long the line is at Space Mountain across the park, to see if you should run over there after your ride is over or look for something else. The “Lines” app by Touringplans.com even gives you “actual” wait times (vs what WDW posts), and tells you whether you should ride now or wait, bases on their predictions of whether the line time will go up or down. 

The lines app by touringplans.com is not well designed in my opinion, but it will also give you a detailed itinerary for your day at the park to maximize efficiency. You simply input which park you want to go to on which day, the times you will be there, which rides and restaurants you want to go to, any fast pass times you already know, and any breaks you want to take, and the app will spit out a minute-by-minute plan for you to follow. Since we go on low crowd days I sort of loosely follow the plans, but I think it can be very useful on crowded days, as it tells you when you should be at which ride for the least amount of line waiting.

Use fast pass! If you are staying on WDW property you can start booking your FP selections 60 days in advance (30 days if off property). Set an alarm and make sure you book these on your WDW app exactly when your window opens (it will open at 9am, no need to wait up till midnight). This is essential for really popular rides such as Frozen, Mine Train, Test Track, etc. Also a good rule of thumb is to book the Fast Pass selections during mid-day, not when the park opens or closes, because you can usually get on the popular rides without long lines within the first 30-60 mins of park opening and likewise the last 30-60 mins of the park closing. Also book your fast passes more towards the early part of the day because once you use all 3 you can book another one that day, and keep booking them as you use them. So for example, if you have used all your fast passes by 1pm, you can now go on your app and book another one for later that day. Usually the most popular rides won’t have availability, but you should be able to find fast passes for the “second tier” rides like Haunted Mansion and save more time on lines (so don’t expect to be able to do this for the really popular rides, always lock those in ahead of time). I usually start looking in the app as soon as they have scanned my last fast pass.

Get to the park as soon as it opens and stay until it closes (but take a break in between). You can take advantage of short lines during these times. As soon as the park opens book it over to the rides that have the longest lines (like Peter Pan in Magic Kingdom), especially if you don’t have a fast pass for those later in the day, this maximizing your time on the “best” rides. We also usually do a mad dash around the best rides 60 miniures before the park closes, especially when everyone is watching the shows.

 Take breaks in the middle of the day. All of the WDW blogs and books will tell you this and it’s great advice. In the middle of the day when everyone is tired, it gets hotter, and the crowds are bigger, head back to your hotel for a rest and then go back to the parks for the afternoon/evening. You’ll feel more refreshed and able to finish out the rest of the day.

Finally, my thoughts on why people LOVE Disney. When you go to WDW you will find people who go every year and have been hundreds of times. Think about that. If you are 35 years old, to go one hundred times you would have had to go an average of 3x a year since you were born. It seems crazy but there are people who do it (lots of them). Why? I think one reason is the nostalgia aspect. Although WDW does change and improve their rides and the park itself, a lot of it remains the same and in good condition. That means there are parts of the park that look and operate the same now as they did back in 1982. In that way it’s kind of frozen in time. There aren’t many places that can offer this and it feels really good to people. Did you ever travel back to a place you had been to as a kid, only to see that it had changed dramatically from your memory? Do you remember how sad and disappointed you felt? Disney helps to guard against this by changing things slowly and keeping their most popular attractions very much that same over time. Since it is so tightly controlled and systematized, you know that your walk through frontierland is going to look roughly the same today as it did in 2002, 1992, and 1982. This just naturally feels good, like you are going “home” again. I think Disney is well aware that this nostalgia factor is part of what keeps folks coming back over and over again, so they make sure to keep many things exactly the same while improving others (because in addition to liking things to stay the same we also want to see some new things).

I also think people love Disney because of what I discussed in an earlier blog post. It takes the anxiety out of traveling for most people. At WDW, especially if you’ve been there before, you don’t have to wonder “what’s it going to be like when I get there?” You know that everything is in the same spot, and occurs at the same time as it has for 40+ years. You also know with absolute surety that the people who work their will be nice to you and go out of their way for you no matter what. This is not likely to be the case anywhere else you may go, and so again, Disney takes away that anxiety that so many of us feel when traveling. Is it completely fabricated and therefore unrealistic? Of course! But that’s what Disney does best. So while I do believe it is important to challenge oneself through travel, and to use travel as a way to learn how to better manage your anxiety, it’s always nice to take a little break and visit Fantasyland for little while.

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