Saturday, August 15, 2015

Disney: Fastpasses | Dining Reservations | Touring Plans



In my last post I talked about the start of our planning process.

In this post I will go more in depth about our Dining Reservations, what we choose for Fastpasses and or touring plans.

Please note: I am not a Disney expert. I just have experience traveling with my own family to Disney and along the way have learned a few things that I am sharing.

Also, I can't stress enough how a little planning from home in advance can really make a difference with your trip when you get there, and remember planning is half the fun!!!

Let's get started...

We traveled to Disney for Spring Break 2015 (April 3-10), and we knew it was going to be busy during that time, but had picked that time versus the summer (which would have been our other option due to my work schedule), because we knew it would be too hot (we had been there before during summer). The crowds can be avoided, the heat really can not.

We were driving down and planned to leave on Thursday, April 2nd between 1:00-2:00pm and planned to drive straight through (with breaks built in for dinner and breakfast and stops for the kids to run around/use the bathroom). Which would have us arriving about that time on Friday, April 3rd. We were staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort for 7 nights.

My Disney Experience

If you are planning a vacation to Disney the first thing you need to do is sign up for a Disney account (if you have been there before you already have one), all the reservations you make for Dining and Fastpasses will be viewable under the My Disney Experience tab. Also if you have a smart phone, iPad or iPod Touch, you should get the My Disney Experience App. All of your Fastpasses and Dining Reservations will be in there, as well as park maps, and wait times for attractions. If you are going as a big group I believe there is a way to link up with your friends and family, but have not used that feature yet, hoping to in 2017 if our entire family can go.

Which days will you do which parks?

Before you can figure out your Touring Plans, Fastpasses or Dining Reservations you have to know which days you are doing which parks.

We opted to do Magic Kingdom as our first full day in the parks and our last full day. I like starting the trip with that park and ending the trip with that park, to me Magic Kingdom most encompasses Disney.

We also knew we wanted a break day somewhere during the week. The way I picked which parks we would do on the other days was by using a Crowd Forecast Calendar for April of 2015 and picking the "forecasted least crowded day" for the other parks. That way we could avoid some of the crowds. Our first day and last day at Magic Kingdom were forecasted to be very busy, but I definitely knew I wanted that to be the first and last park for our trip, so we were just going to have to work around the crowds on those days.

Extra Magic Hours

I should note that each park was offering Extra Magic Hours (EMH) while we were there because it was Spring Break (an extremely busy time). Extra Magic Hours are hours a particular park may open early and and close late (extended times). BUT, EMH are only available to guests that are staying on Disney Property (this is a major perk). So for instance, the park may open for everyone at 9:00am, but it opens at 8:00am for Disney Property guests.

EMH also put those particular parks as the most busy for those days. We normally avoid the parks that are offering EMH because they will be the most busy for the day. However, during the EMH you are usually able to ride things without waits as not everyone has been allowed into the park yet, the drawback is that those parks become extremely busy later in the day.

However, if you choose to use Park Hoppers, EMH can be utilized to take advantage of those extra hours that a park is open in the am and then when it gets busy you can "park hop" to another less busy park and "park hop" back to the park offering EMH for the evening. We don't currently pay extra for the Park Hoppers because of our kids ages, it is just more hassle than it's worth right now. They tire out easily and moving from park to park with a stroller and three kids, logistically isn't saving us any time at their ages.  When they get older and don't tire out as easily, I could see us Park Hopping, a lot.

So our Park Days ended up being this:
Friday, April 3rd - arrive
Saturday, April 4th - Magic Kingdom (forecasted most busy)
Sunday, April 5th (Easter) - Epcot (forecasted least busy for Easter)
Monday, April 6th - Break Day/Pool/Downtown Disney
Tuesday, April 7th - Animal Kingdom (forecasted least busy)
Wednesday, April 8th - Hollywood Studios (forecasted least busy)
Thursday, April 9th - Magic Kingdom (forecasted most busy)
Friday, April 10th - head home

Advanced Dining Reservations (or ADRs)


Please note: You can absolutely go to Disney without purchasing the Dining Plan.

Our first trip after having a child we did that. The Dining plan doesn't necessarily save you any money, but for us it gives us the "all-inclusive" feel, that everything is already paid for and taken care of by the time we are on our trip. During certain times of the year Disney also offers Free Dining plans as a promotion, if you are traveling during dates that it is offered free, it is absolutely worth it.

After we knew which days we were doing which parks, it was time to start thinking about what sit-down meals we were going to need to make reservations for.

We were not particularly excited about the Quick Service Dining plan we had in 2012, so we opted to go with the Disney Dining Plan which offers 1 Quick Service, 1 Table Service and 1 snack/person/day. The Quick Service plan just seemed like we were always eating the same food everywhere (pizzas, chicken tenders, burgers and fries). If you opt for the Quick Service Dining Plan or no Dining Plan at all, you will NOT need to make Advanced Dining Reservations. Reservations are only needed when you dine at a Table Service Restaurant.

We also were looking forward to using our Table Service credits towards Character Meals (you can do that). That way we would have a built in break (in air conditioning) where we could eat and the kids would be entertained by the characters. Also, because we aren't big on standing in lines to meet characters, this would give the kids a chance to meet them without waiting in a line. A win-win. We were also opting towards doing more buffets. Chris (my husband) loves buffets and since the kids are at ages where they are hit or miss with what they want to eat, a buffet would offer lots of options, and Lydia could eat without us paying for her out of pocket (she was too little for the dining plan), but could eat without us ordering for her at the buffets. This worked out very well.

Our travel agent was great about all of our Dining Reservations. She was great to bounce things off of, because I had only ever dined at Quick Service places, Arkeshus and the 50's Prime Time Cafe. She had a lot of information about the different options. She also booked all of our Dining for us as soon at the 180 day window opened up, and got us everything we wanted.

I got a lot of advice about where to dine from my sister, my cousin and friends (lots of friends on Facebook) and our travel agent. Always talk to people who have been to Disney before to get ideas and opinions.

What we Choose for Our Dining Reservations:

Arrival Day | Chef Mickey's: Mickey and Friends, buffet
Day 1: Magic Kingdom | The Crystal Palace: Pooh & Friends, buffet
Day 2: Epcot | Arkeshus: Princesses, order from menu
Day 3: Break Day | T-Rex (Downtown Disney), order from menu
Day 4: Animal Kingdom | Tusker House, Mickey & Friends, buffet
Day 5: Hollywood Studios | Hollywood & Vine, Disney Jr Friends, buffet
Day 6: Magic Kingdom | Be Our Guest: The Beast (dinner only), order from menu

Fastpass+

What is a Fastpass: A fastpass will get you on a ride with little to no wait, pretty much walking on the ride and passing everyone in the long line. You get to choose 3 FP/day in advance. After you use your 3 FP you can get more at the kiosks located in the parks.

In my last post I mentioned how I wasn't too excited about the new Fastpass+ system at first.

And here's why: I felt like it took planning your Disney trip to a whole new level. You book your Fastpasses 60 days in advance if you stay on Disney Property (30 days if you stay off-site), to me that seemed ridiculous! Whatever happened to just getting to the park and then deciding what everyone wanted to go on and getting Fastpasses for those rides. What if it was raining and you decided you wanted to do something else? Or if you kid was having a meltdown and didn't want to do something?

But there was nothing I could do about it, so we booked our Fastpasses 60 days in advance,

I talked to our travel agent about what I was thinking of picking for FP and she had suggestions and we came up with a plan on what to try for. She was actually on vacation when our "window" opened up, so with a lot of information from her (on how to do it), I stayed up that night and kept hitting "refresh" until our window opened up at 11:01pm and I was able to get on and get all the Fastpasses we wanted, even the coveted Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Anna & Elsa. It actually was pretty simple and easy.

When you are picking your Fastpasses, DO NOT focus too much on the times, just get what you want and then you can go back in and adjust times.

In fact, our travel agent went back in after I got all our Fastpasses and fixed up our Epcot Day, because of the timing between our lunch and our afternoon Fastpass was going to cut it too close.

The important thing to remember about Fastpasses is that they give you an hour to use it for the attraction.

This is what we choose for Fastpasses, our kids are ages 6, 4 and 1.

  • Day 1: Arrival | Friday
  • Day 2: Magic Kingdom | Saturday
    • 9:45-10:45am Peter Pan's Flight
    • 10:50-11:50am Enchanted Tales with Belle
    • 12:30-1:30pm Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Day 3: Epcot | Easter Sunday
    • 9:30-10:30am The Seas with Nemo
    • 10:50-11:50am Soarin'
    • 1:40-2:40pm Spaceship Earth
  • Day 4: Break Day - Pool - Downtown Disney - Magic Kingdom Fireworks | Monday
    • 7:55-8:55pm Big Thunder Mountain
    • 9:00-10:00am Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
    • 10:00-11:00am Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Day 5: Animal Kingdom | Tuesday
    • 9:25-10:25am Kilamanjaro Safaris
    • 10:30-10:50 Festival of the Lion King
    • 2:30-2:50 Finding Nemo the Musical
  • Day 6: Hollywood Studios | Wednesday
    • 9:40-10:40am Toy Story Midway Mania
    • 12:20-1:20pm Star Tours
    • 2:20-2:35pm Frozen Singalong
  • Day 7: Magic Kingdom | Thursday
    • 9:40-10:40am Jungle Cruise
    • 10:40-11:40 Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
    • 12:10-1:10pm Meet Anna & Elsa
  • Day 8: Departure | Friday

Fastpass Quick Tip: If you look above at Day 2: Magic Kingdom, you will notice that our first Fastpass was at 9:45-10:45am for Peter Pan's Flight...what does that mean? 

You have from 9:45-10:45am to use that Fastpass. 

So, here's a tip: what I did was made sure that our family was in the area of the Fastpass close to the time our window opened, BUT if there were rides in that area that had little to no wait, we rode those first. Make sense? For example: we got to Peter Pan around 9:45am, but It's a Small World directly across from Peter Pan had a 10 min wait, so we rode that first, knowing we would still be done in time to ride Peter Pan's Flight. When we exited It's a Small World the wait was already up to 30 minutes. So, choose some other things near your fastpass attraction that may have little to no wait, to do first.

After I had booked our Fastpasses, I actually started to like the idea that if nothing else happened during our day in the park, I at least knew (and had peace of mind) that we were doing the 3 rides we had Fastpasses for and eating. I was also glad we weren't going to have to run into the park and try to rush somewhere to get a Fastpass (that was how it used to be, people would be running at rope drop - some still are for Anna & Elsa). So, I started to like the idea.

And after going and experiencing it, I am a big fan, it actually made our trip easier I think and less rushed. 

Touring Plans

Once you have your Advanced Dining Reservations and your Fastpasses picked out, you will have a basic plan to work around, but should also try to figure out a touring plan for your day.

When I say "Touring Plan" I don't mean a minute-to-minute schedule of where you are going in the parks, that will kill you and make your Disney trip super stressful...what I mean is a basic idea of what things you want to do with your family and where you will fit those things in with your Fastpasses and Dining Reservations.

In the past I have made my own excel spreadsheets for our basic plans, but after buying the eBook from wdwprepschool.com it came with some spreadsheets (in word) that I just modified a little to work for us. Did I mention I highly recommend her eBook and her website? She is great!

I plugged in my Dining Reservations, our Fastpasses and then just listed other things that we wanted to do in the park.

So, our basic Touring Plan looked like this:


To keep this all straight before your trip, I suggest making a Disney Binder or some sort of organizational system to keep all your paperwork in.

You will see when I do our Daily posts, that we didn't stick to this plan exactly, we did what felt right for us and the kids at the time, which I personally think is the only way to do Disney!

Hope this helps you a little with your Disney Planning!

Other Disney Posts:
Disney: Planning
Disney: Planning Binder
2015 Disney Vacation Video



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