Also, just a note, this post is referencing planning after you've already established when your trip is and have made a hotel reservation. For instance, you might know that you're staying at The Contemporary Resort from August 7-14. Additionally, this post is mainly geared towards Walt Disney World, but you can apply a lot of it to Disneyland too!
Step 1: Park Hours
Once I've got the dates for my trip set in stone, the first thing I do is locate the tentative park hours for when I'll be in the Disney Parks. These are relatively easy to find right on the Walt Disney World (Or Disneyland) website, but HERE'S a link to the WDW Calendar with Park Hours, just for your convenience. These hours are especially important as they change both daily and seasonally for the parks. I know that in June, the first night we're there, Animal Kingdom is only open until 5, but by the end of the trip it's open until 8, just because of the new season that's starting when we're there. I've found that the easiest thing to do is make a list of the park hours each day and then come back to them later when you're making more concrete plans, but they definitely give you an immediate idea of what the schedule will look like.
Step 2: Want-To-Do Lists
With so much to do at the Walt Disney World Resort and so little time in which to accomplish things, I prefer to go through and make a list of things I hope to do on my trip, long before I set foot on Disney Property. Generally I have three sections on my list, which I keep organized in a document on Google Drive for easy access from any computer or my phone: Places/Things to Eat, Video Ideas and a General Things To Do. Places and Things to Eat is pretty self explanatory, although I find this is more important when I'm not already making reservations. We usually does one Advanced Dining Reservation per day, composed of a list we made as a family months before those reservations can be made, although in June we're running on more of a counter service basis, so this list becomes especially important. Once I've got a general idea of where I'd like to eat throughout the trip, I can go back when making finalized plans and insert those locations or treats to specific days or times.
Video Ideas is more of a personal thing, as although I have completed work on the Seymour High School Band Trip Video, I want to keep up my YouTubing and Videoing, including something beyond just my usual vlogs. For instance, in June I'm planning a video focusing around doing Four Parks in One Day and another featuring Classic Disney Foods. I'll go back to this list later, probably a week or two before my trip, and narrow down the exact logistics of what I want to film and when, but for the most part it's just somewhere I can get my ideas down. The same goes for the General List of Things I'd like to do, such as an extra ride on Space Mountain, attend Star Wars Weekends, or head over to the Art of Animation Resort just for some extra fun.
Step 3: Schedule It Out
Once you have park hours down, you can make yourself a rough schedule of where you'll be each day. While previously you could definitely just go and decide each morning where you'll spend the day, that's mostly a thing of the past thanks to making Fastpass+ reservations up to 60 days in advance. Generally, once I've picked a park for a particular day I'll highlight those park hours and then jot down some of what I'd like to accomplish each day, like seeing Festival of Fantasy or Illuminations. This is also the point where I add in the list of where I'd like to eat as well as any other important information. Finally, you'll want to get a general idea of what you'll want for Fastpasses each day of your trip, and once you schedule those ahead of time, write those in as a part of the plan as well. By the time you're finished, you'll have something that looks sort of like the following, which is part of my plan from this past January:
You can then throw it all into a Google Doc if you'd like, which is what I usually do a week or so before the trip, making it easy for me to access it all from my phone at any point.
Of course, the main thing with all of this is to remember a couple of things. One, there's only so much time in a day, and while last June on the band trip and this past January we accomplished more than I ever thought possible, you're going to have to make sacrifices and prioritize what you want to get done while you're there. After all, if you're number one concern is to have a Dole Whip, you're going to make sure you get one even if it requires you to skip a turn on Big Thunder Mountain. Likewise, while planning ahead is great, be aware that the parks are busy, lines are long, and things definitely change. Be patient and flexible with your schedule, making full use of your My Disney Experience App to reschedule Fastpasses if you need to while in the parks. If you get discouraged the second Tower of Terror is broken down, your entire day will be ruined, and that's the last thing you want at the most Magical Place on Earth.
Ultimately, you're going to need a plan going into your day at Disney, especially if you're only there for a limited amount of time. It takes some time to figure out how it all works, but to be completely honest, one of my favorite parts of a Disney trip is what comes before the trip itself, so make it fun! Think about how you're going to meet Chewbacca at Star Wars Weekends, ride Splash Mountain for the first (or 50th) time, and get excited about your trip!
Do you have any tips for planning your Disney Vacation? How do you go about scheduling? Let me know in the comments below!
Have a magical day!