Just over four months until vacation. Other than booking a hotel room and airfare, that would be the end of such early planning for most vacations. But Disney World is not an ordinary vacation, especially Disney World during a Holiday Weekend.
Multiple sources suggest that Disney restaurants fill up with reservations far in advance. As Disney resort guests, we can book our dining reservations 180 days in advance. And our family likes sit-down restaurants as opposed to hurried fast-food-type lines. We knew we wanted some character meals, which are especially known to book up fast.
But in order to make dining reservations 180ish days in advance, you need to know where you are going to be, and when. A noon lunch reservation at Epcot won’t do you much good if you are on line for Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom. So what’s the best way to plan out your park schedule?
Many Disney guests simply visit the parks, based on their park preference. Often Magic Kingdom, then Epcot, then Hollywood Studios, and then Animal Kingdom. The result — Magic Kingdom is extra swamped in the early part of the vacation week, but emptier later in the week.
Additionally, the hours of the parks vary. And Disney guests can enjoy the feature of “Extra Magic Hours” or EMH — At select parks on select days, the park stays open 3 hours late, or opens 1 hour early for resort guests. Finally, some shows and parades only play on certain days of the week. If you really want to see the super-popular Fantasmic, it only plays at Disney Hollywood Studios 2 or 3 days per week. And if you really lack interest in that show, why bother fighting larger crowds that are at that park, due to the show?
How to make sense of all these factors? I highly recommend two extremely valuable online resources.
The authors of the Unofficial Guide to Disney World also maintain the website touringplans.com . For full access, there is approximately a $10 annual fee, which is discounted if you buy the book also. Among many valuable features, you find park recommendations for every single day for the next year. You will also find a crowd calendar, which projects the relative crowd index (from 1-10) at each park, for each day, in the next year. The website claims to sort through mountains of data in making their projections, and many claim they are accurate. If on Monday, Magic Kingdom has a 9 crowd, and a 6 crowd on Tuesday, while Epcot has a 5 crowd ob Monday, but a 9 crowd on Tuesday, this data is very helpful.
Another website is the entirely free blog at easywdw.com . Day by day recommendations and explanations. Suggests when and how to catch the different shows, explains the reasoning for park recommendations.
So how did I use all this information for my traveling party?
Thursday before President’s Weekend — Late arrival, dinner at the resort
Friday — Supposedly low crowds at Magic Kingdom, so spend the bulk of the day.
Saturday — EMH at Disney Hollywood Studios, crowd expected to be moderately high. So start the morning bright and early at Hollywood Studios. In early to mid afternoon, eventually get back to Magic Kingdom (for dinner at Cinderella’s Castle). Crowds at Magic Kingdom are expected to be horrible, but we are just going for princess boutique and dinner.
Sunday — There are evening EMH hours at Magic Kingdom — keeping the park open until 2 am. With my young kids, we will not be using these hours. Crowds are expected to be high at Magic Kingdom, especially in anticipation of the EMH hours, and the holiday weekend. But with guests planning on staying until late, hopefully the morning won’t be so bad. So we will start the morning at Magic Kingdom, and then spend the afternoon at Epcot, which isn’t expected to be tooooooo bad.
Monday — President’s day. Pretty bad everywhere. But Epcot is supposed to be the least-bad. (crowd level around 8). So start the early morning at Epcot. Dinner at a resort. Possibly go to Down Town Disney during the afternoon.
Tuesday — Finally getting around to Animal Kingdom. There are EMH hours at Animal Kingdom on Monday and Wednesday, so hopefully all the resort guests get their fill on those days. Crowd calendar suggests a moderately heavy day at just under 8, but better than the surrounding days. So, Animal Kindgom for our last day. (and dinner at a resort).
Next post, will have all our dining reservations — 11 dining reservations over 6 nights!