The Seven Deadly Sins of Disney Vacation Planning

by Steve Russo, staff writer

We're all guilty. We approach someone who has just returned from Walt Disney World and ask the question, "So… how was the vacation?" That's what we ask aloud but deep down you know you're really asking: "So… how awesome was it, huh?"

Then… we're absolutely crushed when the reply is "Not so good." What? How can someone not have a great time at the happiest place on Earth? Then they explain why they didn't have a good time. The weather was too hot or too cold. The parks were crowded and the lines were too long. The restaurants were all booked and the food was just OK. The resort wasn't to their liking. This is particularly disturbing when this trip was their "once in a lifetime" visit—or will become their only visit because the experience was not pleasant.

I've quizzed folks that have had a less than stellar time at Walt Disney World, and with very few exceptions, the reasons come down to a lack of planning. They just didn't do the research and/or listen to the advice that would have made their vacation more pleasurable. It amazes me that people will spend thousands of dollars for several days at a deluxe resort and complain that the queues were too long when they got to the Magic Kingdom at 11:00 a.m. on Christmas day.

Well, it bothers me when folks malign my favorite vacation spot; so in an effort to help first (and second, and third…) timers avoid the pitfalls that can ruin a Walt Disney World stay, I offer the following checklist of don'ts: what I refer to as the Seven Deadly Sins of Walt Disney World Vacation Planning. Feel free to embellish the list and share as needed.

Sin # 1 – Go at the Wrong Time

We're all slaves to time, our jobs, and our family. Your vacation might be restricted to periods when school is out, the "slow season" for your particular business, or any other specific time dictated by work, family commitments, etc. All I suggest is you do the research necessary to avoid unwanted surprises. What kind of surprises?

If you've done the research, it shouldn't be news to you that Florida is hot and humid in the summer or that Christmas week (or the week around Easter or Independence Day) is very crowded. You might also learn that winter temperatures can be volatile as in t-shirts and shorts one day, jeans and sweatshirts the next. Do the research so you're not surprised when you learn you're sharing your resort with a few thousand Pop Warner football players or, as I once was, surprised to learn my resort was home to 3,000 13–15-year-old cheerleaders (yes, that happened to me, and while a 14-year-old boy might have been in hog heaven, me—not so much).

Sin # 2 – Don't Reserve Disney's Magical Express…

… or any other transportation option. Until we perfect the particle beam accelerator, there is a finite number of ways to transport you from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World: rental car, taxi or Town Car service, and Disney's Magical Express are among them. It amazes me when folks will fly into Orlando and then decide how they're going to get to Disney property.

There have been numerous occurrences of people showing up at the Magical Express counter without a reservation. I believe Disney will bend over backwards to transport these folks but there will, naturally, be some delay. Magical Express buses visit multiple resorts and space on any given bus may be at a premium. Save yourself the time and the aggravation and plan your transportation in advance—far enough in advance to ensure that you'll receive those yellow luggage tags a few weeks before your trip.

There was a story floating around (and it may be urban legend) of the couple that read about Disney's Magical Express and how they will transport you free of charge to your resort hotel. They read further that Disney will intercept your luggage and it will magically appear in your resort room. They neglected the part about actually registering for this service. I'm betting they were surprised.

Want to spend some time here? Photo by Steve Russo.

Sin # 3 – Stay in the Wrong Resort

Disney's resorts run from the extensive theming of the Art of Animation and Pop Century to the reserved elegance of the Yacht Club. We all have a budget and just because you can afford the Grand Floridian doesn't mean you'll be happy there. Ask yourself, and your traveling companions, "What are the most important features of a resort?" Do you plan to spend significant time there or will it be just a place to sleep and shower? Will you spend a lot of time in the pool? Is elaborate theming important or would you prefer something more conservative? Do you require a food court? A table service restaurant? Is location important as in, "should it be on the monorail?" When you've decided upon the criteria most important to you, you'll be able to make the appropriate choice.

This may not be your cup of tea. Photo by Steve Russo.

Sin # 4 – Don't Make Advance Dining Reservations

First, let me say that you can spend a week in Walt Disney World without a dining reservation and not go hungry. There are enough food courts, counter service restaurants and walk-up opportunities to allow survival.

Yes, making dining reservations 180 days in advance is a pain but… if you absolutely, positively must have dinner at Le Cellier Steakhouse or your vacation is ruined, you will likely require a reservation.

There are times when you can be seated as a walk-up but if you want to dine at the more popular restaurants, or if you'll be there during a more crowded season, it's to your advantage to make Advance Dining Reservations.

Sin # 5 – Pay No Attention to Extra Magic Hours

Resort guests will receive early or extended admission to specific theme parks on specific days. You should take advantage of this benefit. Getting into the Magic Kingdom, as an example, one hour early means you can experience several of the most popular attractions before the park even hints of being crowded.

Likewise, you can take advantage of three extra evening hours to hit the big rides after the smaller children and a few of the seniors (like me) have tucked themselves in back at the resort. It's also the rare opportunity to visit Disney's Animal Kingdom after sunset when the park takes on a very different look and feel.

Even if you choose not to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, being aware of them can help you avoid parks that might become more crowded during the mid-morning or late evening hours. A favorite touring tip of mine is to begin the day in the park that hosted Extra Magic Hours on the previous day.

The parks can become quite crowded during Extra Magic Hours. Photo by Steve Russo.

Sin # 6 – Ignore Park Openings

The best piece of advice I give to first-timers is to be at the turnstiles at park opening. I know it may be a hassle getting out of your room early while on vacation but this advice works in all seasons and on all days of the week—regardless of crowd levels. Human nature has taught us that people on vacation dislike rising early. They'd much rather sleep in, get ready at a leisurely pace, enjoy breakfast at the resort and then visit a park. That will get them there mid- to late-morning and I can guarantee you that's when each park begins to get crowded and queues become lengthy.

There are very few exceptions to this (Toy Story Midway Mania is one), but as a general rule, if you're there for park opening you'll be able to experience several of the more popular attractions well before the crowds hit—and if you're lucky, you might be able to squeeze in multiple rides.

If sleeping in and enjoying that leisurely breakfast is your preference, don't let me or anyone else discourage you. Just be aware that you'll be arriving at the parks at or near their most crowded time of day.

Sin # 7 – Ignore Fastpass

Fastpass has seemingly been around forever but I'm continually amazed at the numbers of people who are unaware of it or don't understand how it works. I can recall quickly walking through the Fastpass queue at Kilimanjaro Safari, walking past scores of folks at a standstill in the Standby queue, when I overheard this gem from two women I passed:

Woman # 1: "Where are those people going?"

Woman # 2: "Oh, that's the Fasttrack (sic) system. I don't know how much it costs but you get to ride everything without waiting."

Makes you want to scream, doesn't it?

Fastpass can be your friend and it's simple (and free) to use. Personally, I like to draw the line at 20 minutes for a Standby queue—anything longer than that and I'll get a Fastpass and return later.

Well, that's my list of things that can destroy a Walt Disney World vacation. I'm certain there are others and I'd love to hear yours.

Attention to these items certainly won't guarantee a problem-free vacation but I think it's an excellent start. If nothing else, these bits and pieces might serve as a checklist for those embarking on their first, second or maybe that "once in a lifetime" trip to the World. I believe if they do a little bit of research into each of these items, they can't help but increase their chances of a great time.

As always… thanks for reading.



  1. By mwalter

    I'd be curious to see how many people show up at the Magical Express desk who AREN'T staying on property and are expecting to be whisked away to their vacation home in Celebration. As always, I enjoy your articles, Steve. It always makes my day when I go on the MousePlanet site and there is a new article of yours waiting to be read and enjoyed. Cheers!

  2. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by mwalter View Post
    I'd be curious to see how many people show up at the Magical Express desk who AREN'T staying on property and are expecting to be whisked away to their vacation home in Celebration. As always, I enjoy your articles, Steve. It always makes my day when I go on the MousePlanet site and there is a new article of yours waiting to be read and enjoyed. Cheers!

    Awww. Thanks, Mike.

  3. By mkelm44

    If I can add to the deadly sins. This is something which has been discussed frequently here, but is worthwhile...

    8. Booking the wrong vacation and not being realistic about what will happen. Some people are true park commandos- without small children, with plenty of energy to burn, and with no other desires but to ride every ride and see every exhibit. These people can truly do Disney in four full days, getting to the park at opening and leaving in the early hours when the magic hours end. Other people have families with younger children and need midday breaks, pool time, and general downtime to keep the fun going or else face the wrath of the tired child meltdown. They'll need more time than the park commandos to see it all, and even then they might not because of their children's wishes. Yet another category are those that want to explore at leasure, do behind the scenes tours, wander through shops and hotels, and in general experience all of the things at the parks that there are to have. Understand what type of vacation you want and realistically can deliver and you won't be disappointed.

  4. By ralfrick

    It is my understanding that extra evening hours have been reduced from 3 to 2.

    A bientot

  5. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by ralfrick View Post
    It is my understanding that extra evening hours have been reduced from 3 to 2.

    A bientot

    I believe you are correct... my bad.

  6. By DwarfPlanet

    We had a great time this past may and did a couple things we had never done before like renting a boat out of the Polynesian. But during the time while riding the boat, the bus and the monorail I kept thinking wow another Disney resort going up! So when are they going to add the attractions to match the influx of people they are expecting to get?

  7. By Pammer

    Another great article & spot on - thanks Steve!

    I'm known at work and among friends to be the one to go to for Disney advice and I always love to help; however, if they don't take my advice that's their choice! I agree that you need to research & do some sort of planning ahead of time (e.g. restaurants and attractions) so you are somewhat prepared and will have a great time.

    I played tour guide for my best friend and her 2 teenage daughters in June 2010, where I planned each day down to which park we would visit on any given day, a plan of attack for each park (which I still kept flexible), and a daily sit-down meal to give us a break from touring. We also had one day halfway through the week where we had a late breakfast at Chef Mickey's and then they went to Typhoon Lagoon while I hit the outlet stores...this gave us a break from each other as well as allowed us to do what we wanted! I knew they all had high energy levels and wanted them to experience as much as possible, and they all agreed that they probably wouldn't have seen as much on their own otherwise. I also LOVED the planning part! However, I'm also aware that this is not realistic for everyone else, and slowing down to enjoy the parks is very important as I get older.

  8. By jimthedj

    I would add one very important sin, especially with the limited time magic going on, ignore special events. While that may be close to the same thing as going the wrong time of year, if you plan your stay a week before the food & wine or flower and garden fest started and it was just as easy to plan it for the next week, you have missed a big opportunity for something special. The same goes with halloween and christmas parties in the Magic Kingdom or the taping of the Christmas & Easter Parades. I thing it's the special events that make Disney special.

  9. By jimthedj

    Wanted to add i think the worst deadly sin... (my last post wasn't the worst one)

    The parks are big places and all day events. It is lunacy to try and see more than one park in a day. When you factor in walking out of the park, travel time, and walking back into the park, it's 2-3 hours between parks. Doing it waist time you could be enjoying the the park. Plus you miss a tremendous amount in both parks.

    The only time I can see POSSIBLY getting away with it, is when on a night where the Magic Kingdom is open very very late (2am) and you go to the Animal kingdom at Opening, since AK is a relatively small park, you could theoretically (at a slow time of year mind you) finish around 3pm then go to the Magic Kingdom and stay to the very end and be able to do most of the popular rides.

    But I am an extremely seasoned park aficionado and would know how to do it. There would have to be no kids and have to have a lot of stamina as it would be a 17 hour day and miles of brisk walking with no time to stop.

    Epcot or Hollywood studios, forget it. Opening hours never allow you be able to do it.

  10. By danyoung

    Thanks as always for the excellent article. I've had occasion to talk to friends who did a WDW vacation and didn't enjoy themselves. And like in your experience, it almost always comes down to totally avoidable things, like it was too hot or too rainy or too crowded or we couldn't get in any of the good restaurants, etc. It's amazing what just a little bit of good information will do for you!

  11. By ericles

    I do think we should allow for the fact that some people go to WDW and don't enjoy it....and that is ok. Not everyone will like every place.
    We know folks that got to Ocean City, MD at every chance. They swear by it - they want us to join them, to go. They say "but if you come with us you'll have fun, we know where to go, stay...blah blah blah". No Way - OC isn't for us, and going with seasoned visitors won't change that. And that is okay, so I think it's okay that some folks don't care for WDW. Proper planning isn't all that goes into a WDW trip, attitude has a lot to do with it.
    I say the less miserable people at WDW the better - cause I go there to enjoy myself!

  12. By danyoung

    ericles, you're absolutely right that WDW just isn't a good fit for some folks. But by far the folks I've heard from who didn't have a good time there listed as their gripes all the things noted above - all totally fixable with a bit of planning.

  13. By ericles

    That's my point. I've been on trips that have been planned to a T by folks very knowledgeable on that particular destination, and still not enjoyed it.
    I guess my point is even the most well planned out situation isn't to everyone's liking- and being well planned out doesn't guarantee the experience will be well received.

  14. By danyoung

    We're on the same page here, ericles.

  15. By ericles

    Quote Originally Posted by danyoung View Post
    We're on the same page here, ericles.

    Well then I am indeed in great Company

  16. By baylakebeliever

    Hi Steve,

    May I add my two cents? Please do not expect your hotel room to be ready when you arrive at 10am! Sometimes yes it will be ready but most of the time it will not as housekeeping needs time to clean. I've told this to my children from the very first visit. So we go to MK, tour a little, see the 3 o'clock parade and then have supper at Crystal Palace. "It's a tradition" my kids will tell you now. That way on your full day of touring MK while everyone else is seeing the parade you have shorter lines/less waiting for the rides! On a side note, I totally agree with ericles, couldn't have said it better! As always Steve, thanks for writing. Your articles are truly enjoyable and we look forward to them every month!


  17. By srusso100

    Thanks to all for the comments and suggestions. I agree there should be an eighth sin (or commandment) which would begin: "Thou shalt not expect...". And that inspires another article on the Ten Commandments of WDW Vacation Planning. Hmmm...

  18. By Jimbo996

    #8 - Overplanning and running of out things to do at WDW. Yes, this did happen to me on my first trip 15 years ago. I followed all these Disney websites on planning my vacation. Then, I realized that I did everything by the 4th day and I didn't have anymore money left to try other things in Orlando. Worse, I planned 10 days with 10 days of Disney exclusive theme park admissions and many Disney restaurant reservations especially in Epcot. I wished I saved some time and money for Universal and other outside attractions.

    All your sins are correct. Let me offer additional comments.

    #1a - Go during the school year. You'll have virtually no crowds. I went once in September. Summer weather without the summer crowds.

    #2a - Make cancellable reservations especially for a rental car and if you're staying off-site.

    #3a - Try a timeshare suite or condo that's one bedroom or larger. The right resort is more space with a nice swimming pool. Enjoy your own kitchen with large refrigerator. Location is important. Get a place close to WDW if staying off-site. If staying on-site, stay closer to the main theme parks like EPCOT or MK.

    #4a - Don't overdo the dining reservations. It actually costs you a penalty if you no show. Pick one or two must-haves for dinner. Other times, do lunch which may or may not require reservations and are cheaper.

    #5, 6, 7 - Good advice. Nothing new to add.

  19. By relaaxedwheniamthere

    you too on the cheerleaders eh !!!!

  20. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by relaaxedwheniamthere View Post
    you too on the cheerleaders eh !!!!

    It really wasn't that bad but was a huge surprise when we stepped out of our room the first morning and saw hundreds of them, in uniform, practicing all over the grounds. It was like an infestation!

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