How to Plan a Disney Trip: Part 3


Making a Schedule

This is Part 3 of our series: How to Plan a Disney Trip. We started with a comparison of Disneyland or Disney World, and part two was all about the When, Where and How. Now, we are on to making a schedule for your trip. Now you might be thinking, “A schedule? But this is my vacation!” and I understand how the word ‘schedule’ can sound regimented. So if that word makes you uncomfortable, lets just call it an organized plan. And keep in mind that the Disney parks run things on an organized plan as well, so it is best to follow suit! Most families spend quite a bit of money on their Disney vacations, so we believe that time is money. You don’t want to waste any time on your Disney trip!

First and most importantly, when should you make your schedule or plan? For a Disneyland trip, you can make dining reservations up to 60 days in advance of your first day, so you would need your plan in place over 2 months ahead. The hard part is that Disneyland does not have their online calendar released until about 6 weeks in advance. So you may have to speculate and guess for making reservations at 60 days. For a Disney World trip, you can make dining reservations up to 180 days in advance of your first day, so you would need your plan in place over 6 months ahead. Luckily, they have online calendars 6 months ahead, so it is easier to plan that far.

We like to lay our plan out in a spreadsheet, only because it allows nice rows and columns along with cells. Use whatever application you are comfortable with, but make sure you have a column for each day you will be at the park. We put times down the left side. We also put in our travel times estimating arrival to the resort. From the Orlando Airport on the Magical Express, allow at least 1 hour from your flight’s arrival to when you will reach your hotel. Your bags will take up to 3 hours to arrive at your hotel room, if they are being delivered through Magical Express. From the John Wayne airport, allow at least 45 minutes from your flight’s arrival to when you will reach your hotel including waiting for baggage claim. Times will also depend on the airport shuttle. This is how our spreadsheet begins:


From here, you need to research on either the Disneyland or Disney World websites what the park hours will be the dates of your visit, including Extra Magic Hours (EMH) if you are staying on property. We usually keep the hours as a key on our schedule so we always have a reference, and we put the EMH above each day. Disneyland has more fluctuations in their times than Disney World. And remember, Disneyland will not have their calendar on their site until about 5-6 weeks ahead of time. Disney World has their available 6 months ahead. So, here we add the EMH for each day – the purple bar above the chart – and we added the parks times at the bottom for reference: (our example is for a trip to Disneyland Resort)


The next important thing to know is when special events, shows, and entertainment will be going on. If you are traveling off-season, some shows may have only one time or even only be on certain days, so this will be important for you to know when determining which park you visit when. At Disneyland, hopping between parks is very easy and quick. At Disney World, this is not the case and travel between parks can take time. Special events I added in purple and below my schedule, I put in the times of certain parades, shows and attractions we wanted to see so I had it as a reference:


Now that you have all these key pieces of information, it is important to figure out which park you will visit on which day. Again, this is most important for Disney World since there are 4 parks and 2 water parks as well as Downtown Disney and DisneyQuest. Another key element to consider are crowds. A website we love for this is They research and compile data about everyday of the year at both parks and give each park a score as far as the crowd levels. They just began doing this for Disneyland and we haven’t found it as accurate yet as their information for Disney World. Their site will allow you to view some of their crowd calendar, but membership to their site will allow you to see the crowd calendar for the whole year. The scores given to each park for a given day will give you an idea of what the crowds will look like. This may be another piece to put on your schedule for reference. At the bottom, I have a color key for different parks and things we are doing, like swimming. So I use this key when I decide which park we are visiting. This is simply a visual reference to make planning easier:


The importance of this organized plan is so you can make dining reservations and special event reservations. Nothing is ever carved in stone, but this general outline will at least get you in the right place at the right time, and save you travel time. Having a schedule, or plan, can make you more relaxed because you won’t be running around trying to figure out what to do next. And you won’t miss out on something really important that you wanted to see or do, because you will put it on your schedule.

Since all my chart examples have been for a trip to the Disneyland resort, I thought I would show you an example of a schedule for a trip at Disney World, since it is a bit more complex. This may be hard to read, but the color coding of each park helps, and we added in rest periods as I was pregnant during this trip. Magic Kingdom is pink, Epcot is orange, Hollywood Studios is yellow and Animal Kingdom is green.


The next part of our series will be all about making dining reservations and special event reservations. This is where your “organized plan” will be very important and make this process easy and simple. At the next step, we will add in the important dining reservations and special events you may want to book, as well as other details that might help.

If you missed the first parts of this series, here are some quick links:

Part 1: Disneyland or Disney World
Part 2: When, Where and How
Part 4: Dining & Special Experiences
Park 5: The Final Details

Another series you might enjoy is our Disney Travel Planning for Families that includes tips and tricks for getting organized before you head out the door! Click on the icon below to see some of our fun planning posts!

preschoolearsL TravelPlanningSeries

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