I write in a positive voice more often than not, sharing my thoughts on what you can do to have a magical Disney vacation. But let’s face it, there’s some stuff you just shouldn’t do.  This stuff makes your crew cranky and probably stresses you out, too.  While I love spouting ideas for things you can add to your trip to make it the “BEST DAY EVERRRRRRRR!!!!” here are a few things you should take out of the equation.

Here are the top 5 ways to ruin your Disney vacation:

1. Plan Every Minute

Obviously we know you can’t go in blind, but I can promise you if you tell your family they only have three minutes and 28 seconds for a bathroom break at 11:42 A.M. before being allowed a two minute and 54 second walk to Dumbo, you’re in for it.  Seriously, no one likes the clipboard-o-fun (bonus points if you know the reference!!) except the OCD planner who made it.  And even that OCD planner has a conniption when no one heeds the wisdom of the clipboard, so do everyone a favor and leave it at home.  It is a vacation, after all, relax.


2. Plan Nothing

I don’t want you to go overboard, but don’t stray too far in the opposite direction, either.  The parks are big.  They’re crowded.  There are lots of options.  And if you arrive at the gates with no idea what you’re doing, they’re going to eat your lunch.  At the very least, know how to utilize FastPasses, a cool spot to take a break and where to get sustenance.


Get Park Wise: If you’re going in the summer or at Christmas, I beg of you, do a little extra planning.  Unless your goal is just to exist inside a Disney theme park, you’re going to need it. Take a gander at dining reservations, learn the FastPass system and prepare yourself for the crowds.

3. Have Unattainable Expectations

Disney is a magical place.  It’s true.  But it’s also smack dab in the middle of the real world where things don’t always turn out to be glitter and rainbows.  I’m the first to admit that I hold Disney to a high standard (that they set for themselves, I might add), but cast members are human, machines are fallible and you’re in the presence of thousands upon thousands of fellow human beings who aren’t paid to make your day sparkle.  By all means, speak up about the big things that are within Disney’s control (resort room maintenance issues, rude or untrained cast members, unsafe conditions), but if a bird swipes your french fries, chalk it up to a funny vacation story.  Don’t go whining to guest services that they owe you a refund for your entire meal.  They say life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.  So is your vacation.


4. Look for Trouble

Again, on the flip side, don’t go in looking for shortcomings.  I see this all too often around the Disney online community.  Fans complaining about how things aren’t like they used to be, newbies asking what to avoid, threads about the worst thing you’ve seen at the parks.  If you go in with a skeptical mindset, you’ll see all the negatives, and you will have a lame trip.  You’re going to Disney, for Pete’s sake.  Slip on your rose-colored shades and have fun. If things aren’t up to par, you can deal with that later. But have fun while you are in the parks.


5. Focusing Too Much on Money

I fully understand having a vacation budget and remembering that you have very real bills and obligations to return to after your week in Fantasyland, but don’t spend your entire trip counting pennies.  Not much sucks the fun out of your day faster than worrying about whether or not this Mickey bar will break the bank.  Save what you can on the outset (discounts, staying off property, driving instead of flying, etc.)  Consider pre-paying for some of your trip whether this equates to a dining plan, putting dining and souvenir money in envelopes or on gift cards or setting up a Disney account.  That way there’s no wondering if this purchase will put you in the red since you’ve already accounted for it.


What vacation mistakes have you learned from?


  • Susan Hughes

    If you’re an Annual Passholder to the Disneyland Resort, pay attention to #3 and #4.

  • CaptainAction

    Choosing the park you must visit 180 days ahead, choosing the 3 fast past attractions 180 days ahead, choosing your families meals 180 days ahead, how do you NOT plan too much anymore for a WDW trip?
    Too many funny things I could write on this topic, I’ll leave you “Disney can do no wrong folks” on your own here.

    • thjbriggs

      DisneyLAND doesn’t have that problem, and let’s hope it stays that way.

    • WDWfanBoston

      Please Captain, don’t go! Stay a while and tell us what you think? We have no
      idea what you’re thinking…

      • blondiemouse72

        The irony of the biggest “Universal Fanboy” by a calender mile resorting to name calling people is not lost on me.If I ever came across anyone who would fit the “Universal can do no wrong folks” ….I think Cap could be ….well the Captain of the gang

    • solarnole

      WDW is a cruise ship now if you don’t have meals or rides booked way in advance good luck and have fun eating counter service after your fastpass for Captain EO.

      Disneyland you have to check Annual passholder block out dates.

      #6 Time of year. Going when it’s tour group/cheerleader season, super hot, or that period of time when small world and haunted mansion are closed at Disneyland etc

      • AaroniusPolonius

        If ONLY WDW were a cruise ship! If ONLY.

      • Imagineer1985

        WDW local here, I book day of Fastpasses for E-tickets practically every weekend. In fact, I just pulled my phone out and am able to book Space, Thunder and Peter Pan at MK all from the comfortability of my couch.

        A few weeks ago I visited DLR and wasted at least 1.5 hours a day running around getting Fast Passes. These offer no flexibility. With FP+ I can adjust on the fly and push reservations from my phone. It’s amazeballs… I am completely dumbfounded by the hate from DLR folks.

  • eicarr

    Good pre-planning allows you to focus less on money. Having at least 1 meal at the motel room with food brought from home frees up big $$ for later and allow as for non-stop rides between rope drop and lunch. Costco bagels and/or cereal/oj(if there’s a fridge).

    You can get great deals on motels with short walking distance to all parks if you book far in advance and choose the Disnyland Resort. The Disneyland resort also has more attraction and the’re condensed into 2 parks without Magic+, meaning you can do more in fewer days. Again, a budget motel with a 10min walk from the front gates helps reduce days required, and enables recharging afternoon breaks(or naps).

    Money IS important and pre-planning can help enable more frequent Disneyland trips.

  • AaroniusPolonius

    Regarding #5, a trick my parents used for us would be to give each of us kids $25-$50 (depending on the year and the inflation or just their whims,) for souvenirs. That was our ‘bank’ for Disney-branded stuff. That way, we never pulled on sleeves or begged for another toy. If we had the money in our bank, we could just buy the trinket, T-shirt or otherwise that we wanted. I’m not sure if helps on the grand scale of hotel, ticket and money costs, but it was, at least, one less headache to worry about.

    Another thing that I’ve always done as an adult visiting WDW (or any theme park, for that matter, outside of Epcot,) is to remember the focus of the trip is on the experiences to be had at said theme park: rides, shows, parades, fireworks, etc. Food (and especially, theme park food,) is a secondary consideration. It’s necessary to keep you going and fueled for the next experience, but (outside of Epcot,) I generally keep that cost low (to like $30 a person, which is two counter “burger” meals and a couple of drinks) and just keep on keeping’ on through the park. It makes me think that I’m getting my money’s worth psychologically that I’m not tied up in a restaurant when I could be on Tom Sawyer’s Island, if that makes sense.

    Finally, depending on the theme park and what you’re looking to get out of your day, the extra expense is worth it, and you’re paying for a valuable, transforming agent to your vacation, so you shouldn’t really worry about those expenses. A great example of this would be the Universal Express addition to an admission pass: it totally is wicked expensive and yet, it totally transforms your day for the better.

    • CaptainAction

      Hey Aaronius, my folks did the same thing. This taught us some good financial management too. If we went for immediate gratification and blew a sizable chunk of our money on the first thing we saw, then we didn’t have money for something cool we saw later.
      I almost always came home with some of the money in my pocket too. Taught me to save a little and really think about how I use my money.
      We do it with our kids now.

      • solarnole

        My grandparents did it with me. My grandpa called it Mad Money because he collected loose change and dollars all year in a bank and at Christmas after presents he would dump it and count it with all the grand kids. We could spend it or save it.

  • amyuilani

    Bingo on #3. Some people expect to be able to control the world around them and cannot handle not knowing what to do, but they blame others for what they cannot control.

    I went to Disneyland a few years ago with a friend and her kids. I thought Veterans’ Day weekend was a great time to go, not realizing how busy it would be. My friend is very type-A and has to control everything around her. She said her kids “had” to go on these rides and eat these foods. (Nevermind she lives in CA and can go more often than I can.) It got to the point where I broke off and went into shops or met with friends I learned were in the park because I couldn’t take it anymore. Her expectations would have ruined my trip had I not ventured off on my own.

  • BC_DisneyGeek

    Good advice on doing some planning, but not overdoing it.

    My rule of thumb has always been to plan the first hour or two, and then be flexible. If you can get the most popular attractions done first thing, you’ll have saved hours of standing in line.

    Of course, it’s almost impossible not to pre-plan a WDW trip to some degree, especially with the introduction of Fastpass+.

    People really should be aware that you *must* plan some dining reservations in advance, particularly if there are any must-do or popular sit-down restaurants on your list. This is even more important during any free dining promotional period.

  • jcruise86

    Thank you, Jessica! Excellent tips!

  • This is a great list. Controlling expectations is one sure way to have a good trip. Don’t overestimate what you’ll be able to accomplish but don’t go in expecting the worst either. As someone who lives and breathes theme parks (not just as a hobby or interest but now as a job as well), it’s very hard to look past certain flaws in the parks or in the way they are run. But the fact is that if you approach the parks with the right attitude (any park) you’ll have a better time and get a better return on your investment.

    Disney World does require a greater level of planning than Disneyland. If you are a last minute traveler, you’d be better off visiting Disneyland, where you can get away with having no restaurant reservations or Fastpass+ schedules. However, for Disney World, you do need to do some advance legwork.

    On my last trip to WDW, I waited until the day I arrived to figure out where I’d be eating. That was a big mistake. EVERYTHING seemed to be booked. Epcot will often still have availability in Morocco and China. But the Magic Kingdom will be booked solid on most moderately busy days. So you might need to hop a Monorail and head to the Contemporary to dine at the Wave (a lovely and often available restaurant on the ground floor).

    I hate having to plan things in advance, but it’s a good idea to at least plan meals if possible.

  • Co Foo

    #4 for many of the people who post on these boards.

  • Co Foo

    See above: Including myself.

  • CCS

    Jessica: I just have to say it. Your observations are, as always, spot on. Thank you for your continuing contributions to MiceChat.

  • Klutch

    I’ve planned two, 7 night WDW trips. The first was for my extended family with 7 people. The second was just Mrs. Klutch and me. For both trips, I made a daily itinerary, but explained it really was just a suggestion. There were no set times, just a “do this, then this, have lunch” kind of thing. I let everyone know that we could deviate from the itinerary at any time. Just say so. The itinerary was there only to guide us when we didn’t know what else to do.

    During both trips, we followed the itinerary almost exactly. It worked out great. We blew right past all the people standing in the walkways with their maps unfolded saying, “I don’t know. What YOU want to do next?”.

    A little planning goes a LONG way at a Disney park.

  • whamo

    I just noticed the “addictometer” which tells you where the crowds are gathering. That sounds like a really useful tool. If you avoid the crowds you can walk on a lot of rides. Usually you don’t need a meter. Any hot new attraction draws people like flies. If you go to a land far away from the new attractions you’ll find the best wait times.

  • Algernon

    Tip Number 6: When going into Club 33…oh…sorry…you probably won’t be allowed in, unless you’re rich, or know somebody…

  • SteveColorado

    I would add another one to this great list: do not think about going to Disneyland at nights in the early summer just before the AP blackouts, esp. if there is a new evening show. The hordes of people, the inability to move and the general selfishness of guests can ruin even the best day at the park.

    If I would give one advice about going to Disneyland, it would be to learn about FastPass. No need to plan a whole day but best to avoid 2-3 hour wait in lines.

  • 4Apples4Disney

    Great practical advice..thanks for sharing!

  • composerboy

    That’s just good advice for life in general.

  • clj7181

    I agree – a good balance of 1 & 2. Some of my days are way more planned out then others.

    For my upcoming trip in October – Epcot has minimal planning, Soarin’ or TT at rope drop; 3 FP+; 1 ADR and Illuminations – that’s it – for the most part we go with the flow.

    Animal Kingdom has a bit more planning since the park closes at 5 and I need to coordinate show times, this is my sister’s first trip and wants to see Lion King, Nemo and Flights of Wonder – so I try to get them to fit best as possible without back tracking all over the park.

  • billyjobobb

    Years ago I went with friends for the weekend. I had maybe $100 to spend in the park.

    All I did was focus on how little money i had to spend. If they brought up eating at Blue Bayou I cringed. I had a rotten weekend.

    The next time we all went I made sure to have alot of money in my bank account, I was going to have a good time there if it broke me. I spent maybe $150 for the 3 days. But this time I had fun since I wasn’t focusing on what i couldn’t afford.

  • Turboman

    Jessica – I just love your articles. They always make me happy and excited for my next trip.

    For us, the best way to ruin a trip is to ignore what our body is telling us and try to squeeze in more rides. I remember in particular one trip where we were debating getting in line for Kali River Rapids. We were exhausted, it was hot and humid (I assume the fact that it’s always hot and humid in Animal Kingdom is part of the theming) and we were done. We smartly said that in the same amount of time it would take us to get on this ride, we could be back at our hotel in our pool. That suddenly sounded so much better and we left.

    It’s so hard to pull the plug on a day at a theme park, but it’s so worth it when you rest and relax and get ready for the next one.

  • tgdiver

    As an AP just a few hours from DL, I have forgotten what it was like to have to plan a trip that may be the only one for years. My point of view is skewed a bit, since I have the luxury of “Well, next trip.” But here goes.

    If you’re traveling with kids, try to remember that they get tired, especially if they’re young. If you can, try to take a break in the afternoon. Nothing says “lousy vacation” like a passel of whining, screaming kids. This also goes for nighttime activities. If your kids are able to stay up for Fantasmic or the fireworks, great! I’m 56, and I rarely last that long! But if they don’t look as if they’re going to last, maybe it’s best to give those things a miss. Better a fun trip with rest than memories of exhausted family members dragging from place to place.

    If your trip isn’t long enough to see and do everything, maybe have each member of the group pick one or two attractions that are must-see, then work with FastPass and a bit of planning to ensure everyone gets to do a favorite or two. If I’m only going for a few days, I’ll set my sights on a few things, and catch others if there’s time.

    #1: check the website for any attractions that will be closed during your trip!!!!!! One surefire way to start your vacation with tears is to traipse all the way to (fill in the blank) to find Disney’s creative “this attraction closed for refurbishment” signs. Best to be prepared.

    If you’re with a huge group, consider the possibility of splitting up for at least part of the time. It’s much easier to travel around (and decide on what to do) with 3 or 4 people than 12. Also, discuss the possibility of using single rider lines – and NOT demanding to stay together, unless you want to be lynched (joke). Simply, figure out ahead of time what strategies you’re ok with.

    Relax. There is no off-season anymore, so there will be crowds. If you can, find out if there’s anything big going on (Grad Nights, I’m talking about you) that you may want to plan around. Otherwise, know that (and I’m speaking about DL, with which I’m familiar) mornings are less crowded. Take a chill pill, look for ways to take a break, and enjoy. Even crowded, it’s still wonderful.