And it can contain spontaneous moments where unexpected fun happens – like when you happen upon a band performing in the street , or you bump into a Cast Member (also known as a Disney employee) who does something simple but extra special to make your day.  But for big ticket items – key attractions and key dining experiences – you need to do some planning.

No, it isn’t necessary to break out the protractor and spreadsheet to master schedule every minute of your vacation.  However, you will want to make some key plans well in advance to be sure you get to enjoy some of the most popular signature Disney events.  Here are some planning tips for your Disney vacation.

Plan Ahead For Special Meal Reservations

Many visitors, old and young, have their heart set of seeing Snow White in person or giving Mickey Mouse a big hug.  It is the stuff of Disney dreams.  However, making that happen can mean tracking down you preferred character and waiting in a long line.  Or, you can play it smart and book Disney character dining.  This is where you enjoy a meal and selected characters come by your table.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that these Disney World dining events can be hard to get into if you don’t have a dining reservation, known as an Advance Dining Reservation in Disney-speak.  And the trick is that even getting an Advance Dining Reservation can be tricky.

Getting into some of the more popular restaurants at Disney World can be difficult. Fortunatly, an Advanced Dining Reservation (or ADR) secures your spot in advance.

Getting into some of the more popular restaurants at Disney World can be difficult. Fortunatly, an Advanced Dining Reservation (or ADR) secures your spot in advance.

You see, many other people want to get an Advance Dining Reservation too.  And those who know the system play it well.  Reservation slots open exactly 180 days in advance.  You can make your reservation the old fashioned way, by calling the Disney Dining Call Center at 407-WDW-DINE (also known as 407-939-3463).  They open at 7am ET, so plan to call then – exactly.  Or, you get the best possible change of securing your preferred dining place by making your reservation at 6am ET at Disney’s web site, counting exactly 180 days in advance.

Sound a little crazy?  It is, but these reservations go quickly – sometimes on the first day they become available – so plan ahead.

Plan To Arrive Before The Park Opens

Many people have dreams of sleeping in and resting on their vacation.  Foolish mortals!  There is plenty of time for sleep at home.  When you are at Disney World, you are well advised to show up before the Disney park of your choice is scheduled to open.  Normally 30-45 minutes before the gates open, and remember to allocate time for travel.

By arriving early, you can make a controlled dash to the most popular attraction of your choice and ride it with minimal wait.  On busy days, popular attractions can have wait times of two to three hours.  This tip can save you huge amounts of time.  And if you are tired, consider a mid-afternoon nap to escape the hottest time of the day.  Then, return to the park in the early evening to enjoy cooler weather, twinkling lights, and smaller crowds.

The entrances to the theme parks are beautiful in the evenings. However, make sure that you see them all lit up on your way out - plan to arrive at the parks early.

The entrances to the theme parks are beautiful in the evenings. However, make sure that you see them all lit up on your way out – plan to arrive at the parks early.

Consider Using A Smartphone App

Now that we all have invested in smart phones and expensive mobile phone data plans, let’s finally put them to some good use beyond playing Angry Birds.  You can get up to date wait times and other key information from two sources.  The first is free, but it is available only to Verizon customers.  It is called Disney Mobile Magic.  The second is a relatively inexpensive subscription service called touring Plans which not only displays projected and actual wait times as reported by other users, but also comes with a web site that provides detailed guides, or touring plans, with step-by-step instructions on how to get the most out of your time at Disney.

Create A Strategy For Using FastPass

If you aren’t yet familiar with FastPass, today is your lucky day.  This is a free service at selected Disney attractions were you enter your Disney World tickets into the FastPass machine, and they return it together with a FastPass – a slip of paper printed with a window of time later in the day when you can return to the attraction and ride it with little wait time.  Many people either don’t understand or don’t utilize FastPass, and as a result they spend far more time waiting in line than necessary.  Be sure to check out the park guide map for the most popular attractions that you would like to enjoy that have the FastPass available.

Learning hwo to use the Disney FastPass system can save you hours of waiting in line.

Learning hwo to use the Disney FastPass system can save you hours of waiting in line.

A Little Planning Goes A Long Way

You don’t have to map out every minute of your Disney World vacation, but a little planning in key areas – such as dining reservations, arrival times at the parks, smart phone apps, and FastPass, can help you enjoy your vacation and see more than you ever thought possible.