Seniors at Walt Disney World: A Trip with Minimal Planning

by Ruth Morehart
AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the February 9, 2016 Issue #855 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.

ruth morehart with tiggerI have written on various aspects of going to Walt Disney World as a senior for this AllEars® newsletter several times before. We go to the World annually, usually in November or early December, and had our most recent trip in November 2015.

I get accused of stretching our trip length each year by my husband, and he's right! This year I booked us for 10 days with park-hoppers, staying at our favorite resort, Port Orleans Riverside.

We have heard so much about how the FastPass+ system and My Disney Experience have taken all spontaneity out of Disney vacations, and how you have to plan everything in great detail so far in advance now. We just had a trip that disproves that argument.

Some background about us: I just turned 66 and am a retired nurse. My husband, Roger, is semi-retired and works for our local school system in the summer as a groundskeeper. He loves that job, and just can't seem to retire. He is 68. We have six grandchildren, ranging in age from 21 to 7 years old.

I guess I should explain our touring style. We are early risers and always do rope drop. We eat our biggest meal of the day at noon, then head back to the resort to rest up a bit. In the early evening, we decide where we want to go. One thing we try to do each time at WDW is to try something we have never done before. It's usually something we have passed by because we considered it too juvenile for us, or never had the time to check it out.

In the past, we have always gotten the dining plan as part of our trip. Each year, however, I have found that we did not use all of our credits. Last year, we had 10 QS (quick service) credits left over on our last day! We also cancelled our last three days of table service meals, due to being too tired to go to a sit-down restaurant, or just changing our plans on where we wanted to be at that time.

So this year I finally convinced my husband to go with minimal planning, and give dining "out-of-pocket" (OOP) a try. He was reluctant to do this, as he does enjoy some of the table-service restaurants and likes to book those ahead of time. To satisfy him, we made three Advance Dining Reservations for our 10-day trip. That's it! All the rest of our meals were QS. I was a little apprehensive about not having fixed reservations, too, but had been wanting to give it a try, so we jumped right in!

We also planned our park days differently than in the past. I only booked four park days as must-do's with FP+. The other days we did exactly what we wanted to do, whenever we wanted to do it. (One day we even went to Universal, which could be a whole other article!)

So how did it work out?

In the parks that I had FastPasses set up for, we usually used only one or two for our must-do's, then we would stand in line for other attractions if we felt like it. I had tentatively set up FP+ for the other days at other parks that we like to visit twice, but these were not set in stone. We went where we wanted to in the evenings. If it happened to be a park where we had FP+, then we might use them.

Since we don't have smart phones, we don't change FP+ on the fly, and we opted not to go to a kiosk, so we would stand in line if we really wanted to do something. This was no problem, and we found the wait times to be shorter than posted. We also had some really nice conversations with other people while waiting.

I found overall that we did not use the FP+ as much as before.

Not having the dining plan and lots of table service reservations also worked out well.

We enjoyed our three TS meals (Crystal Palace on arrival day, lunch at Kona Cafe one day, and at Be Our Guest on our departure day), but we really enjoyed the freedom of not having to rush to a reservation at a certain park/resort each day. We found that we often weren't hungry for our reservations in the past, but ate anyway, including dessert, because we didn't want to "waste" our dining plan. This trip, we found that we ate less food and were happier. Sometimes we shared a meal if we weren't hungry enough for a big meal. We ate a light breakfast in the Riverside Mill at the resort each day, then a good lunch at the park of the day. In the evening we ate if and when we wanted. The counter-service restaurants were terrific. I did not feel like we were cheated out of good food by going to QS. I would highly recommend Flame Tree Barbecue in Animal Kingdom and Columbia Harbour House at the Magic Kingdom, for instance. We also ate at Earl of Sandwich at Disney Springs, which was fantastic.

So, in summary, for us, skipping the dining plan worked out very well.

1) We weren't stressed out about getting to our ADRs each day or eating all that was offered, or using all our credits.

2) We found some really great QS restaurants that suited our appetites just fine.

3) It was cheaper for us on the OOP plan. We didn't have to leave a tip at each meal and we didn't eat as much, which leads me to #4.

4) It was nice to not be stuffed from a full meal and it was much easier to walk around the parks without that too-full feeling.

In fact, we will not go back to the dining plan, and look forward to trying out more QS restaurants in the future.

It seems that with each trip, we change things up and learn new things, too. I was a little apprehensive about going without the dining plan or making a lot of reservations and FP+, but I'm glad we tried doing without these things. We enjoyed the freedom of not having ADRs each day. We also enjoyed not adhering to a strict FP+ schedule. These changes did not seem to alter our fun at all. We also saved money and didn't break the scale when we got home! It's all good.

Now it's time to dream about our trip to Walt Disney World in November 2016!

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Ruth Morehart is a retired RN who has been visiting Walt Disney World since her son and daughter (who are now in their 40s with children of their own) were young. She resides in Minnesota with her husband Roger. Despite her fibromyalgia, Ruth enjoys quilting and creates quilts for the Quilts of Valor program for wounded soldiers.


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.