The Tyranny of the Spreadsheet

by Alice McNutt Miller
AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the May 19, 2009 Issue #504 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Alice A few months ago my teenage daughter asked if she could sign up for a Facebook account. After lengthy discussion, my husband and I decided that she could have an account as long as she agreed to "friend" both of us. She agreed, so we all signed up for accounts and became each others' first Facebook "friends." It did not take long before I was connecting with old friends (real ones) from high school and college, and was using the website more often than my daughter did. One of my college buddies "tagged" me in his Facebook list of "25 Random Things About Me," and prompted me to write my own list. Here are my Random Things numbers 16 and 17:

16. All of our family vacations are mapped out on Excel spreadsheets.

17. My husband would prefer to be released from the Tyranny of The Spreadsheet.

It's true. Every vacation is all mapped out in Excel. One line for every day, and columns titled: Day, Date, Cost, Parks/Dining, Flights, Etc., Activities, Park Hours and EMH (Extra Magic Hours, for those in the know). Each cell of The Spreadsheet is filled in with precise data, including flight numbers, hotel confirmation numbers and costs, Advance Dining Reservations (ADR) times and reservation numbers, strategies for getting the most out of each day (or portion of a day) in each park, tee times, and myriad other details, both small and large.

I started doing trip spreadsheets after we began travelling often to Disney World when my kids were toddlers. After our first trip to the World I realized that Disney trips meant organizing many pieces of information, and that I wanted to have all of it consolidated in one place. Before kids (my husband and I had never travelled to Disney World together before we had the kids), my husband and I used to be very spontaneous. We would get up on a Saturday morning, and just drive somewhere. That approach doesn't really work anymore. With work schedules, school schedules, and a ton of extracurricular activities, I find that if I don't plan — well in advance — vacations just might not happen. And since we have limited vacation time, I want things to be perfect.

I spend months in advance of each vacation carefully filling in each cell, making sure that rental car information, room types and cancellation deadlines are clearly spelled out. I include reminders of when I can make Disney Vacation Club reservations and when I can make ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations). I start drafting The Spreadsheet as soon as I know that we are likely to do a Disney trip. The first entries are either hotel or flight reservations. I then fill out a draft park itinerary (we generally like to do the Magic Kingdom first, and Disney's Hollywood Studios last), and come up with a list of restaurants (I like to try at least one new restaurant on each trip). I make changes as park hours are released by Disney, so that we can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, or if we decide that we want to work in a round of golf.

I print The Spreadsheet just before we leave our house, and slide it into a manila envelope along with print-outs of hotel, car rental and airline confirmations. Once we arrive at the airport in Orlando, The Spreadsheet comes out of the envelope, and lives in either my pocket or bag for the rest of the trip. I consult The Spreadsheet multiple times a day to tell the family what park we will be visiting in the morning, what the hours are, and what time we need to leave the hotel in order to get there in advance of the rope drop. I consult The Spreadsheet for lunch if we have a lunch ADR, after lunch to see what is next on the agenda (another park, mini-golf, the hotel pool?), and again before we head out for an evening in another park or a dinner ADR. I look at The Spreadsheet one last time before going to bed each night to make sure that we are prepared for what is on tap for the next day. By the end of the vacation, The Spreadsheet usually has spots picked up at various restaurants, is creased from folding and refolding, and may have various rips and tears.

AllEars® readers know that trips to Disney World are usually much more enjoyable if they are NOT done on the fly, and are well-planned, well in advance. Of course, in real life, things don't always go according to The Spreadsheet. On one trip to the World, when my in-laws joined us, we were in Epcot in the late afternoon, with a planned ADR for dinner at the Rose and Crown, when I realized that we just weren't going to be able to do it. Everyone was just too tired. I checked The Spreadsheet, realized that we were still more than an hour away from our reservation time, and gave in. I told the kids and the grandparents that we would be heading back to the hotel, and would throw together some kind of dinner in the kitchen of our villa. I can't really remember, but I think they might have cheered out loud.

We swung by the Rose and Crown on our way out of the park and I pulled out The Spreadsheet. I gave the very nice cast member at the podium our reservation number, telling her that we needed to cancel. "That's too bad," she said, "but I can tell you that you have just made someone else's day." I smiled and instantly felt better about the decision to abandon the plan. We all went back to the villa, fixed some pasta with bottled sauce that we purchased at the resort store, and had a relaxing and enjoyable evening. It didn't include shepherds' pie, fish and chips or IllumiNations, but it was wonderful.

Why do I map out all of our vacations on spreadsheets? Is it because I love formatting cells, or marvel at the usefulness of the auto sum function? No, I think that it is fundamentally an issue of control. I like to feel like I am in control and can ensure that everyone in my family has a good time while we are spending our precious time together. I have been known to get irritated if someone suggests any deviations from the plan. I've actually been thinking about this a lot since I wrote Random Things numbers 16 and 17 on my Facebook page, and have come to realize that sometimes it may be better to let go a bit, and just see what happens. My husband really does appreciate all of the planning that I do for all of our vacations, but I think that he is somewhat nostalgic for the kind of spontaneity that we used to have. On our last trip to the World, he asked that, for the next trip, I plan some time that would be unplanned. Time so that we could just decide what we wanted to do on the spur of the moment.

I've discovered that my family and I need time to be able to say "let's drive to the beach today," or "let's go and play some mini golf," or simply "let's hang out in the room and watch some golf" (which is my husband's secret code for "let's hang out in the room and take a nap"). My compromise? A brand-new column in The Spreadsheet titled: Time For?



Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was 10 years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney parks all over the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

Alice has also written an AllEars.Net guest blog about Mary Poppins on Broadway:

Finding Disney Magic on Broadway:


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.