Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lawyers are the Best Disney World Planners

Last month we took yet another trip to Disney World.  We are those people.  We go to far too often, and yes, we even went prior to having children.  It's fake and commercial and overpriced and lacking in culture and we all absolutely love it.

I've been going to Disney World every year or two for my whole life, so I know how it all works.  We used to book our flights and hotels with short notice and do little to no planning (my mom was known to book a Disney trip the day before - literally).  But in recent years, due in large part to the expansion of the hotels and the advent of the the smart phone and the internet and all that other stuff they call "technology," it isn't so easy to just hope on a plane, go to Disney World, and actually have a good time.  

Now, months of planning are involved.  People book their dining reservations 180 days in advance. Really.  They do.  I know this because I have waited until 9am 180 days in advance (instead of staying up until midnight), and I still was not able to book dinner at Be Our Guest restaurant.  People also book up to 3 rides per day up to 60 days in advance - this is called a fast pass where you get a certain time slot to go on a ride of your choosing.  This means that two months before your vacation, you have to decide what park you want to go to, and where exactly you want to be at a given time, on a certain day.  The popular rides are booked up immediately.  And if you don't have a fast pass, by noon the ride lines are exorbitant - at the time I am writing this (at 1:30pm on Thursday), the line for the Toy Story Ride at Hollywood Studios is 105 minutes (the Disney app updates wait times every minute or so).  And the hotels are a whole other story - if you want to stay onsite (especially on the monorail), good luck booking last minute during a popular time.

If you don't pre-plan, and you just show up at Disney World with no game plan or strategy, your time there will suck.  You will wait in line for food, for rides, and sweat in 90+ degree heat and high humidity.  You will be trapped by a parade coming down Main Street as you are trying to leave, you will walk needless miles from ride to ride, you will wait for what seems like an eternity for the transportation buses, and you will judge people like me that say it's the happiest place on earth.  

I am not one to brag, but here it is - I rock at planning Disney vacations.  And though part of it stems from my many trips there over the years, the other part comes from an unlikely source - my law degree.  

People often ask if I "use" my law degree at all in my non-practicing life.  To debate with people, to analyze scholarly articles, to negotiate with service providers.  The answer is no.  I hate talking politics, I prefer reading People magazine, and I tend to avoid confrontation.  But for Disney planning?  Hell yeah, I use the skills I learned from being a lawyer.  This is discussed in sections 1, 2, and 3, infra.

1) Research
When I was a practicing litigator, a huge portion of my time was spent researching.  I would take an issue I knew absolutely nothing about, and I would research the hell out of it until I could speak on it as an expert (or at least appear to when a partner asked probing questions).  It took a lot of time, patience, and expense on Westlaw, but I was generally pretty good at exhausting all resources. 

One must do the same when planning a Disney vacation.  It's not enough to simply book a hotel, book your fast passes, book your restaurants, and show up.  No - this is the amateur route.  

Instead, one must do research on rides and wait times.  A couple months before my trip, I go on the Disney app daily to analyze line times, and how they change throughout the day.  This enables me to decide which rides we should hit first, and when we should plan our fast passes for.  (Hint - always book your fast passes for later in the afternoon, when lines are longest.  Spend the morning going on rides with shorter lines).  

One must also do research on geography.  You don't want to be running from one end of the park to another over and over again.  Notwithstanding the fact that you will be sweaty and exhausted, you will be losing precious time!  And time wasted at Disney World involves a huge opportunity cost - lost rides, longer lines, and emotional meltdowns (usually by the children).  

There are other details to research prior to your trip that should not be overlooked.  How will you get to the parks in the morning, and how do you ensure you are there for park opening?  What are the height requirements for certain rides?  Will you get wet (if so, do those in the morning when lines are the shortest)?  Where are the closest restrooms?  

A lapse or deficiency in any of this research could have disastrous consequences.  Once you have exhausted this research, you can move on to the planning phase.  

2) Planning
As an attorney, there was an immense amount of planning that went into every aspect of trial preparation - discovery, depositions, and ultimately, the trial itself.  Where and how would documents be reviewed and compiled?  How would those documents be introduced and utilized in depositions?  There were discovery plans, deposition outlines, and trial prep binders.  I have always been a planner by nature, but being an attorney honed this skill even further.  

You've done the research for your Disney trip, now make a plan.  And by plan, I mean a detailed itinerary.  What rides will you hit first?  What are the contingencies that would make you deviate from your plan?  If a ride is down for maintenance, what will you do and where will you go?  How will you maximize your fast passes?  What are your priorities, and what is the maximum amount of time you are willing to wait in line for a ride?  Do all members of your party want to ride the same rides? How will you fit in your dining reservations, and where are they in proximity to your rides of choice?

For my trip, I had two very professional planning documents.  The first one looked like this: 

This document is the initial document you should draft, consisting of your restaurant reservations and fast pass times.  You'll note that I had multiple reservations for the same meal - this was to allow maximum flexibility up until the cancellation window (24 hours in advance).  This also allowed me to continue to explore my options should any other desired restaurants or fast pass times open up.  This document should be prepared months in advance.  

The second document should be drafted approximately a week before your trip.  It should be drafted with all of the research you have conducted in mind - how to minimize wait times and maximize the number of rides experienced.  You can deviate from this plan at the last minute, but have contingencies in mind.  In the final planning stages of a day in Magic Kingdom, this was my work product:

I will have you know that this particular day in the Magic Kingdom was a huge success - we hit every single ride on the list above, and never waited for longer than 10 minutes.  How did I come up with this list, and execute it so successfully?  Read on.

3) Logical Reasoning
If you are a lawyer, you will remember with fondness (if you are my husband) or disdain (if you are me) the logic games section of the LSAT.   You know, those questions that go something like: Eight people sit at a table.  A cannot sit next to B.  C sits two seats away from E.  E and G cannot sit across from each other, and one must sit next to D.  Now draw the table configuration, assuming 4 people on each side.  (This is entirely made up by the way - please don't try to solve).  

I hated those damn logic games, and I wasn't that good at them.  (My husband still does them for fun. No wonder he made it in big law and I didn't.  But I digress).  But, they surprisingly tested logical skills that I actually did use in law school (future interests, anyone?), and even in practice when I would research complicated cases/precedent, etc.

So here's a real life, Disney World planning logic game for you.  Successfully completing it will ensure the most efficient use of time, maximizing the number of rides you ride, minimizing your wait time, and ensuring that you too will love Disney World.  Here are the rules:

- Each party (above age 2) is entitled to 3 fast passes.
- Once all fast passes are used, you can choose up to three more fast passes at a kiosk.  (assume options will be limited).
- Each fast pass must be scheduled for a different hour window - no overlap.
- All members of a party do not have to choose the same fast passes.
- Some parks have limitations on fast passes - aka, you cannot choose two of the same (must choose either Rock'n Roller Coaster or Tower of Terror, but not both).
- Kids under 40 inches cannot ride some thrill rides (Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, etc.).  Keep in mind that these are generally the rides with the longest lines.
- If a child cannot ride a ride due to height, one parent can stay back with them and receive a Rider Swap.  Rider Swaps entitle any 3 people in your party to skip to the front of the line, and are good for up to a week.  
- If one uses a fast pass, and also asks for a rider swap, the 3 people using the rider swap do not need to present a fast pass when they subsequently ride.  (Thus, a fast pass for 2 people actually entitles 3 people to ride the ride later, and skip to the front of the line without the fast pass).
- Lines for rides are shortest in the morning and peak around 1pm.

Some of these concepts may seem confusing.  They are.  But failure to understand their implications can have dire consequences.  And thus, the better your logical reasoning, the better your Disney planning.

Lets look at how this works in practice:  At EPCOT, you cannot simultaneously select fast passes for both Test Track and Soarin' (both of which have huge lines).  So what did we do?  We split the fast passes - Husband and Braden got fast passes for Test Track, Casey and I got fast passes for Soarin'.  We scheduled the same hour long window (which we could do because we split our reservations up).  First, Braden and Husband go on Test Track.  Because we have a 2 year old who cannot ride the ride, we get a Rider Swap.  Once they are done, Braden, Casey and I ride, using the Rider Swap, and are able to skip the line.  Then we moved onto Soarin' where we did the same thing.  First Casey and I, with Husband getting a rider swap, and then Husband rides immediately after with Braden and Casey.

Ultimately, we were all able to ride both rides (twice), and walk to the front of the line.  The wait for the stand by, non-fast pass, line at that point, which we avoided entirely, was 100 minutes and 90 minutes, respectively.

This made for a very happy evening.

Colin is pissed because he was too short to go on the rides.
In conclusion, there are three skills, discussed supra, that must be utilized when planning a successful and enjoyable Disney vacation; namely research, planning, and logical reasoning.  If you yourself do not possess such skills, the hiring of an attorney should be considered.

Who says that I'm not using my law degree for the greater good?

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  1. Shannon, you are sitting on gold. This is so obviously a great business opportunity, lots of flexibility, good money to be earned, happy and socially redeeming work to do. get on it, girl!!!

  2. I am an expert at planning vacations, and I think it's because I'm a lawyer. I love researching everything, and then I put together detailed travel itineraries with lots of different options (always have a contingency plan). I also love playing the airline/hotel points game and coming up with the best possible deals. If only being a travel agent wasn't a dying profession!

  3. You should totally work for Disney Wishes Family Travel!

  4. Thank you Shannon! This was my special request recently to you, since I'll be visiting DW with my family in a couple of months, and this is awesome.

  5. For me, planning for a vacation and what you will do there is really important so your time won't be wasted. I must agree that you really have talent in planning this Disney getaway. And yes, lawyers can do that effectively. Thanks for sharing us your story and giving us destination and vacation tips. By the way, you really have a beautiful and wonderful family here with you.

  6. We are planning a Disneyworld vacation next year and will totally use your advise! Thanks for the pro-bono work!

  7. I'm going with a 2 and 4 year old in a few months. Can you send me your guide?!?!?


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