Which Is Better: Plan in Advance or Go with the Flow?

May 15, 2020, 5:40 PM · If you could go back to a theme park again, how would you manage your visit? Would you look to plan every moment in advance or would you rather just get there and go with the flow?

This has been one of the more divisive questions among theme park fans in recent years, as observant fans (and former park employees) began deciphering park operations to figure out the most efficient way to get through a day, followed by parks responding with a variety of advance reservation and line-skipping products for fans who wanted the benefits of a plan without having to do all that research.

But the line-up of "time saving" products that parks offered ultimately became so complex that fans ended up having to spend hours and hours researching and booking those tools in advance of their trips anyway. (Just ask anyone who's set their alarm for early the morning, six months to the day in advance of their Disney World vacation, to play the Disney restaurant reservation lottery.) That's inspired a backlash among fans who embrace a more carefree, "go with the flow" philosophy that helped so many fans fall in love with theme parks in the first place.

Granted, many of those "go with the flow" fans actually are long-time visitors and passholders who've pretty much memorized the most efficient ways to get through the park, so they don't need to do any extra advance planning anyway.

And of course, Covid-19 is gonna change everything. Forget about a serendipitous visit to a new or beloved park. Many parks, including all the Six Flags parks, will be requiring advance reservations to visit when they reopen for the 2020 season. But once you're inside the park? We just don't know how that's going to go down yet.

Will closed international borders, canceled flights, and roadtrip hassles leave attendance so low that, even with limited operations, pretty much everything's a walk-on, making the question of planning an itinerary irrelevant? Or will parks demand the use of virtual queues in a way that forces you into pre-set itineraries, whether you want them or not? How long will this "new normal" exist before we get to the "new normal v2.0" that might or might not look like the "old normal" - whatever what that was, given the wide variety of ways that people experienced theme parks in the past?

Take a guess. Everyone else is.

Since we have no idea what the future holds, let's focus on what you'd prefer if you could make the future that you want. Would you rather visit parks in a way that allows you to go with the flow? Or do you prefer a system that rewards people who take the time and make the effort to plan in advance?

(And, yeah, I know that a good park's job is to craft a system that supports both approaches, but hey, I'm just trying to get a vote up here, okay?)

So here is today's "which is better" vote. Please tell us in the comments why you're voting the way that you do.

Replies (15)

May 15, 2020 at 6:35 PM

Definitely go with the flow!!

A bit of background -- I'm a conference planner by profession, so I like to be able to turn that off when I take a vacation. That said, on the two international trips I've taken in my lifetime (one to Egypt and one to the south of England via a week on the Queen Mary 2), I have planned all details to the nth degree, complete with schedule-filled notebooks.

However, if I'm traveling to a domestic theme park, especially in my home state of Florida, I don't want to have to put that much thought into it. Other than securing a hotel reservation at some place like Royal Pacific to guarantee my unlimited express pass at USO, making a special reservation for a romantic dinner at Mamma Della's, or buying tickets for specific nights at HHN, I don't want to think about what I'm going to be doing when. I want my 3 or 4 days at the resort to be as spontaneous as it's possible for a natural planner to be... (and, trust me, it's hard to turn my professional mind off... that's why I desperately want my trips to a theme park to be unplanned...)

Don't get me wrong.... I grew up with WDW and love it from a nostalgic point of view. But I miss the days when you could arrive at the Magic Kingdom at rope drop, work a sensible pattern through the park and see everything you wanted to before the fireworks. That's just not possible anymore.

So that's why I so often prefer USO during discussions on this site... Yes, WDW has a lot to offer, but Universal is soooo much more relaxing for me, personally.

May 15, 2020 at 7:47 PM

I’m a planner all the way, and we get stuff done !

May 15, 2020 at 7:52 PM

Definitely go with the flow. What good is it to plan everything in advance only for inclement weather or a ride breakdown to blow up all your plans?

May 15, 2020 at 10:11 PM

Go with the flow! While I’m fine with planning, going with the flow allows for so much more leeway!

May 15, 2020 at 10:27 PM

I'd prefer to go with the flow any day, and I miss the days when you could. Fastpass and Fastpass plus sadly mandate that you must plan, or lose out to those who did their planning.

May 15, 2020 at 11:40 PM

I have a general outline of where I want to hit when I get to a park. Yet it's sometimes best not to stick to a strict schedule as sometimes you find fun stuff just happening around you as a nice distraction to adjust well.

May 16, 2020 at 3:22 AM

sadly AngryDuck is right.

I mean hacking a day by picking the order of rides, or zigging when everyone else zags is very different to needing to plan it in advance. Especially if you are not in the same timezone, having to do your planning at 3am, takes some of the fun out of it, and ads to the pressure of the rides.
If you go to all that effort to book a popular ride and it is just OK, then there is more time and effor invested in all that planning.

May 16, 2020 at 4:10 AM

Mrs Plum and myself would love to "go with the flow" and be spontaneous. Being in a theme park is the ultimate in escapism and that feeling of liberation should be experienced to the max. We can do this at Universal, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens but we have no chance at WDW so we have to mix and match dependent on park.

May 16, 2020 at 5:30 AM

I like to go with the flow. I’m on holiday, and planning and following a schedule sounds like work. I don’t work on holiday.

That said, I do like Fastpass+ from the perspective of knowing I’m (almost) guaranteed to hit at least 3 attractions regardless of crowd level and demand.

May 16, 2020 at 6:28 AM

Which is better? Go with the flow.

Which do I do? Plan like a NASA space mission. And that's just because of the success of Disney. It is just too packed, in recent years. I really don't care for modifying my day around a Fastpass+ reservation I made three months earlier. But it becomes the only way to get my family to see the newest coaster or flight simulator without a two hour wait time.

I still try to attend the parks as "off season" as I can, so that I can maximize the amount of go-with-the-flow time I can get. If things go properly, we get the Fastpass reservations in the morning, have lunch, maybe return to the hotel to swim or have a quick nap, then back to the parks and just enjoy them leisurely. Its a shame that is how it has become, but when you keep building more amazing experiences, you keep drawing in more people.

Victims of Disney's success.

May 16, 2020 at 6:33 AM

As former proces manager I love to organize the hell out of processes to optimize them. On vacation I want freedom, do whatever I want to do and never ever check my watch of phone.
Sure there are some rides I like to do and I make sure I know when they are less crowded so I can do them. In the past when we still did WDW we used fastpass to our advantage but I stopped visiting after the "not so magic band" was introduced and I had to wait for rides I never ever had to wait for because of it. It's just not what vacation is for more. And as long as Universal gives me the option to have a vacation I will be their loyal customer.

May 16, 2020 at 6:38 AM

I find it hard to believe that people can't wake up in the morning and decide which of the 4 WDW parks to visit and have a great time without planning. I do it all the time. Other than not being able to get the sitdown restaurant I want, I find there are many attractions I can enjoy without the need of massive planning. There is no reason to get a fast pass for the 2 best rides in future world, CoP and PM. I have never has a problem getting on HM or PotC. Yes Splash Mountain and 7DMT are hard but you can have fun without them. The shows, parades and other entertainment and shopping are great. Enjoy yourself, live and be happy.

May 16, 2020 at 8:37 AM

Well, try that with a party of 5!
Universal for the win in our Family

May 16, 2020 at 8:48 AM

"Going with the flow" 100%! That is the only reason we haven't been back to Disney for years. We prefer to go to Universal and regional parks instead. Planning your entire trip months in advance is just not a vacation for us.

May 18, 2020 at 12:30 PM

We prefer "going with the flow". Like many above my job before retirement was strongly based on planning and being strongly organized. When I'm on vacation I don't mind planning to an extent, but once I'm there, I like to see how the day unfolds. It is so much more memorable. Unfortunately like noted above, WDW no longer allows that sense of wonderment with the intense planning that is required. I guess for those who do this as a once in lifetime vacation or with larger families there is no choice. We come once a year and because we do not stay on site getting fastpasses or reservations are pretty limited. So we just play it by ear and if we see something fine, if not there is always next year.

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