Tour Guide Mike vs. Touring Plans vs. Ridemax
So you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World. Maybe this is your first trip or maybe it’s been ten years since you’ve gone to visit the Mouse. Let’s face it, you could use a little help. If you have tons of money to throw around, you could just show up at Disney World and hire a personal Disney tour guide. If you’re like most of us though, you’re on a budget and can’t afford anything remotely close to a personal tour guide. Fear not…there is help to be found, and at a price that any of us can afford.
There are a lot of free websites on the internet designed to help you plan your Disney vacation and they are all worth checking out. There are also some websites that employ more sophisticated methods of Disney vacation planning and charge a subscription fee for you to access their information. For our purposes we will call these “Disney guide-sites” (not unlike guide-books but internet based). Disney guide-sites that you will hear the most about are Tour Guide Mike, TouringPlans.com and Ridemax. I have personally subscribed to all three and have found them all to be useful in different ways.
Let’s start with Tour Guide Mike. The first time my husband and I went to Disney World together was in 1994 when we were visiting my parents in Florida. We only spent three days there and although we had a wonderful time, I realize now, having a few trips under my belt that we really just fumbled our way through those three days. We mostly stuck to the attractions that were familiar to us from Disneyland. We had absolutely no idea of what MGM Studios had to offer. We didn’t know about any table service dining options and therefore did only counter service. We missed a lot of what Disney World had to offer. So when we decided to make our first trip back in 2007, this time with our young daughter…I opted to subscribe to Tour Guide Mike. Coming from the opposite end of the US, I wanted to make the best possible use of our time there. I wanted everything to be well thought out and not a guessing game as to what we should do next. For that particular trip, Tour Guide Mike was an excellent choice.
Tour Guide Mike is an actual former Disney VIP tour guide. He also currently runs an independent VIP tour guide business as well as his subscription based Disney touring website. For $21.95 you can gain complete access to his website and begin planning your Disney vacation. Unlike the other two sites we will discuss, there is not a set amount of time for that subscription. It starts when you subscribe and ends after you actually go on your vacation. It could be 3 months or 18 months. In my opinion, Tour Guide Mike is the best site for the first time Disney visitor or those who haven’t been to Disney for many years. There is a wealth of information on this site, organized into categories ranging from accommodations to dining to crowd calendars. Therein is the one downside to this site…the absolutely overwhelming amount of information to wade through. If you are a planner who wants every detail planned out to the nth degree and you have lots of time to do that, this site is for you. Don’t get me wrong…I love the information on this site. I still to this day have and use the daily itinerary form from Tour Guide Mike. Unlocking the full potential of this site requires a lot of time and effort….something the more seasoned Disney-goer might balk at.
Our next few trips were guide-site free. Tour Guide Mike gave me the tools I needed to plan them myself with a little help from several Disney Yahoo groups and some of the free sites I mentioned earlier.
In the summer of 2008, we decided to plan a trip to Southern California. We agreed to do a day or two at Disneyland and while doing some research into ticket prices, I came across an article on Ridemax. It sounded too good to be true, but our time was limited and a 1 day park hopper was a lot cheaper than two 1 day 1 park passes. It was $14.95 for a 3 month subscription or $24.95 for a year. Still carrying bad memories of an earlier Spring Break Disneyland visit where we stood in 2 hour lines all day and went from opening to closing but only managed to do about 7 or 8 attractions, I figured it was worth a shot. Right out of the gate, this program saved us from going to Disneyland on a day that would have been crazy busy. Ridemax’s genius is in its simplicity and ease of use. Ridemax is a computer program created by a software engineer who happens to love Disney. Using data gathered by friends and family members on attraction wait times at different times, days and seasons, he was able to create a program that would calculate out an itinerary based on the attractions you want to visit. The web site itself has a tips and tricks section that is well worth the money all by itself. This section not only explains how to get in the park ahead of most of the opening crowd, but also how to be ahead of the pack in almost every attraction. There is also (in the Disney World version) a best parks/best day section which I have found to be spot on.
With our final itinerary in hand, we arrived at Disneyland about 30 minutes before rope drop. At opening, we were indeed at the front of the pack. We watched as one group broke off to race to Splash Mountain and and a second group went toward Space Mountain and the Matterhorn. We headed straight for Peter Pan, an attraction that we have never waited less than an hour to ride, and we were on the third boat to go out. We came out the door and got right on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. No wait. Later in the day, we spent 5 minutes in line for Big Thunder Mountain RR and less than 10 minutes standing in line for Splash Mountain. We had lunch and headed over to California Adventure, where we walked on almost every attraction there. At one point we passed by a 90 minute line at Grizzly River Run, came back later at the specified time and waited less than 5 minutes. On that Friday in mid-June, we managed to do 25 attractions with the help of Ridemax. Quite a contrast to the 7 or 8 attractions we did during Spring Break of the previous year. We have since then used Ridemax at Disney World every year. Since we normally go during the off season, we don’t need it to plan our entire day, but it works great for pinpointing the quiet times on the big attractions. They have also recently added shows and parades to the available itineraries as well as a new phone app version included with your subscription price. At $16.95 for 3 months or $26.95 for a year for the Disney World version, Ridemax is a great value.
This year I thought I would give TouringPlans.com a shot. Touring Plans does allow you to look at the current month crowd calendar for free and I have actually used that as a comparison with Ridemax. For the most part both crowd calendars have similar recommendations. One thing I really like about Touring Plans is their Historic Crowd calendar. This allows you to go back to previous months and years to see actual data on Disney crowds. This is a valuable tool for deciding when to plan a trip. I also like that there is an overall crowd rating as well as a per park crowd rating for each day. One thing that baffles me about Touring Plans is that every other site in creation tells you that the best time to visit a park is the day after Extra Magic Hours at that park. Apparently Touring Plans does not subscribe to that theory as more often than not, they will list that park as one to avoid. The other thing I’m so far not too sure of is their actual touring plans. Unlike Ridemax, they are generic plans not really based on any specific time of year that I can see. They are based mainly on age groups, ie: adults with no children, adults with young children, adults with tweens, etc. You can customize them to some degree by adding or deleting attractions. As far as the time of year or day of the week, I’m not sure they even factor that in. Since we will be using Touring Plans for our upcoming trip in January, we will see how those plans compare with the more customized plans from Ridemax. At $6.95 a year for the Disneyland version $10.95 for the Disney World version, Touring Plans is the least expensive of our three guide-sites. Touring Plans also has a smart phone app that is included with your subscription price.
So whether you need help planning every detail of your Disney vacation or are just looking for a way to pack in the most park attractions you can in a day, these three sites are all very useful tools and well worth the subscription costs.
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