To Reserve or Not To Reserve

Do you plan every little thing when on vacation? Do you make any reservations ahead of time? Or, do you just ‘wing it’ and hope for the best?

Certainly, there are upsides to reservations. They slash wait times, allowing you to see and do more. They curb disappointment because there’s no driving for an hour only to find out you can’t get in.

At the same time, there are trade-offs. For instance, spontaneity and serendipity, a large part of what makes travel surprising and rewarding, tend to go away. And as getting reservations for attractions becomes more competitive, travelers may soon no longer be able to choose whether to book in advance or play things by ear.

Increasingly, if you don’t make a reservation, you won’t be able to find a decent seat at a movie theater, camp at a popular national park, see the blockbuster exhibition, get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or ride the latest roller coaster. Additionally, reservations are typically made online, which can put those without easy access to the Internet at a disadvantage.

In the case of some national parks, reservations can also be essential tools in helping preserve fragile environments. Utah, Zion National Park is considering adopting an online reservation system amid record crowds that are wearing down trails and campgrounds faster than the park can afford to repair them. Zion may become the first park to require a reservation for entrance.

Some of the biggest changes are happening at national parks because of the soaring attendance.

The California State Parks system recently rolled out an upgraded campsite and lodging reservation system, which aims to deliver a digital experience similar to booking a hotel room or airline tickets.

The system also allows users to see detailed campsite maps. You can book up to six months to the day in advance of the arrival date. Reservations at campsites in other parts of the United States can be made at sites such as

Being able to browse and book certain experiences has plenty of benefits, especially for travelers who take only one big vacation a year and want to make sure they can camp or hike where they want to.

Yet parks are not the only places making reservations more prevalent. Places like movie theaters and theme parks that already offer reservations for entry.

AMC Theatres announced that Manhattan would be the first major market where all its theaters would have reserved seating. At theme parks, there are reservations for practically every experience inside the gates: rides, shows, parades, restaurants, meet and greets. Walt Disney World’s FastPass+ allows visitors to reserve an arrival window for certain attractions as early as 30 days before you get there, or up to 60 days before check-in if you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel.

No more getting up before the birds, rushing to the park, and waiting in line to get to the rides you want. Nothing better than being first in line…as a kid. No more having to be patient, waiting for the line to move. No more watching the street entertainment while the line inches forward.

So, which way is better?

I don’t know…it’s your vacation. For me, I’m glad we made reservations to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower.