10 Tips to Mastering Walt Disney World
By: R. M. Martin
So you're going to Disney World, huh?
That's grand. You are going to be blown away by the amazing state-of-the-art attractions, wowed by the themed splendor and be tricked into mercilessly cracking open your pocketbook because this is, after all, the trip of a lifetime.
Well, the truth is that there are ways to enjoy your vacation more. There are ways to trim your wait time in lines. There are ways to save quite a bit of money. Making the right decisions is important as it is what will ultimately separate the family that comes back with memories that they will cherish forever from the clan that comes back fuming because they spent a ton of money only to be caught baking in the sweltering heat.
Here are ten tips to make your trip to Disney's Magic Kingdom truly magical. . .
1. Know when to go -- Disney's peak season is, naturally, when school is out. That means that summer, spring break and the holiday season are the three times of the year when the crowds -- and the lines -- are at their longest. If you're like most families you really won't be able to avoid it. You may not want to take your kids out of school at a time like early December or late September when the crowds are at their lightest. If that's you, rest assured that folks have had fantastic times while the parks are brimming at capacity. So don't sweat it if that's the case. However, if you can avoid the peak periods jump at the chance. Rates tend to be cheaper and you will be able to see more in less time, even if the parks have shorter operating hours.
2. Know how to fly -- There's no pixie dust to magically levitate you and catapult you towards Florida's Walt Disney World resort. If you are not driving in that means that you will be probably flying in. Orlando's airport is solid. It has been growing along with the area's prospects and while it is a good 20 minute drive from the Disney resort it really is the only major airport that you need to consider. If you plan on hitting South Florida you may also want to consider flying into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport or Miami International Airport but beyond the Tampa airport an hour West of Disney you should stick to Orlando. With that settled, the meatier decision is where you will fly out from. If you only live within a reasonable commute of one airport, your choice is made. However, if you really want to save some serious money check out the flight schedules of low-cost carriers like JetBlue and Southwest. They fly into Orlando and often at great discounted rates.
3. Know where to stay -- The Disney World resort encompasses more than 40 square miles. Disney has over a dozen hotels to go along with its four theme parks, two water parks, shopping and entertainment complex and various golf courses, boating marinas and more. That's why many people choose to stay in one of the Disney resorts. They aren't cheap. The fancier digs will run you close to $300 a night. However, they have a few properties like the All-Star and Pop Century value properties that start as low as $60-$90 a night. Staying onsite means that you can use Disney's free transportation system. With a fleet of buses you can get to just about anywhere within the Disney resort. The system isn't always convenient as the buses will get crowded going to parks in the morning and coming back to the hotels after the parks close but it's a well oiled machine to get folks out and about.
4. Consider staying offsite -- One of the great things about visiting Orlando is that you have more than 80,000 rooms and accommodations at your disposal. So, yes, you will find hotel rates a 10-15 minute drive away from Disney starting as low as $30 a night. You will also find some properties like Gaylord Palms or Portofino Bay Resort that are even more lavish than Disney's deluxe resorts. However, if you plan on staying more than a few days a simple room -- even if the only purpose it serves is to give you a place to crash at night and shower in the morning -- may feel too compact. While that may often find you leaning towards staying at a timeshare resort, the last thing you need is to have to sit in on a 90-minute marketing presentation during your vacation. So consider the many condo and single home properties that are available. Places like Villas at Island Club are just a couple of miles from Disney yet offer spacious townhomes with 3 or 4 bedrooms -- and 2 or 3 bathrooms. Having your own kitchen can save you a ton of money come breakfast time or when you want to have a meal away from the parks. Having your own washer and dryer is huge, especially when you have swimming pools and tennis courts that will have you running out of clothes at a quicker pace than you planned on. More importantly, you have space. There is a big difference between a family cramped in a 200 square foot room, fighting for the remote compared to a 1300 square foot townhouse with various television sets, spacious living room, dining room and more than that one shower to wait on. While having your own car -- or a rental -- will be essential if you stay offsite to get around, that is also the kind of freedom that will dictate a more flexible vacation.
5. Know what to pack -- Florida is a very casual state. While there are various high-end eateries and nightclubs to dress up for no one gives a second glance to someone dining away dressed in shorts or jeans, t-shirts and comfortable shoes. So don't go overboard. Unless you plan on taking a cruise while you are in the area pack smart by packing light. Check on the weather before you head out. Florida's humidity can be a curse or a blessing depending on how you look at it but while it's safe to say the summers will always be warm some unseasonally cool weather can be found in early mornings or evenings during the early spring and late autumn times of the year. So you may want to dress in layers. You will also need sunscreen -- though that along with other waterplay essentials can always be found in hotel gift shops, area pharmacies and even in the parks themselves.
6. Know how to do the parks -- You already know that the parks will be busiest during the summer, spring break and holiday periods. You may also want to hold back on Saturdays as that is the busiest day of the week as many of the locals or the area weekend visitors hit the turnstiles. Yet the one thing to remember is that first hour or so of the park's operating day will be the lightest in terms of crowds. The parks usually open a half-hour before the published opening time. Just arrive early enough and you will be able to knock off some of the more popular rides first -- then enjoy the rest of the day by taking in the many other attractions. Ducking out early, or not doing a park at all one day, isn't a crime either. Consider the many quality dinner theater shows and other unique attractions in the area that enhance the travel experience.
7. Know the FastPass -- Disney's free ride reservation system is called FastPass. Many guests aren't familiar with the offering and wind up standing in long standby queues all day long. It doesn't have to be that way. Once you find a popular attraction with a long line consider the FastPass distribution center -- found on many of the biggest attractions, right by the actual entrance. Just insert your ticket and you will receive a one-hour window later in the day where you can return to a significantly shorter FastPass line. This is completely free but you can only have one FastPass outstanding at any given time for each park ticket. So use it on attractions that truly do have long lines, usually the park's biggest thrill rides.
8. Know what to eat -- Eating at the park is not cheap. And because you will be tempted to snack along the way or grab sodas throughout the day between meals your food tab can really add up. Disney does not allow food to be brought into the park, beyond baby food. However, guests have typically not had any problem bringing in their own plastic water bottles and small snacks. Water fountains are plentiful all over the park. You may also save some money by avoiding table service restaurants for dinner. Go for lunch instead when the prices are lower and it's actually more of a break to get away from the early afternoon heat. Because restaurants and fast food counter lines are longest during the typical lunch (noon to 2pm) and dinner (5pm to 8pm) times, consider trying to go before or after the busiest times. If you want to eat at one of more popular restaurants -- or character buffet meals -- call 1-407-WDisney to make a priority seating reservation first.
9. Know what to buy -- Souvenirs may or may not be in your shopping hit list but impulsive kids are bound to want things along the way. It doesn't help that more and more of Disney's attractions empty out into a gift shop! You may want to set a budget, telling kids that they can only buy one item -- or spend a set amount during the entire trip -- so that they can make their own executive decision and pass on one plaything for another. One other thing to consider is that some toys may require batteries and possibly screwdrivers to open battery chambers or may come with restrictive packaging that may require a scissor. In these cases, if your kids will want to play with them later in the day ask the cashier for assistance. They usually will be able to assist with the process.
10. Know how to have fun -- It may seem like good old common sense but having a good attitude will go a long way towards having an excellent time in the world's top tourist destination. Long lines can be fun lines if you approach it with the same playing game mentality as you would a road trip. Word games, I Spy or even something as simple as high-fives at every switchback will make the time fly. Rainy weather? It means either shorter lines in the parks or a great time to bond inside. While everything from rude guests to poor service may find you simmering and heading out to Guest Relations, if you can spare yourself the aggravation by letting the event wash off your back -- and you can always address the situation (with a complaint to the park or posting online to a related newsgroup) later. Relax. You're on vacation. You're in a magical place. Don't let that mean that you will make your joy disappear.
About the author:
Martin has logged well over 100 visits to Walt Disney World. He runs the popular MyDisney.com Beyond the Parks websites. He also owns a condo at the Villas at Island Club resort.