1. Get Your Head Right
One thing I’ve learned during Disney World vacations…er, um…adventures is you really must get your head right before going. Disney World is not some destination that on a whim you say, “Hey, let’s go to Disney next week.” It takes careful stratergry, planning and budgeting to ensure a magical experience.
Is there any one time (season) better than another? I’ve been at different times throughout the year from early winter, spring, and dead summer. You may go at off peak times, but to then deal with cooler temperatures. Who wants to experience Disney when it’s cold and you’re wearing a jacket? You may go during the summer when the temperatures can be uncomfortably hot and potential summer storms shut down the only rollercoaster you wanted to ride that day. Either time you still have to deal with crowds and long lines, so just ‘get your head right’ beforehand knowing it is not all going to be Mickey and sunshine.
Add in all the factors of travel and lodging and that opens up a whole plethora of things to go wrong. Accept that you may have lost luggage, flight delays, rental car problems, hotel surprises, etc. It’s all there and you’re bound to experience one or the other.
Getting your head right before you go will make a world of a difference. When things do go awry, your head will be ready for it.
2. Good Shoes
My assumption is most folks who I see at Disney World are not there to visit just one park. Sure, there are locals and folks who live near there who visit for the day or the weekend, but I’m sure more than half are summer vacationers or foreign travelers who purchased full Park Hopper passes.
At any given park one is sure to walk a minimum of 3-4 miles if not more. From the parking lot to the gate, and then circumventing the park 2-3 times in a time span of at least 12 hours on your feet. By the time you get back to your hotel or condo your dogs are screaming!
What amazes me is seeing (mostly women) wearing nothing but flip-flops or folks who wear flat bottom shoes. People, please! With no heel support your calves will be screaming by the end of the day. Not to mention the strain on your lower back and knees. All said and done, a family will spend on average a couple thousand dollars for a Disney trip. What’s another $40 on a good pair of athletic walking shoes or cross-trainers that have good arch support, wedged heel, and comfortable sole?
Good shoes are paramount to a great experience! The last thing you want is to stop every hour or so because of your feet, knees, or back hurting. If you’re doing more than one park then you must pace yourself or you’ll run out of steam before you get your first chocolate covered ice cream Mickey Mouse ears.
Some may not know what a CamelBak© is, but it is a brand name for a small back pack that contains a bladder for water and a nozzle that clips over the shoulder strap. There are many brands, makes, and different sizes but the term ‘Camel Back’ is for a backpack with a water bladder is like saying ‘Jeep’ for any small off-road utility vehicle.
I have two: a small 1-liter bladder for day trips and one that has a 2-liter bladder. I took the 2-liter this time and each morning I would fill it with ice and water before leaving for the park. In summer-time heat it is certainly not enough but it’s a great start and keeps from having to pay $4 for .5 liter bottle of water in the park(s).
The CamelBak© also serves as a small back pack. Compartments and pockets for things like sun block, medicine, small snacks, keys, etc. I used the large inner compartment next to the bladder to pack several PB&J sandwiches. The sandwiches up against the cold ice water bladder kept the sandwiches cold and kept them from getting all soggy hot. In another pocket I packed trail mix, cereal bars, granola bars, and other yummy snacks. The outer pocket was for hygiene items. It also has mesh ‘bags’ on the sides for quick packing of items and clips to hang things like a ball cap.
Eating breakfast before the park opens is fairly common for anyone who travels there, but it’s the food prices in the parks that can kill a budget in the first day. By the time your family gets up and has breakfast it may 2-3 hours before you’re fully inside a park and beginning to enjoy the day. That’s a perfect time for a quick PB&J to boost the energy. An hour or so later its snack time, then maybe a PB&J is in order about mid-afternoon. Drinking sips of water throughout the day keeps you hydrated and quenches your thirst better than downing a full bottle, too. Eating snacks and buying a couple bottles of water in the park and refilling the bladder is better than spending $40 on lunch for two!
A CamelBak© is the way to go. Even with 2-litres of water it is still lighter and more compact than carrying a larger back pack. Plus it fits in the seats of all the rides!
4. Fast Past
What is this ‘Fast Past’ you speak of? Okay, this is more for the thrill seekers and show-goers. Not all rides and shoes have a Fast Pass distribution station. A Fast Pass is a ticket you retrieve by inserting your park pass into a machine. The ticket indicates a one hour time window for you to return. You simply go do something else and return during that window of time and your wait in line is never more than about 10-15 minutes.
The cool thing about all Fast Pass rides is a digital sign at the entrance of the attraction. One sign displays the time in minutes if you were to get in line at that moment. The other sign displays the Fast Pass return time. For example let’s say its 11:00 AM and an attraction has a wait time of 70 minutes. That’s an hour and 10 minutes and I may not be in the mood to wait that long. So I get a Fast Pass with a return time of 3:35-4:35 PM. This means I go do something else and return during that window of time and not have to wait but just a few minutes.
The strategy here is to map out the attractions that have Fast Past distribution before you go to the park. My family would discuss at breakfast or the night before which attractions we wanted to ride or see and then prioritize them. When we arrived at the park we would go to priority attraction #1. If the wait time is less than 30 minutes, we’d get in line. If not, we’d get a Fast Pass and move on to priority attraction #2. If at the next attraction the wait time is also too long, we’d get a Fast Pass for that one, too. Then we’d wander around the park doing other things until it was time to return to the attractions we had tickets for.
Yes, I know…it sounds like a hassle but in the end you are able to see and do more with a solid strategy in place. The Disney World website even has keepsake maps where you can plan out your visit with priority attractions and then print it. If you plan far enough in advance you can even have them mail you a really cool park map with your custom attractions labeled already for you!
Remember, Disney World is not a vacation…it IS an adventure and having a solid Fast Pass strategy in place will allow you to enjoy more attractions in the same time. Review #2 above also…a good pair of shoes comes in handy for days like this!
5. Break It Up
This strategy is mostly for those with a Park Hopper pass or visiting all four parks in a stretch of a week. Walking around one theme park for an entire day is one thing, but all four back-to-back can challenge the most physically fit person.
In my experience, the most demanding park is Epcot. It’s not the biggest (Animal Kingdom) but it seems to me it requires the most walking. In the past we’ve saved Epcot for the last park of the last day. Other visits we’ve conquered it the first day of our Disney experience. All said, I would recommend Epcot the first day. Why? Because you are the freshest and well-rested from just arriving rather than being beat up from heat and walking the other parks all week.
If you can manage, plan your visit to at least 5 days if not 6 days. Let’s say you plan on visiting the parks from Monday through Friday with the preceding Sunday and trailing Saturday as travel days. When you arrive Sunday-ish (depending on your arrival) you have the remainder of the day to “get your head right” (See #1). Monday and Tuesday are park days and Thursday and Friday are park days. What do you do Wednesday? Rest and Relax! Go to a water park and float around in the lazy river, drive out to the Kennedy Space Center and grab some seafood on the coast near Cocoa Beach, or use this day as your ‘souvenir’ day at Downtown Disney or the Boardwalk. Truly, if you really, really want to relax, just stay at the hotel or condo by the pool with a good book and rest your tired dogs.
This last time we went for 6 days. The extra day (including a rest day inbetween) allowed us to really slow down the last day. Often there is a store or something you learned you want to do that you didn’t have time earlier in the week. We started the day playing mini-golf. Then shopped for those last minute items and then back to the condo to “pre-pack” and hang by the pool. That evening we went out to a relaxing evening on the Boardwalk. Nice way to end the week!
My first trip to Disney World wasn’t until I was 34 years old. I had always imagined it and knew one day I’d get to go. Since then, I’ve been 5 times and the last two times were full out Park Hopper 6 day adventures!
There are many great travel tips and park strategies from all sorts of resources. These are simply my overall look at how to enjoy the experience without going home disappointed. Disney is not cheap and it will take a bite out of any budget, so much so that most families only experience it once. Knowing what I know I’d hate that anyone missed out because of sore feet, went over budget because you spent too much on food in the park, or never got to ride Big Thunder Mountain at Magic Kingdom because you didn’t plan your time accordingly and don’t want to stand in line for 110 minutes.
Your adventure awaits!