We just got back from another trip to Florida for a visit to Disney World and my parents near Sarasota. We were celebrating my birthday – and we’ll have a post on what it’s like to celebrate at Walt Disney World shortly – but first, here’s five quick tips from our three days at what hard-core Disney fans call ‘the World’.
1. Prioritize – and don’t get ambitious.
When we started planning the trip, I wanted to do way too much. Since I hadn’t been to the parks in years, I wanted to try to get to all the things I loved when I was a kid, plus all the new things that I hadn’t yet seen. Gary had never been to Disney, so he was happy to see what I thought he should see, though he did want to make sure to get some time in with the new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. After spending several hours in the Magic Kingdom on our first day without even getting on a ride, it became apparent that I needed to rethink our plans.
We ended up spending most of our time in the Magic Kingdom due to my nostalgia and for our questing fun, which it turns out is pretty reasonable for only three days. When people suggest at least five days to get a look at everything Disney World has to offer, they are not kidding – take time to consider how long you have, what you’d like to do, and how much relaxing you need after hours in the Florida sun. (The heat might not be bad, but the sun is still no joke. Don’t be like me, bring your hat.)
Fastpasses let you walk away from a big old line and come back to totally bypass it later, with only a 5 – 10 minute wait. It’s pretty sweet, and you should totally take advantage. The only thing to note is that you can only get one every two hours, so you can’t go stocking up on Fastpasses all over. (This didn’t count for the Princesses and Mickey at the Town Hall, though.)
3. Don’t be married to a schedule.
Maybe it’s just us, but we found that trying to follow a schedule didn’t work so well. We definitely learned a lot from sites like TouringPlans.com in terms of crowd levels and general waits, but there were too many variables to make the scheduling aspects of these sorts of sites work for us. Characters, parades, random musicians, photo ops, and occasionally, the need for a rest, would throw us off too easily. (We were not able to access smartphone and iPad apps that use real-time updates from the parks to adjust wait times and schedules on the fly as we didn’t have data, so do keep that in mind.)
We found what worked for us was to have at least one Fastpass for a ride on deck while we looked for reasonable waits (under 25 mins), watched parades, met characters, took photos, and shopped. If you do have to wait in line, Disney has become quite good at providing distraction while you wait; often there’s something to play with, look at or listen to while you hang out.
4. Use the Disney PhotoPass.
There’s Disney photographers all over the park, day and night, and they’re better at their job than you are, guaranteed (unless you’re a photographer). Get a PhotoPass card and have them scan it each time they take a photo for you, and you’ll have the option of buying those shots when you get home. If you like enough of them, pay for a full CD of the photos and have them forever!
We have photos together so rarely that we opted for the PhotoPass+ option, which pre-paid for all your photos on a CD and included character dining and ride photos, as well as a CD filled with Disney stock photos. When we logged in for the first time, we also found some bonus photos that related to areas of the park we’d been photographed in, and in the case of some Stitch photos, stuff we bought. Gary overheard a bartender at our resort mentioning that Disney was planning to make the guest experience more personalized over the next few years, tailoring encounters and discounts to your Disney preferences – no doubt this is part of the roll out. We were really happy with the results, especially this one from my birthday:
5. If you see a short line/wait, jump in/on it.
This is for EVERYTHING. Character encounters. Rides. Coffee. Water. Anything you want to do, eat, or drink may have a line attached to it at any given moment. If you want a Coke and you see no line at the Coke stand, go get it now. Gary had the presence of mind to jump on a line to meet Daisy, and I got a picture with her. We thought we’d see how the line was for Alice and the White Rabbit ‘later’, and guess what? It was huge. Jump on the short & non-existent lines ASAP.
A few bonus tips: Get buttons if you’re celebrating, people are nice to you!; Look into Advance Dining Reservations if there’s somewhere specific you’d like to eat; Check out smartphone apps if you have a data plan that will work in the parks; Go to the character greeting spots where you can get great pictures with a ton of characters on your camera and on Disney’s; If you can afford it, consider staying on site to take advantage of the Disney Magical Express from the airport and the Disney Transportation System.