(I’ve been on a serious travel kick lately, probably because I haven’t been anywhere in a while.)
A year ago (May 2009) my wife and I honeymooned at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It was her first trip ever and it was my first trip in about 12 years. A lot has changed since the last time I was there (Animal Kingdom didn’t even exist yet) and we learned a lot that we are putting into use with already planning our next trip. These tips are mostly for first timers but veteran Disneyians can use these too if they don’t already know them.
Stay on Park Property: Disney has a wide range of properties, from the value (82$/night) to the luxurious (300+ a night). Disney on a budget? The Value resorts are a value indeed. 82$ a night includes 4 people. The Holiday Inn at Downtown Disney area? 85$ a night for September 19-23 (Value season dates, the cheapest Disney dates). Same price, but without the Disney benefits. What do you get for staying on park property? You can take a bus, boat or monorail from your hotel to the parks, which means no driving, and no $12 a day parking. Plus, you can buy anything in a gift shop and have it sent back to your room instead of carrying it around. But the biggest perk for staying at a Disney resort? Disney Magic Hours. Want to get into the Magic Kingdom 2 hours before everyone else? How about stay at Hollywood Studios 3 hours after they close? That’s right, you get in early or get to stay late, depending on the day and the park.
Bring your walking shoes: Disney is a big park. EPCOT is enormous, and Animal Kingdom is even bigger. You will walk until you can walk no more. But you have plenty of time, there’s no need to be in a hurry to get anywhere (we made this mistake). Take breaks often and be prepared to be standing a lot (in lines for rides).
Skip the fries: Obvious health benefits aside, my wife and I took advantage of this because we didn’t want to be walking around in the heat with a stomach full of greasy food. Most of the sandwich shops (Cosmic Rays/Magic Kingdom, Electric Umbrella/EPCOT, etc) offer a side of grapes or apple slices depending on the location. Picky kids? Who doesn’t like chicken tenders and grapes? This was refreshing during the heat of the summer.
Use Fast Pass: This is one of the cool things they’ve added since the last time I visited. Don’t want to stand in line for Space Mountain for 3 hours? Grab a fast pass, come back when it tells you too and then jump to the front of the line! You find the kiosk, put in your park ticket and it gives you the fast pass to come back at a certain time. The times it gives you depends on how long the lines are expected to be and how many people have already gotten passes that day. You might get a pass at Space Mountain at 9AM that tells you to come back at 2 in the afternoon because that many people have already gotten their passes. There are limits which I don’t remember right off the top of my head (I think one pass, per ride at a time). Sometimes if you come up to a ride that has a short line, and the fast pass is only 30-45 minutes away, you can grab the fast pass, then wait in line to ride, come out and then immediately ride again using your fast pass (we did this with Splash Mountain, which quickly became my wife’s favorite). There’s usually one big ride per park that everyone will flock to either to get in line or to get a Fast Pass. Space Mountain/Magic Kingdom, Soaring/EPCOT, Test Track/EPCOT, Tower of Terror/Hollywood Studios and Escape from Everest/Animal Kingdom are some of the biggies. Grab your fast pass, then spend the 3 hours walking around doing other things, come back and ride your ride. This is an awesome concept. And they don’t shut the ride down for the whole 30 minutes and make everyone wait, they will load one car from the Fast Pass line, one car from the regular line and alternate back and forth like that. You still wait a little with the Fast Pass, but it’s a shorter line.
Learn the Patterns, Avoid the Crowds: When we went last May, Space Mountain was closed for renovations, but it should be opened back up by now. If you go to the Magic Kingdom first thing in the morning, once the gate opens everyone will hitch a hard right to Tomorrowland (Magic Kingdom is basically a big circle). So what do you do? Talk a left and a leisurely stroll into Adventureland and you will be first in line at Pirates of the Caribbean because you will have the place to yourself. While everyone else is in line at Space Mountain (if you don’t want to ride, or have already ridden it on your trip) you can probably hit up the Jungle Cruise, Pirates and Haunted Mansion before the first Space Mountainers start coming out.
EPCOT is a little more tricky since you have Test Track on one side and Soarin on the other, which are both huge draws, but you can still avoid them if you wish. Head straight up the middle to the giant globe, called Spaceship Earth, which actually has a ride built inside it! I haven’t been to Hollywood Studios in a long while (Back when it was MGM Studios, we didn’t visit there on our trip last year) but assuming most people will go for Tower of Terror, you can head straight back to the back of the park and ride The Great Movie Ride or Star Tours or do the Backlot tour. If you just HAVE to do the big draw rides, that’s fine, but if you would like you can avoid them for a much less crowded trip.
Visit in September/October: Disney is slam packed in the summer. Why? All the young ones are on vacation from school of course. If you don’t have school age kids (or you can somehow get them a couple days off with a nice note) the best time to visit Disney is the off season. It’s cheaper, it’s cooler and it’s less crowded. My family went one time in November, the week before Thanksgiving, and we had the place (almost literally) to ourselves. My sister and I stood under the EPCOT globe with not another soul in sight. My wife and I went in May since it was after graduation and my parents had gifted us the trip as a honeymoon/graduation celebration present. It was hot, and it rained the day we were at EPCOT. Next time we are going in October. It’s 99 degrees right now in North Carolina, you couldn’t PAY me to go to Disney right now.
Skip the ParkHopper: Park Hopper is neat, it allows you to leave one park and visit another. Normally once you validate your ticket at one park, you have to stay at that park for the rest of the day (You can leave of course, but only reenter the one park). While it is a neat option, it costs extra, and especially for the first timer, you’re probably going to want to spend a whole day with each park anyway to see it all. EPCOT is a two day adventure anyway, so there’s no reason to do a half-day at Magic Kingdom and then half-day at EPCOT. Also, skip the never expire option. Back when I was a kid, Disney tickets never expired, so my parents would always buy a 10 day pass for each of us, we’d use 6 days one trip, use the rest 2 years later etc. Now they make you pay extra for that. Yes, a 10 day ticket is cheaper per day then a 5 day ticket, but paying extra for the never expire kills your discount so just buy “length of stay tickets”.
I could probably go on, but this is already getting long. Maybe soon there will be a Disney Tips 2. Or I can just start writing my Disney Travel Guide. I think I’ll get on that. Hope this helps!