Things to Consider Before and During Your Visit with Mickey Mouse and Friends
The excitement is mounting as you are planning a visit to the Walt Disney World Resort. Spread over 47 square miles, the Walt Disney World Resort's four theme parks, two water parks, over 20 themed hotels and other attractions offer thrills, fun, and memory-making experiences for people of all ages. This article presents some tips that will help to save you time and a little bit of money. Arm yourself with a little bit of knowledge about the Walt Disney World Resort as you prepare for one of the most enjoyable vacations ever!
First Things First
You are likely spending a lot of money on your lodging, theme park tickets, and air or ground transportation. It only makes sense to do a little bit of research to get the most bang for your buck. Of course, you can just show up at the Walt Disney World Resort, but in my experience it helps to have a plan albeit a flexible one!
So, when you begin thinking about booking your vacation to Walt Disney World. Get a hold of some guidebooks and park apps to determine the best time to go. Of course, if at all possible, you'll want to visit when the crowds are the smallest.
- The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2012 by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa - At 864 pages, this book is very comprehensive. I liked it so much -- especially the reviews on the rides, I ended up buying the Kindle version as well. I installed it on my iPod, used the free kindle app, and read about the various rides while waiting in line. Hint: If you plan to purchase the "Lines" app available at touringplans.com (which I recommend) and will also buy this book, buy the book first. You'll get a small discount on the price of the app.
- The Complete Walt Disney World 2012 by Julie Neal and Mike Neal -Because this book was only 384 pages, we brought this book along on the trip. Beautiful color photos give you a visual sense of what to expect. My 9-year-old loved reading this book. She read it in the room before going to the park and then re-read sections after experiencing the rides. This book also lists hidden Mickeys, interesting facts about the attractions and how to go for the high scores on Toy Story Mania and Buzz Lightyear.
- Touringplans.com - this site provides crowd calendars, touring plans and the mobile Lines app based on years and years of data. We used the Lines app the most to help us decide how to tour the parks. For a discount on the subscription, buy the Unofficial Guide first.
- Undercovertourist.com - If you are a visitor to Florida, you will find to most competitively priced tickets here. There is also a calendar with recommended parks on a given day. Park recommendations did not always match that of the touringplans.com site, but you can consider all the information and make an informed decision. See this money-saving tips article for a discussion on obtaining your tickets from Undercover Tourist (recommended).
- Ridemax.com - An app the offers nice suggestions and insider tips for navigating the crowds. Worth the $16.95 subscription.
- Travel in the off-season if possible when children are in school.
- Get to the parks early each morning, especially during peak travel seasons.
- Use Walt Disney World apps to determine the best way to tour the parks. You will do miles of walking, so plan your path to reduce the number of steps you take.
- Plan some down time. Even the most hard-core Disney fan will need to rest and rejuvenate after a day at the park. The weather can be brutally hot and humid, and the fun details can add up to overload. A day of rest every few days will prevent you from hitting the wall.
- If you can afford to splurge and rooms are available at one of the Disney hotels, stay on property. This will allow some in your party to go back to the room to rest and then return to the park later.
- Note the inconvenient distance from the parking and bus area to the Magic Kingdom park entrance. It is 1.5 miles from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the park entrance. You have 3 choices from the TTC -- walk, monorail (stay to the right if at all possible), and ferry-boat. We found the monorail to be the fastest.
- If you will buy photos, purchase Disney photos at the Magic Kingdom. Photo facilities are large as compared to other parks like the Animal Kingdom's photo counter. Do the math and consider getting all of your photos on a single CD. You can combine multiple photo pass cards. So if your group splits up, you can consolidate all the photos onto a single card or CD. Ride photos must be purchased at the ride kiosks.
- If you are on a mission to tour the parks efficiently, tour with the fewest number of people as possible. This might mean breaking off into smaller groups. There are touring plans available from the guidebooks and various online apps. However, much of how you tour the parks will be dictated by inclement weather and its effects on ride closures.
- Determine the best park to visit on a given day. Refer to the crowd calendars at touringplans.com and undercovertourist.com.
- Avoid the theme parks on days the Early Morning Hours (EMH) are offered. Many guidebooks sagely advise avoiding the EMH, which attract people to the park. You want to be where the masses are not, so enjoy an extra hour of sleep and visit a park that opens later.
- Use the FastPass system. Free FastPasses are available at the more popular attractions. For a FastPass, feed your park ticket into a special machine located near the ride. Because the FastPass rides are typically distributed around a park, appoint one person in your group to collect the FastPass for the entire group while the groups walks to another attraction. A return time window will be indicated on your FastPass. As of this writing, Disney has begun enforcing the hour-long return time window. You will not be able to obtain another FastPass until the return time begins, or 2 hours after the FastPass is issued, whichever is first.
- Prepare for extreme weather. You're likely encounter heat, humidity, lightning, and torrential rain, especially if you are touring during the summer months. To the extent you can, wear dry fit clothing, including dry fit socks! Not only will they keep you cooler, these pieces will dry faster in case you caught in a rainstorm or get wet on a ride.
Bring two pairs of shoes if possible so that you can rotate them if one pair gets wet. People say that you can tell time by the thunderstorms that occur in the afternoon. Sometimes you will be caught in a tropical storm as well. On several occasions our shoes were soaked.
Be prepared with ponchos. You can always buy some in the parks for under $9. Alternatively, visit Dollar Tree and buy a bunch (two ponchos for $1). These ponchos are thinner and not a sturdy as those sold in the park and thus rip a bit easier; however, they are extremely compact and easy to carry. Keep in mind that when the rain is falling "sideways" due to strong winds, a poncho might not be enough to keep you dry.
- Wear dark-colored shorts. Many of the wet rides require you to step on the seat to get in and out of the rides. What this means is that you may be sitting on another person's wet footprints. Dark colored-shorts will hide the dirt and most water spots.
- Balance the spectacle with the charm. My sister teased that she needed to keep me on a leash to slow my park-touring pace. The attention to detail that goes into the attractions quickly pulled me in different directions. Point taken. In addition to appreciating the headliners, it's also important to slow down and enjoy the charming, quieter, and unplanned attractions such as DiVine at the Animal Kingdom, Miyuki's candy art demonstration at Epcot's Japan Pavilion, or even a flash mob at the Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Performer DiVine at the Animal Kingdom
During our visit, for example, Disney/Pixar promoted the movie "Brave." We happened upon a small area set up like the Scottish Highlands. You could spin the wheel to see which clan you would be playing for, and try your hand at archery, a catapult game, and a bean bag toss. We left with free souvenir button pins and postcards. This would not have occurred if we had rushed through the park.
Touring Walt Disney World in the Rain
Your best bets for touring the resort in the rain is to stick with the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or and the Hollywood Studios. You will get wet from walking from place to place, but there are a lot of indoor attractions to keep you dry.
During one rainstorm we passed the time at Innoventions at Epcot, where there were a lot of clever exhibits so well done that we wanted to return there even when the weather was nice. You might also consider Disney Quest, although when we visited, Disney Quest was not crowded but it seemed a bit understaffed and rundown as compared to the other parks.
Avoid the water parks and Animal Kingdom in pouring rain. Not comfortable.
Passing the Time While Waiting in Line
Sometimes lines are unavoidable, and the Disney Imagineers have done a lot to reduce the pain of waiting in lines. For example, check out the children's play area and electronic honey boards at the Winnie the Pooh ride, the electronic team games in Space Mountain, and the interactive cemetery in the Haunted Mansion.
Read the Unofficial Guide on your mobile phone's Kindle app while waiting in line.
There are many tips from those who have survived the gauntlet of touring the theme parks of the Walt Disney World Resort, and these tips just scratch the surface. Review the tips and strategies and pick the ones that work best for you and your family. Enjoy!