How to Avoid Rookie Mistakes at Disney World
A trip to a Disney theme park can go very right or frustratingly wrong. The reality is that some people have such a terrible time that they never go back. As a Disney fanatic, that’s incredibly frustrating to me, because I know how avoidable it is.
I’ve been in the same situation as many of you. I’ve spent years away from the park, only to return and realize how much it’s changed. I’ve made lousy choices that led to frustrating moments in the parks, and I’d like to help you avoid doing the same. Here are a few rookie mistakes about Disney plus a few tips on how to avoid them.
Showing Up Fashionably Late
Disney theme parks have a unique behavioral curve. While the gates open at 9 a.m. on most days, you won’t fight massive crowds at this time of day. Yes, the admission lines are crowded because that’s where Disney funnels its guests. Once you’re inside, however, you’ll notice that everyone goes their separate ways. The early morning line queues aren’t bad at all.
After a couple of hours, Disney starts to perk up. By lunchtime, the parks are crowded, and the afternoon is the peak time for crowd traffic. That’s the worst part of the day since lines are long, and the Florida sun is shining down on you. You’ll feel hot, sweaty, and claustrophobic if you don’t anticipate this behavior.
The problem is that you’re on vacation. Most of us have a tendency to sleep in and lounge around the hotel room for a couple of hours before starting the day. At Disney, the outcome of such behavior is that you show up at the parks at the same time as everyone else. You’ll then start to feel pressured that you haven’t done enough during the day, and so you’ll willingly wait in long lines and fight huge crowds to do the most popular activities. It’s basic human nature, and it happens hundreds if not thousands a time a day at each Disney gate.
Here’s the most challenging pro tip that I’ll give you today. Set your alarm clock when you’re staying at a Disney resort. Plan to get up in time that you’re ready to board Disney transportation half an hour prior to the park’s opening. You’ll have to wait a few minutes for a bus/boat, and then you’ll need to ride to the park. Once you’re there, Disney’s either open or close enough that they’re ready to scan your Magic Band.
By showing up at what’s colloquially known as Rope Drop, you’ll enjoy a couple of hours of small lines and low crowds. It’s a benefit of being an early riser at Disney. Once you eat lunch, bail on the park and head back to your hotel for a few hours. You’ll avoid the huge crowds while giving your family a chance to rejuvenate after a busy morning. This one strategy will dramatically reduce your vacation stress.
Waiting an Hour to Eat
More than 20 million people visited Magic Kingdom last year, and that’s only one of the four gates at Walt Disney World. Literally hundreds of thousands of people are at the parks at the same time as you. What’s the one thing you all have in common? You must eat.
Stating the obvious, Disney restaurants are often crowded. Many years ago, a Disney park planner invented a clever solution. That cast member introduced Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs), a way for people to guarantee that they have a table at the most coveted restaurants at Walt Disney World.
What does this mean for Disney rookies? Those same coveted restaurants don’t have walk-up seating available on many days. To wit, we once got turned down for a table at a Table Service restaurant in our hotel once on a rainy evening. We couldn’t travel to our intended ADR and tried to improvise. A Disney cast member flat out said no, which basically never happens. And this happened on my wife’s birthday! She was wearing the celebration button and everything.
Once a Disney restaurant is booked, there’s nothing a cast member can do to seat you. Even if there is space, you’ll have to wait in line with everyone else. That will take half an hour or more, and then the meal will take at least an hour. You’ve just wasted valuable park time trying to get a meal.
The pro tip to avoid this one is obvious. The ADR article above details the program and how it works. You should read it and others like it and then book tables in advance. Alternately, use the My Disney Experience app’s Dining section to see which restaurants have tables available when you’re hungry. Also remember the Mobile Order option. It’s a new service Disney introduced in May of 2017 that streamlines the meal process.
Your Feet Hurt, Your Back Hurts, Everything Hurts
You’ll do a lot of walking at Walt Disney World. How much you notice it depends on how well you plan. If you randomly pick your FastPasses at opposite ends of the parks, you’ll have to crisscross lots of territory as a punishment for your mistakes. That’s especially problematic at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which has the largest distances between its themed lands.
What happens if a person walks too much? Well, take it from me. Your body will let you know. I’ve had my ankles swell, my feet cramp so bad I could only walk on two toes, and shooting pains in my back. All of it was avoidable if I’d just been smarter. Thankfully, I learned how to manage my body better over multiple trips.
The most important tips involve your shoes. You need to dress for comfort, not style. Before you pack, take a few moments to decide which pair(s) of shoes are the most comfortable. Put those in your suitcase and nothing else. You don’t want to be tempted to make a mistake once you’re ready to leave for the parks. Also, do NOT wear new shoes. You’ll develop blisters as you break them in, which will turn a visit to the Most Magical Place on Earth into something much less enjoyable.
Also, Research a bit before you book your FastPasses. Pull up park maps for each gate at Walt Disney World. Your goal is to avoid scheduling rides that are far apart.
For example, Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are all Magic Kingdom attractions that could have an hour’s wait or longer. You’d like FastPasses for each one, but the order you choose is important. Peter Pan’s Flight and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are near one another. You should book them together. Otherwise, you might have to start at Fantasyland for Peter Pan’s Flight, walk over to Adventureland for Jungle Cruise, and then return to Fantasyland for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. That’s half a mile of walking you can easily avoid simply by checking first. A few minutes of forethought can turn a day at a Disney theme park into a much more enjoyable experience.
You’ve probably heard from a friend that you can save a lot of money staying offsite. There’s some cheap hotel or condo in the area that will let you stay for a week for a cheap price. Let me be clear on this point. If you do this, you’ll get what you pay for.
The arrival of Walt Disney World led to a booming short-term housing industry in the greater Orlando area. The catch is that none of the locations can match what a Disney resort has to offer.
When you stay onsite at Disney, you’ll enjoy a themed resort with exquisite detailing that goes all the way into your room. At Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, you’ll feel like you’ve taken a romantic vacation to the South Pacific. At Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, you’ll believe that you’ve stepped back in time to the early 20th century, back when all the action took place on the piers by the sea.
More importantly, you’ll receive special benefits as a Disney guest. I’ll explore these in full detail in an article next month. Quickly, what you need to know about Disney resort stays is that you receive Extra Magic Hours (EMHs) at the parks. Each day, at least one Walt Disney World gate will open an hour early or an hour late. The only people who can ride the attractions during these EMHs are guests staying onsite. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy Disney without fighting the crowds.
With regards to planning, which you now appreciate is crucial at Disney, the company offers two other benefits to guests staying onsite. You’ll get a longer FastPass window, as you can book 60 days prior to your trip. That extra time is often the difference in getting a FastPass to the most popular attractions such as Avatar Flight of Passage and Frozen Ever After.
Similarly, you’ll get a bonus with ADRs. You can book 180 days early just like anyone else, but you can add all the other days when you’re staying at Disney. Let’s say that you’re staying for six nights. Your ADR window five days longer than anyone else’s. This gives you a better chance at the most difficult ADRs such as Be Our Guest and Chef Mickey’s.
I can and will enumerate all the other benefits of staying onsite at a later date. All I need to say for now is that when people stay at non-Disney resorts and condos at Walt Disney World, they inevitably regret it. So many Disney horror stories begin with, “Our first mistake was that we didn’t stay at Disney…”
These are four general mistakes about visiting Disney theme parks and how to avoid them. Over the next few months, we’ll also chronicle specific ones that you can make at each individual gate at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Our goal is to make you as informed as possible prior to each visit. It’s almost impossible to have a bad trip to a Disney theme park just as long as you’re appropriately prepared.
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