Monday, May 19, 2014

What I Learned on our Disney Trip

We just returned from five nights in Disney World. My parents wanted to take the Grape, and my dad talked about the trip in abstract, sometime-in-the-future form so frequently that I had to tell him he had a choice: 1. Stop talking about it/whipping the Grape into a frenzy, or 2. Book the trip.

He elected to book the trip.

The Grape, quite literally, had the time of his life.

R. and I learned a few things that I thought I'd share, in case any of you are planning to visit the Magical Mouse Empire.

1. Pull the kids out of school and go during a "low crowd volume week."


There are several blogs devoted to charting crowd flow at Disney parks. We used this one. Some of his tips veer towards intense (his view is you must do every attraction), but I thought his tips on the crowd calendar looked spot on. We picked a "lowest volume" week, and cross referenced to avoid hurricane season and other undesirable weather trends.

I'm so glad we did. Our longest wait was twenty minutes, for Spaceship Earth, and we walked onto most rides. Even so, the parks felt busy, and the entrances were crowded. So much so that I don't ever want to see a high volume week.

The other huge plus of a low volume week is that your kid can go on favorite rides many times. If your child is anything like the Grape, i.e. pensive and suspicious, s/he won't get a lot out of the first whirl on any ride. It's great to re-visit favorites without queuing.

Potential pitfall: We went on Small World eight times. Eight is a lot.

2. Work the Fast Pass system. Figure out your top three priorities for each day and reserve fast passes for them.

A friend passed along another helpful nugget regarding Fast Passes: If you have a Fast Pass for an attraction with a short (i.e. ten minute) wait, switch the Fast Pass to another attraction. One important caveat: When using the app, there's no guarantee that when you change the fast pass attraction, you'll get your replacement selection in your original time slot. So consider your timing for the day before making changes.

3. Figure out your fourth through sixth priorities, for which you won't have Fast Passes, and do those as soon as the park opens. 

Example: We had a Fast Pass for Winnie the Pooh from 9 to 10 a.m. our last morning, but couldn't get Fast Pass for Peter Pan, which was one of the Grape's favorite things. We went straight to Peter Pan as soon as the Magic Kingdom opened at 9, then rode Small World and the carousel, then used our Fast Pass for Winnie around 9:35.

4. Measure your kid before you book the trip. The cutoff for *most* rides is forty inches. A few are even taller.

5. You need dinner reservations, and reservations for any character dining you wish to do. They're not kidding about this. Unless you really enjoy waiting a long time with a hungry, tired child. You also have to accept at the outset that the food in Disney is expensive for what it is.

This was tough for me to grasp, since I don't know weeks in advance, what and when I wish to eat. But you have to suck it up and reserve tables. If anyone knows a reliable workaround, I'd love to hear about it.

6. They get you on admission for days one through five, but if you want to stay longer, days six through ten are a huge bargain.

7. Register the Disney tickets for each member of your party prior to arrival, so you can book the Fast Passes in advance through the app.

8. If your child is princess obsessed, you MUST Fast Pass the Princess meet and greet. Even during our low crowd volume week, the stand by wait time to meet Princess Elsa veered close to FOUR HOURS(?!?!). No wait time in any park came close.

9. The only place in the Magic Kingdom that serves adult beverages is the Be Our Guest Restaurant. Shockingly, they are booked up months in advance.

The other parks serve wine and beer and even cocktails at various locations. You can even carry a roadie around the Epcot.

10. Disney excels at moving people, and their parks and transit system are remarkably clean when you consider the traffic. I doubt there's a cleaner amusement park anywhere in the world.

11. If you're accustomed to walking, be prepared to see lots of folks who aren't, because it will annoy you, and there's nothing you can do about it.

We saw four, five, six, seven, and eight year olds, and possibly even older kids, in strollers(?!?!)

Yet we wonder why so many American kids are obese. A lot of the strollers are also piloted by adults who clearly don't drive strollers on a daily basis, and are therefore a menace on the sidewalks, monorails, buses, etc.

We also saw a stunning number of able bodied adults on motorized scooters.  The Magic Kingdom is only 107 acres. Even the much larger Epcot park is still measured in acres instead of miles (it's 300 acres).

I am delighted that Disney is handicap accessible, because it makes the experience available to those with physical challenges.

But the number of people blatantly abusing the system bothered me.

12. For most adults, Disney World is more trip than vacation. It's all about the kids. You will probably come home feeling tired and over stimulated, but your kid will have a ball, and beg to visit again.


  1. Really great tips! It always shocks me how many people insist on going during the busy times. Off peak only for us, please! One thing to note - just because an adult looks able-bodied, doesn't mean they are. I am a healthy adult in my 30s and I was BEAT and my feet ached at the end of every day, after 12+ hours of almost nonstop standing and walking. If I had a bad knee, or ankle, or any sort of non-obvious health condition that was even slightly aggravated by walking/standing for long periods of time, Disney would be impossible. I wouldn't assume that anyone using a scooter is able-bodied and lazy - even if you watch them get up and walk, they may be able to do so for a short time only.

    1. Thank you for raising an important point: All physical handicaps are not readily visible. I share your impulse to give people the benefit of the doubt, and indeed many scooter riders may be recovering from surgery, or have debilitating spinal problems, etc.

      That said, I have two other points I probably should have added to the post above.

      1. Disney had to change its policy regarding disabled guests after this story regarding *gross* abuse of the system broke in late 2013:

      After the policy change, those with scooters/wheelchairs no longer get immediate access to attractions. Instead they receive a timed return ticket based on the posted wait time.

      2. During our five day stay, I saw more than one instance of both:

      a youngish couple bickering over whose "turn" it was to ride the motorized scooter, and

      entire families, including teenage kids, on the motorized scooters. And the teenagers were having way more fun *driving the mobility devices* than a child with an actual handicap, who uses a chair, all day every day, would.

  2. We went the last week of April first week of May. I also did my research ahead of time and your tips are right on the mark. Longest wait we had was 10-15 minutes but we used our fast passes to our advantage. If we had a fast pass and it had less then 15 minutes we moved to for later that evening. We changed ours daily based on the line waits. The weather was great and the Polynesian was wonderful, great pool for our 7 yr old and we could watch the fireworks and water parade from the pool. The amount of scooters were unbelievable, and yes there seemed to be some abuse going on. My 7 yr old walked the entire time with little or no complaining, I believe he was just so engrossed it didn't even phase him. The transportation was great and easy to manage. The only hickup we had with transportation was trying to go from Typhoon lagoon to downtown Disney, that was a pain. We did not have dinner reservations every night before hand but we did reserve our Character dinners before we went. The only nights for dinner we reserved the night before but did miss out on the great hot spots. I will definitely do more dinner reservations next time. We did not utilize the Hopper pass like I thought we would not sure I would buy that option again. We did the memory maker photo pass and I am not sure that I would do that again either. Overall great trip and I couldn't agree more with your helpful tips.

    1. You picked our first choice week! Evidently a great, nearly ideal, time to go, but it didn't work out for us this year, due to calendar conflicts.

      I don't even know what the Memory Maker Pass is; will need to look that up. We did use the Park Hopper option on three of our five days, so I think that was worthwhile for our family.

  3. These are great tips! We would like to take our kids . . . but then we kept having kids and now the youngest is too young and the oldest is to old. Oops!

    1. I'm not so sure you're off the hook yet. :)
      I think the "sweet spot" for the Magic Kingdom opens at late four and runs through elementary. The other parks have more for older kids and teens. We never even made it to the Disney Hollywood Studios Park, even though it was included in our passes. I figured the Grape would be scared of almost everything there.

      I know people haul babies and toddlers (without older siblings) around Disney, but in my view, that's a tremendous waste of money. It's expensive. Go when the kids stand a chance of remembering the trip.