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.