We're all guilty. We approach someone who has just returned from Walt Disney World and ask the question, "So… how was the vacation?" That's what we ask aloud but deep down you know you're really asking: "So… how awesome was it, huh?"
Then… we're absolutely crushed when the reply is "Not so good." What? How can someone not have a great time at the happiest place on Earth? Then they explain why they didn't have a good time. The weather was too hot or too cold. The parks were crowded and the lines were too long. The restaurants were all booked and the food was just OK. The resort wasn't to their liking. This is particularly disturbing when this trip was their "once in a lifetime" visit—or will become their only visit because the experience was not pleasant.
I've quizzed folks that have had a less than stellar time at Walt Disney World, and with very few exceptions, the reasons come down to a lack of planning. They just didn't do the research and/or listen to the advice that would have made their vacation more pleasurable. It amazes me that people will spend thousands of dollars for several days at a deluxe resort and complain that the queues were too long when they got to the Magic Kingdom at 11:00 a.m. on Christmas day.
Well, it bothers me when folks malign my favorite vacation spot; so in an effort to help first (and second, and third…) timers avoid the pitfalls that can ruin a Walt Disney World stay, I offer the following checklist of don'ts: what I refer to as the Seven Deadly Sins of Walt Disney World Vacation Planning. Feel free to embellish the list and share as needed.
Sin # 1 – Go at the Wrong Time
We're all slaves to time, our jobs, and our family. Your vacation might be restricted to periods when school is out, the "slow season" for your particular business, or any other specific time dictated by work, family commitments, etc. All I suggest is you do the research necessary to avoid unwanted surprises. What kind of surprises?
If you've done the research, it shouldn't be news to you that Florida is hot and humid in the summer or that Christmas week (or the week around Easter or Independence Day) is very crowded. You might also learn that winter temperatures can be volatile as in t-shirts and shorts one day, jeans and sweatshirts the next. Do the research so you're not surprised when you learn you're sharing your resort with a few thousand Pop Warner football players or, as I once was, surprised to learn my resort was home to 3,000 13–15-year-old cheerleaders (yes, that happened to me, and while a 14-year-old boy might have been in hog heaven, me—not so much).
Sin # 2 – Don't Reserve Disney's Magical Express…
… or any other transportation option. Until we perfect the particle beam accelerator, there is a finite number of ways to transport you from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World: rental car, taxi or Town Car service, and Disney's Magical Express are among them. It amazes me when folks will fly into Orlando and then decide how they're going to get to Disney property.
There have been numerous occurrences of people showing up at the Magical Express counter without a reservation. I believe Disney will bend over backwards to transport these folks but there will, naturally, be some delay. Magical Express buses visit multiple resorts and space on any given bus may be at a premium. Save yourself the time and the aggravation and plan your transportation in advance—far enough in advance to ensure that you'll receive those yellow luggage tags a few weeks before your trip.
There was a story floating around (and it may be urban legend) of the couple that read about Disney's Magical Express and how they will transport you free of charge to your resort hotel. They read further that Disney will intercept your luggage and it will magically appear in your resort room. They neglected the part about actually registering for this service. I'm betting they were surprised.
Sin # 3 – Stay in the Wrong Resort
Disney's resorts run from the extensive theming of the Art of Animation and Pop Century to the reserved elegance of the Yacht Club. We all have a budget and just because you can afford the Grand Floridian doesn't mean you'll be happy there. Ask yourself, and your traveling companions, "What are the most important features of a resort?" Do you plan to spend significant time there or will it be just a place to sleep and shower? Will you spend a lot of time in the pool? Is elaborate theming important or would you prefer something more conservative? Do you require a food court? A table service restaurant? Is location important as in, "should it be on the monorail?" When you've decided upon the criteria most important to you, you'll be able to make the appropriate choice.
Sin # 4 – Don't Make Advance Dining Reservations
First, let me say that you can spend a week in Walt Disney World without a dining reservation and not go hungry. There are enough food courts, counter service restaurants and walk-up opportunities to allow survival.
Yes, making dining reservations 180 days in advance is a pain but… if you absolutely, positively must have dinner at Le Cellier Steakhouse or your vacation is ruined, you will likely require a reservation.
There are times when you can be seated as a walk-up but if you want to dine at the more popular restaurants, or if you'll be there during a more crowded season, it's to your advantage to make Advance Dining Reservations.
Sin # 5 – Pay No Attention to Extra Magic Hours
Resort guests will receive early or extended admission to specific theme parks on specific days. You should take advantage of this benefit. Getting into the Magic Kingdom, as an example, one hour early means you can experience several of the most popular attractions before the park even hints of being crowded.
Likewise, you can take advantage of three extra evening hours to hit the big rides after the smaller children and a few of the seniors (like me) have tucked themselves in back at the resort. It's also the rare opportunity to visit Disney's Animal Kingdom after sunset when the park takes on a very different look and feel.
Even if you choose not to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, being aware of them can help you avoid parks that might become more crowded during the mid-morning or late evening hours. A favorite touring tip of mine is to begin the day in the park that hosted Extra Magic Hours on the previous day.
Sin # 6 – Ignore Park Openings
The best piece of advice I give to first-timers is to be at the turnstiles at park opening. I know it may be a hassle getting out of your room early while on vacation but this advice works in all seasons and on all days of the week—regardless of crowd levels. Human nature has taught us that people on vacation dislike rising early. They'd much rather sleep in, get ready at a leisurely pace, enjoy breakfast at the resort and then visit a park. That will get them there mid- to late-morning and I can guarantee you that's when each park begins to get crowded and queues become lengthy.
There are very few exceptions to this (Toy Story Midway Mania is one), but as a general rule, if you're there for park opening you'll be able to experience several of the more popular attractions well before the crowds hit—and if you're lucky, you might be able to squeeze in multiple rides.
If sleeping in and enjoying that leisurely breakfast is your preference, don't let me or anyone else discourage you. Just be aware that you'll be arriving at the parks at or near their most crowded time of day.
Sin # 7 – Ignore Fastpass
Fastpass has seemingly been around forever but I'm continually amazed at the numbers of people who are unaware of it or don't understand how it works. I can recall quickly walking through the Fastpass queue at Kilimanjaro Safari, walking past scores of folks at a standstill in the Standby queue, when I overheard this gem from two women I passed:
Woman # 1: "Where are those people going?"
Woman # 2: "Oh, that's the Fasttrack (sic) system. I don't know how much it costs but you get to ride everything without waiting."
Makes you want to scream, doesn't it?
Fastpass can be your friend and it's simple (and free) to use. Personally, I like to draw the line at 20 minutes for a Standby queue—anything longer than that and I'll get a Fastpass and return later.
Well, that's my list of things that can destroy a Walt Disney World vacation. I'm certain there are others and I'd love to hear yours.
Attention to these items certainly won't guarantee a problem-free vacation but I think it's an excellent start. If nothing else, these bits and pieces might serve as a checklist for those embarking on their first, second or maybe that "once in a lifetime" trip to the World. I believe if they do a little bit of research into each of these items, they can't help but increase their chances of a great time.
As always… thanks for reading.