Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.


I’ve spent the last few days hanging around on the MousePad discussion forums posting a few thoughts here and there, but mostly just observing and soaking in other reader’s thoughts and postings. I’m frequently on several different sites that are centered on particular interests or passions of mine. When you visit any fan-based website, you’re certain to come away with plenty of information. In my case, whether it’s the Springsteen fans, the Grateful Dead fans, the skiers and surfers or the Disneyphiles, the one thing you’re guaranteed to come away with besides information…is opinions.

The Internet allows anyone to proclaim himself or herself an expert and then allows that self-ordained expert a free forum to let the world hear what they have to say. There is no other existing group of opinions larger or more expansive than those collected on the Internet. And one of the largest and most opinionated groups of fans exists right here in the Disney online universe. I should know. I’ve been a part of it for many years now. As a writer, I try to always back up my opinions with as much information as possible. I’ve traveled to Walt Disney World enough now to be able to confidently hand out advice to readers and others looking to plan their dream visits to the most magical place on Earth. My opinions are fact based, but they are most definitely my opinions.

I can be swayed on many things in life. I’ll try anything once and make my decision afterwards. But, as with most folks, there are just certain things that I feel to be true that I just don’t feel the need to waver on. String beans are heinous and deserve no place on my dinner plate. The ’60s and ’70s produced the greatest rock music that will ever be heard by anyone. New York has the best pizza and bagels on the planet. Less is almost always in fact more, and the following are my Top 5 Unwavering Opinions About Walt Disney World.

5 – Downtown Disney is Very Un-Disney

This is as close as I prefer to get to Downtown Disney. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I’ll never forget the first time we arrived at Downtown Disney. A good and trusted friend had suggested dining at Portobello Yacht Club for dinner. My wife and 4-year-old daughter made an early reservation and figured we’d stroll through the dining and shopping complex afterwards and check things out.

After a fantastic dinner, we were about to start exploring when my precious daughter begged for a stroller. She had gotten used to the big Disney strollers and we had gotten used to having her in one, so I left them on a bench in front of Portobello and set out to find a stroller. Crossing over onto Pleasure Island my head nearly exploded. Was that a shot-girl? Why is it so loud and obnoxious here? It’s not very magical at all…is it? I couldn’t wait to leave.

Once I got the stroller and crossed back over the island, we embarked on a walk around the shopping complex. Within minutes we wanted to run away screaming. It seemed to be the antithesis of the wonderful, magical getaway that we had been completely wrapped up in all week. It was way too crowded, way too loud and way too commercial. We’re from New York, if I want to go to Planet Hollywood, I’ll go to Times Square. We live on Long Island. If I want shopping, I can go to the mall. We quickly left and I’ve only been back twice in 10 years and always feel the same way pretty much upon arrival, “Get me out of here!”

4 – The Dining Plan Is Not Worth It

No dining plan is required to dig into this pizza at Via Napoli in Epcot's Italy pavillion. Photo by Vance Cope.

I say this after only using the plan once…and that time it was for free. I can’t try to argue that free meals for our 10-day trip didn’t save us a boatload of money. It certainly did. But, every plan we made on that trip hinged on dining reservations and when and where we were eating. I got tired of figuring out how many snacks we had left. I got tired of stuffing carrot cakes into the fridge back in the hotel room. I got tired of eating.

Dining out and the Disney restaurants are absolutely a big part of your Walt Disney World trip, but you can still enjoy them and not take part in the Dining Plan. I’ve turned it down every year since, even for free. I’d rather get a better deal on my room, than have free food and you can’t do both. Let’s see, 40% off a room at the Polynesian, or free dining? Not even a choice there. I’ll see you at the volcano pool with the snack I paid for myself.

3 – Don’t Rent a Car. Use Disney Transportation

The newest Disney buses. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Once again, I find this to be a no-brainer. I hear people complain about the Disney transportation system, and I will admit, we have experienced a glitch or a long wait here and there. However, considering how many guests they transport on any given day, the Walt Disney World Transportation System is overwhelmingly efficient and is definitely a part of the whole experience.

Yes, Disney. You can pick me up and drive me to the airport. And yes, once on your property, you can transport me in your buses, boats and monorails wherever I need to go. The thought of gassing up and getting into a car while I’m down there is just abhorrent. I can drive at home. I go down there to get away and with all of the transportation possibilities offered; I can’t imagine why anyone would have their own car.

2- Park Hoppers Are The Only Way To Go

Morning on Main Street. Photo by Loree Tachell.

I’ve had disagreements with people that say the Park Hopper option added to your ticket isn’t worth the money. I couldn’t disagree more. The flexibility that the Park Hoppers afford to guests only enhances the whole experience. Here’s a perfect Walt Disney World day. Getting to the Magic Kingdom at opening, spending a great first half of the day exploring and having fun, then taking a break midday back at the resort pool. Afterwards dinner is at Epcot, then a stroll around World Showcase and our favorite spot for Illuminations. The Park Hopper makes that perfect day possible. We’ve never gone without them and I can’t imagine we ever will.

Nighttime at Epcot. Photo by Steve Russo.

1 – Staying On Property Is Essential

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort. Photo by Chris Barry.

Once again, this is something that’s not up for discussion with me. Staying off-property is not a Walt Disney World vacation. You might be visiting Walt Disney World while you’re in an off-property hotel, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting the full Walt Disney World experience. Crossing through the arches onto Disney’s property is like crossing into another world.

It’s a world devoid of strip malls and billboards. There’s no CVS and no Wal-Mart. There are no electrical and phone wires hanging overhead. The street signs are all different. These may seem like small things, but trust me when I say that they all come together to create the feeling that you’ve stepped into a different place. The real world is out there somewhere…just not here. Once I cross that threshold, I don’t want to leave. That’s the whole point.

Yes, Walt wanted more control over things when he sought to build his next vacation kingdom in Florida. And yes, he also wanted you to stay on his property and spend your money on his property rather than elsewhere. But he also wanted you to escape your everyday life and enter into a completely different world for your stay: A stay where everything and anything is possible.

Sunset at Disney's Polynesian Resort. Photo by Steve Russo.

Staying at a Disney resort is more than just about the extra magic hours and getting packages delivered to your room. Those are fringe benefits. The real reason is to be inside the bubble. Inside that bubble, the air seems cleaner and people seem happier. It’s hard to explain, but I don’t think you can get the same feeling in a chain hotel on International Drive.

As I stated in the beginning of this article, these are just my opinions. Take what you read here and apply it to yourself when you’re planning a Walt Disney World trip. I will admit that I most definitely have not tried both sides of everything I discussed here. For example, I have not in fact stayed in an off-property hotel and went to the Disney parks. I have spent time in a Universal resort and enjoyed their parks and I spent two nights at the Nickelodeon Suites at the bequest of my sons. On that leg of the trip we stayed at Nick the whole time. In the end though, I couldn’t imagine staying there, going to the Magic Kingdom for the day and then coming back…there. No way. It just wouldn’t be the same and I don’t see the need to stay off property. Getting a good deal at a Disney hotel is not as hard as it seems, especially when you factor in all that you’re getting in return.

Whether it’s how good or bad the latest Springsteen album is, or which mountain in Vermont has the best tree skiing, or whether or not 1980 is an overlooked year for Grateful Dead concerts (It is, trust me.) I’m full of opinions when it comes to things that I’m passionate about.

Walt Disney World is certainly a passion of mine, and it comes as as no surprise that I have some strong opinions about it. I can’t help it. When something’s important enough to you, you develop strong feelings and with strong feelings come strong opinions. I can be swayed on which is the best restaurant on the monorail loop or where the best place is to watch Illuminations, or whether or not giant turkey legs are a snack or a meal. But, these 5 I’m pretty solid on.

How about you? Do you agree with my Top 5, or do you have an unwavering Walt Disney World opinion of your own? As usual, I’d like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below; let me hear your thoughts and I’ll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.


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Chris Barry lives on Long Island in New York with his wife and three kids. He has had a lifelong love of cartoons, comics and animation. Those who know him well say he has truly, "earned his Disney PhD." Chris has been involved with Television Production for 20 years and began his career working with The Muppets at Jim Henson Productions in NYC. Currently teaching TV Production to high school students, Chris has been writing about many different facets of The Walt Disney Company for several years now.