Friday, October 17, 2003
by Mike Scopa, staff writer
Do you ever notice that every time you hear the words "Walt Disney
World" you immediately sense the word "family?" It's only natural to think
that way. Disney... kids... family.
There are many resources to turn to when you are in need of guidance
for a family-touring plan of Walt Disney World. I'm sure there are some
that even discuss how best for couples to tour WDW. What about a plan
for empty nesters?
More importantly, instead of a touring plan, why not provide guidelines
for empty nesters to design and develop general touring plans that work
towards meeting their best interests?
In this session, let's look at how the view of WDW changes for empty
nesters and offer some guidelines as to how to best approach a WDW vacation
without the kids.
No Touring Plan Here
If you are looking for a touring plan, you've come to the wrong place.
This discussion will not offer you a step-by-step, hour-by-hour tour package
of the theme parks. I am not here to dictate to you how you should organize
your vacation itinerary. Instead, the objective is to offer you some insight
and thoughts on how differently WDW may appeal to you now and why.
Along the way, we'll focus on the different touring options that await
The most important goal here is for you to determine for yourself what
is best for you and not let me or anyone else position you into a specific
So wave goodbye to the kids, and let's get started.
The Flexibility of the Empty Nester
There are some aspects of empty nest touring that you should always
keep in mind. We have touched on some of these before but it's probably
a good idea to do a bit of a refresher on them. Please note that each
of the following points blend into one another as there are obvious overlaps.
- Shrinkage This is obvious. There are only two of you, which
means you need to agree on the where, when, and what of only two people.
That can save time. What this means is that you may not have to spend
much time planning ahead and can be more spontaneous than you were as
- Commando to slug Without the kids, there is less or no pressure
to hurry and get to the parks to get in those early queues for Space
Mountain, Test Track, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Dinosaur, or other popular
and thrill attractions. You can now take a leisurely approach to your
daily park visits.
- Time compression OK, what's this? Easy. With less people, you
can do more things. There is no set formula for this. In general, a
party of two can do more things faster than a family of four. This can
range from being seated and served in a restaurant to enjoying any
- Dollar stretching This is a big one. Your vacation dollar now
may go a bit further. Fewer family members mean lower costs. This may
mean you can now do or experience parts of WDW that before was cost
Keep these main points in mind as we discuss empty nester options. I'm
sure there are more, but these are the main influences in how you will
approach your touring options.
A Kindler, Gentler Shopping Experience
When leaving the Magic Kingdom at night after a long day, what is one
of the last things you always find yourself doing before you leave the
park? That's easy; a last-minute visit to the Emporium. We have all experienced
the madness that is post-Fantasy-in-the-Sky shopping at the Emporium.
You know what I mean. Strollers hitting your ankles, lost children screaming
for moms, long lines at the registers, precious few cast members available
to help you because the ratio of cast members to guests at that time is
20,000 to 1.
Ahhh, good times.
The empty nester may find that one of the more enjoyable things to do
in the Magic Kingdom is to leisurely shop on Main Street, USA.
It is quite different to leisurely walk through all the shops on Main
Street, USA. You will find hardly anyone there during the first two hours
of the park's opening, and will have access to all the well-stocked merchandise
and plenty of cast members to help you.
Also, keep in mind that if you do need help, the cast members
are filled with more energy in the morning than at night.
One of the more relaxing things to do in Epcot is to take your time strolling
through World Showcase and take in all of the unique shops and merchandise.
This is not to say that you wouldn't have done this as a family. It's
just that number one son and daughter may have been somewhat anxious about
spending time in boring World Showcase, thus rushing you through
As an empty nester, you have the luxury of really catering to your shopping
instincts andoh by the wayyour vacation dollar has been adjusted
so maybe now you can afford that $3,000 Buddha statue in Young Feng Shangdian
or that $200 sweater in the Crown and Crest.
Disney-MGM Studios is much like the Magic Kingdom in that Hollywood Boulevard
is like Main Street, USA. The shops along Hollywood Boulevard are best
enjoyed early in the day. No need to rush down to Sunset Boulevard to
grab a Fastpass and then sprint to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
Just as in the Magic Kingdom, take your time to peruse and shop early.
The merchandise is better stocked in the morning, there are no crowds,
and the cast members are there for your help. You'll love the smell of
Keystone Clothiers in the morning.
This notion of empty nester shopping is also true of Disney's Animal
Kingdom. There are some interesting shops to explore in this theme park
and you don't want to be in a rush. The empty nester should enjoy spending
some time discovering what exactly Chester & Hester's shop has to offer.
Here's a guarantee: by taking this empty nester shopping approach, you
will discover an area in a theme park shop that you had never found before
when you toured as a large family. In the past, you may have been rushing
around in commando mode. Also, you can shop first thing in the morning
when 90 percent of the guests are running to attractions.
Discovering theme park transportation
I know it sounds a bit odd, but the idea is that as empty nesters you
may find opportunities to experience in-park transportation that you may
have either been too rushed to enjoy in the past or may not have experienced
How about taking the ferry from the Ticket and Transportation Center
to the Magic Kingdom? Children love the monorail and may not prefer this
option, as the ferry will not travel through the Contemporary Resort.
There are several Main Street vehicles that will take you from the train
station to the Castle hub. A ride up Main Street in the horseless carriage,
trolley, or fire engine is quite enjoyable; especially if you are not
traveling with fidgety children who blame you for keeping them from Bre'r
Rabbit and Splash Mountain.
How about the Walt Disney Express railroad? On a warm day, this is a
great cooling-off option. You may have enjoyed this train ride with your
family in the past and taken it to quickly get from the front of the park
to Frontierland (Splash Mountain), but now you can take it for the sheer
Let's not forget the Liberty Belle Riverboat. This excursion is
often given thumbs down by the younger set. Heck, it's boringno
dips, thrills, or chills. For the empty nester tortured by the sight of
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad just waiting to be ridden, this riverboat
ride offers another chance to soak in the the Magic Kingdom atmosphere
in a relaxed mode.
The Tomorrowland Transit Authority is usually not a big favorite of the
younger set, but it's a chance for the adults to take an enjoyable ride
around Tomorrowland, get a great view of the park, and see inside Space
If you are staying at a monorail resort or even if you intend to leave
the Magic Kingdom and head towards Epcot, why not take the monorail to
the TTC and change to the Epcot-bound monorail? The approach to Epcot
offers a breathtaking view of Future World.
While in Epcot, take advantage of the Friendship Boats to bring you across
the World Showcase Lagoonit's a great way to view World Showcase.
Maybe someday they'll bring back those double-decker buses. MGM park
transportation remains only with the Backlot Tour trams. Other than this
tourwhich is quite different now that the stunt show attraction
is under constructionthere are no other in park transportation options.
Of course in Disney's Animal Kingdom, there is the Kilamanjaro Safari
and the Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki's Planet Watch.
All these modes of theme park transportation allow all guests, not just
empty nesters, to relax and take in the theme park atmosphere. They offer
a break from the hustle and bustle often associated with theme park touring.
Have you ever come home after a WDW family vacation only to realize that
you never got a chance to check out a certain area or an attraction in
a theme park? Have you ever figured out why and how this phenomenon happened?
It's simple. I call it attraction distraction.
My theory is that while in Orlando, you become so caught up in the traditional
way of touring with the family that your mind is distracted from thoughts
of doing that something different. Sure, you may be able to do it, but
not all the time.
Most of the time, this distraction is caused by pressure to do the popular
attractionseither before the crowds build, or as many times as possible.
Empty nesters may be able to avoid attraction distraction and finally
check out those nooks and crannies that are waiting to be discovered.
Here are just a few of those areas that may have escaped many guests
in the past.
- The Town Square Exposition Hall offers you a chance to get away from
the crowd and explore some interesting exhibits, some early Disney cartoons,
and some photo opportunities. It's best to explore this during the first
hour of park operation. During an initial empty nester experience here,
I encountered one of the seven dwarfs all to myself. This year I actually
had a photo opportunity with Daisy Duck.
- An overlooked attraction is the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. It's
usually a one-time visit to this attraction. When was the last time
you visited this attraction and took your time to look at what the Imagineers
- Epcot offers so much in the way of relaxing empty nest touring.
The three areas that most people may pass by without giving quality
time to are the Stave Church at the Norway pavilion, the miniature train
set-up near Germany, and the beautiful gardens near the Canada pavilion.
Japan also offers some interesting exhibits.
- Those Future World pavilions such as Living Seas and Wonders of Life
cater to empty nest touring as you can spend some quality leisure
time exploring these pavilions, take in some interesting sites, and
not worry about that Test Track Fastpass time.
- MGM Studios offers great entertainment in Streetmosphere. Hollywood
Boulevard is a great place to relax and enjoy the atmosphere that this
theme park provides. Streetmosphere entertainment is a great way to
enjoy some leisure time in MGM Studios.
- Other areas in MGM Studios for empty nest touring include the handprints
in front of the Great Movie Ride, One Man's Dream, and of course the
back lot and animation Tour.
- Disney's Animal Kingdom is a great theme park for empty nest touring.
The Maharajah Jungle Trek, Kilamanjaro Safari, and Pangani Forest Exploration
Trail allow you to enjoy these areas at your own leisurely pace. Don't
miss a very overlooked attraction called Flights of Wonder.
These are just a slight handful of the many places which you may have
visited in the past but not had enough time to fully explore to your heart's
content. Now you have the time and the opportunity as an empty nester.
Eating for Two
Of course, your total WDW vacation budget drops when you go from full
family touring to empty nest touring. With that comes the opportunity
to try those higher-tiered restaurants that you just couldn't swing as
a family. Also, your children may be picky eaters who didn't care to try
Moroccan food, eat at a restaurant called Narcoosee's, or even dine while
fish looked over their shoulder.
Now you have the flexibility to enjoy those dining establishments you've
always wanted to try. And dinner for two is much more palatable to the
wallet than dinner for four.
Let's not forget that it's easier to secure a priority seating for two
than for a larger number. Here's a tip: Enter (407) 939-3463 into your
cell phone's memory. It's the number for priority seating. Use it when
you want to make arrangements at a restaurant, especially if you are in
the theme park where the restaurant is located. This will save you time
when you get to the restaurant, especially if there is a line waiting
A Fresh Outlook
Hopefully, this two-part discussion has helped in pointing out how different
empty nest touring can be compared to family touring in the Walt Disney
We covered only the parks, and there's a lot more to empty-nest touring
than just the parks. Every WDW vacation has it's own unique personality
and your first empty nest visit will bring with it a new outlook on the
Walt Disney World Resort.
Epcot's 20-Year Struggle.
Come meet Mike Scopa at the Mousefest 2003 in Orlando on Saturday, December
6. For more information on Mousefest 2003 go to the MouseFest Meet and
Greet Web page (link).