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Practical tips for Walt Disney World travel
Solo Touring in Walt Disney World
Visiting by yourself doesn't mean you have to feel lonely
Friday, July 2, 2004
Recently, Ed Badger, Webmaster for the Badger Disney Countdown Page (link), lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. I knew Ed for many years and spent many hours talking Disney with this kind-hearted man. Ed was a pure Disneyholic and a frequent participant at the rec.arts.disney.parks gatherings. He will be missed. This article is dedicated to Ed and is written in the spirit, as Ed would have liked it.
I'm sure many of you reading this have enjoyed great family fun at Walt Disney World. However, what if you were to visit Walt Disney World without family or friends? Maybe that should read, What if you had the opportunity to go on a solo trip to Walt Disney World? Perhaps you have a business trip that takes you close to the resort, or you are attending a convention nearby. If so would you be prepared for such a different kind of Walt Disney World vacation?
On a recent trip to Walt Disney World, I experienced what it was like to visit the Happiest Place on Earth by myself, and discovered some things about solo touring I would have never imagined had I not experienced them myself.
It had been a long time since I had flown solo, and I had never flown to Orlando without my wife or children. Imagine sitting down at the gate while waiting for your plane to arrive and all of a sudden it hits you. Nature calls. In the past this wasn't a big deal. I would turn to my wife and say, Honey, watch my stuff! On this trip, I had my usual stuff but no Honey, so the stuff came with me. Stuff means all the papers; books, cameras, papers and all carry-on stuff. On this trip, me and my stuff became inseparable.
When you are waiting for your plane, do you ever check out all those who are waiting along with you? Probably not, unless you are flying solo. That changes everything because you then must look for a potential flight buddy who you will sit with on your flight (for airlines such as Southwest, which does not assign seats).
I was looking for a few candidates. Actually I was hoping that I'd find someone I knew, but no luck. It was the usual crowd: some families, couples, young adults, some elderly people, and a few other solo-ites . I thought my best bet would be to find someone who looked very much like a Disney fan. Then I thought, Hey, all these people are flying to Orlando. The majority should be Disney fans. I felt pretty good about my chances. I did luck out as I sat with a family going down for their annual trek to Orlando. We got along famously. Hey, this solo stuff isn't so bad.
When flying with my wife or family, our arrival in Orlando triggers a routine in which I get the rental car and they get the baggage. It was a dynamic approach to saving time. For this trip I had to go the sequential route: first stop was baggage claim, then the rental car counter.
As I walked towards the parking garage to pick up my car, I realized that this would be my first experience in the no negotiations aspect of solo touring. As I approached the fleet of cars from which I would choose my chariot, I thought, Hmmm, silver, white (yawn), hey, red, that's what I'm talkin' about. No negotiation necessary. No asking the family which color they prefer.
Before I started the car, I made sure I had all my toll currency ready. I would not have my wife sitting next to me ready to hand me the toll.
Checking in to your Walt Disney World resort is always an exciting time. Regardless of whether it was the first or the 21st visit to a resort, my family always had beaming faces waiting to see our room. Not this time. No beaming faces. It was just me checking in to the economical Pop Century Resort.
When you check in solo, the cast member might asked you if you expect to have another person in your room at any time during your stay. That's what I was asked. When I heard that question, I thought, I have the room all to myself. That means I can watch whichever of the gazillion Walt Disney World stations they are showing on the resort network... YES!
It was somewhat strange to enter the room all by myself. Which bed should I sleep in? Which drawer should I use for my clothes? After a quick change into Orlando garb, a.k.a. shorts, I headed out for the Magic Kingdom. As I pulled into the Magic Kingdom parking lot, I found myself getting excited. I parked the car and called my wife on my cell phone. As I was talking to her, I walked towards the Ticket and Transportation Center (TCC). Just when I was about to cross over the road, I said, Oops. What's wrong? she asked. Erh, I didn't noticed where I parked. That was something I know my wife Carol would have remembered to do.
It was another lesson in solo touring. Those trip responsibilities that are normally handled by someone else in your group now fall upon your shoulders. Carol always took note as to where we parked, but for this trip, I had that responsibility.
I also had to make sure I would not lock myself out of my room. There's no one to turn to and ask to use his or her key card. Here's a tip: Do not leave your room unless you are holding your key card in your hand. Same thing with your car keys. That worked well for me.
As I approached the TTC, I realized once again that the most significant aspect of a solo trip to Walt Disney World is that there are no negotiations necessary. When people travel together, they decide togetheror should I say, they negotiate with one another and compromise. For this trip, the decision-making process is quick. No discussions. No negotiations. No deals.
Some trip aspects that enter into this area of negotiation might include:
When to start and end the day Not all families are in synch. Only some may be early birds, and they may or may not have to encourage others to start the day early. How about deciding how long to stay in the parks? If you travel solo, you can start and end your day without having to discuss your plans with anyone. For the record I pretty much opened and closed whichever theme park was on my radar for that day.
What parks to go on what day It was easy putting together an itinerary. I broke up my days into halves and spent one half on one theme park and the other half in another. That's not to say that wouldn't work when not traveling alone. It's just easier to finalize a plan when you have no one to buy off on it.
How to tour the parks My Walt Disney World trips are usually long enough so that I get to see and do just about everything I had planned for the trip. When traveling with my family however, I let them decide how they want to tour the park, figuring that in most cases my stuff will be covered. When traveling solo, it's completely different. It's one of the few times in life when it's okay to be selfish. Do whatever you want, whenever you want, and as many times as you want. Although it sounds attractive, it does take some time getting used to this touring mode.
When, where, or if to shop This is a good one. For those who love to shop, going solo is shopper's heaven. For those who hate to shop, going solo is freedom to do something other than deciding which of those $30 T-shirts looks best.
Where to watch parades and fireworks This may sound trivial but it really isn't. With the family, you naturally want the absolute perfect spot for viewing either a parade or fireworks. This means getting to this spot early. When alone, you really notice that it's not that big a deal. You have much more flexibility. Plus you can experiment with new locations without disappointing anyone else but yourself. And when you are alone, even the best spots are easier to squeeze into, since you don't take up much space.
Let's face it: who doesn't think of food when they visit Walt Disney World? Before my trip, I always make a mental list of where I wanted to dine and refuel while in Orlando.
However, on this trip, the thought never crossed my mind. In fact, my first solo trip was very much an education on how to dine when traveling alone in Walt Disney World.
My first lesson came on my first full day. I think it was about 2 p.m. when I called my wife to do a daily update. During the conversation, I mentioned to her that for some strange reason, I was a bit fatigued. She immediately asked, Did you eat?
In my excitement to jump-start my first day, I had forgotten to eat. Actually, when I had awakened, I thought about it but didn't want to waste my time at breakfast. As the day wore, on I may have thought about eating, but that was quickly flushed from my thoughts by plans to do this and to see that.
When you visit Walt Disney World with someone else or a group like your family, at some point during the day, someone invariably says, I'm hungry! or Is anyone hungry? In every group there are usually one or two people who will initiate the dining mode. If this is not you, then you probably wouldn't think to eat unless you were absolutely starving or a bit tired, as I was that day.
So I learned that yet another trip responsibility for the solo traveler: Make sure to eat once in a while so I could fuel the furnace and have the energy to do the things I wanted to do.
Another factor in all of this is the notion of eating alone.
Some people feel odd announcing, Table for one, please. It took me a day or two to get used to it. Of course there's also the pity factor. During my trip, I did not do much priority seating but instead would walk up to the podium and ask for a table for one. The pity factor would then come into play. Wow, this poor guy is here by himself we just gotta find him a table or he may do something crazy like purchase a nasty smoked turkey leg in the Magic Kingdom, watch the movie in the Norway pavilion in Epcot, or see Sounds Dangerous at MGM Studios.
The point is to not let being alone deprive you of eating where you want to. On the contrary, embrace the fact that you can eat anywhere you want to; there is no need to negotiate with others and end up eating somewhere that you aren't particularly fond of.
Of course, there's always the opportunity to meet up with a friend or two. Brian Bennett and I had arranged one day to meet outside Mission: Space in Epcot, and we talked about where to have lunch. Brian had the right idea. So where does you wife not like to eat? he asked. I thought of Akershus in the Norway pavillion, and Marrakesh in Morocco. Brian said Barb was not a fan of Askershus and Biergarten in Germany. We both said, To Akershus. It was an opportunity to dine in a restaurant we would normally not visit. To our dismay, Akershus was closed that day so we ended up eating in Biergarten.
The point here is that we took the opportunity to eat somewhere we normally wouldn't eat.
I need to confess that I still found myself eating no more than one meal a day, but supplemented that meal with your basic Walt Disney World stapleDole Whip and smoothiesworks real well on warm days.
Up until now I've pretty much talked about the bright side of solo touring with the flexibility it brings to the trip. I've also mentioned how traveling solo brings with it the notion of non-negotiations for things like itineraries, attractions, restaurants, and so on.
There is, however, one aspect of solo touring that I noticed my first evening in the Magic Kingdom that I didn't expect to experience. It first occurred to me when I was watching the SpectroMagic Parade in Town Square. While watching the parade I felt giddiness, an excitement. I did not recognize it then but something interesting was happening.
After the parade, I found my spot to watch the Wishes! fireworks show. About five minutes into Wishes, I found myself in a Disney Zone moment. I never expected it. Here I was, alone in The Magic Kingdom, and I'm zoning . I always thought that this occurs only when you are visiting the Walt Disney World resort with your family. Don't believe it for a second. The tears were welling up in my eyes and I'm thinking, Whoa dude you're zoning man!
I needed to put this to the test. The following day I visited Epcot. My favorite Walt Disney World attraction is the American Adventure. I have always felt that this attraction wrote the book and set the standard for multimedia experience. There are two points in the show that put me in the zone. I needed to see if going solo would change that. It didn't. The first zoning took place during the Civil War sequence with the Two Brothers song. That vanishing son in the photo gets me every time. Maybe present-day events led to that portion hitting me hard.
Then the big hit Golden Dream and I was totally immersed in my own Disney Zone. I noticed a row or two in front of me was a middle-aged couple, both of whom had something in their eye.
The show ended and I found myself quite fully spent and convinced that regardless of whether you travel solo, with a companion, or with a group, if you've zoned before you will most likely zone alone.
The aspect of solo touring that I did not enjoy was not being able to share some of my trip with someone. My visit was during the International Flower Festival and there were many times where I wished I could have turned to someone and said, Can you smell those flowers?
Of course there was that one night in Epcot where Len Testa (from the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World) and I spent about 30 minutes trying to figure out how they put those fiber optic lights in the ground outside the entrance to Innoventions. For me that was an oasis in a desert of non-sharing opportunities. We shared our thoughts on the lights and how they worked.
There are definite pros and cons to solo touring in Walt Disney World. It's pretty safe to say that some may embrace the opportunity to visit the resort alone while others would never even give it a thought. It is not for everyone. My experience and approach was such that I wanted to see what it was like and hopefully pass on this information to others.
Of course my trip was not 100 percent solo as I met up and dined with several friends and cast members. Maybe that says a little something about me that maybe solo touring is palatable, with a dash of social interaction tossed into the trip.
Is solo touring for you? Only you can answer that question. Some day the opportunity may pop up. If so, hopefully some of what we discussed here will prepare you for that day.
Next time we'll look at the recently published Louis Mongello book on Walt Disney World trivia.
Rest easy, Ed Badger.
In my last column, The Fourth of July at Walt Disney World, I mentioned Wishes! on the Fourth of July in the Magic Kingdom. Last week however, someone who works in the Magic Kingdom Fireworks Department told me that the show being presented at the Magic Kingdom on Independence Day is not Wishes! but a custom designed show using the Fourth of July soundtrack from past years.
Those lucky to be in the Magic Kingdom on that day will see some redesigned fireworks and added rooftop shots from Fantasyland.
But it doesn't stop there. I am also told that the island launch site will be utilized and there will be more perimeter shots this year than there have ever been. It should be quite the 360-degree finale.
The length of the show is not clear but from what I've been told, there may be approximately one third more shells fired at the Magic Kingdom's Fourth of July celebration than at Epcot's.
Happy Fourth of July!
Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.
Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.
Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.
Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.
You can contact Mike here.
Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:
Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, The Trip Planner for more travel planning information.
Get the latest info about the resort at Park Update: Walt Disney World.
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