For over a decade now I have been making mental notes of things I have seen around Walt Disney World, good and bad, and trying to figure out how this information could be used to benefit Disney’s guests. You see, I have noticed families who seem to be having trouble getting the most enjoyment out of their Disney vacation. They either try too hard to do everything and forget to slow down and enjoy the fantasy world around them, they make mistakes or bad judgement and end up getting hurt or sick, or they get frustrated with the people around them who seem not to care whose vacation they ruin. Sometimes it’s all of the above.
I decided it was time to take some of my knowledge and experience and share it with the rest of the world. Here you will find tips on all of the four Theme Parks at Walt Disney World which should help you stay safe, control your time and money better, take better pictures, and keep everyone in your family (and everyone around you) happy. I will eventually be including pictures to help illustrate my points. I hope you and your family will find them helpful.
I have divided my tips into 10 categories:
- In General
- at the Magic Kingdom
- at EPCOT
- at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- through a viewfinder
- on a budget
- on a schedule
- without annoying or offending others
These tips can be applied to most anywhere at Walt Disney World. This should be a good leap-off point into the more park and situation specific tips later in the list.
- Have fun – You’re in the Happiest Place on Earth. Act like it. I know your family can get tiresome at times and sometimes people around you will do things that irritate you (see my Without Annoying or Offending Others section to find out how not to be one of those people), but find a way to laugh about it and press on. No one wants to spend lots of money to go to Disney World and have their vacation ruined by some little thing.
- Follow directions, written or verbal – Rules are made for a reason, and contrary to popular belief, it is not to be broken. Disney does what they can to lay down certain rules in a positive, unimposing manner, but sometimes they’re too subtle. Just remember, if a Cast Member approaches you and informs you that you are violating a rule, they are doing it for a reason. One thing to remember is a lot of Cast Members are college students and are sometimes afraid of confrontation, so you may get away with something for a few hours before someone calls you on it. Just because you got away with it for a while doesn’t mean there’s not a rule against it.
- Use your Guidemap/Walt Disney World app – Disney prints Guidemaps for all of their parks, resorts and Downtown Disney, as well as provide interactive maps via the Walt Disney World mobile app, and yet people still manage to get lost. Most people pick up a map and carry it with them, pulling it out only to show the nearest Cast Member where they would like to be. Use your map, study it, read it, and keep track of where you are on it. If you’re lost, here’s a tip: look at what is directly in front of you, find it on the map, then turn the map so that it is towards the top of the map. That way you’ll be looking at the map as if you were looking at yourself from above (or, as silly as this may sound, you could bring a compass and compare it to the one on the map). You can also use satellite-based services like Google Earth or Apple Maps to help locate and orient yourself.
As a bonus, the maps and app also provide useful and important information. They will tell you about every attraction, including height and health requirements, and a brief description of what you can expect. They also lists all of the restaurants and what kinds of food they serve, as well as a ballpark of per-person prices on the maps, and actual prices on the app. Major merchandise locations are listed as well.
One thing you will not find on the maps are operating times for the attractions, restaurants, character greets, etc. These are all listed on a separate sheet of paper called a Times Guide. You can pick up one of these Times Guides wherever you find the Guidemaps.
- Learn and use proper names of things – The maps and app aren’t just good for finding where you are. You can also use the maps to learn the names of the attractions, shops and restaurants. This will be very helpful if you’re asking a Cast Member for directions to somewhere. If you’re looking for Expedition Everest, don’t ask for the “Arctic Adventure” (yes, I have heard it called that). The Cast Member is probably not going to have any idea what you’re talking about.
- Visit the Magic Kingdom last – Most people plan to visit the parks in the order in which they opened: Magic Kingdom (’71), Epcot (’82), Disney-MGM Studios (’89), Disney’s Animal Kingdom (’98). I’ve found that if you visit the parks in the opposite order, or in an order that saves Magic Kingdom until the end, your vacation will be a little more interesting. This is for three reasons:
- Because most families do it the other way, the parks tend to have certain days of the week when they are most congested. Assuming they start their vacation on Sunday, as most families do, that makes Sunday and Monday the busiest days for Magic Kingdom. If you’re in Animal Kingdom that day, you’ll have a slightly smaller crowd to deal with.
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are more laid-back and relaxing, whereas Epcot and Magic Kingdom are generally busier and more demanding. If you do Magic Kingdom and Epcot first, you may be too tired and/or stressed out to fully enjoy the other parks.
- It builds up excitement. The Magic Kingdom is the seminal park of any Disney Resort. It has the highest number of attractions, and many of the classics, not to mention Cinderella’s Castle, the most photographed man-made structure in the world. If you save Magic Kingdom until last, you’ll find each park gets bigger (in scope, not necessarily geographically) and better, building up anticipation until you finally reach the epitome of Disney magic.
Obviously you can visit the parks in whatever order you prefer, but I recommend either reverse opening order (Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney-MGM Studios, Epcot, Magic Kingdom) or what I call the From-Discovery-To-Magic order (Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Studios, Magic Kingdom), taking a day to relax in the middle. Whichever way you do it, saving the Magic Kingdom until last makes for a magical ending to your Disney vacation.
Bear in mind if you plan on taking advantage of Disney’s Extra Magic Hours (see my On a Tight Schedule section for more information) you may find that their days do not coincide with your itinerary. Also, Extra Magic Hours tend to increase attendance at that particular park for that particular day, so if you’re not staying for Extra Magic Hours you may want to avoid the park that has them on that day.
- Don’t leave in a hurry – If you happen to still be in a park within an hour before it closes, you’re probably best off waiting a while before leaving. Typically after the last parade/fireworks show most people pour out en masse causing bottleneck traffic at the turnstiles and long lines for the transportation systems and parking lot. If you do happen to get caught in this, find a place to sit, get some ice cream or popcorn, relax for a while and let the crowds disperse, or you can do some last minute shopping. Security and management usually won’t start chasing people out of the park for a half-hour or hour after the park closes, leaving plenty of time for people to clear out. If you wait long enough (but not too long, because the trams and certain busses stop running an hour or two after the park closes), you won’t have to wait to get out or where you need to go next.
NOTE: If there is a special after hours event in the park like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, or convention activity, the park will go into what’s called “hard close” mode where they will encourage people to leave as soon as possible so they can prepare for the upcoming event.
- Listen to your children – As strange as it may seem, children seem to know exactly where they are going in the Disney parks. Perhaps it is because they are actually paying more attention than the parents, but whatever the reason, don’t dismiss the idea of asking your child where to go next. (Children are also more likely to use the correct name of an attraction, oddly enough, assisting Cast Member in giving directions.)
Also, if your child truly does not want to go to an attraction, there may be a good reason. Before you try and force your child onto a ride they are afraid of, first find out what kind of a ride it is, how fast it goes, how dark it is, how loud it is, and anything else you think may frighten your child. Sometimes children are irrationally afraid of something, then after it’s over realize there was no reason to be afraid. Other times the child has a very good reason to be afraid, and forcing them to do something they don’t want to do will only make matters worse. (As a parent, I have firsthand experience with this.)
- Choose your FastPasses wisely – Disney’s FastPass is system that helps reduce the amount of vacation time you spend waiting in line. (See my On a Tight Schedule section for more information on how to attain and use FastPasses.) Many of the most popular attractions in Disney World offer FastPass, but you can only hold so many FastPasses per day and the attractions operate on a tier system, so you’re not likely to get a FastPass for everything you want. Most people tend to gravitate towards the newest, biggest, fastest, or most eye-catching attractions when choosing their FastPasses, but this is not always wise. There are other factors to consider when choosing a FastPass. For one, the ultimate satisfaction of the ride. Both Peter Pan’s Flight and Space Mountain offer FastPass, but for which one would you rather wait in line for an hour?
Another factor would be how much time would you rather spend outside? About half of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’s queue (before FastPass is collected) is outside and uncovered, whereas half of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s queue is either outdoors under a canopy, or indoors in the air-conditioning. If you pick up a FastPass for Tower of Terror and stand in line for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster you’ll potentially end up spending less time waiting outside than if you did it the other way around.
Last, but certainly not least in my mind, is theming. In recent years Disney has tried to make their queues as interesting as possible so as to make wait times more tolerable. This is done a few ways, not the least of which is introducing the story of the attraction. Many of the bigger attractions like Avatar: Flight of Passage and Millenium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run use the time you’re waiting in line to draw you into the story and make you feel like you’re a part of it. If you take the FastPass route, you may end up bypassing the story entirely, which gives you only half of the experience.
For a list of all the attractions in the parks, the conditions of their queues, which ones offer Disney’s FastPass, and other useful information, check out my Guide to Attraction Queues.
- Choose a “lost and found” location – The Disney parks, as safe as they are, can be a scary place if you get lost, especially for small children. Even for adults, it can be frustrating when you don’t know where the rest of your family is. If you don’t have a way to directly contact the missing member (like a cell phone), you can help solve this problem by picking a spot in the park (usually the center, near the park icon, or a “weenie” is a good place) where you can meet up if someone gets lost. Allow for about 10-20 minutes to check the area for your family, then head over to your location. It might be wise for every member of your family to have their own map with the location marked on it in case you need to ask for directions.
Also, in the case of a lost child, Disney has certain procedures they go through to help reunite the child with his or her parents. Many Cast Members carry radios that they can use to communicate information such as physical descriptions of the child and/or parent and the location found or last location seen over their entire department and even across the park. If all else fails, within a half-hour (accounting for about 10-15 minutes of searching and 10-15 minutes of walking) of finding a lost child, they will be taken to a central Lost Children location in the park. In the case of a lost adult, a message can be left at Guest Relations for the person to inform him or her of your location.
- Split up – Ironically, losing your group may be exactly what you want. Everyone knows what happens when a family spends too much time together, so don’t make them. When you sense the stress level rising, split up and do different things. Plan ahead to determine what attractions everyone wants to see together, then separate into groups of two or three (with a responsible adult in each group). Choose a default location (probably your lost and found location) and a time window of about 20-30 minutes to regroup after your hour or two away from each other.
- Pay attention to signs – This applies everywhere: in the parks, at the resorts, on the road, and anywhere else on property. Signs can tell you where you can go and where you can’t go (if you see a sign that says “Cast Members Only,” “Service and Authorized Vehicles Only,” or anything else with the word “only” or “Do Not Enter,” you are about to enter a restricted area), how to get to your next attraction or land (all of the parks have signs posted at various intersections pointing you in the direction of nearby attractions and lands), or find your way while driving around the Resort (Disney roads are marked like any highway. Nearly every intersection has a sign pointing you in the direction of the parks, Downtown Disney and nearby resorts). Before you stop and ask for directions, look around you for a sign that may point you in the direction you want to go.
- Take a rest once in a while – A Disney vacation can be very tiring. Instead of always pressing on, stop every couple of hours or so and find a bench or a seating area and just relax for a few minutes. You can even take this downtime to discuss everyone’s feelings on the vacation and where you’re going next. The Disney parks are known for having cozy sitting areas out of the way of the hustle and bustle of mad-dashing guests. Use them to your advantage. Don’t forget, you’re on vacation.
If you have small children, each park has a Baby Care station (it can be found along with Lost Children) which has some toys and a TV that is usually playing classic Disney movies. This is a good place to take the young’uns for an extended break (it’s a good place for parents to rest as well). Don’t forget, for every step you take, it’s two or more steps for them, so they’ll probably tire long before you do.
- Don’t ignore the shows or Streetmosphere – Disney World has some amazing rides, but don’t forget that the Walt Disney Company is first and foremost an entertainment company. Disney World has many shows featuring some of the most amazing puppetry, special effects, Audio-Animatronics and live performers (human and animal) in the world. Instead of standing in line for an hour waiting for the next “E ticket,” duck into an air conditioned theater and enjoy a show. None of them last more than 30 minutes (with the notable exception of Finding Nemo: The Musical, which has a runtime of approximately 40 mintues), and if nothing else, it’s a place to sit down.
Now, you may be asking “what is ‘Streetmosphere?'” Streetmosphere is Disney’s word (they have a lot of them) for street performers who add a deeper element of atmosphere to their locations. A perfect example would be the Dapper Dans, Main Street U.S.A.’s resident barbershop quartet. But not all Streetmosphere puts on a show. Sometimes Streetmosphere can just be the characters walking around interacting with guests and each other and completing the illusion that Disney World is a place where fantasy lives, like Main Street’s Mayor, or the various “actors” and “actresses” found on Hollywood Studios’ Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards.
- Bring or buy ponchos, rain coats, or a change of clothes – If there’s one thing predictable about Florida’s weather, it’s its unpredictability. One thing you can count on however: during the months of June through November, Florida’s Hurricane season, it will rain at least once almost every day. Florida rain tends not to stay for long, at least in the summer, but it will come in heavy doses. Even if it does not rain, you may want them for attractions like Splash Mountain and Kali River Rapids where it is not uncommon to get wet, sometimes very wet. Once you’ve used your poncho, dry it off as best you can and put it away for later use. That way you won’t have to buy another when it rains again the next day.
- Don’t come expecting a lot of thrill rides/roller coasters – Walt Disney World is a family entertainment resort, so what you will find here are a lot of attractions geared towards the entire family. That’s not to say that Disney World has no thrill rides or roller coasters, they just don’t build their parks around them, and the ones they do have may be considered tame by enthusiasts. The key to enjoying a Disney coaster is not to compare it to other roller coasters. Disney does not simply make roller coasters, they make adventures. Big Thunder Mountain is a “runaway train adventure,” as is Expedition Everest. Space Mountain is a “roller coaster-type adventure through space.” You get the idea.
Bottom line: If all you’re looking for are thrills and heart-stopping excitement, there are plenty of other great amusement parks across the United States and the world that cater to your needs.
- Plan a “Park-Hopping Day” – If you have a free day left in your vacation, and have sprung for the Park-Hopper option on your tickets, your last day is a good time to Hop from park to park, seeing all of your favorite attractions, or some you may have missed, one last time before departing. Sort of a Walt Disney World greatest hits collection.
- Stop at Guest Relations – Most people who go to Guest Relations do so either to look for a lost item, or make a complaint. While both of these are legitimate reasons to visit, few people think to stop at Guest Relations to pay compliments. Disney appreciates feedback, both positive and negative, and will sometimes even consider guest-made suggestions. Take notes on your vacation. Any time something happens that strikes you as important, record it with as many details as you can, especially names and roles or locations in the case of Cast Members.
Was the person in line in front of you wearing an offensive T-shirt? Make a note (and tell the nearest Cast Member, they’ll make the guest change their shirt or turn it inside out; see also Without Annoying or Offending Others). Was there a Cast Member who really made your day more magical? Make a note. Do you have an idea for an attraction you’d like to see? Make a note. At the end of your day, stop at Guest Relations. Give them the rundown on your experience and what you liked and disliked. You’ll have all the time you need to express your feelings (just remember there may be others also waiting to express theirs), and in the end you’ll feel better knowing your opinion was heard. Plus, if enough people feel the same way you do, Disney has been known to make major changes to accommodate the masses. (That is how the Magic Kingdom got its own version of Pirates of the Caribbean, and why the “Green Team” less intense version of Mission: Space was put in.) If someone in your family is celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or a wedding/honeymoon, you can also pick up a special button to display your special day from Guest Relations. You’ll receive extra special attention, including some unexpected surprises.
The Magic Kingdom is the flagship park of Walt Disney World. Modelled after Disneyland in Anaheim, California, it took the original concept and improved on it with more space and many new ideas. The Magic Kingdom is favored by the young, the young-at-heart, and anyone who appreciates the beauty in charm and simplicity. You’ll find very few thrills here, save for the park’s “Mountain Range,” but what you will find are some of the Resort’s most memorable attractions and surroundings.
- See the Hall of Presidents – (See also “The American Adventure” in Epcot) I don’t usually tell people what attractions to see, I leave that up to them to decide, but I feel that this attraction gets a bad rep because some people say it’s boring. I suppose to those people it can be, but to me it is an amazing execution of Audio-Animatronics technology. The first half of the show is a large-format movie about the importance of the phrase “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, introducing Abraham Lincoln and leading into the Civil War, ending in modern day America (though the movie’s purpose is to promote the idea of equality of race, race is never specifically brought up, which adds subtlety to its integrity); but it’s the second half of the show that attracts most people. After the final scene of the movie, the screens slide out of the way, revealing a stage populated with every U.S. president in our nation’s history, including our current president, George W. Bush. Every president looks positively life-like.
Though the main focus of this segment is Bush and Lincoln who each give a speech, the most amazing part is watching the other presidents. They are constantly in motion: fidgeting, whispering to each other, nodding in approval…If you can handle a little bit of well presented American history on your vacation, the Hall of Presidents is not to be missed.
- Don’t be afraid of “it’s a small world” – IASW has garnered sort of a bad reputation due to its infectious melody &mdash which is a shame, because it is a charming spectacle for the senses.
Epcot is a bit of an oddity among Theme Parks, and has been since it opened. It isn’t a thrill park, but it isn’t a kiddy park. It’s educational, but it’s not boring (at least not to the people with whom I’ve spoken). It follows the philosophy of “edutainment”: educating people through entertainment. It seems to be favored by people who are interested in world cultures (or in some cases, world beers), and people who grew up on Mr. Wizard and 3-2-1 Contact, but it has also broadened its appeal lately by adding a few thrill rides into its educational mix. A truly unique, and not-to-be-missed theme park experience.
- See The American Adventure – (See also “The Hall of Presidents” in the Magic Kingdom) Most people will anyway, but some people tend to shy away from the shows that are overly American. The truth is you don’t have to be intensely patriotic to enjoy these shows. I certainly am not. The American Adventure is full of great dialog, interesting history, charming and often beautiful music, and some of the most amazing Audio-Animatronic performers in Disney’s history. Even if you’re not a patriotic person, it is difficult not to be a little touched by this stunning presentation, especially its climax which showcases some of the most brilliant and influential Americans in our history, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Norman Rockwell, Jim Henson and even the great dreamer-and-doer himself, Walt Disney.
The Disney-MGM Studios has drifted somewhat from its original interpretation of taking people into the movies, though that theme still remains in many of its current attractions. The Studios is possibly the least “Disney” of the four Disney World parks, due to its many licenced attractions and characters, and yet the Disney touch is spread across even the most obscure partnerships. It has recently attracted a rather large teen following due to the fact that it has two of the best thrill rides on property, but old-school film buffs will love the throw-backs to the idea of “a Hollywood that never was, and always will be.”
- Arrive at Fantasmic! early – Fantasmic! is one of the most popular shows on property, if not the most popular, so you’ll want to arrive in plenty of time. The show doesn’t start until dark (see a Times Guide for exact times), and the rope drops an hour and a half before then. It is rare for the theatre not to fill up by the time the lights go out. Although there really is no such thing as a bad seat (the amphitheater was designed to provide a good view no matter where you sit), you’re more likely to get a seat towards the center if you arrive early. Just a warning though, Fantasmic! uses water effects, so if you’re sitting near the front you may get wet, or at least misted.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom hits a strange demographic. Children love the park because of all the animals. Older adults enjoy the park’s often peaceful, laid-back atmosphere, while teens and young adults are fans of the park’s many thrill rides. All in all, it’s a park which has had trouble reaching everyone on a common level. This does not mean, however, that the park is not worth visiting. On the contrary, it is one of the most beautiful and fascinating theme parks ever built.
- Visit live animal attractions early in the day – The park’s animal attractions close at sunset, regardless of park hours. If you’re arriving late in the day for Disney’s Extra Magic Hours (see On a Tight Schedule for more information), you’re best off starting with Kilamanjaro Safaris and trying to squeeze in a few other animal attractions before they close. Even then it’s best to return later in your vacation to see the animal attractions you may have missed. If you’re not sure which attractions feature live animals, look for the paw-print icon next to the name of the attraction on your Guidemap.
- Visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch – (NOTE: The only way to or from Rafiki’s Planet Watch is the Wildlife Express train which does a circle from Africa’s Harambe Station to Rafiki’s Conservation Station and back again.) Most people don’t even realize that Rafiki’s Planet Watch exists. It is a mile or so away from the main park area, which is why you need to take the train there, but once you get there you’ll find a lot of facinating information and insight about the park’s animals; including a veterinarian hospital, a petting zoo, some of the pens for the safari animals, diet, habitats, endangered species, and what you can do to help. The attractions are self-guided so you can take as much or as little time as you want, and it’s a good place to wait for a Safari FastPass to activate (See On a Tight Schedule for more information on FastPasses).
- Ride Kilamanjaro Safaris more than once – Unlike Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Cruise (Note: Jungle Cruise is not in Animal Kingdom), Kilamanjaro Safari has real live animals. As such, you’ll have a different experience every time you ride. Sometimes you may see animals you hadn’t seen earlier. The Safari’s wait time can be hefty throughout most of the day, so you’re probably best picking up a FastPass for subsequent visits. Also, except in severe electrical storms, the safari will remain open in the rain. Since the safari vehicles are covered, this is actually a good time to go on the safari because the animals are most active in the rain.
- Wait in Expedition Everest’s stand-by queue at least once – Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain is Disney’s newest Mountain. It is one of the most intricately detailed, meticulously designed, immersively deep attractions the Imagineers have ever created. It is more than just “that new roller coaster.” To fully experience this attraction you have to wait in the Stand-by queue. Sometimes the wait time can be a bit daunting, but it’s worth the wait, in my opinion. If you follow some of my tips you may find that you can avoid waiting too long, and a good part of the queue is well themed, so you’ll be spending so much time reading and studying the details that the time will just fly by. After you’ve seen everything in the Stand-by queue, then you can get a FastPass. Or you can get a FastPass first and wait in the Stand-by line while you’re waiting for your FastPass to activate.
Disney strongly believes in safety first. All of their attractions go through testing procedures not only when they’re built, but also before the attraction is opened to the public both in the morning and after any unplanned pause in operation. The Cast tries their best to make sure all guests are acting in a safe manner, but often there is a limit to what they can do. A turnstile greeter, for example, cannot leave their turnstile to stop a child from climbing a tree. As a result, you are primarily responsible for the safety of yourself and your family at all times. Here are some tips and rules on how to have a safer vacation.
- Wear comfortable shoes – You’re going to be walking a lot as I have said before, and a good pair of shoes can lighten the load you’re putting on your feet as well as your knees, hips and back. Wear shoes that you will be comfortable standing and walking in all day. Some soft, cushy socks and special insoles will also help a lot. I stress shoes, or some sandals. Flip-flops may be convenient, but they are not a wise choice because they have no cushioning, there is nothing to hold them on your feet, and they can get slippery if they get wet.
- No skates – Skates are not permitted in the Disney parks, and that includes any shoes with wheels (i.e. Heelyz). Some of the paths in the parks are rough and not suitable for skating. There’s also the chance that you could lose control and crash into something, or worse, someone. What if you’re really good on the skates and never crash? Good for you, but what about the other tens of thousands of people in the park? They are not necessarily going to react calmly when they see someone rolling “out of control” towards them. Just leave the skates at home.
- No climbing – Nothing in Disney World is made for climbing, by adults or children (with the exception of a few children’s play areas where the ground is soft and rubbery, but even there they have restrictions on where you can climb). Always keep in mind that under every tree or railing is solid concrete – not something you’d want to dive headfirst onto.
- Don’t sit on the railings – “Stay on your feet. It’s not a seat” remind Timon and Pumbaa, Disney’s Wild About Safety mascots. The railings scattered throughout the queues at Disney World are not designed to be sat on, swung on, or hung on. Even if you can find a comfortable position on the two inch wide, round, metal poles, remember that there is a three foot drop onto (again) solid concrete if your balance were to falter. Play it safe and just use the bar to lean against. If you’re in line for a ride, you’re probably going to end up moving as soon as you sit down anyway.
- Wear sunscreen – How can I put this simply…? Florida is the Sunshine State. Being this far south not only makes the climate warmer, it also makes the sun more intense. Even if you are one of those people who never burn, you should always have sunscreen handy. Don’t forget to put some on before going to and while you’re at a Water Park, and remember that sunscreen needs to be on your skin for a least a half hour before getting wet, even the waterproof kind. Also, make sure you bring Aloe Vera or Noxema (a friend taught me that one) to rub on in case you do get burned.
- Drink lots of water – Coca-Cola is a very popular drink in theme parks, but on a hot day it should be drunk in moderation. Water or Powerade are better choices. They may not seem to fill you up as well, but they will quench your thirst, and they are the healthier alternative. The caffeine and sodium in sodas can dehydrate you, and the carbonation can wreak havoc with your stomach when you’re doing a lot of moving around.
- Heed warning signs/Know your thrill limit – “WARNING! For safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride.” This warning is posted at all of Disney World’s more intense attractions, usually accompanied by attraction specific conditions. (It is also footnoted on your Guidemaps.) These warning signs are posted as courteous advisories for your safety. If you see one of these signs, make sure you know what kind of ride it is and that you feel safe getting on. To put it bluntly, as long as these signs are posted conspicuously and the ride does not malfunction, Disney has no fault if you get hurt or sick.
- Follow the safety directions on your ECV/stroller – Every Disney rental personal convenience vehicle comes with a list of safty rules. On the strollers they are printed on a piece of fabric behind the clear plastic nametag holder. On the ECVs they are engraved on the keyring. In case you, for some reason, don’t have the safety rules on your vehicle, here they are, word for word, as seen on the vehicles themselves:
On a stroller:
- CAUTION: Never leave infant or child unattended
- Avoid serious injury, always use seat belt
- Don’t allow standing or tipping in stroller
- Hazardous condition may exist if weight limits are exceeded
- Use wheel lock when stopped, loading and unloading child
- On a single stroller: Maximum weight limit 60 lbs. – One child only
- On a double stroller: Maximum weight limit 100 lbs. – Two children only
- 5 lbs. limit in pouch or hung on back
On an ECV:
- Operator must be 18 years or older.
- No more than one person may ride on the vehicle at a time.
- No children permitted on the vehicle.
- Watch where you’re steering your wheelchair/ECV/Scooter/stroller – Even if you’re used to navigating these personal convenience vehicles, navigating them through tens of thousands of people is an entirely different story. Bystanders can be, and have been, seriously hurt by them when the person operating them wasn’t paying attention. Remember, you’re the one who is at fault if you hit someone.
Disney World is a great place to take pictures and of course you’ll want memories of your family vacation, but not everyone knows the ins and outs of effective (and courteous) photography. Hopefully this list can help you improve your vacation slides and videos.
- Taking pictures or videos on attractions – Most attractions do not permit flash photography or video camera lighting. (If they don’t tell you specifically, assume that you can’t. Some attractions will come out and tell you when and if you can.) They can ruin the show (particularly the special effects) and annoy people around you (see the Without Annoying or Offending Others section for more info). If you must have a video of the attractions (which in my opinion is pointless, the memory is usually better than a crummy home-movie), turn off the light. As far as photos go, without a flash it could be futile, but with a good camera and/or fast film you can take some half-decent pictures, but again, I find this pointless. If you must have pictures of your favorite attractions…
- Buy a souvenir book – Souvenir books are available in the main stores of each park (Emporium at Magic Kingdom, Mouse Gear at Epcot, Mickey’s of Hollywood at Disney-MGM Studios, and Island Mercantile at Disney’s Animal Kingdom) and at World of Disney at Downtown Disney Marketplace. These books have many high quality pictures of and in your favorite attractions, and these pictures are professionally done with equipment you probably won’t have, which means they’re probably going to be better than anything you could ever take.
- Watch where you’re going – If you want to capture on video the first time you and your family walk right down the middle of Main Street, U.S.A, for heaven’s sake, pay attention to your surroundings. (This tip could actually fit under Safely and Without Annoying or Offending Others as well.) You’re going to be surrounded by hundreds of people who may not be paying attention, so you should be. Aside from the people, there is always the risk of a curb, crack in the walkway, or an object in the path in front of you.
I won’t lie to you: a Walt Disney World vacation is not cheap. After considering travel, lodging, admission and food, you’re looking at quite a sum of money; and that’s not including souvenirs such as photos, pins, books, plushes and a lot more. Cheap motels, discount tickets, and other seemingly affordable deals may be too good to be true. I do not advise planning your vacation around a gamble. Instead, use these tips to cut a few corners and shave a few monetary units off of your vacation costs.
- Stay on property – This may seem unlikely, but the most bang for your buck would be to stay on Disney property. Most off property hotels are at least a 20 minute drive through stop-and-go traffic, so that’s a lot of driving; and if you don’t have a car you’ll have to rely on a bus schedule. Staying on Disney property will save you money on transportation. Disney has a bus system that takes you anywhere on property, free of charge. If you’re flying into Orlando International Airport, you can take Disney’s Magical Express bus right to your Disney Resort, again, free of charge. This alone can save you a lot of money on gas and/or car rental, or taxi service.
- Bring lunch and snacks – You’re going to have to eat in the parks. It’s inevitable. You simply cannot bring enough food to feed everyone in your family all day, not to mention the fact that you’re going to get cravings for ice cream, popcorn, turkey legs or what-have-you. You can, however, bring a few snacks, sandwiches or bottled drinks which will alleviate some of the financial burden of buying three meals a day in the park, and help you get through those long hours of walking and standing in line without overspending. Just don’t avoid Disney’s food all together. Disney has some of the best restaurants in the world, and possibly the most varied menu options; and some of Disney’s treats are worth the extra nickel. Besides, when you’re saving money on meals you can afford to indulge in the occasional impulse purchase. I recommend the Mickey’s Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Sandwich or Disney’s excellent Orville Redenbacher popcorn.
- Drink free water – If you’re trying to save money, now is not the time to be picky about your water source. Bottled water can start to get expensive when that’s all you will drink. Unless you plan on carrying your own bottled water around with you, you may want to settle for water from a drinking fountain for this trip. Sure, tap water doesn’t really taste as good, but it will still hydrate you, and it certainly is not going to kill you. Most importantly, it’s free.
There is enough stuff to do in Walt Disney World to fill a two week vacation, maybe more, but most people understandibly cannot plan a vacation that long. The average Disney Vacation is about a week. In order to squeeze the most out of your Disney vacation, use these tips to get the most out of the time you have without stressing yourself out. (I urge everyone to relax while at Walt Disney World. If you don’t get to ride all the rides and see all the shows it’s not going to hurt anything. Just enjoy what you do get to see and you won’t feel like your time was wasted.)
- Extra Magic Hours for Disney Resort guests – Again, staying on property is the best option if you want to make good time, or even to have more free time. Aside from the aforementioned driving time (see On a Tight Budget), staying on property also gives you the benefit of Disney’s Extra Magic Hours. Extra Magic Hours allows guests staying at Walt Disney World Resorts to arrive an extra hour before the park normally opens or stay three hours after the park normally closes. Each park has a special day of the week when it will have extra morning hours and another day when it will have extra evening hours. Some parks, like the Magic Kingdom, may even have more days. (NOTE: There are hotels on Walt Disney World Property which are not actually Disney Resorts. A rule of thumb to help you out: if the place where you are staying has “Disney’s” before its name, it is a Disney resort. If it doesn’t, it is not.)
- Using Disney’s FastPass – Disney’s FastPass is system that helps reduce the amount of vacation time you spend waiting in line. Many of the most popular attractions in Disney World offer FastPass. To obtain a FastPass, find the attraction for which you would like the FastPass. Attractions that offer FastPass will be indicated on the Guidemap and on the information board for each park. Somewhere near the entrance to the attraction there will be a row of machines with a timeframe posted above them (this will be the return time for your FastPass). Insert your admission ticket into the machine and it will spit out a small piece of paper with the name of the attraction and the same timeframe you saw posted above. (NOTE: Every person in your family needs to use their own ticket to receive a FastPass. If you try to use the same ticket for another FastPass before the reactivation time printed on your ticket, it will give you a pass the says “NOT A VALID FASTPASS.”) Return to the FastPass Return queue at the attraction within the timeframe on your FastPass and you will be allowed into a line which will probably be shorter than the Stand-by line. (I say “probably” because sometimes you may be unlucky enough to be holding a FastPass for a slow time when the Standby line is very short. Also, if an attraction shuts down unexpectedly due to weather or technical difficulties, FastPasses during this time will remain valid once the attraction reopens, causing a possible backup of FastPass holders. Depending on the circumstances a Cast Member may allow you to hold onto your FastPass for another go ’round, but this is not a rule and entirely up to the Cast Member or Manager whether they chose to allow it.)
- Visit during the off-season – Any Cast Member will tell you, your vacations are their busy times. Namely: summer and holiday weeks, particularly Christmas/New Year. If possible, try to plan your vacations away from these times. Sometimes it’s difficult when traveling with children but you may find it’s well worth the extra catch-up time not to have to fight the holiday crowds. January (after school starts), February, September, October, and early December (before winter break) tend to be the slowest.
- Visit popular attractions during parades – Everyone loves a parade…Well, almost everyone. If you’re on the list of people who don’t love a parade, I have good news: parade time is the best time to experience some of the more popular attractions. People will usually start finding a parade viewing spot a half-hour to an hour before the parade starts. Each parade lasts between ten and twenty minutes, and it’ll take about ten minutes for the parade crowd to disperse and find their next attraction. This gives you about an hour or so of noticeably shorter wait times. (NOTE: If a parade is scheduled within a couple of hours before the park closes, guests will often leave after the parade, thereby reducing wait times for the rest of the day.) Just be careful what paths you take because you will not be able to cross a parade path while the parade is passing by. Check your Guidemap for the parade route and your Times Guide for when the parades begin.
The only parade I highly recommend you not skip is the Magic Kingdom’s nighttime electrical light spectacular, SpectroMagic. It is by far the best, and most beloved parade currently on property. Check your Times Guide to see what days and times it is running during your visit. (It usually runs twice on the nights it’s scheduled, so you might be able to skip it the first time, then watch it on its less crowded second run.)
What puts Disney above all others in the theme park industry is its quality, and its ability to make almost everyone happy who is willing to let it. Unfortunately, in an increasingly negative and cynical society, it’s the people who visit Disney World who tend to ruin it for others. Some people feel a need to make a statement to everyone and that statement is not always a positive one. Because of this, and because of what Disney World means to many wholesome and considerate people and families around the world, I urge everyone to pay particular attention to this list. If you feel that you are unable or unwilling to comply with these simple rules and guidelines, then perhaps the Disney parks are not a place for you. There are many high-quality amusement and theme park around the country and the world where you can have a great time and not feel as though you have to conform to any standards. Remember, Disney World is only as good as you make it.
I will be a little more blunt on these topics than the others in order to make my point. I do not mean to offend, but to encourage everyone who visits Walt Disney World, or any Disney Resort, to help make a safe, courteous and magical experience for everyone.
- No flash pictures on attractions – Another irk I can attest to first hand. As I mention in my Through a Viewfinder section, you’re not going to get very good pictures on attractions. Mostly what you’ll do is blind and annoy the people around you. (For some reason this is a huge problem on Pirates of the Caribbean more than any other attraction.) Buy a souvenir book or find pictures online. Leave the photography to the professionals who have the equipment and the access to take good pictures without posing an inconvenience to others.
- Turn off cell phones – Unless you are trying to get in touch with someone else in your family there really is no logical need for a phone. You’re on vacation, remember? You can tell your friends and family all about it when you get home. If you absolutely must be accessible at all times, put your phone on silent mode, and only use it when you’re not at an attraction (including in line). No one else needs to hear your conversation.
Some of you are probably thinking “what about in case of an emergency?” The fact is you’ll get a faster, more reliable response by having a Cast Member dial 911 from a Disney landline phone than you will from a cell phone. The reason for this is Disney has its own switchboard and its own emergency service which prides itself on being able to be anywhere on property within a few minutes. If you call from a cell phone you’ll get the City of Orlando switchboard which could end up taking ten minutes or more.
- No smoking/utilize the designated smoking areas – Smoking is not permitted in Walt Disney World Theme Parks and Water Parks except in designated areas. Just because there are few “no smoking” signs does not mean it is all right to smoke anywhere. This rule was created for the comfort and safety of everyone (for some people just a small amount of smoke can trigger a serious asthma attack or allergic reaction), and to help maintain the cleanliness of the parks. Designated smoking areas are indicated on the Guidemaps by blue “smoking” icons. If you’re having trouble locating the nearest smoking area, look for ashtrays on top of specially labeled trash cans. If there is no ashtray, you’re not in a smoking area. When all else fails, ask a Cast Member. They will point you in the direction of the nearest designated smoking area.
- Wait in line if you want a picture with/of a Character – If I were a parent, I would be more than a little concerned if someone was standing by taking pictures of my child as they meet their favorite Disney character, and more than a little irritated that people who are just passing by are doing something that I waited in line for fifteen minutes to do. If you want a picture with the Characters, wait in line like everyone else. Many characters will turn their backs on your camera anyway, as a courtesy to their waiting guests.
- Reserve wheelchair accessible/companion restroom stalls for those in need – More than a few times I have witnessed a person in a wheelchair or a parent with a child who needs assistance waiting outside a companion restroom or wheelchair accessible stall, only to have a single person with perfect mobility emerge unapologetically. I have seen people walk past about ten open stalls in a mostly empty restroom and go straight for the wheelchair accesible stall. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why this is rude and unacceptable, suffice to say that I’ve known people who have had a legitimate need for these facilities and seen how put out they are when someone takes it from them unneccesarily.
- Report to a Cast Member – I feel this is one of the most important rules for overall enjoyment. If someone around you is bothering you or violating one of the aforementioned rules (or any others I may have forgotten), tell a nearby Cast Member. Disney unfortunately tends to take a hands-off approach to potentially disturbing occurances. Unless the situation causes a major disturbance, they usually will not involve themselves unless they receive a complaint from a guest. Besides, if that person is bothering you, chances are they’re bothering other people and you’ll be doing everyone a favor by having a Cast Member diffuse the situation.
This guide has not been authorized or endorsed by The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Travel Company, Walt Disney World Resort, or any of its subsidaries, affiliates, or operating partners. The information contained within has been devised by myself based on experience, observation, and the opinions of guests and Cast Members. Individual experiences may vary.