Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Disney World - Orlando, Florida

If you are bound and determined to experience everything that Disney World has to offer you are going to need a week.  If you only have a day (or two) you can still have tons of fun but you need to let go of the idea that you will see and do everything or even a sizable portion of it.  You won't. What you will do will be great though.  I am convinced that part of the reason Disney World is so popular is because everyone leaves wanting to do the stuff they didn't get to do on this trip and so they plan another trip!

First thing in the morning and already a zoo.
I knew we would only have one day at Disney World and wanted to make the most of it so I bought a guidebook, The Unofficial Guidebook to Walt Disney World with Kids which I highly recommend. I would never have known about FastPass+ or Dole Whips without that book and let me tell you, those two things were the best things about our day at Disney.   I didn't even realize that there is more than one park that makes up Disney World so you can imagine my surprise when I realized that there are actually five Disney parks in Orlando.  Since we only had one day we opted for Magic Kingdom but you might find that one of the other parks is better suited to the ages and temperaments of your kids.

Astro Orbiter which is a pretty run of the mill ride.  Not worth a long wait.
The most important thing you need to know about Disney World is it will be crowded.  We went between Christmas and New Year's and it was a madhouse.  Wall to wall people everywhere.  They actually closed the park part way through the day because it was full.  It won't be as busy if you go at other times of the year but from what I gather there is never a time when the place is not busy. Two main ways to deal with the crowds is to get there early, like before they open early, and make a beeline for the ride/attraction you really want to do before the line ups get out of control, and to make use of FastPass+ which allows you to make reservations for three attractions per day.  It comes standard with every admission so there is no extra cost.  Very popular attractions will actually run out of FastPasses so you will want to make your reservations as soon as possible.  I did ours online a couple weeks before our trip and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was already all out of FastPasses.  We used our FastPasses for Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  We were able to get on the rides within a few minutes of arriving which sure beat waiting in line for over an hour for each one.
Goofing around in line for The Haunted Mansion
If you end up standing in line for a long time some lineups are actually part of the fun.  The line up for the Haunted Mansion for instance has tons of fun stuff to look at and play with.  The line up also moves quickly which at least provides the illusion that you are getting to the front of the line in a timely manner.  Buy the kids a snack before entering a long line and let them eat it while waiting rather than having to stop after and getting something.  Some rides aren't worth waiting in long line ups - the Astro Orbiter for instance or the People Mover - while others aren't terribly exciting (the Carousel)  but have quick or short line ups so are worth doing if you are going by.  
One of the many fun, random things to do in Disney World.
Chances are you will only wind up doing about a half a dozen rides in a day since the line ups are long and there is so much other stuff to do.  My kids loved the parades that seemed to pop up every few hours and the shows that were going on several times a day.  Seeing characters like Alice and the Mad Hatter wander around was also a highlight.  They also liked the gift shops - A LOT!  My kids discovered pin trading while at Disney World and were instantly hooked.  They can't wait to go back, due in large part because they want to trade their pins.  By the way, one trick I learned is to buy a bundle of pins at one of the discount souvenir shops on International Drive so that your kids have some to trade.  My kids spent their allowance money on pins they liked and then didn't want to trade them away so the discount bundle of pins is a good way to ensure they have some they can bear to part with.
Enjoying a Dole Float.
A word about food.  Assuming you aren't on a Disney meal plan which you probably won't be if you are only doing one day,  you will have to shell out for food. It is expensive so be prepared.  You can bring in your own food but then you have to lug it around all day but it will save you money.  We ate at Pecos Bill in Fronteirland and lunch for me and three kids cost $67 (USD).  It was pretty good and there was certainly plenty of food but not cheap.  The Dole Floats and Dole Whips are the best snack at Magic Kingdom and worth every penny they charge and you can find them at Aloha Isle in Adventureland.  You're welcome!  We liked them so much we actually tried making them at home with some success.

Things to remember: 
  • It takes a long time to actually get into the park.  You have to park and then take a shuttle to the ferry or monorail which then takes you to the park.  Once you are there you have to wait to scan your tickets/wristband and then wait again to go through security.  That was what I meant when I said you should get there before the park even opens because you can do all of that before the park opens and be ready to go as soon as the rope drops.  
  • You do have to pay for parking so have some cash ready for that.
  • If you are staying at a resort they will deliver your gift store purchases to your hotel so that you don't have to lug them around.
  • People always mention that Disney World is expensive and that is true but I didn't find it any more expensive that the other attractions in Orlando.  Universal Studios is more expensive for instance.  You can definitely spend a fortune while in the park if you aren't careful but you can also bring in your own food.  Managing expectations about souvenirs and the like with your kids will also help a lot.  

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