I'm writing this from Orlando, Florida where we're on our fourth trip to DisneyWorld. Now I realize that to the true Disney faithful, four trips ins't a lot, it feels like enough for me to write this with some degree of authority. My wife is one of the true Disney faithful and all of this really comes from her one way or another.So here you go – how to survive DisneyWorld.
Note: All my Disney experiences have been at DisneyWorld in Orlando Florida. Almost all of this would be applicable to any Disney theme park but I only know DisneyWorld so its written from that perspective.
Abandon All Cost Concerns Ye Who Enter Disney
I originally titled this section, It's going to cost more than you imagined and both titles are accurate. DisneyWorld which was originally envisioned by Walt Disney as a cost effective family vacation has become a premier vacation destination and the pricing reflects that. The bottom line here is that you are going to spend more than you want and the overall experience will be worth it. I've been there and I've never regretted a dime that we spent at DisneyWorld but, man alive, it costs.
Get an Early Morning Start
So there are two things you need to understand about Orlando:
- Its hot; the closer it gets to noon, the hotter it gets
- The lines are the shortest first thing in the morning
My wife is a huge fan of rope drop or getting into the park literally the moment the rope drops. That way you can race to the rides you care about and generally get on them without lines, fast passes or any waiting at all.
Overall an early morning start just makes your Disney experience better. If you only take one thing away from this article, take that.
No Small Children
One of the biggest mistakes I see other parents make is bringing small children to Disney World. Now when I say small, I mean under about 7 years old. I know the parents think "Disney. Kids. Great Pictures. Cuteness Galore!!!" And that is true. But what's also true are diapers, strollers and putting small children into a 90 plus degree temperature environment for hours on end. And what you see are frustrated parents and kids screaming or crying or both. We held off going for years until our youngest was over 7 years old and that was a fantastic decision.
Trip Planning is Key
If you have ever thought "I know we'll goto DisneyWorld and it will be easy!" then I have to disagree with you. I've watched my wife plan multiple trips and it is anything but easy. There are hundreds if not thousands of options and even things like "Do we get the meal plan are widely debated (6.6 million hits on that Google search)".
Here are a few things to consider:
- The amount of information about planning a Disney vacation is staggering. There are literally dozens of hard core disney fanatic web sites which are an awesome resource.
- The time of year is key. Crowds at DisneyWorld are huge and picking the right time of year can make a big difference. Happily there are resources like this. And there are others of course.
- If you can find a Disney fan, someone who really, really cares about Disney, then they can help you have an amazing trip
- DisneyWorld is now an ecosystem of sorts - massive amounts of information, apps that analyze things, etc. And there's a whole language of things that make no sense outside of Disney - FastPass anyone?
One of the things that has really surprised me is the quantity and quality of apps that can really make your trip better. Here are the apps that my wife and I use every single time. All apps below are listed for iOS but most have equivalents for Google Play
The WDW Lines app offers in app purchase for its line info on all rides (some are included in the free app) and the price seems a bit steep - $12.99 for a year's worth of data. And, yes, I balked at this the first few times and then I thought about it – I'm spending $thousands$ on this vacation - another $12.99 isn't going to hurt me. And I paid.
One of the things that has made my trips more successful is putting together a small nerd bag of doom or all the gear that techno dad needs to be successful. Here's what's in mine:
All of this fits into a teeny, tiny bag and goes a long way towards travelling well. Here's the inventory:
- A - Tiny travel sack. More elegant than a zip lock but that would work just fine.
- B - Nail clippers. Useful for cutting the zip ties in k. There is always a use for zip ties. This trip they closed a bag with a broken zipper.
- C - Batteries. Yes you can buy them there but you might find yourself scouring the resort late at night to find them. Easier to bring a small handful.
- D - Penlight. Yes your phone has a flashlight but its crappy compared to something purpose built.
- E - Multi function screw driver. I got this one at Menards for like $2 and it does flat, phillips and two flavors of torx.
- F - USB Charging cable. Useful for kindles, Beats pill, etc.
- G - This is a Belkin multiple outlet with dual usb port mini power strip. It is awesome.
- H - Extra headphones so that a small child's cartoons don't drive you absolutely insane.
- I - Business cards because you never know who you will meet.
- J - Lighting cable for iPhone charging (technically what is shown is a micro usb but it should be at least one lightning cable here; all of them were, at the time of the picture, charging various i devices).
- K - Zip ties because, well, zip ties.
- L - Mini stand for propping up a tablet for watching videos.
- M - Pocket multi tool with attached flashlight. Reddit's /r/edc is the goto source if you like miniture tools; edc = every day carry - things small enough you can carry them every day.
- N - Three to two prong adapter. This will let you plug in something like the powerstrip into a recessed airport outlet like one in the floor.
- O - Pocket knife for, well, anything.
- P - HooToo Tripmate. This is an absolutely, outstanding, tremendously wonderful product that I have fallen in love with. What you see here is a teeny, tiny wifi hub that shares usb sticks with movies on them for viewing on an iPad. Jeff said it better but I said it shorter. Follow these links and then just buy one from Amazon.
Always Look Up
One of my wife's favorite phrases at DisneyWorld is "always look up". Here are some examples:
Managing I Want, I Want, I Want
Taking kids to DisneyWorld is a bit like taking an addict into a drug den. All you're going to hear is "I want", "I want", "I want" and, as a parent, its frustrating as heck. Here's how my wife and I handle it:
- Say no to everything for the first two days
- Give each kid a gift card with an amount on it on the third day
- Tell them "once its out then you're done and I'm not buying you anything"
The reason for not giving it to them on the first few days is that you want them to understand that you don't buy the first thing you see. Please note that this lesson is received best if Mom and Dad follow this rule also. The amount you set will depend on you and your kids. Personally I wouldn't do less than $30 / kid but it also depends on how many kids you have. If you have 6 kids then, well, ouch! If you're going to take this approach then you need to be hands off and let your kids make bad purchases. Then you have a great teachable moment when they regret spending money on something foolish.
Line Management or Motion is Happiness
In today's DisneyWorld, 2016, it isn't uncommon to see a 65 plus minute wait for a top tier ride like Seven Dwarves Mine Train. And here's what I've found about dealing with lines in DisneyWorld:
Motion is Happiness
No one, not the most devoted Disney fan, is actually happy when waiting on line. No matter how magical Disney is, a 65 minute wait is just simply just a sucky experience. What you'll find is that wait times vary dramatically and go up and down. So if you have an app which tracks wait times, you can notice "oh wow People Mover is now only 10 minutes" and just rush over to it.
You'll find that your kids will often fixate on particular rides and want to ride things at a given time. No. I repeat no. Motion really is happiness at DisneyWorld so take rides when they are available. Don't pass up a ride when the line is small. We did this yesterday when we actually did want to ride People Mover and 15 minutes later it was a 25 minute wait.
The Right Shoes
Walking around DisneyWorld basically amounts to traversing a concrete jungle – honestly there is a just a ton of walking. My wife's fitbit normally hits 20,000 steps by late afternoon. And, having brought more comfortable shoes to my wife, yesterday, when I met her at the park, I'm more convinced than ever about the need for excellent shoes. And since that is highly variable from person to person all I can really say here is picture whatever shoe your feet can be in for hours upon hours and then wear that shoe. I'd recommend something with arch support personally but that's just me.
Do Evening Events with Care if At All
There are a ton of amazing things to do at DisneyWorld during the evenings. The problem is that if you have kids, by the time the night time events roll around all the kids want to do is lie around and watch TV or play video games and you, the parent, is like But we paid for this cool thing; get off your butt and come along!!! We've now tried to do evening events on almost every trip and they always end up with one parent at the event and the other parent at the hotel with whatever kid is exhausted and that's no fun for Mom and Dad. So here are two thoughts:
- Ease into evening events with only 1 per trip.
- If you are going to try to do evening events, you should do them at the beginning of your trip when you're not just plain exhausted as you will be by the end of the trip
Note: I wrote the section above prior to Saturday night when we attended the Club Villain event which was just outstanding and while what I wrote is true, Club Villain was amazingly good and it has made me rethink my previous position.
Carrying Less is Happiness
I always see people carrying big bags, backpacks, etc and I wonder just what they have in them. Personally I never carry anything more than an almost empty backpack and even that is sometimes too much. Right now to get into DisneyWorld you have to go thru:
- ticket check
- bag check
- metal check; this is a random pick that I somehow got selected for every time I entered one of the parks except for one time.
If you can eliminate one of those by not having a bag at all then its one less step to worry about. And, as covered below, Orlando is hot. The less you carry the happier you will be.
Getting Your Kids to Carry The Stuff
I'm a firm believer that requiring more of your kids is ultimately good for them. So I think that if you have a bag or a misting fan or whatever, you should divide responsibility among your kids. Usually this will cause no end of whining or kid1 shoving it over to kid2 and so on. Here's what I did this trip to get my kids to deal better with this:
- Set iPhone timer to 15 minutes with a distinctive ring tone
- Give it to Kid1
- When timer goes off give it to Kid 2
- Take a turn after Kid2
- Repeat until back in hotel
Your mileage may vary but it worked for me.
Dining If You Have a Favorite Meal or Kids
The Disney dining experience is generally excellent. One unfortunate thing that we have noticed, however, is that the menus change regularly. My wife suffers from celiac disease which generally means that there is only 1 or 2 things on most menus that she can eat. And if those options change it can actually be pretty disappointing. If you want to avoid this, the menus for every single restaurant, food kiosk and more are online in the My Disney Experience. And given that kids can often be pretty picky eaters, its not a bad idea to preview the menu before you go.
Take Taxis or Uber When You're Beat
There are generally three main modes of transportation at DisneyWorld:
The dominant mode of transport is the bus and while they can be excellent, they also can be late and they can be slow. Given that all the buses are free, a frugal father might want to use them exclusively. This, alas, is a false economy. Given the amount of money that you will have invested in your Disney vacation, waiting an hour to deal with a slow bus ride can actually be a large chunk of time. The taxis are actually quite good and Uber is another option. I never had a ride from park to hotel run more than $20. When the entire family is exhausted and you just discovered the Monorail is mysteriously closed then spending $15 on a taxi is a great use of funds.
Eat Lightly or Mastering the Disney 5
My wife and I jokingly refer to the Disney 5 or the five pounds that it seems you put on after a week at Disney. We generally, for convenience, use the dining plan and there is a ton of food provided. However, lately we've taken to treating the dining plan much like tapas - a few bites or this, a few bites of that; we just don't finish our plates anymore. It isn't an economic way to do things but you don't end up so full and feeling so fat afterwards. If you're looking for good information about the economics of the dining plan then the ever superb EasyWDW always has something good to read.
Dealing with the Heat
The Orlando heat and humidity can be relentless. Normally we go in the fall when you would think that it wouldn't be so bad but that's just not true. And while my wife thrives in the heat, I, like many basement dwelling, light phobic technology nerds, can find it a bit much. Listed below are some of the tips that I have figured out to manage the heat.
Note: Some friends of our family recently went to DisneyWorld this past summer and they came back to tell us that it hit 114 degrees one day.
Always Walk in the Shade
The single best thing you can do is simple – walk in the shade. Depending on the time of day you will find that there is always shade. Now you might have to walk contrary to the flow of traffic but people do do it and its ok. Shade is really, really important at DisneyWorld.
Wear White not Black
I know my audience for this is another dad and I suspect a technically minded individual. And I know that you understand that black is the absolute worst color to wear in the heat. But even if you do understand this, your children may not. Both my kids, this last trip, managed to pack almost all black wardrobes. Oy. Wear white people! It reflects the sun not absorbs it!
Hat and Sunglasses
I know this is obvious but your kids may not think to pack a ball cap or sunglasses. Make sure you have them prior to the trip otherwise your talking a $30 pair of glasses plus a $30 ball cap – for a 9 year old. And for best luck fighting the head the ball cap should be white not black.
Bandana Around the Head
My classic technique for beating the heat when I labor outdoors is the Bandana around the temple soaked in cold water. I know, I know – I look like a refugee from a 1980s rock video but it does work. I haven't had to do it yet at DisneyWorld but I can sense it coming.
Take the Mid Afternoon Break
Your approach to theme parks may vary but, at least for my family, we find a mid afternoon break to be essential. When the clock hits one or two, its time to go back to the hotel for air conditioning, the pool or just plain down time. We go back out around three or four and everyone is refreshed, happy and far less cranky. Please note that this reduced crankiness includes the author.
Leverage Small World for a Break
If you're at the Magic Kingdom then one of the best rides, when you're hot and tired, is Small World. While Small World isn't an exciting ride by any means, it is a wonderfully pleasant experience and it has some wonderful attributes:
- Great air conditioning
- About 11 minutes in length
- Moderately comfortable seating
- Gives a great way to talk to kids about racism and why Walt Disney made the ride in the first place
Every trip we've made to DisneyWorld, except for this one, has featured multiple rides on Small World. Why not this one? Alas its closed for renovations.
Please bear in mind that every Disney park has some ride that's the equivalent of Small World in this regard. Here are some examples:
- Magic Kingdom - Small World, Hall of Presidents, Carousel of Progress
- Epcot - Spaceship Earth, Three Caballeros
- Hollywood Studios - Muppet*Vision 3D
- Animal Kingdom - Primeval Whirl
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Once again we return to the theme of Orlando is hot. So drink up! Depending on the hotel you may get free bottles of water in the morning and you can always bring them to the park to save some money.
A Misting Fan is Your Ally
You'll find these blue plastic fan / water bottles sold through out the parks for about $19. And you'd think "too much money" but they really do work well. Cheap bastard that I am, I kept it from my very first trip and we're still using it. If you really want to level up your usage of this then put in the fridge overnight or load it with ice cubes (or both).
Sometimes a Line is Ok
Despite what I've written about avoiding lines, when a line lets you avoid the heat, it is a viable tactic. The lines are almost always in shade and they are invariably air conditioned.
Bring a Jacket
Given how much I've written about the pervasive heat and humidity in Orlando you might be surprised to find me closing this essay with "Bring a Jacket" but it is unfortunately true. The air conditioning indoors in Orlando is as pervasive as the heat is outdoors and I find my normal indoor state is either chilly, cold or too cold. You might be different but I've never traveled here without a fleece and I've never regretted it.
Postscript 1: The Disney Doctor
Heaven forbid you get sick at DisneyWorld but it has happened twice to my youngest – strep throat once and food poisoing a the second time. Luckily one of the maids turned us onto Resort Physicians – an old fashioned, honest to goodness, house call. A fantastic doctor came to our room, took care of us and managed to save what was left of the vacation. And, ever since, I've kept his business card close since I knew we'd be going back again. Here are the details if you need a great doctor at DisneyWorld in Orlando:
Resort Physicians Thomas Blehl 407-465-0000 (office) 407-399-9190 (mobile) email@example.com
Postscript 2: Packing List
Here's my packing list for a disney trip. This section likely needs a bit more work so keep that in mind.
Things You Bring:
- jacket / fleece
- bathing suits; the pools generally are excellent
- a 4 pack of Ramen noodles; our youngest has gotten seriously sick at the parks twice and ramen is his "I'm sick" food
Things You Bring to the Park:
- misting fan
- good shoes with arch suports
- advil / tylenol / both
- bandaids and neosporin
- hat / sunglasses per person