Coffee Chat: Walt Disney World

(*Note: From time to time, I deviate from education and homeschooling topics on this blog and write about other subjects that interest me. These blogs are titled “Coffee Chat.”)

My family recently ventured to Orlando, Florida for a Walt Disney World vacation. Even though we have visited quite often, I still took the time to study the Disney web sites and pick the brains of my friends in order to better prepare for our trip.

Upon returning, I thought it would be fun to write my own advice column on how to visit Disney. I’m not much of an expert and I don’t have any underground information to share, but it’s always helpful to gain another person’s opinion on how to visit Walt Disney World. Here’s my tips:

Visit Disney World during low crowd periods…or don’t go at all.

Did you know the crowds at Disney can double from one day to the next and quadruple from one month to another? Large crowds will seriously devalue your tickets and possibly destroy your Disney experience. Find a way to go at the right time.

Everything you need to know about when to visit Disney World and which days to visit which parks is readily available on the Internet. Only veteran Disney guests should ever consider visiting Disney during the summer months or on peak weekends…and only under duress (if it’s the only time that works for your family).

The best month to visit Disney World for low crowds is September. The weather is still a bit hot, but you will enjoy moving around the parks at your own speed and visiting your favorite attractions as many times as you want. Due to sports’ schedules, our family can no longer visit Disney in September so we chose May this year. May is a low month at Disney, but September is still far better.

Set the alarm and get to the parks WAY before the gates open.

This is another piece of advice that most people know, but don’t take seriously enough. Visitors need to be standing in line waiting to walk through the entry gate 20-30 minutes ahead of the park opening. When the gates open, take off for the most popular attraction first. All the early risers are heading for the same attraction, but most will be about 10-20 minutes behind you because they weren’t at the front of the entry line. They will continue to be 10-20 minutes behind as you visit the second and third most popular attractions. If you follow this plan, you can visit all the big attractions during the first 2-3 hours the parks are open. After this, you should be able to relax and enjoy the rest of your day at the parks with very few lines to contend with.

Take every advantage of all the planning and execution tools available to you.

I already mentioned all the Disney planning websites available to you. These are golden. They will tell you what week to visit, which days to visit which parks, which ones to avoid when it rains, best places to eat, every detail you could possibly need to know.

In addition, you need to download the Disney application, “My Disney Experience,” to your cell phone. There are many things you can do with this official Disney application, but we used it primarily to see wait times at rides and attractions (it refreshes itself instantly) and to reserve Fastpasses.

The system of Fastpasses is something you need to familiarize yourself with PRIOR to your vacation as it can help neutralize the negative effects of the large crowds. Generally, you can select three Fastpasses per day. Sometimes you can select additional Fastpasses once you finish your first three, if there are still reservations available.

If you are visiting Disney during medium or peak months, you should select your Fastpasses WEEKS ahead of time. If you do not, the most popular reservation times for each ride will be taken and it will affect your ability to plan your day the way you want. If you visit when there are fewer crowds, you can generally reserve your Fastpasses the week of your trip, although reservations for newly-opened attractions can still fill up fast.

There are any number of strategies that can be used to make best use of the Fastpass system. For our family, we like to reserve Fastpasses for the most popular rides during the peak afternoon hours. That way we can hit these rides first thing in the morning without Fastpasses and then return for a second visit in the afternoon.

If the budget allows, stay on Disney property and reserve a premium Disney dining experience.

Staying on Disney property will improve your Disney experience significantly, but it’s expensive and, therefore, may not make sense for your family. We have done it both ways and, if the budget allows, I would pick staying on site. In addition to having free transportation to every place you want to go on Disney property and having extended hours to visit the attractions, you can also go back and forth between the parks and your accommodations during the day. You can also do this if you are staying near the parks, but it’s going to take you much more time and also cost you $17 every time you want to park your car at Disney.

If you visit Disney during low-crowd seasons, you will finish visiting the ride attractions by the end of the afternoon or early evening each day. But spectacular evening shows await. If you stay on Disney property, you can return to your accommodations for dinner and then make a second visit to the parks in the evening.

Keep in mind, the “value” accommodations at Disney World are more like Motel 6 than they are like Holiday Inn. They are clean and themed, but are bare-boned and flooded with people. If you desire more and the budget allows, you might want to consider “moderate” or “deluxe” accommodations.

     Disney resort dining is also something I recommend should you have a budget that allows it. The experience is costly, but memorable, and can be a highlight of your vacation. Do your research on this one too. The best restaurants are not located within the parks, but at the Disney resorts. Check out the many Disney web sites for tips on how to choose a restaurant based on your food tastes and the kind of dining experience you are seeking.

If you dine at a resort on the lagoon, make sure you head to the water at dusk to watch the Disney Light Parade. Boats parade by with their thousands of twinkling lights set to music. It’s a dose of Disney magic, for sure.

If you’ve “been there, done that” at Disney, check out Sea World and Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure on your next visit to Orlando.

Disney lovers can completely miss the fact there are two other wonderful parks in Orlando – Universal Studios (and its’ sister park—Islands of Adventure) and Sea World. While not quite as magical as Disney, the attractions at Universal Studios are more state-of-the-art and impressive, and there are far more thrills at Islands of Adventure. Although I enjoy Universal Studios more than Islands of Adventure, “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Islands of Adventure is a marvel and not to be missed. Nothing at Disney can rival it.

For those who appreciate a much slower pace, Sea World is a good choice. And, with a handful of thrill rides included, Sea World has enough fun and excitement to keep the teens happy too.

Until next time…Be fearless.

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