I admit, I am not the world’s largest fan of Disney World. I am also a bit suspicious of grown adults who are HUGE FANS of Disney – who have bumper stickers and theme apparel and annual passes. And as a native Floridian, my default mode is to be snooty about tourist traps, and Disney is the biggest tourist trap of all.
However, when one lives in Florida, and one has children, it’s hard to escape gravitational pull The Mouse.
So I have notes, because I think overall the experience is worthwhile for kids and totally manageable for adults. I mixed in pictures of our trip, because pictures are fun!
Note 1. Do Your Homework.
Get your tickets. A regular three-day ticket for a non-Florida resident is $280. By combining a Florida resident discount and a spring discount, I paid $120 for the same three-day ticket. Sign up to receive e-mails from Disney with special offers.
Related: Make your reservations. Dining in the park can get crowded. I used the Disney Experience app to make dinner reservations for two nights, and it could not have been easier. Had I waited until the day of our visit, we would have been out of luck.
Find a place to stay. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Resort in Lake Buena Vista, which was perfect for our needs. The hotel was clean and most amenities were included – free wi-fi, free parking, free meals and free movies (in a theater) for kids, big awesome pool, free shuttle to the parks, etc.
Check the weather. This should be a no-brainer, but the Sunshine State is famous for pop-up thunderstorms and occasionally worse (like today, when Tropical Storm Andrea is dumping rain all over). We brought a few folding umbrellas, but in retrospect I would have purchased a pack of emergency ponchos.
Pack light, like a ninja. I recommend a backpack or other ergonomic bag for all your gear. Carrying a heavy purse on one shoulder for 10 or 12 hours will leave you looking like Igor. If you don’t want to spend a bunch of money on food, bring your own snacks and drinks. We brought granola bars and water bottles, and refilled the bottles at water fountains. We ate lunches and dinners at park restaurants.
Other things to pack: The sun is your biggest enemy. Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. Comfortable shoes are a MUST – this does not include the cute flats you just got at Target. You need support. I purchased a pair of Keens earlier this year, and they were (ugly but) perfect for this excursion. I like mine so much I bought Tyler a used pair off eBay for this trip. They were outstanding.
Note 2. Be Flexible
Look, this is one of the busiest tourist attractions on earth. Lines and crowds are part of the deal. The sooner you get over it, the happier your trip will be. The Fast Pass system is GENIUS and will be your best friend (and it’s free!). However, most of the rides had wait times of 20 minutes or less. The majority of the waiting is done indoors or in the shade, so it’s really quite manageable. Plus the people-watching opportunities are tremendous.
Note 3. Don’t rush.
The amount of effort and planning that went into Disney is staggering. Enjoy it. You’ll miss all the details if you’re running from one ride to the next with blinders on. It’s not a competition. Chill out. You may have to make choices with your time, but it’s better to do 75% of the attractions and be happy than do 100% and be homicidal.
Our original plan had been to take one day at the Magic Kingdom, one day at Epcot, and one day to either go back and hit things we’d missed, or move on to another park. Then Tyler discovered it was Star Wars Weekend at Hollywood Studios, so that was the end of THAT debate.
The adults had a good time. Tyler had a GREAT time. As a grown-up, I have a much better appreciation for the things Disney does well – crowd management, efficiency, customer service, and cleanliness. I also appreciate the inclusiveness of the parks. Once you hit the front gates, there are almost no upcharges or hidden fees or “extras.” Everyone is treated equally.
Tyler is nine years old, which (to me) is the perfect age for taking this trip. He can be responsible for his own gear, stay up later, and has a rudimentary understanding of patience. He was incredibly well-behaved all weekend, and is generally a good traveler/adventurer. I had not been to Disney since I was a senior in high school. While I am perfectly content to wait another (COUGHfifteen) years before venturing back into Mouseland, I was very happy with our experience there.