1. Get there early or stay late. Len Testa and the staff at the Unofficial Guide are all giving us a virtual high five right now! Perhaps no other piece of advice is more useful. Parks are most crowded from 10:00AM until several hours prior to closing time, so an early arrival or a late stay can make all the difference. Notice that we do not recommend getting there early AND staying late, unless you really like caffeine and don’t mind cranky kids. Many of our readers complain about the idea of an early start on vacation, so we advise getting up early on a few days of your trip and on others not. This is especially true for the Magic Kingdom. Early arrival allows guests to experience headliner attractions like Space Mountain and Splash Mountain with minimal waits or to explore Fantasyland without crushing crowds. Early arrival is essential if touring the Magic Kingdom with little ones who will want to enjoy all that Fantasyland has to offer. Arriving early also enables you to take a break midday, when the crowds and the heat are both at their peak. (See tip number three.) Even though it seems counterintuitive, avoid any park the morning of Extra Magic Hours (EMHs). For guests who are night owls or can fake being so with a good afternoon nap, staying late can be a great way to enjoy a park with shorter wait times. We have found that Extra Magic Hours are especially helpful at the Magic Kingdom. The later it gets, the more guests give up and head for the relaxation of their hotel beds. When the Magic Kingdom has EMHs, be prepared to stay until the park closes, sometimes as late as 2:00 or 3:00AM. Crowds thin considerably with each passing hour and guests can often enjoy multiple rides on the same attraction with no wait. The teens in our group once rode Space Mountain 11 times in the hour and a half just before EMHs ended. Extra Magic evening hours at Epcot and Hollywood Studios are not as useful as those at Magic Kingdom as the headliner attractions at each park still have long waits and not all attractions are open. For example, the World Showcase shops and attractions are closed during Epcot EMHs. If you decide to take advantage of EMHs at Epcot or Hollywood Studios, experience rides like Test Track, Soarin’, and Toy Story Mania earlier in the day with Fast Passes. Then use your EMH time to visit shops and less in demand attractions. Spoil yourselves by sleeping in the day after a late night in a park.
2. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Nothing puts a damper on a fun day like wet socks, a blister, or aching feet. Be sure to wear comfortable, broken-in shoes and consider bringing a change of socks. We stress “broken-in.” Do not wear your new sneakers for the first time on a whirlwind tour of Epcot. This is a proverbial recipe for disaster. If you wear high heels to a theme park, well, good luck. Furthermore, listen to the weatherman and your own instincts. It will rain most afternoons in Florida from May to October, so be prepared. Soggy feet and dripping hair are no fun on an air conditioned ride! Buy or bring along ponchos and an umbrella. Even if you think you do not need one, an umbrella keeps the drone of rain from drenching you. Despite being from Minnesota or Alaska, bring a jacket, gloves, and a hat when it’s cold. We so often see guests wrapped in towels and blankets they have purchased from Disney gift shops because they did not dress prudently. The Central Florida cold sticks to you; it is a wet, damp cold that seeps into any spot that is not covered. Drop the tough guy or gal shtick and dress for comfort.
3. Take breaks. Breaks are a must even if they are just inside the park you are touring or at a nearby resort. Most of us are not accustomed to being on our feet for ten hours a day, so an hour off our feet and away from over-stimulation can be manna from heaven. Plan a snack break in a shady spot and talk about what you’ve liked best so far about your day. Play “I Spy” from the cool comfort of a window table in a restaurant. Jump on a bus, water launch, or the monorail and head over to the closest resort for a meal and some window shopping. Ideally, go back to your own resort and nap and/or swim if it is warm enough. Kill two birds with one stone by planning a leisurely meal experience in the middle of the day, close to 3:00PM. Linger over your late lunch, cool down, and relax. If you are travelling with kids, breaks will save us all from inevitable meltdowns.
4. Hydrate and use sun protection. The humid, hot climate of Central Florida is no joke, and Midwesterners and native Hawaiians are equally at risk. First and foremost, hydrate. Refill your used water bottles if you must and keep in mind that all Disney counter service venues will provide guests with free courtesy cups of water. Restrict your caffeinated beverages as they are dehydrating. Consider a Propel or Gatorade in the late afternoon when your energy and electrolytes are likely to have fallen. Wear hats, sunglasses, and make use of sun screen even if you normally vacation on the sun. Hot is hot and UV light is UV light. A sun burn suffered in one of the parks makes a subsequent day at the resort pool painful. You do not want to be the one stuck under the umbrella poolside with a towel over your shoulders. Visit shows and long theater-style attractions at the hottest part of the day. Incorporate a break when the day is hottest. Know when to call it quits. No attraction is worth heat stroke.
5. Know your limits and those of your group. We so often want to intervene when we see a three-year old being dragged along behind a group of park commandos. Make use of strollers for little ones, even those that normally do not need them. Little legs simply cannot keep up with adult strides. The same is true for the elderly or those in your party who can normally keep up but may need breaks or a mobility device. According to one source, the average WDW guest walks between 4.5 and 6 miles a day. Many people are not prepared for this amount of walking. Use your common sense. When your group needs a break, take it. Consider the needs and wants of everyone in the group. Consider splitting up and then meeting later. For many people, a trip to WDW is your vacation. Be realistic about what you can do in the time you have and remember to pamper yourselves a bit with afternoons at the pool, a resort hopping trip, or lunch and a movie at Downtown Disney. Sometimes it is perfectly all right to do nothing, even at WDW.
6. Stop to smell the roses. You can do this literally. The rose gardens at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot afford you this opportunity. Relish in the details and the theming at WDW. No design element, song, smell, or sign at Disney made it into existence without thoughtful and careful planning. If your resort offers a tour of its lobby and grounds, avail of it. Sit on a bench or a lakeside table and absorb all that is going on around you. Read the placards and take time to examine the art and artifacts that are part of so many WDW attraction, resorts, and restaurants. Chat with cast members about Disney and their own home countries or towns. Enjoy the countless critters that live at Disney—from afar. Rabbits, ducks, deer, fish, turtles, geese, squirrels, cranes, egrets, and river otters can all be spotted at WDW. Breathe and de-stress!
7. Take a day or a few mornings or afternoons away from the parks. We love Disney theme parks, but even we need a break from a sometimes hectic park touring schedule. Discuss possibilities with your travelling companions and plan to spend a day or some large chunk of time away from the parks. An afternoon at the pool? Bowling and a movie at Downtown Disney? A fishing excursion? A monorail and boat tour of the resorts on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon? A morning spent in a hammock reading? A leisurely 11:00AM breakfast? A round of miniature golf? The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination. Your feet and your group will thank you.
8. Make use of the FastPass system. FastPasses make touring much easier and ensure that you will get to experience the attractions that are top priority for your party. While this does take some pre-planning, scheduling FastPass times builds some breathing room into your schedule and cuts down on wait times, giving you more time to notice the details and relax. FastPass + allows guests to pre-schedule more than one FastPass and road map their entire trip before arriving. If you do not use FastPass+, secure FastPasses early in the morning at any park you are touring and then enjoy less crowded attractions at your leisure.
9. Consult experts. A number of very good websites and fan sites exist (ours included) which offer valuable advice and insights. Check out WDW menus and resort pictures on Deb Willis’s excellent site www.allears.net. Make use of the excellent tips in the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Listen to podcasts like Lou Mongello’s “WDWRadio.” Be sure to read reviews and updates on wdwplay.com. Many travel agencies specialize in planning trips to WDW and other Disney resorts and parks. Their services are usually free and can save you both time and money. Feel free to email specific questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
10. Set realistic expectations. Talk to your travel companions before you leave. What are your priorities? Do you want to enjoy fine dining restaurants and take behind the scenes tours? Are you planning to ride the roller coasters a dozen times each? Do you want to visit Disney’s Wide World of Sports? Do you want a resort that offers monorail service? Clear ideas about what you do not want to miss at WDW can be enabled by open, honest conversations. Consider letting each member of the group plan a day or part of a day. Build in some time for spontaneity, relaxation, and exploration. You cannot see it all in one trip. Enjoy what you can and plan to return when time and budget allow.