Disney World
February 3, 2017 4:11 AM   Subscribe

My family is headed to Disney World. My wife, 8 year old, 6 year old, Grandparents, and myself. I have NO idea what I am getting myself into. I keep getting a mix of excitement, worry, happiness, and pity from various friends. Help me make this trip magical without melting down.

We are staying at the Polynesian. One day at Disney, one at Animal Kingdom, and one at Hollywood Studios. We have the deluxe meal plan and a itinerary put together by a Disney vacation planner.

I have not been involved in any of this. I do have some friends that completely geek out on this. I realize there are entire sub cultures around hacking the system. I have purposefully avoided all this because I frankly don't want to fill my head with all of this stuff.

With that said, can the Disney veterans provide me with some sound advice for having a awesome time and keeping my sanity. I'd love to hear about some things I shouldn't miss, but also some tips for navigating the park, getting good food, taking some breaks, and finding some serenity. If you know how to use arbitrage on fast passes bring it on. I'm simply looking for straightforward information on having a blast.
posted by jasondigitized to Travel & Transportation around Orlando, FL (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ehhhh I am one of the system-hackers but if you really don't want to think about it and your agent has already booked all your fastpasses and dining reservations, then just do what they told you. I question the decision to send you to Hollywood Studios over Epcot, but I assume there is a reason.

The only two things to keep in mind: if they scheduled you to be in the park at opening, plan to be there about 45 minutes early to allow for travel snafus, security, and crowds. Leisurely mornings are not a thing unless you like waiting in huge lines. And second, take an afternoon break every day at that fancy pool in the Polynesian. You're paying for it, and you'll feel better after. There's plenty of peaceful places to chill inside the parks, but nothing beats the hotel pool bar at 3:00PM.

posted by bowtiesarecool at 4:21 AM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

It's been about 6 years but here are a few quick tips:

Do get to the magic kingdom early (say 10-15 minutes before opening) because they put on a performance at the gate with all the major characters and it's a GREAT start to the day.

Mention to the ticket taker that it's your first visit, or if anyone has a close birthday, or if you're celebrating any other special occasion; they'll give you special buttons to wear which will give your kids extra attention. My kids LOVED this.

Master the FastPass. It is genius. Although I believe it may have changed from the time we went. Its still SO worth doing!

Space Mountain is fast and jerky and my daughter lost her glasses on it. So beware!
posted by yawper at 4:26 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World 2017. The strategies described allow you to optimize your visit by going on the rides and attractions in the sequence when they will be less crowded. By pre-planning with this book, I estimate our family saved eight man-years of stress. ;)
posted by fairmettle at 4:45 AM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do you have your Fast Pass + all set up? If not check out the many threads on Disboards.com that explain how to do it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:03 AM on February 3, 2017

Check out disboards.com - lots of super helpful info about everything!
posted by jenny76 at 5:04 AM on February 3, 2017

Also, the opening show is on INSIDE the park. Get there 30 minutes early.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:04 AM on February 3, 2017

I question the decision to send you to Hollywood Studios over Epcot, but I assume there is a reason.

Two of them. A 6 year-old and an 8 year-old. HS is far more amenable to entertaining and distracting little ones than Epcot is.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:05 AM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Because relatives live close to there we have been about 6 times in the last 10 years. A favorite thing to do is eat at the Sci-Fi Drive in theater. It's dark and you sit in little pretend cars and they play movie trailers. Some how kids just settle down and zone out - it's one of the most quiet places in the parks. I feel recharged and ready to tackle the lines again when I'm done.

There is a very good app that tells you how long lines are. And this site wll help decide which park to do which day.

You'll be able to get in a park early or stay late because you are staying in the park.

In case of lines it's fun to have some little talking game. When I went with adults we did a crossword puzzle, with kids you can choose a family favorite. You could do something like these cards, too. There are dozens of versions of these.

Bringing a snack is great. Something like nuts, etc. (Also fun to feed the squirrels there).

There are rides that get you wet. Search those and see if they are interesting. Consider this and decide to wear something that dries well (not jeans and cotton, etc). You can get those clear ponchos at Walmart for about a buck. Since you'll have 6 of you that'll save about 40 bucks if you decide you want them.
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:13 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

HS is far more amenable to entertaining and distracting little ones than Epcot is.

This is not currently the case. DHS is mostly construction right now.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:18 AM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

The greatest threats to having a good time are fatigue from walking and standing in line, excessive exposure to the sun, and worry about how much money you are spending.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:43 AM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah I would definitely recommend either 2 days at Magic Kingdom or 1 at Epcot instead of HS, but again, this may be non-negotiable for you.

Do remember that esp at the Polynesian, your kids may want just as much to get "home" early enough to swim and have fun at the resort -and that is okay. Do not feel like you have to be at the parks for 12+ hours a day. In fact you'll probably enjoy them more if you don't.

The railroad is a fun overview of the park and a good way for everyone to rest a little. Lots of people skip it.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:47 AM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Nthing that you should take a hotel break every day. The parks are awesome but they are uniquely exhausting. Also, the Polynesian is totally the best place to stay on property and you should definitely get your money's worth! Don't forget to have a Lapu Lapu at the hotel bar across from Ohana.
posted by cakelite at 6:10 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Are they into Star Wars? It's huge at Hollywood Studios right now. (Were were just there three weeks ago!) If so, here's what you do:

FIRST THING, make a beeline to the Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost and sign the kids up for Jedi Training. Go immediately because slots fill up. They get to participate in a little show that has been practicing with light sabers and then getting to fight Darth Vader or one of the villains from the Rebels TV show. Sign then up for one of the times (half hour intervals) throughout the day that will work. If you know you will stay, do one of the ones after sunset--the lightsabers light up and the pictures are much cooler. We thought my daughter's favorite thing would be meeting Anna and Elsa at Epcot, and this won out by miles. (Epcot was by far her least favorite, although she was thrilled to meet the Arendelle pair, natch. It's not great for kids that age, really.)

The Star Tours ride is apparently set up to do a slightly different experience on multiple runs, which we discovered as the last thing of the last day there.

On the other side of the park from Star Wars, there's a building set up a bit like the cantina where you can meet/photo with characters, Chewbacca and Kylo Ren while we were there. There are also Jawas moving about, and at least one of them has a leather cylinder pouch. He's a trader--offer him a trinket, and he'll offer you a droid piece.

The First Order Stormtroopers march up and down the main street every hour, on the hour. Which is too much but eh. It's a good deliciously menacing vibe. (I was also briefly detained by a pair of stormtroopers patrolling the park for wearing my Rebel Alliance gear. Also a favorite story my daughter likes to tell.)

And in an unrelated property, don't miss the Toy Story Midway right. You ride in a car and use a little pull rope to shoot at carnival like targets. The ride is constructed to give you the perspective of Andy's room from toy height. It's wonderfully whimsical.

Other advice...

Download the app. It will have wait times including sometimes for the character meets. It seems lame, but if your kids want to stand in line to meet Goofy or Buzz Lightyear or whoever...you just bought yourself a little rest time. And if they don't, eh. My daughter loves her autograph book. She wasn't as much into the thrilling rides. (We never even hit Splash Mountain for instance.) Read your kids and key off of them. (on preview, nakedmolerats is right about going back to the resorts if that's what the family wants. Two nights, we went back to rest, and then returned for a fireworks show.

Try to eat not right at noon. Everyone does. (The app also locates food and provides menus.)

The MK railroad was being refurbished while we were there. May be back up now, I don't know.

On the Jungle Cruise, my little one got to "steer" us back into port and get a captains' license. She loves it, but on the other hand we all had to put up with "Dad Joke: The Ride" and the lingering cultural insensitivity baked in.

My daughter enjoyed catching the MK parades...another way to get away from walking for a bit.

We skipped AK. I've been there, it's ok, but I live in a town with a reasonable zoo. Nothing there feels essential to me at the prices you're paying for Disney. YMMV.
posted by stevis23 at 6:11 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

The railroad is being refurbished currently. What was the "Opening the Park" show at the gates is now done in front of the castle in the park. That's another reason to get to the park before published opening hours. The other reason is that the crowds for the first 45-90 minutes are very low. If your family is amendable to it, it is better to trade off sleep for doing popular attractions in the morning. If you are worried about the sleep, do take the suggestions above about having time at the pool/hotel in the afternoon. You are after all, pretty close via the monorail so you should take advantage of it.

Star Tours is definitely a different ride each time as the filmed presentation has different branching off points so they can show different experiences.

As for the Animal Kingdom, I really enjoyed things like nature trails that are way more immersive of an experience that it really makes you feel like you aren't in a zoo.

+1 on the Jedi Training Academy. It gets rave reviews.
posted by mmascolino at 6:28 AM on February 3, 2017

Great choice on the Polynesian. It's close to the park so you can go back to the hotel to relax mid-day. They have a great Luau that's included in the deluxe dining plan if you can book it.

My niece and nephew that are 8 and 9 LOVED their autograph books and meeting the characters.

The Disney app is great, especially for finding characters and tracking your Fast Passes. Bring a backup battery for your phone because between taking pictures, videos, and checking the app you'll probably need it.

We liked Hollywood Studios and the kids loved Jedi Training, but it was not enough for a whole day. If you have park hopper tickets, you can probably do Epcot at night too.

Animal Kingdom was great - definitely recommend the Safari and Festival of the Lion King. If your kids are into scary rides, Expedition Everest is awesome.
posted by elvissa at 6:55 AM on February 3, 2017

Lots of amazing advice up above, especially about the app. You are staying at the BEST hotel Disney has (don't @ me, Grand Floridian) -- I hope my version of heaven smells like the Polynesian's lobby. Hit the parks early and make sure you take a good afternoon break to enjoy the pool.

Did you know that you can watch the Magic Kingdom castle fireworks show from the Polynesian beach? They pipe in the music and all. You'll be missing the castle projections, but it's a stinking good alternative to being in the park during it, and leaving immediately after with the crush of people who are doing the same. Grab some ice cream from your food court and sit on the beach. This is part of what you're paying for.

Do you have the park hopper option? If so, I'd do Studios in the morning, get all of the great Star Wars stuff done, take the afternoon break, and go to Magic Kingdom again for night. As of my trip in October, Studios is a half-day park. Magic Kingdom is the shining star of the parks, and if I only had 3 days at WDW, I'd use 2 of them there.

If I'm allowed to spend your money and if you haven't already, buy the Disney MemoryMaker photo package in advance of your trip. You can download unwatermarked versions of EVERY photo (including ride photos) the Disney photographers take and share them anywhere AND print whichever ones you want at your own leisure. (I printed mine at Target.) Make sure you get in the pictures; those pics of kids, parents, and grandparents at Disney will be like gold in 30 years.
posted by kimberussell at 6:58 AM on February 3, 2017

The biggest tip to having a blast is to RELAX about it all. Disney works hard on their end to keep unpleasantness to a minimum. Get a flat tire? They have roadside assistance available. If you watch carefully, you'll find that there's lots of stuff like that going on designed to minimize any unhappiness. I managed to lose a two year old at Epcot in the Turtle Talk. It was late in the day, and they separate the little ones into the front area so they can see. At the end, there's a bit of confusion getting kids and parents back together, and he apparently saw someone he thought was me leaving, so he rushed on out on his own, but then in a bit of a panic when it wasn't me, didn't stop. After a few minutes looking on my own, I spoke to an employee, they got on the walkie-talkie, and very discreetly but also fairly suddenly Disney staff started appearing out of the woodwork all over the area. Found very quickly.

Don't stress about it. Disney's fun. You can sabotage your trip if you stress about it. You won't see it all. You CAN'T see it all. So focus instead on enjoying whatever you please. Don't get too intent on following any particular plan. Interesting things to do at Disney are littered around the park, and some are transient, appearing for a little while before vanishing again. Some aren't even official Disney! We sat down one time at a table to have a little break, and noticed a seagull that was expertly navigating under the tables, looking for food. It was delightful and pleasant for a three year old to watch, so we did. Great memory of that visit.

You show up, you do stuff, you have fun, and make great memories. Look at the brochures or web sites to see if there's stuff that you definitely don't want to miss. Do the FastPass+ thing. But don't make it into a chore.

If you're visiting in the very near future, January and February are my favorite months to visit. The temperatures tend to be cooler, the crowds much smaller.
posted by jgreco at 7:09 AM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

The most important thing to remember is that the people at Disney are really good at what they do-- and what they do is take money from you and give you a great experience in exchange. If you show up knowing nothing and just wander around, making it up as you go along, your family will still have a great time. In fact, a family that arrives with nothing more than a relaxed attitude is going to have a better time than a grimly determined, over-prepared WE ARE GOING TO SQUEEZE EVERY DROP OF FUN EVEN IF IT MAKES US MISERABLE family.

That said, a few tips:

• If your kid drops their food on the ground at Disney, you can go to the counter where you bought it and tell them what happened, and they'll replace it for free. Seriously. This is a lifesaver when you've got an unhappy child who just dropped their ice cream.

• If you're going to be uptight and over-organized about just one thing, it should probably be getting to the park as early as you can manage, just because every half hour past opening time is going to add a big chunk of waiting time. Get there as early as you can without making your family miserable, and then when the crowds get huge at midday, go back and hang out at your hotel. Since you're staying in the park, you can then go back and see more in mid-to-late afternoon when things have calmed down. (This is assuming you are there on a reasonably crowded day. If you're there on a ghost town day it's less of a big deal. )

• I second the recommendation of The Unofficial Guide To Disneyland. However, it is targeted at those of us for whom geeking out and trying to optimize everything is part of the fun. If that's not your personality, then feel free to skim it and cherry pick whatever is most useful. If you think that even skimming it is going to stress you out, then just skip it. Millions of people visit the park without reading it and they all have a great time.

• Probably the most useful thing in The Unofficial Guide is a rating for the age-appropriateness/scaryness of each ride. Take a look in advance and think about what rides your kids may or may not be up to.

• I'm the over-preparing type, so I bought two copies of the book-- a hard copy to leaf through at home, and an electronic copy I downloaded to the Kindle app on my phone so that I could look up scariness ratings and the like while I was strolling around the park. If you are not as insane as I am, and this seems like overkill to you, you could always snap a photo of any page you found useful so you could pull it up on your phone.

• If I'm doing the math right, you've got four grownups and two kids. Take advantage of that to go spend some time with your wife on rides that the kids don't want to do. Even better, let one grownup stay at the hotel after the kids go to bed, and the other three adults can go enjoy the quiet and short lines of Disney in the evening.

• A lot of the fun is the creativity and artistry put into the entire park. If you keep your eyes open while you're strolling around, you'll notice lots of wonderful details -- including (but not limited to) hidden Mickeys.
posted by yankeefog at 8:36 AM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

OK, on reread, I'm not sure I was quite clear about that last point. I'm just saying it's easy to get caught up in the mindset of "any time not spent on a ride is somehow wasted" but the rides are just one part of the overall experience, and you should take time to enjoy the stuff in between.

Also, I just realized-- I linked to a Disneyland crowd calendar. Here's a link to a Disneyworld one.
posted by yankeefog at 9:21 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

The most important thing we did on our Disney trip was listen to what the kids wanted to do. I mean, we took them to the park and had a couple things scheduled - lunches or performances and fast passes. But otherwise we let them lead. Want to see characters? Great. Want to sit and watch something? Fine. Want to go back to the hotel and swim? Let's do it.

I also recommend buying some souvenirs in advance from amazon or the Disney store. Having new shirts each day, and the autograph books, etc saved us some cash.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:57 AM on February 3, 2017


Seriously, the biggest mistake people make when going to Disney is trying to hard to make the whole thing magical.

There's a lot of stuff to see and do, and in three days, there is no way you'll see it all.

Better to have 3 days of seeing what you really want to to see than 3 days of open to close death marches.

I know it's expensive and expectations are high, but no one is having a good time when 1 child is cranky from walking too far, the other is mad because she didn't get a 3rd Dole Whip and Dad is pissed because the whole group is 10 minutes late for the 11:35 Fast Pass.

So, really relax. Pick a few must-do highlights, enjoy the ambience and have an actual vacation.
posted by madajb at 11:53 AM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, in case you haven't been before, or it's been a while:
Disney is shockingly expensive.

Souvenirs are expensive, food is expensive (though likely not a problem with the Deluxe Dining Plan), extra SD cards when you fill yours up are expensive. Renting a beach bike is expensive.

It's a super-efficient money extraction machine. Be prepared.
posted by madajb at 11:57 AM on February 3, 2017

Make times to split the group for several hours each day. Give the Grands a few hours to themselves, same for parents. Split the kids and let each one be the special kid to one or 2 adults, rather than always part of a group. If the genders work, have a Girls' time or Boys' time and let the other group rest. Whatever works for you. Just don't think that you have to stay together the entire time trying to make everyone happy all the time together.
posted by CathyG at 6:27 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a Disneyland veteran rather than World, but I'll nth some of the tips above:

- Starting your day at the park earlier is always going to mean fewer crowds and shorter lines. Unless it will make your family miserable grouches to hustle in the morning, it's probably worth it.

- This is obvious, but wear comfortable, broken-in shoes. (I easily walk 8 miles on a long day at Disneyland, and it's wayyyyy smaller than World.)

- Wear a hat with a brim! Disney World's lack of shade can be brutal.

- The afternoon break at the hotel pool is cliche advice for a reason. It's peak awful time in the parks: peak crowds, peak heat, peak crankiness. Get out! Then you can head back to a park, or another resort even, feeling so much more like a human.

- You'll need the app for your Fastpasses, checking wait times, etc. Absolutely bring at least one portable back-up battery for your phones.

- If you're on the Deluxe Dining Plan, that probably means a lot of time at table service restaurants, with reservations that your planner has already set up? If you're celebrating anything (birthday, promotion, etc.) definitely let your server know. The only time I've been to Disney World, I had dinner at the California Grill and mentioned in my reservation that I was celebrating finishing my PhD. When we arrived, they had decorated the whole table with confetti, and brought us free champagne and dessert. (At Disneyland, I've also often gotten free desserts on my birthday.) It's no guarantee, of course, but if you are celebrating something, let them know.

- My other main opinion on Disney World food is: the quick service, mid-price food is pretty middling, but the table service, more expensive food can be outstanding. It's also pretty tough to be a vegetarian at Disney World -- if anyone is, or has any other dietary restrictions, that would be a specific area to do more research about in advance.

- Finally, yeah, the best thing you can do is relax and be chill. If you haven't been involved in the planning process so far, it might seem weird that so many people are telling you this, but you'll understand after you witness the first of many in-park meltdowns. People get heavily invested in having every part of their plan work out perfectly and when it doesn't (combined with heat, crowds, and hunger/thirst), it's a recipe for tantrums from both kids and adults. If you or your kids have any ride they absolutely MUST do, try to get that done early in the day, then do your best to take your time and take it easy.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 12:32 AM on February 5, 2017

re: Vegetarian/Vegan/other dietary restrictions. If you are eating at the nicer restaurants (and having the Deluxe Dining Plan means you are) the restaurants will be exceedingly accommodating of your needs if you contact them ahead of time. This example is from their most high restaurant with it's most high dining option, but they will create a vegan tasting menu.
posted by mmascolino at 8:50 PM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

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