I never ever intended this blog to be a mini version of trip advisor. However I am minded to write about somewhere if I’ve been there and I feel I should recommend it or, as in this case, I also feel I can give helpful hints to those intending to visit somewhere I’ve been. I’ll apologise now if there any typos or spelling mistakes but I’m writing this first instalment whilst jet-lagged!
Perhaps I should give a brief description of the place first. The Walt Disney World Resort, informally known as Walt Disney World or simply Disney World (WDW henceforth in this post), is an entertainment complex that opened on 1st October 1971 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. It is allegedly the most visited such complex in the world. The property covers over 30,000 acres (or 47 square miles), in which it houses 33 themed resorts (24 run by Disney), four theme parks, two water parks, and several additional recreational and entertainment venues. Magic Kingdom is the original theme park on the complex, and Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened throughout the 1980s and 1990s. When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, the site employed about 5,500 “cast members” (see my glossary of Disney terms in part 2). Today it employs more than 66,000, spending more than $1.2 billion on salaries. The largest single-site employer in the United States, Walt Disney World has more than 3,700 job classifications or “roles” as Disney prefers to call them!
Enough facts and figures (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Disney_World if you really want more), let me deal with my 10 top tips.
- Stay in a Disney Hotel. This might sound an obvious first tip but it is quite important. It is possible of course to rent accommodation on and around WDW. However if you do that you will almost certainly have to hire a car and pay car parking charges at each of the parks. You will also have to either self-cater or buy all your meals. Staying in a Disney hotel gave us free transport every 20 minutes or less to all four theme parks, both water parks and Downtown Disney (the shopping, eating and entertainment complex). Included in our holiday was one of the the Disney Dining Plans (see tip 4). It gave all four of us two meals a day (we usually took that as a late breakfast and our evening meal) and a snack each to be taken anytime of day. Breakfasts and evening meals for the four of us average out at about $150 (£100) meaning that we save over £1,400 during our fortnight on food we would have otherwise had to buy (accepting that self-catering would have been cheaper). Our hotel (Port Orleans Riverside) was always very clean, well staffed and extremely efficiently run. There was a swimming pool open until 11pm every night, excellent family entertainment in the bar 4 nights a week ( http://www.yehaabob.com ), open air films for the children, breakfast from 6am for those that wanted it and, weather permitting, riverboats to Downtown Disney al least every 20 minutes (this is not available in every WDW hotel).
- Make use of early opening. Each of the four theme parks has a day when it opens one hour early (i.e. 8am) for WDW residents (another reason to add to tip number one). If you planned your visit well and used fast passes to their maximum benefit (see tip 3 below & tip 6 in part 2) you could complete two of three of the most popular rides before the rush of WDW non-residents. The downside to this is, of course, getting up early (see tip 8). If you’ve been out late the night before, the last thing you want to do is get up at 6.30am particularly on your annual holiday!
- Make full use of Disney’s Fastpass Service. Disney run a fastpass service at all of their most popular rides. You can put your park entry pass into a ticket machine, usually but not always placed near the entry to ride itself, and obtain a ‘fastpass’ that reserves an hour for you to return and get almost instant access to the ride (https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/fast-pass/). We used this service a lot and found we rarely queued for more than 5 minutes (10 at the very most) for some rides where ordinary queuing time had risen to 90 minutes or more. We found the system worked best if, as soon as the park opened most of you went immediately to a popular ride that one of your party didn’t want to experience. While you were in the relatively short queue for that, they took your entry tickets and obtained fastpasses for the next popular ride you wanted to go on.
- The Disney Dining Plan has some disadvantages. As I said earlier, our dining plan came free with the holiday package so we couldn’t complain too much but there were some disadvantages and inequalities in it. Firstly the obvious disadvantage is that you can only eat and buy snacks at the restaurants and outlets that are in the Disney dining scheme. The big names like ‘Planet Hollywood’ and ‘Rainforest Cafe’ (both in Downtown Disney) weren’t in our plan and it would have seemed like a terrible waste of money to pay for food anywhere that wasn’t in the scheme. The other problem was the inconsistency in the size of servings. Our hotel, for example, gave much smaller portions than some of the restaurants we found we could eat in. Then there was the ‘adult versus child issue’. We were defined as three adults and one child – a child being defined as 3-11 years old and our son being 9. We found that the portions offered to him were frequently far less than he needed and more suited for a 3-5 year old than a child his age. If he had been 11 years and 11 months old he would still have been classed as child and would presumably have found the portions even more lacking than there were to him aged 9. We frequently had to give him some of our meals to keep him ‘well fed’. Without a shadow of a doubt the best restaurant we found in Downtown Disney was Wolfgang Puck’s ( http://www.wolfgangpuck.com ). The portions for both adults and children were generous and the staff were charming and, perhaps most importantly, the food was excellent.
- Late Summer is very humid and occasionally stormy. We went in late August, early September. It rained most days and stormed on several. We took raincoats everywhere with us and on more than one occasion we were very glad we did. The boat service that took us from our hotel to Downtown Disney stopped running at the slightest hint of a storm and this meant an uncomfortable journey to our evening meal venue on a crowded, but free of course, bus. The good thing about going at that time of year is that it is towards the end of the summer holiday season and some US schools had gone back thereby reducing the indigenous guests.
Part 2 follows shortly………………….