Everyone who has kids eventually gets caught in the web of sparkly shiny that is Disney. Most little girls go through what I call the Princess Stage, and now that Disney owns Pixar, Marvel and the Star Wars franchise, even what your boys watch will be lining the coffers of Walt Disney Inc. Why do you think they made a Cars 2? To make sure that not just the little girls were buying Disney merchandise – Cars is not only the most merchandised Disney film, it may be the most merchandised film EVER. So you’re giving money to Disney if you have kids. And some of you, even if you don’t. So eventually you’re going to go to the Magic Kingdom. And EPCOT. AND Disney Hollywood Studios. And Animal Kingdom. And whatever else they have built since last week. Especially if you are on the East Coast. You’re gonna make the trip, eat the food, ride the rides and basically fall into a vat of Disney Dust, smiling the whole time as you empty your wallet. And though I was never a huge fan of Disney cartoons (I am more of a Warner Bros kind of guy) I do have a little girl. And eventually she wanted to go and see some princesses. I had been to the Walt Disney World as a kid but it had been many many years- I have fond memories of WDW but I knew nothing about planning the trip or what to expect. Now that I have done the trip once (which we now call The Disney Trip of Doom) and are planning our second trip (to make up for the terrible trip), here are a few things I wish I had known before I went to Walt Disney World.
1- The food is fantastic. Every bit of food we had at MK was good. Granted, the Quick Service meals were basically fast food but it was still tasty and honestly we did not have an unpleasant meal anywhere. And the Full Service meals were amazing. Lunch at a French restaurant at EPCOT was like dining in France. We had dinner at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway section of EPCOT not because we love Norwegian food but because it had the most princesses for my daughter (we got 6 at one time). Tho it was not our first choice it was still amazing. The best meals we had? Two meals at the Polynesian Resort- a sit-down, full-service dinner at Kona Cafe and the Ohana Breakfast with Lilo and Stitch (our family has a thing for Hawaii). Both meals were unexpectedly amazing- Kona had the best bread and my steak was top knotch. The breakfast not only included Mickey and the gang (along with Lilo and Stitch of course) but the entire meal came out in one gigantic frying pan for everyone at the table to eat from. And of course, Pog Juice. Some call it Stitch Juice but I call it delicious. So if you go, get the dining plan or better yet, be flexible on your dates and go when there’s a special for Free Dining!
2- Paying more for a hotel does not always mean a better hotel. For our Disney Trip of Doom we stayed at the Pop Century Resort. Modestly priced with two beds, bath and a pool which we used for about 30 minutes one day. We were there to hit the parks dangit, not hang out in the room and watch TV. All you need is a shower and a bed – we were too tired to even care what our room looked like. For a “Value” resort it was nice, clean and well-appointed. That’s all we needed. And from what we have heard from other guests, paying for a deluxe hotel may not always be the best use of your money. Many folks have told us that you pay simply to be closer to the parks and just because you pay more doesn’t always mean you get nicer rooms or better service. Since all the service at Disney is expected to be stellar, why pay Ritz Carlton prices if you aren’t staying at the Ritz Carlton? Granted, one of our friends said that they loved being able to walk out of their room and almost directly in line to the monorail to the parks at some of the “Deluxe” resorts. Nice, but is it worth paying an additional $200-400 a day? I think not. We really used the room for showers and passing out from exhaustion.
3- Get in shape. I used to joke with people when they told me they were going to WDW – I’d say “You better start training now!” or some such smart aleck remark. Well having done it, lemme tell you – you had better start training now. Seriously. The amount seems to vary but some say the average walk is 8 miles a day. Some say more- as much as 10-15 miles. A Day. Average. So if you are carrying 10 or 15 less pounds around you’ll be a happy guy. And if you don’t want your legs to feel like slabs of lead every night, do a little prep work. I am dieting and starting jogging so I can get in better shape for the trip. This time I hope to not be pushing a child in a stroller but I probably will be for part of each day. So sit ups and push-ups at the very least. Stretch those legs. Take some back pills and some Icy Hot with you if you’re old like me – you may very well be carrying a child for part of your day!
4- Plan ahead and use a Disney Planner. I cannot stress this enough. Thankfully my wife is a bit of a planner and we used a Authorized Disney Vacation Planner so we were not stressed too much about what to do and where to go. The planner was like a travel gent but exclusively for Disney and it costs nothing to use one – they are paid by Disney. Ours helped us reserve the meals with specific princesses and characters and knew free dining was coming so we could plan for it. She was awesome and totally free. Then the wife planned all the days around the meals for maximum Princess and Character exposure and riding time for the child (and us too, of course) so we knew which parks to hit on what day and what time to be where. Without a plan I would have been completely overwhelmed. You will already be stressed just because you’re traveling with your whole family and you know how that gets. Plan ahead. There are also books (some of which I read) such as The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, online guides and message boards (many of which I checked out but honestly I think my wife read them all ) and even the official Disney Mobile Magic smartphone apps for Android and Iphone which can help make dinner plans, show you wait times for rides, help you find characters and more to help while you’re in the park. Use them and save yourself some headache.
5- Be prepared (and be especially prepared for rain). I am an Eagle Scout so I know how to prepare for emergencies. And we read the online advice and I had been to Florida a few times. So I knew it was going to rain, but not for very long. Like 5 minutes a day every day around 5 pm. So no biggie- we prepped for this by having some cheap rain suits from the Dollar Store. We could use them if we got caught in one of the 5 minute downpours or wear them on the Splash Mountain and such if we had a chance of getting wet. And we could chuck ‘em in the garbage when we were done with them. Sure, that’s all we would need, right? Not on your life. We just happened to be at the Magic Kingdom when it rained 48 hours straight. Not just a drizzle – record setting rain. On the evening news they showed video of the creeks getting so high that fish were swimming in the rain gutters of the streets. We spent 2 half days and one ENTIRE day in the rain. We were forced to buy Disney rain ponchos which of course are not cheap. We were soggy and cold but made the best of it until the sun finally came out while we were at EPCOT. And then it got worse – read on.
6- Have a pet emergency plan. During our torrential rain slog of death thru the Happiest Place on Earth we got a call that one of our two dogs was ill. He had apparently gotten sick and the symptoms sounding like he had eaten something he shouldn’t have, so we didn’t worry too much about it – he had a habit of eating things he shouldn’t. During our second day of rain we got the call that our dog was not eating and had begun losing control of his bladder and bowels. We were not expecting this – our usual house/dogsitter is my father in law who is well into his 80’s and barely equipped to deal with two crazy dogs much less one that is getting ill. So we had to call a friend down the street who took our dog to the emergency vet for observation. While we were at EPCOT we got the call that our dog was having full renal failure - his kidneys were shutting down – and we would soon have to make the decision as to whether or not we would have to keep him alive until we got home or have him put to sleep. And just as the sun came out we got the call that the decision has been made for us. His heart had stopped – he was gone. So we went on the Soaring ride while I cried over losing my dog. Had we made a better plan for emergencies could we have gotten him to the vet earlier? Could we have saved him? I’m not sure but next time we will have a full-blown contingency plan in place and plan to have his sister checked out by our vet (she’s 14 now!) before we leave. Just in case.
7- Take batteries. Of course during the pet emergency we were on the phone a lot. And of course I ran my phone battery down. Normally it isn’t a problem – I just go charge it. I am in and out of the car all day for my job and my car charger gets a lot of use. But these days people are using their phone as video recorder, camera, GPS, communicator and more. And running the Disney App is going to pull a lot more juice through it. So I bought two battery backup/chargers just in case. Never have too many batteries for phones in my humble opinion. Also we will have a car charger for both mine and my wife’s phones and a combo usb/ac converter to plug into the car as well – just in case we need to charge anything USB or if we have to plug in a laptop or some such. And we are also taking the Unofficial Guide to Disney World with us not just for the obvious reasons but because it contains a list of restaurants that have outlets! Cause you cannot have enough juice for your devices at WDW.
8- Don’t be afraid to drive. We live in Greensboro, NC and it’s only an 11 hour or so drive to Orlando so we drove down last time. And though we debated flying, comparing its advantages, disadvantages, and costs, I am happily driving down again. For the DTOD (that’s Disney Trip Of Doom if you’re playing along) we had to rent a car but it had Sirius/XM satellite radio and the wife and I got to listen to lots of old 80’s tunes we had not heard in years on the way down. The child watched a lot of movies and read. This time I have a car with a lot less miles on it so we’re driving again, this time with a Pandora compatible stereo. And some magazines, movies and books on the tablets with a tablet car mount. Yes, I have a tablet mount in my car – that’s how I roll. We will save money in the long run by not flying and then having to rent a car while we’re down there. You can do it without a car but you will be at the mercy of your hotel’s shuttle service or worse yet completely trapped in Disney! It ain’t a bad thing but it ain’t cheap. We had the freedom of leaving and going to Panera one night to get some soup (to counteract being cold and soaked to the bone), doing some shopping at the outlets nearby, etc. So we’re a driving kind of family – insert joke about my last name here if you like. If your distance is greater than ours you may want to fly, but we’re gonna drive it. Again! ROAD TRIP!
9- The Switch off! Everyone already knows about the Fastpass, right? That’s old news. The Switch off may also be old news but no one told me so I am telling you. It’s actually called the Rider Switch but I call it awesome! Let’s say you’re waiting in line for a particular ride, say… Space Mountain. And when you get there your child no longer wants to ride Space Mountain. Even though you’ve been in line for 45 minutes. So what do you do? You ask a Disney Person (i.e. “Cast Member” and that’s what they call them, not me) that you want to do the rider switch. Then one parent rides while the other waits and then the other parent comes back for the child and the other parent rides. Keeps you from having to wait in line for an hour and then again for an hour while someone watches the child (like we did at Disney Hollywood Studios for the Tower of Terror). So definitely check in with a Cast Member if you need to do the ole Switcheroo!
10- Try to relax and have fun! I know this seems like a given but trust me. You’ll be stressed from the trip and kids and packing and leaving work and you’ll completely forget that your kids are gonna love this. This is Mecca for children. Let ‘em run loose and go nuts. And you should try to do the same thing. Ride some rides YOU wanna ride. We took turns watching our then 5 year old so we could hit the Tower of Terror (Next time we will do the Rider Switch!) and ride some roller coasters. TOT was completely awesome but my kid would have freaked so I am glad we didn’t take her. But I loved it – totally worth the wait. Just don’t forget that you’re there to make some memories. My daughter refers to our trip as “Totally awesome!” and has completely forgotten the anguish. And there will be a lot of pictures so don’t be the one scowling in every photo cause there’s a vacuum cleaner attached to your checking account. Get in there and have a good time!