Look – there are tomes written about vacationing at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I am not going to try and compete with those guides, but rather in the next few posts, I will pick out the most salient tips that my family just learned while vacationing there this past summer.
Why now? Well…. one of the best times to visit Walt Disney World is coming up: the week after Thanksgiving through the week before Christmas. We went at another slow time – the week before Labor Day – it was empty!
Wrapping one’s head around how ENORMOUS Walt Disney World is is the first place to start. 30,000 acres…4 different amusement parks… 2 water parks…and 23 hotels. After staying 5 days in the Florida Keys, we spent another 5 days at Walt Disney World, allowing time to swim at our hotel in between parks if we wanted to. That was a smart plan – we didn’t feel at all rushed and got to spend a good amount of time at each park. (And by the way – a great itinerary! Balance a beach vacation with amusement parks – )
Here are the parks, and some tips from my experience, and from talking with the amazing Disney staff. (They seriously don’t miss a beat.) My kids happened to be a the perfect ages: 5, 8, and almost 10…not too cool for Disney, and wanting to go on the roller coasters.
1) Prepare your younger ones that there are height requirements on certain popular rides. My 5 year old made it past the initial height check but then got turned away at 2 subsequent one in the line. (Space Mountain!!!). Assuming he didn’t shrink between the front of the line and the mid-point, there is some inconsistency. I took him to the arcade next door to soften his disappointment.
2) If there are two lines for a ride, the left one is shorter. We were told this…
3) If a ride says “you may get wet,” you will get SOAKED. Since it can be blazing in Orlando, it was actually refreshing.
—-Breakfast at Cinderalla’s Royal Table. I’m not saying it was a highlight for my two boys, and tomboy daughter (Wouldya just look at her? She’s wearing her league softball hat and running shoes, while every other girl in there was dressed as their favorite princess.) but for a parent with young girls who are into princesses, this really is a fun place. The princesses come around to sign autographs and take pictures. The restaurant is inside that big iconic castle.
—Stay and watch the fireworks at night, but – try and watch from a spot close to the exit – if you don’t you will be stuck in a slow moving crowd with no elbow room, everybody trying leave the park because it closes after the fireworks.
-Along with the obvious, here are some not to miss rides:
–Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor: Clever and hilarious. An interactive show where people in the audience become part of the cast…which is a surprise to everybody. The comedians voicing the characters are so talented to think on their feet quickly with new responses each show.
—Buzz Light Year and Stitch’s Great Escape were novel ideas for theme park rides, so worth a look. In Buzz light year you have your own toy gun and gain points by shooting targets while you are moving in a cart.
This park is a mix of futuristic rides and experiences, with a world showcase, which is why this is my favorite park.
The Showcase is a traveler’s amusement park – different replica countries around a beautiful lake. You can visit each country and eat food from that region, watch culture-based shows, look at the imitation monuments form that country.
1) Go here toward the end of the day when it is cooler, prettier, and less crowded. It is nice to stroll to each country around the lake at this time.
2) My kids loved the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure – it is a high tech scavenger hunt where the kids become international secret agents. The clues they find take them to all the different countries, and they pick up some facts about each along the way. Brilliant.
3) Don’t walk all the way to Italy for the gelato. Definitely go – the replica of St Mark’s Square is a nice hang, with a gondolier/magician to entertain, but the gelato is not like the real stuff in Italy – and the soft serve form Mexico was better and cheaper.
4) Have a conversation with park employees from the various countries – Disney hires from those specific countries! So we had waiters speaking Italian..and a salesman from England telling us about the tea.
5) The acrobat show in China is entertaining…all sorts of wacky stuff like a gymnast balancing a table on her feet (above.) California Adventure is another great ride outside of the Showcase, where you saor over video of the Golden State’s most beautiful features.
6) IF YOU DON”T READ ANY OF MY OTHER TIPS, READ THIS ONE: If you go on Mission Space, beware. This is a ride that let’s you experience what astronauts experience -including the “G-force”. There are barf bags on the seat if you need it. Seriously. It can get one that woozy. If you still want to go, you can ask fort he “less intense” ride at the entrance. Leave your ego at the door and do it.
–The first thing you should do when you get there is to go to the popular Toy Story Mania 3 ride – and get a fast pass. We went there pretty early in the morning, and still our fast pass said to come back at 4PM – we ended up skipping that ride because we left the park earlier than 4. It is a smaller park.
—My favorite rides are at this park. Rockin’Roller Coaster – Loved it.
The idea is that you are racing off to an Aerosmith concert at high speeds, while Aerosmith music is being pumped into the speakers on your head rest. Pretty cool going upside down and twisting to “Walk This Way” – a whole new adrenaline rush.
Another favorite – Tower of Terror – A Twilight Zone based ride where you are taken in a haunted hotel. I can’t tell you the main thrust of the ride without spoiling. Just trust me. For both of these rides you may want to get a fastpass.
—If you are going to eat at this park, try the Sci Fi Dine-in Theater. which recreates a 50s drive in theater. All the tables face a movie screen, playing amusing sci fi films with archaic special effects.
–The 50s Prime Time Cafe is another favorite – the setting is a 1950s kitchen, right out of one of the old tv shows.
There are perks if you stay at a Disney Resort. If you stay at the Grand Floridian, The Polynesian, or the Contemporary, you have a direct connection to the monorail which takes you to all the parks. The monorail even came inside our hotel.
You have access to special Disney park hours – they open early for guests only on certain days of the week.
This trip can be tiring…but overall, it is a memorable family vacation for parents, and definitely the little mousekateers.