The Deer in Headlights Guide to Disney World

The Deer in Headlights Guide to Disney World

I had never been to Disney World and had always wanted to go but needed to overcome my two main fears:  1) Florida’s heat and 2) amusement park crowds.  What better time to go than late January? It’d be after the MLK holiday but before President’s Day weekend, no school holidays that I knew of, temps in the 70s and the second slowest week of the parks!  We were in!  And then we got there…

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The “second slowest week” at Disney World still is a literal 8 out of 10 on the crowd scale.  It turns out that just because American schools don’t have holidays, it’s summer break in the whole southern hemisphere!  Forgot about that!  Oopsie. Turns out, there is no slow time at Disney World! Surprise!

We stood in line waiting for the bus to take us to the park.  Stood in line at the park so they could check our bag.  Another line to check our tickets. Then in line again for breakfast.  We had been in lines for over an hour and hadn’t even made it on a ride yet.

My spirits started to sag early but then we got to the Haunted Mansion and the magic started coming back.  Our stomachs dropped on the Tower of Terror, hair blew back on the Rockin’ Rollercoaster and ice cubes glowed in the Sci-Fi Dine in Theater.  It was a great trip but here are some things I’ll remember for next time.

#1: The Disney Pace

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There are blogs and blogs and blogs devoted to Disney’s food, rides, souvenirs, and anything else you can think of.  When I started planning I was nothing but overwhelmed.  I ended up getting some help from a travel agent but even that didn’t prepare me for the pace.

There are A LOT of people everywhere and all are in various stages of crabby.  We walked almost 10 miles every day, were up before 7 a.m. and stumbled into the hotel a little before 10 p.m. each night.  We saw a fight, got soaked when the sky opened up, met a racist bus driver and by the end of it became immune to kids melting down. When we got home to Georgia we didn’t move for two days.

#2: Fast Passes

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The line for Avatar Flights of Passage was over 3 hours long and rarely got below that.  It is one of the newest rides and illustrated the need for Fast Passes if you didn’t want to wait.  If you stay at a Disney resort you get to reserve Fast Passes 60 days in advance of your trip.  You get three per day but once you use all three you can use the app at the park and see what others may be available.  The Fast Pass gives you an hour window to show up at the ride and you move straight to the front of the line.  Here are a few more things to know:

  1. Choose the most popular rides first regardless of the day you plan on being at the park.  Most people plan their park visits day by day but by the time they’d get to the day they wanted to be at Animal Kingdom the Fast Passes would be gone for Avatar.  So start with the most popular ride the moment Fast Passes become available and work backwards from there.
  2. Stack Fast Passes for the mornings so that way you can scan for others in the afternoon and evenings.   Since you can’t start reserving other Fast Passes until you’ve used all three, loading them up before lunch gives you a chance to look for others into the afternoon and evenings.  We were able to ride Tower of Terror and the Rockin’ Rollercoaster three times this way.
  3. But don’t stack them too early.  Once the park opens you can bomb straight to a couple of the popular rides (think Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Expedition Everest…or basically any ride but Avatar and Mine Train currently) and there is hardly a wait.

#3 Dinner Reservations

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With the (what feels like) two million restaurant options at the four parks, one (namely me) would think that it wouldn’t be a big deal to waltz in and have your pick whenever you were ready.  One (again, me) would be wrong, wrong, wrong. Thankfully I had a travel agent that knew better.  Dinner reservations are necessary.  We’d just grab Starbucks in the morning and one of the “quick dining” options for lunch but had reservations each night for dinner.

#4: Stick to What’s Important to You

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This is actually my advice for every vacation, but it somehow holds even more true at somewhere like Disney World.  The park and resorts move you through them in a way that can be hard to deviate from.  A nice dinner or two are my “must dos” on vacation and Stephen had been waiting to ride Tower of Terror for 25 years (the last time he was at Disney World, he saw signs advertising the ride the whole trip from Georgia to Florida only to get to the park and realize the ride opened the day AFTER they were leaving).  To make up for lost time we rode Tower of Terror three times (it was so fun!) and I got my afternoon tea at The Grand Floridian and a private safari with a four course meal.  They were by far some of our favorite memories.

Will we go again?  Yes.  Will it be soon and will we wear matching Disney shirts and lanyards full of pins?  No. Was it exhausting?  Yes.  Was it magical?  Absolutely.

(I’ll post more next week about the restaurants and rides we liked.) 

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