Taking the Family to Disney World
By Penelope Folsom
If you’ve never taken the family to Disney World in Orlando, perhaps this is the year to consider it. It’s huge. The grounds cover approximately 42,000 acres, far more than can be done in a week. With prior planning however, there’s a good chance that many of the highlights can be gotten through in a shorter time.
Disney gets crowded. Very crowded. In fact, so crowded that when it reaches their definition of capacity, it’s closed to new entrants. You don’t want to be part of this, so plan ahead. It’s easy enough to determine when they’re busiest by either going online (www.Disney.com) or better, picking up a book devoted exclusively to Disney World. Our favorite is Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World, which should be kept handy during the entire experience. There are helpful hints, approximate hours, costs, descriptions of the parks and lists of everything available including shopping and restaurants.
The best time to visit, so say the pros, is mid-week during the cold months, but the heat of a Florida Summer or a rainy day can also cut the crowds. Very early or very late in the day are also better times for a chance at your favorite rides and yes, what you’ve heard is true: Lines can exceed two hours. Wait times are posted over the entry to most exhibits and rides so that you can opt to stay or to go. The rides run from the benign such as “It’s a Small World,” perfect for the very young ones, to Space Mountain. Words of advice from an astute grandchild to grandparent: “If the word Mountain is part of the name, don’t do it!”
Transportation: Most accommodations offer free transportation to and from the parks by ferry, monorail or bus service. Buses often run only every half hour and are not always conveniently located. It may be easier to use your own car, but there is a $15 daily parking fee if your accommodations are not on Disney property. This can make things a bit easier as you can come and go as you please, taking a break back in your room and reemerging in time for the evening festivities.
Visiting the Park: Prior to arriving, purchase tickets and check the park hours. Hours can vary and can change even while you’re visiting. Ticket prices vary widely by age of guest and by affiliations such as AAA or military discounts. Take the time to shop for the best value. It will be well worth your time. Tickets are offered in increments of one day, a few days, weeks or the season. Be sure to check if there’s a stipulation of visiting only one park per day.
Disney recently added a “Fast Pass,” which puts you in a separate line that allows entry ahead of others in line. Each visitor is allowed three fast passes per day. Fast passes are available at locations throughout the park, but why waste precious time? They can be found online prior to your scheduled visit. Fast passes do not cost extra, but a predetermined number are sold, so sign up early. There’s also an app for Disney that is invaluable and should be downloaded before you visit.
Bracelets are issued if you are staying on the property. These free flexible and disposable rubber bracelets that are yours to keep can be “read” by many of the check-in kiosks. In many cases, it creates an efficient and quick way of getting through some of the lines.
Most importantly for your group, have an agreed-upon meeting place and time should you get separated. Parents often write their cellphone numbers in an inconspicuous place on a child’s arm so that if they are lost, the parent can easily be contacted. Groups also will often choose the same color and style of shirt, making it easy to spot one another.
Accommodations: There are many choices. From the All-Star-Resort group on site at less than $100 per night in the off-season to the most elaborate, both on site and off. Most on-site rooms are equipped with a small refrigerator, have swimming pools and limited food service. If any of these amenities are important to you, check with your hotel before arriving. The accommodations off site are varied, copious, scattered and offer different amenities. Some offer free transportation to and from the airport with prior reservations. If you choose to save money, bring drinks, cereal, plastic bowls, cups, spoons and sandwich ingredients for eating in your room.
What to Bring: Appropriate clothing should include a sweater and rain slicker. A knapsack is a must and should contain quick snacks, small bottles of water, a camera and cellphone. A stroller is a must for young ones, although they can be rented at the park. Blister bandages and hand wipes will prove to be invaluable. Pick up a map of the park available at any stand and a program of what will be taking place for the day. Bring your most comfortable shoes with socks or footies. Wear your issued bracelet and keep tickets and photo ID in a safe, easily accessible location.
Final Words: Disney World gives the word spectacular a whole new meaning. It is a never-to-be forgotten experience for young ones. Just be aware that it can be hugely expensive and very tiring so take the time to research thoroughly before arriving. Have a plan and try to follow it while remaining flexible.
And don’t hesitate to call 407.939.5277 for help in planning your trip. When you connect with a human at Disney they are very helpful and will patiently answer your list of questions. Keep in mind though that their job is to upsell you to bigger and better activities. Weigh whatever they offer carefully before accepting any upgrades; they can always be added on later.