Saturday, June 02, 2012

10 Disney World Tips You Probably Haven't Heard

Despite the fact that it's a hot and crowded time to go, summer is that time of year when a LOT of people head to Florida to visit my beloved Walt Disney World, so I've seen a lot of blog posts from people planning trips lately.  I thought it might be fun to share a few tips that are a little different than the same "use fastpass!" type of things you see over and over, since this is a topic I definitely have more experience with than the average bear!  (10 years of trips, followed by 3 years of being a concierge for Disney!)

Here are a few things that came to mind, in no particular order.

1. Don't Lose It!
If you lose something, stop by guest services (if you're in a park) or the concierge or front desk of your resort to fill out a card ASAP. You can't even imagine how much stuff people lose on a daily basis here. It's insane. But you'd probably be more surprised by just how much of that lost stuff never gets claimed. So as much as cast members enjoy buying your unclaimed stuff for super cheap several months later, you'll usually have pretty decent luck (depending on the circumstances you lost your item under) if you stop and fill out some info about what you lost.  If it turns up after you've already gone home, Disney will generally even mail it back to your house for free. 

Some kind of distinct identifying detail on your important items will make this much easier for everyone involved!  I personally like to stick address labels somewhere inconspicuous on my more important items. (For example, I put them on the memory cards for my camera.)  Pick somewhere that makes it easy for you to tell the person searching where to check for it (inside the battery compartment of your phone works, too), but where the average passerby won't see your name and address out in the open. Basically, if you can tell whoever is trying to locate your iPhone that your name and address is right under the back cover, it makes it MUCH easier for them to identify it among a sea of 9873 other lost phones!  

2. Shoes are Important! (Ask Cinderella!)
Test and break in the shoes you plan to wear before the trip. As comfortable as you think those running shoes you've had since high school are, that might not turn out to be the case once you find yourself in the parks, walking up to 10 miles a day! 

At least a week or two before your trip, grab the shoes you plan to wear (especially if they are new, so you have time to break them in) and either hit the treadmill or a walking path for a mile or two.  You don't have to break a sweat, just pick a comfortable pace and walk. If anything is going to pinch or rub your foot funny, you want to find out now!  

It's an especially good idea to get in the habit of walking at least a mile or two per day before your trip if you're not someone that walks/jogs on a regular basis. Again, you don't have to worry about walking fast or wearing yourself out, but just getting your body used to walking a lot will make you much less likely to find yourself totally exhausted after a few hours of playing in the parks!

3. Keep It Cool
Not all rooms at the Disney resorts come with refrigerators, but those that don't will supply one for free if it is for medical purposes, such as keeping insulin cold. (Update- This seems to have changed since I first published this post, and I believe ALL Disney resort rooms now include a mini fridge! Yay!)

When I was a guest, my favorite thing to do was always to hit the gift shop and quick service dining location just before bed to grab an apple juice and a pastry or other tasty breakfasty item. I'd stick the juice in the ice bucket right next to the bed, so by morning I'd have a nice cold drink and breakfast item that I could enjoy without ever crawling out from under the covers.  (Cheesecake also makes an exceptionally tasty breakfast, and does great on the ice over night!) If you're major a coffee person, I suggest bringing a few cans/bottles of your favorite prepackaged coffee (I'm a Starbucks DoubleShot girl!) to have handy for early mornings, since not all rooms have coffee makers. Sure, the trip to the food court for a hot cup of coffee isn't THAT far, but it can certainly feel like it if you haven't had coffee yet!

4. Checking In For Flights

If you are staying at a Disney resort, the concierge will print your boarding passes for your flight for you.  This is especially handy if you're flying an airline like Southwest that gives you better seats if you check in early. However, they are going to need your confirmation number to do it! I can't tell you how often guests would come to my desk, wanting to print boarding passes and expecting me to be able to do it by just their name.  Disney is pretty cool, but sadly the cast members can't just hack in to your airline's computer system. The best thing to do is check out your airline's website to see what info is needed to check in for the flight.  It's usually a confirmation number and your name, but sometimes it's your flight number. Jot down this info, stick it somewhere safe, and then just pull it out when you're ready to check in for your flight home. 

If you are away from your resort when the time to check in for your flight rolls around (and you're aiming for a certain time so you can get good seats, like with Southwest), guest services at the parks will generally also print boarding passes for you.  Just keep in mind that lines for guest services at the parks can be LONG, so plan ahead!

If you are checking bags, you can actually check them in and print your passes at a special desk in or near the resort lobby if you are flying on certain airlines. 

5. Start Small, Then Add
Adding to tickets is easy, subtracting is not. In general, you can add days and options (park hopper, water parks, etc.) on to your Disney tickets any time within 14 days of first use. However, if you buy the water parks option, for example, and then decide you don't want it, you're generally out of luck because tickets are non-refundable. I suggest starting out with what you KNOW you will use, and then adding on once you're sure you want an option. 

Adding days to a ticket is one area that it doesn't make much sense to be cheap, though.  After about your 4th day, each additional day in the parks is only about $4. No, seriously.  I don't have the price chart memorized anymore, but you would be amazed how cheap adding on a 5th/6th/etc day is!

6. Allow at least an hour to get anywhere.
Disney transportation is pretty awesome.  There are buses, monorails and boats to take you anywhere you want to go, and it's all free. It's also way easier than renting a car and trying to find your way around (and find your car in the parking lot!).  That said, you need to allow a LOT of time to get around. Walt Disney World is a big place, weighing in at 47 square miles, or approximately the same size as San Francisco.  The real problem with travel time comes from the fact that Disney transportation may not always take the most direct route.  For example, buses to the Typhoon Lagoon water park may also make stops at Downtown Disney. The bus from Magic Kingdom back to your resort may stop at two other resorts first. You get to sit back and relax while you get from Point A to Point B, but chances are you might stop at Points C and D on the way, and it might take a while.

Then there's the random math factor.  Most buses run approximately every 15-20 minutes. That means that depending on when you wander up to the bus stop, you might stand there for 30 seconds, or you might stand there for 20 minutes. If a bus has to take extra time to load/unload wheelchairs, you might be waiting longer.

If you're in a very chill vacation mindset, this won't be a problem.  However, if you're trying to make a 7pm dinner reservations, or the nightly fireworks at Epcot, time becomes more important.  So yes, while you can technically get from almost anywhere within Disney World to almost anywhere else within about 15-20 minutes, you should always allow at LEAST an hour. If it's an especially busy day, or you're on your way somewhere very important, allow 90 minutes. Worst case scenario, you'll get to your destination half an hour early and have some extra time to spend drinking in the atmosphere. Any amount of waiting is way better than explaining to your 5 year old that they don't get to have breakfast with Mickey after all because you missed your reservation.

7. Free is awesome!
Everyone loves souvenirs, and collecting a set of something is just plain fun. Pin trading and vynilmation collecting are both super popular, but get expensive quick. You (or your kids) can have just as much fun collecting something free! There are an absurd number of options here, from tangible items to experiences. A few ideas to get you started:

*Autographs don't just have to come from the characters!  Have cast members from other countries that you meet at Epcot (or any others you run into) write a note an autograph book or other object in their language. If you don't mind spending a few dollars, you can step this up a level by buying a postcard in each country of Epcot, and having the cast member there write your name (or a favorite word) on the back in their language.

*Pick something unusual and see who can collect the most photos. Have you ever noticed that the trash cans at Disney World are almost always themed to the land/area they're in?  Make a game out of seeing who can photograph the most unusual trash cans. Benches, light fixtures, crying kids, silly hats, and really uncomfortable looking shoes all work, too. 

8. Know your off-site activities. 
I would often have guests request that I call them a cab to "downtown Orlando."  After a few questions, I'd usually find that they wanted to go somewhere to shop. Here's the thing- downtown is about a $50 cab ride each way, and there really aren't many places to shop there. However, if you take a bus to Downtown Disney, you can take a cab from there
to the Orlando Premium Outlets (which are basically across the street) for less than $10, and shop your little heart out. If you're interested in doing non-Disney activities on your trip, check out the options ahead of time so you don't end up spending $100 on a cab ride to nowhere.

On a similar note, while Disney World itself is incredibly safe in general, other parts of the surrounding area are not. There is a LOT of crime in Orlando. If you do venture outside of The World, make sure to take a moment to shift your mindset from the pixie dust-enchanted bubble to the street sense you would use in any other big city.

9. Holidays Are Approximate
If you want to experience all of the awesome Christmas stuff, visit in the period around the end of November or very beginning of December. (but NOT near Thanksgiving.) Almost all of the amazing holiday decorations are up by early to mid-November. All of the same parades and shows will be going on- Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, the storytellers at Epcot, and so on. 

Please also keep in mind that the Christmas parade that you see on TV on Christmas morning is usually filmed during the first week of December. (No, it isn't live.) Main Street is an absolute madhouse during filming, so unless you really want to try to catch a peek of some Disney Channel stars, you might want to avoid that part of the park that day. Seeing how the parade is filmed can be interesting, but it gets really repetitive really quickly (those 30 second spots can take hours of takes to film).

10. Be Kind To Your Cast Members. 
There were many times I ended up staying like an hour late at work to try to arrange something special for a guest, just because I really wanted to make their trip special. I've randomly sent balloons or signed photos of Mickey or other fun surprises to guests that brightened my day. We aren't going to ignore you or refuse to help if you're grumpy, but you're much more likely to get those magical little extras if you are kind. Please also remember that the people you are talking to do this every. single. day. We know when you are lying, and we know when you are just trying to get something for free. A lot of cast members are not allowed to accept tips, but I know plenty who have saved letters from guests or picture kids have drawn/colored for us for years and years.  

Have questions?  Ask em!  Have your own tips to share?  Leave them in the comments! I might do a few more posts of Disney tips, so if there's something you're curious about, now is the time to ask!

1 comment:

Vapid Vixen said...

What the? People STILL think Florida in the summer is a good idea? I'm gasping for air and sweating just thinking about it.