A Beginner’s Guide to Disney World

Hello everyone! I’m writing from high up in the air, en route to Vegas from a fab 2 days at Disney in Orlando. I felt this post was necessary ‘cos while there’s tons of info out on the net on what to do when you’re AT Disney, there’s not a whole lot available if you’re not even sure if you should go, and have questions about where to stay etc. It was definitely a bit overwhelming for me to plan the Disney portion of the trip, so I hope these pointers will help you out.

First up, should you go to Disney? Will you even like it?

If you have kids above the age of 4 or 5 then yes yes yes. Don’t even think twice about it. I went when I was 9, and it was a dream come true for me. I almost didn’t add it to our plans this time round because I can’t handle kids in large doses and I thought it would be mostly for kids.

In reality, a lot of the attractions are targeted to adults, so if you can tick the following boxes, then I would recommend it:

  1. You are into movies and pop culture.
  2. You don’t mind crowds and waiting in queues
  3. You are prepared to pay a hefty price for tickets: around R1000 per day per person (this does decrease the longer you stay)
  4. You are okay with commercialism
  5. You don’t mind kids- lots of kids.

If the answers to most of the above are no, then give it a skip. You will probably be annoyed as hell.

I’m about half yes and half no to the above, and I had a blast.

Walt_Disney_World_Resort_entrance

You’ve decided to go to Disney, now what?

Flights:

Firstly, you need to decide if you’re just going to be in Orlando, or if you’re going to travel through the rest of the US. There’s no direct flight to Orlando, so you’ll have to fly via Atlanta, New York or Washington anyway. I’d recommend stopping over in one of these, because the US is an awfully long way from SA and you may as well make the most of it. We flew to New York, then to Miami and drove down to Key West which I highly recommend (3.5 hours south of Miami). We then drove back to Miami (which is my fav US city so far) and spent some time here, before driving up to Orlando (3.5 hours north of Miami). I was initially nervous about driving in the US but it was fine, and car hire is super cheap too- about R300 a day.

Obviously this decision is time and money dependent.

How long should you stay?

To give you some perspective, there are 4 parks- Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood studios and Animal Kingdom . There are also 2 waterparks (water rides). Then, Universal Studios is not part of Disney but is close by. Seaworld is also close.

– Epcot is focused on space and science, and also has a majestic area called the World Showcase, where different countries are recreated with crazy amounts of details. I LOVED this. We spent about 3 hours walking through and exploring. I felt as though I was actually in the countries themselves, and the craziest part- everyone who works in the various “countries” are from those exact countries! French bakers in the boulangerie (bakery), Moroccan waiters in the schwarma bar, a Mexican girl making margeritas- it really is a special experience.

"France" at night
“France” at night

– Magic Kingdom is about recreating fairytales, Animal Kingdom and Seaworld are animal based, obvs, while Hollywood studios and Universal studios are all about the movies.

For me personally, 2 days was enough. I was exhausted by the end of it (you walk A LOT). We only visited Epcot and Hollywood studios. If you have kids, you will probably want to visit the Magic Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom and/or Seaworld. Note that there are many protests against Seaworld and the treatment of animals so I did not want to experience it- this is up to you.

I think anything more than 4 days will start to become unenjoyable, UNLESS you plan to mix it up with shopping or chilling in between. Orlando has great shopping options- including Orlando Premium Outlets (like a larger Access Park). Disney parks are open from 9am-9pm so you don’t need more than 1 day in a park. In fact, you can probably do Hollywood studios in about 7 hours, and Epcot in around 9 hours.

Before you get to Disney, you’ll need to sort out the following:

Accommodation:

Staying within the park is the most obvious choice. Walt Disney World is like a mini city. Buses are available between hotels and parks. However, hotels within the park come at a hefty surcharge- one I wasn’t prepared to pay, especially because I knew we wouldn’t spend much time in the hotel.

Disney sells package options including accommodation and food, but again I don’t think these are good value. I would recommend staying 10- 15 minutes outside of Disney. We booked the Radisson for next to nothing , and I warned Rishav that this would be the “roughing it” portion of the trip. While the hotel is basic and sterile, it was perfectly suited to our needs. It was clean and modern- that’s all I really want. The reason I chose it is because of free wifi, free parking, a free shuttle to Disney and bonus- guest laundry facilities for $2. This really came in handy midway through our trip.

Standard room at the Radisson
Standard room at the Radisson

Other cheaper options in the area include Holiday Inn and the Hilton. The airport is about 20-30 minutes away.

Food:

The food at Disney is expensive and terrible. Think chicken nuggets and chips for R100, a hotdog for R120, a bottle of water for R30. Unfortunately there isn’t really any getting around eating at Disney because you’ll inevitably be at the park during meal times and you will be hungry. Try and take your own healthy snacks like fruit and nuts, because finding a good salad on the premises is near impossible. At Epcot, because of the World Showcase, the food options are slightly better. We had yummy pastries in “France” and “Norway”, and nachos in “Mexico”.

Pastry_assortment

Park Tickets:

These are available online and at the door – both are the same price. They rarely have discounts and to avoid being scammed, rather buy your tickets from Disney directly. As mentioned before, they get cheaper the longer you stay. The standard ticket is 1 park per day, but you can also add in a “park hopper” option, allowing you to visit various parks in a day. I don’t recommend this, as to properly experience a park, you need a full day anyway.

When to go:

Obviously, periods like Christmas, Easter and the 4th of July/ Memorial day weekends are going to be crazy. It’s not worth going at these times because you’ll spend most of your time queuing- for food, bathrooms, rides. Find out when the US school holidays are and try to go outside of these periods. Florida is relatively hot throughout the year, so try to avoid going in mid Summer (July), because it becomes scorching and uncomfortable walking through the park.

Once in Disney, note the following:

Parking

If you’re planning to hire a car, note that parking at each of the parks is $17 per day per car. That’s quite hefty. We used the shuttle which was fine, except for having to wait around according to the shuttle’s times. If you’re just going to do the touristy stuff in Orlando you don’t really need a car.

Fastpass

Included in each and every theme park ticket, you get “Fastpass” – this allows you to skip the queue for 1 main attraction and 2 not-main (sorry, I can’t think of a better word) attractions. Make sure to set these up early, by registering an account here. I also recommend downloading the app which allows you to change your Fastpass selections on the go, and also shows you live waiting times for rides. You can sometimes wait up to 2 hours for a ride so I think this is a great way to make sure you get to go on the rides you are really keen on. If you are going with kids, remember to check the height restriction for the rides.

Info on the parks:

Here, I am going to refer you to what was my bible for Disney – Travelpanties blog. I followed all her ride recommendations and had a great time. It’s advisable to go with a game plan- the park is split into rides, shops and restaurants- all of which look the same from the outside, so if you don’t know where you’re going, you could end up wasting a lot of time. Check out a map of the park in advance and plan your time, experiencing the most popular rides first.

Other random thoughts about Disney:

–       Everything is SO organized. There are probably 20-30 staff members per attraction, and the whole thing runs very smoothly. It’s like a well oil machine.

–       At the end of every ride, you’ll step into a bubble of commercialism. Think photos of yourself on the ride, every kind of paraphernalia you can imagine- mugs, t shirts, magnets. If you’re going with kids, these stores can cause a lot of tears, so manage that carefully. We walked straight through all of these, even though it is tempting to take home a souvenir, especially if you really enjoyed a particular ride

–       Florida is quite rainy and it rained both days we were there. You may want to take an umbrella

–       Strollers and wheelchairs are available for hire, so no need to take your own

–       They are really good with people on wheelchairs- they get priority access and can go on most rides

–       Each ride is an experience, not just a ride. Think of a rollercoaster at Gold Reef City or Ratanga Junction – it’s just a rollercoaster. At Disney, each ride will be themed and the theme carries through to every single detail, the building you queue in, the paint on the walls, the staff members’ outfits and the ride itself. It’s really cool. The scale of everything is amazing. It was sometimes unfathomable to me how so much could be put into a single ride. Disney is an experience unlike anything else I’ve done, and I definitely think it’s bucket list worthy. I started feeling like a kid again, and got into the Disney spirit very quickly. Rishav loved it too, but by the end of the second day we both agreed we had had enough and were glad to be on our way.

And that’s it! Feel free to drop me a note with any specific questions you have, and I’ll try my best to answer.

Xxx H