Sometimes you don't want a textbook to plan your Disney World vacation. You don't want to cram for a week in the parks the same way you used to cram for a physics exam. You just need a little guidance. And it should be interesting. 'Cause that's the way you do Disney.
Shadowing: the term of art used to describe a novice following a more knowledgeable person to learn something new. Wouldn't it be great if Disney let you shadow seasoned cast members or even "super guests" who know the parks inside out? Small chance. So we'll do it for them.
Say hello to Scott Beallis. You'll be shadowing him, and his family, during a week at Walt Disney World. (They'll know you're there, so it's not like you'll be stalking). Scott isn't a textbook. He doesn't know all there is to know about Walt Disney World. He has likes, dislikes, quirks, maybe he even holds a grudge or two. You're stuck with him for a week.
Over the many, many years he's been coming to Disney World, Scott has learned quite a few useful things, based on personal experience, and it's often stuff you won't find in those guidebooks. You won't fall asleep by page 22, because the narrative here really is a narrative: you travel with Scott, eat with Scott, ride attractions with Scott, sleep with ... well, he'll tell you about the rooms, anyway.
At the end of the week, you'll feel as if you really have shadowed a Walt Disney World super guest. And for your next trip to Walt Disney World, you'll be ready for a shadow of your own.
Chapter 1: A Little History
Chapter 2: Planning Your Trip
Chapter 3: My Disney Experience
Chapter 4: Getting There
Chapter 5: The Orlando Area
Chapter 6: The Place to Stay
Chapter 7: Eating in the World: Resorts and Off-Property
Chapter 8: Eating in the World: Epcot
Chapter 9: Eating in the World: Parks and Disney Springs
Chapter 10: The Disney Dining Plans
Chapter 11: Fun Stuff: The Parks Day by Day
Chapter 12: Water Parks
Chapter 13: Shopping in the World
Chapter 14: Disney Vacation Club
Chapter 15: So, What Else?
Chapter 16: Those California Places…
Chapter 17: Other Ways to Connect with Disney
Chapter 18: My Disney Bookshelf
Chapter 19: What Is It About Disney?
A lot has changed since the first edition of this book was published in 2013. Our spring 2016 week-long visit to Walt Disney World highlighted a number of differences in how guests experience the resort. Many changes have occurred. Disney now owns Marvel and all of the Star Wars properties. A new Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom is fully open. Construction on Avatarland (Pandora) is well underway at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. And Disney’s Hollywood Studios featured only five “rides” when we visited—they’re all pretty good, but there just aren’t many of them. This will change once the new sections of the park are completed down the road. Downtown Disney has become Disney Springs. The Polynesian now features some pretty unique (and pricey!) Disney Vacation Club villas.
And then there is My Disney Experience and Memory Maker and Fast Pass Plus and MagicBands.
Our latest visit exposed us to a few restaurants that were previously not discussed in the book. We experienced a different Disney resort hotel, and we experienced rides that were not present on our last trip. We also had the chance to revisit a few attractions that we sometimes ignored.
Our vacation experience had become even more structured. It didn’t seem like that would be possible, but oh, yes, it was completely possible. Because of the My Disney Experience app for our phones and Disney’s overall My Magic Plus initiative, a Walt Disney World vacation has lost almost all its spontaneity.
Is that a bad thing? The answer isn’t simple. Read on if you’d like to find out our impressions.
There are tons of people out there—authors, bloggers, travel agents—who know much more about Disney than we do. If you want the price of a meal at Victoria and Albert’s or at Columbia Harbor House, if you want to know the location of each and every babysitting service on property, or if you want to know whether it is better to stay at Pop Century or All Star Music resort, there are plenty of sites and publications which can provide you with opinions and information.
What I’ve decided to write about is what we like about Disney, what we plan to do when we vacation there, and what works best for us—a family of four with two middle-school boys.
Most guidebooks are much more comprehensive than what you will find here. That is by design. Most people don’t live close enough to Disney so that they can visit often. With an annual pass, you can do things like visit Epcot for dinner and drinks, watch the fireworks, and call it a night. If you’re like us, your visits to Disney in either Florida or California are not structured like that. Your theme park ticket is expensive and you are there for a limited time. You need to make the most of it. That’s us. That’s who I am writing this book for.
We don’t generally stay in moderate hotels or value hotels—we did stay at Port Orleans on our first trip to Walt Disney World in 2004, but since then it has been either deluxe hotels or Disney Vacation Club suites for us. This guide will not be able to offer too many valuable opinions or too much information about the moderate or value hotels.
What it will attempt to do is offer some insights into what we love to do when we visit Orlando or other Disney properties. We have our own ideas about how to “do” Disney, and we have always had lots of fun when we go, so maybe you can find something of interest or value to take from my comments and ideas. I hope so. This book is for the once-every-year-or-two Walt Disney World visitor who spends seven to ten days at the resort.
I will talk about rides, about FastPass+, about shops we like, how we get to and from Walt Disney World, our must-eat-at restaurants, a smattering of other Orlando-area places that have caught our attention, and the hotels we like. It isn’t comprehensive, but it may help give you, a Walt Disney World potential or returning visitor, a template for your own visit and your own experience.
So, if you are thinking about your first visit to Disney in Florida, or you are not a “seasoned” visitor but are considering a return, please read on…
Scott Beallis is a dentist who takes his family on frequent (and quite painless) trips to Walt Disney World. Under a pseudonym, he is also a prolific author of horror, mystery, and science fiction/fantasy novels.
Looking for a specific item at a Disney World store? Don't bother the cast members. Look it up yourself with Disney's new shopping app.
A chapter on shopping at Disney World now needs to mention the mobile app, “Shop Disney,” which is available at no cost for any mobile device. We found out about it when we were in a store and could not locate the correct size of a t-shirt that we wanted to buy. We searched for a clerk for quite awhile to ask if they had more of that style of shirt in a back room or if they might be located elsewhere in the store. When we finally found one that was available to help us, the clerk mentioned that there was an app for our smartphones that would tell us what other stores in the resort would carry the same item, and would also be able to give us an idea about whether they had the correct sizes in stock.
We downloaded the app that night (while on wifi, which is available throughout the parks) and ended up using it a lot during our visit. We could scan an item and find out exactly where else it may be found. We could order it through the app and have it sent to our resort. Since then, we have even used it at home to purchase and ship items when buying birthday gifts.
The app is a must-have if you are serious about shopping for apparel and toys and such at Disney World. At the very least, it may prevent you from having to search for busy store clerks in order to discover where the merchandise you’re looking for can be found.
Continued in "Doing Disney"!
You don't need a car at Walt Disney World. In fact, Disney would prefer that you didn't have a car while at the theme parks: easier to control you that way, and it makes it really hard to get to Universal. But surprisingly, it's easy to rent a car, even after you've checked in to your resort and have sunk into the Disney bubble.
Once on Disney property, we always rent an automobile. Though there are other locations, we have always rented at the Alamo Car Care Center near the Magic Kingdom. They have a shuttle service that will pick you up at your resort and bring you to their facility to get your car. When you return the car, they will shuttle you to wherever you want to go, be it a park or a hotel. We find this service to be very convenient. We usually return the car on the day before we are leaving, and we then use Disney’s bus or monorail transportation system to get back to our resort that night after our day at the park.
What are the advantages to having a vehicle? I already mentioned that it makes it easier to get to those early morning character breakfast reservations. It also makes it easier to escape Disney property and perhaps dine at a local restaurant, or even visit another area attraction. Everyone knows that Universal has two outstanding theme parks in the area, and Sea World offers a different experience, also. Now there is also a Legoland theme park in the general vicinity (replacing Cypress Gardens, which has been closed for several years). And with a car you can get to the Tampa area, where there is a Busch Gardens theme park, if you are so inclined, or to the Atlantic coast if you’d like to visit Cape Canaveral.
The Disney transportation system is okay, if you don’t need to keep to a rigid schedule and if you don’t mind waiting for buses to arrive after a long day at a park. There is also water transportation between some resorts and destinations. The Epcot resorts (the cluster of resorts near Epcot) have boats to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Magic Kingdom has boats to the resorts near it, and some resorts have launches to Disney Springs.
It’s better if you’re at a “monorail resort” (the Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower, the Polynesian, or the Grand Floridian) and you are only going to the Magic Kingdom and to Epcot. It’s too bad that the monorails don’t extend throughout the property as was originally foreseen, but that will likely never happen now. Our decision to rent a car came after a long day at Epcot and standing in line waiting for the bus to come to take us back to our resort. As our kids were falling asleep, we realized that we’d better grab a taxi and get to our resort that way. The very next morning we rented a car.
Our last night on our latest trip underscored the inconvenience of the buses for us. We were visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios after returning our rental car, and needed to take the bus back to the Contemporary. We timed it. It was approximately fifty-five minutes from the time we entered the line for the bus (there were only maybe ten people in front of us) till we were dropped off at the Contemporary. Between boarding the handicapped passengers and getting boxed in by another bus that prevented our vehicle from leaving its loading area, there was a lot of time wasted. (Not to mention that there was a sick child sitting next to us, who coughed and sneezed the entire way home. We’re still waiting to see if anyone comes down with her cold...) As we still had to pack for the next morning’s flight out, it seemed to be a lot of time wasted. If we find ourselves in that situation again, we will grab a taxi.
Disney buses go from resorts to theme or water parks, or to Disney Springs. It appears that they also provide transportation from park to park now, which is new. They do not connect Disney Springs to the theme parks. To us, they waste too much of our precious time. If you want to leave a theme park and go to dinner in Disney Springs, you’ll have to make some connecting buses, and there’s even more time gone. They are a good service, and they may work well for many visitors to Walt Disney World. They just don’t work that well for us.
Continued in "Doing Disney"!