Walt Disney World is undeniably a magical place, but even in an enchanted land, things can sometimes go wrong. Disney is known for exceptional guest service. When it comes to their attention that a guest has encountered a magic-halting experience, Disney Cast Members often step in to save the day in surprising ways.
I spent my birthday weekend at Animal Kingdom Lodge a few years ago. In a string of a million little random acts of nature and bad luck, the first half of my stay just fell apart. A front desk Cast Member saw me walking through the lobby trying to hide tears of pure discouragement, and she called me over to ask what was wrong. It was no fault of anyone; things had just gone awry. I outlined my experience for her, and she asked for my name. In just a few minutes time, I received a gift basket, along with an offer for a car to pick us up and take us to a free breakfast at Cape May, with the hopes that my birthday “was as magical as it should be”. That was beyond surprising, and beyond first-class guest service.
I admit that some of my negative experience rooted back to a few errors in planning and knowledge on my part. In fact, over my years of visiting the theme parks, there are a few lessons that I have learned the hard way. With a little pre-planning and understanding, you can save yourself time, money, trouble, and disappointment.
1. Unpredictable weather
As much as we wish for it, Disney has yet to master control of the weather, and here in Orlando, the weather is exceptionally fickle. It can easily be steaming hot during the day and cold at night. It can also be clear and sunny one moment, with a monsoon rolling through at random, only to reveal a perfect sky again, ten minutes later. Then, there’s the occasional tornado or hurricane barreling through. It happens, and it’s not always predictable.
It really is wise to just plan for anything in terms of clothing and protection from the elements. Even as a local, I’ve found myself shivering while waiting for Illuminations, finding no relief until purchasing a $40 sweatshirt that I didn’t really need, and couldn’t exactly afford to be buying at that time. When it rains, of course, the famous Disney ponchos are readily available to purchase, but you will save a few bucks if you have your own pre-purchased elsewhere. For those random, quick showers that tend to occur daily during an average Orlando summer, you may even be better off to simply find shelter for a few minutes. Or consider taking advantage of the cool down, and splash around in the nearly abandoned park “streets”.
2. Unexpected expenses
No matter which way you twist it or turn it, a Walt Disney World vacation is going to cost you a decent chunk of change. There are countless little ways to save a few dollars here and there, but it’s still an expensive getaway, especially if you add in airfare, hotels, etc. Disney’s vacation packages and dining plans are usually worth considering - both for savings, and for convenience. The only drawback to using these methods is that occasionally, they lead to a belief that everything is paid for before your arrival.
While many are capable of self-restraint when it comes to shopping, most guests will still feel a strong urge to purchase something souvenir-oriented during their visit. Merchandise prices run a wide range, but there isn’t a lot to choose from for less than $15-$20. It’s easy to underestimate souvenir spending, as well as additional drinks and quick snacks that may extend beyond your pre-paid dining plan. It’s always a good idea to inflate your budget estimate a bit, because you will spend more than you think, even in the best of scenarios.
Then there’s always the unexpected. I have notoriously bad luck, combined with bad timing. I once made the tragic decision to take an impromptu drive from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando for a spontaneous visit to Walt Disney World. My budget was figured nearly to the penny, and on my way out of the Magic Kingdom to head home, my car gave out. I had no immediate choice but to use the auto garage at the border of the Magic Kingdom parking lot, and the repairs would take overnight to complete. I hadn’t figured in an additional night’s hotel stay, and I certainly didn’t factor in an auto repair bill! I’m all about being spontaneous, but it’s not the smartest thing when you’re low on cash and traveling with young children especially.
3. Tired feet
It seems absurd to point out that comfortable walking shoes are an absolute necessity at the theme parks, but you’d be amazed by the number of people reporting to Disney’s first aid services with blisters from brand new, poorly fitting, or unsensible shoes. You will be on your feet for the better part of your stay, and you will do a great deal of walking. Break in new shoes before your visit, and pack more than one pair. Flip-flops work well for some, while others prefer athletic shoes, and sometimes sandals. It baffles the mind when you encounter a guest braving the parks in heels. Yes, this actually happens, and it amazes me every time.
What you may not consider is how your ride experiences fit in to your footwear choices. I remember a miserably hot day when I simply couldn’t wait to get into Animal Kingdom to ride Kali River Rapids and cool off. This was the first thing I did when I arrived, at the start of a long, full day at the park. Naturally, my feet were drenched when I got off the ride. What I didn’t expect was the soggy puddle of water that pooled in each of my shoes all day long. Each step -splish, splash- and by evening, I had tremendously painful water blisters, and I cannot find the words to describe the smell of my socks and shoes, that the whole family had to experience for the three hour journey home. Lesson learned - save the water rides for the end of the day, take off the socks and shoes, or wear flip-flops.