This is the moment you’ve been anticipating. Your plans are finalized and you’re ready to depart on your dream vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. There is only one flaw with your plan. Even if you visited a Disney theme park as a kid, you’re a rookie when it comes to being the person in charge. You’re the Sherpa who will lead your family during the trip, and you want your kids to enjoy the same precious memories that you have about Disney. Theme Park Tourist wants you to be a hero to your kids, so we’ve accumulated a list of six rookie mistakes that you can easily avoid simply by reading this article.
1. Not realizing how much walking you'll have to do
The impetus for this article is that a dear friend of mine just returned from a trip to Disneyland. He and his wife took their five-year-old daughter and infant daughter, and it’s safe to describe their first day as harrowing. Even if you are not traveling with such small children, there is still a lot to learn from his family’s mistakes. The good news is that even if you do struggle with some of these issues, you will probably discover just as he did that experience is the key to an excellent Disney vacation.
No matter what happens, however, you should accept walking as a key part of the journey. Think of it in terms of The Lords of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. All of the walking that Frodo and Bilbo do during the six films represents a fraction of the walking required during a week at a Disney theme park. We’re talking about a place that features an annual marathon onsite every year, and nobody thinks a thing of it.
Even if you are someone who works out every other day as doctors recommend, the physical toll of a Disney theme park may still shock you. My wife, a former dancer in great shape, has had her ankles swell multiple times during a Disney vacation. Imagine what this will be like for you as you carry around the requisite necessities that prevent your children from suffering extended crying jags. Also, imagine the experience from your child’s perspective. They have short legs, after all.
In order to mitigate walking concerns, try to plan your theme park visits around staying in specific areas as well as others close by. Try to navigate in a way that you avoid crisscrossing the park multiple times. This is especially crucial at Animal Kingdom, the largest park with the worst walkways currently. They’re working on the problem, but that doesn’t help you right now.
If you plan poorly, you can walk several miles at Animal Kingdom, and if you are particularly unlucky, you will feel the pinch of this experience right when you realize that you are at the very back of the park, which means even more walking. Your Disney theme park is effectively a treasure map. There is no hidden gold anywhere, but think of all the rides as having giant X marks on them. You want to reach these destinations as easily as possible. It’s the theme park equivalent of measure twice, cut once. Read the map until you’ve formulated a plan for your next several rides.
2. Not keeping transportation options in mind
People always throw things at me when I say this, but Disney actually does a great job with regards to transportation. The problem is that the sheer volume of customers guarantees that an unlucky few will wind up with travel horror stories. I’m not talking about the flight or car rental or traffic, either. I’m talking about the time spent between exiting your hotel and reaching your destination.
Whether you plan take a bus, a boat, or the monorail to the park, Disney attempts to accommodate your needs. You have to meet them halfway, though. The best way to do so is to learn how the various transportation options work. If you are staying off-property, ask about when your shuttle leaves and returns each day. Be clear on each point to avoid later confusion, and also find out if there is a number you can call or text if the worst happens and you wind up feeling stranded.
If you are staying onsite, ask a friendly cast member about the best times to travel. All of Disney’s transportation services run throughout the day, but if you miss one, there could be an extended delay before the next option arrives. The monorail is the best option when possible since its schedule is reliable. Buses are a moving target for Disney. They are currently testing new methods to notify travelers when the next bus is scheduled to arrive. That doesn’t help you right now, though. Instead, you should allow for wait time for buses and boats whenever you plan to park hop or return to your hotel.
This information is particularly important with regards to advance dinner reservations. If you have to be at a certain place at a set time, plan for the worst and then be pleasantly surprised if you arrive early.
3. Not using the Fastpass or FastPass+ systems
Note the terminology. They’re not called slow passes. These babies are worth their weight in gold, because they provide you unfettered access to the front of the line, give or take a few minutes. Not using Fastpasses is the equivalent of walking ten miles to school every day. Uphill. In the snow. In 1937. The technology exists, and you should utilize it. Disney has literally spent a billion dollars perfecting the combination of magic bands and Fastpasses. If you choose not to use them, you may as well spit on Mickey Mouse.
I’ve already discussed the Fastpass options at Walt Disney World that I consider imperatives. For families with smaller children, you should consider skipping Soarin’ and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in favor of Enchanted Tales with Belle or Pirates of the Caribbean to satisfy the boy(s) and girl(s) in your life. As always, adapt these suggestions to your own family’s needs.