Sometimes, you can be your own worst enemy when planning a Walt Disney World vacation.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You read Theme Park Tourist! You know your stuff and have enjoyed years of successful Walt Disney World trips. Don’t worry, intrepid reader, this article isn’t about you.
It’s about every Disneyphiles most loathed pet peeve: when people ruin their own Disney vacations.
While there are plenty of legitimate reasons a vacation might go sour, every Disney superfan has family, loved ones, and frenemies who keep making the same mistakes when visiting The Most Magical Place on Earth. If you’re a seasoned visitor, you’ve heard them all.
“The food was terrible! Nothing but corn dogs and burgers far as the eye can see!”
“I don’t understand why anyone visits Disney. All you do is stand in line.”
“Why would anyone who doesn’t have kids visit Disney World? That’s weird.”
“Disney World sucks. Disneyland is way better.”
I can feel your anger, Young Skywalker...
Let’s talk about the top 10 ways you (or that one person you know) just might have ruined your own Walt Disney World vacation… and more importantly, how to fix it!
1. You didn’t plan anything
As a moderately-new Florida resident, I have come to embrace the idea of spontaneous Disney trips. It’s a luxury that annual passholders who live in the area can enjoy because there’s not as much pressure to make every trip perfect.
However, if you are travelling any distance for even a modest Walt Disney World vacation, you are going to run into some serious limitations if you don’t plan ahead.
Reservations for resorts at Walt Disney World can sell out as early as six months ahead of time. High-demand dining reservations can disappear as well, and during peak season, you will be unable to enjoy most of Disney’s table service restaurants without a reservation. The same goes for Fastpass+ reservations. Most importantly, you might end up at the mercy of peak crowd conditions if you don’t plan.
It can be difficult to resist the temptation to book a last-minute Walt Disney World vacation when package opportunities come up. However, if you’re going to save up for a trip as expensive as Disney, you’ll want to be able to enjoy it to the fullest. If possible, try to plan major Disney trips a minimum of 6 months to a year ahead of time, if not more to give you extra time to save.
2. You assumed Magic Kingdom was the only park
There are still a staggering number of people who have no idea Magic Kingdom is not the only park at Walt Disney World.
Walt Disney World isn’t just a single park. It’s a massive resort spanning over 40 miles-- the same size as the city of San Francisco! While Magic Kingdom is its flagship park (which bears the most similarities to Disneyland), Walt Disney World includes three other full theme parks—Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios—as well as two water parks, a huge shopping district, 4 golf courses, around 30 themed resorts, and plenty more.
If you skip Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you are missing out on the best experiences Disney has to offer. Epcot hosts some of the best food you will find at Walt Disney World, with eclectic offerings like The Rose and Crown Pub, The Biergarten, Le Cellier Steakhouse, and Epcot’s Annual Food and Wine Festival. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is an enormous celebration of nature and fantasy with appeal for all ages. Both Kilimanjaro Safaris and the park’s walking trails allow guests to get up close with exotic wildlife while the park’s signature rides—Expedition: Everest, Dinosaur, and Avatar: Flight of Passage—offer some of Disney’s most spectacular thrills. Finally, Disney’s Hollywood Studios offers a wide range of attractions for the whole family beyond their excellent thrill rides. Oh, and the place has become heaven for Star Wars fans.
The verdict? Don’t miss out on everything else Walt Disney World has to offer!
3. You assumed Disney was only for kids
There’s no doubt Walt Disney World is a blast for kids. The parks are designed with kids in mind, and youngsters of all ages will find myriad delights at any of Disney’s parks. However, The Most Magical Place on Earth is also a world class destination for adults.
Disney dining is a huge draw for adults, and they truly have something for everyone—rich ethnic cuisine at Jiko, mouth-watering contemporary fare at The Flying Fish Café, incredible steaks at Artist’s Point, even a character breakfast fit for the toughest foodies at Ravello at The Four Seasons Orlando on Walt Disney World property. On top of dining, all four Walt Disney World parks have attractions with specific appeal to adults, from adrenaline pumping thrill rides to educational boat cruises. The better half of Walt Disney World’s resorts were built with adult sensibilities in mind as well as adult-specific experiences like Senses and Mandara Spa. Oh, and if you are looking for a romantic getaway, keep in mind that Walt Disney World is one of the top ten honeymoon destinations in the world!
4. You visited during peak season
I cannot overemphasize enough the efforts you should take to avoid visiting Walt Disney World during peak season. While crowd trends are changing dramatically, there are just certain times of year where Walt Disney World is so jaw-droppingly crowded that your trip will be affected negatively no matter what. Long lines, cranky guests, packed resorts, and limited reservation availability are just a few of the issues you are guaranteed to run afoul of during peak season.
Particularly on the dreaded mega-crowd weeks surrounding Fourth of July, Christmas Day, and New Year’s, there just comes a point where no advice any Disney expert could give is going to help. Many visitors have no idea that there are other times during the year where you can walk straight onto rides, snag last minute dining and FastPass+ reservations, and even find substantial discounts on rooms and ticket packages. Even if the slow seasons in late January, late September, and early December aren’t an option, a sizable portion of the year still hosts moderate crowds tame compared to their summer and holiday counterparts.
Can trips made during the busy season be salvaged? With careful planning, absolutely. However, if you are looking for a less stressful Walt Disney World experience, your best bet is to plan to visit during a moderate or off-season week.
5. You didn’t budget (or at least save up)
Again, while the rules for this are fudged for Annual Passholders who can come and go without pressure, for anyone else planning a Walt Disney World vacation, you may find yourself frustrated during your vacation if you fail to either save generously or put together a basic trip budget. There’s a huge temptation, particularly on last minute trips, to try to skimp on food, gifts, and resort costs when visiting Disney. While each family’s needs are different, often this strategy ends up causing more frustration than fun, particularly if you are bringing children.
While purchasing groceries and snacks outside of Walt Disney World is a great idea (making your own breakfast can save you a huge amount of money!), you’re going to miss out if you try to completely skip Disney dining. Instead, consider putting together a modest trip budget that allows you to visit the restaurants that sound most interesting while partaking in picnics or self-brought snacks at other times.
On the other side of the issue, you may end up spending way more than you intended if you don’t have at least a basic budget. Disney are masters at the art of the impulse buy, and they are particularly good at hooking guests who have kids. I don’t recommend attempting a strict no-souvenirs policy if you’re bringing kids. Instead, budget for a few impulse buys, but use restraint on others. Take the time you need to save up for the Disney trip of your dreams, and you’ll be able to plan some padding into your budget to keep things fun and spontaneous.
6. You stayed too far away
Tying in with the issue of budgeting, staying too far from Walt Disney World can prove a brutal trip planning mistake. Again, this depends on the type of trip you are taking, but with Disney already taking up over 40 miles of land, visitors tend to lose more time than they expected commuting to and from the parks every day. Just getting in and out of parking can take hours on busy days. Many guests don’t realize how far most Orlando resorts are from the parks. You will lose considerable time getting to and from your resort.
The other issue with staying too far from Disney is the need for rest. A Walt Disney World day can quickly turn exhausting, and it pays to stay close enough to be able to take a mid-day break to recuperate your strength. This is easy if you are staying on Walt Disney World property (where transportation is provided), but many of Disney’s Good Neighbor Hotels are still close enough to work. This is one area where spending a little bit extra is well worth it.
7. You tried to do it all in a day
We’ve already mentioned this, but Walt Disney World is huge! Many guests try to squeeze Walt Disney World visits into 1-2 days only to realize they saw just a fraction of the resort. While there are some excellent trip plans available online for 1-2 day visits, you are likely to end up feeling worn out and frustrated if you try to force a Disney vacation into a single day.
A four-day visit the bare minimum to cover all four of Walt Disney World’s parks-- keeping in mind you may not see all attractions in those four days. For some guests, Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Epcot can be visited as half-day parks. An ideal Walt Disney World trip merits a 6-9 day visit if you really want to see it all.
8. You didn't rest
Tying in with the previous two issues, the worst thing you can do during a Walt Disney World day is trying to power through without any breaks. While there’s an understandable urgency to wanting to see everything Disney has to offer, you can tire yourself out to the point of burnout if you don’t pace yourself. On particularly hot days, the situation can even turn dangerous if heat exhaustion sets in.
The average Walt Disney World visitor walks a whopping 10 miles a day. Rather than treating a Disney park day as a non-stop sprint, plan breaks to allow yourself to recapture some energy. One great strategy is to arrive at the parks at opening gate, hit your favorite attractions while crowds are still low, then leave the parks for a mid-day retreat when crowds start to swell around lunch time. You can always return in the evening, refreshed and ready. This is one of the areas where staying at a Walt Disney World resort can prove invaluable due to convenience.
9. You didn’t listen to your kids
This is one of the sadder ones on the list, but it seems like an inevitable sight on most Disney visits—frustrated parents and frustrated kids. Sometimes, in our zeal to create a perfect family vacation, it’s possible to miss the mark when it comes to paying attention to our kids’ needs.
Children under 4 may need some special sensitivity when visiting Walt Disney World, both when it comes to energy levels and what attractions they can handle. Some kids take to Disney like fairies to pixie-dust, but others can get overstimulated and scared by an environment as intense as Disney. Characters and attractions that may seem innocuous to an adult can register as terrifying to a kid.
Sometimes, with the best of intentions, parents inadvertently project their dream Disney experience onto their kids then grow frustrated when their little ones seem to not be enjoying themselves. In these moments, instead of losing your temper, gauge if it may be a good time to take a rest, have a peaceful snack, arrange a nap, or choose an attraction that maybe fits your kid’s speed better. Many parents have reported that their babies, in particular, ended up loving the resort pool better than any other part of the vacation!
Set reasonable boundaries and expectations, keep an eye on kids’ mood levels, and don’t be afraid to go off-script or employ some clever hacks to make sure they’re able to enjoy Walt Disney World as much as you do.
10. You had a bad attitude
Sometimes people just have a crappy attitude. Approaching your Walt Disney World vacation with a sense of indignancy, entitlement, chronic negativity, or general rudeness is the surest way to ruin your own Disney vacation. Our words and attitudes have incredible power over our perceptions. If you show up to Walt Disney World expecting a disastrous trip, you will probably have what you expected. A bad attitude costs you the battle before you even arrive.
Above all else, Walt Disney World is a place to abandon our pre-occupation with the world’s drama, let go, and dream. Embrace the atmosphere of positivity. Let sour encounters roll off your back and continue on your way. Exercise gratitude and enjoy the moment. If stuff goes wrong, that’s all right. Bad stuff feels bad, and that’s okay, but it doesn’t have to wreck your vacation. Ultimately, your attitude can make or break your vacation.
What other ways do you think people ruin their own Walt Disney World vacations?