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Image: Disney

​Locals have a very different approach to Walt Disney World best summed up by a familiar phrase: “Hakuna Matata!”

I never thought I would become a Florida local—I lived most of my life on the other side of the country, where trips often required extensive saving and planning, and the idea of an off-the-cuff Disney trip was the stuff of dreams, not reality.

When we moved to Central Florida, I was immediately taken aback by how close we were to The Magical Place on Earth—less than a two hour drive. A whole new world of discounts, Passholder programs, and possibilities opened up. Over these past years, I’ve come to realized that visiting Walt Disney World as a local is a quite different experience than visiting from abroad. Things like the intensity I used to put into trip-planning, frequency of visits, and what we did during a Disney day all changed.

While exploring the ways Floridians experience Walt Disney World differently is interesting, what I found more intriguing was the ways experiencing Disney as a local changed the sort of advice I gave to visitors coming from out of town. Indeed, I learned out-of-state guests can actually glean some wisdom from the way Floridians do Walt Disney World, the “no worries” way…

1. Discounts make a big difference

Disney Dreamers March with Mickey Mouse
Image: Disney

Florida locals have access to an impressive pool of discounts for visiting Walt Disney World if you can prove residency. These include tickets (some in unique categories), resort rates, annual pass programs, and even pet-sitting discounts.

After years of saving up for week-long Disney vacations where we had to plan for flights, resorts, tickets, dining, and spending money, I was surprised by how affordable Disney’s Annual Pass program for Floridians seemed in comparison—they even allow locals to pay for passes month-by-month. While pass costs have gone up notably since I first arrived, the discounts offered to Floridians compared to out-of-state guests remain noteworthy.

The discounts offered by Disney—particularly on Annual Passes—allow Floridians the major benefit of being able to visit Walt Disney World more often. Instead of having to plan for one huge trip every year, if you live close enough, locals can visit whenever Parks Pass Reservations are available (within the limits of your pass). The low-cost / frequent-visit approach allows for very flexible ways to enjoy Disney parks, including things like off-the-cuff visits or half-day excursions. Most of all, both the flexibility-factor and lower cost reduce the stress of visiting Walt Disney World.

What Can a Non-Local Learn?

Floridians may have access to some of the best Disney discounts out there, but other discounts do exist—be thorough in your research for the best prices for tickets, resort rooms, and travel. For example, many people who have access to job benefits don’t realize their benefits program might get you access to very good discounts on tickets, rooms, and flights. Clubs like AAA, credit card rewards programs, and sites like Undercover Tourist offer discounts that don’t require a Florida residency.

2. The low-pressure approach

Baby rhinos at Disney's Animal Kingdom with adult rhinos
Image: Disney

As mentioned, I’ve noticed Florida locals often take a much more “Hakuna Matata” approach to visiting Walt Disney World. For example, I would never recommend anyone visit a Disney park on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day—two of the most miserably busy days all year… yet, I have a Floridian friend who does just that almost every year and has a great time. The guy takes such a low-pressure approach to his visits that he has no strict expectations and just floats to where crowds are lightest that day.

Many Florida locals have access to more flexibility in their Disney excursions than non-locals—if a trip goes wrong, it’s not likely to be their last visit to Walt Disney World for the foreseeable future. While I know a few intense-planners, most locals I’ve seen take a leisurely approach to Disney days that reduces much of the stress-load. Passholders, particularly, have the freedom to change plans on the drop of a dime if a particular line is too long or a certain reservation isn’t available. This allows for much more relaxed Disney visits.

What Can a Non-Local Learn?

It is well-worth building margin for flexibility into your Disney vacation rather than planning every single minute. While there is wisdom in having a touring plan to get the most out of a Disney day, Murphy’s Law tends to inevitably show up in some form or fashion on Disney vacations. There are also occasions where you might find yourself wanting to slow down or change plans but feel like you can’t because of the itinerary for the day.

The greater the margin, the lower the stress—by giving yourself some breathing room, you will increase your ability to relax and enjoy the trip, as well as giving space to adjust if needed without feeling like the day is ruined.

But what about rides?...

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