As seasoned Walt Disney World pros will tell you, a visit to the most magical place on earth can be hectic and stressful if you dont know what you’re doing.
However, it is possible to have a relaxing experience there. As part of our series of Disney World Guides, I’d like to offer some tips to help you have a chill and most excellent time at WDW.
A Little Planning Goes a Long Way
I know it’s a lot to take in, especially if it’s your first time in Disney World, but there is a lot of planning you should do beforehand that will make your trip way easier in the end. Even as a WDW veteran, I still have to remind myself of these things from time to time.
Things to Know in Advance
Here are some things you’ll want to know the answers to:
- Where will you be staying? Will it be on Disney property or offsite?
- How will you get from your lodging to a given park and back? Disney offers a variety of on-property transportation options — including monorails, buses, and boats — to all guests, whether they’re staying at one of their resorts or elsewhere.
- However, if you are staying offsite, you’ll need to understand the parking situation, including their policies and daily fees (typically $20/day at each park, unless you have an Annual Pass). And before you ask, no, they don’t allow you to simply park at one of their resort hotels and take a bus or monorail.
- Another point of note is that Magic Kingdom does not have a parking lot of its own, so you have to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center and then take a monorail or ferry boat over.
- Do you know the differences between the four main theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom), which rides they each have, and what “lands” (sections) they’re each divided into?
- Where will you be eating? (For some, it’s helpful to know how Disney World accommodates food allergies and special dietary needs.)
- Which FastPasses will you schedule, and when? (Read the FAQ here.)
- Which rides and shows are must-dos for you and/or your group?
In summary, do your homework before you arrive in Orlando. Spare yourself the emotional burden of showing up and finding out there are so many details that need sorting out.
Space Out Your FastPasses
In much the same way that you never schedule flights back-to-back in order to avoid running between gates or missing a flight due to a delay on the last one, you’ll want to keep a bit of breathing room between FastPasses so you’re not constantly hurrying from one thing to the next.
Budget, Budget, Budget
You know the old adage, “overpromise and underdeliver”? Do that, except for your Disney World budget.
Let me explain: Things in Disney World (meals, souvenirs, etc) cost more money than you think they will. However much you think you’ll be spending overall, double or even triple it. Consider that money already spent. When the time comes to actually buy anything — or when unexpected things come up, as they so often do — you’ll spend less time stressing about your bank account and more time enjoying yourself.
As Scar Would Say, “Be Prepared”
Never find yourself without something you need when you need it. In addition to whatever you pack for the trip itself, while you’re in the parks you’ll want to carry a backpack — like the GORUCK GR1 or the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 — and keep it stocked with essentials like…
- Baby wipes (always handy to have around)
- Water bottles or travel mugs
- Small snacks
- Spare clothes for those in your party who are prone to making messes (*cough* kids *cough*) or for anyone who enjoys wet rides like Splash Mountain but hates dealing with wet clothes afterward
- Ponchos or small umbrellas (it’s Orlando, it rains)
- Phone chargers
- …and whatever else you might need.
Always Have a Backup Plan
As with anything, things sometimes don’t go as planned. Rides will break down at the worst times; you’ll be unable to find that one souvenir you spotted the other day; a meet-and-greet line for your favorite Disney character will shut down right as you walk up; or your viewing spot for that one parade or fireworks show might be terrible because people claimed the good ones two hours ago.
At times like these, it helps to have a Plan B. Keep a few alternatives in mind for when something unexpectedly falls through. In the case of FastPass reservations, if you have one scheduled and the ride is broken when you get there, you’ll be given some alternatives for rides you can use it on instead if you’d rather not wait to see if the scheduled one gets repaired.
Take the Paths Less Traveled
As crowded as the parks get, you can often navigate your way around without having to “swim upstream”, so to speak. You just have to know the shortcuts.
For example, in Magic Kingdom there’s a path you can take from Main Street, U.S.A. to Tomorrowland without having to enter the hub in front of the castle. Turn right just as you pass the ice cream parlor and head through the Tomorrowland Terrace instead, where the walkway is generally empty unless something major is happening around the castle.
In Animal Kingdom, when I’m heading from DinoLand toward the exit, I like to cut through the Discovery Trading Company shop (the entrance is right next to the stage where musicians often play) rather than go all the way around. This is an especially pro tip during the summer, when you can escape the sun beating down on you for a few minutes.
These sorts of less-traveled routes exist in all the parks if you know where to look. Study the park maps well and you’ll get some ideas.
Use Attractions to Unwind
There are certain rides and indoor shows throughout Disney World which are dark and/or slow enough that you can relax and even rest your eyes for a few minutes if you need to.
- Living with the Land (Epcot) ← the ultimate example, IMHO
- Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover (Magic Kingdom)
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic (Magic Kingdom)
- Muppet*Vision 3D (Hollywood Studios)
- Carousel of Progress (Magic Kingdom)
- Spaceship Earth (Epcot)
- The Seas with Nemo & Friends Ride (Epcot)
- Finding Nemo the Musical (Animal Kingdom)
Of course, it helps to have experienced any of these at least once before using them for relaxation purposes, so you don’t feel like you’re missing anything.
Find the Quietest Restrooms
There are “hidden” restrooms in the parks that see less traffic than others for whatever reason, and are thus more peaceful to use:
- Magic Kingdom: 1) The ones tucked behind Gaston’s Tavern, 2) the ones in the gift shop at the exit of Pirates of the Caribbean, and 3) upstairs in the Columbia Harbour House restaurant.
- Epcot: 1) In the building that’s behind Fountain View (Starbucks) and around the corner from Club Cool, 2) on the far right side of the “Journey Into Imagination With Figment” building, and 3) downstairs in the Seas With Nemo & Friends building, past the manatee tank.
- Hollywood Studios: 1) To the left of the Chinese Theatre, behind the Hyperion Theater, and down some steps (look for the glass blocks), 2) inside the entrance of the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant, and 3) in the hallway between the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater and the ABC Commissary.
- Animal Kingdom: There really aren’t any super-hidden ones here, unfortunately. The most secluded one I can think of is at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which you have to take a 10-minute train ride (which has its own potential wait time before boarding) and then walk another five minutes to reach, and I’m not doing all that just to use a bathroom, sorry.
Use the Resort Monorail
Let’s say you’re visiting Magic Kingdom and are staying offsite, so you have to get back to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) at the end of the day. As you’re walking out of the park, you’ll notice there are two monorail lines: one for the TTC — which is undoubtedly horribly backed up if you’re leaving at the same as everyone else, like after the fireworks show — and one for guests of resorts around the Seven Seas Lagoon (The Contemporary, The Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian).
Despite not being a resort guest, I recommend using that latter option. They don’t (yet) check passengers to see if they’re actually staying at one of those three resorts, and even if they asked you, you could tell them you’re simply doing a “resort crawl” which is a pretty popular activity since they all have their own restaurants, shopping, and decor to check out.
In any case, the resort monorail is always way less crowded, although you do tend to have to wait longer between monorail arrivals. If you can put up with that, it’s a far more relaxing experience. You might even actually get to sit down rather than stand the entire time, if you’re lucky.
Most Importantly, Slow Down
Above all else, my top recommendation for having a chill Disney World experience is to slow down and enjoy the ambiance once in a while. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. You’ll find that with all your planning and pro-level knowledge in hand, it’ll be all too easy to rush around constantly and try to experience every possible thing you can with whatever time you’re given.
I get the temptation, believe me, but please do take your time and enjoy it, not just check off a bunch of itinerary items before going back home. That would defeat the purpose entirely.