A few years ago, I did Disney World. Completely and properly. My friend Amy and I immersed ourselves in the Disney experience - stayed at one of the Disney resorts, visited every single park, ate the Mickey-mouse shaped food, bought the unnecessary souvenirs.
The best thing about the entire experience was that we had time to plan it out. Some say that a Disney holiday requires more planning than a trip to Europe… I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that I spent a LOT of time in front of my computer before we went away, and it paid off.
That said, I fully understand that not everyone has hours at their disposal to waste away on TripAdvisor, so here are some details of our trip in case it helps your own planning…
Where we went: Orlando, Florida. We stayed in the Disney World Complex which is absolutely enormous and contains a whole lot of hotels, the four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios), plus two water parks, Downtown Disney and some other casually crazy-big golf courses and things.
How we got there: We flew from Kelowna (in British Columbia, Canada) to Orlando with a quick stopover in Toronto. The one-way flight cost around the $300 mark with Westjet, who are a budget airline but perfectly, one thousand per cent wonderful.
*Sticky point - we found Orlando International Airport to be super confusing, with inadequate signage making it seriously hard to find our Disney bus. After a 20 min walk to find the Disney bus station, it was a very easy process to get on the bus itself and be delivered to our resort.
When we went: The last two weeks of April. This is an epic time of year to go for the following reasons…
- It was hot, but not too hot. The heat was not completely unbearable (although some days were worse than others), generally hovering around the 30 degree mark. It was also the perfect temperature for enjoying water parks especially if you are a wuss like me and tend to get cold in the water. The evenings were a perfectly balmy kind of temperature.
- The parks weren’t too crowded. We had such an excellent time exploring all the attractions, but that was largely due to lack of people - I can only imagine how horrific it would be with boatloads of people around. If you can go at a time that avoids holidays (Easter, Christmas), school holidays (both US and international) and especially spring break, do it.
With the exception of the Jungle Cruise, everything was open - sometimes rides shut for maintenance in super quiet times such as Jan/Feb, or the water parks close for winter.
Where we stayed: The Pop Century resort, which is one of the (many) resorts located in the Disneyworld area. There are different levels of resorts available, depending on how much you want to spend. Due to being paid less than fifteen dollars an hour at the time, Amy and I opted for a budget resort and hoped for the best.
Here is what we learned. In some places, “Budget” translates to “crack den with a bed”. At Disney, “Budget” translates to “really really decent”. Our room was clean and perfectly lovely, with white sheets, white towels, a nice bathroom, decent air-con, a TV with plenty of channels… absolutely no complaints there. The resort itself has four pools and some creative and fun theming, including a giant Mickey with a giant phone. There’s also a big reception area with a Disney store and a cafeteria with a whole heap of food options (although I only ever ate the chocolate cake. SO GOOD.).
Pop Century ended up being a surprisingly cost-effective option with the package we ended up booking (around $50 per night per person for the room). We did have a bird kill itself by flying into a window directly outside our room one night, but I’m choosing not to take that as a bad omen. Also, reception had it removed very quickly and apologised to me as though they had personally directed the bird into our window. Nice people, those Disney employees.
You can choose to go to Disney without staying at one of the resorts, but it ended up being so cost-effective, convenient and fun that I’m glad we didn’t choose to stay elsewhere.
What we drove: Nothing. The best thing about staying at the resorts is that you get free transport on the Disney Magic Express buses, which left from the resort every few minutes and went to the different parks or Downtown Disney. I was stoked on this feature. It made our lives much easier, not having to navigate our way around the entire Disney area as well as the parks themselves. The only problem was the wait to get on the buses. Sometimes long. Very long. Particularly when coming back from the parks, you’re looking at an hour or so. Take your Kindle or make sure you have iBooks on your phone to kill time.
What we wore: Shorts and a t-shirt. Every day. Nothing fancy because you will get dirty and sweaty and disgusting and probably wet on the water rides. I highly recommend exercise gear - it will wick the sweat away from your skin and keep you cooler than you might be otherwise. Wear runners or some other kind of shoe that will be comfy. You will be walking so much on a daily basis that your legs might fall off. Mine did. Twice. (I glued them back on.)
Note that you really don’t need much. I had only one pair of shorts because I’d just come from a Canadian winter (thanks American Eagle Outfitters) and one pair of runners (New Balance) as well as one pair of Havaianas for footwear. I did take (and use) a new top for every day because the tops got so sweaty and filthy. Take a dress for the evenings if you have nice dinner reservations, plus some swimmers for the water park, and you’re sorted.
What we packed (for the parks): Disney has no problems with you taking stuff in as long as it’s not alcohol or, say, a machete. You’re also permitted to take your bag on every ride, which makes things easy, although there are some rides where you have to hold onto it quite tightly.
Try to take a nice light bag that can be thrown around and that you’re not too precious about. It will be on the ground, on your back, rained on, covered in sunscreen, and zipped/unzipped about forty times a day. I used a super-light drawstring bags which was pretty nicely destroyed by the end of it all. Mine was from work but you can also buy them from brands such as Nike.
Here's exactly what to pack:
- A light jumper - useful for when you’re standing around in air con for long periods of time and you’re still wet from the water ride you just did. Also good for sitting on if you need to sit on the ground during a parade or whatever. For this reason, probably don’t take your favourite jumper.
- Sunscreen. Absolutely vital. Reapply all the time. Is hot and the sun, while not as harsh as the sun in the Southern Hemisphere, is still a little rough.
- Water and snacks. We actually pre-ordered a bunch of groceries from the Garden Grocer and they delivered everything to our resort, ready for our arrival. This meant that we had a supply of Vitamin Water, regular water, apples, muesli bars, bread rolls, chips and cookies available that we packed up into our bags on a daily basis. Saves money, time and a hungry tummy in a long queue (it’s also a good way to kill time while you wait to get on a ride if you are one of those people that eat for entertainment. That is me.).
- Hand sanitiser. Because not even Disney magic can kill germs.
- Sunglasses and a hat. Again, take ones you’re not too attached to. You may lose them or sit on them or have them crushed by a giant teacup.
- Phones and phone batteries. Phone batteries die FAST in Disney - I think it’s the wifi that just kills them - so it’s worth getting an external battery of some kind to prolong your phone battery life.
- A poncho. Rain storms usually come on suddenly and can be very heavy, although they don’t last too long. Get something to ensure that you remain at least semi-dry. We used and re-used ponchos from the dollar store.
- Our Magicbands. You get one of these if you’re staying at the resort and they are amazing - they’re a wristband that have your room key, park entry and Fastpasses all in one. You can also link your credit card to it, set a pin and then use it to buy things in the park. So convenient. For this reason I never had to take any cards or cash to the park (although I usually took a little cash as a back-up).
Random tips that actually helped in some way:
- You can get a free cup of water from any street cart or shop or anything because Disney acknowledges that people are just about dying of heat, all the time. Take advantage of this once you’ve finished the water bottles that you packed.
- Download the Disneyworld app - it is brilliant, largely because it tells you wait times for each attraction, so you can keep an eye on Space Mountain and note when the wait time are nice and short.
- Schedule yourself an off day or two. You’ll be exhausted after just one day in a Disney park, let alone several days. Take a day to just hang out by the pool at your resort. We didn’t actually do this, but we did schedule a day at the water park to just sit in the lazy river for five hours.
- Try and coordinate your days at each park with the Extra Magic hours. These are hours for guests of Disney resorts and well worth it for crowd-control reasons.
- Check and double-check the fine print on your tickets and packages. Some of the selling points can be misleading and you may end up forking out extra for something that you thought was included.
Got any Disney tips? Share them below.