Dear 100 Hour Board,
I need some Walt Disney World 101, please!
My family has gone to Disneyland many times, but none of us have ever gone to Florida. But we saw cheap flights to Orlando and just went for it. So I'm a bit overwhelmed!
We have 6 days in Orlando, but we will also be fitting in Universal in those days (because my daughter and I love Harry Potter and my husband wants to do Volcano Bay). So we will probably only have 3 days for WDW, and 3 for Universal/Volcano Bay. Maybe 2 for one or both of those locations, if we want to take a day off of parks, because 6 days in a row is a lot for kids. We are going next month, the week before Star Wars opens, so it should be the calm just before the insanity, we hope.
Which means I need to plan things out yesterday. Help!
First of all, I've read that park hopper isn't worth it because getting from one park to the next is an hour process. So if you could only do 2 or 3 of the sections, which ones would you do? And in those areas, what should we plan to do? For reference on what we like to do in Disneyland: my kids just aged past characters (whew! Those lines get long), and we usually don't dine in parks - just pack in food, and buy a couple of small things to eat. Our Disneyland favorites are rides like Pirates, Indiana Jones, Toy Story Mania, etc. Kids are 7,11,13. We love parades and shows, too. Not huge Frozen fans- more of a Tangled/Aladdin/Moana/Gravity Falls family of fans, most of which has no rides associated. So that's not helpful. I know I need to plan things out so I can get my fastpasses scheduled, but I don't know what we want to do and where it is!
Second, does anyone have any experience on where to stay? We've stayed in Disney hotels and off campus in California, but the main benefit to Californian was that we could walk from our hotel to the park entrance there. (And that someone else was paying for it, that time.) Looks like no matter what, we are taking a shuttle bus or monorail or boat or whatever, whether that is on property or an off property hotel shuttle. So is transportation even that much better when on property? Are the magic bands really worth it? I'm pretty used to carrying around paper tickets. There aren't many magic hours while we are there. If on campus, we are thinking either All Star Music or Cabin at Wilderness. Off campus, I'll get something in between WDW and Universal so we don't have to move, with a shuttle.
So I know I need to figure those two things out to get hotel and fastpasses booked. What else should I get prepped? I know how to prep for Disneyland, but this is all new, so I would love any advice you have! And for that matter, if anyone has Universal tips, that would also be great!
-The Answer is 42
For Walt Disney World parks, I would suggest you do Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Epcot is a cool park and it has some great rides, but the World Showcase has more shopping and dining than it does attractions.
Magic Kingdom is very similar to Disneyland park, and is home to classic attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Jungle Cruise, and the Haunted Mansion. It's also home to the only parade, the Festival of Fantasy, and my favorite fireworks show, Happily Ever After. It should be great for that age group too, as it has a nice mix of thrill rides (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain) and classic Disney attractions (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, it's a small world). The rides most likely to have the longest wait times are the roller coasters. If you can find availability for FastPasses (FP), I would recommend the Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain (assuming you're interested in those attractions, of course). My general FP strategy is to book them for the morning if possible, because once you've used the first three you can book one more at a time throughout the day, so booking them in the morning will maximize your time. As soon as you go through the FP turnstile, be on My Disney Experience looking to see what else is available. Keep refreshing, and you can definitely get some good options on the day of.
Hollywood Studios is a great park for thrill rides and for shows. It's also home to Toy Story Mania (also among my favorite attractions!). That park has Fastpasses on a tiered system, so you can only book one ride in Toy Story Land, their newest addition. Of the three rides in Toy Story Land (Slinky Dog Dash, Alien Swirling Saucers, and Toy Story Mania) Slinky tends to have the longest wait time, but is consequently the toughest one to book a FP for. If you can't get Slinky, I would book Toy Story Mania. The wait time for Aliens usually isn't horrific (it's basically the same concept as Mater's in California Adventure). I would also recommend FP for Tower of Terror and Rockin' Roller Coaster. Rockin' Roller Coaster is the most thrilling roller coaster on Disney property, going from 0-60 in less than three seconds and going upside down several times. As a result, it does have a height requirement of 48 inches (I am terrible at judging children's ages so I'm throwing that out there in case the 7 year old isn't quite tall enough yet).
Animal Kingdom is pretty cool because it's unique to Walt Disney World, as Disneyland doesn't really have anything comparable. It's themed around animals of the past, animals of the present, and animals of the imagination (specifically as imagined by James Cameron in Avatar). It's home to some of my favorite attractions AND my favorite shows. For Fastpasses, if you see Avatar: Flight of Passage, BOOK IT RIGHT AWAY WITHOUT HESITATING. It's an amazing attraction that had a wait time of 130 minutes when I was in Animal Kingdom yesterday. The basic concept is that you connect with an Avatar and ride on the back of a banshee. I would also recommend looking for FP for Expedition Everest, a roller coaster, and Kilimanjaro Safari. Kilimanjaro Safari was designed to feel like an actual safari through Africa. You go through a variety of different ecosystems, but each one has live animals wandering around, so in one location you might see okapi and rhinos and the next one you might find elephants and baboons. It's also pretty cool because a lot of the animals are free to wander, so every safari will be different if you want to experience it more than once. For instance, I was once stopped on the ride for like ten minutes because a giraffe was talking it's time crossing the safari path. I've also heard a male lion roar, and seen the male lion being groomed by the female. Animal Kingdom also has two excellent shows, Finding Nemo: The Musical and Festival of the Lion King that are amazing and absolutely worth seeing.
There are two main benefits to Magic Bands if you aren't staying at a Disney-owned-and-operated resort. The first is convenience, that you can have your park ticket on your wrist and easily accessible any time you're entering a park or redeeming a FP. That can be much easier than pulling the cards in and out of a wallet. The other big factor comes into play if you're planning to purchase a Memory Maker or otherwise download your PhotoPass pictures. There are some attractions like the Haunted Mansion or Slinky Dog Dash that will take a photo of you in the ride, but you'll only be able to see it if you're wearing a Magic Band on the attraction, because it will automatically sync with that. If neither of those benefits really appeals to you and your family, Magic Bands aren't necessary. However, the battery in them will last 5-10 years, so if you do purchase them you can always reuse them on future visits. For your reference, the solid color bands start at $15.97 each (or you get a free one if you stay in a Disney resort, because they'll also function as your room key).
As far as transportation goes, it's generally much better on Disney property. A lot of hotels in the area will only drop off at one spot, like Epcot or the Transportation and Ticket Center (the central hub for the Magic Kingdom), then the burden of finding connecting transportation is on you. That can eat up a lot of valuable park time, while if you stay on property every resort offers transportation to all four theme parks, the water parks, and Disney Springs.
If you do decide to stay on property, I would suggest All-Star Music over the Fort Wilderness Cabins. Fort Wilderness is a campground that is on the massive and sprawling side, so they have an internal bus system that makes numerous stops before dropping you off at the front of the resort, where you can then catch connecting buses to the parks (or there's a boat to Magic Kingdom that you catch near Pioneer Hall). In contrast, the Family Suites at Music can comfortably sleep 6, and they have one central bus stop where you can get transportation. However, one big benefit of the cabins is that they include a full kitchen, so if you're planning to cook any meals the cabins are still worth considering.
I don't know too much about hotels between Disney and Universal but if you want to explore that route, I would be sure to double-check their transportation offerings and leave yourself some extra travel time in the mornings if necessary. Some shuttles also run on specific schedules for pick-up and drop-off that may not allow you to spend all day in the parks if that's your preference. But do your research to see what works best for you and your family.
I confess that despite being an Annual Passholder with Universal, I am not an expert on their parks or their policies. I am also quite biased because I'm a Disney cast member. My favorite things in Universal by far are the Harry Potter sections, because I will never stop being a Harry Potter nerd. One crucial difference between the two companies is that while Disney offers complimentary FP to each guest, in Universal one must pay for the privilege. Therefore I would recommend getting to Universal parks right when they open, so you can take advantage of minimal wait times. I've never been to Volcano Bay so I can't offer much advice on that count.
If Volcano Bay and Harry Potter are your priorities, I think you could conceivably get that done in two days. In contrast, one day is probably a bit optimistic to see everything the Magic Kingdom has to offer (though of course you might want to skip offerings like character meet and greets, so it depends on your family). So if I were to plan the schedule for your vacation, I would say:
Day 1: Magic Kingdom
Day 2: Hollywood Studios
Day 3: Animal Kingdom
Day 4: Free Day
Day 5: Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure
Day 6: Volcano Bay
I vacillated a bit on where to place the free day, because there's always a possibility you'll be raring to go and don't want to spend a day relaxing by the pool. Both Universal and Disney have enough to do that you could spend an extra day there. I'm not sure about Universal tickets, but if you buy a three-day Disney ticket you should be able to upgrade it to add a fourth day if you so choose. Personally I would prefer to spend any extra time at Disney, so that's why I would recommend doing Disney first so you can adequately gauge whether you've seen everything you wanted to see.
Prep for Walt Disney World probably won't differ too much from Disneyland prep, with two exceptions. First is that a lot of hotels are within walking distance of Disneyland, so it can be relatively easy to pop back over to the hotel for whatever reason. WDW is not like that. Going back to the hotel for a nap or a swim or because you forgot something will likely be a time-consuming production. So I would recommend bringing a park bag with sunscreen, medication, water bottles, whatever you might need for a full park day. I would also recommend everyone have comfortable walking shoes that are well broken in. You'll be on your feet a lot and you'll do lots of walking.
The other big difference is that Florida is one step above hell, heat-wise. Yes, California can be hot too. But my parents are from California and after they came to visit me last September, they swore to never come again unless it's the dead of winter. Be prepared for oppressive heat. Mini fans and frosted towels are a godsend. Keep yourself hydrated with water, not soda (all quick-service dining locations with a soda fountain will give you complimentary cups of ice water. Take advantage of this). If you're in line at an attraction with an outdoor queue, try to find some shade or air conditioning afterwards.
On the flip side, in Florida it's going to rain most every afternoon. Bring ponchos for everyone if you don't want to get wet (the parks sell umbrellas and ponchos, but it's much more economical to bring them yourself).
Both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios have apps that I recommend you download, if you haven't already (Disney's I highly recommend). My Disney Experience is where you can link your park tickets and make Fastpasses, plus it'll show you current wait times, nearby dining locations, showtimes, etc. I know Universal's has similar capabilities, but current wait times are the biggest draw to me.
I know that's a lot of information, but hopefully that answers your questions and gives you some ideas of where to start! I live in the Orlando area and I work for Disney, so if you need any more specific advice or if you want any more opinions, feel free to email me at email@example.com and I'd be happy to help any way I can!
I hope you have a lovely time.