Now. There are certain things that I am going to acknowledge before I begin. I know that college kids and just-out-of-college kids are typically either not going to Disney World, or are going to Disney WITH their families. But some of us go by ourselves and I feel like something should be said for that. Personally, I have done the trip using my families vacation club membership to pay for the resort, and I've gone paying for the whole trip out of pocket. Both are doable, with enough planning and forethought, and managing what you're willing to splurge on and what you're not.
It's silly not to book the trip with Disney. It's sillier still to stay off Disney property. I know- that is exactly what the Disney company corporation business bastards (I prefer to call them brilliant, but to each his own) want me to say. But you know what? It ain't baroque. I won't fix it. Here's why:
Booking with Disney means that you can call one person and they will book your flight, your resort, your park tickets, and your transportation. If you want your own rental car, they take care of that, too. But when there are buses, monorails, boats and trains that can take you everywhere (starting at the airport), why bother paying for the car? And if you take the right free bus to the right Holiday Inn, you can even get to Universal for free! (At least... I'm 98% positive that's possible... I haven't had to cross that bridge yet.) So yeah. I would suggest booking through Disney. They take care of everything and you'll get certain amenities that you probably wouldn't even think about were you booking the trip yourself.
When should you book? That's simple. Book when college classes get out, and before the rest of the worlds' summer starts. End of May, beginning of June. Crowds aren't bad, weather is beautiful, and the timing is perfect to kick off the summer.
It's also the time of year for Star Wars weekends at Hollywood Studios (which I still call MGM) and who doesn't love Star Wars?
So that's the time of year taken care of.
Flight taken care of. Bus from the airport to the resort. The resort! How do you choose where to stay?
Well, if you're anything like myself and my friends, you're not going to spend much time at the resort so ultimately it doesn't matter. Even what Disney deems as "Value" resorts- their cheapest options- are the kind of quality you would expect from Disney. Nice rooms with very little if anything at all to complain about. The Value resorts have heavy-handed themes and usually you'll find a lot of families there, which doesn't bother me. There are four themes: All-Star Sports, Music, Movies, and Pop Culture. All are awesome. If you want to spring a little more cash then be my guest. The resort will probably have less kids, nicer pools and quieter places to sit and enjoy the sun, but the parks are what really matter to me.
Unless you can mooch off someone's vacation club points. Then spring for the Animal Kingdom Resort because, really. Giraffes at your window.
Wherever you end up staying, spend at least one day (evening, morning, mid-day break... whatever.) exploring the resort. Disney puts tons of time and effort into every last detail and you would be upset with yourself if you missed out. Alright, so resort taken care of.
Next, you need tickets to the parks. Here is the first piece of advice that you really can not pass up: DO. NOT. PASS UP. THE PARK HOPPER. OPTION.
Seriously. You're at Epcot, but so are three other tours from some country in South America and you want to go somewhere the lines are a bit shorter. BUT YOU CAN'T BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T LISTEN TO ME! Silly. It only costs about fifty bucks more, and it's good for so so many things. Say you end up with the dining plan (I'll get to that...) and you've booked dinner in MGM, but run out of rides to ride by noon. So? Hop on over to Magic Kingdom, enjoy the mountains of space and splash and thunder, and then head back to MGM when it's closer to nomming time. Done and done.
So tickets booked. Now let's talk about food.
This year, I think we're going to try out the Disney Dining Plan. The Dining Plan can get pricey for a family, but when you're just paying for yourself or traveling with a significant other, or with friends, it will definitely be a nice way to break up the day. Based on how much we spent on food last go-round (and we were NOT starving...) the Dining Plan is more than woth the bang for your buck.
Okay. You're done letting a very nice representative book your trip for you, and it's time to start packing for the trip.
Things to not forget: Comfy shoes. You're going to be doing a lot of walking.
A water bottle. Disney would be so mad if you knew this, but if you ask any cast member in the parks for a water refill, they can not refuse to give it to you. This goes ESPECIALLY if you have a Disney mug, which by the way is worth it because you can also fill it with whatever you want at your resort, however many times you want.
Sunscreen. I don't care if it's foggy or blindingly bright outside. You never know when you're going to be waiting in line for Finding Nemo the Musical and suddenly the sun comes out from behind the clouds and fifteen minutes later you're a tomato. Silly.
A portable umbrella. 2:00 hits and almost without fail, the skys of Orlando open up and you're soaking wet.BUT NO YOU'RE NOT BECAUSE YOU BROUGHT AN UMBRELLA!
Non-perishable food stuffs. SEriously. Bring some snacks, and I tend to bring bread and PB and J to make my own sandwiches as well. IT cuts back on the money I spend on food in the parks and keeps me happy and fueled all day long.
A light jacket. The AC Disney pumps into their buildings can be bone-chilling at times.
Alright. So you're now packed and ready to go.
Fast forward and there you are, day one in the parks. But where do you start? Well, I hope you did your research, because if you didn't this is all going to be very overwhelming.
Disney is not a park for kids. It is a series of parks, each more brilliant than the last, designed to be enjoyed by EVERYONE. And if you're a total nerd, like me, a little research doesn't destroy the magic- it just makes it better. I'm running out of writing time for tonight, so I'm not going to get into specifics, but here's a little run down.
Seriously. Research. I did this first when I was in seventh grade, going on my first substantial trip to the World since I was about three and had absolutely no say in what was going one. So I went to the library and took out both Frommers and Birnbaums most recent tomes on the Parks. I literally sat with a pen in hand and a notebook in the other. This turned out to be the best possible thing I could have done. I went park by park and wrote down the rides I felt I HAD to see, restaurants I would like to eat at (still, not much say in this matter. I was twelve and there are four girls in my family. None of us got to specifically pick where to eat) and other attractions I wanted to visit. I checked them off as I went along, making changes and taking more notes. I've never been quite so diligent since, though I've always done the same amount of research (if not more) before each trip, taking more and more responsibility for the itinerary as the years have gone by.
The research has gotten more nerdy as the years have gone by- research into behind the scenes, history, and secrets the imagineers have imparted along the way. The depth and amount of research you choose to do is clearly up to you, but know that no matter how many times you've been to Disney Parks, they are constantly undergoing changes and there's always something new to learn and explore.
I suggest you do the same. With the dining plan, I've started going through and chosing where I would like to each in each park, but I'll be narrowing it down the closer we get to the trip.
Now. There are certain tips you need to know about the parks.
Lines are inevitable. Disney is starting to build interactive queues in their more popular attractions: video games in Space Mountain, musical garden at Winnie the Pooh, etc. to make the time go faster. In the mean time, you've got to plan out your day. There are fast pass machines at almost every attraction that has a queue, where you can get a ticket for admission to the ride later in the day. If your number one must do is a more popular attraction, go there first thing when you get to the parks and snag a fast pass. IF the wait isn't that bad yet, hop on line, too. Then you'll get to ride at least twice!
Oh and for arrival times at the park: get. there. early. Every park has a unique "rope drop" ceremony in the morning. There are tons of characters there and plenty of opportunity to take pictures. During star wars weekend, there are even Storm Troopers on the roofs at MGM waiting to open the park.
Grab a park map. No matter how well you think you know the parks, the maps are invaluble for planning out your day, deciding how to proceed around the park, and it will save a lot of arguing over where the Pirates of the Caribbean is. Because we ALWAYS forget.
In every park, there are parades and fireworks shows. These are fun and impressive, if A) your hometown neglects Fourth of July and Memorial Day, or B) you've never seen them before. The only fireworks show that I would definitely say you HAVE to watch is Illuminations at Epcot. Otherwise, while all the kiddies and their parents are lining up for the Mickey parade, please. Walk the other way. All these people waiting for a glimpse at Goofy are exactly the people who are NOT in line for the Haunted mansion. So run, Forest, Run. And enjoy multiple goes on all those rides that just moments ago had a 60 minute wait time. Wheeeee!
On the opposite end of things, when you're planning to see a show like Finding Nemo (which you should, btw), don't worry about getting there too early. If you miss out, there's another show in fourty minutes. The later you get into the show, the earlier you get out of the stadium and on to other rides. The less time you waste standing around to sit in the front row, where you have to crane your neck to see half the stage anyways. And if you REALLY want to be involved in the show, do it at the backstage tour. You get to cool off. Trust me.
Special hints for the Magic Kingdom: Climb the Swiss Family Treehouse at night. There are way less kids. There is less sun beating down on you as you climb stair after stair, and there is an AWESOME view of Tomorrow Land all lit up.
Ride Dumbo OR the magic carpets. The carpets always have a shorter line though, and are exactly the same ride.
The railway, river boat, and transit authority are excellent places to sit without staying in one place, and you get a mini guided tour of a part of the park. Excellent way to cool off and rest your feetsies.
Fantasy Land is currently under construction. When it's done, it's going to be awesome.
Most of the characters who show up in Magic Kingdom also show up in other parks, often in funny costumes, and often where you least expect them. If you REALLY want to meet Mickey, book a character meal. You will A) get to spend more time taking pictures with him B) feel less guilty without a crowd of little ones screaming MICKEY MICKEY around you and B) enjoy noms. In an air conditioned environment.
If you're at Magic Kingdom during a holiday, it's every man for himself. I can not help you for making such a silly mistake. But enjoy the fake snow on Main Street. Please.
MGM is the best park. Flat out. Some people call it Hollywood Studios. Those people are wrong.
The parades here are even less worth standing around and watching, except the Pixar block party which is fun to walk by and watch while you walk. Sully breaks it down. Here, every ride is worth the wait. Get a fast pass for Toy Story Mania FIRST THING IN THE MORNING if you have any desire to ride it ever, but definitely get in the regular line also-- the queue area is AMAZING especially if you like Toy Story. Tower of Terror has an equally amazing queue area--more so if you're familiar with the Twilight Zone at ALL. Star Tours is currently in it's second phase, it was very recently updated so now every ride experience should be unique. This is new. That means the lines are going to be MONSTERS, especially if you're there during Star Wars Weekends.
Speaking of Star Wars Weekends- if you're there during the SWW, get there early. The areas where the characters meet and greet are deserted, and you can feel free to take photos on the mini-sets that have been erected everywhere without waiting in line. Of course, the character won't be in the photo, but what's better than a photo with Darth Vader? A photo where you're pretending to BE Darth Vader.