Off to the Magic Kingdom
Rachel Barry Illustration
So you finally caved. Every parent who can (almost) afford to does, eventually. There’s only so much begging you can tolerate before you give in and say those exalted words.
“We are going to Disney World!”
That’s actually the toughest part, that decision to invest half your savings in a surreal, weeklong party hosted by a bunch of people dressed as animals. The rest is easy: plane tickets, park tickets, hotel room, restaurant reservations. I didn’t say it would be cheap. But who needs a new furnace anyway? At least you’ll be warm for those days in the Florida sun.
If you’re not sure the nonstop dancing, show tunes, fireworks and parades will be worth it, try to see it from a child’s perspective. When you are 8 years old, a visit to the Magic Kingdom is the be-all, end-all of entertainment. It’s the equivalent of simultaneously attending the Super Bowl and Comic-Con, accompanied by Oprah and Seinfeld, with an open bar and free nachos. In other words, instant memories.
Plus, all the food is shaped like Mickey Mouse. All right, maybe not all of it. But I challenge you to make it home without eating at least one Mickey-shaped snack. It can’t be done.
If you’re a first-timer or even if you haven’t been in a while, there is much to know about a Disney vacation. I have managed to survive three Disney vacations in the last five years, and it didn’t happen by accident.
The last trip involved 16 people, one large house, seven hot days, five different parks, four rental cars, three traffic jams, two thunderstorms, and a partridge in a pear tree. Actually, instead of the partridge, there was a group photo in front of Cinderella’s Castle. Finding a partridge might have been easier.
I’m not sure if this all makes me an expert or just a glutton for punishment. But here’s what I’ve learned: Planning ahead is key, and every bit helps. A little last-minute research can go a long way toward maxing out the merriment. Every minute in Disney World is meant to be an immersive experience filled with wonder and surprise, and there are simple ways to work that to your advantage.
For one thing, make a game plan. No, you shouldn’t map out every minute of every day. In fact, the unexpected things can be half the fun. During our week, we were accosted by storm troopers, affectionately mauled by Winnie the Pooh, and serenaded by a man with a ukulele.
Between all that, we adhered to a predetermined schedule of ride passes, shows and restaurant reservations. There is more to see and do in Disney World than anyone can squeeze into one week. Preparing an agenda ahead of time will enable you to prioritize the events that matter to you and your family, while allowing for the inexplicable amount of time you will spend in restrooms and gift shops.
Begin by going online. There is a wealth of Disney insider knowledge on the internet. Two websites I found helpful are disneytouristblog.com and allears.net. Also, if you’re like me and you consider food to be part of the adventure, check out disneyfoodblog.com. It will fill you in on where and what to eat.
Read up on all the tips and tricks that might save you time, money or headaches. For instance, water is free at Disney World. Yes, you can pay $3 for a bottle of Dasani, but free iced water is available to guests anywhere that fountain drinks are sold. Over the course of a hot, humid week, this could add up to your air fare back to Syracuse.
Take advantage of the free transportation. From buses to boats to monorails, Disney has mastered the art of moving people from place to place. They will even get your luggage from the plane to your Disney hotel room without you ever touching it. In spite of all this, wear comfortable shoes. The storybook fantasy is simulated, but the walking is very real. Also, allow one rest day at the pool mid-trip to alleviate the stress of the 12 hours you will spend on your feet every other day.
Discover what’s new in the parks. Those attractions are always the hot tickets. On our trip, the Frozen Ever After ride in EPCOT tested our determination with a 90-minute wait, at which point we were ready to just “Let it go.” This turned out to be nothing compared to the new Avatar experiences in Animal Kingdom, where the wait times exceeded all reason and tested our math skills.
“270 minutes? How many days is that?”
That figure is genuine, and it should scare you into learning Disney’s FastPass+ system. It allows you to skip the line at three attractions per day in a single park. You can reserve these up to 60 days in advance through the My Disney Experience app on your phone. The app can also manage your restaurant reservations and the rest of your schedule.
The technology doesn’t end there, as you can then link all of those plans to your MagicBand. This is the plastic, wearable wristband that connects you to Disney World in fantastically convenient ways. It opens your hotel room door, instantly transmits photos taken by Disney photographers to your phone app, makes rides personally interactive, and allows you to charge purchases to a credit card with a wave of your hand—like magic.
Most importantly, enjoy yourself. Be a kid again. Plan on your IQ dropping 20 points the instant you walk through the gates. It’s all part of the same illusion that allows you to believe that $35 is a reasonable price for a T-shirt. My advice is to accept it and indulge a little. Soon enough, you will be back in New York, resuming your regularly scheduled, less-magical life, wondering why none of your food is shaped like mice.
Neil Davis works at Bristol-Myers Squibb and lives in Liverpool with his daughter, Sadie.