Vagabond in America 2016 travel blog

Animal Kingdom with King Louie and Baloo

Magically meeting characters at Animal Kingdom

Baby giraffe and his mommy on the Kilimanjaro Safari

At the entrance to Hollywood Studios

Meeting Darth Vader at Hollywood Studios

Getting hugged by Chewbacca

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Singing In The Rain (while it's raining) at Hollywood Studios

At "The Sea" in Epcot

Meeting with Mickey

At the Magic Kingdom

Meeting Chip and Dale

Riding the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Riding Splash Mountain

Meeting with Pooh

Meeting with Tigger

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel

Illumination of Cinderella's Castle

Wishes Nighttime Spectacular

"In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Nine of the top ten amusement parks in the world are Disney Parks. Four of the Disney Parks are right here in Orlando, Florida. (The others are in California, Japan, France, and China.)

Disney has its own Disney-speak. Employees are not called employees. They’re “cast members”. Tourists are called “guests”. Tourists staying at one of the Disney resorts are called “resort guests”. Those staying off Disney property are called “day guests”. Areas where guests are allowed are called “on stage”. Areas that are off-limits to guests are called “back stage”. Etc.

Tourists at theme parks run the spectrum from novices to those who have attended many times.

There are countless tourists who arrive here for the first time without a clue as to what they’re about to see. They are completely overwhelmed when they enter. I expect that they spend most of their time standing in long lines being completely confused.

On the other extreme are repeat visitors who study and analyze the parks long before they arrive.

Disney provides several methods for guests to maximize the use of their time.

An ADR (Advanced Dining Reservation) allows guests to make a reservation for a particular time at a particular restaurant, usually up to six months in advance. There is no advance charge but there is a substantial charge for no-shows.

The FP+ (FastPass+) system allows guests to select three attractions per day for which they can skip the line, regardless of how long that line is. Amazingly, this system is free to all guests, even day guests (those staying off-site). Each FP+ (FastPass+) is only valid for a specific 1-hour interval for a specific attraction at a specific park. Guests are very limited as to which times they can get. And, all FP+ for popular attractions are usually gone weeks in advance.

The third method is EMH (Extra Magic Hours). These times are only available to resort guests (visitors who are staying at a resort inside WDW). EMH makes these special hours available to resort guests either before the park opens to the general public or after it closes.

For nearly all experienced tourists, the “art” of visiting Disney parks is to use these three methods plus their knowledge of the attractions to see as much as possible while waiting in line as little as possible.

They determine, in advance, the restaurants were they’ll eat and which attractions they will visit. Believe it or not many visitors create detailed plans and make reservations for their entire visit months in advance. Some even create a minute-by-minute itinerary including bathroom breaks!

Our party was a mixture of past experiences. I’ve been to eight of the eleven Disney parks. I’ve been to the four in Florida twice in the last four years. My son has been to seven of the Disney parks but none of them recently. His wife has never been to any Disney park. That meant that my daughter-in-law could relax and leaving the planning to me.

Since I’m now retired, it doesn’t cost me much to visit WDW. The cost of staying at Fort Wilderness (the only campground inside WDW) is only a little more than the cost of most campgrounds, particular since I can visit during the off-season. Buying an annual pass (allowing unlimited visits for a year) eliminated extra entrance fees. I decided to stay at Fort Wilderness for almost three weeks.

My first visit to WDW was in 1974. My late wife and I decided that we wanted to see everything that there was to see in WDW. We went on every attraction. We shopped in every store. We peaked into every restaurant. We visited every resort. We accomplished that in one, very-long day. Back then, WDW consisted of one park (Magic Kingdom) and two resorts (Contemporary and Polynesian). And, there were extremely few tourists. WDW hadn’t yet discovered how to attract guests during the off-season.

Now, WDW has four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom), two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), and a separate shopping area (Disney Springs). There are now 25 resorts and 113 restaurants that accept reservations. Plus, about a hundred other food vendors.

One of the changes that I find surprising is the “Meet and Greets”. It used to be that seeing characters, such as Mickey Mouse, at a Disney Park was entirely by chance. They would arrive, apparently at random, in various locations around the parks. Now, there are posted times and locations for each character, called Meet and Greets. There are always lines. For popular characters, like Belle (from Beauty and the Beast), the lines can be over an hour.

I decided that, for me, “visiting all of WDW” would mean visiting every interesting attraction. I skipped attractions that were designed specifically for small children, like “Disney Junior – Live on Stage”. I only went to a few Meet and Greets. I didn’t even attempt to visit all the resorts or all the restaurants. Since it was cold, even by Florida standards, both water parks were closed most of the time that I was there.

In fourteen days, I succeeded in completing my own, limited definition of seeing all there was to see. I can’t imagine how long it would take to really see everything in WDW today.

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