If you know me, you know I'm somewhat of an 'adult' Disney expert. I travel to Orlando at least three times per year to visit the parks. I have taken my granddaughter, but usually, I go with teens and adults. Don't judge me. I haven't received my adult card yet. I'm pretty sure it's with my Hogwarts acceptance letter in some lazy owl's nest. What I am about to discuss is not if you are necessarily traveling on a budget - there are plenty of blogs on that. I'm detailing how to have the most fun, so save up for the best trip ever.
HOW TO BEGIN:
The first step is to get the My Disney experience account and app installed on your phone. It is an absolute must to have this so you can plan. I am a perpetual planner, so if you go with me, you're likely to get a detailed, to-the-minute itinerary to maximize the time spent there.
Also, the app has real-time wait times for the attractions, you can link your travel mates on your account for reservations and fast passes, collect photos from the rides, as well as other benefits to be discussed.
WHERE TO STAY:
Now that you've set up your account, it is time to book your Disney property resort room. I prefer the Grand Floridian, main building with club level. I'm a bit of a hotel snob, and to be honest - not many in my circle agree that you have to go this extravagant. It's not the nicest hotel I've ever stayed at, but it's quite a pleasurable experience. The lobby is beautiful, the shops are nice (with a great bath bomb store), there's a jazz band every evening playing in the foyer until about eight p.m., and if you are in the main building on the club floor, you will be taken care of with yummy offerings until ten o'clock p.m. They serve a full breakfast in the morning, light lunch in the afternoon, snacks during the afternoon, a light dinner, and then desserts. There is a chef posted at a stand who makes Mickey waffles for you in the morning. Free cocktails never hurt anyone, and we've even taken a break from Magic Kingdom (no alcohol in that park besides seated dining), hung out at the club floor for a bit to have a few 'free' beers, and then went back to the park. I quoted free because you pay for it with the room price.
Caveat: I've stayed in the outer building club level and do not suggest it. It's like staying at a Holiday Inn, isn't at all the same experience as the main building, but you pay the same. Rooms were not as nice, balconies weren't as nice, you can't enjoy the band, you walk further, the club offerings were about half as the other, and someone took all the waters from the club our first night, so there were none available to us when we came back from the park. The custodian said the management wouldn't allow them to put any more waters out because someone took a twelve-pack to their room. So the first night of paying 1K for the lesser room, we had no benefit of the club level at all. We ordered room service for $30 to get water. I couldn't book the main building for my trip this October, so I booked the Four Seasons at Disney. I'll update this after I see what it's like.
I've stayed at the Contemporary a few times. The monorail is convenient, as it's in the hotel (but see below on my workaround on the monorail). For this hotel, do not order room service unless you're desperate, and bring bottled water to the room. One time, we had a late check-in after returning to the park. We were parched, and there were no waters in our room. We tried to get waters from the vending machine, and it wasn't working. We had to order room service water, and it smelled like fish. The same smell was in the shower, so it's just their water, I suppose. I would stay here again, but prefer the Grand Floridian.
I stayed at the Animal Kingdom with a Savannah view but never saw one animal. Same issue with the water as the Contemporary (none available and with this hotel, room service had stopped serving so we dehydrated), and the souvenir shop in Animal Kingdom park and resorts doesn't have all of the cute stuff. I'm meh on this hotel and probably won't be back.
I have stayed at a few other resorts, and they are unremarkable - all the same issues with moderately priced hotels, such as humid rooms, not 100% cleaned, etc.
If you plan to go twice to Disney World per year, I'd suggest the season pass. It's going to run you ~ $900, but once you purchase one, you are grandfathered in on cost and get 15% off if you purchase before expiration, so you're immune to price hikes. However, if you let more than 30 days lapse after it expires, you start over. Be careful not to miss a renewal.
If you are just going one time, purchase your park tickets in advance. Why? So you will have time to get your Mickey bands in the mail and secure your fast passes. Don't wait until the day of arrival, as all good fast passes are taken. If you stay at a Disney resort, you can book fast passes 60 days in advance. If you are off property, you have 30 days in advance, but you can't sign up for fast passes without a ticket. So, purchase your ticket through your account at My Disney to link everything and make it easier.
If you have the budget available for your trip, there's nothing like a guide picking you up at the hotel and escorting you around the parks for seven-plus hours, doing what you tell them you want to do and skipping all of the long lines. This is going to run about $650 per hour with a seven-hour minimum. The price varies depending upon how busy they are. I've never splurged for this, but plan to do so on my 50th birthday!
What I have done and enjoyed is the Ultimate VIP Thrills Tour. You meet up with a tour guide and about ten other people (~ 12 in a group). For this, you'll only pay $349.00 per person - plus park hopper admission which runs ~$121 per day for four days. Disney is expensive, and there's no way around it. That is why they make the Most Expensive Day Ever family shirts on Etsy.
The tour guide starts with Splash Mountain, and you'll ride the best rides at the Magic Kingdom. Off to Epcot for lunch with the Soaring ride, and then to Hollywood Studios for the best rides in all of Disney (see below). You start around half past eight in the morning and end about four p.m. If you are really into it and have the budget, I'd suggest scheduling a night tour after it or on another day of your stay. The one I'd suggest is the Animal Kingdom VIP tour because you do not visit that park on the Ultimate Thrills tour. This runs $249.00 per person and will start around 5 p.m. and last about four hours. There are other tours you can look into, as well. If you have kids with you - they have tours that the kids will love.
There are dining plans and such, but that's not for me. I prefer to hit the best restaurants in the park, but you must book six months in advance to ensure you get an optimal time. I suggest Cinderella's Royal Table. It is a fixed price for $60 per adult. The restaurant is located in the castle at the Magic Kingdom. It is somewhat of a mess with how you are seated, as you have to wait in a holding room with others until they come down to get you. We had reservations, but it was at least forty-five minutes before we were seated.
Also, they make you take a photo with Cinderella, which we weren't thrilled about. I'm sure Cinderella didn't like our shenanigans, either. But, the meal was fabulous. I'd say it was equivalent to any fine dining establishment I've been to from the starter to the dessert. Also, they serve wine and beer here, as it's seated dining - the only places to get alcohol at Magic Kingdom. One more piece of advice with this place - if you are a table of adults only, tell your server upfront to skip the princess visits. While you are served dessert, each princess will come to your table and want to chat. We didn't want this, as it was awkward
Next recommendation for Magic Kingdom is Be Our Guest. You will sit in the castle of the Beast, who will roam around and take photos with you, if you wish. I highly advise only to do lunch here. I've done both lunch and dinner, and dinner has a fixed menu that isn't as good. I recommend the French onion soup and the chocolate cupcake, which is one of the best desserts I've ever had in my life. Stay away from the recommended 'gray stuff' cupcake, as it isn't as good. This place is neat, as the windows make it look like the castle grounds are outside, and it's snowing. Very important - order your selections in advance on your My Disney Experience app that I suggested above. You will go straight to your table if you do that instead of waiting in a long line to order. There is beer/wine at this place.
Animal Kingdom has the Yak And Yeti restaurant, which is Asian cuisine. I haven't ordered a bad thing here. It's great food. I love their chicken lo mien, as it is so buttery and tasty - but probably 2000 calories, so beware. But you're walking ~10 miles per day at the parks, so splurge. All of Animal Kingdom serves alcohol, so you can get any cocktail you wish here from the kiosks, restaurants, bars, etc. .
Epcot is the park to go to for walk-up dining. They have the best food (other than my selections above), and a huge selection. They also have food and wine festivals throughout the year, so check the schedule before your trip. Word of caution - the food festivals can get unbearably crowded, so I'm not suggesting you go. We walked halfway through the crowd and nearly had panic attacks from the number of people, so we turned around.
My last suggestion for dining is if you are going to order at any of the fast food walk up places - use the app to order in advance. You'll skip the line and go straight to the pick-up window. Even if you are buying a Dole Whip - you can do this.
One warning for you - skip the experience at the Sci-Fi dining at Hollywood Studios. Not only are you sitting two per table and facing a large movie screen, but the 'movies' they play are terrible, the volume is loud, and the food is terrible. We had a party of three, so one person had to sit by themselves. Miserable.
I suggest you go to one of the Joffrey's coffee kiosks while you are at Disney World. There's one right outside of Space Mountain and another across from Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom (but they are scattered everywhere). Order a frozen cappuccino. You will not be sorry. It tastes like cold hot chocolate, which sounds weird to me now, but it's amazing and loaded with caffeine.
I've tried everything. Monorail, Disney Express Charter Bus, the transportation buses, the water taxis. All of these options are available to you at no charge if you stay at a Disney main property. But I have discovered something to make your experience easy. Minnie Vans. Download the Lyft app if you don't already have it. While you are in range, you can pull up the Lyft app and swipe all the way left (or right, I can't remember), but there will be a Minnie Van option. These are employees and cars owned by Disney - Disney just uses the app. You cannot mistake them, as the are red with white polka dots. The most time we ever waited for one was ten minutes. Having this service available was a brilliant idea from Disney. You can do the monorail, the buses, the water taxis to get from park to park or back to your resort free-of-charge. However, you will have to wait up to thirty minutes for the bus, monorail, or boat to arrive, and then you have travel time with potentially multiple stops. We missed the Disney Express back to the airport because the water taxi took over an hour to get us back to the Contemporary. Ugh! Monorails get extremely crowded and if you don't like people encroaching on your personal space - fear them. They are building a new gondola transport system where they will attach a cart from the top and precariously suspend you a million feet in the air. Nope. Not for me - I'll pay the ten or fifteen bucks not to wait and be transported by a Disney employee while I'm on the property. Some Minnie Vans will have a phone charger for you, which is convenient since your phone's battery will be drained at the park by using your app, etc.
Also, they have an upgraded airport transport which you need to call and reserve in advance. It is $150.00 each way, but it is a super nice vehicle (a step above the Minnie Van SUV's) with waters, sparkling waters, chocolates, phone chargers and other offerings.
A word of caution. Before we knew about the Minnie Van experience, we booked Sunshine Limos and had a terrible experience (they never picked us up and then harassed us via text messages), and then Orlando on Wheels, who were as friendly as a buzzard and wouldn't allow us to eat a sandwich in the car on the way to our hotel. I've taken hundreds of car services and have never, not once, had anyone say we couldn't eat or drink in the car. There is always an agreement if you make a mess, you'll be charged to clean it, so riders typically don't make a mess.
Since this is an article on the adult experience at Disney World, I must cover one of the most important parts of this experience. Cocktails and where to find them.
Magic Kingdom - no alcohol is served in the park besides the sit-down restaurants. Make reservations six months in advance to ensure you can get in at the proper times.
Animal Kingdom - the best full bar is at Tusker House, albeit it is called the Dawa Bar, you'll miss it if you are looking for it. It's right beside the Africa stage, so you can have drinks and watch the show or grab one and get back to the park. Animal Kingdom has many kiosks serving beer and other concoctions, and each restaurant will have a full selection.
Hollywood Studios and Epcot would be the same as Animal Kingdom with plenty of kiosks and sit down restaurants with a full selection.
I've asked you to register on the My Disney site, book a resort hotel and purchase your tickets in advance. Why did I suggest this? Because of the fast passes. If you've done what I suggested, you can secure your fast passes sixty days in advance. Mark your calendar with the sixty-day-mark because everyone else is doing so. Jump on the My Disney site and snag the best options.
Animal Kingdom - Pandora's Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest and the Dino Ride.
Magic Kingdom - Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain.
Hollywood Studios: Tower of Terror, Aerosmith's Roller Coaster, and Slinky Dog Dash.
There you go. Book those fast passes immediately, as they will become unavailable quickly.
At Disney World, you are limited to signing up for three fast passes per day, and they must all be from the same park - even if you have a park hopper ticket. Something I recently found out is that after you've used your three passes, you can sign up for more. The problem with this is that all of the good fast passes are booked out, so you can maybe meet Arial in her Grotto or see a bug show if you are booking a fast pass the same day.
My top choices for Disney World rides are to come. Something that we do to spice up the day and add a competitive edge is see who can get the best ride photo. As you can see, we've done some interesting poses here. I'm sure the others in the photos were very curious about us.
Magic Kingdom: I'm listing my top choices in order of preference. I've included POV video links I found on YouTube for you - just click the ride name.
Seven Dwarves Mine Train - the smoothest roller coaster you've ever ridden. Scare level 6/10. They will upload a cute video of your ride on your My Disney account for you (see below).
Haunted Mansion - I just love Haunted Houses, and it's nice to get a break from the heat. Scare level is 1/10 for me, but my granddaughter was terrified when she was five and rode this. It is a spooky house that a cart takes you through, but in a cute-spooky kind of way. I just don't get scared by this stuff easily, given my profession.
Splash Mountain - it's charming as you travel on a boat through the animated figures and they are singing and happy. There are a few drops before the main drop that can get you soaked. Sit in the third row, wear a poncho, and don't sit on the right side of the cart if you are trying to stay dry. The last drop is scary, so I'd say this is a good 7.5/10 on scare level.
Big Thunder Mountain - good moderate roller coaster. Great to ride at night during the fireworks if you can time it right. Scare level 6/10. My granddaughter (five at the time) rode it, was scared, but wanted to ride it again.
Space Mountain - all indoor and in the dark, so it is frightening to me. Seems faster with no lights, and you're not secure in the seat like others, but it never turns upside down. I'd say scare level 7.5/10.
Animal Kingdom: I'm listing my top choices in order of preference.
Kilomanjaro Safari- this is a must! You sit in a large safari jeep with about twenty five other people. A guide drives you through a mini zoo-type experience. You get close and personal with the animals. I've done this about ten times and have only seen the lions out of their cave within the big rock structure twice. Each journey is a different experience.
Pandora's Flight of Passage - scare level 4/10. You get on a motorcycle-style seat that closes you in pretty tight. It vibrates, moves, etc. to make it seem like you are riding on the back of an avatar. It's pretty realistic. The lines will be terribly long, so fast pass this if possible. There is a bar serving drinks during the line, but no restrooms, so be careful.
Expedition Everest - pretty scary roller coaster but terribly awesome. It looks like you are 'tink-tinking' up really high with a big drop around the corner, but there are no 'huge' g-force blackout drops, it's just really fast, has a backward section, and a Yeti is supposed to jump out, but that broke in 2008, so he just looms over you. It's still cool. They are closing this down at some point to fix the Yeti, so this might be closed while you go - head's up. Scare level 8/10.
Dino Ride- my granddaughter hated this ride and cried the whole time. She was five and courageous, but this was beyond her limits. You sit in a jeep style cart, and it is rough as you travel through with dinosaurs chasing you. I'd say for me it was a scare level of 6/10.
Jurassic Park - this one is a boat ride through a dino experience with a troubling journey at the end, concluding with a big drop. It's half indoor/outdoor. I've been stuck on this for fifteen minutes, in July, in the sun. Wasn't fun. But the ride is cool, nevertheless. 7/10 for the drop at the end.
Hollywood Studios: I'm listing my top choices in order of preference. Click on the name of the ride for the POV videos.
Tower of Terror - the most polite drops you'll ever experience. That's how best I can explain the terrifying elevator car dropping from however many stories high. It's not rough, but it will put serious butterflies in your stomach. My favorite ride at Disney World, hands down. You get in an elevator with about twenty other people. Scare level 8/10.
Below is a video of Alex and me on the ride by ourselves. We were pretending to be angry at each other, but I'm unsure if this story was conveyed. It just looks like we are nutters, but alas, we had fun. If you ride this later at night, it becomes less crowded, and you can ride by yourself if you desire.
Aerosmith Rock n' Roller Coaster - This is the scariest roller coaster at Disney World. Scare level 8.5/10. All indoor, with neon signs like you are driving in a limo on a highway trying to make it to the Aerosmith show. It's amazing with a rapid start. They countdown to three and you launch from 0-57 mph. If you have any neck problems, you should maybe skip this. I often need an Advil after riding.
Slinky Dog Dash - amazing fun. This is my second favorite ride at Disney World in the new Toy Story land. It's a smooth rollercoaster with a cute theme. Scare level 5/10.
URGENT WARNING – WHEN TO LEAVE THE MAGIC KINGDOM PARK:
In July of 2019, a few weeks after I wrote this blog, I made a huge mistake. I was at Magic Kingdom, having dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table. The only reservations I could get (as the trip was quickly planned) were for 8:20 PM. This put us at dinner during the fireworks (see video.) This was amazing. However (insert dramatic pause here), the benefit was not worth the next hour of the near-apocalyptic warzone that ensued. They wouldn’t allow us to leave after dinner until the walkways were checked, to ensure the sparks/embers were out. So, it put us leaving with everyone else at the park. It is an absolute nightmare to be at Magic Kingdom when the park is closing, right after the fireworks is over. It took at least thirty minutes of a slow moving, compacted crowd to get to the exit. I was run over by three strollers and witnessed a scooter injure someone in front of her.
I suppose I’ve always been lucky not to leave this park at closing by leaving from another park or having the afterhours. My suggestion is to leave before the fireworks and watch them somewhere else. Or, don’t try to leave the park when it closes – maybe hang out at a souvenir shop for an hour and a half. Not joking – it’s impossible to even get a Minnie Van during this time. We were finished with dinner by 9 PM but didn’t get to our hotel (Grand Floridian) until 11:30 PM, as the monorail line was hideously long, the ferry line was almost as bad, and forget about the buses (which none go to the Grand Floridian, anyway). Nightmare. Either get the afterhours in the park if they are offering it or leave before the fireworks and watch them from your hotel if you can. I’ve watched them from the monorail before, but there will be many parents that knock you out of the way if you’re by a window, as they want their kids to have the front row by the glass.
If you have any questions you'd like for me to answer about Disney World, I would be more than happy to help! Just leave a comment below. Happy travels!