How to Survive Walt Disney World

We've got the nitty-gritty on how to survive Walt Disney World


Our family’s No. 1 rule at Disney World was no ride was worth more than a 20-minute wait. Rule No. 2 was get there early. And Rule No. 3 was to arrive with a strategy mapped out in advance.

Time-saving Strategies for Walt Disney World

The best days for our family of four (including an eight- and a five-year-old) went something like this:

  • Wake up early, grab a quick breakfast in our room and arrive just as a particular park opens. Quickly make our way to the “must-do” rides, according to our kids’ preferences, and then zoom over to the other rides based on the length of the lineups.
  • We stayed on site, which meant we took advantage of Extra Magic Hours, given to guests of Disney resorts (see “Add it Up”). It astonished me how many rides we could cram in the hour before the park opened its gates to the public.
  • Planning our lunch spot in advance was also critical, and we made sure we arrived at a restaurant around 11:30 a.m.—which resulted in shorter lineups because we were slightly ahead of the lunch rush.
  • On most days, we were spent by 2 p.m. The crowds had grown by then, the park was hotter and our family wanted pool time.
  • Evenings were spent either lounging around our hotel or heading to the Magic Kingdom to watch the nightly fireworks display (which you should do at least once).

Lay of the Land: Mapping Out Walt Disney World

Unlike Disneyland Resort in California, which is a fairly compact property consisting of two theme parks, Downtown Disney and a few Disney-owned hotels, Walt Disney World is comprised of four theme parks, two water parks and numerous accommodation and entertainment areas covering nearly 25,000 acres of central Florida land just outside Orlando—roughly the size of San Francisco.

Think of the park as an upside-down T. At the north end sits the most popular park of all—the Magic Kingdom, which is the East Coast version of classic Disneyland. Built on a lagoon, and surrounded by three of the Disney deluxe resort hotels—the Disney Contemporary, Disney Polynesian and the Disney Grand Floridian—it’s conveniently served by the monorail, boat shuttles and a walking path.

Southeast of the Magic Kingdom lies EPCOT, a park that zips guests around the world in an afternoon through various country pavilions that surround—you guessed it—another lagoon.

All other parks at Disney lie further south of EPCOT and are only accessible via resort buses or automobile. Running from west to east, you’ll find: Disney’s Animal Kingdom; Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Mickey’s version of Universal Studios); Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon (a pair of massive water parks); Disney’s Boardwalk and Downtown Disney (two shopping and restaurant districts).

Intermixed between all these parks and resorts are the Walt Disney World Speedway (for those novice NASCAR drivers), the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and four 18-hole golf courses, plus a nine-hole walking course.

If you’re staying in one of the Disney resorts—deluxe, value or otherwise—bus transportation is free and surprisingly efficient, in spite of what guidebooks say. (We never waited longer than 10 minutes for a bus.) If you’re not, you will need a car. And parking will run you US$14 per lot, per day.

Add it Up

Walt Disney World Resort owns and operates 23 hotels, ranging from motel-style accommodations to an upscale hotel with views of Cinderella’s Castle and a full-service spa.

The top benefit of staying at one of these places is convenient transportation to the parks, via buses, the monorail or boats. Other perks include free airport transfers (those staying off-site or at a non-Disney hotel can expect to shell out US$45-$65, one-way, for a family of four) and Extra Magic Hours (each day, one of the theme parks either opens an hour early or stays open for an additional three hours).

More Will Magically Appear: Expansions at Disney World

For the little ones in tow, you should be aware Mickey’s Toontown Fair closed last February as part of a multi-million-dollar expansion of Fantasyland. This expansion, the largest in the history of the Magic Kingdom, will double the size of Fantasyland and is scheduled to open in phases beginning in late 2012.

Highlights of the expansion include the new attraction Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, the 550-seat Be Our Guest Restaurant, The Seven Dwarfs

Mine Train, an indoor musical ride and an expanded Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride.

Work is also underway on a three-year expansion of Pleasure Island, an entertainment district located in Downtown Disney. The plan is to transform Pleasure Island into Hyperion Wharf, featuring new boutiques and restaurants, a lakeside park and enhanced walkways. Restaurant availability in Downtown Disney

will increase by 25 per cent as a result of the changes.

Other projects underway at Downtown Disney include a renovation and expansion of the Lego Imagination Center and additions of new and renovated retail stores.

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney World