Here is a sample Chapter from Walt Disney World for Military Families for you to enjoy!
Chapter 13. Tips for Your Walt Disney World Vacation
What’s This Chapter About?
My family and I have over 44 years of experience touring Disney’s theme parks. This chapter contains some of our best tips to help you enjoy your vacation.
We’ve seen all the good and all of the not so good during our time in the parks. This chapter also contains some “theme park etiquette” things we’ve experienced that you shouldn’t do. While mostly unintentional, these things can detract from other’s theme park enjoyment.
Sunscreen – I live in Florida and each Disney World theme park day starts with an application of sunscreen before leaving my room. Even in the winter my face gets a coat. You are going to be in the sun 10 to 12 hours a day, don’t risk a burn in the strong Florida sun, especially early in your vacation
Fitness Preparation – You may have just scored an excellent on your military fitness test, but that in no way assures you’re in prefect shape for the 10 to 14 hour days of being mostly on your feet at a Disney park.
In the months prior to your vacation add in lots of walking (several hour plus walks a week), strengthening your core, and keeping your back and legs loose with stretching or yoga. Long days of walking many miles in the parks and lots of standing can wear on your lower half!
Shoes – I’ve seen all kinds of footwear at Disney! Everything from flip flops to huge wedge heels or stilettos. Just don’t!
Because of the amount of time you will be spending on your feet (see the previous topic) you want good, broken in, comfortable, supportive shoes. Get a new pair of running, walking, or cross-fit shoes about a month before your trip. You do not want to be breaking them in at WDW! The newer gel or memory foam models are especially good.
Activating Your Disney Armed Forces Salute Tickets – Most likely the day that you arrive at Walt Disney World will not be a theme park day. Depending on your travel method you could be arriving any time between late morning and evening. Why not save yourself a little time the next morning when you want to get to the park as soon as you can by activating your tickets ahead of time?
Your Salute tickets may be activated at all of theme park main entrances as well as the Transportation and Ticket Center, Epcot’s International Gateway, both water parks, Disney Quest ticket window, and the Downtown Disney Guest Relations counter. You can fit a stop by one of these locations into a pleasant afternoon or evening.
Here are some options:
- Take a trip to Downtown Disney for a meal, shopping, or entertainment and activate your tickets at Disney Quest or Downtown Disney Guest Relations
- Take a tour of the resorts around the Magic Kingdom monorail loop. Have a meal or cocktails and stop by the Magic Kingdom Guest Relations windows to activate your tickets
- From the BoardWalk Resort Area take a stroll (or jog) or boat ride to Epcot’s International Gateway or the Disney Hollywood Studios main entrance to activate your tickets
Note your whole party must be present for activation of the Disney Armed Forces Salute tickets.
Arrival and Departure Day Activities – Most likely you’ve spent most of your arrival day getting to Walt Disney World. You might feel that using a whole day of theme park tickets for just a few hours would be a waste. Or you’ve used up your park tickets during your stay and will be leaving for home in the afternoon. Here are some free or low cost things you can do to pass an evening or morning at Disney World.
- Chill out at your Resort Pool – Having just spent all day getting to Walt Disney World or getting ready for a full day going home can drain you. Perhaps you’d just like to spend some time relaxing at your own hotel. Take a dip in the pool or a soak in the hot tub.
- Have a great meal – You’ve got to eat anyway so have a meal at one of Disney’s great restaurants. Stop by one of the resorts, explore Downtown Disney, or the BoardWalk.
- Go to Downtown Disney – Explore the Shops and wonderful dining options located there.
- The Lego Imagination Center has a 3,000-square-foot outdoor play area filled with thousands of LEGO blocks.
- Visit the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop and enjoy a sundae, they offer a 20% military discount.
- Rent a boat – Most of Disney’s Moderate, Deluxe and Disney Vacation Club resorts have a marina where you can rent various types of watercraft. You can rent a kayak, canoe, pedal boat, two person sailboat, pontoon boat, or high speed 2-person boat.
- Visit Disney’s BoardWalk – The BoardWalk is a fabulous entertainment area with lots of dining and entertainment options located out the back door of the BoardWalk Resort. You can park at the BoardWalk Resort if you are driving, just tell the Security Host at the gate you’re there to walk on the BoardWalk. There are several restaurants along the BoardWalk and roaming street performers (jugglers, comedians, fire-eaters, jazz ensembles, etc.). Located within walking distance are the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts as well as the Swan and Dolphin Resorts, which offer more dining options. There is a bridge near the Swan and Dolphin that offers a decent view over the trees of the Illuminations show at EPCOT.
- Fort Wilderness campfire program – Sing around the campfire and watch a free Disney movie. It’s open to everyone. Held every evening, at about 7:00 PM in fall and winter and about 8:00 PM in spring and summer, near the Meadow Trading Post. The program starts with a sing-a-long and marshmallow roast. You can bring your own food or buy it from the Chuck Wagon, which sells S’more kits, pizza and hot dogs. Chip and Dale meet the guests and sign autographs. Then a Disney movie is shown on a large outdoor screen. There is some seating on bleachers and benches, or you can lay out a blanket. No reservations necessary.
- Take a tour of the Disney Resorts – The resorts are so beautiful, especially at Christmas. We love to check them out and see which one we’d like to stay at next. While touring you could have a drink in one of their lounges or grab a snack. Be sure to be on the lookout for Hidden Mickeys.
- Tour Disney World’s Monorail/Magic Kingdom Resorts (the Contemporary, Polynesian, or Grand Floridian). Park at one of the resorts, just tell the Security Host at the parking lot entrance that you’re there to have a drink in their lounge. You can then ride the monorail between the resorts.
Here are some ideas for these resorts:
Contemporary – The fourth floor houses a cocktail lounge as well as dining and shopping options. The California Grill is located on the 15th floor and has superb views of the Magic Kingdom. If you time it right you can have dinner and watch the Wishes fireworks over dessert. Watch from your table or go onto the observation deck. The sound track from Wishes is piped in to enhance the show. Reservations are highly suggested! If you’d just like to see the fireworks you need to get there early, just tell the host at the fourth floor podium that you’d like to have a drink in the California Grill bar. There is a maximum capacity so if they’ve reached it you won’t be able to go up. If they do fill up, another viewing option is the fourth floor observation deck located facing the Magic Kingdom. After the Wishes Fireworks are over walk out back to the marina to see the Electrical Water Pageant on Bay Lake.
Polynesian – The Lobby area and second floor above house the lounges, dining, and gift offerings. Or have a drink at the pool bar and watch Wishes and Electrical Water Pageant from the sandy beach.
Grand Floridian – The Lobby area and second floor above house the lounges, dining, and gift offerings. Watch Wishes and Electrical Water Pageant from the sandy beach.
- Ride the shuttle boat from the Contemporary to the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Campground.
Wilderness Lodge – Explore the fabulous lobby. The huge fireplace which extends many stories up through the open central lobby area has been constructed to simulate the strata of the Grand Canyon. You can go to each floor to see and read about that particular level. Each level looks just like what you’d see in the real Grand Canyon. There are also display cases on each floor with geologic items to see.
- View the animals at the Animal Kingdom Lodge – During the day or at night with night vision goggles
- Play a round of Mini Golf – There are two mini golf courses: Fantasia Gardens, near Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Winter Summerland, near Blizzard Beach Water Park. Military Discounted Tickets are available at Shades of Green.
Mid-Day Breaks – during the busiest periods of the year, such as summer, Disney World’s parks are open for very long periods of time each day. For example the Magic Kingdom can open at 8 am and close at 1 to 3 am. In the summer heat, staying through from opening to late at night is a recipe for disaster, sure to bring on the dreaded Disney melt down.
You can see it happen every day in the parks during the few hours after noon. Tired kids in sensory overload begin crying, screaming, falling down or just refusing to move and their tired, exasperated parents are just trying to contain the situation.
There is the famous quote “I paid a lot of money to come to Disney, you’re going to have fun damn it!”
A sure way to avoid this is the mid-day break. It’s not just for the kids though. Central Florida is HOT and HUMID in the summer months. By noon it is possible to not have a single dry spot on your clothing!
Those who use the mid-day break will spend the morning in a park till about lunch time. You can eat in the park or elsewhere after you leave. But the key is to get out! Temperatures will reach their peak about 2 or 3 pm. That’s the time you want to be taking a nap in your air conditioned room or a having a dip in your resort’s pool, not pounding the pavement in the theme park!
Having a resort that is convenient to get to (on property) makes this much easier.
Once you get back to your resort you can grab some lunch, get your sweaty clothes off, have a nap (whether just the kids or everyone) and then head to the pool.
Later, about 5 or 6 pm, with dry clothes and feeling refreshed you can head back to the same park, or a different one if you have a hopper ticket, having missed the daily summer afternoon rain shower and enjoy the evening as long as you’d like.
Dry clothes, socks, and maybe even shoes do a lot to improve your mood!
I highly recommend this! We did it when our kids were younger during family vacations and my wife and I still do it now that it is just the two of us.
Device Charging – an issue of modern life, that no one would have ever thought of, even when Disney World’s most recent theme park was built, is that the majority of theme park guests might one day need access to an electrical outlet to charge anything.
Disney World has taken some small steps in trying to address this issue. There has been one great success and some other steps forward followed by steps back.
In the Magic Kingdom during the expansion and renovation of Fantasyland, a nice shady device charging area was added into “Old Fantasyland” near where the new bathrooms were added between the Small World/Peter Pan Area and Liberty Square. This area has limited seats, tables, and plugs.
Also in the Magic Kingdom a locker type charging station was added into a sidewall in the Cosmic Ray’s restaurant for a very short time (about a month) and then removed.
There are no other dedicated charging areas that I am aware of anywhere else in the parks. This leaves it up to the guest’s ingenuity to find a suitable location with a plug.
Personal Security, Safety, Severe Weather, Shelter in Place
Personal Security is a topic that should be near and dear to a military member/family’s heart. Especially in today’s world we should never let our guard down.
As you are enjoying your vacation it’s easy to be totally focused in the moment and you should be. This is your time to de-stress. I just encourage you to keep a small bit of your attention on what’s going on around you, just as you do when interacting with and in your local community.
The big threats are focused on our centers of government and worldwide trade, but Disney is a huge collection of people all in a small area. Just stay aware of your surroundings.
Rest assured that Disney has procedures and plans in place to deal with almost anything.
As you tour the parks you’ll encounter local law enforcement officers and local/ Disney K-9 units at all the park entrances and uniformed Disney Security within the parks. But what you won’t see are the many undercover Disney Security members that are roaming the parks for your protection.
Disney has procedures whether reactive or preventative, which I won’t go into for dealing with and keeping their guests safe from many unlikely scenarios. Whether a criminal/terror situation or severe weather, Disney has shelter in place and evacuation plans. Some of these were put into play on September 11, 2001.
Theme Park Etiquette
This section discusses things that you should think about as you tour the Disney parks. I’ve been visiting the parks since 1971 and have experienced everything possible! Below are some things to avoid.
Being in a Disney park for the first time is a new, unfamiliar experience and you will most likely be in sensory overload while trying to find your way around. But there are multiple thousands of people all around you trying to enjoy their day as well.
Stopping – Do not come to a dead stop while walking around Disney World, whether to look at a park guide map, talk to someone in your party, fiddle with or load a stroller, scold a child, or show off the latest WWF move, especially if you are in an entrance or exit way, or a narrow walkway. There WILL be someone right behind you and someone behind them (often double or triple digits worth of people) who will be affected! Instead look around you and find an out of the way place to step off to prior to stopping.
Walking – Do not walk with your whole party abreast! Try to keep it to pairs. All people walk at different speeds and there will be people trying to get around you. Four to six people slowly walking abreast will create a huge traffic jam.
Walking – Always look where you are walking, never to the side or behind you while moving forward. Always walk forward not to the side or backwards.
Running – DON’T
Bag Check – Have all closed areas on your bag(s) open and ready for inspection prior to your turn! Those without bags can walk right through the non-bag check entrance and wait on the other side of the bag check area for the person with the bag, this makes the lines shorter.
Cutting – Young kids have small bladders, it’s a fact. Make sure you visit the bathroom prior to getting in line. Don’t send one person to get in line while the rest of the party visits the restroom. But if the need arises for a little one while in line it is understandable and acceptable (I think) to send one parent off with the child and then rejoin the party if you are comfortable with that.
Your whole party should wait in line! It is not fair to others to have one or two wait in line for the whole party while the rest shop, eat, or do anything else and then join the ones who have been waiting as they near the ride boarding area.
Ordering in Quick Service Restaurants – All of Disney World’s Quick Service Restaurants have large overhead menus often with pictures and recently have begun handing out handheld menus to look over. Decide what you’d like to order prior to getting into the line to order, so that you will be ready to tell the cast member what you want when it is your turn. Do not keep both the cast member and those behind you waiting while you are deciding at the register.
Tables in Quick Service Restaurants – This particular item is a highly contested one, with firm proponents on each side. But these are my thoughts, which I humbly think are correct…
Imagine, ordering food for your family of four at a Disney park fast food location, after being served your party carries the 2 or 3 trays of food and drinks into the dining area to enjoy your meal and every single table is occupied. Not Fun! What is even worse though is that half of the tables are being saved by one person from a party that is still in line waiting to order their food.
If every party would get their food and then get their table the process would be smooth and due to the natural timing, tables would always be opening up as guests with their food were looking for one.
In fact Universal Studios Orlando posts signs in their fast food restaurants asking their guests to do just this. They request that you not occupy a table until you have your food.
Also when you finish your food get up and move on. No long conversations over soda refills.
Smoking – If you are a smoker, please only smoke in the designated areas.
Strollers and Scooters – Please try to be considerate of the ankles of those around you. There are times and locations where quarters are very tight. Move slowly, don’t try to zig-zag around or pass people. Keeping it slow and straight might take you a little longer to get where you are going, but everyone else around you will get there in one piece too.
Running with a Stroller – DON’T
Parade/Show Viewing – Many families arrive well in advance of scheduled times for parades, shows, and fireworks presentations. They do so to ensure prime viewing locations. If you decline to spend the time waiting for prime real estate do not arrive late and push your children in front of, or crowd those who put in the time for that spot, so that your kids can see better.
On the other hand if you do have a prime spot, do not put your kids on your shoulders and block the view of those behind you.
Attraction/Show Seating – When seating the guests for the next showing/performance, a Disney cast member will be asking on the PA system that you “Move all the way to the end of a row (or three-quarters of the way when the show isn’t full, and fill up every available seat.” This is so that everyone coming into the seating area can get a seat without having to climb over those who plopped down in the middle of a row so that they could have the best view. If you don’t want to sit on the far end, then don’t be the first person to rush into a row. Hold back and let an appropriate number of people go into the row ahead of you.
Cell Phones – On silent in Attractions. No bright screens illuminating all around and behind you in dark shows!
Flash Photography – Don’t do it on dark rides or shows!
Well that’s about it. The above are just a collection of tips and pet peeves from my years in the parks. Being as mindful of those around you as possible will make not only your vacation, but everyone else’s vacations go just a little bit smoother.
But also be mindful that there are those who haven’t read all of this great advice and might not be up to speed!
So when you are moving forward in a line or mass of people at a reasonable speed and the family of four ahead of you stops dead in their tracks to look at their guide map (or do some WWF moves, yes this did happen to me), just shrug it off and continue enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth!
(C) 2015-2016 Magic Shell Media, Military Disney Tips, & Steve Bell
I hope that you enjoyed this small sample of the book! Get your own copy now.
About The Author
Steve Bell has been writing about Shades of Green, Military Discounts for Disney World and Disneyland for many years. He is your host at the Military Disney Tips website, the internet’s #1 Site for Disney Military Discounts. He is part of the military family and has used these discounts himself for many years. Steve and Military Disney Tips have been recommended and quoted by many Disney and Military Focused sites and publications, including Stars and Stripes, Military Times (Army, Navy, Air Force, & Marine Corps Times) Off Duty Sections (print & online), Reserve & National Guard Magazine, the Orange County Register, Military One Click, Army Wife 101, USMC Life, TouringPlans.com, YourFirstVisit.net, The Disney Tourist Blog, and Chip & Company. I really hope that this book will truly help you with your Disney vacation planning and that your family enjoys your Disney vacation as much as our family enjoys all of ours! To keep the conversation going and keep up to date please visit MilitaryDisneyTips.com.
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Walt Disney World for Military Families 2018
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