Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Top 5 Mistakes not to make when travelling to Walt Disney World (British Travellers)

So after much saving you are finally heading off to Orlando for that dream and possibly once in a lifetime vacation at Walt Disney World.  If you are coming from the UK the chances are that this has been a very sizeable investment and you probably won't be planning on coming back for a few years while you save up again.

Here are my top 5 tips on getting the most out of your vacation.

1. If you are staying off-property hire a car

2. If you fail to plan you plan to fail

3. Manage the heat

4. Enjoy the magic

5. Capture the magic

The key to the great holiday starts from the moment you decide to go and make that first booking.  You can now get very reasonable package deals if you shop around and can for the same price either book a hotel room in a value Disney Resort or a condo or apartment off-property.

1. If you are staying off-property hire a car

Many people seem genuinely worried about the prospect of driving in Orlando.  If you are staying off-property hiring a car is essential if you want the flexibility and ease of visiting other parks such as Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and even a further drive down to the Kennedy Space Centre.  Whilst transportation can be found to all these parks and attractions you very quickly lose the flexibility of arriving and departing when you want.  With a little bit of prior reading and preparation driving in Orlando is as simple as driving in the UK.  Parking is incredibly easy as all the spaces are huge!  I was amazed at how quickly my brain accommodated driving on the 'wrong side of the road'.

2. If you fail to plan you plan to fail

If you are looking for a vacation where you can simply turn up and 'go with the flow' a Disney vacation is not for you.  In many ways this is not really an option with the use of FastPass+ When we started planning for our vacation and we were talking as a family about having to make our choices 30 days in advance (or 60 days for people staying on-property) we soon realized that you also have to plan where you are going to be each day in advance.  If you are the super organized sort of person who loves planning then this is not a problem but if you want flexibility this could be a challenge.  There are many great websites offering trip planning advice and data about which days the parks are the most crowded and these definitely make the planning process more manageable. One of the upsides of this planning process was that at no time we found ourselves sat wondering what we should do next.

  • Make a list of the absolute must attractions you want to see and will be disappointed if you miss them. It is also worth checking when attractions are down for refurbishment or long term maintenance and plan accordingly.
  • Make sure that everyone gets a say in the planning process.  We wanted to make sure that everyone in our family had a say in which attractions they wanted to see.
  • Pace yourself.  We decided that we would plan our itinerary around what the youngest (and most likely to get tired first) child could cope with.  This was actually a really good plan as we also got tired fairly quickly.
  • Avoid anything too strenuous on your first evening.  If all goes well you could be in your resort by 9pm (Florida time).  By now you will have been up for hours so it probably not a great idea to book a character meet and greet for your kids!
  • Plan to have drinks, food and time to visit the restroom - I think this goes without saying!
  • Plan rest-time in the day / vacation.  You might be tempted to think that after spending so much money on the trip you want to squeeze every last minute of fun.  This could easily have the opposite effect and spoil the fun.
  • It is worth taking a tablet or smart phone into the parks to access the many apps that are available from MyMagic+ to park guides and wait times.  There is free WIFI across almost every park and attraction which generally has a reasonable speed.  If you are using your phone don't forget to make sure that cellular data (3G/4G) is switched off!

3. Manage the heat

Assuming that you have planned well and have worked out a manageable itinerary you mustn't forget the heat and humidity levels.  Unless you are used to it, the wall of heat you feel at 7am when you step out of the Air Conditioned room can literally stop you in your tracks.  Common sense is really important here and also taking good care of your body.

  • Wear plenty of suntan lotion of the right factor for your skin.  Put it on before leaving your accommodation. Get someone to check that you have not missed any areas.  Don't forget to top up during the day especially after getting wet on a ride / in the pool or during the Florida rain.
  • Wear a sunhat and glasses.  Remember that the same harmful UV rays which damage your skin also damage your eyes.  You will also need the shade a hat provides when you are out in a long queue. 
  • Consider buying an evaporation towel,  These are made wet and when placed around your face and neck evaporate and cool you down.
  • Don't neglect your skin!  in the high humidity levels it is very easy to get sore in any place where your skin rubs.  There are some good products out there that can help with this.
  • If you do get sunburnt you really should take it seriously.  
  • Drink plenty of water and remember to keep your kids hydrated too.  Avoid alcohol in the hottest part of the day as this can make you more dehydrated.  There are plenty of water fountains throughout the parks.

4. Enjoy the magic

This sounds obvious do allow yourself time to enjoy what is going on around you.  One of the saddest things to see in the parks are stressed, tired and hot parents screaming at their kids "Don't you know how much this has cost us to bring you here - you will enjoy it." I promised myself that I wouldn't say it - although I did at least once when I was very tired and hot!

Some ideas on how to really enjoy the magic ...

  • Let yourself go and get caught up in the magic of the parades, the music, the theming.
  • Don't watch everything through the viewfinder of a camera or iPad.
  • Say Hi, please and thank you to the Cast Members. As well as being polite you get such a friendly response from people.
  • Look for the detail as you walk around - keep your eyes open.
  • Watch your kids (well obviously!) - seeing that look of wide-eyed wonder as they experience something for the first time
  • Don't feel that you have to buy things to experience the magic, often things are just happening around you.  We were treated to two private moments just from being in the right place at the right time and being polite!

5. Capture the magic

With so many memories and magical things happening you will want to take lots of photos and video. Again it is very easy to fall into the danger of trying to record and capture everything so all you see is life through a phone or iPad screen.

It is definitely worth considering investing in Photopass as this offers very good value for money, especially if you have lots of photos taken.  When you are back home you only get a limited window of time to download a ZIP file.  I would definitely suggest that you take several copies of this onto different drives! (learnt from bitter experience)

Some tips on capturing the magic!

  • A DSLR can be great if you are looking at taking lots of scenic photos from around the parks.  They do become very heavy quickly when you are carrying them around.  you are not allowed to take cameras on many rides so need a good case / bag to store it in.
  • A GoPro is great for recording ride footage (POV) and general atmospheric video.  You should always check if you are allowed to film on a ride with a GoPro as I was told-off on the Jurassic Park ride!
  • Selfie sticks (is that craze still around?) are banned from all Disney World parks and you can't even take them in! 
  • With the high quality cameras on many smart phones this also make a good device for capturing the magic.  I shared many pictures with Instagram while I was away - but remember you may be advertising the fact that you are away on vacation and have left the house empty.
I hope that you find some of these tips useful!

Have a great vacation.