Monday, March 31, 2008

Walt Disney World

Well ... I did it. I finally took the remaining family on a trip to WDW (Walt Disney World. As a kid I made frequent trips to Disneyland (maybe 20 total). Dad would frequently bring home visiting professors and students who wanted to visit and we got to go along for the ride. Plus the mormons would rent out the whole place once or twice a year. I loved disneyland. But I havent been in 30 years.

Well as luck would have it, I ended up with less then 2 weeks notice that I'd get to have my son john over spring break. We've been thinking of going to disney world (its closer then Disnelyand from IN) but I wanted to wait until john was old enough to remember it. Also I cant abide the heat so its a tough call ... go during the summer when its 100 degrees out and suffer or not at all (I typically dont get custody for spring or winter breaks ...). Well I looked online and everything was sold out. But thankfully travel agents still have a job! Our local agent was able to get us a full week at a disney resort over spring break at only 10 days notice ! That was truely a miracle. You'd think a place as big as WDW with as many hotels would have lots of vacancies, but no ... its the single most popular destination in the world. I lucked out and got into a "moderate" resort, the Port Orleans Riverside resort.

I'll skip most of the details or this would be a 100 page book ... In summary: Disney World is a great place, for both kids and adults. The "Moderate" hotel was much better then I expected. Really a beautiful place. John told me that "Florida is so beautiful !" I didnt have the heart to tell him 90% of the trees were shipped in and planted ... What I will say is this. Do it.

Go to WDW sometime, either with the kids or without. Its a wonderful place. Its HUGE ... twice the size of manhattan with > 75,000 employees ! but they have it down. Its efficiently run, staffed with very nice people and just plain beautiful. Un-like Disneyland, its in the middle of wilderness ... not the middle of Anahiem. There's a lot I could write about what to see and not to but its best left to the experts. The best I can say is Plan, Plan, Plan ! It seems counter-intuitive, because lots of the fun is discovering things and NOT going by a plan, but without a plan you'll miss out on so much and your experience will suffer. I only had a week to plan and that helped immensely.

Here's what I suggest as a quick summary.

* Plan early. 6 months ahead is not unreasonable

* Stay at a Disney resort. Its worth the slight premium in $ for the perks which include :
-- Extra hours at resorts (morning & evening)
-- Free transportation to all parks
-- Single card for access to Hotel room, Food, park access and credit $
-- Very nice ! The "Riverside" was beautiful and its only a "moderate" resort.
-- Access to "Disney Express" transportation to/from airport
-- NO parking, no long waits to get in parks, excellent services
-- Consolidated dining plan in hotel and park restaurants & snack centers

* Use the Dining plan, its worth it

* Reserve restaurants. I only had a week and had a hard time reserving. Some people reserve up to 180 days ahead, and that's the only way to get into the special places like character dining.

* Epcot has the best restaurants. The Japanese place was as good as any I've had anywhere in the world.

* Visit the web. Thousands of web pages on how to make the most of your stay.

* Your going to walk a LOT. Plan for it. It might kill you. There are electric scooters available for $40/day if you want them.

* Get the full park-hopper passes. You dont want to be confined to one park in a day. But realize it takes about an hour to change parks, given time to get to/from a bus/monorail/boat etc. The place is huge.

* Its HUGE. Did I say that ? I spent 7 days and maybe visited 50% of the general area. Probably 10% total coverage if you consider all the things I just walked by and didn't check into.

* Learn the crowd patterns and plan around them. When we went, 11am on were stifling croweded so we took that time to take a nap, visit the pools or go to places less travelled. Early mornings (7am to 10am) were so empty I could walk right onto Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean with 0 wait ... but by noon they had 2 hour lines.

* Learn the fast passes. Get tickets early and then come back for the big rides later.

* relax ! Take the boats as often as possible. They can actually get places faster then the buss es and are much more pleasant. Learn to find "rides" that you can sit down in with no lines. My feet and legs were killing me by day 2 ... but finding places I could just sit for 30 minutes was a blessing.

Overall. I'm impressed. I love it. I want to go again right now! With or without the kids. Its an amazing place where you can do anything ... or nothing. Its an amazing experience in so many ways. Beyond the obvious, its just fascinating trying to comprehend how they can do it! How can 75,000 people show up for work every day and pull off the miracle day in and day out. How can they all be so HAPPY ... I spent a lot of time talking to employees to get the "inside scoop". Most of them were long time employees (10 - 27 years !) and they love their job. it shows. Everyone from gardeners and toilet cleaners to the jungle ride captians are putting on a show ... every day, and it comes from their hearts. Its an amazing experience and it gives you a refreshing view on life. Even if every single ride ends up in a themed gift shop ... its still a wonderful place to be.

I think the #1 key to understanding the "Disney Experience" is that all employees are called "Cast Members". This isnt just a gimicky lable. Its a philosophy. That is, every single inch the public sees of any disney property is a "Stage" and every person you see is "cast" in an ongoing 24/7/365 production of an alternate reality show. A show thats been running for 50 years non-stop. A show that at times is so close to real that maybe it is real and not your imagination. Maybe they arent acting.... It infects the guests and they've paid to come here. Maybe it could be real ... is real ... maybe life can be like this. If everyone just took home the magic and kept living like they are in WDW all the time it could be true ... why not?

Its a really good show that hurts to leave.

I'm planning my next trip right now :)