Making the Most of Walt Disney World: Lessons Learned

by Cheryl Pendry, PassPorter Featured Columnist
Last modified 06-07-2012

Photo illustrating Walt Disney World - Planning

On each Disney vacation, you learn something new.

That's something I guess I&'ve always known, but it's only recently I've really thought about it, and I figure that if that lesson is useful to one person, it may also be useful to others as well.

Downtown Disney West Side photo
Downtown Disney West Side

In this article, I'm going to look at our last Walt Disney World trip back in April 2011, far too long ago now! So what did we learn from that vacation?

The first lesson we learned is that perhaps we need to narrow down the times we go to Florida even further. We’re not hot weather people at all. Heat and humidity are no friends of ours, and we really feel both. We’ve never been able to understand how people can visit Walt Disney World in the blistering heat of the Florida summer, and survive the experience! If we visited then, we would literally spend the day in our room, happily encased in blissful air conditioning.

As such, we’ve always said that we would never visit Walt Disney World in June, July, August, or September. After my last trip in May, we also ruled out May, as the heat was unbearable then. See what I mean about learning something on every vacation? Well, on this vacation, we learned to add April to the “do not travel to Orlando” list. The months available for trips are rapidly diminishing for us! We experienced record breaking temperatures, as the newscasters would gleefully tell us every morning, hardly what we needed to hear! It affected our whole trip, meaning we did tend to spend more time back in our room, and we accomplished less in the parks, which was a shame.

Our trip included the week running up to Easter, and we'd heard horror stories about the crowd levels at that time of the year. People had told us that it was worse than the crowds you see between Christmas and New Year, and those are pretty horrendous. However, if I'm honest, although there were big crowds, they were still manageable, particularly if you headed into the parks early, and left by, maybe, the early afternoon. We did learn quickly that the Magic Kingdom was chaotic, with, among other things, an extra parade added in. This meant that one day we visited, people had to be funnelled into the park via the backstage area, which was an interesting sight to see. However, we were surprised to find the park deserted on Easter Sunday morning, with crowds only building when it got to lunchtime. Would I go again over Easter? I think, weighing everything up, and provided it didn’t fall in late April, as it did in 2011, I probably would.

Something else I also learned, that I think in fairness I probably already knew, was that while resort-hopping can be fun, there can be such a thing as too much of a good thing! In two weeks on Disney property, we moved rooms five times, taking in four different resorts. It didn’t give us long enough to settle anywhere.

We also learned that two nights really isn't long enough to enjoy a single resort either. We spent two nights each at the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge and Bay Lake Tower, and it’s frustrating when you can’t get into your room until check-in at 4:00 pm (for Disney Vacation Club Members), and then after only one full day there, you’re leaving the next morning. I think any stay now needs to be a minimum of three nights for us to really spend some time in a resort.

Having learned from previous, somewhat bitter, experience (again, see what I mean about learning from every vacation?), this time we planned our meals around where we were staying. For example, when we were at the Wilderness Lodge, we ate one night at Artist Point, while our California Grill dinner was during our stay at Bay Lake Tower. It was certainly the most sensible thing to do, and something we’ll be doing again in the future. I’m just waiting to see what dates I can get into Animal Kingdom Lodge, and then you can be sure we’ll be dining there at one or maybe more of their restaurants during our stay.

Another thing I discovered during that trip was the best time to visit Downtown Disney. It’s not rocket science, and you can probably guess what I'm going to say here; first thing on a weekday morning. We were in the World of Disney Store just a few minutes after its opening, and it was lovely and quiet in there. It was a real pleasure wandering around the shops with so few people around.

For this vacation, we left our plans a little looser than previous Disney visits. To a certain extent that worked, as it gave us more freedom to decide what we wanted to do on the day, and it was nice not to be tied to plans all the time. However, we also found ourselves heading back to our favorite parks again and again, particularly Epcot, and ignored others as a result. Despite spending two weeks in Walt Disney World, we only managed to spend a total of about five or six hours in Disney's Hollywood Studios, a pretty pitiful performance. That’s something we definitely need to learn for our next vacation, to try and ensure that we’re a bit more even-handed with our park visits. I did leave Disney that time feeling that perhaps we should have given the Studios a bit more time, and done it more justice.

Well, as I'm currently planning our next Walt Disney World vacation, that's a lot of lessons to take on board, and learn for our next trip. I wonder what lessons will come from that? In the next article in this series, I’ll be looking at the lessons learned from our cruise on the Disney Dream.

Wilderness Lodge - Artist Point photo
Wilderness Lodge - Artist Point

Wilderness Lodge's finest restaurant Artist Point.

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About the Author:
Cheryl and husband Mark live in England and love to travel, particularly to Disney, and they have made numerous visits to destinations across America and Europe. They recently completed their tour of every Disney theme park around the world, which culminated in their visit to Japan, including the Tokyo Disney Resort. Click here to view more of Cheryl's articles!

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Reader Comments:

Thanks for sharing your "lessons" as they are valuable to others.
You're right, a more relaxed pace can be nice, but I find it adds a burden of decision making. Being that we're on vacation, we tend to make easy decisions rather than more logical ones--which is a benefit of having more of the vacation time planned. It's a balance. Happy planning for your next trip! smiley for :)

     toddjodybrent on June 8, 2012 @ 7:25 am
Cheryl- always enjoy your articles! Well, knowing what you need and want is one of the most important things to be aware of when making vacation matter how wonderful the destination and activities, if it's not something you like, or you are not comfortable, you won't enjoy it!

It's good that you know what times of year work best for you. I too will not take my family to WDW in the summer. Everyone is fair and we usually spend our summers in Maine with little tolerance for heat! But, we are tied to school schedules right now, that leaves us with 4 options- Thanksgiving (no, too busy), Christmas (ditto), an April break that about 1/3 of the time falls with one weekend being Easter, and a February break Washington birthday week. We usually choose to go Feb because even though the Washington's BD is a peak attendance week, it is usually cooler than April, and the rest of the week it is crowded only with those of us from the north who have that week off.

I say that to say this... I have to disagree about your strategy of trying to do everything equally...I don't feel the need to "do" every park or every section. For instance, we really didn't love the Studios the last time we went (our teen girls are not coaster queens). I have no problem eliminating an entire park or area when I tour.

As frequent visitors (tho not as frequent as you!) we have the luxury of not needing to "do it all" on every trip. This next trip, we plan to visit only EPCOT and MK. We just returned from an African safari, so AK- though we love it, feels, well ...pale. And as mentioned DS is only meh for us. Maybe it's different for you because you write these (very helpful) articles, so it's a job you have to do.

But my recommendation for people would be to read all you can, (including Cheryl's great articles!) and decide what matters to your family. It might mean 2 days at EPCOT and no AK if you are not into animals, or 4 days in MK and only 1/2 a day at EPCOT if you have little kids, It might mean traveling in value season when it's quieter because you don't tolerate crowds. The important thing is prioritizing and pre planning what your family will like. Otherwise as even someone with as much experience as Cheryl has, you can find yourself drifting around without finding the things you will really enjoy best.smiley for :D

     Familygoboston on June 8, 2012 @ 8:15 am
I found the end of April and the beginning of October to be just a little too warm for me but quickly found that the break back in the room in the afternoon made all the difference. Our third trip was the beginning of November -- we had three days of cold and wind and three days of rain before it finally became the perfect Florida weather I had been expecting for our last four days. Compared to the cold, wind, and rain, April and October looked pretty nice in retrospect!

     GreyHairedGrammie on June 8, 2012 @ 9:41 am
I love your article and I have found the best time to visit is in March, though we have 2 school age children (8 and 14) we learned that the schools are extremely open minded about the time (we informed them of the fun and education from the experience) and they even allowed our kids to take the two weeks worth of work with them to do while they had some down time on vacation. Our last visit was March of 2011 and the days were in the 80's and nights in the 60's-70's. We also found the crowds extremely exceptable.

I will agree with FamilygoBoston that everything doesn't need to be done at once. Our last vacation we visited a day in MK and one day in Epcot and one in Seaworld and one in Universal with a day in between each one to relax and enjoy the pool. (I know, parks other than Disney but I was overruled this time)Our next trip is March of 2013 and this time for 16 days. We plan on 2 days at MK and 2 at Epcot (my favorite park) and one at Animal Kingdom this time. Our first vacation we did DS but the kids were too young to enjoy it and they wanted AK over it this time. Doing parks back to back is exhausting and you begin to lose the magic when you are so tired.

The themed Eating though is a wonderful idea and we found that printing off the menus and having everyone look through them before we go as part of our planning process works to allow everyone a say and we already know what we want when we get there. It also helps build the excitement when the kids know they are going to the resteraunt they chose that day.

I hope you get to enjoy many vacations to come and if available you should try for March.

     Amiyia on June 9, 2012 @ 12:14 am
Thank you for sharing your lessons learned! We were at WDW for our first time the same week (leading up to Easter 2011). Being our first time, I had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly pleased with the fact that somehow everything was magically not over-crowded, We only waiting in lines for an extended time twice (teacups & Dumbo). I will take from some of your lessons learned, as I continue to plan our next trip to WDW.

     MamaShelli on June 11, 2012 @ 9:18 pm
My husband and I are taking 4 guests to WDW for the first time March 23 to April 31st...Easter Sunday! Though not in our original plans, our guests didn't want to be on the road on Easter and wanted to stay one more day. Being the good hosts we are, we bit the financial bullet and booked and extra day at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I worked weeks on a daily plan that included time at each park, factoring in parades and fireworks, & dining. That said, I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice to end out trip at the Magic Kingdom?" I forgot that our last day was Easter! Dinner that evening is to be at "The Wave", and I worry about evening crowds at the Magic Kingdom. I'm wondering if Magic Kingdom in the morning, and then something else in the evening might be a better choice. Do you have any idea what Epcot is like on Easter Sunday? Especially in the evening? Thanks. Any suggestions are appreciated.

     orig_DisneyGirl on September 17, 2012 @ 3:33 pm
My daughter and I visited WDW for the first time in July 2011. Due to the Chilean volcano our original departure from Australia was delayed and WDW leg of the trip transferred to the end so that we arrived on 4th July. The heat did not bother us, although the humidity did as we are more use to dry heat, and we soon learned to always have our ponchos in the backpack as the downpours could be quite heavy, but warm. We actually found the bus trips more uncomfortable because the aircon is blowing full blast and you freeze all the way back to the hotel.

The parks were crowded as expected and so we did miss out on some rides but what we found more annoying were the groups of South American students who would just take over areas whilst chanting and pushing their way through without regard to others around them. At the end of the day though you just do your thing and create your memories.

We are so lucky to make it across again this year but late May this time so before summer school holidays. Looking forward to Star Wars weekend and catching up on any rides we didn't get to do like the Toy Story ride. There will be three of us this time, all Disney crazy as well as huge Beauty and the Beast fans and so our first night is dinner at Be Our Guest. We are down to 80 days and counting down to our Magical holiday.smiley for :)

     TinkFolly on March 3, 2013 @ 9:04 am
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Updated 06-07-2012 - Article #812 

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