Hello. My name is Terri and I am a Disney addict.
I never stood a chance. From the time I was born, my parents called me Tinker Bell. When I was five, we moved from New York to Anaheim. Our house was literally in the shadow of Disneyland. We could see the fireworks from our backyard. I grew up thinking that Disneyland was the most marvelous “someplace special” that we could go on a family outing. One year, my parents gave my brother and I the choice of going to San Francisco for my mother’s birthday or taking our usual annual trip to Disneyland. I could tell that the “right” answer was to choose San Francisco, so I agreed. I cried myself to sleep for a week. The last present my father ever bought me was a personal license plate that read “TINKRBL.” I kept that license plate for three cars.
I made six trips to Disney World in Florida while I was still living in California. I never had any children and, as would follow, I have no grandchildren. I enjoy watching kids experience the World, but I have never brought any there on purpose. I am still Disney-crazed. I have a wardrobe of Tinker Bell shirts, hats, shoes, and handbags that is the envy of four-year-old girls everywhere. I even have a custom-made sweatshirt with Tink and her sister Periwinkle on it, proclaiming that “I am the Third Sister.” For those of you not up on your Tinker Bell lore, google “Tinker Bell and the Secret of the Wings” to get a crash course on the sister reference. It is all Tink all the time in my world.
When I retired and decided to move out of California to a more cost-friendly area, I feared my very DNA might just unravel if I ventured too far from the Happiest Place on Earth. I ended up settling in central Florida, where I can get my Disney fix on a regular basis. Max and I put small children to shame in our passion for exploring all Walt Disney World has to offer. I think I can see skid marks on our annual passes, if I look hard enough.
Disney knows how to entertain children of all ages, even those who are… let’s say… children emeritus. Judging by the folks I see gracing the walkways of the Disney properties, I have to say that I am not the only one who revels in the Disney experience, despite being well past the age of reason. After all, who needs reason when you have fantasy?
I have learned some valuable lessons in my adventures with Disney. There are some things to keep in mind if you, too, are a bit more experienced than your average child and would like to wander the World without benefit of youngsters. The most important thing is to have your own brand of fun. If you are thinking of taking your inner child to the most magical place on earth, you might consider the following observations.
It’s all about you!
Stop worrying that you are a grown adult who is at Disney World without children. If you want to do something, forget whether or not it is appropriate for an adult or if it is intended just for children. If for some reason there is an age, height, or weight limit on something, some Disney cast member will tell you. Just about anything on the property, even if intended for children, is available to you if you want.
Embrace the silly. I always reserve my Fast Pass to visit Tinker Bell when we go to the Magic Kingdom. The first time we went to Disney World, I really wanted to go to a character breakfast. I thought that the characters visiting the breakfast might concentrate on families and children. I thought, as a couple of oldsters unaccompanied by children, Max and I might be a bit on the fringes of things. I still wanted to go. I made advance seating reservations for the Cape May Café buffet. I was amazed at how well Disney manages these experiences. The characters visit EVERYONE. They float from table to table, regardless of the age of the occupants, spending a good deal of time with every party. Pretty sweet interpersonal skills for animals that can’t talk!
A Little Advance Planning Never Hurts
There are those who insist that a trip to Disney must be approached like a major military tactical battle. They believe you must get to parks early, experience attractions in a particular order, and avoid liquids so as to minimize bathroom breaks. I agree that, if you are bound and determined to see the most you can, it is important to be ruled by a grand plan. On my first trip to Disney, there were many lists and spreadsheets involved. It is possible, though, to enjoy your adventure without quite so much strategy, if you find the idea of a more leisurely, serendipitous pace more appealing. With just a little bit of forethought, you can reach a balance between experiencing a great deal of what you wish to see at Disney World and taking things as they come.
The website www.touringplans.com is invaluable for deciding when to visit to avoid the most crowds. For a small annual fee, you get access to a number of tools for deciding when to visit, include a crowd calculator which predicts a crowd level for each park, each day. They have some special magical formula, which is pretty accurate. Once in a while, they miss a cue, but their ratings are fairly reliable. Try to plan your visit for days that are rated 6 or below. Having said that, just know that, no matter what the rating, there will likely be more people there than you expect. It’s Disney. You aren’t the only one who wants to be there.
Take advantage of the Fast Pass system to select the attractions you most want to see BEFORE you visit. Fast Passes will give you guaranteed access to a few of your “must-do” attractions at a specific, pre-arranged time without standing in the regular line. If you want to experience some of the more popular attractions, the Fast Passes can save you lots of time and aggravation. The Disney website will allow you to select your Fast Passes 30 days ahead of time if you are not staying on property or 60 days from the first day of your reservation if you are staying on property. Because so many people do reserve their Fast Passes ahead of time, it may be pretty much useless to try to get a Fast Pass once you get there. If you didn’t get a Fast Pass and want to do something, don’t despair. You may still be able to get on the ride with a minimal wait, depending on the attraction and the timing of your visit.
If you are not as spry as you once were (or if, like me, you were never that spry to begin with), understand that there is a lot of walking around the World. Max still refers to our first trip to Disney World as the “forced march across central Florida.” You might want to go into training before your trip by walking a little more each day for about a month, just to give your body a jumpstart for the increased demands you will make on it. Also, manage your own expectations. Instead of thinking you are going to go gallivanting from one end of a park to the other and back again and zig zag all over it several times in order to experience everything, figure out ahead of time which three or four attractions are your absolute “must-dos.” Set your mind to be happy if you get to at least enjoy those attractions. Then, have a list of other attractions that interest you and experience those as you run across them. It is likely that if you think to yourself, “I’ll come back to this after I do so and so (at the other end of the park),” you will wilt before “after” comes and won’t make it back. Keep hydrated, even if that means you have to take more frequent restroom breaks. When you feel like a rest, go ahead and sit down and enjoy the scenery.
If you have mobility challenges, think about renting a wheelchair or scooter. You can rent them at the parks and at Disney Springs. Often, you can get a wheelchair in the parking lot to use to get up to the gate where you can rent a scooter. You can also check out medical supply rental companies in the Orlando area. They may be less expensive than Disney and may be willing to bring the wheelchair or scooter to your hotel. Even if you do not normally need a wheelchair or scooter, you might want to get one for the visit since you will likely be covering way more real estate than you normally do. You are paying a lot of money to visit Disney and you want to enjoy it. If a scooter or wheelchair will enhance that enjoyment and give you the freedom to experience things you might not otherwise be able to do, it may be a great investment.
Don’t “Should” All Over Yourself
Remember to enjoy the moment. This is good advice, no matter what you are doing. At Disney, though, it can be really easy to get caught up in concentrating on all the big events that you “should” be doing. Yes, you are paying a ton of money to go. Yes, you want to get maximum enjoyment out of the trip. But how do you define “maximum enjoyment?” Is it seeing every parade and fireworks show? Is it going on all the newest roller coasters? Or is it slowing down enough to see the less-popular treasures and experience the serendipity? Some of my favorite moments in the World involve times when I just happened to catch an experience that I didn’t know about or plan- awakening Tinker Bell in a shop in the Magic Kingdom, seeing the Mickey’s Philharmagic 4-D show in its soft opening, hearing a cast member call me princess, watching small children (who weren’t my responsibility) dance to pre-show music at the Epcot pavilions, sitting on the beach near the hotel at night watching the lights of the Boardwalk across the lake. Maybe “maximum enjoyment” is going back to the resort and taking a nap in the middle of the day or walking around the hotel’s beautiful gardens. Sure, have a plan and make sure you experience the attractions that are important to you. But stop and smell the churros, too!
Enjoy your own brand of fun at Walt Disney World. You earned it and you deserve it. Remember, you don’t have to be a rugrat to love the Mouse!
So what are your thoughts? Are you a Disney fan, too? What tips do you have for enjoying Disney as an “experienced” child? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a magical day, as they say in the House of Mouse!