Us Gallivants have ‘done’ Disney a good few times now, most recently on a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida with Miss Gallivant as my trusty child ‘tester’ .
I thought it might be helpful to come up with some tips for first timers organizing a trip there. Walt Disney World is HUGE – it’s often quoted that it’s the size of Greater Manchester!
There’s a lot to see and do and you don’t want to spend the best part of your holiday trying to figure out how everything works…. So here goes:
ALLOW ENOUGH TIME
There are four main parks:
* Magic Kingdom is the original one, and the most charming, with lots of fairytale fascination for tiny children plus a few blockbuster rides to satisfy bigger ones. There are old favourites like Pirates of the Caribbean (the first time Master Gallivant did this he was terrified – these days he scoffs at how tame it is…although I think he secretly still likes it), plus newbies like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – a mild and sweetly entertaining rollercoaster.
Don’t miss the daily parades. Festival of Fantasy would be our must-see. It includes old classic characters as well as more recent Disney favourites like Anna and Elsa from Frozen and Merida from Brave.
* Epcot focuses on space and technology and also has a World Showcase – countries from around the world in miniature, with shops, restaurants, shows and more.
Soarin’ is a really magical ride here – a simulator which recreates the experience of flying over the landscapes of California – including forests of Redwood trees, groves of oranges and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
* Animal Kingdom has a few good coasters and lots more beside. Kids who have never been on safari can jump in a jeep and see real animals – elephants, hippos, lions…the whole shebang, on a ride across the African ‘Savannah’, watch The Legend of the Lion King show, negotiate huge dinosaurs on the Dino ride and much more.
* Hollywood Studios is themed around the big screen and has some good shows – little girls will enjoy belting out the numbers at The First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing Along Celebration. As with all the other parks, there are rides aplenty – don’t miss the palm sweatingly good Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller coaster.
Disney also has two water parks, so if you’re visiting when the weather is hot, you can take some time out at one of them – a perfect contrast to the other parks. And you don’t have to spend your whole time belting around on water slides as there are also little ‘beaches’ at each one where you can relax on a sunlounger.
GRAB A GOOD DEAL
* The longer you stay the less your theme park tickets will cost you. With the current Disney promotion, for example, their 14 day Ultimate Ticket (which gives unlimited access to all the parks and water parks) only costs £10 more than the 7 day Ultimate Ticket – £299 per adult, £279 per child. Now that might sound like a lot, considering you are also forking out for flights, accommodation and food, but it works out at not much more than 20 quid per person per day – not bad considering that’s all your daytime and evening entertainment covered. PS. I am not even mentioning shopping expenses here – the pester power can be enormous with buying opps at every turn. We have always been ultra strict in this respect. Master and Miss Gallivant are allowed ONE item during the whole trip and are encouraged to spend time deciding what they really, really want rather than falling for the first thing they see! Okay, okay, so Miss Gallivant was allowed to buy one for her older bro, too…
* Get Fastpass+ and MagicBands – Queues for rides can be frustratingly long, especially at busy times of the year, such as Christmas and during the Summer holidays. Fastpass + allows you to book timed tickets. You can prebook three per day at a single park and, once you’ve used them, you can book further ones at onsite kiosks. You may still have a short queue, but the wait time is far less than usual. Tip – get the Fastpasses you want early in the day as they run out on busy days.
A MagicBand is a wristband, available to Disney hotel guests, which you can load with information and tickets (includinf FastPasses) and use to charge food and shopping to your hotel account. You can even use it as your hotel key.
DON’T TRY TO DO TOO MUCH
It can be tempting to cram in as much as you can, but that can leave you coming home feeling you need another holiday. Pace your days. Hit one of the parks in the morning, have lunch, go back to your hotel for a snooze or a swim. Or check out one of the hotel spas (I can really recommend the massages at the Grand Floridian). Then return to the parks and enjoy all the fantastic evening shows and fireworks.
STAY ON SITE
It’s more expensive to book a Disney hotel, but if you can, then do. You can walk or get a shuttle bus to the parks (depending on how far away you are) and, best of all, you get ‘magic hours’ when you can access the park before or after the general public – the perfect time to hit the blockbuster rides without the queues.
REMEMBER IT’S NOT ALL COASTERS
In fact you could easily spend a whole holiday here and not go near one (although that would be a shame!). Disney has some amazing shows and absorbing attractions for any age group.
The evening firework shows are really special. They do them at all the parks and each is slightly different. The one at Epcot – Illuminations – is set over the lake, the one at the Magic Kingdom – Wishes – centres around Cinderella Castle and includes Tinkerbell flying through the air. I also loved Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios, which combines fireworks, lasers and water and music.
Those who want to carry on the night can visit Downtown Disney (currently being expanded and due to have a name change to Disney Springs next year). There are places to sip cocktails, watch live music and shop. We recommend also coming here on a Sunday morning/lunchtime for the all you can eat Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues (you need to book).
5. ENJOY THE FOOD
The dining options here have come a long, long way since I first came here at the age of 13. It was once basically a choice between hamburger, cheeseburger and hotdog (each with a side order of fries) but now there is plenty on offer, including some good healthy options on most menus.
There are also some suprisingly good restaurants. I particularly enjoyed Jiko – The Cooking Place at the Animal Kingdom Lodge hotel and the fine dining at Citrico’s at The Grand Floridian.
At the World Showcase restaurants at Epcot you can eat your way around the world – French, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, German…whatever takes your fancy.
And there are some eateries you’ll want to do more for fun than for the food. I love the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at Hollywood Studios, where you sit in 1950s style ‘cars’, drive-in movie style, and watch cartoons on the big screen as stars twinkle overhead.
For more information on Walt Disney World and to buy park tickets and book hotels, visit www.disneyworld.disney.go.com
If you’d like to combine Disney with other Orlando theme parks, Attraction Tickets Direct do some good deals. Visit www.attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk