My family and I have 50 years of experience touring Disney’s theme parks.
This post contains some of our best tips to help you enjoy your Disney vacation.
We’ve seen all the good, the bad, and the ugly during our time in the parks which I’ll share with you here.
This chapter also contains some “theme park etiquette.” Things we’ve experienced that you should or shouldn’t do. While mostly unintentional, these things can detract from both your and other’s theme park enjoyment.
Activating Your Disney Armed Forces Salute Tickets
Most likely the day that you arrive at Walt Disney World will not be a theme park day. Depending on your travel method you could be arriving any time between late morning and evening. Why not save yourself a little time the next morning when you want to get to the park as soon as you can by activating your tickets ahead of time?
Your Disney Armed Forces Salute tickets may be activated at all of theme park main entrances as well as the Transportation and Ticket Center, Epcot’s International Gateway, both water parks, and the Disney Springs Ticket Office. You can fit a stop by one of these locations into a pleasant afternoon or evening.
Here are some Ideas:
- Take a trip to Disney Springs for a meal, shopping, or entertainment and activate your tickets at their Ticket Office
- Take a tour of the resorts around the Magic Kingdom monorail loop. Have a meal and or cocktails and stop by the Magic Kingdom Guest Relations windows to activate your tickets
- From the BoardWalk Resort Area take a stroll or boat ride to Epcot’s International Gateway or the Disney Hollywood Studios main entrance to activate your tickets
Note your whole party must be present for activation of the Disney Armed Forces Salute tickets.
Arrival and Departure Day Activities
Most likely you’ve spent most of your arrival day getting to Walt Disney World. You might feel that using a whole day of theme park tickets for just a few hours would be a waste. Or at the end of your trip you’ve used up your park tickets during your stay and will be leaving for home in the afternoon. Here are some free or low-cost things you can do to pass an evening or morning at Disney World.
1. Chill out at your Resort Pool – Having just spent all day getting to Walt Disney World or getting ready for a full day going home can drain you. Perhaps you’d just like to spend some time relaxing at your own hotel. Take a dip in the pool or a soak in the hot tub.
2. Have a great meal – You’ve got to eat anyway so have a meal at one of Disney’s great restaurants. Stop by one of the resorts, explore Disney Springs, or the BoardWalk.
3. Go to Disney Springs – Explore the Shops and wonderful dining options located there. Or stop by World of Disney for souvenir shopping. The Lego Imagination Center has a 3,000-square-foot outdoor play area filled with thousands of LEGO blocks. Visit the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop and enjoy a sundae, they offer a 20% military discount. Check out all the Military Discounts at Disney Springs
4. Rent a boat – Most of Disney’s Moderate, Deluxe and Disney Vacation Club resorts have a marina where you can rent various types of watercraft. You can rent a kayak, canoe, pedal boat, two-person sailboat, pontoon boat, or high-speed 2-person boat.
5. Visit Disney’s BoardWalk – The BoardWalk is a fabulous entertainment area with lots of dining and entertainment options located out the back door of the BoardWalk Inn. You can park at the BoardWalk Resort if you are driving; just tell the Security Host at the gate you’re there to walk on the BoardWalk. There are several restaurants along the BoardWalk and in the evening roaming street performers (jugglers, comedians, fire-eaters, jazz ensembles, etc.). Located within walking distance are the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts as well as the Swan and Dolphin Resorts, which offer even more dining options. There is a bridge near the Swan and Dolphin that offers a decent view over the trees of the Illuminations show at EPCOT.
6. Fort Wilderness campfire program – Sing around the campfire and watch a free Disney movie. It’s open to everyone. Held every evening, at about 7:00 PM in fall and winter and about 8:00 PM in spring and summer, near the Meadow Trading Post. The program starts with a sing-along and marshmallow roast. You can bring your own food or buy it from the Chuck Wagon, which sells s’more kits, pizza and hot dogs. Chip and Dale meet the guests and sign autographs. Then a Disney movie is shown on a large outdoor screen. There is some seating on bleachers and benches, or you can lay out a blanket. No reservations necessary.
7. Enjoy your Disney Resort’s nighttime activities. Most Disney resorts now offer at least free outdoor movies and in some instances fire pit activities like s’mores.
8. Take a tour of the Disney Resorts – The resorts are so beautiful, especially at Christmas. We love to check them out and see which one we’d like to stay at next. While touring you could have a drink in one of their lounges or grab a snack. Be sure to be on the lookout for Hidden Mickeys.
9. Tour Disney World’s Monorail/Magic Kingdom Resorts (the Contemporary, Polynesian, or Grand Floridian). Park at one of the resorts, just tell the Security Host at the parking lot entrance that you’re there to have a drink in their lounge. You can then ride the monorail between the resorts.
Here are some ideas for these resorts:
• Contemporary – The fourth floor houses a cocktail lounge as well as dining and shopping options. The California Grill is located on the 15th floor and has superb views of the Magic Kingdom. If you time it right, you can have dinner and watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks over dessert. Watch from your table or go onto the observation deck. The soundtrack from the fireworks is piped in to enhance the show. Reservations are highly suggested! If you’d just like to see the fireworks you need to get there early, just tell the host at the fourth-floor podium that you’d like to have a drink in the California Grill bar. There is a maximum capacity so if they’ve reached it you won’t be able to go up. If they do fill up, another viewing option is the fourth-floor observation deck located facing the Magic Kingdom. After the Wishes Fireworks are over walk out back to the marina to see the Electrical Water Pageant on Bay Lake.
• Polynesian – The Lobby area and second floor above house the lounges, dining, and gift offerings. Trader Joe’s Grog Grotto is a fun experience on the first floor. Or have a drink at Trader Joe’s Tiki Terrace or the pool bar and watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant from the sandy beach.
• Grand Floridian – The Lobby area and second floor above house the lounges, dining, and gift offerings. Watch Wishes and Electrical Water Pageant from the sandy beach or marina.
10. Visit Wilderness Lodge and explore the fabulous lobby. Catch the shuttle boat at the Contemporary or Magic Kingdom. The Wilderness Lodge’s huge fireplace which extends many stories up through the open central lobby area has been constructed to simulate the strata of the Grand Canyon. You can go to each floor to see and read about that particular level. Each level looks just like what you’d see in the real Grand Canyon. There are also display cases on each floor with geologic items to see.
11. View the animals at the Animal Kingdom Lodge – During the day or at night with night vision goggles.
12. Play a round of Mini Golf – There are two mini golf courses: Fantasia Gardens, near Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Winter Summerland, near Blizzard Beach Water Park. Military Discounted Tickets are available at Shades of Green.
During the busiest periods of the year, such as summer, Disney World’s parks are open for very long periods of time each day. For example, the Magic Kingdom can open at 8 am and close at 1 to 3 am. In the summer heat, staying through from opening to late at night is a recipe for disaster, sure to bring on the dreaded Disney melt down for most kids.
You can see it happen every day in the parks during the few hours after noon. Tired kids in sensory overload begin crying, screaming, falling down or just refusing to move and their tired, exasperated parents are just trying to contain the situation.
There is the famous quote “I paid a lot of money to come to Disney, you’re going to have fun ‘darn’ it!”
A sure way to avoid this is the mid-day break. It’s not just for the kids though. Central Florida is HOT and HUMID in the summer months. By noon it is possible to not have a single dry spot on your clothing!
Those who use the mid-day break will spend the morning in a park till about lunchtime. You can eat in the park or elsewhere after you leave. But the key is to get out! Temperatures will reach their peak about 2 or 3 pm. That’s the time you want to be taking a nap in your air-conditioned room or a having a dip in your resort’s pool, not pounding the pavement in the theme park!
Having a resort that is convenient to get to (on property) makes this much easier.
Once you get back to your resort you can grab some lunch if you haven’t already, get your sweaty clothes off, have a nap (whether just the kids or everyone) and then head to the pool.
Later, about 5 or 6 pm, with dry clothes and feeling refreshed you can head back to the same park, or a different one if you have a hopper ticket, having missed the daily summer afternoon rain shower and enjoy the evening as long as you’d like.
Dry clothes, socks, and maybe even shoes do a lot to improve your mood!
I highly recommend this! We did it when our kids were younger during family vacations and my wife and I still do it now that it is just the two of us.
I have lived in Florida and even though I was “adapted” every Disney World theme park day would start with an application of sunscreen before leaving my room. Even in the winter my face gets a coat. You are going to be in the sun 10 to 12 hours a day, don’t risk a burn in the strong Florida sun, especially early in your vacation!
Don’t wear clothing that exposes skin that rarely sees the sun! For instance shirts with odd cutouts. Dress normally.
You may be an avid runner, You may have just scored an excellent on your military fitness test, but that in no way assures you’re in prefect shape for the 10 to 14-hour days of being mostly on your feet at a Disney park.
In the months prior to your vacation add in lots of walking (several, hour long plus walks a week), strengthening your core, and keeping your back and legs loose with stretching or yoga. Long days of walking many miles in the parks and lots of standing can wear on your lower half!
I’ve seen all kinds of footwear at Disney! Everything from flip-flops to huge wedge heels or stilettos. Just don’t!
Because of the amount of time you will be spending on your feet you want good, broken in, comfortable, supportive shoes. Get a new pair of running, walking, or cross-fit shoes about a month before your trip. You do not want to be breaking them in at WDW! The newer gel or memory foam models are especially good.
An issue of modern life, that no one would have ever thought of, even when Disney World’s most recent theme park was built, is that the majority of theme park guests might one day need access to an electrical outlet to charge anything.
Disney World had taken some small steps in trying to address this issue.
In the Magic Kingdom during the expansion and renovation of Fantasyland, a nice shady device charging area was added into “Old Fantasyland” near where the new bathrooms were added between the Small World/Peter Pan Area and Liberty Square. This area has limited seats, tables, and plugs.
A couple other charging areas have come and gone…
In 2017 the FuelRod company began installing vending machines that sell charged or exchange used backup batteries. These USB charging devices attach to your phone and transfer their charge to the phone.
Once used up you can recharge the FuelRod yourself from an electrical outlet or exchange it for free at one of the many FuelRod machines. Machines are located all over WDW property (parks, resorts, and Disney Springs).
Personal Security, Safety, Severe Weather, Shelter in Place
Personal Security is a topic that should be near and dear to a military member/family’s heart. Especially in today’s world we should never let our guard down.
As you are enjoying your vacation it’s easy to be totally focused in the moment and you should be. This is your time to de-stress. I just encourage you to keep a small bit of your attention on what’s going on around you, just as you do when interacting with and in your local community.
The big threats are focused on our centers of government and worldwide trade, but Disney is a huge collection of people all in a small area. Just stay aware of your surroundings.
Rest assured that Disney has procedures and plans in place to deal with almost anything.
As you tour the parks, you’ll encounter local law enforcement officers and local/Disney K-9 units at all the park entrances and uniformed Disney Security within the parks. But what you won’t see are the many undercover Disney Security members that are roaming the parks for your protection.
Disney has procedures whether reactive or preventative for dealing with and keeping their guests safe from many unlikely scenarios. Whether a criminal/terror situation or severe weather, Disney has shelter in place and evacuation plans. Some of these were put into play on September 11, 2001.
Disney parks have a 100% screening of guests with new sophisticated metal detectors.
Theme Park Etiquette
This section discusses things that you should think about as you tour the Disney parks. I’ve been visiting the parks since 1971 and have experienced everything possible! Below are some things to do or avoid.
Being in a Disney park for the first time is a new, unfamiliar experience and you will most likely be in sensory overload while trying to find your way around. But there are multiple thousands of people all around you trying to enjoy their day as well. Study ahead of time so that you are familiar with layouts and what you want to do before you get there.
Do not come to a dead stop while walking around Disney World, whether to look at a park guide map, talk to someone in your party, fiddle with or load a stroller, scold a child, or show off the latest WWF move, especially if you are in an entrance or exit way, a narrow walkway, or just after exiting a store or restaurant (into the active walkway). There WILL be someone right behind you and someone behind them (often double or triple digits worth of people) who will be affected! Instead look around you and find an out of the way place to step off to the side prior to stopping.
Do not walk with your whole party abreast! Try to keep it to pairs. All people walk at different speeds and there will be people trying to get around you. Four to six plus people slowly walking abreast will create a huge traffic jam.
Always look where you are walking, never stare to the side or behind you while moving forward.
Always walk forward, never to the side or backwards. This will keep you from running into someone.
DON’T. Just don’t!
While these are very convenient for carrying your stuff, whether snacks, rain gear, or diaper bag items they can be a pain (sometimes literally) for others. Do not spin around when wearing one on your back especially in congested areas like waiting areas and queues. You will hit someone with it!
Young kids have small bladders, it’s a fact. Make sure you visit the bathroom prior to getting in line. Don’t send one person to get in line while the rest of the party visits the restroom, this is cutting.
But if the need arises for a little one while in line it is understandable and acceptable (I think) to send one parent off with the child and then rejoin the party after if you are comfortable with that.
Your whole party should wait in line! It is not fair to others to have one or two wait in line for the whole party while the rest shop, eat, or do anything else and then join the ones who have been waiting as they near the ride boarding area.
Entering the Theme Parks
When you scan your ticket or Magic Band to enter the theme parks Disney World has two scanners for each line, one in front of the other about two feet apart. This is so two people can be scanning at a time. Many people have a bad habit of just using the first one you come to and ignoring the second. This slows down the line. If the second one is open, use it please.
Ordering in Quick Service Restaurants
All of Disney World’s Quick Service Restaurants have large overhead menus often with pictures and recently have begun handing out handheld menus to look over while you wait in line. Decide what you’d like to order prior to getting into the line to order, so that you will be ready to tell the cast member what you want when it is your turn. Do not keep both the cast member and those behind you waiting while you are deciding what to order when you are at the register. ===>Note: Currently almost all Quick Service are Mobile Order.<===
Tables in Quick Service Restaurants
This particular item is a highly contested one, with firm proponents on each side. But these are my thoughts, which I humbly think are correct…
Imagine, ordering food for your family of four at a Disney park fast food location, after being served your party carries the 2 or 3 trays of food and drinks into the dining area to enjoy your meal and every single table is occupied. Not Fun! What is even worse though is that half of the tables are being saved by one person from a party that is still in line waiting to order their food!
If every party would get their food and then get their table the process would be smooth and due to the natural timing, tables would always be opening up as guests with their food were looking for one.
In fact, Universal Studios Orlando for a time posted signs in their fast food restaurants asking their guests to do just this. They requested that you not occupy a table until you have your food.
Disney World has in the past (pre-covid) taken small steps in this direction. During High volume periods they would have cast members enforcing a “you must already have your food to get a table” rule.
Also, when you finish your food get up and move on. No long conversations over soda refills or coffee.
===>Note: Currently almost all Quick Service are Mobile Order, somewhat eliminating this issue.<===
Over-staying at Tables in Restaurants
Do not lollygag over your drinks (or worse when totally finished) after finishing your food at non-table service restaurants. Get up and move on, other people need that table! Do Not take a table if you are not eating!
If you are a smoker or vaper, please only smoke/vape in the designated areas.
Strollers and Scooters
Please try to be considerate of the ankles of those around you. There are times and locations where quarters are very tight. Move slowly, don’t try to zig-zag around or pass people. Keeping it slow and straight might take you a little longer to get where you are going, but everyone else around you will get there in one piece too.
Do not drive Scooters side-by-side, single file only please. Two scooters next to each other are hard to get around if stopped or moving slowly.
Never, ever go full speed on your scooter!!!
Running with a Stroller – DON’T, REALLY DON’T
Strollers and Disney Buses – DO NOT bring huge strollers (such as running strollers) that do not fold up very compactly on your Disney vacation! If that is all you have, rent a normal one locally. Disney buses are very often crowded (standing room only).
The best place to store your stroller on a Disney bus is in the area by the rear door (rather than in the aisle in front of you where you’ll be bumping others with it constantly and others may need to get by at their stop. The person who will hold the stroller should head to that spot when boarding. If the bus is full you may not be near the rest of your party.
Fold your stroller prior to boarding the bus, in fact do so as the bus pulls up. Do not fold the stroller at the door of the bus blocking all behind you from entering.
Many families arrive well in advance of the scheduled times for parades, shows, and fireworks presentations. They do so to ensure prime viewing locations. If you decline to spend the time waiting for prime real estate do not arrive late and push your children in front of, or crowd those who put in the time for that spot, so that your kids can see better.
On the other hand, if you do have a prime spot, do not put your kids on your shoulders and block the view of those behind you.
Do not save spots for others in your party with clothing, cups, etc. while they are off having fun elsewhere. Everyone actually has to put in the time to save their spots. It’s not fair to those who are there and want that spot and are willing to put in the time.
When seating the guests for the next showing/performance, a Disney cast member will be asking on the PA system that you select a row then, “Move all the way to the end of a row (or three-quarters of the way when the show isn’t going to be full), and fill up every available seat.” This is so that everyone coming into the seating area from the single side of entry can get a seat without having to climb over those who plopped down in the middle of a row so that they could have the best view. If you don’t want to sit on the far end, then don’t be the first person to rush into a row. Hold back and let an appropriate number of people go into the row ahead of you so that you can sit in the middle of the row.
On silent in Attractions. No bright screens illuminating all around and behind you in dark shows, whether checking something or taking a pic!
Don’t do it on dark rides or shows!
Well that’s about it.
The above are just a collection of tips and pet peeves from my years in the parks. Being as mindful of those around you as possible will make not only your vacation, but everyone else’s vacations go just a little bit smoother.
But also, be mindful that there are those who haven’t read all of this great advice and might not be up to speed!
So when you are moving forward in a line or mass of people at a reasonable speed and the family of four ahead of you stops dead in their tracks to look at their guide map (or do some WWF moves, yes this did happen to me), just shrug it off and continue enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth!
Over to You
Do you have any thoughts on Disney Dos and Don’ts?
Let us know in the comment section below!
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