Five Must-Dos at Disney

Maci Schau is an avid Disney fan who travels to a Disney Destination at least once a year, but often twice.  Her love of Disney started at a young age when she would watch Peter Pan repeatedly but continued to grow as she learned the unparalleled level of service the parks offer.  She now works in the hotel industry where she started her career as a Disney College Program Hospitality Intern before moving to Texas after graduating from Penn State.  Find her at Healthy Girly Life for recipe trials and reviews along with other healthy life posts!

So, you’re ready to take the plunge and want to head to “the most magical place on earth” but don’t know what to do to really give yourself the best experience possible.  Maybe this is your first time or maybe you just need a refresher with all of the changes that have come to the parks lately that you’re overwhelmed and need to get back to the basics.  Either way, you’re heading to Walt Disney World (this is the one in Orlando, Florida!)  so you are in for a great time!  I’m going to keep this list very general so that it will apply to anyone.  You could be traveling as a family, as a couple, as a girls trip or even going solo, these experiences should be on your list no matter what to give yourself and traveling companions a well-rounded and carefree Disney trip!  They can also all be squeezed into a trip of any length.  I took my boyfriend for only two full days (arriving late the first day and leaving early the fourth!) and managed to squeeze all of this in for him (well okay, we watched the fireworks at Epcot, not Magic Kingdom),  but don’t think I’m giving you some impossible task!

1.       Stay on site.  I cannot stress this enough.  Work your budget to get you to any of the wonderful Disney hotels and resorts available.  There are four categories you can choose from: villas, deluxe, moderate, and value which gives options for every price range.   First, staying on site saves you the hassle (and cost) of transporting yourself around Orlando.  Disney will pick you up at the airport and transport you around the resort at no additional cost to you.  Staying on-site also gives you the perk of Extra Magic Hours where one of the parks will either open an hour early or stay open 2-3 hours late ONLY for resort guests.  These precious hours see lower crowd levels and just make you feel extra special.  But my favorite part of staying on-site?  Just being surrounded by the “Disney Magic” and outstanding service for your entire trip.  The resorts are beautifully themed and appointed from a Polynesian Village to Cars Family Suites; there is something to suit everyone!  Keep an eye out for discounts or package specials, they run often and can make the difference for your budget!

Disney's Boardwalk Resort along Crescent Lake
Disney’s Boardwalk Resort along Crescent Lake

2.       Meet and Greet Characters.   I often hear of adults skipping this experience because it’s “just for kids” or they are “too old for this” but let me tell you, you are NEVER too old for anything in Walt Disney World.  Maybe you don’t stop for every meet and greet, but you should definitely make a point to stop at least once or twice for your favorite characters.  For kids, you really can’t go wrong with any.  However if your child has never met a “fur” (one where they are completely enclosed by the costume and cannot speak) character before, take the first one with a little caution, every once in a while kids do NOT like this experience and freak out a bit.  For adults I recommend seeking out at least one “face” character, where you can really interact!  Princesses, Alice in Wonderland, The Fairies, and Peter Pan are all these kinds of characters so when you are ready to meet them be sure to have something to talk about!   I love Disney’s Hollywood Studio for M&G, as they seem to have a great variety from Sorcerer Mickey to the newest Pixar Characters to Disney Junior friends.

Buzz Lightyear at DHS
Meeting Buzz Lightyear at Disney’s Hollywood Studios!

3.       Wander the World Showcase.  I’m not sure what it is about this half of Epcot, but I cannot get enough.  No matter how many times I visit, I find myself experiencing new things each time and noticing new details.  Depending on the time of year you go, you could even experience the International Food and Wine Festival (Fall) or the Flower and Garden Festival (Spring) which gives you even more to enjoy!  There are craft activities for kids at each pavilion along with Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure where you can help the secret agent platypus from Phineas and Ferb solve mysteries in different pavilions, interacting with the environment around you!  There are so many great snacks (and adult beverages) to try from various carts and this is also a great place to grab lunch or dinner from one of the many counter service and table service eateries (or both really, there’s so much great food to choose from!)  Take this time to be a little adventurous and try something you maybe don’t have available at home.   A word of caution though, if you intend to eat in any Table Service/Full Service restaurant, make sure you get yourself an ADR (Advanced Dining Reservation) first.  Some are harder to come by than others, but it’s the only way to ensure yourself a table.

Tutto Gusto
Wine flights and pasta dishes abound at the Tutto Gusto Lounge in the Italy Pavillion

4.       Watch Wishes.   There is something so magical about ending the night with fireworks, but what’s better?  Fireworks over the stunning Cinderella Castle reminding you  that all of your wishes can come true.  My favorite spot to watch is from Main Street USA, but if you aren’t a fan of the big crowds that can gather or maybe have little ones with sensitivity to loud sounds, all of the three monorail resorts offer viewing spots.  It’s a great opportunity to grab an Advanced Dining Reservation at one of these resorts and explore before seeing the fireworks from a different perspective.   Just make sure you’re in a spot where you can hear the music piped in.  If you do go the in-park route, the fireworks are often at park closing.  If this is the case for you, take some time to leisurely enjoy the shops down the sides of the street on your way out to avoid some of the bottlenecks for transportation!   The shops will still be open even though the park has “closed” for the night.

Fireworks from Main Street USA
A great spot for watching the fireworks, Main Street USA

5.       Stop and Smell the Roses.  This is my piece of advice for Disney Newbies and Disney Veterans alike.  It’s so easy to tour “commando” style and just constantly rush from one thing to the next, but part of the magic of Disney is the atmosphere, the detail, and the story that goes into each and every thing.  Even the bathrooms tend to be highly themed and full of detail.   Don’t stress yourself out trying to get everything in to get the most bang for your buck, the most magical experiences can happen anytime.   One of my favorite parks for the more leisurely pace (although World Showcase is great for this too!) is Animal Kingdom.  The amount of detail that went into just about everything in this park is outstanding.  Plus, you just never know when an animal is going to do something amazing.  If you’re too focused on running to the next ride, you could miss the mama gorilla cuddling her baby (one of the highlights from my most recent stroll through Pangani Forest Exploration Trail)!  If your kids want to go play in the water feature area, let them!  If you want to sit on park bench and enjoy a Mickey Bar and people watch, go for it!   Take a minute and strike up a conversation with a Cast Member, they have great stories to tell.  Disney will always be there, and I like to think anything we maybe don’t get to because we got distracted by something else, well that just gives us a reason to go back!  And you’re never going to think “darn, I really wish I DIDN’T stop to take in the details of XYZ” so give slowing down a shot!

Gorillas at Animal Kingdom
A mama gorilla cuddling her baby at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

If you’re new to the Disney universe or just want more information (because personally, I can never get enough!), I can suggest a few planning websites for you to find more information on some of the things I’ve discussed:

All Ears: Your source news, for planning info, restaurant menus and reviews
Disney Food Blog: Everything you could want to know about food at Disney!
Kenny the Pirate: Great information on entertainment and character meets!
Mousesavers: Your one-stop spot for deals and discounts for Disney!
Official Site: Here you can make resort and dining reservations and find official information!

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