ORLANDO, May 17, 2014 – Disney World in Orlando attracts over 17 million visitors every year making it the eighth-most visited tourist destination in the world and the most visited theme park on earth.
Critics deride the park as the most artificial place in the world. It is totally, utterly contrived. They point out that hordes of visitors mean long lines to the attractions and high prices. The vast extent of the park – 42,000 acres, four theme parks, two water parks, four golf courses, 24 themed resort hotels, theaters, restaurants and more – make it daunting and exhausting.
All true. So should you go? Absolutely!
Before we look at what to expect and how to plan for a trip to Disney World, let’s dismiss that criticism that Disney World is contrived and not an authentic experience. If you want to visit a real castle, go to Bavaria, not Disney World.
If you want to see what’s left of the old west, Arizona’s ghost towns beckon you; grab your boots and your cowboy hat and go.
There is no such thing as an “inauthentic experience.” Experiences happen in our heads. When my 6-year-old daughter called out, “I love you, Cinderella” and Cinderella waved from her float, the experience was absolutely authentic.
Disney is about experience, not about the history of pirates and real life in a French village. Disney is what it is, and owes no one an apology for that. And what it is, is entertaining, engrossing, exhausting, and ultimately satisfying.
Disney has been in the business of family entertainment for a long time and they know what they’re doing. They know that if they make the experience hard on mom and dad, the family isn’t coming back. And so, from the time you book a Disney vacation, they make everything as easy as it can be.
If you book rooms at a Disney resort hotel, you can use Disney’s Magical Express to get from Orlando’s international airport to your room. You’ll receive special luggage tags in the mail. If you arrive before 10 p.m., you won’t have to pick up your own bags.
They’ll be delivered from the airport to your room. All you have to do is follow the signs to pickup in terminal B, show your voucher to the staff there, and be directed to your bus.
The system is simple and foolproof. A fleet of Disney buses is there to take guests to their hotels, each with its own, well-marked line. All you have to do is get off the plane, follow the signs, and get on.
If you drive, you do the work. There are plenty of road and highway signs, and it’s hard to miss a 60-square-mile park, so if you can find Orlando, you’ll have no problem finding Disney World.
Your resort hotel
Disney World offers a variety of lodging options, from luxury villas to camping. The resort hotels are themed: You can stay at the Polynesian Resort starting at $429 per night, the All-Star Sports Resort starting at $90 per night, the Port Orleans Resort starting at $170 per night, or any of 20 other options. Camping is $49 per night.
No matter which resort you choose, the rooms are comfortable and well-maintained. Housekeeping was courteous, and resolved minor issues quickly and efficiently.
There’s regular free bus service from every resort to every Disney park. Each resort also has a large parking lot should you choose to drive.
When you arrive at your hotel, you’ll be given a box containing a “Magic Band,” a wristband for everyone in your party. Each wristband has the owner’s name on it.
Those bands serve as your room key, park entry, FastPass ticket, and, if you register a credit card, means of payment for everything you might buy in the park. Put your wrist up to a sensor, Mickey’s outline glows green, and you’re done.
What if you lose your wristband? Don’t. It’s waterproof and there’s no reason to remove it. No one else can use it to buy anything without your PIN, but until you get a new one, you’ll have to use cash and credit cards to eat, you’ll need your park pass card to get into the parks (you get that card just in case), and you won’t be able to get into your room.
You can opt out of the wristband system if you wish. The system is new and still has some bugs. You can link everyone in your family to one wristband in order to use the FastPass system, and somehow my son was linked to someone else in our party.
The concierge was very helpful and apologetic, but there was a wide-scale system failure that day that produced a number of glitches. In spite of that, the wristbands made things wonderfully easy. Don’t opt out.
Every resort hotel has its own cafeteria-style restaurant. Each restaurant has several stations, which offered everything from pizza to grits with shrimp to salmon burgers to burritos. There are baked goods, bottled beverages, or a mug that you can refill as often as you like.
The food at those restaurants ranges from adequate to very good. My son loved the hamburgers, and the pork shank left me feeling very satisfied. The salmon burger was not my favorite; it was attractively presented and contained plenty of salmon, but it was a bit bland.
You can pay with cash, credit card, or your wristband. You can also buy meal tickets ahead of time. In theory, those tickets are cheaper, but we didn’t find them a good deal. You can use them at the hotels and at several restaurants in each park, but we just didn’t feel like eating all three meals every day.
It was too much food, and by the third day we were skipping dinner. The meal tickets ended up as a loss.
There are some excellent restaurants in the parks. The most popular is the Beauty-and-the-Beast-themed “Be Our Guest,” in the Magic Kingdom. Reserve well in advance; the concierge told me that the food is the best at Disney World, and it is a total experience, complete with magic roses, stained-glass windows where the beast transforms into a prince, and a singing cast.
Unlike the Hotel California, checkout is utter simplicity. You can just pack your bags and go. The day before departure, notification will be delivered to your room telling you when your airport bus will arrive. Most airlines will allow you to check in at the hotel; you’ll check your luggage, get your boarding passes, and get on the bus. At the airport, go straight to TSA screening and forget about your bags.
The Disney experience is easy, but what do you get out of it? In the next article in this series, we’ll look at the park experience itself, including the Disney app, FastPass, and park attractions.