Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Things you MUST do at the Walt Disney World Resort

What does a tired, overworked, and sometime stressed-out physicist do for a vacation? Why, he goes to DisneyWorld, of course!

I've been to DisneyWorld in Orlando, FL under two very different circumstances. The first time was when I went there blindly, without knowing anything, just went to the parks and randomly tried what I came across. It was an enjoyable experience, but I never had the urge to go back. The second time was with a larger group of people, and with someone who knew the entire resort like the back of his hand. I tell you, the difference was like night and day. I had SO, SO, SO much fun that second time around (Thanks, Brian!). It was an eye-opening experience that simply by knowing what to do, when is the best time to do it, what to see, where to see it, and all the amenities that came with it, most for FREE... It truly was a magical moment.

Ever since then, I have become a regular at DisneyWorld (I now have an Annual Pass) and have myself become, I think, quite an expert on what to do (I've also become quite a collector of Disney pins, but that's another story). If you are planning on visiting DisneyWorld, I would suggest going over the list of things you should do and other useful info that you should know by the time you get there. Remember, DisneyWorld may look like it is for kids, but they actively aim everything within the park to include adults (the Dumbo ride, for example, has seatings for TWO adults).

Magic Kingdom

1. Space Mountain (rollercoaster)
2. Thunder Mountain Railroad – the best place to ride this is towards the rear. You can ask to ride it on the last row or two.
3. Splash Mountain
4. Teacups
5. Haunted Mansion
6. Mickey’s Philharmagic – this has become the #1 attraction at Magic Kingdom. Do this early, or get Fast Passes. If not, try getting in while there is a show or a parade going on.
7. Jungle Cruise – A good ride when your feet are tired, as long as you don’t mind your tour guide spewing out a lot of bad puns.
8. Spectra Magic Light Parade – Check the parade route and try to move away from Main Street where it WILL be crowded. Some place in Frontier Land will be good.
9. Wishes – Even though you can see the fireworks from a large area of Magic Kingdom, the show involves more than just that. So to get the full effect, the best place to view it is still right in front of Cinderella’s castle. Unfortunately, this is also the most crowded and popular area.
10. A good quick place to eat – Columbia Harbor House. Take note that there are additional seatings upstairs with a condiment/utensils/etc. kiosk that are seldom packed. There are also additional washrooms at this level.


1. Test Track (be there when Epcot opens and head directly to Test Track – get in line immediately or take Fast Pass. Test track is extremely popular and will have long lines later in the morning/day).
2. Mission Space – same warning as in Test Track. However, if you are susceptible to motion sickness, you may not want to ride this. [Hint: if there are people not riding Mission Space, it might be a good idea for those waiting to get Fast Pass tickets for Test Track. That way, by the time the Mission Space people get off that ride, it will be close to the Fast Pass time for Test Track].
3. Maelstorm at the Norway pavilion (World Showcase pavilion around the lagoon opens at 11:00 am). Note: there is a small bakery at the front of the Norway pavilion and they have (if they haven’t sold out) this sweet almond pretzel. It is to DIE for!
4. Also at the Norway pavilion – Restaurant Akershus. This is an EXCELLENT place to eat. Unlimited food from their cold buffet bar, and all-you-care-to-eat from their entrée menu. Reservations are strongly recommended during peak season/hours.
5. Honey I Shrunk the Audience
6. Illumination at 9:00 pm around the lagoon (if it doesn’t rain, people usually start staking out the best spots around the lagoon ½ to one hour before the show). As with Wishes at Magic Kingdom, you can view the fireworks and light show from all around the lagoon, but the best place to view it in its full “symmetry” is still right at the pavilion by the entrance to the World Showcase lagoon.
7. Spaceship Earth. It’s cheesy and tame, but it’s inside that big “golf ball” and the show may not last that much longer if the rumor of it being renovated to hold a rollercoaster ends up being true. Do this ride late in the afternoon or early evening – the lines are not as long then.
8. Restaurant Marrakesh at the Morroco pavilion – If you come at the right time, you might get to see live musicians and belly dancers. The food is excellent too! Reservations are strongly recommended for dinner during peak seasons.

Disney-MGM Studios

1. Tower of Terror – ride this as many times as you can. It is different each time since they have a random program of “drops”.
2. Rock ‘N Roller Coaster
3. Muppets 3D
4. Star Tours
5. Fantasmic Light Show - 3 different restaurants offer a “Fantasmic” dinner package. They are the Brown Derby, Mama Melrose, and Hollywood and Vine (this list may be outdated). You get a separate entrance and reserved seating for Fantasmic with this package. Reservation is strongly recommended or even required (you need to mention the Fantasmic dinner package). Plan on having dinner at around 5 pm to 6 pm to have enough time to catch the show afterwards.
6. A fun place to eat – Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. You get to sit in your own car and watch old sci-fi movies on a large screen while you munch on your food.

Animal Kingdom

1. Kilimanjaro Safari – do this as early or as soon as the park opens. It is very popular.
2. Kali River Rapids – assume that you WILL get drenched (bring ziplock plastic bags for your wallet, cellphone, etc.).
3. Primeval Whirl – don’t do this immediately after you eat, it will not be pretty. Also avoid if you are susceptible to motion sickness.
4. Dinosaur – be warned that this ride can be quite intense for young children.
5. It’s Tough To Be A Bug.
6. Best places to eat: Tusker House and Flame Tree BBQ. Take note that Flame Tree BBQ has a lot more seating than it appears. Try walking down further into the greenery and you’ll find a wonderful seating area by the lake that is seldom crowded.

Other Locations

1. Breakfast with Chef Mickey at the Contemporary Resort – Plan this waaaay ahead, even weeks (or months) before you get to Orlando. It is fun, if you have kids, or just a kid at heart.
2. Downtown Disney – 4 words to describe it: shop, eat, shop, eat. However, kids may prefer the Lego store.
3. Cirque Du Soleil’s La Nuba at Downtown Disney Westside – Even if you have seen other Cirque Du Soleil shows, see this one! It will be an experience you will never forget.
4. Pleasure Island – 8-Tracks is a fun retro dance club.
5. Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge – this is the BEST buffet dinner anywhere in Disney World, in my opinion. It is African-themed, but also has the regular, familiar food for those who do not want to venture out of their comfort level. Don’t miss the crispy flatbreads with the three wonderful and exotic spreads.

Things to Keep in Mind

1. If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can have all your purchases anywhere in Disney World sent to your hotel. This saves you from having to lug everything you bought with you.
2. If you are staying at a Disney resort, take note also that if you decide to drive to the Disney parks instead of taking their free busses/monorail, parking is FREE. Just show your room key/card as you enter the parks.
3. More shopping tip: If you end up buying a large number of items at a single store (such as at the World of Disney in Downtown Disney), you may want to consider having them ship all of them directly to your home. You pay only ONE shipping flat rate no matter how many items you want to ship, AND, the sales tax is not included. Depending on how much you are spending, the money you save on sales tax alone might pay for the shipping. Keep in mind that I think they will only ship (using that one flat rate) the items you are paying for at that moment, not the items you have already purchased, even from the same store.
4. While you are there, you can make dinner reservations, buy park tickets, etc. throughout the Walt Disney World at any Guest Services office (Guest Services can be found at all parks, resorts, Downtown Disney). If there is a special occasion for making the reservation (such as a birthday or anniversary, etc.), be sure to mention it to the Guest Services cast member – you might get some special treatment then, or later.
5. As soon as you walk through the turnstile at any of the Disney parks, look for a slip of paper (usually at a kiosk or on racks by the wall) that lists all the parades, show times, character greetings, and special events for that day. This list changes everyday, so pick one up each time you walk into a park.
6. For parents who want to get on a ride, but an accompanying child is either too scared, or too small to be on that ride, most rides at Disney World has a “parent exchange” area. This allows one parent to get on the ride while the other stays in a holding area with the child. When the riding parent is done, the next parent can go on that ride without having to go back to the end of the line. Ask a cast member if a particular ride has this.
7. When you go to Magic Kingdom via the “regular” Disney busses or by driving your own vehicle, you will arrive at the Transportation center, and then you can either board the Magic Kingdom monorail, or a boat to get to Magic Kingdom itself. There are three monorail lines here: one is the express monorail to and from Magic Kingdom, one for the Magic Kingdom resort hotels, and one going to Epcot. (So you could, if you prefer, park here and go to Epcot. This is a good idea if you intend to be jumping around between Epcot to Magic Kingdom on the same day. That way, your vehicle is always in the middle of the two parks.) Take note that BOTH the Magic Kingdom express monorail, and the Magic Kingdom resorts monorail go to and from the Magic Kingdom and the Transportation center. The only difference being that the resort monorail will make stops in between for the Magic Kingdom resort hotels. So keep this in mind if the Magic Kingdom express monorail is very busy with people. Most of them do not know that the Resort monorail also goes to the same place. This also applies when you are coming back from Magic Kingdom to go to the Transportation center.
8. Remember that Disney Theme Park tickets do not expire (except for the Ultimate Park Hopper). So if you bought a regular 5-Day Park Hopper or Park Hopper Plus, and you used only 3 days, the remaining 2 days (and any “Plusses”) do not expire! You can come back at any time to use the remaining days. The Ultimate Park Hopper, on the other hand, is only valid during the days that you are a guest at one of their resorts. So if you checked into a Disney hotel on the 8th and checked out on the 12th of the month, your Ultimate Park Hopper will only be valid for entrance to the Disney parks from the 8th up to and including the 12th.

Have a Magical time!



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