It’s now been 10 years since I had the initial opportunity to spend time in Orlando, specifically Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. These are the best travel tips that I have discovered along the way! The first thought of having anything to do with The Walt Disney Company was focused on my life in retail prior to 2007. I had spent a few years with Blockbuster and along the way, found myself running a store that was next door to a movie studio…and little did I know that the wild ride would start shortly after my brief interaction with the film industry.
My time with Disney started in an official capacity with a role as a cultural representative and I’ve learned so much since. To put things into perspective, I decided to share a list of my favorite and most useful tips to inspire you to make your trips as memorable as possible.
Feel free to share your own tips in the comment section!
Do you have your headset in while strolling through the Magic Kingdom? Do folks seem a little stand-off-ish when you’re asking them a question with your earbuds in? Well, one of my favorite tips is to say hi and smile:) It’s impossible for a cast member to not smile back if they are encountering a friendly face!
One of the biggest mistakes that people do is staying offline while they are in the middle of a vacation. Don’t do it! It’s easy to miss a last-minute meet-up, or a special signing at the Art of Disney…and you definitely don’t want to overload everyone with a huge upload of photos at the end of your trip and realize that you were only a couple moments ahead of meeting Bob Iger at Disney’s Hollywood Studios! Keep your alerts on and share share share:)
Talk to Cast Members
One of the best ways to get great insider info is by striking up a conversation with cast members. Some are there for a short contract, like the College Program, while some are lifers who have been with the company for years. Chat it up! You never know what type of information you’ll receive when you’re friendly with other fans.
Upload your photos
I’ve learned to always upload the photos from my day every night. This is due to the number of times that I’ve taken a “perfect photo” only to have a bird photo-bomb me…or even worse…a family walk right through my shot without even knowing it! If you upload constantly, it’s easier to go back and replace that image the next day.
Plan for the memories
See a PhotoPass photographer? Get a photo. You never know when you’ll want or need a photo of you and your significant other eating a pretzel…but it’s nice to know that you have that image! Be thoughtful and try new poses that the photographer may not know about. Your goal is to have a variety of pictures for the uploads and albums that you’ll create after your vacation.
You can go through the photos to remember what cupcake you had with which meal, but there are so many things that go into planning a vacation that it’s important to keep notes for when you’re putting together scrapbooks and memory books. We use Asana for photos, Evernote for ideas and google docs for checklists.
Splurge a little bit
Cinderella’s Royal Table is pricey, but take some time to realize how much you spend at Starbucks each week and whether or not you need your daily caramel macchiato. Make a special reservation that will turn out to be a memory that you’ll look back on and smile!
Wake up early
Get your butt up to get the best experiences! Not only are the photos the best without huge crowds, but the cast members are usually easier to interact with and love making ‘magic’ in the morning!
Listen to Others
What was the best advice that I ever received? It’s regarding the advice of friends and family…and how to receive information without having someone spoil the experience. Be open to timeframes, schedules, and ideas…but don’t worry about personal preferences.
Every meal doesn’t have to be table-service or quick-service. In fact, there is a huge assortment of restaurants within a short uber ride from Disney Springs that will truly open your eyes to being “outside the bubble”.
Keep in touch
Friends are made each and every day when you’re involved with the Disney company, be it online or offline. There are amazing friends who I may only see once every five years…but a simple facebook message, text or phone call is never a bad idea. Be thoughtful and keep top of mind:)
Make friends with locals
Make it a point to not get stuck in the “I’m a tourist” mode. This will allow you the opportunity to see the locals have fun the way that they only know how to. This may mean better dining experiences, discount opportunities and ideas to save money without being stuck with other travelers.
If you really want to see the parts of the parks that make the Imagineers grin with delight…get lost! If you see everyone going right, you should go left. Remember that every part of the park was designed on purpose!
Patience is important
Don’t sweat the small stuff that you can’t control. Your vacation is too short to be upset and frustrated with things stresses like missing the bus, rain or a closed attraction. Remember that you shouldn’t be sad that something wasn’t the way it was ‘supposed to be’…just be happy that it happened!
Say ‘Yes, if…’
This is a tough one, as planning is great fun (for some of us), but there are times when an impulse can really turn your vacation into an unexpected adventure just by saying “yes”. Correction…don’t say “yes”…say “yes, if” and you’ll be fine. This way you’re still able to be unpredictable and fun whilst also keeping your reservations for Cinderella’s Royal Table. Example: “Do you want to go for Dole Whips? Yes, if we can also swing by the Frontierland Pin Trading store to swap a few of my traders.”
This is a very difficult one to stick to, as we are often running from one location to another and expecting to drink enough water during meals to be good. This is never the right choice, so be prepared to stop at as many water fountains as you can to stop those evil headaches!
Pack ear plugs
Let’s look at the reason why ear plugs will save your life! I’ve stayed in hotel rooms that have the loudest fans on earth. I’ve been on buses with kids who are in the middle of a melt-down. Sometimes fireworks are also difficult to sit through when you’re in the middle of your trip and have a headache. Earplugs can be your best friend if used in the right situation.
Stop and smell the roses
Don’t try to cram all four parks into a single day, because you’re just going to miss the magic! If you bring a checklist with you and spread out the activities throughout your entire vacation, you won’t burn out. One of the biggest tips is to literally stop and smell the roses. Theme parks are filled with amazing horticultural staff who are very good at what they do, so take a few extra minutes to notice the nuances of the Canadian pavilion’s Victoria Gardens…which btw add white flowers in the winter months to simulate the snowfall.
Don’t be afraid
Looking at the Incredible Hulk coaster can be daunting, but not doing it because it looks scary is something that you shouldn’t worry about. Every attraction is not meant for every individual, but remember that you only live once and it’s all about creating memories and growing as a person! Have fun:)
Don’t over-plan (too often)
I’m shocked at how many folks take every piece of advice as to how they should or should not have fun. The truth is, there is no idea as to what you’ll enjoy and why you’ll enjoy it. I thought that I’d get sick of the Animal Kingdom, but it turns out that my favorite part about the park is how you can get lost and just think. The advice is simple…pick a few things that you “must-do” and then work backward.
Go more often!
This is an easy one, but don’t think about Orlando as a “once in a lifetime” vacation destination. Yes, it’s expensive…but you can do it on the cheap too! You don’t have to spend a week there to have a good time…and you definitely don’t have to break the bank and do Le Ceillier each and every night. Go off-season, go with discounts and go with friends. The best advice is simple: Go more often
Laugh at yourself
Have fun with Photopass photographers, as you never know when you’ll want to post a funny photo of yourself! As they say, don’t be afraid to screw up and don’t take things too seriously! Remember, you’re in a magical place:) One of these days I’ll share the story about how I had the opportunity to kiss a camel! (Yes, there are photos)
Pack for your Day
Each day is different, so packing should be flexible. Bringing a DSLR camera at nighttime may be unnecessary if you’ve got a decent smartphone unless you’re planning on doing some awesome nighttime shots. Think about your goals each day before you leave the hotel and you’ll be fine.
Keep an Open Mind
Don’t spoil the magic for others, but also make sure that if someone asks your opinion, that you’re able to provide educated options. It’s not your job to judge others for liking certain restaurants or attractions more than others. Oh, and not everyone will like Dole Whip…they’re wrong…but not everyone will;)
Do something new every day
Scared of eating weird food? Eat the weirdest thing that you can get your hands on. Not a fan of meeting characters? Grab a Fastpass+ and go and hang out with Tinkerbell on Main Street USA! How do you know that you don’t like something until you try it yourself?
Most folks who are reading this list may never do everything on this list. Pick a few things that really connects with you and maybe try it on your next vacation. Remember, it’s a GREAT BIG BEAUTIFUL TOMORROW and there’s an adventure behind every turn:)