(DISCLAIMER: The following was originally written by Jerry Skids back in 2009. He is a big Disney fan. He has his own WDW-themed podcast, which you can find here, or here. This is 100% Jerry’s words, completely unedited, out of respect to Jerry. I have not fact-checked any of this information. Obviously the prices have definitely changed since 2009, and should be used for comparative purposes only, not as actual real-time price quotes. And many attractions have come and gone since the time this was written. However, that does not invalidate his suggestions one iota. This is still useful, and I think this is so amazing, that I want to share his knowledge and wisdom. Thank you Jerry! Posted with his permission. – Editor)
Note: If you get confused by the acronyms, please see the previous posts.
WDW For The Single Guy: an experiment
Let’s Get Ready to get ready!
Extra Magic Hours (EMH)
So as I had begun to say before — if you stay at an om-property resort, you get to participate in Extra Magic Hours!! Depending on how you would like to tour the parks, this can be exciting news!! For beginners, I generally recommend you do not even bother with the extra magic hours unless you follow the freakin’ rules correctly. Here’s the thing: When a park has the Extra Magic Hours (EMH), people take advantage of it — meaning bigger crowds at that particular park for the day, which leads to longer lines. See? Not the best choice. However, with a park-hopper, you can take advantage of SOME of the EMH days to your benefit.
This is when the four theme parks and two water parks open one hour earlier for EMH. There are limited attractions open, but they are usually the biggies. So you can spend an hour in a virtually empty park (like Cartmanland) jumping on and off your favorite rides. If you must participate in early EMH, be there at least 30 minutes before EMH begins, then park-hop somewhere else at 11AM when the crowd becomes unbelievable. Honestly, you lose time traveling, so I wouldn’t do this unless you have already been to all the parks and don’t mind wasting time traveling so you can ride Space Mountain over and over again. Avoiding Early Entry is usually the best way to go.
This is the true extra magic hours. This is when the park stays open 3 hours later than closing time! You get a wristband two hours before park closing or all you have to do is show up at any time during EMH. Here is the thing: NEVER spend the evening that has evening EMH. NEVER! If you want to go to evening EMH, then show up after your park closes. The EMH evening park is ALWAYS ridiculously crowded. More attractions are opened than in the morning EMH, but it is still basically a whole bunch of resort guests trying to get on a limited amount of rides. (I’ll mention which ones are open in my park / attraction descriptions). Best thing is that the kids are all sleeping and it’s mostly couples, singles, college kids, and the unfortunate high school crowd. It does get loud, but it’s a fun time. Lots of drinking (except Magic Kingdom).
NOTE: DO NOT park hop to Animal Kingdom unless absolutely necessary. It closes at 5PM on non-EMH days, so it will most likely be waste of a hop.
EMH is better during the slow times, but since I already said you MUST go during the slow times, you should have no problem.
The Fastpass (FP) Conundrum
In 1999, Disney released the Fastpass at Animal Kingdom. It worked so well, they expanded it to all other parks. Guests at the parks are so freakin’ stupid, they have no clue how to use them. Cast Members spend their entire life explaining the basics of FP. So here it is: don’t ask me or anyone else again! Most of the popular rides in each park will have a bunch of contraptions in front called Fastpass Machines. At no cost, you can pop your park ticket in for a Fastpass. On the FP, they will have the name of the attraction and your “return time.” If it says “Return between 1PM and 2PM,” then do just that. With a FP, you do not have to wait on the regular lines. Your wait will usually be 5 minutes or less (most likely a walk-on). Here’s the catch: You can only have one FP at a time — hey, they have to regulate it somehow. Once the time on your FP comes up, you can automatically get a new one, OR if two hours have passed — whichever one comes first. There is a sign above the Fastpass Machines that says what time your return will be. If you think it’s too late, then ride something else first and come back when there is no line. Rides like Rock-n-Rollercoaster have a return time of 5PM by noon. Splash Mountain is usually out of Fastpass by 2PM. Now let’s say you have a ticket that says “2:05PM – 3:05PM” – – well, you can’t show up before 2:05PM — it’s just not happening. However, anything after 2:05PM, the Cast Member will let you in (via the Fastpass Return Entrance) – whether it’s 3:02PM ir 6PM, most CMs will not be assholes… there are a few, but if they are on duty, just come back later. They rotate every half-hour – 45 minutes. The only ride to ever give me FP problems (returning late) was Soarin’. Wanna know the technical stuff? Like, real quick. I’ll use Splash Mountain as an example ‘cos it’s very popular. Say Magic Kingdom opens at 9AM, which it normally does, … the first 125 guests to obtain a FP will get a 9:40AM – 10:40AM return window. The next 125 guests are issued a FP w/ a 9:45AM – 10:45AM window. So that’s how it works. Once the machine are out of passes or it hits an hour or two before closing time, they shut down are covered until the next day. Simple as that. The ratio of guests let into attractions are about 25 FP holders to each standby guest. After each attraction, I will tell you if it has Fastpass by marking FP and will tell you the best way to use the FP option for the attraction. Just remember, not only can you see what the return time for the attraction is when you get there, but the tip boards in the front of the pack also list the Return Times as well as the wait times for standby.
Two unique exceptions: As of 2008, the Tower of Terror in DHS*, and Lights! Motors! Action! stunt show also in DHS* have different rules. After you get a Tower of Terror FP, no matter what the return time is, you can get another FP at a different attraction within 5 minutes after getting one there. Oh, and by the way: 2 more things. First of all, with shows, the return time is usually the next show — but for the most part they are pointless (with exceptions). Second thing, you can get a 2nd FP while still holding onto the 1st one as the appropriate time has passed as discussed before.
*(Editor’s Note: Disney Hollywood Studios used to be called MGM. Jerry still prefers to call the park as MGM. As to why, listen to his podcast.)
My Fastpass Rules:
- If FP can’t save you 30 minutes on-line, don’t bother unless the park is dead;
- Don’t get a FP for a theatre show unless there are no other rides left w/ FP that you’d like to experience;
- Check the fucking return time before doing anything!
- If you get to a park AFTER it opens, get a FP for the preferred rides before you ride/eat/or go see a show;
- Do not expect FPs to be available after 2PM;
- Get a FP for EVERYONE in your party. One FP per person — you don’t know how many puppy dog faces I had to turn away;
- There is a time period at the bottom of your FP – that’s the time you can get a new one; and
- Read what I wrote about FPs in each attraction to utilize the option in the best way possible!
Getting Ready to Go:
Okay, first of all, book your trip. You can book through (407) WDISNEY, online via disneyworld.com, through a travel agent, or whatever. I prefer talking to someone to just booking online, so I’d go with a Disney CM or a travel agent. You’ve chosen your hotel, I assume, and you know how long your trip will be. So make sure it’s available. Always have a 2nd and 3rd hotel choice in case your 1st choice is booked. You can always check back to see if the hotel you wanted is available (if someone cancelled) and switch. You don’t have to pay for the hotel til you get there anyway. The next thing to do is book your dinners, activities, and/or tours via (407) WDW-DINE or (407) WDW-PLAY. If you are purchasing your park tickets from Disney directly (which you should), then you have the choice of adding on the Disney Dining Plan or Tables in Wonderland.
Disney Dining Plan
So for $39 a day for adults ($11 for kids), you get one counter-service meal, one full-service meal, and one snack a day. The counter service includes a main course, dessert, a non-alcoholic drink, and tax (or the buffet, non-alcoholic drink, and tax). You can skip one table service one day and use two another day. Some of Disney’s top-of-the-line restaurants (called “Disney’s Signature restaurants”) and dinner shows count as two-full-service meals.
The rules are as follows:
- Everyone going w/ you in the same room must be on the same plan;
- Kids have to order to from the kids’ menu (they don’t enforce this as much);
- Minibars / refillable mugs do not count;
- Full service meal equals breakfast, lunch, or dinner – (you save more if you go at dinner, obviously);
- The plan expires midnight the day you check out.
You can choose what to do here. It can be a tough choice. I like it especially when it’s discounted. In September and some of October they offer free dining w/ room reservation. That’s the dining plan for free!!!! Free food!!! And you can pay for whatever snacks or extra meals you want. I definitely recommend September as the time to go! They used to have an appetizer and gratuity included in the dining plan, but now they are extra. There are also other dining plans (counter service only, wine and dine, the “Jabba the Hutt” plan – as Len Testa of WDW Today said in the dining plan episode, and a premium plan), but the regular Dining Plan is the most efficient if you want any at all.
Tables in Wonderland
This is something else. It used to be called the Disney Dining Experience. I don’t know the price, but it is 20% off every meal – including alcohol. If you drink a lot, this is worth it!
Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs)
Whether you are using a dining plan or not, you must make ADRs!! You will never be able to eat otherwise. Well, unless you want the least popular table service every single night. In 1997, Disney replaced reservations with “Priority Seating.” This basically meant “we’ll try to hold a table for you, but you may have to wait 30 minutes.” Many people were, of course, confused. Then in 2005, they changed it to “Advanced Reservations.” Guess what? It’s still the same. They gave you a reservation that’s not really a reservation. Basically, you get priority over the walk-ins. That’s it. Want me to explain? I’ll be brief. So, they don’t reserve you a table, but a time slot. So if a restaurant has 40 tables for four and 8 tables for 6, and the average length of time for a family to order, eat, pay, and leave is 40 minutes… 5 minutes to bus and set a table… it’s about 45 minutes. So if a reservation for 4 is made at 6:15PM, the next time for that table won’t be until 7PM. Get it? Your wait will most likely be only 5-10 minutes anyway (20 in peak times.) You can wait as a walk-in, but you can be waiting from 40-75 minutes… or more. So I suggest calling (407) WDW-DINE and making reservations. They keep changing the time period you call ahead. Last time I heard, it was 90 days for most, and 180 days for the 3 biggies: Victoria + Alberts, Chef Mickey’s, and Cinderella’s Royal Table. For the last three, if you don’t call 180 days ahead of time… well, you will have to call back a LOT to see if someone cancelled (or check the DIS Boards for anyone about to cancel). If you have any allergies, let them know on the phone. That will be on every restaurant computer in the park that you have ADR’d. Just to let you know: lunch is cheaper. If you want to make your big meal at lunch rather than dinner, you will save lots of money. All the theme park restaurants are informal dress, but there are a couple of hotel restaurants that are “business casual.” These are: Jiko – The Cooking Place at AKL, California Grill at Contemporary, Flying Fish Cafe at Boardwalk, Narcoosee’s at Grand Floridian, Artist Point at Wilderness Lodge, Citrico’s at Grand Floridian, and Yachtsman Steakhouse at Yacht Club. Oh, and dress at Victoria + Albert’s requires a jacket for men. It’s the upscale gourmet restaurant. What did you expect?
So you can make as many reservations as you’d like… however, if you choose not to use them, please call ahead and cancel. Believe me, if you were trying to get a reservation for Le Cellier and there was non available (however in reality someone just didn’t cancel), you would be fuming! It’s as easy as that. Now, if you must have the Cinderella Princess Breakfast in the castle, here is the way to do it: You will have to call (407) WDW-DINE exactly 180 days before you want to go. You must call at exactly 7AM EST – if you are in California, that’s 4AM! Honestly, I start dialing on two different phones (my girl on one, I’m on the other). I dial, she dials, I dial, she dials – – you get the point. The day before, prepare by calling at the same time. The message that begins with, “Thank you for calling…. Our office is closed” sounds different from the one at 7AM when you get through. Listen to the prompts (press one, press two, etc.) until it gets you through. Once it gets through, hang up. You now know what to do on your 180th day. Do not wait for the message to complete – press the appropriate numbers that you have written down. Also, write down the exact thing you’re going to say. When the person picks up, immediately say, “I need Cindy’s breakfast, May 1, two people, any time.” Do NOT say anything before this. If you must interrupt her greeting, do it. Apologize after she verifies your date. And don’t give a specific time – unless you say “as early as I can get.” Otherwise, you should be golden. Sometimes reservations for the castle can be gone by 7:03AM — so good luck! If you can’t get it, the Princess breakfast at Restaurant Akershus in Norway (Epcot) is way better. I will get into dining w/ the parks (followed by the dining at the hotels and other later).
Book your flight
Whichever flight you choose, I suggest getting to MCO (Orlando International Airport) on the earliest flight. Usually, it’s cheaper, plus it gives you time to get to the parks or hang out anywhere else in the World! After your flight is booked, you have to choice of signing up for the FREE Magical Express. Otherwise, you can take a town car, or rent a car for the week. This is all up to you. If you don’t feel like driving everywhere and are going to rely on Disney Transportation all week, you probably want to use Magical Express.
Magical Express (ME)
This free bus service will take you straight to your hotel. Not only that, but you won’t have to wait in Baggage Claim. Your bags will “magically” arrive in your room while you are hanging around The World. Call (407) WDISNEY once you have booked your flight and tell them you would like to add-on Magical Express (you can do it online now too). Give them your flight information and two weeks before you leave, you will receive special yellow tags and a booklet in the mail for ME. Throw the tags on your luggage, and when you arrive at MCO, just follow the purple signs down the ME location. Hop on the bus to your resort, and that’s it! If you’re worried about your luggage (sometimes it takes longer than expected), just pick it up at Baggage Claim and bring it on yourself. It’s a hassle, but if it gives you security, go ahead. If you flew American (AA), Delta (DL), Jet Blue (LJ), TED (UA), Alaska (AS), Northwest (NW), or United (UA), you can check in to your returning flight from your hotel between 5AM – 1PM!! Southwest (WN) does not participate. They pick you up 3 hours before your return flight and then you come back home — I like the 7PM (ish) flight, so you can go back to the parks or whatever until about 3PM on your last day. Oh! An added bonus! You get to watch a really cool video on the way to your resort. It gets you in the WDW mindset.
Disney’s Transportation System:
The Bus – Usually, you can just take the bus from any resort to any park. Every bus has a panel above the windshield that flashes its destination. Bus service begins two hours before park opening, until about 2 hours until the park closes. They generally run every 20 minutes (sometimes there is one right behind the last one). To go from resort to resort, you most likely have to take a bus to Downtown Disney (a big bus hub) or Ticket + Transportation Center (TTC) and switch. At the parks, DTD and TTC, they have buses to every park and resort, so use your judgement at where the best place to switch is.
The Boats – Some resorts have boat service to certain parks. Find out when you first get to the resort how to get to each park. When you check in, they will provide you with info. The only park does have boat service is Animal Kingdom.
The Monorail – The monorail makes stops at Magic Kingdom, Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Contemporary, and the TTC. There is also an express monorail that goes from MK + the TTC. Along with that, there is service from the TTC to Epcot. It is a very efficient way of getting around.
(To be continued with Part 4: The Magic Kingdom, part 1)