Prior to our trip, I did read around the interwebs on the Disney World experience. From books, to apps, to live tour guides, there's a whole aftermarket out there to ensure maximum enjoyment. And why wouldn't there be? There's a wealth of shared negative experiences about the place. The weather, the long lines, the hidden expenses. While I was excited to go on vacation with my family (I really love them and my old job at the time was really, really unbearable), I was leery about a vacation filled with stress and squabbling. I was a little unsure of what to truly expect.
I was also a little hesitant about Disney World, from a cultural perspective. My graduate education was centered around rhetorical criticism. So, I can say I'm versed in the ideas of Baudrillard, Jameson, Giroux, and others. Disney World has been good fodder for everything from feminist criticism to media criticism and I was ready to experience this surreal simulation in order to pick it apart, but I digress (and will likely expand on this tangent in a future post). I understand the impact Disney machine has had on consumerism, girls portrayals of themselves, sterilizing the controversy out of life and so on. Part of me was hesitant as this was the biggest gulp of kool-aide I was about to drink yet. Perhaps because of this context, I was all the more able to somehow enjoy the place in some weird paradoxical way.
Anyway, this was our first time at Disney World. It was even our first family vacation with just the four of us. So, I didn't know what to expect. We thought we would have a good time and but I was not ready to be genuinely blown away by the Disney experience. It's a well oiled machine that delivered an truly amazing customer experience, and that was a most welcome surprise. Here's how it worked for us:
Expenses. We were able to keep our expenses in check and based on a few estimates I found on the web, the overall trip was thousands less. I'm not exactly sure how as we didn't really skimp on much. We did do a few things that saved us some cash. A hint, the adults need backpacks. Those backpacks need to include: refillable water bottles, princess dresses you brought from home, assorted snacks, rain gear, sun screen.
We did drive down in lieu of flying and that saved us a lot of money. So with the money we saved by driving, we spent by staying at one of the on grounds resorts. It really added to the imaginary experience and if you can afford it, I would recommend it. We stayed at the Caribbean Resort. I've been to the Florida Keys, Aruba, and the Cayman Islands and can say that the place didn't really feel like the Caribbean, but it was really quiet and nice. By chance, we lucked into a pirate themed room and the girls went absolutely bonkers over it.
We didn't really buy very many souvenirs. That may seem difficult for a lot of parents and believe me there were a lot of parents there that buckled to the 'gimmies'. But come on mom and dad, who's in charge here? You are!
That being said, our biggest win were the press coin machines. It was really a stroke of genius we stumbled upon by accident. These machines are scattered out through every single park, some next to the exits of rides, some in restaurants, some in gift shops. Seriously, this was such an inexpensive fun scavenger hunt and it took us through every nook and cranny of the park. I think we ended up with over 50 pennies, all pressed with different characters and rides in the park.
Crowds, what crowds? If you can help it, you really need to be going in offseason and you need to be attending during the week. Couple that with getting to the parks early, sometimes when they open and we had our pick of rides and attractions often with no wait at all. And to make things even better, there was the Fast Pass. It's a clever system that allows every park goer a couple of passes to go to the front of the line at a future point in time.
Lines were so short and the Fast Pass system worked so well, that the two or three times we stood in line for twenty minutes we grew impatient. I can't tell you how happy it is to blow right past a quarter mile of turnstiles to get to the end of a line that's maybe ten minutes long.
Also, enjoy the vintage rides especially in Magic Kingdom. There was no wait for almost all of them. Sprinkle them in between the larger rides and revel in the campiness and enjoy that nostalgic, classic Disney experience.
The food - pack your own snacks and get a meal plan We brought our own breakfast provisions and ate in the hotel room every morning. We bought a meal plan and saved something like 15%. You're going to eat there, so why not get a little bit of a discount? And if you can, try to stick to the buffets and the 'sit down dinners'. The food is surprisingly good. Plus, you can have a beer in most all the places (outside of the Magic Kingdom).
Even the bad parts weren't that bad thanks to the power of Disney. The long card ride, some rain, a few diaper mishaps, and the couple of nights of lousy food didn't diminish our great time. Disney World was such a pleasant surprise and even now, a few months removed, its feelings still linger. It wasn't nearly as disingenuous, irritating, and soul crushing as I thought it could. And that's a pleasant surprise.
Alright, I can't help myself. Here's a sweet shot: