Disney part III: Making the most of your time and philosophical musings

In this last post on Disney I am going to share my tips for time management/fun maximization and also, because I am a psychologist and former philosophy major, some thoughts I have about why Disney is so popular.

Disney time management

Being a tad OCD, I excel at maximizing time efficiency. It’s not always the best trait, as I sometimes (ok frequently) have trouble relaxing, but on a vacation at Disney this quality pays off if you want to make the most of your trip (i.e., do the most number of rides with the least amount of wait time). That said, here are my top tips for maximizing fun at Disney. Most of these I learned through my research from various Disney blogs and books, some are tips from friends.

Make a plan! It pays to research ahead of time when it comes to Disney. Because it is so darn predictable (my comments about that in the next section), there are people out there that can “forecast” your trip, in terms of crowds and events, much like a weather forecast except they can do so years in advance. So before you go, consult a crowd calendar online and plan which days have the lowest crowds for which parks. I don’t know the algorithms they use but I know some factors that go into it, including which parks have extra magic hours (EMH) that day. EMHs are when a certain park opens earlier or closes later but only for Disney resort guests. You probably want to avoid the park that has EMH that day because it will draw more people that want to take advantage of them. Disney also has events year-round that affect crowd levels. So for example the past two times we went were during the Disney marathon. On marathon day the race begins and ends at Epcot (they have a party for the runners there), so we made sure to avoid the parks that day).

You also want to know what rides you want to do ahead of time, and if you’ve never been to Disney, do your research on the rides! Otherwise you might get stuck in something like Tiki birds or Hall of Presidents when you could be doing Haunted Mansion!

Download some apps! You know how we always say, “how did we live without smart phones?” Well I don’t know how we did Disney without apps. There are several, including the official WDW app that will give you real time wait times for all the rides. That means you could be in line at Jungle Cruise and check your phone to see how long the line is at Space Mountain across the park, to see if you should run over there after your ride is over or look for something else. The “Lines” app by Touringplans.com even gives you “actual” wait times (vs what WDW posts), and tells you whether you should ride now or wait, bases on their predictions of whether the line time will go up or down. 

The lines app by touringplans.com is not well designed in my opinion, but it will also give you a detailed itinerary for your day at the park to maximize efficiency. You simply input which park you want to go to on which day, the times you will be there, which rides and restaurants you want to go to, any fast pass times you already know, and any breaks you want to take, and the app will spit out a minute-by-minute plan for you to follow. Since we go on low crowd days I sort of loosely follow the plans, but I think it can be very useful on crowded days, as it tells you when you should be at which ride for the least amount of line waiting.

Use fast pass! If you are staying on WDW property you can start booking your FP selections 60 days in advance (30 days if off property). Set an alarm and make sure you book these on your WDW app exactly when your window opens (it will open at 9am, no need to wait up till midnight). This is essential for really popular rides such as Frozen, Mine Train, Test Track, etc. Also a good rule of thumb is to book the Fast Pass selections during mid-day, not when the park opens or closes, because you can usually get on the popular rides without long lines within the first 30-60 mins of park opening and likewise the last 30-60 mins of the park closing. Also book your fast passes more towards the early part of the day because once you use all 3 you can book another one that day, and keep booking them as you use them. So for example, if you have used all your fast passes by 1pm, you can now go on your app and book another one for later that day. Usually the most popular rides won’t have availability, but you should be able to find fast passes for the “second tier” rides like Haunted Mansion and save more time on lines (so don’t expect to be able to do this for the really popular rides, always lock those in ahead of time). I usually start looking in the app as soon as they have scanned my last fast pass.

Get to the park as soon as it opens and stay until it closes (but take a break in between). You can take advantage of short lines during these times. As soon as the park opens book it over to the rides that have the longest lines (like Peter Pan in Magic Kingdom), especially if you don’t have a fast pass for those later in the day, this maximizing your time on the “best” rides. We also usually do a mad dash around the best rides 60 miniures before the park closes, especially when everyone is watching the shows.

 Take breaks in the middle of the day. All of the WDW blogs and books will tell you this and it’s great advice. In the middle of the day when everyone is tired, it gets hotter, and the crowds are bigger, head back to your hotel for a rest and then go back to the parks for the afternoon/evening. You’ll feel more refreshed and able to finish out the rest of the day.

Finally, my thoughts on why people LOVE Disney. When you go to WDW you will find people who go every year and have been hundreds of times. Think about that. If you are 35 years old, to go one hundred times you would have had to go an average of 3x a year since you were born. It seems crazy but there are people who do it (lots of them). Why? I think one reason is the nostalgia aspect. Although WDW does change and improve their rides and the park itself, a lot of it remains the same and in good condition. That means there are parts of the park that look and operate the same now as they did back in 1982. In that way it’s kind of frozen in time. There aren’t many places that can offer this and it feels really good to people. Did you ever travel back to a place you had been to as a kid, only to see that it had changed dramatically from your memory? Do you remember how sad and disappointed you felt? Disney helps to guard against this by changing things slowly and keeping their most popular attractions very much that same over time. Since it is so tightly controlled and systematized, you know that your walk through frontierland is going to look roughly the same today as it did in 2002, 1992, and 1982. This just naturally feels good, like you are going “home” again. I think Disney is well aware that this nostalgia factor is part of what keeps folks coming back over and over again, so they make sure to keep many things exactly the same while improving others (because in addition to liking things to stay the same we also want to see some new things).

I also think people love Disney because of what I discussed in an earlier blog post. It takes the anxiety out of traveling for most people. At WDW, especially if you’ve been there before, you don’t have to wonder “what’s it going to be like when I get there?” You know that everything is in the same spot, and occurs at the same time as it has for 40+ years. You also know with absolute surety that the people who work their will be nice to you and go out of their way for you no matter what. This is not likely to be the case anywhere else you may go, and so again, Disney takes away that anxiety that so many of us feel when traveling. Is it completely fabricated and therefore unrealistic? Of course! But that’s what Disney does best. So while I do believe it is important to challenge oneself through travel, and to use travel as a way to learn how to better manage your anxiety, it’s always nice to take a little break and visit Fantasyland for little while.

Key West

This post will be brief since we were actually traveling without kids, but we just got back from a 4 day, 3 night trip to Key West, also paid for with points and miles. This was to celebrate our 10 year anniversary so my mom and step-Dad graciously watched the kids for us.

We stayed at the Hyatt Centric which has a great location right in Old Town on the water between Mallory Square and the main docks. The hotel was awesome and had a pool, a tiny little beach that was great for snorkeling, and little turtle ponds! We told them it was our 10 year anniversary and they hooked us up with a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries. 

Here’s how we got this trip for free:

2 round trip tickets from Syracuse to Key West on Delta = 70k skymiles (35 k each). I transferred American Express membership rewards to Delta (1:1 ratio). 35k a ticket is a little high for domestic travel but we needed specific dates and were flying small airport to small airport. We definitely could have gotten the tix for probably 25k each if we flew into Miami and drove (which would have been cool), but we really didn’t have a lot of time for this trip.

3 nights at the Hyatt Centric:  My husband took out the Chase Hyatt credit card (I still haven’t been able to get this one because of Chase’s 5/24 rule). You get 2 free nights at any Hyatt after you spend 3,000. So we used those two nights and then added a 3rd night which I paid for with Chase Ultimate Rewards. Looking back at my receipt it seems I paid 40k UR, which seems like too much. You can also transfer UR to your Hyatt account and pay with Hyatt points (our room would have been 25,000 points), but I can’t remember why I didn’t do this. It may have been that they didn’t have award rooms available when I booked or it could have been a rookie mistake. But you should always compare transferring points to a travel partner (hotel or airline program) vs using points (e.g. Chase’s ultimate rewards or Amex’s Membership Rewards) via their travel portal to see which is the better deal.

Overall we had a great time in KW. I think you could take kids there but it wouldn’t be my first choice with kids. There aren’t a lot of things to do other than eating, drinking, and boating (which could be great for a older kids, minus the drinking of course). I think it would be a good trip for families as a tour of the keys. There also aren’t nice beaches like there are in other parts of the keys, although the state park had one and there’s another one closer to the airport (Dog beach).

Some things we did include, riding bikes around the Island and stopping at the Eco-Discovery center (free!) near Fort Zachary Taylor state park (2.50 each on bikes). The Eco-discovery center gives you some nice info about the ecology and conservation efforts of the Keys. The Hemingway house, of course, which I loved since EH was one of the only authors I liked reading in high school, despite his rampant mysogyny. Duval street is good for people watching, especially as the night goes on and people get drunker (although we saw a fair amount of daytime drunks too), and Mallory square has a cute little “sunset celebration” with street performers and a couple food trucks.

We also took the ferry out to Dry Tortugas national park, which is a full day excursion (8am – 5:30pm). It is a 2.5 hour boat ride there and back and they give you a simple breakfast and lunch. If it’s a rough day at sea you may feel it, so come prepared with Dramamine. I am usually ok on boats as long as I can stay on deck but at one point it was too rough so the captain made us go inside and that’s when I started to feel awful. The crew walks around with barf bags (which I didn’t need thankfully) and they will bring you ginger ale and water and ice. My husband was also pretty green but luckily he was able to hang tough. The national park itself is amazing. It’s the ruins of a fort which at one point was also a prison. There’s birding, fishing, And snorkeling around the fort. There is an awesome reef around the mote and you can snorkel along it. I saw a ton of great fish including huge parrot fish. I would highly recommend this trip if you can stomach the boat ride.

Otherwise we did lots of eating and drinking! Conch fritters and key lime pie are the “have to” treats, but we ate great meals throughout our trip. My favorite restaurants were The Flaming Buoy, Bien (amazing Cuban sandwiches), the Cuban Coffee Queen for coffee, and this great little tequila bar across from Mallory Square made an awesome basil Paloma. 

All in all it was a great little “grown-up” trip and we had a great time. I would love to return one day.