Disney World Planning Challenges: Business Conferences—Tips for Squeezing in Some Magic

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Although attending a business conference at or near Walt Disney World isn’t quite the same as taking a vacation trip, it’s still a wish come true for a Disney enthusiast. Several strategies can help you get your Disney fix around a conference schedule. In fact, a business trip to the World can be an excellent opportunity to experience the park in some new and exciting ways.

Balancing Your Time

The first priority in planning time for fun while at a conference at Disney World is figuring out how to balance work and leisure time. Consider arriving in Orlando a day before the conference or giving yourself an extra day after the conference ends. Being creative with the overall time frame of your trip can give you a free half-day or more to enjoy Disney. Once the conference starts, plan to make a quick exit at the end of the day and spend the afternoon or evening at leisure.

Mix It Up—Spending Time In and Out of the Parks

Downtown Disney’s West Side, including the AMC Dine-In Theatres (photo by Brandon Glover)

With the limited number of hours you’ll be able to spend in the parks (unless you’re lucky enough to have an Annual Pass), it doesn’t make sense to purchase park tickets for every day of your trip. Instead, a business trip can be a chance to experience some of Disney’s offerings outside of the parks such as at Downtown Disney and Disney’s BoardWalk.

If your hotel is located near Downtown Disney or you have access to Disney transportation (current construction at Downtown Disney makes traffic and parking a challenge), Downtown Disney can be a great non-park destination. It has lots of dining options and an even wider variety of merchandise than can be found at the parks, and don’t forget about its AMC Dine-In Theatres where you can enjoy both dinner and a movie.

Another option is to use Downtown Disney as a launch point and take a relaxing boat ride to the Port Orleans Riverside or French Quarter resorts for a stroll around the grounds or enjoy some piano entertainment by YeeHaw Bob at Port Orleans Riverside’s River Roost Lounge. Other possible non-park activities include golf, mini-golf, and resort hopping.

If you decide to go into a park on a conference day, you will likely be limited to late afternoon and evening activities. You can definitely have fun experiencing a few favorite rides or in-park restaurants. Use our personalized touring plan tool to create a plan specific to the hours you’ll be in the park, schedule your three allotted FastPass+ reservations to start when you enter the park, and make a dining reservation for the time of park closing. When you’re done eating, you’ll have the pleasure of strolling through a mostly empty park on your way to the exit.

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights (photo by Sarah Graffam)
Plan to enjoy nighttime entertainment like the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights (photo by Sarah Graffam)

A good strategy to get some more value out of your ticket is to target a specific experience or event depending on the time of year you’re visiting. Options include Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (mid-September to mid-November), Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (March to May), and Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights (November to early January). Or you could purchase a party ticket for Magic Kingdom’s Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (September-October) or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (November to December); party tickets cost less than a full-day ticket and allow you to enter Magic Kingdom starting at 4 PM, perfect timing after a long day at a conference.

Ask About Ticket Discounts

Some conferences offer Disney’s special meeting/convention tickets to attendees, their guests, and family members. Options include discounted tickets for after 2 PM or after 4 PM as well as discounted multiday tickets. If you don’t hear about these tickets from your conference organizers ahead of time, definitely check in with them before or at the conference to see if they’re available. More information can be found at www.disneyconventiontickets.com/.

The Joys of Solo Travel

A trip for a business conference can be a unique opportunity to experience the World as a solo traveler. Enjoy the freedom of going where you want when you want, focusing on your personal favorite attractions, and consulting only yourself when changing plans on the fly. And don’t forget to enjoy watching the families around you to remind you of the good times at Disney World with your own family.

Dining solo is another opportunity to experience Disney World from a different perspective. I’ve had a wonderful experience dining solo at Epcot’s Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria; the Cast Members went out of their way to make me feel comfortable, giving me a table with a great view, asking about my trip, and suggesting menu items. Or instead of reserving meals, consider walking up for some appetizers or drinks at one of the Disney World’s many bars and lounges such as Victoria Falls Lounge at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Wave Lounge at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar in Epcot. Keep in mind that park tickets aren’t needed for any of the bars or lounges at the resort hotels.

Better availability of FastPass+ may be another benefit of solo travel because you will be searching for FastPass+ reservations for one instead of a group.

For more tips on traveling solo in Disney World, see Claire Nat’s article.

Enjoy Some Time with Colleagues

Enjoy the details in Epcot’s World Showcase like the torii gate in Japan (Photo by Sarah Graffam)

If you happen to have colleagues traveling with you, see if they’re up for taking a relaxed pace through the parks after conference hours. Plan to ride a few attractions with shorter lines and then have dinner. The same bars and lounges mentioned above for solo travelers can be a great experience with friends from work.

If you are usually at the World with young kids, take this opportunity to explore the details of Epcot’s World Showcase countries with people who are likely more willing to go at a leisurely pace. Strolling Disney’s BoardWalk and experiencing its entertainment, shops, and dining is another memorable option to enjoy with work friends and doesn’t require a park ticket. (Parking at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn may be limited to guests of that resort or those with a dining reservation at one of the BoardWalk restaurants, especially during Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival.)

Disney’s BoardWalk offers several dining and entertainment options (photo by Sarah Graffam)

Getting Around—Transportation Options

How you get around the World during a business trip depends on factors such as your hotel location, whether your hotel is on or off Disney property, and how much time you plan to spend in the parks. If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel, you may decide to forgo a car and use Disney transportation, including complimentary Magical Express Service from the airport. If your hotel is off-property, your options for getting around Disney World include renting a car or using taxi services.

This choice may be determined by researching car rental rates and comparing them with how much you might spend on taxis. Taxi rides within Disney property are typically $20 or less; ask for an approximate rate before you get into the taxi. Tip: If taking a taxi to Magic Kingdom, you can avoid the ferry or monorail trip from the Magic Kingdom/Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) parking lot by asking your taxi driver to drop you off at Disney’s Contemporary Resort; from there, it’s a 10-minute walk directly to the Magic Kingdom.

Combining a Business and Family Trip

Avoid breaking the bad news to your spouse and children that you’ll be going to Disney World without them by combining business and pleasure. A business conference is a great opportunity to sneak in a family vacation with some of your air and hotel expenses already paid, plus you may be able to take advantage of the above-mentioned ticket discounts. Your family can join you during the conference or, even better, you can extend your stay on the back or front end of your trip.

Packing Considerations

When packing for a trip combining business and pleasure, it’s still possible to pack light. A good strategy is to pack a suit with one or two shirts as well as one other pair of pants or a skirt for the conference. Then stick with business casual tops or dresses that can be accessorized for a more formal look or be worn in the parks. As well, shorts or casual skirts are a must for warmer Florida days. In addition to shoes suitable for business attire, be sure to pack comfortable shoes for the many miles you could be trekking around the World. And don’t forget to pack socks that go with both business and casual wear.

(Ed. – Special thanks to Brandon Glover for his photo. If we had to schedule a conference trip, we’d always include Brandon and might even let him enjoy the parks instead of taking our silly photos.)

Have you been lucky enough to attend a conference at or near Disney World? Where you able to successfully combine business and pleasure? Did you fly solo or enjoy time with colleagues? Please share if you have any other tips for your fellow business travelers.

Sarah Graffam

Sarah gets that giddy feeling when walking down Main Street, U.S.A. (and sometimes in her own living room just thinking about her next trip to Disney World). She is a Disney Vacation Club member and has been a professional writer and editor since 1990. Other favorite places she has traveled include Hong Kong, the Czech Republic, England, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska, Kenya, Tanzania, and Disneyland.

3 thoughts on “Disney World Planning Challenges: Business Conferences—Tips for Squeezing in Some Magic

  • December 10, 2014 at 7:24 am

    I’ve done 2 professional conferences on site and can’t recommend it enoug! First, disney does a fabulous job with the meeting rooms and catering etc. I’m fortunate in that my professional society has a Disney meeting 1-2 times per year. One time I was solo and once with the family. The room discount is amazing and for both my conferences was offered for several days before and after the meetings so we were able to have full family days in the parks on non-meeting days.

  • December 10, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Work sending me to WDW….. That’s the dream!!

  • December 11, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Just an FYI, your conference doesn’t even have to register with Disney for you to get the convention rate tickets. Just go to the disneyconventiontickets.com and purchase them yourself!


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