An Introvert’s Guide to Disney World

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I’m a Disney theme park devotee; I love the parks’ art and architecture, the attention to detail, the zippy rides, and the gently popcorn-scented air. I’m also a hard core introvert. I enjoy time with my family and close friends, but speaking with strangers or spending extended periods in large groups leaves me emotionally drained. To recover, I require personal space and quiet time, and lots of it.

Disney Parks fan and introvert can be challenging traits to reconcile. And honestly, I sometimes get the feeling that Walt Disney World is the epicenter of everything I am not. Disney is loud and relentless. With its confluence of uber-friendly cast members, crowds, boisterous dance parties, and world-as-a-show ethos, the entire place practically screams EXTROVERTS ONLY.

Even Christmas can be manageable for an introvert, IF you arrive at the parks early.
Even Christmas can be manageable for an introvert, IF you arrive at the parks early.

But as a veteran of many dozens of trips to the Disney Parks, I’m here to promise you that an introvert can survive, and even thrive, in the midst of the madness. Here are some steps you can take to help make Walt Disney World a manageable experience for an introvert.

Choose a low crowd time of the year to visit.

I have extrovert friends who love WDW on New Year’s Eve. They get excited seeing tens of thousands of people all in one place. You never know who you’ll meet! But for me, one of the quickest paths to system overload is crushing crowds. Being in the Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve might possibly make my head explode.

To maintain homeostasis, my personal space bubble needs to remain firmly protected, which is simply not possible when the parks are at maximum capacity. Consulting the Touring Plans Crowd Calendar is particularly important for introverts who get overwhelmed in high-crowd situations. The lower the predicted crowd level, the happier an introvert is likely to be. September, the lowest crowd month of the year, is a particularly good time for introverts to visit Walt Disney World.

Avoid the most crowded times of the day.

I understand that it’s not always possible to travel at the ideal time of year (pesky kids and their pesky school), but even during busy periods you can mitigate your exposure to crowds by being at the parks during the right times of day. Introverts who want to limit crowd exposure should take extra care to arrive at the parks before they open. Typically, crowds do not arrive en force until late morning. With early arrival and a well-crafted Touring Plan, you can see huge sections of the parks before other guests have even rolled out of bed.

I’ve had several lovely Christmas week trips to Walt Disney World, among the busiest times of the year. My holiday trips worked because I made absolutely sure to vacate the parks by noon. We planned afternoon and evening activities that kept us at the less crowded resorts.

Some resorts are more peaceful than others.
Some resorts are more peaceful than others.

Take breaks in the middle of the day and in the middle of the week.

I can cope with strangers and large groups for a short stretch, but after a while I need to stop and recharge my batteries by stepping away from social stimulation. After 4-5 consecutive hours in the parks, I have to shut down and refresh. This makes the oft-recommended mid-day break particularly important for introverts like me. Depending on your proclivities, the afternoon break may take the form of a nap, a solitary jog around your resort, or a quiet drink at a hotel lounge.

At times when I’ve been unable to get away from the parks during the day, I’ve made a point of bringing something like a crossword puzzle in my day bag. If I can find a corner somewhere to concentrate on that for half an hour, mentally disengaging from the hubbub, my energy is often renewed.

In addition to taking a mid-day break, you might also consider taking a mid-week break during your vacation. After a several park-intensive days, sleeping late and reading a novel by the pool might be just the thing to nurture your spirit.

Plan some non-park activities.

Remember that not all areas of Disney World are swirling with activity. When you’re taking a stroll around the Boardwalk, watching a movie at Downtown Disney, playing a round of mini-golf, patting the ponies at Fort Wilderness, or piloting a boat on the Seven Seas Lagoon, you’ll encounter far fewer people than you would in the Magic Kingdom. Adding non-park activities such as these to your itinerary can be a wonderful buffer for your psyche.

You can carve out personal time, even in the theme parks.
You can carve out personal time, even in the theme parks.

Choose your travel companions carefully.

If you’re prone to emotional overload after long conversations, it’s probably best not to plan a trip with your sister (no matter how much you love her) and her hyper-loquacious hubby. Spending time in a taxing place with taxing people is a recipe for disaster.

I’ve personally grown fond of the solo trip to Walt Disney World. I adore my visits to the parks with my family, but there’s something delicious about experiencing the bustle of the theme parks, returning to an empty hotel room, and knowing that I don’t have to talk to anyone at all for the next 10 hours.

Choose the right resort.

Each of the Disney resort hotels has a different character, some are bright and fun, while others are more peaceful and relaxing. If you’re introvert mode, you may want to avoid more frenetic resorts like the All Stars. These tend to host the many visiting sports teams. The kids mean well, but sometimes their enthusiasm bubbles over and you’ll find them practicing cheers in the food court. It’s not the best situation if you’ve paced yourself and are counting on the ability to enjoy a cup of tea in peace and quiet. The deluxe resorts tend to be more subdued than the values, perhaps because the clientele tends to be a bit older (though children are certainly welcome).

If you’re looking for even more personal space, try staying somewhere like the treehouses at the Saratoga Springs resort, the cabins at Fort Wilderness or, if you happen to be Mr. Moneybags, the bungalows at the Polynesian. These options are all free-standing structures, like miniature private homes, giving you more distance than just a wall between you and your neighbors.

Your celebration is an invitation to conversation. Keep it to yourself if you don't want to talk.
Your celebration is an invitation to conversation. Keep it to yourself if you don’t want to talk.

Avoid “audience participation” restaurants.

There are several Disney World restaurants that encourage diners to be loud and silly when interacting with their servers and with other guests. These audience participation opportunities range from mild, such as waving your napkin above your head at Chef Mickey’s or the Crystal Palace, to intense full-scale role playing at the 50’s Prime Time Diner, where your server might pretend to be your mother and make you stand in the corner for not eating your green beans. (Yes, really.) If you don’t want to have to pretend to be related to your waitress, then it might be easier to avoid spots like the 50’s Prime Time.

One development on this front is the recent introduction of “flip cards” at the tables at the Wilderness Lodge’s Whispering Canyon Cafe. The WCC shtick involves servers hollering at you, playing cowboy games, and the potential for other guests to bring you dozens of bottles of ketchup at one time. The flip cards, with a green “go” side and a red “stop” side, act as a signal to your server about whether you’re in the mood to participate in the shenanigans or would rather have a quiet meal. This allows reticent folks to observe, without being called into action.

Take particular care with your restaurant selection if you have an introverted child. Even something as simple as being asked to march around the room in a “parade,” which happens at several of the character meals, could be too much for a child sensitive to social stimulation or who shrinks at pressure to dive into a new activity. It’s the kids’ vacation too; no need to cause them undue stress.

Keep your celebration to yourself.

Disney makes a big deal of encouraging guests to share information about anything they might be celebrating during their vacations: birthday, anniversary, engagement, etc. You’ll be asked for this information when you make your room reservation, when you make your dining reservations, and when you check in. While nothing is guaranteed, saying you’re celebrating something often results in extra attention. This is nice, but if you’re an introvert in hibernation mode, having to make chit chat with strangers about a personal milestone might be too much of a muchness.

If you don’t enjoy small talk, you may be better off omitting information about your celebration from your reservation profile. You’ll also want to avoid wearing the free Celebration Buttons in the parks, as this will be a signal for cast members to stop and congratulate you. Feel free to get the button and save it as a souvenir, but if you don’t want to talk, don’t wear it.

Having access to car keeps you in your personal bubble better than using Disney transportation.
Having access to car keeps you in your personal bubble better than using Disney transportation.

Be on top of your dining and FASTPASS+ reservations.

Preplanning as much of your trip as possible, such as making dining and FASTPASS+ reservations in advance, allows you to have greater control over your situation in general, and reduces the number of interactions you’ll have to have in the parks. Instead of waiting with strangers in a line, you’re taking care of business, having your meal or enjoying your ride. Remember, your reservations can now be made online or via a phone or tablet app, eliminating the need for small talk with a telephone agent.

Take advantage of online check-in.

Here’s another area where Disney has recently automated the process in a way that allows you bypass a small talk situation. You can now have Direct to Room Check-In at all the Disney World hotels. With Direct to Room Check-In, you input your identification and payment information via your home computer and can proceed directly to your room upon arrival at Walt Disney World, skipping the front desk entirely.

Rent a car.

Disney does have an extensive free transportation system that can get you where you need to go on property. But while the monorails, buses, and boats are great, they are filled with many other guests. If you need to decompress quickly after you leave the parks, you may be better off renting a car to get around. With your own vehicle, you obviously have more control over your time and will be able to get back into your bubble of personal space much more quickly.

IN SUM

I fear that I’ve made it sound like I hate being around other people. I promise I don’t. (If you see me in the parks, please stop and say “Hi.”) But I know enough about my introverted nature to understand that long periods of being “on” with unfamiliar folks makes me tired and eventually cranky. To be the best me, I need to temper my periods of social interaction with periods of solitude. This balance is certainly possible at Walt Disney World, but making the right choices can facilitate the process.

Are you an introvert? You find the Walt Disney World poses any special challenges as a vacation destination? Do you have any tips and tricks for maintaining introvert sanity in the parks? Let us know in the comments below.

Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel at DisneyWorldMoms.com, a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater. Erin can be reached on Twitter @MsErinFoster.

19 thoughts on “An Introvert’s Guide to Disney World

  • March 15, 2015 at 9:08 am
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    This was GREAT! As an introvert, I love these tips. One thing I’ll add to the part about traveling companions … my husband is an extrovert (opposites attract), but we work together well, because I can retreat into myself a bit while he makes small talk with cast members or people in queues, etc. He can function as my shield if I get overloaded. Makes it easier for me! 🙂

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    • March 15, 2015 at 3:41 pm
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      Great article, Erin!
      I’m the extrovert; wife is the introvert. She hates to be the center of attention, but loves to see me get picked on with Disney love. At a restaurant like WCC, we celebrate “my birthday” instead of “our anniversary”. Something to think about with all of the members of your travel party when it comes to the celebrations.

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    • March 18, 2015 at 10:30 am
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      I loved this article. Although I personally disagree, I’m “labeled” a strong introvert. Employer does lots of these kinds of tests as staff development. Thanks to my parents, I truly want/try to be extremely polite, nice, considerate, kind, courteous, etc. At home, I do not feel an obligation to be social if I’m not feeling “social”; HOWEVER, I LOVE BEING at the World. In recent years, I always do SOLO trips during one of the low seasons (January or May or September; some years two or three times a year). I can strike up a conversation with anyone; love to people watch; fly alone; dine alone; always use Magical Express/bus transportation; and truly enjoy chatting w/those around me. 99% of the time these conversations are great! For me personally, unlike at home, the conversations at WDW are, as expected, short/limited to the length of the bus ride or the time it takes to go through line for an attraction or wait for a parade/fireworks. This is PERFECT for me AND are all about a common topic – vacation at WDW. Several people have asked why I go to the happiest place on earth alone — that’s why — it is the happiest place on earth! It’s the one place where no one cares if a 50+ year old single is as “gitty” as a six year old and has just as as much fun!

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  • March 15, 2015 at 9:56 am
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    As an introvert who loves Disney World I found this article to be informative and an affirmation of strategies I use when visiting my happy place. I have sometimes wondered why as a highly sensitive introvert that I am not more overwhelmed when I am visiting the parks…..sometimes I think it is because I am just to happy when I am there. I do employ many of the strategies you mention in the article and look forward to trying some of the others. Thanks for writing from the introvert perspective!

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  • March 15, 2015 at 12:12 pm
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    Wonderful article. My husband and I don’t have kids and love to go to Disney, but we prefer to make our vacation as relaxing as possible–which we’ve found is entirely possible at WDW. For us, that means not engaging with major crowds. We always stay on property and take frequent breaks from the parks. We might miss spectacular things like fireworks and parades, but we’re okay with that.

    I have to second the tip to rent a car. If we don’t drive down there from home, we fly down and rent a car. I personally can’t think of anything more anxiety-inducing than being jammed on a bus with hyped-up (in the morning) and tired and crabby (in the evening) people. If you’re staying on property, you don’t have to pay for parking, so you can drive from park to park all day long if you want. It’s worth the extra cost for us.

    Like Erin, I swear I do like people. I love to gab with people in line (if they’re so inclined, otherwise I respect that) or at restaurants, I say hi and smile at people, and I enjoy watching little kids having a blast seeing their favorite characters. But I don’t believe you have to buy into the Hold-Your-Breath-and-Dive-Into-the-Crowds Disney-Park-Commando vacation style to have a good time there.

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  • March 15, 2015 at 1:52 pm
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    Honestly, best article ever on the blog and the bar was already pretty high. I love Disney World but tire when I’m there. I’ll be adopting lots of the suggestions here. It never occurred to me to look at it like that. Thank you!

    Reply
  • March 15, 2015 at 4:30 pm
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    This was such an interesting read, as I’m someone who identifies as a hardcore introvert as well. I work from home, live in a big city where small talk between strangers isn’t really a thing, and I mostly fond myself glad of those things. My partner is a bit more outgoing than I am, but we tend to just keep our own company in our spare time. One thing I find really interesting about being at Disney is that I feel like my best possible self when I’m there. I am willing to be silly, talk to small children (something I find really hard at home).

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    • March 15, 2015 at 4:35 pm
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      Ugh, stupid “smart phone” sent before I was ready! Anyway, I just generally feel good about dorking out at Disney, and my boyfriend is much different there too. I think that’s why we always want to go back as soon as possible. We’re just our best selves there. 🙂 Excellent tips for people who like to keep things low key!

      Reply
  • March 15, 2015 at 4:36 pm
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    Even people who are extroverts can be sensitive to overstimulation — I’m extremely extroverted, but sometimes I’ve just had enough of visual input and noise. It’s not that I need to be by myself, it’s that I need my kids to speak in NOT THE TOP OF THEIR EXCITED VOICES.

    One great thing about this article is that I think every single one of these tips is completely applicable to those who might be stimulation-sensitive, whatever their general tolerance for people is.

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  • March 15, 2015 at 4:38 pm
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    Great article. I make sure we arrive at the resort a full day ahead of the the park passes just to acclimatize. Last year I also realized there would be no fast passes until about 1 pm the first day in the park, which is always Thanksgiving Day. It is just too much.
    I do have one extra tip for those on scooters. Spaceship Earth requires you to enter at a side entrance which is great. Unfortunately I didn’t know that and started up the ramp. I was gently told I would have to back down. As a novice on the scooter I managed to back over both my husband’s feet. Not good!

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  • March 15, 2015 at 5:15 pm
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    l love to enter MK at rope drop with a good book and something to drihk/eat, grab a table just off main street, enjoy my surroundings, and gaze at people rocketing past.
    Tired in the afternoon? Raft to Tom Sawyer Island and rock for a while at Aunt Polly’s or sit in the shade behind Aunt Polly’s, at one of The picnic tables.
    Animal kingdom Lodge’s veranda is a great kickback place.

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  • March 15, 2015 at 5:41 pm
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    As an introvert, I don’t have any problem, even at the most crowded times. As long as I don’t have to interact with the crowds around me, they don’t bother me. It’s not like anyone’s forcing you to meet all those people. I just ignore them (to the best of my ability).

    Reply
  • March 15, 2015 at 6:04 pm
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    Awesome article! I felt like you were talking about ME the whole time! (LOL)… Really good points, a little “bubble time” is very helpful to the overall experience for some of us.

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  • March 15, 2015 at 6:20 pm
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    Thank you for this. As an extrovert married to an introvert, this was helpful. But the most helpful tip was about the celebrations. It will be my son’s birthday, he will be 5 and has some special needs. Half the time he loves it when people sing happy birthday to him, but half the time it freaks him out and he screams. I didn’t want him to miss out on the special attention that he COULD love, so I let Disney know about is bday. But combined with the stimulation of the park, it would probably be better to not do this. The pin is a definite ‘no’, but I wonder if I could share his anxiety with the restaurants so he’s not sung to, but still given a cupcake and simply told happy birthday? Is this a note that I should add to each dining reservation, or tell them at each restaurant? To be honest, having to personally share about my son’s struggles at each of the many table service restaurants we’ll be dining at sounds exhausting, but I’ll do it if it’s the best way.

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  • March 15, 2015 at 7:55 pm
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    I agree with everything!! I’ll take heat over crowds any day and a car is a MUST! And even though we like Biergarten, the communal table thing can be a deal breaker!

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  • March 15, 2015 at 8:30 pm
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    Great article. I am an introvert and although I can pass as an extrovert for a while, sometimes overstimulation can hit at Disney. The tip about retreating into a crossword puzzle is a good one: I also load my smart phone with a few good ebooks. I definitely found the ’50s Prime Time Cafe a little bothersome even though it wasn’t our table that was getting the “mom” treatment.

    One good spot to retreat to: there are some large spaces with benches for sitting inside the Innoventions buildings at Epcot, good for sitting around out of the hubbub and reading a book. Unlike at a restaurant no one is waiting for your seat.

    Also at Epcot, after the lunch rush is over, the downstairs cafeteria at The Land becomes a good quiet spot where you can get a cup of tea and sit with no one rushing you.

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  • March 15, 2015 at 10:28 pm
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    We just got back from WDW and the crowds yesterday were “average” according to Touring Plans. On the way back to our hotel the bus was extremely crowded. My extroverted 21 year old niece ended up having a panic attack in that crush of people. She barely kept from getting hysterical and bolted off the bus at its first stop in our resort. She had to walk quite a way to our room. She told us it was preferable to the crowded bus. When we went back later in the evening I called a cab. From Riverside to MK it was 13.00 and a much calmer situation for all of us.

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  • March 16, 2015 at 9:14 pm
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    If you cannot avoid crowded times, try doing things at night. Even when its crowded, its easy to “disappear” when its dark and people are looking up at the lights. Even most of the queues are darker or lit differently at night.

    Also, if you want to get out of your comfort zone, try meeting the costumed characters. My wife and I wanted to do something different on one of our trips so we went out of our way to meet the fab 5. Donald, Daisy and Minnie were very calm. It was easy to step in, get a picture and step out “unnoticed”. Goofy was fun. I was little uncomfortable with the interaction but the handler and goofy helped make everything feel more like we were the only people there. But talking Mickey, wigged us out! I think it was awkward for everyone. It was a weird combination of star struck and not knowing who to talk to. But well worth the story and the photos. We have been 4 times since that fab 5 experience and the most memorable thing is still Goofy sneaking a kiss with my wife when I went to scan my photo pass.

    Someday, we will get up the nerve to do a face character meet and greet! I kid… that will never happen.

    Reply

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