True confession time: I am rarely happier than when I am in my own home, in my comfy sweats, consuming a book or movie, and enjoying a glass of tea or wine (depending on the hour). This Class-A introvert could easily putter for weeks without leaving the house. But despite my love of bunny slippers, inertia, and Riesling (preferably in combination), I manage to drag myself out for travel, often Walt Disney World travel, on a regular basis.
But why? I mean, travel is expensive, tiring, uncomfortable, and sometimes just a downright pain in the tush.
Seriously, why bother?
As uncomfortable and annoying as many aspects of travel are, the benefits are many. Some of the positive aspects of travel, any travel, could be:
- Education: Learning new things.
- Novelty: Humans seek new experience. Travel quells the thirst.
- Nostaliga: You’ve traveled before. Repeating the experience evokes pleasant memories.
- Escape from Reality: Travel takes you away from humdrum obligations at home.
- Relaxation: Being chill.
- Change of Climate: You’re cold, you go somewhere warm (or vice versa).
- Meeting New and Interesting People
- Enhanced Relationships with Travel Companions: shared experience makes bonds.
- Comfort: Aspects of your destination might be better/nicer or more comfortable than home.
- Altruism: Expanding yourself by helping others.
- Confronting Fears: Stepping out of your comfort zone.
- Trying New Foods.
- Moving Your Body: A chance to exercise.
- Experiencing the Natural World.
Now let’s see how a trip to Walt Disney World measures up on these criteria.
How does Disney stack up? Not bad.
For what’s often called “just a theme park,” Disney stacks up quite well on the education front, particularly for children. Virtually everything in EPCOT has at least some educational component. For example, the Living with the Land attraction gives loads of good information about agriculture and sustainability, Test Track teaches a bit about auto design, and there’s something to learn in all the World Showcase countries. The Animal Kingdom also gives great information about our natural world. Will you learn more if you’re actually farming, standing in a real Parisian bakery, or exploring the Serengeti? Of course you will, but sometimes circumstances make a simulacrum a worthy second choice.
Additionally, for most Americans there’s a great education in cultural literacy to be had from at least the first few visits to a Disney park. So many people have visited the parks in the past that they have become part of our cultural fabric. It couldn’t hurt to be at least moderately conversant in this.
How does Disney stack up? Great!
The place is huge – as large as many cities. Certainly any first-time visitor will find no shortage of new stimuli. Over here there’s a thrill ride; over there you see a Broadway-style show; look up at the fireworks; try the Harissa Chicken Roll in the Morocco pavilion. Even repeat guests will find fresh stimulation. I lost count somewhere around my 50th visit to Walt Disney World and I still find new things to do/see/eat/ride/explore during every trip.
How does Disney stack up? Anywhere from amazing to meh, depending on your background.
If you come from a family of Disney-goers, then returning to the parks with your own children can provide you with a rush of sense memory like nothing else. A Mickey bar might be your madeleine. If you don’t have a personal Disney history, then you might find that certain discrete elements of the parks trigger the comfortable feelings of times gone by.
Escape from Reality
How does Disney stack up? Heck yeah!
There is perhaps nowhere other than Vegas that gets you as far away from your real life as quickly and for as long as Walt Disney World. The strongly themed, immersive environments extend from the theme parks to the hotels, and everywhere in between. Leave the TV in your room on the Stacey channel and rest of the world simply disappears.
How does Disney stack up? It’s got it if you want it.
I’ll admit that it’s not easy to get in relaxation mode at Walt Disney World. There is SO MUCH to do and see. There is no volume control on the siren song of spending all day in the parks. But if you really want to chill out, you can definitely do this. Stay at one of the calmer, quieter resorts (Fort Wilderness, Old Key West), nap at the pool, and build in lots of down time and the stress will melt away.
Change of Climate
How does Disney stack up? It depends on your starting point.
Yes, Disney World is hot, hot, hot in the summer, but during the winter it can be the best medicine for those snow-up-to-your-eyeballs blues. I used to plan a trip to WDW during almost all of my kids’ February breaks because getting out of the polar vortex of New York into warmer climes was the only thing that kept me sane.
Meeting New and Interesting People
How does Disney stack up? Not bad.
Sure, you’re going to get a greater concentration of outwardly different people if you visit a foreign land, but there’s plenty of foreign land (and for you, that might mean Nebraska) that visits Central Florida. Perhaps the most obvious way to get learn from interesting people is to chat with the cast members in the EPCOT World Showcase countries. Most are actually from the countries represented in the Showcase pavilions and they’re happy to teach you about their home turf. You can also learn a lot just by chatting with the other guests you meet in lines and sitting by the pool.
Enhanced Relationships with Travel Companions
How does Disney stack up? Pretty well.
Disney World is designed so that most activities and attractions can be done by family groups with a wide range of characteristics. Yes, there are a few rides with height requirements, and a few of the character meals skew girly, but for the most part everything can be done by everybody. And really, actually doing things TOGETHER is step one in bonding. When my twins were five years old we took them and my 60-something parents to the Hoop Dee Doo Revue; both ages laughed equally. They still sometimes giggle together about all the bear puns.
Disney does have a moderate reputation as being a place where families come to yell at each other. Circumstances like crowds and heat can certainly exacerbate tensions, but my guess is that the yelling families at Disney also yell at each other a home.
How does Disney stack up? Um, how much money do you have?
Let’s just say up front that the Disney baseline is perfectly fine. The rooms are clean, the food is fresh, and the staff is cheerful, even at the value resort level. However, if you crave real comfort and you’re willing to pay for it, over-the-top luxury is certainly available.
How does Disney stack up? Not so great.
Disney itself does a decent job in the “helping others” sphere. They’re usually quite accommodating for guests on Make a Wish trips and the like. And the Disney cast members put in countless hours volunteering for many worthy causes. But if you’re looking to do your own organized helping while on a Disney vacation, you’re mostly out of luck (personal Pixie-dusting-it-forward acts aside). If you do want to add an element of altruism to your Walt Disney World visit, then I can think of no better place than the nearby Give Kids the World Village. GKTW is a non-profit organization that exists only to fulfill the wishes of all children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. They have volunteer opportunities nearly every day of the year.
How does Disney stack up? It depends.
Believe it or not, some folks make their vacation plans with the aim of stepping outside their comfort zone. While a trip to Walt Disney World offers an entirely different set of boundary pushing experiences than, say, solo backpacking through Nepal, depending on your fears and concerns, Disney can be a wonderful place to stretch yourself.
For example, if you have a fear of heights, there are attraction baby-steps you can take to overcome this. You can go on Soarin’ knowing that the ride has been tested time and time again for safety and simply focus on your personal process. The Disney environment offers challenges in a controlled setting; for some issues this may be the perfect combination.
Trying New Foods
How does Disney stack up? Yummy! And Yummy Plus if you visit during the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival.
My favorite Disney vacation activity is dining, chiefly because there are so many options representing cuisines from all over the world. African, Asian, European, and South American tastes are all readily available. I’ve gained ten pounds just thinking about my next trip.
Moving Your Body
How does Disney stack up? Quite well.
If you want to get moving during a Disney vacation, there is ample opportunity to do so. Nearly every Disney vacationer racks up at least seven or eight miles of walking per day. As a baseline, that’s more than most Americans typically get. Beyond that, all the Disney resort hotels have swimming pools, and many have well equipped health clubs with cardio and weight equipment. Running trails abound. The water parks have many swimming opportunities, plus you’re climbing lots of stairs to get to those slides.
And I haven’t even mentioned the dozens of runDisney events, competitions at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Center, or ancillary activities such as horseback riding, tennis, canoeing, or archery, all available on site.
Experiencing the Natural World
How does Disney stack up? Moderately poorly.
Disney World is a largely man-made place. Even the lakes were put there by human design. You can certainly learn many things about the natural world at the Animal Kingdom, but places to be part of nature are few and far between. I do enjoy the walking path which connects the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. This quiet patch of green allows views of ungroomed vegetation and often a glimpse of a wild deer family. But situations like this are few and far between at Disney World.
What are your goals when planning a vacation? Why do you travel? Do you think a trip to Walt Disney World helps you achieve those goals? Let us know in the comments below.
First published April 25, 2014. Revised May 17, 2021.