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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.