If you’ve been to Walt Disney World one time or fifty times, chances are your trips have logistically all taken on a similar form. A flight or long car ride into the Orlando area, maybe a taxi, shuttle, or Magical Express ride to Walt Disney World property if you flew, and then getting around property using Disney’s occasionally efficient system of buses, ferry boats, and monorails. Sure there might have been some experiments with a rental car thrown in to facilitate a visit to Harry Potter and his friends at Universal, the beach, or to watch cars drive in circles for hours at Daytona…but odds are that most of your travel to and around Walt Disney World has been contained to the modes mentioned.
Should the day come when you find yourself in the state of Florida for some other reason, be it work or play, and Mickey’s gravitational pull proves too much to bear, you may find yourself deciding to drive over to a Walt Disney World theme park for the day, like it were Six Flags or something. There are facets of this experience that will be quite different and maybe even a little jarring to a Walt Disney World vacation vet.
(Let’s stop for a minute to mention people who live in Central Florida and visit Walt Disney World exclusively as a local day guest: 1. We are all a little jealous of you, and 2. You probably can expand on every single point I make in this article, so please join us in the comments. Oh yeah, and 3. We’re really really jealous, like for real.)
So here are six things that you can expect as a Walt Disney World vet if you are taking a one-day trip for the first time:
1.DRIVING AROUND WALT DISNEY WORLD IS DIFFERENT THAN RIDING IN A BUS
You know how you ride around Walt Disney World property and see the purple and red road signs? You think to yourself that they are a cool feature of property and give you that “I’m somewhere different from the real world” feeling. Those are an absolutely necessary Godsend if you are actually driving a vehicle throughout property…and on first inspection they might make no sense. You may have the layout of property etched on your brain, so it makes no sense to you when you see that Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Wide World of Sports are in one direction while Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the Epcot Resorts are in the opposite direction.
But you need to remember that these are road signs, they are helping you take roads in the right direction. They are not pointing to spots on property. It may sound crazy but on my first time driving around property, I found myself second guessing the road signs as if I somehow knew more about where things were at Disney World than the urban planners did. Speaking of things you’ll learn while behind the wheel…
2. DISNEY CHARGES YOU TO PARK…AND THE PARKING LOTS ARE WILDLY INCONVENIENT
It costs $20 to park a car at a Walt Disney World theme park. Thankfully Disney has not yet instituted parking fees at the resort hotels so this will be a shock even to people who have rented cars in the past. Also a shock: how far away from the parks many parking lots can be. Expect to walk a while to a spot where you will queue up for a tram and then get dropped off at some point requiring another walk to the gate. This might be a giant surprise to people who are used to getting dropped off a few feet from the bag check. An even bigger surprise is in store at the Magic Kingdom where the tram ride only delivers guests to the Transportation & Ticket Center. From there you must queue up for a monorail or ferry boat, load onto that, ride it across Seven Seas Lagoon to the Magic Kingdom, and then finally reach a point nearby to where busses drop off. And all of this convenience ONLY costs $20!
3. YOU MUST OBEY THE ACTUAL PARK HOURS
Disney posts park hours for their theme parks but saavy (or simply conscious) resort hotel guests can generally ignore them and expect to spend more time in the parks most days. Unfortunately for you, day guest, Extra Magic Hours are a perk that you will not be able to enjoy. In fact, time in general isn’t on your side when you are a day guest. It is an all-too-common tip for guests to head to the parks early in the morning, take a break in the afternoon, and return for a full night of fireworks and e-ticket attractions with smaller lines. As a day guest, you certainly CAN visit a park from open to close but that midday break isn’t going to be practical. For one thing, you don’t have a resort hotel to go nap or swim at. You also can’t even really leave property to go anywhere because the time constraints of getting to your car, driving somewhere, doing whatever you’re going to to, driving back, parking again, and returning to the park will eat up WAY more time than is reasonable and prudent. You also need to take into consideration the driving time between the park and your final destination at the end of the day. It is easy to stay in the parks for the “kiss goodnight” when you know that a nice bus driver is going to take you on a ten minute drive to your hotel room during which you can alternate snoozing with hearing terribly misinformed trivia “facts” about the Resort.
4. LOCKERS ARE YOUR FRIEND
There is a reason why Disney offers lockers to rent at the entrance to every park. They know how good they are at providing you with tons of useless junk to purchase and then have to lug around all day. Without a resort hotel room to return your souvenirs, collectibles, and tchotchkes to, your only hope to avoid walking around the park looking like you’re simultaneously running The Amazing Race is to rent a locker. Plus one of Disney’s best resort hotel perks is unavailable to you: resort package pickup. You either have to keep buying to a minimum, save it for the end of the night, or rent a few strollers just to wheel your stuff around in.
5. YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO MAKE SOME HARD CHOICES
At some point in the early stages of planning your day, you’re going to have to decide which park is most important to you. Park hopping is possible but time consuming so you will likely have to decide on a single park to visit, much akin to deciding between one of your children. Then you will need to decide which remaining available Fastpass+ reservations you will opt for (I say “remaining” because you get to pick them 30-days later than everyone else.) Also gone are the days of missing something or finding something broken and deciding you will simply “ride another day.” If you waste too much time standing in line, or walking back and forth to your rented locker, or it rains, you’re simply out of luck when the park closes.
6. THE WITHDRAWAL COMES HARD AND FAST
Do you know that amazing feeling when you step out from under the train station and see Cinderella Castle in full view for the first time? The feeling where you know that your whole trip is ahead of you and the magical possibilities are endless? How about that feeling when you know you are swiping the last day off your ticket and it will be many months or (gasp) years before you visit again? Imagine those feelings coming only minutes apart. You may literally find yourself mourning for the end of your trip before you even eat lunch on your first, or should we say one and only, day. A one day trip changes the entire perspective of visiting Walt Disney World. It becomes one of many activities and experiences during your trip instead of the grand culmination of months or years of meticulous planning, saving money, and a nightly “I better get into shape for the theme parks” walking regiment.
So after reading all this you might wonder if it is all worth it. Should Disney trips only happen as weeklong vacations? Of course not. As it turns out, Splash Mountain is just as wet, talking Mickey is just as vapid, and Mickey Premium Bars melt just as fast for day-guests as for the two-week vacationing British family. Visiting Disney is totally worth it in all circumstances. You just need to realize that it won’t be the same as going on a longer trip. Getting around takes time and patience. Almost everyone driving around property is just as unfamiliar with the area as you are so you need to be extra careful on the highways (and extra prepared to fork over $20 at the gate.) Getting around take more time, between waiting for parking lot trams and driving to and from a final destination off-property. Some of Disney’s perks will not be available to you but I personally do not feel that Disney makes anyone feel like a second class citizen in this regard. The day will be just as magical and the smiles will be just as bright on a one day trip as on a longer one. It’s just a darn shame when it goes by so fast.