Keeping Up with the World While You’re at Walt Disney World: Part One, Television

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One of the aspects of a Walt Disney World vacation that I enjoy the most is that you can easily live “in the bubble” and have no contact with the rest of the world. You can pretend that the world outside has disappeared and all that exists is Mickey Mouse and cupcakes and double rainbows and twinkling lights – kinda like the G-rated version of Vegas.

Double rainbow over the Contemporary

But what happens if you, gasp, want to have some news from elsewhere? What happens if you want a little non-Disney entertainment in your life? If you’re like me, your first instinct could be to power on the telly. (Sad, but true.)

Every hotel room on property has a television, or in the case of suites and villas, more than one television. But just because the TV is there, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get the same infinite number of channels that you have access to home. Nor is the Disney hotel TV experience anything like what you’ll find in other hotel situations – no pay per view first run films or soft core channels here. There’s no danger that the kiddos will accidentally encounter something untoward while they’re flipping through the channels. Depending on your point of view, this could be a godsend, or a bit of a bummer.

So what is available on your in-room TV?:

  • Major networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, CW
  • A heavy dose of ESPN: ESPN, ESPN Classic, ESPN 2, ESPN News, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Wide World of Sports
  • Basic news: CNN, CNN Headline, MSNBC, CNBC, ABC News Now
  • Lifetime: Lifetime TV, Lifetime Movie Network
  • Specialty networks: The Weather Channel, BET, TBN, iOn, The Golf Channel, local independents
  • The comfort of home for international guests: Univision, Telefutura, DW (Deutsche Welle), TV Japan, CCTV (Central China Television)
  • The wonderful world of Disney media: Disney Channel, Radio Disney (delivering audio), Toon Disney, Disney XD, ABC Family, SoapNet (soon ending)
  • In-house channels: Must Dos at WDW, Walt Disney World Today (Park hours, Entertainment Schedules, etc), Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed (Disney Vacation Club sales propaganda), Your Disney Resort (info about your specific hotel), Your Next Disney Vacation (sales info for Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney, other Disney parks), Company Clips (short segments of Disney TV shows and movies), Disney convention information, Duffy bedtime story
  • Spanish and close-captioned versions of several of the above

It's difficult to ignore the TV in the room

While the bare bones items are covered, a quick glance will tell you what’s missing: movie channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.), non-Disney children’s programming (anything Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, etc), cable staples (USA, Bravo, Food Network, Comedy Central, MTV, etc.), non-ESPN sports (MSG, CBS Sports, etc.), and much, much more.

Logically, the relative paucity of TV options make sense; the powers that be want you out in the parks buying t-shirts and Diet Coke, not holed up in your room glued to a Psych marathon. The heavy emphasis on Disney branded or controlled networks also scans. You are a captive audience, they’d be silly not to take advantage of this.

So what’s the big whoop? You’re there on vacation to see things and do things. Why do you care what’s on TV? Here are a few situations where the Disney TV situation may matter to you:

  • It’s time for the big game. I’ve been told by some (OK, my husband) that there are some football/baseball/basketball games that simply cannot be missed. But if YOUR game is not on the Florida version of a major network or ESPN, they you’ll need to find an alternative viewing venue. The obvious logical choice is the ESPN Club restaurant at the Boardwalk resort. They have a gazillion big screens, cold brew on tap, and hella good wings. The possible problem with this is that if the game is really, really big, then loads of other folks will have the same idea. During our 2010 Christmas visit to WDW, dear hubby trotted over to ESPN to watch the Giants in the playoffs (or something like that). When he got there, the wait to get inside was an hour and half long. He ended up watching the game at the bar of an off-campus Chili’s.
  • When it’s a special episode of a big show. Let’s face it, there are some TV programs that are events. You want to see them when they’re actually on – to be part of the cultural buzz. An example of this might be something like the season or series finale of a show like the Sopranos or Mad Men. Yes, of course you can set your Tivo to grab the show at home, or perhaps do a next-day download on to your iPad on iTunes (made somewhat easier with Disney’s recent easing of the Wifi reigns), but if you want real-time, you’ll have to belly up to that bar at Chili’s again. And that gets complicated when someone’s got to hang back and watch the kiddos.
  • When you’re trapped in your room. On several Disney visits, one of my kids has been slammed with an illness that required rest and recovery “house-bound” in the hotel room for a day or two. While Hannah Montana reruns will do the trick for a while, after hour seven or eight, you’re going to want some variety. If you’re in a villa-style room with a DVD player, you can run down to the gift shop to buy or rent a movie. Otherwise, you’re stuck. My solution, fill that iPad to the brim with kiddie favorites, just in case.
  • When you have a ritual viewing routine. Hubby and I like to watch the Daily Show before lights out. It’s familiar; it’s comforting; it frames the flow of our day. And it doesn’t happen at Walt Disney World. I’ve made my peace with this one. I’m happy to lulled into oblivion by the sonorous sounds of Stacy on her endless quest to explore the best of WDW. But hubby has complained about it during every one of our dozens of Disney visits. Forewarned is forearmed.
  • The Must Do is an unavoidable must watch


    In an upcoming post, I’ll explore what your on-site options are for newspapers, magazines, and books. But in the meantime, let us know what your experiences have been with the resort television situation. How do you cope without your usual lineup? Or are you too busy touring to even notice that there’s a set in the room? Let us know in the comments below.

    UPDATE: 3/28/12 Disney is expanding the television offerings at the resorts.

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Posted on December 15, 2011

8 Responses to “Keeping Up with the World While You’re at Walt Disney World: Part One, Television”

  • To a tech-addict there is an easy solution to this, with just a little investment in hardware (and if you are at one of the resorts that charge for internet, another payment of 9.99 for access). And that is the SlingBox. I can literally watch my TV set and all it’s channels at home from anywhere in the world on my laptop. All my stuff DVR’d through the course of my day at WDW.. I catch up on while the kids are asleep.

  • Great article! One of those little things that people don’t think about when they are planning their trip. I usually don’t divert away from ESPN and The Weather Channel. I almost completely missed Nebraska joining the Big Ten last year because I was at WDW when it happened! Plus it’s always worthwhile to see where those afternoon thunderstorms are going to go. Can’t wait for the rest of this series!

  • Fortunately this hasn’t been an issue for me. There’s very little I feel the need to watch as it’s broadcast (mostly sports), so everything else is waiting for me when I get home, either on DVR or network websites or other online services.

    Still a good topic to travelers to keep in mind.

  • Usually my wife and I will take a break in the middle of the day from the parks, around 2-5pm. When relaxing in the room, we use Netflix or our Slingbox. Like Fred said, its pretty neat, because we can watch DVR’d shows from our house while kicking back in the room. It’s also a good way to unwind from all the sensory overload that can occur in the parks sometimes.

    This also helps us avoid the most crowded times in the parks, and is especially nice when there are extra evening hours. So when most people are wiped out and heading home, we are back in the parks full of energy.

  • There are TVs in the room? I missed that on our last trip. Too busy trying to get to TSM.

  • What about AMC and the Breaking Bad finale on Sept 29?

    • As noted in the Update link at the bottom of the article, AMC was added to the Disney hotel room channel listings in mid-2012. Enjoy the finale.