Making Each Disney World Trip Special

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The face of "cool"

If you’re anything like my wife and me, you’re the envy of all your friends thanks to your knowledge of Walt Disney World; your vast collection of retro EPCOT Center t-shirts is lusted after throughout your community; and, your record of 37 consecutive rides aboard the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover graces signs as you enter your town: “Welcome to Mesa Verde, AZ – Home of L.C. Clench, TTA World Record Holder!” You are basically the coolest person in your social circles due to your love and frequent trips to Walt Disney World.

Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Possibly, rather than verbalizing their jealously, your friends sneer, “you’re going to Disney again?! You must really love spinning on the Tea Cups, flying in Dumbo, and visiting that haunted house!” when you share that you’re going on another trip. Now, you and I both know that these condescending comments are rooted in jealousy, so we are the ones who should feel sorry for these folks…right?

Still, it does introduce an interesting question: how do you keep your Disney trips “fresh” despite visiting on a yearly (or more) basis? Here are my suggestions:

1. Seasonal Events – The easiest, and quite possibly the best, way to differentiate your experiences is to travel during times of the year when seasonal events occur. Disney’s Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends is totally different than it is on a random weekend in August. I could spend days in Epcot without doing a single attraction during Food & Wine Festival. (In fact, I have!) Walt Disney World at Christmas is AMAZING. In fact, there’s a photo of Cinderella Castle all lit up in those icicle lights at Christmas in the dictionary next to the word “gorgeous.” (This “photo next to ___ in the dictionary” cliche is fun to use, but has anyone ever seen a dictionary with photos? I haven’t. It makes no sense!)

There are so many special events at Walt Disney World that with even a little bit of advance planning, even those with the most stringent of schedules should be able to plan their vacations so that they can hit some special event. If you do travel during these special events, embrace them! It’s certainly fun to do as many attractions as possible, but the memories we’ve made on our trips haven’t been during the days when we do as many attractions as possible, but on the days when we go at a slower pace and experience something unique. Most of these special events offer something for everyone, so give them a try. Even things like the runDisney weekends that, at first blush, may appear targeted only toward runners have a lot of offerings for all guests!

2. Dining – Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard of DisneyFoodBlog.com. That site’s mantra is “food is a theme park.” I’ve always interpreted that to be a suggestion of things to come–obviously AJ has inside information and is subtly hinting that the soon-to-be-announced 5th gate is food themed! ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN, HERE WE COME!

Dining is a big deal for a lot of guests visiting Walt Disney World, and rightfully so. While infrequent guests who don’t know the ropes are dismissive of theme park cuisine as being all “burgers and corn dogs,” they couldn’t be more wrong. Disney’s culinary options are many, varied, and can be quite compelling as an experience unto themselves. (Just browse our menus to see the thousands of mouth-watering dishes you can order!)

On our last trip, Sarah and I tried to snack around World Showcase (we failed). In the past, we’ve drunk around World Showcase (we succeeded!). We’ve gone from monorail resort to monorail resort sampling cupcakes. We’ve planned our days around visits to our favorite Signature Restaurants. Disney food can be absolutely amazing, and it’s something around which we normally plan our trips. Plus, there are fun dining options for guests of all budgets. A cupcake tour of Disney World from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Epcot (with stops at BoardWalk Bakery as you walk between the two) is surprisingly cheap, and a ton of fun. I know a lot of people eat off-site or bring their own food to save money, but if you’ve never given Disney dining a chance, I implore you to reconsider. The stereotypes about Disney theme park food are complete and utter misconceptions. Your dining experiences can totally change the tone of your trip.

3. Group Meets and Events – This is something to which I was opposed for a long time. Vacation time was our alone time away from everyone else, and we really had no desire to meet up with anyone else because that would encroach upon our special time together in the parks. While we still set aside time for this, we have come around on group meet-ups, realizing they can be a ton of fun. My first experience with this was a photography trip with some friends from Flickr in 2009. It was a blast. Then, we went even further with WDW Today Reunion in 2010. The amount of fun we had on that trip was mind-blowing.

You can find group meets on Twitter, Facebook, through podcasts, and even your favorite Disney-oriented websites. If you’re introverted (or if you constantly have your head in the clouds, like me), doing the group thing might seem challenging. It’s really not. Just jump into conversations before the group meets on Twitter or on discussion forums, and you’ll find that people are pretty welcoming. Meeting in person might be a little more nerve-wrecking for some, but once you get past that first five minutes or so, you’ll feel like long lost high school friends chatting. Remember, we’re all Disney nerds (although I prefer “Disney cool awesome-ists”) so you don’t have too much to worry about. The meets are a lot of fun and the group interaction is great and will make for unique trips.

4. Different Resorts – Staying at a Walt Disney World resort-hotel that’s different from your norm is a great way to change up your trips. If you love the monorail resorts and normally stay at the Polynesian, give the Beach Club a try instead. You might find that you spend more time in the pool, eat more ice cream, and visit Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios more by making the change. Changes from the All-Star Resorts to Pop Century will likely have a less-pronounced impact on your trip, but you will notice a difference.

If you’re truly crazy and want to make it a resort-intensive trip, try changing hotels every night or every other night of your trip. We’ve done this for the sake of research, and it’s actually a lot of fun! A trip like this will cut down your time in the parks, but sometimes that’s a good thing! On a recent trip, we started at Wilderness Lodge, then went to Coronado Springs, and then finished the trip at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Along the way, we spent an evening in the Club Level Lounge at the Polynesian. This resort-intensive trip was especially fun at Christmas, when we got to enjoy the ambiance of all those cool and unique decorations!

5. Trip Purposes – This can be as simple as celebrating a honeymoon, anniversary, or birthday, or as zany as theming your trip to “Nature” by staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, doing the Behind the Seeds at Epcot tour, and taking photos of every Egret you see in the Magic Kingdom. The sky is really the limit with this, and giving your trip a cohesive purpose or theme can be a great way to differentiate it on other trips. It’s easy for trips to blend together when looking back at them years after you’ve taken them, but if you create some fun focus for each trip, it’s a lot easier to remember the differences between particular trips!

These are just some ways that you can keep things fresh on your Walt Disney World trips. Ultimately, let’s be honest, you probably don’t need ways to continue to have fun at Walt Disney World (it’s truly something different each trip no matter how you slice it!), and if that’s the case, look at it this way… this list could serve as a great list of excuses for taking additional trips. “Honey, it’s imperative that we book a last minute trip this June for Star Wars Weekends. The crazy guy on the internet told me we have to do it!” I’ll gladly take the heat if your significant other doesn’t react favorably. Please tell them to direct all hate-mail to: Brian McNichols, 2501 North Third Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110-2098.

What do you think of our suggestions? What tips do you have for keeping your Disney trips special? Share your ideas in the comments!

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Posted on May 11, 2012

17 Responses to “Making Each Disney World Trip Special”

  • by Lorie Barber on May 11, 2012, at 11:59 am EDT

    We are literally picking up our kids from school in two hours to head straight to the airport for our 3rd Disney World trip. We center our vacations around my husbands conference schedule. Each trip we hit the main theme parks but try and add an off-site event as well. Plus we always visit different restaurants each trip even if we find a favorite. And as the kids age (now 10, 11 and 13) we find ourselves discovering new rides and attractions as they mature! They are actually looking forward to the Hall of Presidents this year!

  • by Andrew Drummond on May 11, 2012, at 12:03 pm EDT

    One of the things my wife and I are trying to do is bring different people with us each time.

    2 years ago we went with our newly adopted kids (such a fun time – nothing like having gone to WDW 5 times and then doing your first trip with kids)

    Last year was my wife’s best friend’s family (our first trip with a toddler)

    This year we are taking grandparents.

    We bought into DVC so it’s a little easier for us to add people to our trip, but we’re really looking forward each time to what we can show the other people.

  • What Andrew said! Our next WDW trip I’m planning will include a bunch of my friends from college (and either for May or October special events); hopefully after that I can drag in relatives for an early December trip, or I can direct at the National K-12 Chess Championships to get free airfare and partial hotel (they’re either at WDW or just off property every year in early December for the next five years)…we want to get in a trip in October sometime for Food & Wine and both Disney and Universal Halloween…and hopefully by the time that’s all done we’ll have toddlers to take to the parks!

  • Yes, I agree with Lorie. We always do something that we haven’t done before each time we go. As the kids get older, that is pretty easy. Each time we go the experience is a bit different. We definitely have our traditions…things we have done every year since we started going but the kids just naturally mix it up.

  • by Heather Louise on May 11, 2012, at 12:58 pm EDT

    I am planning our first trip to WDW for the end of September, and I am having a hard time keeping myself in check and not trying to see and do everything this first time. We happen to be going when there are three major seasonal events; a perfect storm of too much to do!

  • by Michelle C on May 11, 2012, at 1:04 pm EDT

    OMG!!! I got to the end and laughed out loud. Directing all the “complaint” mail to Brian is CLASSIC!!! You guys are too funny.

    • I also laughed out loud at “your” address at the end! Tom, this article was excellent–what great suggestions. Keep ‘em coming.

  • We always try to “save” something for the next trip. A restaurant, a ride, a character, a special event…we always have a list for our next vacation. With 7 trips in 6 years, we have gone different times of the year, enjoy what we can each time and we always come back for more!

  • We look for new characters for the kids. This September my 4 year old is begging to find pocahantes. We are learning as we go it is the interaction they remember more than the rides.

    • We’ve met Pocahantes several times at Animal Kingdom at the Conservation Station (is still called that?)

      • We were in AK last week. My daughter loves Pocahontas, but one of her handlers said she no longer appears in Rafiki’s Planet Watch. She is only by Camp Minnie & Mickey where her show used to be.

    • Thanks to everyone for their reply! We will definitely head there to see her!

  • I know I’m in the minority here, but seriously? We LOVE Disney and are going on our family’s third trip in 7 years in a few weeks. However, there are so many wonderful places in this country to visit. Part of what makes each Disney visit special is that we don’t go every year. That way when we do go it really IS special because it isn’t an annual (or more often) event. I love that each trip has been completely different because our kids were at different ages—toddlers, then preschool/young elementary, now older elementary. Our kids also appreciate our Disney trips more because they don’t come to expect them on a regular basis. Just something to think about….

    • @Jeani, I’m with you 100% for what it’s worth, for all of the reasons you eloquently state, even though I’d live in WDW if I could. ;-) Have been there 5 times since 1993 & it’s special each time.

  • It’s easy to fall into a pattern of visiting the same places again and again, which can become routine and less exciting. The good thing about Disney World is that there’s so much to see and do (I think they drilled that phrase into my head over years of watching their in room promotional videos) that you never do everything every time. There’s always something you wished you could see that will make the next trip exciting. You’re also dining at different restaurants and staying in different hotels, so you’ll have different experiences that add to the familiar things you must do every trip. I’ve also found that traveling with others, particularly if they are new to Disney or don’t know the tips and tricks that reader of the Unofficial Guide or this blog might know. Seeing how they react to things you show them and helping them appreciate how special the parks are is one of the best ways to spend a vacation.

    Oh, and regarding dictionaries with pictures, here’s an example of one available online: http://blachan.com/shahi/gorgeous

  • Really enjoyed reading this Tom – my trips to WDW have become more frequent over the last few years, and coming from the UK I get ‘you’re going there AGAIN?’ from a lot of my friends/family/co-workers!
    I love finding new things to do on our trips – it makes every vacation unique. Doing some of the tours offered is a great way to see more of the resort – I’ve really enjoyed the Keys to the Kingdom and Around the World on a Segway tours – this October I’m hoping to go on the Wild Africa Trek.
    Another thing we’ve loved are the speciality fireworks cruises – both the Illuminations and Wishes ones were spectacular.