Disney Tourist Manners: How Bad Is It?

by on December 4, 2013 117 Comments

Filed under: Trip Planning, Walt Disney World (FL)

We all have opinions about proper theme park etiquette.

THIS is the way you should behave in public. THAT behavior is inappropriate. Can you believe he did THAT?


But while some tourist infractions are universally reviled, other perceived transgressions may simply be stylistic matters or mutable cultural differences. And as with any opinion-based topic, there’s bound to be a substantial gray area. What slightly miffs one person might absolutely horrify another. In the interest of promoting discussion, here are some commonly mentioned theme park infractions and my personal assessment of their level of severity.

I’m going to rank items on a scale of 1-5.

  • 1 = Perfectly fine. No bother at all.
  • 2 = Mildly annoying.
  • 3 = Pretty yucky.
  • 4 = Bad. This is really no way to behave.
  • 5 = Really super bad. Just stop now, you’re embarrassing yourself and those around you.

Stopping in the middle of a walkway.

What’s the issue?: You’re lost and need to consult your park map. Instead of pulling over to the side, you stop in the middle of a walkway to get your bearings.

My rating: 2 to 3, depending on the crowd level.

My rationale: When you stop with no warning in the middle of a walkway, the folks behind you have to stop short or possibly run into you, or possible have others run into them. If the park crowds are low, it’s relatively easy for the folks behind you to course correct. If park crowds are high, someone’s going to get hurt.

Taking flash photos during an attraction.

What’s the issue?: You want to commemorate your experience. The ride is dark. You use your flash to take a photo.

My rating: 3 if it’s a standard dark ride. 5 if it’s an attraction with live human performers.

My rationale: If the attraction has no prohibition against general photography and you’re able to take shots without flash (It’s a Small World, for example), be my guest. However, if it’s a ride that takes place primarily in the dark (Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion) your flash will take other guests out of the immersive experience of the attraction as well as exposing machinery or other backstage elements that are meant to be hidden. Plus, flash photos rarely come out well, making your intrusion on the experience of others all for naught. If you’re taking flash photos during a show which involves human performers (like Finding Nemo The Musical), not only are you bothering other guests, you’re providing a distraction to the performers that could result in physical injury.

I'm glad you're happy, but there's no need to cheer about it.

I’m glad you’re happy, but there’s no need to cheer about it.

Talking during an attraction.

What’s the issue?: The show’s going on and you’re yapping with your companions or yammering on your cell phone.

My rating: 1 to 4, depending on the circumstances.

My rationale: I think we can all give a pass to a parent who quietly whispers “look at the giraffe” to a toddler during It’s A Small World. And “look at the giraffe” can be downright helpful on Kilimanjaro Safari. Comments like these are innocuous and related to the situation at hand. However, anything that takes other guests out of the environment is a big no-no. It may be your 50th time on the Carousel of Progress, but it could be someone else’s first. They don’t want to hear your singing. And no one, I mean no one, wants to hear half of a cell phone conversation during an attraction at Disney World.

Changing you baby’s diaper on a park bench.

What’s the issue?: Your little one needs a change so you decide to take care of business on the nearest flat surface.

My rating: Ewwwwww – 5.

My rationale: There are changing tables in nearly every rest room, male and female, at Walt Disney World. There are dozens of restrooms in every theme park. Take three extra seconds and head to the bathroom to change the nappy. You’ll keep the spread of diaper-related mess and germs to a contained area and you’ll have access to water for proper clean-up.

Hotel doors are public space. Should they be decorated?

Hotel doors are public space. Should they be decorated?

Saying it’s your birthday when it’s not.

What’s the issue?: You can’t make it to Walt Disney World on your actual birth date, but you want to celebrate your big event at the parks. Wear the birthday button and celebrate on an alternate day.

My rating: 1. Have fun!

My rationale: Disney makes it quite clear that if you’re celebrating, they’re celebrating. Those birthday buttons and occasional free cupcakes are a marketing tool for Disney. They make people happy; happy people spend more money; happy people tell their friends about their happy times at the parks. Don’t abuse the system by having 10 or 12 birthdays a year, but if you are legitimately celebrating something, feel free to do so whenever seems most appropriate.

Bringing a young child to a signature restaurant.

What’s the issue?: Signature restaurants serve gourmet food at gourmet prices. Is this the place for tiny tots?

My rating: 1. Go ahead and take the whole family.

My rationale: With the exception of Victoria & Albert’s, anyone is welcome at any Disney restaurant at any time. You’ll see babies, toddlers, and preschoolers dining with their families at signature restaurants throughout the World. That being said, you should be cognizant that signature meals can be expensive. Some folks may be there for their one vacation splurge or on an important date night. If you are bringing a little one to a signature meal, try to make it an early seating and be prepared to step outside for a bit if the child gets fussy.

I don't want to look at your half-chewed food any more than you do.

I don’t want to look at your half-chewed food any more than you do.

Forcing your child to go on a ride.

What’s the issue?: The rest of the family wants to go on Space Mountain but little Bobby doesn’t. He’s crying and you’re telling him to get on that ride, or else.

My rating: I want to say 5, but I’m going with 3-4 because it’s your kid and I don’t know the whole story.

My rationale: Childhood fears can be real and quite intense. Forcing your child to experience an attraction he’s not yet ready for can inflict psychological damage and mar your child’s trust. Additionally, no one else on the ride wants to hear your child cry while they’re trying to have a good time. Maybe there’s something going on I don’t know about (he’s crying because he dropped his ice cream, not because he hates Space Mountain), but actually forcing your child onto a ride is bad news.

Feeding the birds.

What’s the issue?: In addition to Donald, there are plenty of avian ducks, and gulls, and egrets that make Walt Disney World their home. Maybe they’d like some popcorn?

My rating: 4.

My rationale: The food served at the parks is designed for people, not birds. Chances are whatever you’re tossing to the ducks has too much salt and not enough nutrients for their metabolism. You may be doing them physical harm. Also, feeding the birds makes them aggressive (I’ve been dive-bombed by a gull at The Boardwalk who had eyes on my funnel cake) and possibly contributes to disease by causing them to excrete in human areas.

Participating in group cheers or chants in the park.

What’s the issue?: We’re here with a tour group, cheer group, or sports team. YAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!

My rating: 4.

My rationale: I’m glad you’re happy, really I am. But I want to be on my vacation, not yours. When 200 people march through the parks cheering at the top of their lungs, it detracts from my ability to talk to my own family. Keep the noise to normal conversational levels.

Tipping is expected at table service restaurants.

Tipping is expected at table service restaurants.

Decorating your hotel room door/window.

What’s the issue?: I’m celebrating and I want to tell the world by decorating my hotel room door.

My rating: 3.

My rationale: To me, this is the visual equivalent of cheering in the parks. I’m glad you’re happy, but I don’t need your celebration to be my celebration. If I’ve paid gobs of money to see a particular type of decor at my hotel, I don’t want my sight line interrupted by incongruous clutter.

Leaving your used room service tray in the hall.

What’s the issue?: You’re done with your room service meal. You want it out of the room so you don’t have to look at the scraps any more.

My rating: 2.

My rationale: I get it, the protocol really is to put your tray in the hall when you’re done with your room service meal, but I don’t want to look at your half-chewed sandwich any more than you do. At least put a napkin over the plate.

Talking the hotel room hallways.

What’s the issue?: You’re chatting with your family, planning your day while you walk from your room to the elevator.

My rating: 4.

My rationale: This may seem harsh, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been woken by other guests chatting outside my hotel room door. The very nature of hotels means that people are coming from all over to rest and relax. If someone is from another time zone, their sleep hours may be different from yours. Maybe it’s taken hours for them to get the baby settled in a new environment. Maybe vacation is the only time they get to sleep late. Respect your fellow travelers and save the chat until you’re outdoors.

Not tipping your table service waiter.

What’s the issue?: What??? I’m supposed to tip my waiter 15%? Prices here are crazy, there’s no way I’m adding 15% on top of that.

My rating: 5.

My rationale: Look, you may not like it. It may not be the custom in your home country, but tipping 15-20% is standard practice at US table service restaurants. That’s just the way it is. Stiffing your waiter is wrong, and a “well, it’s not like where I’m from” argument isn’t going to fly.

Using R-rated language.

What’s the issue?: This place is @#$%^&*, ya know.

My rating: 5.

My rationale: I have no problem with your off-color language if you’re in adult company on your home turf. I’ll talk blue myself in appropriate circumstances, but dude, you’re at Disney World. There are little kids everywhere, even at the sports bar, even at the gourmet restaurants. Keep your chatter to PG levels, please.

Not having your camera ready during a character meet & greet.

What’s the issue?: Hey Mickey! Wait, where’s my camera? Ooops, gotta take of the lens cap. Is this thing on?

My rating: 3.

My rationale: While it seems like this might be only a level-2 infraction, I’m going to give it a 3 because lots of dilly-dallying means that fewer people will get to have time with the character. Picture something like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Line to see the Seven Dwarfs can easily be an hour long (or more, but let’s go with an hour). If eight people in the line take an unnecessary 15 seconds with the Dwarfs, then the two people at the end of the line probably won’t be able to get their photo op. Help out another guest by getting your camera ready ahead of your time.

OK folks, it’s discussion time. Let me know (nicely) what I got wrong. What would you rank differently? Are there other park infractions that merit ranking? Tell us what’s on your mind.

Posted on December 4, 2013

117 Responses to “Disney Tourist Manners: How Bad Is It?”

  • The middle of the sidewalk map checking is my absolute number one pet peeve at WDW. I can stand a little tour group chanting as long as it is outside, not at the top of their lungs and not inside the ride or attraction. (But please watch where you wave that flag, it is a lethal weapon)

  • Flash photography has gotten really bad. It seemed on our last visit that we couldn’t ride or watch anything with constant flashes going off every 10 seconds. There were constant flashes on Muppet Vision 3D. It’s in 3D – the pictures aren’t going to turn out!

  • I disagree with only 3 of these:

    “Decorating your hotel room door/window.: 3”

    I’d say 1-2, depending on how tacky/tasteful it is and at which hotel, only rising to a 3 if done at Grand Floridian, possibly Yacht/Beach club, or an elegant DVC resort. And always a 1 if done at a value resort, CSR, CBR, POFQ, or Fort Wilderness cabins. The theme at most Disney hotels is not so immersive that a room decoration distracts from it, and I think it’s fun to see how other people decorate.

    “Leaving your used room service tray in the hall: 2”

    Should be 1–as you say, this is what you’re supposed to do with a used room service tray!

    “Talking in the hotel room hallways: 4”

    Only if (1) loud and (2) unusually early or late (let’s say between 11 PM and 7 AM); reduce to 3 if only loud at a normal time, and 1 in a normal indoor voice. It’s a vacation hotel, not a chess tournament! (note, may not apply when the K-12 national chess championships occur at CSR).

  • Where does sneaking alcohol into MK fall? Not that I have ever down that *wink

  • My son for whatever reason screams EVERY time we go on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Tears and all. The second the ride starts his arms are in the air and he’s woohooing around every corner. Yes, I drag him on kicking and screaming the whole way because I know he loves it the second the ride starts. The attendant today actually asked me if he was ok before the ride started. At the end I was able to prove to her he was fine by his huge smile and his jumping up and down for joy. 🙂

  • Flash during dark ride is a 5! Had this happen on pirates a couple of years ago and I thought after about the sixth flash there was going to be a woman overboard. There are better pictures than what yours will turn out on the internet – find them.

    Situation not mentioned is cutting in line to meet your family. I give it a 2 if it’s bc a kid had to pee, otherwise it’s a 4 to me.

  • Not having your camera ready: I would even say that can get up to a 4-5 in some cases, but I’m coming at this from a different angle from most people— I’ve worked for a few years as an animal handler in a theme park (not DAK but the astute can probably guess). One of the jobs was to present the animals to take pictures with guests; not quite the same as with characters, but close.

    Please don’t think that I disparage our guests— most people are absolutely wonderful and it makes the job very fulfilling to be able to share these animals with them. However, there are always those few where it plays out something like this: step up to take their picture, THEN dig out the camera, then try to get all the kids into the picture, rearrange where everyone is standing, spend thirty seconds trying to get their child to look at the camera, oh hey look here comes your cousin let’s get them into the picture too, re-corral the kids because by this point they are distracted— wait, how does this thing work again? I can’t get it to work! Throw in on top of that, we’re trying to stay posed for the picture (and trying to keep a smile for about thirty seconds straight will make your face twitch), as well as keep the animal in a good position— and they get bored and fidgety just like children. Plus there is a line of other guests who are by now getting grumpy. All around exhausting.

    Now, Disney takes much more control over these situations, so they can get people through quickly and efficiently, so I’d guess they probably don’t have quite the same issues. But please keep in mind: whether it’s a character and their handlers or an animal and their trainers— they have a LOT of people to meet, and they’re going to be doing this for quite a long time, and probably several times a day. Please, please, PLEASE have your camera ready (and make sure the person taking the photo knows how to use it!) before you step up to take your picture.

    And we know things don’t run like clockwork— things happen, and besides, you want a chance to visit for a few moments! All we ask is a little effort to keep things running smoothly. And to those (the vast majority) who are courteous, respectful and try to be ready— you are awesome and you absolutely make our day.

    I do have one more thing to note— and this is the VERY rare group we get who does this, but is an absolute 5— a guest pretending that they do not speak English as an excuse to ignore staff instructions. For one, this gives a HORRIBLE reputation to other foreign visitors, who are perfectly wonderful but already have to put up with all sorts of prejudice, and that only adds to it. It’s disgusting. Second— the staff knows exactly what these people are doing— we’re not idiots. We’ve been at this long enough that we can usually tell when there is a genuine mix up or confusion, and when someone is deliberately being a jerk.

  • Hordes of obnoxious cheerleaders at DHS yesterday had us dodging their human tidal waves all day. Why does Disney spend time telling us to ‘stay behind the yellow line’, but allows these gangs to roam around unfettered?! Happiest place on earth? Only if one wanted bombarded by mindless cheers which drowned out the Disney talent. Where do I file a complaint with WDW?

  • I. hate. groups who yell and carry banners everywhere. I have such an unpleasant time around them, even though I know they’re just enjoying themselves and try to keep that in mind. I stayed at a value resort this summer along with a HUGE group from Brazil, and they were the RUDEST people I’ve ever endured. They were 15 year old girls with 18 year old chaperone boys… We called the front office multiple times when they were shouting and chanting outside of our rooms at 1 am. They were rude to the Cast Members and rude to everyone else. I truly wish I could have a calendar of when these groups are at WDW so I could avoid them completely.

    • I think they generally go at the end of July. During our first visit to WDW we stayed at All Star Movies and there was a huge, obnoxious group of Brazilian soccer players staying there. They were chanting very loudly at 10:30 at night. We called to complain and they stopped soon afterwards, but I’m not sure if it was because we called.

  • My wife and I love Disneyworld and I’ve been there myself as both a small child and teenager. Usually it’s rare that other guests annoy me in the parks (minus long lineups, but even then, it’s not a huge deal), but my wife and I took our honeymoon 3 years ago and stayed on-site at the Caribbean Beach. We had people in the room beside us who would wake up at 6am every morning (about 2-3 hours earlier than we were planning on starting our day) and get into a shouting match with their kids for 4-5 days straight (luckily we were there for 10 days ourselves and they were gone halfway through our trip), but it really took away the idea of a vacation from us. So being quiet and respecting your fellow neighbor on-site is huge in my eyes. The second mentioned above that was probably the worst experience I’ve ever had in the parks relates to the large group chants. There was a high school cheerleading convention in town (and also coincidentally enough, most of whom were staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort), and while waiting in the line for Tower of Terror, we somehow got sandwiched along with 10-15 other guests between two rival schools and they started chanting these mind-numbing chants back and forth at each other with us stuck in the middle. Tower of Tower as you all know is a lonnngggg line to be in with that going on. Finally, once we ended up closer to the tower itself, one of the cast members came down and basically told both groups to keep quiet or they’d both be tossed out of the park, so even when you run into annoyances, Disney is always looking out for everyone’s best interests and it worked out in the end.

  • I held of commenting for quite some time…..
    I dislike the tone of this blog entry for the following reasons:
    I choose to go on vacation to WDW. I choose to go to a place where I know there will be crowds. I know what human nature and human habits and humans on vacation are like.
    I can only change one person’s behavior, no matter how hard I rant: mine.
    I find it hypocritical–to say it as politely as possible–to choose as a vacation a place where the messages are of magic, friendship, human achievement and fun…and then choose to take part on a whine & cheese party about other people’s behavior. I see no need to foster–in any way–this us v. them mentality.
    On the rare occasion I have had an issue I could simply not walk away from, I contacted a CM. I chose to not let it bother me, and I hope I helped teach our children the same.
    I am reminded of the IllumiNations song added at the winter holidays: “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

    • I think the interesting thing about this thread (and its comments) is that you can learn what kinds of things annoy other people, which can help you be mindful not to do those things. For example, an article or thread like this one caused me to be aware that if we needed to stop and figure something out, rather than just stopping where we were we should move to the side. It wasn’t something that I automatically would have thought of.

      • Thank you, Stephen, for helping me to find the wheat among the chaff. That is an excellent way to look at this post and these comments.

  • I have decorated our door at POFQ and POP ever since we had a lady Pound on our door at midnight only to discover she had the wrong room. She didn’t even apologize. Since then we put a small Disney decoration at eye level.

  • The most annoying, obnoxious thing I’ve ever experienced at Disney happened during the 3 1/2 hour wait to meet Anna and Elsa in Norway. Standing a few people behind us during the interminable wait were two women who looked to be in their early twenties. (It’s possible they were in their late teens, but definitely old enough to know better.) After about two hours, they decided to liven up the queue by singing, loudly. They began with songs from Frozen. Once we heard all five of those songs 10 or so times each, they branched out to other Disney classics. I should note that they had good voices. It’s not like they were horrible. Little kids passing by (NOT in line) would stop to compliment them, which of course just egged them on. If I had the option to walk away when it got too annoying, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but we had already been waiting in line for two hours and weren’t about to throw in the towel. We were literally a captive audience. It was like their shrill, chirpy voices were coming from inside my brain. I’ve just never seen two adults act with such complete disregard for their surroundings. Thank god my husband brought me a margarita from Mexico or there might have been bloodshed.