Disney World Trip 2013: The Why and the What

I think we should start with a definition of terms.

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Ro and me in Animal Kingdom

Disneyland = Disneyland Resort  = Disneyland Park plus Disney California Adventure, with three hotels and a small entertainment district, is in Anaheim, CA. Disney World = Walt Disney World Resort, including four theme parks, 20+ on-site hotels, several entertainment areas, two water parks, etc., in Orlando, FL. Orlando/Central Florida is also home to Universal Resort (Universal Islands of Adventure plus Universal Studios parks), Sea World, Busch Gardens, etc.

Since I’m from California, a 70-minute drive from Disneyland, I understand why some were confused when I said I was planning a trip to Disney World. You see, Disneyland is a daytrip destination, and one I’ve been visiting since early childhood (I estimate I’ve made 30+ day-long trips, plus many shorter trips during the one year I had an annual pass). But Disney World is a vacation destination. And one I’ve been blessed to visit (as a sentient, non-infant being) five times now.

Think about the logistics of choosing a Disney vacation. Disneyland has two parks, and unless you’re a die-hard fan (and there are plenty of those), you’re going to be content with 2-3 days at Disneyland itself. Fortunately, the rest of Southern California has plenty of other appealing sites (other theme parks, city, beach, etc.), and it’d be easy for any traveler to plan a Disney-cum-SoCal vacation of any length. Orlando, on the other hand, doesn’t have much besides Disney and the other theme park destinations. After all, the area was basically a swamp when Walt and Co. bought up the land (secretly, via several dummy corporations) explicitly in order to birth a self-sustaining vacation destination. There’s lots more to do at WDW, and rightfully so—why else would you plan a trip to Orlando? And if you are planning a trip to Orlando, there’d better be enough theme parking to keep you occupied throughout your trip. So for my family, too, WDW is a special and all-inclusive vacation destination.

Much like I’ve sometimes been a defender of cruises, so too have I sometimes felt like a Disney defender in explaining to friends (let’s be real: non-friends) that my adult sibling, mother, and I were planning a trip. But after all, there are different ways to travel, and Today I Am Staying In This No-Electricity Sumatra Bungalow vs. Today I Am Lining Up for the Tomomorrowland Rope Drop Mini-Marathon are both things I enjoy.

Moving on. For me, planning the trip is often almost as fun as the trip itself, and Disney is no different. I’ve mentioned before the proud moment of my first trip Disney World, just before I turned 11, when I read our Disney guide book cover to cover and handwrote a ride-by-ride schedule. In the twenty-first century, planning is both easier and more potentially neurotic. Minute-by-minute itineraries can be programmed with software from touringplans.com, and can be adjusted in real time. Today, significantly more people also make advance dining reservations than they did 10 years ago, meaning it’s even more important to plan meal times and secure reservations months in advance (during busy periods).

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Hogwarts at Islands of Adventure

My recent WDW trip came about surprisingly—one day my mother and I were talking about how nice it would be to visit the Harry Potter section of Universal Studios, the next decided to take it seriously as a trip concept, and within a week we had booked hotels. And at least two dining reservations.

We spent five full days in Orlando. Reasoning: we wanted to see our three preferred Disney parks (yes to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom; no to Disney Hollywood Studios), Universal Islands of Adventure (home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), and one other thing to make the trip slightly longer. We chose Universal Studios because we’d never been.

We ended up visiting six parks: even more success than I’d hoped! We didn’t buy our tickets for the theme parks in advance, which I feared might have been a mistake since we probably could have saved on tax had we done this. However, if we had bought our tickets in advance we wouldn’t have had the flexibility to realize, at noon on our Islands of Adventure day, that low crowds plus efficient touring meant we had virtually finished with the park, and had time to head to Disney early, buy a 4-day park ticket instead of a 3-day for a minimal upcharge, and hit the fourth Disney park (Disney Hollywood Studios) after all! This strategy turned out to be very successful.

Tomorrow I’ll elaborate further on the bests and worsts of our trip; stay tuned.

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