My goal here is not to provide a complete guide to Walt DisneyWorld. There are many others that have invested thousands of man-hours to develop great guides. I've listed a few of them below. Instead, my goal is just to list a few of my own perceptions of DisneyWorld that you won't find in the guidebooks.
I've taken a total of three trips with my children to Disneyworld. The first trip was taken prior to my discovery of Amtrak. We flew into Tampa as that was where my wife was attending a convention. I rented a car and drove all the way to Orlando. I was amazed to find that I still had to drive several more miles after I passed the entrance gate to Disneyworld before reaching the Magic Kingdom and nearby hotels! Later, I discovered that Disneyworld covers 28,000 acres and has 18 miles of monorails!
Once we parked our rented car in the lot of one of the Disneyworld Hotels, we didn't use it again until the day that we left Disneyworld to head back to Tampa! In addition to the monorails, Disneyworld has a huge transportation system that includes a large fleet of buses, ferries, and smaller boats that connects all the hotels and amusement areas. After our first time at Disneyworld, we never again saw the need to rent a car!
There is one big decision that you need to make before heading to Disneyworld. That is: Will you be staying in the park or outside the park? There are lots of pluses and minuses to both decisions. You will save a tremendous amount of money by staying at the hotels outside the park and will have a greater selection of less expensive restaurants, but you will have to rent a car. If you stay in the park, you will be able to take advantage of early entry to one park each day before the crowds build up. You will also be surrounded by the total Disney experience 24 hours a day for the duration of your stay!
For all 3 times that we have gone to Disneyworld, we have selected the total immersion approach and stayed at hotels within the park. We've tried all 3 price ranges of hotels at Disneyworld from the least expensive All Star Resorts (about $80 per day), the moderate guest housing at the Contemporary (about $150 per day), to some of the most expensive Tower Rooms in the Contemporary (over $350 per day). My conclusion is that I still like staying within the park, especially at a hotel with quick an easy transportation back and forth to the park. We like to be able to get back to our room for an afternoon break and then return later in the day without wasting hours in transit. The only way to do this is stay at one of the hotels on the monorail system or connected to the parks by ferry. The All Star Resorts were far from the main theme parks and the time it took to travel by bus back and forth made it impractical to go back to the room for an afternoon rest.
Regardless of whether you plan to stay in the park or outside the park, the following book is worth its weight in gold! Using this book as your guide will save you a lot of money, but more importantly, following the advise in the book can save you many hours every day from waiting in long lines! I would never think of going to Disneyworld without the latest edition of the "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World". You can click on the image of the book below for information on obtaining a copy of this book.
My most recent trip to Walt Disney World was in September of 1998. We traveled on the Amtrak Sunset Limited from Los Angeles, California to Orlando, Florida, Sunday, September 20, 1998 through Wednesday, September 23, 1998. Click here to read the travelogue of that rail journey.
I didn't write too much about our stay at Disneyworld this time, but I did take quite a few pictures! You can click on each of the links below to view those photos:
One of the sets of photographs above shows the Disneyworld Monorail going through our hotel, the Contemporary Resort. The station is actually on the fifth floor of the hotel.
On Wednesday evening, September 23, 1998, we were treated to a rehearsal for Disney's Rock 'n Rockets show that is to be held on Thursday and Friday evenings. The rehearsal included a tremendous fireworks display. We listened to the music and watched the fireworks from our balcony in the Disneyworld Contemporary Resort.
On Thursday evening, September 24, 1998, we were treated to the actual live performance of the Disney Rock 'n Rockets show which we again experienced from our balcony in the Disneyworld Contemporary Resort. You can see a number of photographs that I took of these fireworks above.
Disney's Rock 'n Rockets was promoted as "The most spectacular fireworks show in the history of the United States ..." I can't disagree with that promotion. From 10:00 PM until 10:30 PM dozens of rockets were launched simultaneously and continuously. I've seen quite a few fireworks shows, but none could hold a candle to this display! Part of the reason for such an extensive display was that this was also to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) whose convention was being held at our hotel.
I wrote the above during our first couple of days at Disneyworld and, unfortunately, was about all that I wrote on this particular trip. However, I did write a bit more on my previous trip and have posted that below:
This was our second trip to Walt Disney World. We were here two years ago. That last trip was in October of 1994, a real slow season at Disney World. Thus, we encountered few crowds and were able to cover most of the three major parks in just 3 and one-half days. I picked the third week of March because my children are on the year-round school program and get 3 weeks of vacation about every 8 weeks. That means they were on vacation during the 3rd week of March while most other schools are still in session. All the guidebooks said there would only be moderate crowds at the park during this week. Thus, I expected the parks to be fairly empty with few long lines.
At the last minute, we invited one of my children's friends to come along. We needed to make a reservation for another room since the All-Star Resorts allow a maximum of 4 per room (You wouldn't want to try and fit more, believe me). To my surprise, ALL of the Disneyworld resorts were booked solid! Evidently, Spring College Break came early this year and we would be at Disneyworld for the first week of Spring College Break. Plus, the large number of snow storms in the north this year gave lots of people the idea to vacation in Florida this spring. For other reasons, it turned out that our children's friend couldn't come with us, so getting a room didn't become a problem.
Fortunately, to our surprise, the parks were not crowded at all. We covered ALL that we wanted to see in Walt Disney World on the first day and could have covered everything we wanted to see at Epcot on the second day except that we woke up late. Don't try this at home! We had already ruled out a number of rides that the children went on in 1994 and that they didn't want to go on again, plus my kids don't like any "roller-coaster" type rides. If you wanted to cover all the top rides, you'd have to give yourself at least 3 days at Disney World and 1 or 2 at Epcot and another day at MGM Studios.
Why the parks weren't crowded with the hotels booked solid, we aren't exactly sure. Maybe the college kids mostly hung out at Pleasure Island, where the night clubs are, and the Marketplace. The weather was unusually cold for Florida because of a major storm that had gone through on Monday. The cold weather probably kept the locals out of the parks. A major reason could have been the "Early Entry" logic. When you stay at a Walt Disney World resort, you are given one-hour early entry to a selected park each day. All the guidebooks, except the "official guidebook", tell you to NOT take advantage of the one-hour early entry. There are so many guests at the hotel that take advantage of the early-entry that it greatly affects the total attendance at the park for the entire day! The park that permits early entry for hotel guests will usually be much more crowded than all the other parks all day. Thus, your best bet is to always go to the parks that do not have early entry for that day. That is what we did and we hardly ran into any crowds or lines all day!
Disneyworld is much larger than Disneyland. Disneyland is the equivalent of just the Magic Kingdom part of Disneyworld. The total land area of Disneyworld is huge. Disney has constructed their own 3 lane highways within the grounds to get from one place to another and it can take up to 15 minutes to get from one place in Disneyworld to another driving at 45 miles per hour!
There are many hotels within the Disneyworld grounds. I decided that we would stay at the least expensive hotel on the Disneyworld grounds which is the All Stars Music Resort. If you are into sports, there is also the All Stars Sports Resort for the same price, which is about $70 to $80 per night. There are two reasons that I thought I would try this hotel. First, I guessed it would be one of the most oriented to family and children since it was placed within reach of the average family budget and there would be about 4000 kids there if you figured an average of one per room. Second, I needed to keep the cost down to compensate for the additional cost of a family room on the train for 3 nights out and 3 nights back.
There are 6 All-Star Music buildings and 6 All-Star Sports buildings. If you stay at the All-Star Music Hotel, try and get into the Calypso building. That is the closest to the lobby, transportation and all services. We made the mistake of staying in the Rock building and had quite a hike to get to anything from our room! The All-Star Hotels don't have much along the line of room service. You can only order Pizza, sodas, wine and bear to be brought to your room. There are two pools great for kids as they only go to a maximum of 4 feed 6 inches. Don't pay extra for a room with a view. If you do, you may be just paying for a view of a few trees but may be leaving your drapes closed most of the time since a walkway goes by all the windows.
If you do stay at either the All-Star Music or All-Star Sports Resorts, look at the map carefully and plan out the shortest route between your hotel room and the main lobby. It usually will not be walking down the main drag. For example, the shortest route from the lobby to our room was to go through the middle of the Calypso building, then along the walk through the trees, then to cut by the back of the Jazz building and into our room! That cut quite a bit of distance off the "official" route between the lobby and our room!
I'd recommend trying to get a hotel room a bit more expensive. That will usually mean a room between $150 and $400 per night. The best hotel is probably the Grand Floridian and the second runner up may be the Contemporary Resort. The Polynesian Resort is another good choice. All three of those are directly served by the monorail which makes transportation to the parks easy. Most other hotels on the Disneyworld grounds are served by free buss transportation that runs every 20 minutes and takes about 10 minutes to get to the park. I would not suggest staying outside of Disneyworld. The hotels are cheaper, but I think you miss something of the total Disney experience. Because of the motif, the events, and the activities in the Disneyworld hotels, they feel as much of the whole Disney experience as the parks themselves!
If you are really into the monorails, then your best bet would be the Contemporary Resort. Ask for a room facing into the aviary where you can observe the monorails going right through the middle of the building into the upper lobby! While we are on the topic, when you take the monorail, you can ask to sit up in the front with the engineer. You will always be granted this privilege as long as the seats upfront have not already been taken. The best way to guarantee availability of that is to take the very first monorail in the morning. In the morning, the Contemporary Resort is the very first stop. The only people that would already be on the monorail are those leaving Disneyworld, of which there wouldn't be any on the first few trains. Thus, there will be room for you to sit up front with the engineer. The monorail runs in a complete circle around the park. That means that you get to visit every stop on the monorail from the Contemporary Resort before you get to Disneyworld!
A new experience that I got in Disneyworld was a ride between Epcot and my hotel in one of those strange buses that is sort of like a tractor-trailer. I had seen those type of buses in the Los Angeles area before, but had never been on one. The first question that came to me when I had first seen one was: "How do the passengers signal the bus driver if a problem develops, like one of the passengers needs medical attention?" Now that I've had a chance to ride in one of those buses, I still don't have an answer to that question. I did not see any way for passengers to communicate with the bus driver at all, but I'm sure if I had a chance for closer inspection I would have found some method was provided. The ride was a weird experience. It really did feel like you were riding in the trailer part of a tractor-trailer, except you had seats to sit in and windows to look out.
I've shown a number of other useful guides to Walt Disney World below, but I would still recommend "The Unofficial Guide" as the most useful! If you only want to buy one book, buy that one. If you want a more complete library about Walt Disney World, there are certainly enough guides available! You can click on each of the graphics below for more information or to even purchase the book on-line: