Disney · Disney World · travel · Vacation planning

The Former Cast Member’s Guide To Planning Your Disney Vacation

So you’re planning your Disney vacation.  First and foremost- YAY!!!

If you’re like most people, you’re probably researching every single facet of what you could and should do.  It seems the internet is FLOODED with “expert” advise on vacation planning.

I don’t claim to be an expert, but as a former Disney cast member with over 4 years on the front lines, I consider myself a fountain of information (useless and otherwise) on how to truly tackle a successful {read: enjoyable} vacation.

We’ll call this a “micro-level look” at things you can do to enhance your experience.

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Are you ready??  Okay, hold on to your hats and glasses, folks!  Here we go!

DO: WEAR WHAT YOU WANT

Seriously.  I’ve seen blogs basically dictating what you should or shouldn’t wear on your Disney vacation to be a fashion icon.

Ever wanted to sport a popped collar, fanny pack, and socks with sandals?  Do it!  Own it!  Love it!  This is your chance!!

This is, indeed, a man wearing fairy wings and fedora at Magic Kingdom

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When else will you get to do this?  For real, this man was standing there as seriously as you please, smoking (in a designated smoking area).  I don’t imagine he does this at home.  Or maybe he does, in which case, rock on.

Worst case scenario, you’ll look so awesomely bad that you’ll make someone smile.  Or end up in someone’s vacation photos.

I am in, literally, hundreds of people’s vacation photos wearing THIS,

so for real, don’t fret it

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Don’t: WEAR SHOES WITH PLASTIC STRAPS

And this is just a suggestion based on personal experience.  One word: Blisters.  Flip-flops, sandals, anything with straps that could mix with sweat (oh yes, there will be plenty of sweat), and create friction on your feet.  Try to avoid it.

DO: EAT THE EXTRA DESSERT IF YOU WANT TO!

There is no shortage of amazing desserts at the Disney parks.  Eat them!  You’ll regret it if you don’t.  Justify it any way you need to, but just do it!

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DON’T: COUNT CALORIES 

Counting calories is the thief of Disney joy.  You’re walking, you’re sweating, you’re burning calories.  There will be plenty of time to be regimented when you go home.  You know it’s true.

DO: USE FASTPASS, BUT NOT TOO MUCH

Fastpass is a great tool…in moderation.  When it first came out, it was a great way to experience some of your favorite attractions without having to wait in a crazy long line.

Since its inception, fastpass has grown like a weed.  I have seen entire vacations be destroyed by the over-use of this tool!  Do your research, figure out a few things that you really want to reserve time for, and be sure to get fastpass for them.

DON’T: OVER-SCHEDULE YOURSELF

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Don’t become the family whose every move is planned out from the minute you wake up to your Mickey wake-up call, all the way to the bus ride back to your resort at night.  By over-using fastpass, you severely restrict how your day plans out.

Imagine every.single.minute being so regimented that you can hardly squeeze in a restroom break because you MUST be at your next fastpass on the opposite side of the park in exactly 5.25 minutes, or else.

Don’t let that be you!  Please!!  Walk around, take your time, enjoy the parks.  They’re beautiful!  But you have to be looking to see that!  There are ACTUAL ROSES that you can take the time to smell!  Do it!

DON’T: ASK A CAST MEMBER WHEN THE 3:00 PARADE IS

Just…don’t.  That is rarely your question, so please, use your words.

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DO: ASK A CAST MEMBER WHICH DIRECTION THE PARADE IS COMING FROM, AND APPROXIMATELY HOW LONG IT TAKES TO MAKE IT TO YOUR VIEWING AREA

Instant respect from the cast member for asking an intelligent, well-thought-out question.  Also, feel free to ask about how long the parade lasts. These are all questions the cast member has answers to!

And on that note,

DO: TALK TO THE CAST MEMBERS

Rarely will you have the opportunity to talk to so many people, from so many places.  Walt Disney World employs approximately 50,000 active employees at any given time.  Not only can you learn a lot about other cultures (nationally and globally), but you can also learn a lot of really neat facts about the parks.

Every park is intentionally jam-packed with details, from hidden Mickeys to why certain paint colors were selected.

At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, that could mean anything from the largest hidden Mickey on property (see below), to why the buildings on Sunset Blvd look like they need to be power-washed (they’re like that on purpose).

Aerial view of Hollywood Studios before the Sorcerer’s Hat replaced “the nose”

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DON’T: DISRESPECT THE CAST MEMBERS

As I said before, approximately 50,000 men and women are active cast members at any given time.  For most, this is their livelihood.  IT DOES NOT PAY WELL.  They work there because they have something special to offer.  They believe in the Disney culture. They’re plopped down-sometimes in full sun- in a polyester, unbreathable costume.

Be nice to them.  “Hello” goes a long way.  Let them know you see them.

One of my memories from working there was a family walking in during a show load.  The father was carrying a tray full of cheeseburgers and fries.  I mentioned that it looked delicious (I was super hungry and they DID look especially delicious).  Ten minutes later the same man walked back through and handed me a burger and fries. He had gone back to Backlot Express and bought me a meal*.

*Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take it (which seems ruder and more inappropriate than accepting it IMHO), but 12 years later, I still remember his kindness. 

So please, don’t get in their faces, don’t disrespect them, and for goodness sake, don’t do ANYTHING you’ve read about on a blog or article that seems like a really clever idea to pull on a cast member or character!

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DO: TAG YOUR KIDS

Tattoo them, write on them, insert a microchip, keep a piece of paper in their pockets, do what you gotta do, but please, put your contact information on your child.  And beyond that, tell them that’s what it is.

Kids get lost every day at Disney World.  They’re scared, they don’t know what to do, and they’ve most likely been told that if they get lost, they’re in big trouble!

So here’s a cast member secret for  you:  When working with “lost kids,” they turn the tables.  The first thing they ask is if their parents are lost.

1) It calms the kids down and

2) It gives the kids some satisfaction because suddenly, “you in big trouble, mister!”  Not them.  (you’re welcome)

So don’t get lost, but in case you do, tag your kids so cast members can do their best to find you.

*****IMPORTANT******

There is no paging for missing people over a broadcast system in Disney World, no exceptions.  Don’t ask.

A few more tidbits to skim over:

  • Always pack rain gear or an umbrella.  It doesn’t take up much room in your luggage. I can’t tell you how many trips to Wal-Mart I’ve had to make because it wasn’t supposed to rain and it did. And  you don’t want to be part of the sea of Mickey rain gear swarming the parks in the rain.
  • Avoid each park on their designated Extra Magic Hours days if you want to avoid some of the crowds.
  • If you have kids (or not), take a break in your day.  You do not want to be the parent with the screaming, exhausted child while you’re determinedly racing from one attraction to the next with no break.  Nobody likes those people.

I could give tips all day!

Questions about your next Disney vacation?  Please feel free to contact me!  I love sharing insights!!

Have a Magical day!

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