My family’s first trip to Disney World was in 1999. Growing up in Southern California, I’d been to Disneyland hundreds of times. Being very excited to see the differences, I planned a bit of park hopping during that first trip. I can easily do Disneyland in a day or maybe 2 if its a crowded day. We had 10 days in Disney World, we should be able to see everything, right? Nope!!!
I had done a decent amount of research but still didn’t quite understand that distances between things, the time involved in using Disney transportation to get places. Dont get me wrong, we saw a lot on that first trip. 10 days was a great amount of time for a first trip. I had planned on hopping several times a day, but that just didn’t work out they way I expected. We got a really good taste of things, we didn’t feel like we had missed out on too much, but definitely left us wanting more!
Biggest thing that I didn’t understand was how spread out Disney World was. People can tell you that it encompasses 40 square miles, and yes, that seems big, but for some reason I didn’t realize that it would take so long to travel between places. Disneyland is very compact, you can leave one park, walk 5 minutes and be in the next park. Disney World is NOT like that at all. You ‘could’ walk from Epcot to Hollywood Studios – but those are the only 2 parks that are even relatively close. We did walk that route once, it took about 20 minutes. Not bad actually, but it wasn’t what I expected.
A funny story from our first trip. We wanted to get to Magic Kingdom bright and early and try to ride a bunch of rides before the crowds hit. We had a rental car, so our thinking was – lets skip the Disney bus and drive ourselves. Then we can park really close to the entrance and get in quick. So we hop in the car, drive over and suddently realize that you cant actually park at Magic Kingdom. You park at TTC (Ticket and Transportation Center). Then get into a long line and wait for the Monorail to come. Then you exit the monorail and walk over to the entrance with several hundred other guests. So our plan probably ended up taking longer, and now we had the car at the TTC to worry about getting back to. We learned a lesson that day. We still talk about it years later – ‘remember when we thought we’d be so slick and drive to Magic Kingdom?’
A rental car is also completely unnecessary if you aren’t planning to go anywhere off property. With Magical Express you can use Disney transportation to go anywhere you want on property. Of course some destinations may require a transfer from one form of transportation to another. Example, you cant go from one resort direct to another resort using the buses. (You can visit any of the monorail resorts using the monorail, but none of the others). So this is another time consuming part of a trip if you plan to eat at a resort other than where you are staying.
We planned several meals at resorts, not realizing how much time it would take to get to them. This cut into our days, but by the 3rd or 4th day we figured out the system and were able to schedule things so that we would leave from a park to get to these meals at resorts, because there is transportation to every resort from every park. We also learned that you could get to just about everywhere from Downtown Disney (now called Disney Springs). So even though I had done plenty of research, I still didn’t realize how to actually maximize our time very well.
So people say plan an hour ‘travel time’ between locations and that is really a great estimate. Sometimes you can luck out and get right on to a bus and get there quicker, but sometimes you have to wait 15-20 minutes before the bus you need arrives. Then there is the actual drive, which can be 20-30 minutes between some locations. You also have to factor in the security lines if you need to be inside a park at a certain time, plus the walking time inside the park to get to a specific destination. There are pretty detailed maps for each park, so you can get an idea how far things are from the entrances.
I have few friends who I met on a Disney World fan site back before our trip in 1999. They really helped with our planning, and without them I would have been even more lost! We got to meet up with a couple of them that first trip, which was amazing. One friend and her teenage children even showed us the ins and outs of Magic Kingdom one night, which was fun.