As an out-of-towner, it’s not easy being in Orlando without visiting Disney’s theme parks, especially as a parent. During a recent trip to the area, I resisted temptation, mainly because my kids were back home in New York. But what if we lived nearby? Does Disney’s strong allure cast the same spell on Central Florida’s residents? My good friends Frank and Edna Calenda, who live in Indian Harbor Beach, FL, would say yes. They have been to Disney World more than 300 times, and their guest room, where I stayed on my visit, is a shrine to Disney, past and present. So I asked them for some advice and the inside scoop on the whole Disney experience.
Q: What’s different about visiting Disney today versus when it first opened in 1971?
They have added Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. The cost of visiting Disney has increased but we still think the value received in entertainment, learning, and just plain fun is well worth that cost. Whether you visit Disney twice or 300+ times, there is a “sameness” that you can expect to see, but alternatively, be able to look forward to innovative changes that will amaze you and your children.
Q: What advice would you have for a family visiting the park for the first time?
Preparation is key. These parks are not small and at times can be difficult to navigate. Obtain maps of the parks and lists of current activities in advance. Get to the parks early — when they open if possible. If you’re staying in one of the on-site hotels, you will be able to enter selected parks an hour earlier than the general public. You’ll also have to consider eating. Disney doesn’t allow you to bring your own meals. There are many “fast food” venues in the parks, but, if you want a nice, sit-down meal, you’ll have to think ahead, especially in the popular months. A call to the reservations desks can get you a scheduled time at one of the many restaurants.
Q: What time of year is the best to visit the park?
Holidays are always special at Disney World and they’re usually done up right. Cinderella’s Castle can take on a magical splendor when it’s lit up. The Osborne Family Lights show boasted 4 million lights last year. Of course, the holidays attract more people than usual. If you don’t mind crowds and the ensuing confusion and you AND your children can stay up a bit later, the holidays can be a joyful time.
Q: Which attraction is your favorite?
That’s kind of like asking, “What’s your favorite food?” If you are able to visit Disney during the Christmas Season, the Disney Osborne Light show runs from early November through early January each year. Animal Kingdom’s Safari ride rates high with us. It’s Tough to Be a Bug! is a 3D show that shouldn’t be missed.
Q: What’s the one thing about Disney that most people don’t know?
It is a park that is run by an army of people that you’ll never see or talk to. There are the obvious workers that will smile at you and help you with any problem, but they also have covert security personnel that roam all the parks. Security cameras dot the park, but don’t expect to see them. Look around at the flowers. They are always fresh and in full bloom. Have you ever tried to do that in your garden? We’ve been told that most all plants are still in the pots. They are changed out on a regular basis, at night, after the park closes. Finally, there is a large underground operations center that is really the pulse of the parks. You’ll never know that it’s there but you can believe that every light, every ride, every thrill is monitored.
Follow Rainer on Twitter at @JenssTravel