Monday, 16 April 2012

Base ticket - One park per day survival guide!

Collection of WDW Tickets

Since my first visit to Walt Disney World, I have always had a park hopping 14 day ultimate ticket. As a UK visitor, those are our default tickets, and when staying as a Walt Disney World guest, we spend at least 11 out of the 14 days in the Disney parks, so it makes sense to have as much access ticket wise as possible.

In November 2012 however, I got to experience the parks through a 4 day base ticket, which gives you access to one park per day. I didn’t think this would matter at all, I’d be in the parks, soaking up the sunshine and magic, so I was surprised at how much of a difference it made! On our first Walt Disney World holiday we took on the parks with such force and regiment, I don’t actually remember sleeping much for the entire stay. Don’t get me wrong, it was still an amazing trip, but we were under the impression it really would be a once in a lifetime kind of thing, we had no idea what it would lead to. So we hit the parks from opening to close, every ride, show, firework, nook and cranny was explored and enjoyed. If one park closed and another was still open then we headed there, it was all go! go! go! We park hopped but not to the extent we have done on subsequent trips!

Our trips since have been very different, taking things in at a more leisurely pace, literally stopping to smell the roses (or churros!). We park hop almost daily, taking in a park early in the day, heading back to the resort for a snack or a swim, then venturing back out of an evening, be it for shows, fireworks or extra magic hours. The introduction of the Disney Dining Plan means that we probably hop from park to park even more now, making reservations here and there. I didn’t realise until this past November just how little time we must spend in each park on a daily basis! I don’t mean that in a bad way of course, but I actually found myself struggling to stay in just the one park.

In November we stayed on International Drive, another new one for me with regards to Walt Disney World – I’ve never visited whilst staying off Disney property! In 10 years, I have never spent so much time at the Transportation and Ticket Centre!  But that’s a story for another post! With our one park – one day tickets in hand we ventured through the turnstiles and that’s when it hit, there was no getting out!

For anyone who knows me, or any other Disney enthusiast, the thought of being ‘locked’ in a park is a dream come true, and don’t get me wrong, if you locked me in Magic Kingdom and threw away the key I’d be smiling as you did so. But there was something very final about swiping that card through the machine, pressing my finger down and waiting for the green light. Suddenly my 4-park ticket became a 3 park ticket, and if plans were to suddenly change or we had to leave the park earlier than planned, that’s it. We either risk loosing another ‘day’ on the ticket for a few hours elsewhere, or we count that park as a loss and come back another day.

I felt a pressure to see and do everything, it was like going back in time 10 years and finding myself on that first ever visit again. Could it all be done in a day? What if we had it all done by lunch time? I’ve never had to use a park map so often, mentally ticking things off, circling things to go back to and of course, abusing the Fast Pass machines on a regular basis! I hadn’t realised just what a luxury it was to be able to come and go as we please, knowing that for 14 days we had unrestricted access to all the parks, never having to worry about missing out on something because we could always, ‘come back later’, or, ‘we can do that another day’. With those options off the table I was perplexed, my usual ‘touring’ plan sent into turmoil!

Out of the four parks, I found Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios the hardest to spend an entire day in. Blasphemy some might say but it’s true! Those parks (savannah not included!) are the smallest out of the four. Once you have took in the shows and got on the rides, you have two choices; circuit the park on a continuous basis until it closes or leave. Leaving (to me) wasn’t an option, I was there with someone who hasn’t been since he was in single digits, and I was determined to get my moneys worth out of that ticket! But at the same time, I was worried about burning out and over kill! Magic Kingdom and Epcot did give me more to work with, especially World Showcase. It was easy enough for hours to get lost amongst the pavilions! Both parks have more rides too, which meant more time spent in lines and racing from fast-pass to fast-pass!

Going from the freedom of park hopping to the constraints of just one park per day really taught me a few touring lessons. With these in mind, I'll be better prepared for the next time!

  1. Be prepared!
If you leave the sun lotion back at the hotel there is no going back for it, so you’re left frazzling or having to pay park prices for a new one. I found the best plan of action was to take too much stuff with you to the parks, extra snacks, first aid, clothes (mostly if you're travelling with little ones), batteries etc, over pack your park bag and rent a locker for the day. Those few dollars are nothing compared to the price of things you might have to re-purchase!

  1. Arrive fashionably late!
If you’re a seasoned veteran of Walt Disney World, or are travelling out of peak season, you can afford to arrive at the parks an hour or 2 after opening, especially those that are open later into the evening (most likely Magic Kingdom and Epcot). You don’t want to find yourself having to leave earlier than planned because you’ve been bouncing around the place since rope drop over 11 hours ago! Just bare in mind that by arriving later in the day you could have to queue longer for certain rides, (Toy Story Mania, Soarin ), or find their fast passes have been distributed for the day.

  1. Take in the sidelines!
Take some time out to experience a few of the sideline attractions, such as Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure in Epcot, or the new, Kingdom Keepers in Magic Kingdom. Stop to watch the street shows around World Showcase – the acrobats in China, and the chair ladder in France are some of my favourites. Make a point of catching the streetmosphere shows in Hollywood Studios and the authentic tribal music and dance shows around Animal Kingdom. It’s surprising how many seasoned travellers miss out on these!

  1. Know when you’re done!
This was my biggest mistake! Just because the park is open 9am – 9pm does not mean you have to be there from start to finish! I foolishly thought I had to get every minute out of my one day ticket and desperately tried to fill each second with something, anything! Which in the end, resulted in lots of aimless wandering and eventually, burning out. After spending almost 2 of our days like this, I decided to take a more laid back approach, like I usually would if I had hopping tickets. We went into the park a little later; we did what we wanted to do, and then left. We felt more satisfied with out time in the park, a lot more chilled out and overall, it gave a better impression of the parks to my other half (who is not a huge Disney fan to begin with!)

  1. Beyond the parks
Just because your ticket has expired or you’re done for the day in a particular park does not mean you have to be done with Disney. Spending time in Downtown Disney is always a popular choice, with Disney Quest, Characters in Flight and World of Disney to explore, you could spend a Disney filled day here alone! Why not take in some of the Walt Disney World resorts too? Do a circuit on the monorail, checking out the Contemporary or The Grand Floridian. Take the Friendship Boat from Hollywood Studios or Epcot and explore The Boardwalk or The Swan and Dolphin. Head over to Animal Kingdom Lodge and explore Jambo House and the savannahs. Watch Wishes from the beach at The Polynesian. There are so many ‘ticket-less’ adventures to be had!

Would I use a one day – one park ticket again? Yes. Having experienced it once before, and feeling a much more prepared now, I think I would! I’d do it differently though, taking my usual laid back approach to touring the parks and still reap bucketfuls of enjoyment from the experience. Florida residents and those who only do a few days at Disney are probably wondering just what my problem was in the end, and looking back on it, I’m wondering that too! We still had a great time, but knowing what I know now, next time will be even better!

Until next time,

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