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How to have fun at Disney World alone

copyright 1997 by Harlan L. Jacobsen

from July 1997 issue

by Janet L. Jacobsen

If you loath Disneyland, you will probably dislike Disney World too. On the
one hand, Disney World is the same thing, only a whole lot more of it. On the
other hand, Disney World is a very different experience than Disneyland. But if
you've decided to try Disney World (or been there previously with others),
there's no reason not to see it alone.

Recently I was headed to Florida for a three-day conference, so I built four
extra days into my travel plans to get some time - alone - at Disney World.
It helped that I had been there previously and knew what I wanted to see. It
can be annoying that tickets are sold as either one day or four or five day
passes, but really, if you're starting from square one, so to speak, and do want
to "see it all," four days is probably a minimum.

The first problem of heading to Walt Disney World (WDW) alone is - do you
need a car? You might want one if you're going to stay "off property"
in a hotel outside the WDW 28,000 acres (that's about 47 square miles, I'm
told). (Most places you'd want to get to, walking is out of the question.)

Hotels outside the property, in towns like Lake Buena Vista and Kissimee,
can be downright inexpensive, but then you must get yourself to the theme parks (the inexpensive hotels don't have free shuttles), pay parking fees if you've rented a car, and then use up more time getting yourself from the huge parking lots to the actual theme parks.

I ultimately made the decision to do without a car for these reasons:

_You can make the 30 minute or so drive from the Orlando Airport to the
Disney hotels via the vans of Mears Motor Shuttle for $25 round trip, and they
run all the time. (407) 423-5566. (For more than one person, a taxi might be cheaper, but we're talking singles here.)

_Free shuttles run regularly from all the Disney World hotels to all the
theme parks and other WDW attractions.

_By staying at a Disney World hotel, I could get an otherwise unavailable
three day pass. You can't even buy these at the Disney Stores away from
Orlando; you must be at the hotel and registered for three days.

_Certain days WDW hotel guests get into the park an hour earlier than
everyone else.

So the $80 room rate at the Travelodge Hotel WDW Village looked like a good
deal. The hotels at the Village aren't run by Disney, but are "approved"
by them and seemed just fine to me.

I booked my room through WDW Central Reservations: (407) W-DISNEY (934-7639), inquiring first about the "value-priced" All-Star Sports and All-Star Music Resorts ($70 range). Later, at the hotel, I discovered that the rate I got was better than the rate I'd have gotten if I'd booked through AAA (the automobile association).

The WDW Village includes the Marketplace, a large (and getting larger) complex of shops and restaurants (such as the Rainforest Cafe and Planet Hollywood), and the area known as Pleasure Island, with its seven themed nightclubs. Evening admission to Pleasure Island alone is $16.95, but that's included in the multi-day passes, even the three day. (The other advantage of the multi-day pass is being able to go to more than one park in a single day.)

I arrived on Sunday afternoon late; unpacked, bought my pass at the Disney Store in the hotel, and headed to the Marketplace for a quick evening of checking out the shops and the crowds. Plan breakfast at your hotel, so you don't waste precious time at the theme parks.

Monday it rained, which is why I now own a $5 Mickey Mouse rain poncho.   Fortunately, I had already planned to spend the day at EPCOT, the two-part theme park, with Future World (lots of science and creativity-related exhibits) and World Showcase, "villages" of eleven different countries spread out on a 1.3 mile walk around a lake: Mexico, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Morocco, Norway, the United Kingdom, Canada and America.

When it rains, you want to be at Future World because this consists primarily of huge themed buildings (such as The Land, The Living Seas, Innoventions, Journey into Imagination), each with combinations of hands-on exhibits, films, rides, and food courts and restaurants. So you can spend a lot of time in each (out of the rain), and then just dash to the next.

The other great thing is that because of the rain, lots of folks don't show up with their little kiddies (I was there while school was still on), so there's no one to interrupt you and want a turn when you're playing with the "hands-on" stuff. My favorites: "The Circle of Life" film in The Land, and everything in Journey into Imagination.

The rain let up later in the afternoon, and I headed over to the World Showcase side, where each area is designed and entirely staffed by the country depicted, with most featuring "native" entertainment, as well.  Here you'll see an important way that WDW is different than Disneyland: the English pub is a real pub _ spend the afternoon drinking beer and singing along with the piano player, if you like. Or get a glass of wine at the sidewalk cafe in France

and sit and watch the world go by. Many of the restaurants here are definitely "up-scale," though there's inexpensive food to be had, of course. In other words, the World Showcase is Disneyland oriented primarily to grown-ups.

The nightly fireworks over the lake are considered a "must see."  My favorites in the World Showcase: the hilarious Street Theatre troupe and the British Invasion band (looking and sounding just like the Beatles) at the United Kingdom. Funnest food is the Cantina in Mexico, where you can get glasses of watermelon juice along with a great (inexpensive) meal by the lake.

Tuesday morning I took advantage of "early admission" to catch a few things I'd missed in Future World and then headed for my Gardens of the World tour through the World Showcase from 9:30 to 12:30, led by an actual WDW horticulturist. (Register in advance: (407) WDW-TOUR; cost was $25, plus park admission, of course.)

We learned lots of "behind the scenes" stuff about how their fabulous gardens are created and maintained. Next time I'm going to do the Hidden Treasures tour, which covers the art and architecture.

After the tour I hopped the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, the area most like Disneyland, with kid-type activities in Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, etc.

Since I'm a regular Disneyland visitor, I concentrated on my favorite rides and stuff that's not available in California, such as Alien Encounter (more a "show" than a ride and way too scary for little kids, including me). I stayed in the evening for the SpectroMagic Parade (lots of cool fiber optics stuff on the floats), and the fireworks (which to my mind are actually better than the ones at Epcot).

Wednesday morning I headed to the Disney-MGM Studios Park, Disney's answer to the Universal Studios park; it's heavy on live stage shows and "educational" (but entertaining!) presentations.

I liked the Hunchback of Notre Dame show the best. Go early; the pre-show juggler was as good or better than the show itself.

My favorite part of the Studios park is the animation studio tour through the building where you can see the real Disney artists working on the next big animation films (you're in glassed-off hallways).

The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, a 30 minute show, is a slam bang demonstration of how those slam bang stunts are done, and very entertaining, even the second time. (By the way, the best hamburgers are at the Backlot Express behind the Indiana Jones show; eat there a little after the show starts; it's mobbed when the show ends.)

The only thing I did twice this trip was the Muppet 3-D Vision show, which makes extraordinary use of 3-D, and is also the fun, zany extravaganza (25 minutes total) you'd expect from Kermit and crew.

I held off til the end of the afternoon trying the new Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, where the "ride" is an elevator drop 13 stories, faster than gravity because you're pulled down ' (I hear). One fellow had told me that it happens so fast you barely have time to scream; this is incorrect. I got in plenty of screaming, but it is over pretty fast. Next time I go I'll try it again and keep my eyes open this time. Maybe.

I was very efficient in my Studios tour to have time to get over to Pleasure Island to check out the nightclubs in the evening. If you want to hit them all, start with the first show at the Comedy Warehouse (with a permanent improvisational troupe) because the line is shortest then. Next go across the way to the Adventurers Club, where you have a drink and sit patiently as the entertainment begins around you. You could spend a long time there with all the crazy things going on, and it's a great for visiting with the other people there. Then on to the country bar, jazz club, disco club, and a more

contemporary club, called Mannequins, which has a revolving dance floor that it will take you a minute to get used to, if you get out to dance.

I pretty much hit all the clubs just to "check them out." Did ask someone to dance in the country spot, so got in a two-step or two. There were apparent "singles" in most of the spots, but I'd been walking for three days solid, so I wasn't that up for dancing. Keep in mind, though, that the "singles" you see at Pleasure Island are not necessarily unmarried; folks who are at the hotels for meetings and conventions, of which there are many all over Disney World, gravitate to Pleasure Island in the evenings for something to do.

Over the approximately three and a half days, I saw maybe a half dozen other people who appeared to be actually alone, including one single parent with one child staying at my hotel. I expected to feel "conspicuous" being a "one" in line for the rides especially, but since there are many odd numbered family groups, a "left over" person is common on the rides and no one knows that you're alone.

If you are chatty by nature, there's plenty of opportunity to talk, on the buses, in lines, etc. If you want to dine alone at a table, go before or after the rush hours. If you want to meet people, go at the busy times to the food courts and open seating-style restaurants like the Mexican patio or the German Biergarten and simply ask a table with a spare space if you can join them. 

Everybody says yes.  You can dine very upscale if you want to, but you can also find reasonably priced meals, and not just "fast food."

Be sure you get clear on where your hotel is in the travel routes and how things connect, so that you're using the most efficient methods. I was doing a two-legged trip, bus to monorail/monorail to park, before I figured out that I could get directly to each park from my hotel if I just waited for the right bus.

There are some definite advantages to being alone if you like Disney style entertainment. One, you get to do what you want to do when you want to do it.

No standing in line for 45 minutes because your companion wants to go through It's a Small World one more time, for instance.

Set your priorities when you visit each park: what do you most want to see, what's next, what's next, and get yourself around accordingly. That way if there just isn't time for something, it was low on your list anyway. It involves a lot of walking but it's worth it.

The other advantage of being alone is that it's easy to situate yourself in the big crowds waiting for the various shows and films. And that doesn't mean squeezing yourself up to be the first one at the doors. By getting into about the middle of the group, you will almost always wind up in the best (middle) seats in the house.

The best things I did to prepare for the trip were buying a little fanny pack to carry my wallet and camera (instead of carrying a purse; hands free vacationing!), buying and thoroughly studying the book Birnbaum's Walt Disney World without Kids (which is where I found out about the garden tour), and visiting several Web sites about Disney World, especially sites done by individuals who are just your basic Disney freaks who "review" all the rides and sites, etc., just for the fun of it.

If you're planning a solo Disney World vacation in hopes of meeting "someone," give it up. Your odds are better at your local supermarket. But if you love theme parks, Disney, total escape, or all of the above in some combination, go it alone by all means. Yeah Mickey!