If you plan on flying into Orlando for your Disney vacation you are likely to arrive in the afternoon or early evening. Your day of arrival and day of departure are not a loss, there are options available to make sure you are getting the most our of your vacation time. I am listing my top 5 picks for things to do on arrival day as well as some ideas of how to make the most of the short amount of time available on departure day. Please keep in mind that check-in time at a Disney resort hotel is 3:00pm and check-out is at 11:00am....
5. Hit the pool. If you know that you are coming in before 3:00, make sure to pack a small bag with your gear so that you can hit the pool without digging through luggage in the lobby. Disney resorts have some of the best pools and they really hit the spot after a long flight. There are usually snacks nearby and a bar for adult refreshments. The pool area will also have towels readily available. Most Disney resort hotels will have multiple pools, why not try them all!
4. Plan a character dinner. A character dinner tends to be a lengthily meal and this would be the perfect opportunity to experience this. Some of the most memorable times we have had with the kids have been with characters. There are plenty of photo opportunities and there is no better way to kick off a Disney vacation than with a hug from your favorite Disney pal! If you do not want to go into a park for a character meal you can always visit one of the hotels for this experience. Here are some of my favorite character dining locations: 'Ohana at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort, Chef Mickey's at Disney's Contemporary Resort, 1900 Park Fare at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Cape May Café at Disney's Beach Club Resort. Please keep in mind that reservations for these dining experiences fill up fast. If you are a Cruise and Tour Experts client, we are happy to make all of your dinning reservations in advance for you!
3. Go to Downtown Disney. Use the Disney bus transportation located in front of your hotel to go to Downtown Disney for some food and fun on your first day of vacation. There is a ton to see and do here! For shoppers, the World of Disney is a dream come true! There are also many other shops including The LEGO Store, Marketplace Co-Op, LittleMissedMatched, Bibbidi Bobbidi Botique and Once Upon a Toy to name a few. Consider making a dinner reservation at one of the many truly exciting dining venues such as the House of Blues, Rainforest Café, Planet Hollywood, Bongo's Cuban Café - the list could go on and on. There are also plenty of entertainment options such as DisneyQuest which is an indoor interactive theme park. If you're in the mood to bowl, try Splitsville Luxuy Lanes. Downtown Disney is also home to La Nouba, by Cirque du Soliel. One of my families favorites is to visit the AMC 24 DineIn Theatre. Here you will find spacious seating and full service dining while you watch a movie. This is a great treat and I now that I have experienced this, I would not want to see a movie any other way!
2. Use your discounts. Chances are you purchased a Disney Travel package that includes some great discounts for entertainment. Most people are too busy to use these discounts but if you have free time on your first day, might as well get your monies worth! Some of the amenities will include an arcade game card, a marina discount for boat rentals, a discount for children's activity centers, spa and salon discounts and miniature golf discounts. These may be things you wouldn't be able to find the time for if your busy running around the parks.
1. Go to a park! You will hear over and over that you should not waste a ticket on your arrival day. I don't feel this is the case. With proper planning, you can still go to one of the parks and make it worth your time and money. One of the things I do with my clients is take a look at park hours and what your arrival itinerary might accommodate. Being a guest of a Disney hotel will allow access to Extra Magic Hours which is additional time you can spend in a park after it closes to the general public. Take a look at the park hours and if there is a park that has evening Extra Magic Hours, go for it! Here is how I look at it, if your plane lands at 2:00pm and your arrival to the hotel is by 4:00pm (giving some extra time here), you can hop a bus and be at a park by 4:30pm. If a park does not close until midnight (or later), you have at least 7 hours to enjoy rides, restaurants and shows. This may not be the best idea if you have small children who may be cranky and need their rest from a long day of traveling but older kids and teens will be excited and ready to go! Don't forget that the Magic Kingdom has excellent fireworks displays and Disney's Hollywood Studios has an amazing evening show called Fantasmic. These shows are sure to set the mood for a magical vacation! Make sure that the number of days on your Disney tickets will allow for park entry on your arrival day once it is determined that you will have enough time to do this.
Once you have completed your vacation and its time to go home, try and make the most of your departure day so depression doesn't kick in! Check-out time is 11:00am at the Disney Resorts. If your departing flight doesn't leave until the afternoon, you can still take advantage of what Disney has to offer. This is a great time to use up any last discounts that your package may have included. A character breakfast at one of the hotels may be a great way to say goodbye to some of your favorite Disney pals. I recommend the character breakfast at 'Ohana. The food is good, the atmosphere is lively and you can meet Mickey, Minnie and characters from Disney's Lilo and Stitch. But is you've had a long and tiring vacation, perhaps you can simply sleep in.
Of course the best way to get over the blues that comes with leaving Disney is to call your travel agent (me!) and start looking at planning your next vacation!