There are so many different ways to approach a trip to Disney World and articles have been written about just about all of them. What’s been missing is a good description of how to approach Disney World from the position of a weekend visitor. A weekender, who spends only 2 or 3 days at the park, has different expectations and goals for their trip than someone who intends on spending an entire week or more at Disney World. Where a weekender intends on returning soon, someone visiting for a week or more will usually wait at least a year before repeating the experience. This article is intended to throw some light onto the viewpoint of a Disney World weekender as well as provide some planning tips for anyone intending on spending a weekend at Disney World.
What we want in a weekend at Disney World
Although Disney World is exciting in itself, the goal of any weekender is to get the most out of the two or three days the weekend affords. With this in mind we can throw out the expectation that we will be riding every ride in the park. Rushing and waiting in lines all day is does not make for a very enjoyable weekend. Similarly, since we are more likely to return quickly, we don’t want to spend a ton of money. The question thus becomes, how do we maximize our enjoyment without breaking the bank. Luckily, we found the answer in examining three parts of the trip: (1) where to stay, (2) what to eat, and (3) how to manage time at the parks.
Where to Stay
If you’ve ever looked into a Disney vacation, you know the simplicity of booking through the Disney website. It lays out all of the Disney hotels, offers dining options, and walks you through the entire process of planning out your Disney World vacation. If you’ve never been to Disney World and have no idea what to expect, this website is great.
If you have been to Disney World, though, you know that there are a number of drawbacks to the Disney resorts that don’t get mentioned.
Expense– You will be paying a premium for staying on Disney property.
Size– Most rooms are studios, which means cramped quarters if you have more than two people in the room.
Mobility– While the Disney World transportation system is great, don’t expect to be able to leave Disney property easily. This means that almost everything you purchase is going to be more expensive than if you were to buy it off property.
After having spent countless weekends at Disney World, we’ve learned that there are tons of hotels just off Disney property that offer cheaper, larger, and more comfortable rooms. While choosing one of these off-property hotels will deprive you of the ability to be surrounded by Disney all the time, we’ve come to prefer the ability to step out of the Disney bubble and relax after a day at the park.
For our weekend trips, we prefer to stay in hotels that offer modern, apartment-style rooms complete with full kitchens, separate bedrooms, and lots of space. There are plenty of these options available with one, two, or three bedrooms, all of which cost well below the average night in a Disney studio-style room.
Some of our favorite off-Disney hotels are:
- Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and Spa
- Hilton Grand Vacations at Tuscany Village
- Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort
- Sheraton Vistana Resort
- Sheraton Vistana Villages
In addition to these options, we have had luck renting houses through both VBRO and AirBnB. While this option is usually better for a longer stay, some of these rentals are still cheaper than a traditional hotel room.
What to Eat
The number of dining options available at Disney World is staggering. You can have everything from hot dogs to foie gras. The problem is that unless you plan out your meals and reserve a table well in advance you will be stuck eating lackluster food and paying a premium for it. With this in mind, we like to plan out our meals at the park making sure to only purchase those meals that we know we will enjoy. We look at this in terms of efficiency. We will make reservations at one of the nicer, more expensive restaurants and eat the remainder of our meals outside of the park at price that is likely 1/3 of what it would cost in the park.
The restaurants that we like to frequent at Disney World are:
- The California Grill
- Artist Point
- Flying Fish Café
- The Boathouse
- Le Cellier Steakhouse
- Frontera Cocina
- Morimoto Asia
- Bongos Cuban Café
- Art Smith’s Homecomin’
When we are outside of Disney World, we often find ourselves at:
- Le Café De Paris
- Flippers Pizzeria
- Holler and Dash
- First Watch
- Keke’s Breakfast Café
- Bee Won Korean Cuisine
- Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine
- Pollo Tropical
- Rocco’s Tacos
- Saffron Indian Cuisine
How to Manage Time at the Parks
One of the most important ways that we’ve found to make Disney World more enjoyable is to put some time into thinking about how we can manage our time at the park. As a child, I remember coming to Disney World and being at the gate as soon as it opened. We were at the park all day and left when the gates closed. As a kid, this seemed like a great thing: maximizing the amount of time at Disney World. What no one ever talked about though was that not too long after lunch everyone started to be a bit on edge. Kids were crying, parents were frustrated, and there was usually some yelling about where to eat or what to do next. In short, no one was really happy by the time we left. This is not a great way to spend a weekend and I realize now why people who experience Disney this way might not want to come back for an entire year.
What we’ve found is that you can maximize the amount of enjoyment everyone has by planning out the day in blocks. We usually eat breakfast outside of the park, spend about 3 hours at one of the parks, eat lunch either on or off property, go to another park for about 3 hours, go back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, then have a nice dinner. After dinner we decide whether to go back to the hotel or try to catch one of the firework shows. If the kids are tired or if we’ve had a long day, then we just go back to the hotel. By not forcing extra time at the parks we keep everyone happy.
You might wonder whether this gives enough time to fully experience Disney World? My reply would be that since the advent of the Fast Pass this method gives you plenty of time. Consider that you are allowed to pre-book 3 Fast Passes per day. If you book a ride at 9, 10, and 11, you get to ride 3 rides. If you would like, you can usually ride 1 or 2 additional rides (depending on the wait times) before your next Fast Pass. This means up to 9 rides over a three-hour period – that’s a lot!
One Last Piece of Advice
They say that Disney World is the most magical place on earth. It draws people from all over the world and just about everyone has a great time. What we need to remember, though, is that as weekenders we experience the park differently. We don’t have weeks at a time to experience everything that Disney World offers. Instead, we need to maximize the enjoyment that we have over the 2 or 3 days at the park and leave the rest for the next trip. Because, unlike those people who spend all of their annual vacation days visiting the park, we can always come back next weekend.