As I was growing up in Columbus, Ohio, there was one thing I absolutely loved doing and was lucky enough to do: leave Columbus, Ohio. This resulted in my Dad taking me to Walt Disney World about eight times. While this may sound like enough to spoil a kid rotten, I feel I’ve instead learned a few life lessons that come with putting into practice all of the “WDW” tips you read in your very own guidebook made for kids, by kids.
The guidebook that gave birth to my smarty-pants attitude toward "park-hoppin'".
1) If you want to be sure to see everything, you better take advantage of Extra Magic Hour. It’s not everyday that you’re going to be able to walk right onto Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster first thing in the morning or while everyone else is scrambling to find a decent spot from which to watch the nighttime fireworks. It really is extra magical (and, well, sometimes a bit surreal, to be honest) feeling as though you’ve got the park to yourself and that group of really happy German tourists you seem to keep running into. Sure, you’ll have to wake up an hour earlier and/or miss the fireworks (which I never much cared for anyway) but you’ve got to consider when or if your parents will schedule another Disney World vacation. (Turns out I didn’t really have to worry much about that, but it certainly kept me on my toes.)
2) Sometimes the ride has to stop momentarily. And it’s not your fault – unless you’re the d-bag who decided it was a good idea to hop out of the boat on Splash Mountain to take a picture next to your hero Brer Bear. (They have character meet-and-greets, dude!) But sometimes people simply need special assistance getting on or off a ride vehicle and we just have to be patient and wait, because they, too, paid park admission. Other times, shit just happens. The Pirates of the Caribbean is an old ride. One of the boats might be backed up and you’re stuck underneath the pirate dangling his hairy, greasy leg over the bridge. The thing is, however, the ride always starts back up again, and once you get off you’re probably going to want to go back on at some point. Kind of like your youth, only, yes, you can experience it again.
3) Listen to your crying child as s/he begs not to get on Tower of Terror. It’s actually park policy not to let a crying child onto a ride, and thank God. Some parents seem to have it in their heads that an 8-year-old is going to get onto a scary rollercoaster kicking and screaming and somehow walk off a full-fledged adult with a stable, well-paying job and a suitable spouse. (Insta-parenting!) That is probably why parents tend to whisper harshly, “You big baby!” into their child’s ear as they are asked to drag their wet, soppy-eyed offspring from the ride just before getting on. Because only infants are scared of rides that are meant to be spooky! No ride at Walt Disney World, or any theme park for that matter, is going to turn your son into a “man”. If you’re spending upwards of $1,000 for a week’s vacation in the Happiest Place on Earth thinking that The Haunted Mansion will, say, teach your children not to be afraid of death, then you probably should have neither children nor $1,000.
4) If you can keep walking onto Space Mountain or Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster and it’s not right after a meal, do so to your stomach’s content. Because next time you’re waiting 2 hours in line, you’re going to be kicking yourself. There’s something still mystical and relaxing about stepping into the cool, galactic tunnel that is the queue to Space Mountain. If I had the chance, that’s what I’d do all afternoon. So do it while you’re there, because once that cheerleading convention starts it’ll be rather difficult to beat those bouncy teenage girls with glitter gel in their hair to the Fast Pass machines.
5) Apply these tips to life situations where you feel it’s appropriate, and you’ll be having so much fun that it’s criminal! Well, perhaps not always outside the Disney property of central Florida, but it taught me to get the most out of each trip without feeling cheated or ungrateful. And while I certainly recognize that Disney World and Real Life World are two entirely separate playing fields (I’m not necessarily Becca from Bridesmaids, so give me a little credit, here) it definitely takes some extra critical thinking skills to determine when and where to apply them.
Not me, but we could probably share some tips.
Overall, Disney World has not only taught me that trolls have eight fingers and eight toes (thank you, Norwegian pavilion at Epcot,) but also to be patient, take advantage of what opportunities come your way, and that you don’t have to be forced to ride a ride to learn these things.
Troll statue in the Norway gift shop at Epcot's World Showcase. Educational!