Doing Disney right means more than just booking a flight and snapping up a pair of Mickey ears. You need to do a bit more homework to really knock the trip out of the park. So we turned to our resident Disney expert to answer the real life questions that can make all the difference. Put it this way, would you rather leave with "It’s a Small World" stuck in your head or with photos of your little one dining like a princess at Cinderella’s Royal Table? Think about it.
Want to ask our Fodor’s Disney expert a question? Shoot her an email: DisneyExpert@fodors.com.
Even the off-seasons seem crowded lately! When is the best time to visit the parks with the smallest crowds?
A: Disney has become more adept at drawing in the crowds during the off-season—the traditional times when children are in schools and the parks used to be almost empty. But now with the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary-Halloween parties, Food & Wine Festival, and Flower & Garden Festival, those windows of opportunity are becoming smaller and smaller.
January and February, with the exception of MLK Day and Presidents Day, are still good times to visit. And as a bonus, the weather isn’t blistering hot! If your family wants more of a summer feel, visit during the first three weeks in May. The weather in Florida is warm but with kids preparing for final exams, few families take the time for a vacation. Likewise, the last three weeks of September and the first two weeks of October are a good idea. With the new school year just starting out, families stay at home. And lastly, if you want the Christmas decorations without the Christmas rush, visit the first week of December (my favorite time to visit!). The parks are all decked out but crowds are still weeks away!
Are there any fine dining restaurants in the parks?
A: Table service dining in the parks is a great way to break away from the heat of the day and rest without returning to the hotel room. Older kids will especially appreciate the down time without causing too much of an interruption in their roller coaster quests!
At the Magic Kingdom, Be Our Guest is the ultimate new fine dining experience, especially in the evenings when it becomes exclusively a table service venue. Expect breathtaking surroundings and the only wine list inside the Magic Kingdom. Epcot has the best choices for fine dining. Le Cellier in Canada is one of the few steakhouses on property while Coral Reef provides entertaining views of the Living Seas. But for fine dining, nothing beats Monsieur Paul in France, this recently renovated restaurant is the final word on French cuisine.
At the Animal Kingdom, visit the Yak & Yeti Restaurant for unusual Asian inspired dishes. And a personal favorite of our families is at Hollywood Studios, the Hollywood Brown Derby. This recreation of the famous restaurant, known as a favorite haunt of celebrities, has all the classics—including the signature Cobb salad—in a perfect atmosphere.
We visited Disney World when my child was 4, and he was terrified by the Haunted Mansion. So much so, that he is refusing to ride on our next trip, even though he is eight now. What are some tips for nervous children?
A: Ride phobia can strike at any age. It’s important to understand what makes a child afraid—we’ve had reports of four year olds who love rollercoasters but are scared of the Haunted Mansion. And nine year olds who love the Haunted Mansion, but hate Aladdin’s Flying Carpets. I still get nervous on Expedition Everest!
At Disney there are typically two different kinds of fear—fear of physical thrills and fear of a scary atmosphere. Height requirements are a helpful predictor for the physical thrills: the higher the requirement, the scarier the ride. But gauging a ride’s atmosphere can be a different thing all together. Before riding an attraction, especially one that is inside a building and where you can’t see what is about to happen, make sure to ask a cast member waiting outside about how scary it is. Know specifically what makes the child nervous—is it the dark? Loud noises? If the cannons booming on Pirates of the Caribbean is what did it in for your little girl, then the Haunted Mansion, with few loud noises, might work for her.
Also, make sure to ask if there is a "chicken shoot." For instance, on the Haunted Mansion, there is still time to exit after the preshow but once you’re in your "doom buggy," you can’t get off until the end of the ride.
The number one piece of advice? Don’t push the kids. If they say they don’t want to ride something, let them wait it out with Mom or Dad while the rest of the family rides. And who knows, after hearing how much fun the Haunted Mansion was, they may change their minds!
Photo credits: Courtesy of Walt Disney World