Walt Disney World is basically its own city complete with 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 1 massive outdoor shopping district, and over 25 resorts. (Oh and did we mention they actually have their own city government, including emergency systems? But that’s another story altogether.) Needless to say, it’s good to know as much as possible before you visit!
So, you’re all set with your FastPass+ and Advance Dining Reservations, but there are likely to be a few surprises you may have not expected. There are plenty of things that continue to perplex even the most experienced Disney vacationers. Here’s our list of the Weirdest Things Nobody Told Me Before I Went to Walt Disney World.
Going to Disney is like stepping into a whole other world at times! We’ve got some of the more interesting differences you may spot here that aren’t as common in the “real world.”
Disney Fans LOVE to Plan Their Outfits
There’s way more to Disney style than the casual souvenir t-shirt these days. It’s a full-blown lifestyle for some folks!
Matching shirts, hats, and accessories are basically everywhere you look nowadays in the parks. You’ll spot families, groups around Epcot, newlyweds, and even Bachelorette parties in matching looks.
Disney obviously offers a seemingly endless supply of cute t-shirts, but many folks choose to make their own or order from custom retailers online. With the boom of at-home vinyl cutters in the past few years, many people know at least someone who can cut them out an iron-on for some shirts. If you want one of your own (they’re super easy to work with!) this is our favorite model!
It’s not at all uncommon to see people or whole families who plan their entire wardrobe for a full Disney trip around matching shirts for each day, even based on the park that they’re in that day! It makes it easy to keep tabs on your crew in a busy park, and shows off that you’re together and possibly celebrating something.
Dapper Day and DisneyBounding
There are even days devoted entirely to dressing up in a particular way. You may happen to visit the parks and notice a ton of guests dressed to the nines. Chances are, you’re visiting on Dapper Day!
Smaller unofficially planned days happen in the parks from time to time, so if you happen to spot a crowd of guests in interesting attire, check it out!
For a lot of folks, dressing for a day at Disney World is a full-time endeavor. It’s more than just shorts and a t-shirt! A lot of time and energy is invested in making sure they look their absolute best, and we love seeing families and friends dressed to impress!
Some People Take Merchandise Very Seriously!
The Wonderful World of Pin Traders
Ever see folks around the parks with lanyards covered in Disney pins? Or do you ever wonder why there are long lines outside of a gift shop first thing in the morning? Welcome to the world of Pin Trading!
Pin Trading may feel like this underground world where pins are currency, but really it’s just a fun hobby for many guests wanting a more unique souvenir. Pin trading is an experience, and it’s one you can continue on each time you visit Disney World.
Why do people do it? Well, some like the hunt for hard to find pins. Some like lines of pins related to their favorite rides or characters. Some like the chance to interact with Cast Members who trade pins. Disney often will release lines of “hidden Mickey pins” just to Cast Members, meaning they have a small Mickey head on the front of them somewhere and you can only initially score them by interacting with a Cast Member!
Not sure how to get started? Most gift shops sell “starter packs” of pins. If you see a Cast Member with pins, politely ask if they’d make a trade with you. Before you know it, you’ll be trading pins like a pro!
Pin Trading boards can be found it lots of places. Guest Relations, retail shops, and the front desk at the Disney World resorts will have some sort of board or book that you can look at! Some spots, like stroller rental locations, often have fun and unexpected forms of pin boards.
Many restaurants, like Columbia Harbour House in Magic Kingdom, put out a pin board as the day goes on, so keep your eyes peeled!
The Disney swag obsession goes way beyond pins! The casual fan may not be aware of the full scope of the merchandise scene at Walt Disney World. Those in-the-know tend to follow along as Disney continually releases limited-edition merch.
Epcot always has new swag to collect for their annual festivals. If you spot an unusually long line at a merchandise shop, those devoted few are likely waiting to get their hands on a limited release item.
We’ve seen this happen usually in the first few days of the Festivals at Epcot, or the first nights of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Limited Edition MagicBands, Spirit Jerseys, pins, and more are hot commodities when first released!
The Weather Can Be Crazier Than You Think
It’s no surprise to many that Florida tends to be pretty warm for the majority of the year. First-time visitors may be quite surprised by just HOW warm it is. Thanks to humidity, you’ll likely be sweating from every pore of your POOR body.
One tip to stay in control of the situation is to stay hydrated! There are water bottle refilling stations at select places throughout property and you can ask at any time for a complimentary cup of ice water from any counter-service spot.
Many outdoor carts sell misting fans or cooling towels in warmer months, or you can bring some from home. Seriously, staying cool in Disney World in the warmer months is a challenge. You WILL get hot and sweaty…and then it will probably rain and all that warm humidity will make it feel like you’re walking in a straight-up sauna.
Let’s talk about that rain for a moment. If you’re visiting in the summer months, you can almost guarantee that it will rain during your trip at some point. Expect the raindrops to arrive mid-afternoon. These storms are usually pretty quick (sometimes coming out of nowhere, so REALLY check that weather app before heading out each morning!), but they can be downright brutal if you get stuck in a torrential downpour. Be prepared with your rain gear so your day doesn’t come to a grinding halt!
But perhaps the most BIZARRE weather pattern that no one seems to talk about or warn us about is how COLD it can get in Central Florida! If you visit in the winter months, be prepared to feel a little more than just chilly! It can feel downright freezing if you happen to be there during one of Florida’s “cold snaps”, so have a couple of heavier sweatshirts or jackets ready.
Guest Behavior Can Be…Interesting
Disney does everything they can to ensure you’re going to have a magical time during your trip, but it’s highly likely you’re going to run into some unruly guests at some point. While it seems common knowledge to not block others while riding an attraction with the use of your phone, camera, iPad, or flash (you even get that “please, no flash pictures” speech on EVERY dark ride!), common sense tends to go out the door with some visitors.
Keep in mind that a lot of the time, folks might not even realize what they’re up to! “Vacation brain” is totally a weird thing and it can affect all of us sooner or later. Between the heat, the crowds, the excitement, and perhaps the lack of sleep, we are all known to make questionable choices every now and then!
Just keep in mind that Cast Members want you to have a fun vacation, but they also want you to be SAFE while you do so! So if a Cast Member asks you to stand behind a yellow line or to stop running, it’s not because they want to ruin your trip — they just want to keep you safe and smiling.
Smells On Rides!
Disney World is all about the sights, sounds, and yes, SMELLS! It’s been proven that people strongly associate memories with smells, and Disney brings this to the next level. Ever heard someone still go on and on about the smell of oranges on Horizons in Epcot…in the 1980s?
Smells can be a powerful memory, and Disney takes advantage of that on their rides! Some are barely noticeable, while others, like the smell of fresh grass or flowers on Soarin’ Around the World, are hard to miss!
Other rides where you’ll find scents include Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Journey Into Imagination with Figment, Spaceship Earth (hopefully before AND after its renovation!), It’s Tough to Be a Bug, Flight of Passage, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Some of Disney World’s resort hotels pipe specific scents into their lobbies (very subtle, but absolutely there). And of course we can’t forget that intoxicating scent of popcorn and waffle-cones-in-progress on Main Street USA! For Disney World die-hards, the smells of Disney World are some of the most triggering messages that you’re back on vacation!
It is NOT a Small World After All
At nearly 40 square miles, the sheer size of Walt Disney World is overwhelming. Even with a comprehensive and complex transportation system — by boat, by roadway, by Monorail, and now by sky thanks to the Skyliner — many casual visitors neglect to factor in just how long travel can take between each location.
Especially for those familiar with the walkable Disneyland property, most places are completely UN-walkable at Walt Disney World. Preparation is key! Learn how to navigate the transportation system like a pro with our tips and tricks.
We always recommend factoring in extra EXTRA time when planning your travel time between locations. Buses break down, Monorails get delayed, and the Skyliner can close unexpectedly. And, depending on what resort you’re staying at, those internal bus loops at some resort hotels can add upwards of an extra thirty minutes to your commute time!
That can seriously add up first thing in the morning when all you want to do is get to the parks. It can also add up at the end of the night when all you want to do is go to bed! Resorts like Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Old Key West, and Saratoga Springs are notorious for having massive internal bus loops, so keep that in mind when choosing your resort.
It May Be Tough To Meet Your Favorite Character
Due to the sheer size of Disney World, there is simply too much to do it ALL on most vacations. So be prepared to possibly miss out on a ride or two, or that character you wanted to meet, or that snack you wanted to try. Combine the size of Disney World with those massive crowds, and it will be even harder to do ALL the things you want to do!
Remember, character meet and greets are temporarily discontinued upon the initial reopening of the parks. But we expect our Disney friends will be back, so if you’re planning a trip for a further future date, take note of these tips!
Ultimately, the best way to navigate this scenario is two-fold: plan ahead with your priorities in mind, and be prepared to be flexible. To help, we have COUNTLESS articles on planning your Disney vacation, especially during those busy seasons. We also have a great guide on all things FastPass, to make sure you’re prepared to make those reservations to your must-see attractions.
Unfortunately, long gone are the days of just casually stumbling upon your favorite characters. These interactions need to be pre-booked with a FastPass+ reservation, Character Meals, or face waiting in lengthy lines. And the big guy, Mickey, can be the hardest of them all to meet.
There are cases when you can happen upon your favorite character, like Character Palooza, but those opportunities are few and far between. If meeting a certain character is an absolute must during your trip, we suggest planning ahead!
Check My Disney Experience for a list of characters in each park and when and where they meet. You can plan your character interactions out long before you’re standing in the parks, and possibly avoid some of the lengthier waits by booking a meal with characters.
You Have To Know What You’d Like To Eat 6 Months in Advance
As we mentioned with attractions and character must-dos, planning is crucial. If you’re looking to get those coveted dining reservations at popular spots, you’re going to have to be ready to book them 180 days in advance. YEP. You’ll need to know what you’d like to eat for dinner 6 months in advance. Where else do you need to pick a meal so far out ahead of time?!
If you plan to stick to counter service throughout your trip, then you don’t need to plan quite so far ahead, but we know for many, part of the allure of a Disney vacation is snagging a reservation at popular spots, like California Grill or Be Our Guest Restaurant. If plans change, you can always cancel your reservation up to 24 hours ahead before incurring a fee.
This is also important to keep in mind — people’s plans change, so if you don’t get that coveted reservation 180 days out, keep checking! You can often find GREAT reservations at some hard-to-get restaurants if you keep checking back.
You Can Celebrate Halloween in August and Christmas in November!
Disney World takes the holiday season VERY seriously. Those looking to really immerse themselves in the Halloween or Christmas spirit will have an easy way to do so if they time their vacations right!
For Halloween, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is a frightfully fun ticketed event, filled with specialty merchandise, food offerings, and of course that Boo To You parade, led by the Headless Horseman!
Getting into the Halloween spirit is pretty easy to do in October and even in September (despite the fact that it’s still sweltering hot outside in Central Florida), but lately Disney has gone a step further and has started the Halloween parties in AUGUST. Didn’t think you’d be trick-or-treating THAT early in the season, did you?
Likewise, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party starts almost immediately after Halloween, in early November.
So, if you want to celebrate Halloween before the kids even head back to school from summer break, or if you want to celebrate Christmas before you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, you can do that at Disney World!
We wish you happy planning on your next Walt Disney World trip and hope these tips remove some of the shell shock you’ll experience while visiting the most magical place on Earth!
With a little bit of research and planning, you will be MORE than prepared to take whatever the Most Magical Place on Earth throws at you. Whether it’s the insane weather, bizarre mad dashes for merchandise, or confusing transportation, you can quickly become a Disney Pro — and then YOU can be the one to warn all your friends about the weird stuff!
Have you been surprised by something on a recent Walt Disney World trip? Let us know!