Sharing the Awesome – Andrew Pettit – Disney Enthusiast!

My life is filled with love and laughter thanks to the amazing people I get to hang out with. As well as being awesome, they’re creative, talented, generous, and fun! I thought you might like to meet them so I’ve asked them to come and give us a behind-the-scenes look at what they’re passionate about. I have to warn you though – creativity is contagious!

My guest today is my brother-in-law, Andrew Pettit, an expert of all things Disney. According to anyone who has ever travelled with him to Disney, he plans a superb vacation! So if a trip to Disney is in your future, you’re going to want to listen to his advice!

Susan and Andrew with MickeyAndrew, why do you love Disney? A: In many ways Disney is in my everyday life. Many of the television shows I regularly watch, Castle, Modern Family, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Once Upon a Time, are all shows on the ABC network, which Disney is the primary shareholder. On my morning commute I regularly listen to Mike and Mike on ESPN radio. Disney is again the primary shareholder of ESPN. Many of the movies I am looking most forward to seeing this year are Disney productions, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Tomorrowland. Again Disney now owns both Marvel and Lucasfilm. Then there are all the classic Disney and Pixar movies that, not only I grew up on, but my kids did as well.

However, my primary passion for Disney comes from it being my favorite travel destination. What began as a once in a lifetime family vacation to Walt Disney World (WDW) has turned into twice a year Disney trips. We love it so much that we have bought into Disney’s version of a time share, the Disney Vacation Club (DVC). In addition to our many visits to WDW we have been to Disneyland (DL), been on an Adventures by Disney (ABD) trip, and are in the process of planning our first Disney cruise (DCL).

The love for these trips comes from many things. Disney has such a high quality of service and friendliness of all its Cast Members. (Anyone who works for Disney is a cast member, from the executives to the people who clean the bathrooms.) They have great attention to detail and a concept of storytelling. Every hotel, attraction and building has a theme and a backstory. It may not always be obvious but hidden in the details it is there. From the markings on the pavement in the parks to the sounds and music in the background to the details in the fixtures there is theming and story everywhere.

Not only does the love continue over time but it builds. With each trip we take we want more. After our first, and only so far, ABD we fell in love with the level of service and privileged access gained by traveling with Disney. We hope to do many more ABD trips in the future. While we are only in the planning stage of our first DCL trip we are already thinking of other such trips we might make in the future. All the while we can’t wait to get back to the parks and see what has changed since our last visit.

I hadn’t heard of the ABD trip before you went on one. Learning about all the behind-the-scenes extras sounded fascinating! What’s the best advice for someone travelling to Disney? Is there a site/info that would be great for someone to check out before they go?

Plan ahead. On any Disney vacation, but particularly to the parks, it is extremely important to plan. WDW has four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom), two water parks (Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon), a shopping and entertainment district (Downtown Disney) and a plethora of other options as well. DL has two parks (Magic Kingdom, Californian Adventure) and a Downtown Disney.

In order to make the best of your time you need to be organized. You are able to book dining reservations 180 days in advance and some of the most popular restaurants will book up on the first day the reservations open. At WDW there is a system where you can now book Fast Passes (A pass that gets you to the front of the line to an attraction much quicker) 60 days in advance if you are staying on property and 30 days in advance if you are not. Again the most popular attractions get reserved quickly.

It is also important to plan what time of year to travel. As a general rule the crowd levels at the parks go up when children are out of school. There are also events at the parks that are restricted to certain times of the year. There are Halloween parties in the fall and Christmas celebrations, parties and decorations throughout that season. In the spring EPCOT has a Flower and Garden festival and in the fall they have a Food and Wine festival. Hollywood Studios has Star Wars weekends in the spring. If you are interested in these events then you need to plan accordingly but if you are not interested you might want to plan to avoid them since they bring larger crowds.

So for the person who thinks they will show up and just “wing it” they will likely run into a lot of disappointment. They will end up waiting in long lines, miss out on the best dinning locations, and generally have more to complain about than the person who has planned ahead.

Another important tip for park visitors is to be at the park before it opens. This gives you a chance to get through security and the ticket booth so you are ready to go when they start to let people in. Often times they will open the park before the actual posted time of park opening. In that first hour or two that the park is open the crowds will be the lowest and therefore the waits for the attractions will be the shortest.

One of the biggest complaint people will make about a Disney trip when they return home is that they had to wait too long in lines. By planning ahead, using Fast Passes and getting to the park early we have very rarely waited in line for any attraction longer than 15 minutes and less than 10 minutes is the norm.

People most often ask, “When is the best time to go?” This depends on so many things, the weather, the crowds, what events and the cost. As “frost bitten” Canadians we like to travel when it is warm enough to swim. Many people however like to travel when it is cooler because it is nicer to travel around the parks with all the walking required. When the crowds are the lowest, the prices also tend to be low. However this often coincides with the shortest park hours and it is also when Disney is more likely to close rides for refurbishment. Many people tend to think of October as the best time to visit WDW as the temperatures and humidity are not too oppressive, the Halloween parties and Food and Wine Festival are going on, and the crowd levels are reasonable.

Susan and Andrew seguayingOne last tip to point out is Disney is not just for kids or even families. While that is their specialty, it is a rare person that cannot find something to enjoy at the Disney parks. Aside from the parks, dining, attractions and shopping there is plenty more to see and do at WDW. You can go horseback riding, get a spa treatment, go on a backwoods Segway tour, take a carriage ride, go golfing at one of many courses, go on a fishing excursion as well as take many behind the scenes tours. There is truly something for everyone.

I know the hotels have some pretty nice pools too. If you want to plan, where would you find the information? A: Given that the Magic Kingdom at WDW alone gets close to 20 million visitors a year (The #1 most attended theme park in the world.) there is no shortage of available resources to plan your trip. Historically, and still readily available, there are a number of guidebooks. My personal favourite for the parks is the Unofficial Guide series.

However in the age of the Internet there is a flood of web sites and forums with an inexhaustible supply of information.

For all things Disney the website WDWInfo.com is, in my opinion, one of the best. They have extensive information on WDW, DL, DCL, ABD as well as information on Universal Studios in Orlando. They also have what might be the largest forum on all things Disney on the Internet.

Another site that has great trip planning information for just WDW is EasyWDW.com. They have a great feature that gives the crowd levels for the various parks.

Other good sites are allears.net, disneyfoodblog.com and mousesavers.com.

Great tip! Sometimes there are so many, it’s hard to find the good ones. What’s your personal favourite attraction/restaurant/place to stay/waterpark? A: That is like trying to pick my favourite child. There are a number of attractions I consider “must dos”, there are many restaurants that I love to dine at and many resorts that I plan to go back to again.

I thought I might describe a dream day at WDW. It might not be practical or even feasible but it details a number of the best things I love at WDW.

I would stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge in a room with a savannah view, so as I woke up I could sit out on my balcony and see the African animals as they came out for their morning feed.  Then I would head to Boma, located at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, for a buffet breakfast.

It would, coincidentally, be a day where Animal Kingdom had early morning extra magic hours, so I go there and ride Kilimanjaro Safaris. From there I would head to Magic Kingdom in time to watch the opening ceremonies and then ride Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Buzz Light-year and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Then I would head over to EPCOT and ride Soaring, Test Track, Mission Space and Spaceship Earth.

I would then walk over to the Boardwalk where I would have lunch at the Big River Brewing Company. From there I could walk to Hollywood Studios where I would ride Toy Story Midway Mania, where I would get the best score of the day (This is a fantasy day.). Then I would ride Star Tours, the Great Movie Ride and see Muppets 3D.

Then I would take a break where I could catch a Friendship Boat and go to the Yacht and Beach Club and lounge by the amazing pool Stormalong Bay. (Technically only guests staying at this resort can use this pool.) There I could relax with a few drinks and enjoy the sand bottom pool as it massages my aching feet.

I would have an elegant dinner at Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian resort. (I’ve never actually done this, yet). Then head back to Magic Kingdom where I would ride both Big Thunder Mountain Railway and the Carousel (Both better at night) then catch the castle light show and watch Wishes fireworks. Of course there would be time (Not) to head from there back over to EPCOT and see Illuminations (Combination fireworks and laser light show.) aboard one of the special cruise boats.

Then collapse, exhausted, back into bed.

Disney picHaha – love it! Disney World or Disneyland? A: They are both wonderful places to visit. When we were at DL we had a chance to meet two Disney ambassadors and they described DL as hug, whereas at WDW you can spread your arms wide. This is a good comparison.

WDW has the space. They have the four parks, two water parks and Downtown Disney that are all spread out so each has its own location and identity. The parks themselves tend to be bigger so they have more space within them as well. With more parks and more space they have more attractions. They have Animal Kingdom with the huge space it allows them to have the great safari ride and animal trails that would never be possible at DL. They have a lot more resort hotels, so more options in choosing where you stay when on property. However since it is spread out it can take time to get from one location to another on the property. With more resorts and parks there will be a lot more people on property on any given day but they will be spread out over a larger area. The weather is also more of an issue at WDW. The summer to winter fluctuations are much higher. The summer being so hot and humid it is often unbearable and with that comes a lot of thunder storms. Fortunately they usually pass through quickly but leave the humidity even higher.

DL has an intimacy that the lack of space brings and a convenience. You can walk from any of the three hotels to either of the two parks and Downtown Disney without any trouble. Although there are less attraction options they do have most of the best attractions that are at WDW and some that aren’t.  The weather is much more moderate at DL. It rarely rains and as such many of the rides that are indoors at WDW are outside at DL.

The one great advantage that DL has Walt was there. He completely oversaw the development of the park and to this day you can still see his apartment over the fire station on Main Street. There is a sense of nostalgia and originality that can’t be truly duplicated at WDW. Walt died before the opening of WDW and although he was involved in the planning he never actually walked the park the way he did at DL.

Susan and Andrew at DisneyThen there are the castles. It is a big bone of contention between the fans of the two locations. DL has Sleeping Beauty’s castle and WDW has Cinderella’s castle. The castle at DL is smaller and less glamorous. The castle at WDW is bigger and more of a focal point to the park. It is also the one you see imitated in the Disney Studios logo at the beginning of their movies.

So to reiterate they both have their charms, advantages and disadvantages. We favour WDW mainly due to the fact that it is more convenient for us to travel to. It also gives us more resort options and entertainment options. We have only been to DL once but hope to get back there soon. Neither location can be fully experienced or appreciated in just on visit, as they both continue to change it will require that I go back time and time again.

Excellent advice for a fantastic Disney vacation! Andrew, thank you very much for sharing your expertise about Disney. Not that you could ever be disappointed, but a little bit of planning will go a long way to making it a vacation full of amazing memories!

 

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