My Disney World challenge: Part 1
Walt Disney World, the most magical place on earth, attracts millions of visitors each year. In fact, in 2010 the Magic Kingdom was the most visited theme park in the world, with 17 million people passing through the turnstiles.
Each year, a select few theme park enthusiasts attempt an “Ultimate Tour” of the Magic Kingdom, where you attempt to complete all of its “core attractions” (those listed on the map) and as many of its “bonus attractions” (such as character greetings and unpublicised shows) as possible.
This January, I decided to attempt this challenge and try to complete more attractions than anyone before. With the record at 75 attractions in one day, it would be a massive challenge. Like any trip abroad, it was a challenge where good planning is crucial to success.
The first important factor to select was the date, surprisingly enough it is better to select a busy day than a quiet day. This is because on a busy day, the park is open considerably longer.
For example, on one of the quietest days in September the Magic Kingdom closes at 7pm; on the day I selected (in the top 20 busiest days of the year at the park) it was open until midnight for everyone and another three hours for people staying at a Walt Disney World hotel.
This meant I had until 3am to complete the challenge, a total of 18 hours in the park, compared to just 10 had I gone on one of the quietest days of the year.
Whilst this was particularly important for the challenge, the task of selecting the right date wasn’t a new one to me. When travelling during my gap year, I knew that it was important to carefully look at the calendar before planning where I would be and when.
For example when we were visiting the waterfalls of Banlung in Cambodia, we had to make sure we did so before the rainy season really began. We also made sure to check FCO website (www.fco.gov.uk /travel) before we left, so that if there were any upcoming protests or other activities that we would be best to avoid, we were out well before they began.
After selecting the day, it was then all about organising my “touring plan”, the order in which I would hit the attractions.
Mathematicians often concern themselves with the “travelling salesman” problem, which looks at the optimal route for a salesman to visit his client, in terms of speed, efficiency and distance. A touring plan is just an extension of that, as I planned to go to the attractions when I knew they had the smallest queue.
Surprisingly the main rides and shows actually aren’t much of a problem in this, as almost all of them have high enough capacity that their queue is quite short (the Hall of Presidents theatre holds 700 people per show!) or they utilise the FASTPASS system. The FASTPASS system is a Disney innovation where, at no additional cost, you enter your park ticket into a machine, and instead of queuing up, you receive a ticket telling you to return in an hour slot later in the day where you will be ushered to the front of the queue.
Whilst you can only collect one FASTPASS every so often (there is at least a 45 minute gap, but no more than a two hour gap, depending on the popularity of the attraction), the 18 hours I had was more than enough time to collect FASTPASSes for all the popular rides.
Whilst there were some exceptions to this rule, particularly rides with a low capacity and no FASTPASS such as the Astro Orbitors and the Tomorrowland Speedway, they could be ridden at 2am in the morning when the park was pretty deserted.
The bigger challenge was the Character Meet and Greets, which although not popular in the way Space Mountain is, can build up some of the biggest queues in the park. Just think, if a character spends one minute with everyone they met, then you only need 30 families ahead of you for this to be a very significant queue.
So it was absolutely crucial to get there early and do lots of the character greetings as they were just beginning, as the first couple of hours are often the quietest times at Disney theme parks, as guests choose to lie in on holiday. This is particularly true of the Rapunzel meet and greet, which can get up to two and a half hour queues.
But once again, I was used to this. When I was abroad, particularly in countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam where temperatures could soar above forty degrees, planning my day before I went out was crucial to ensure that I was inside at the hottest parts of the day. If you didn’t do this, you found by the evening you were too hot and exhausted to go out.