Six tips for spending the time of your newly married life in the most magical place on Earth.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “She’s a travel editor and she went where?” Those who know me know I am an adventurer at heart. I’ve traveled solo through Scotland and Scandinavia, flown straight from New York to Australia’s Northern Territory, and free-fallen from 15,000 feet over New Zealand. The destinations on my personal travel wish list are far-flung and visually spectacular: Iceland, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Mozambique. You’ll notice central Florida is not among them. But when it came time to decide where my now-husband and I wanted to spend the five free days we had after getting married, we barely hesitated: we were going to Disney World.
Deciding was the easy part. The challenge: breaking the news to everyone else. Reactions fell into two categories: the truly envious (“Tell me you’re going to meet a princess and ride Space Mountain!” “You’ve got to get those bridal ears!” “I will officially be stalking you on Instagram, and don’t forget to Snapchat the Magic Kingdom fireworks so I can relive my childhood”) and the irritatingly condescending (“I mean, if that’s how you want to live your life….” “You’re a travel editor and you chose Florida? Really?” “I’ve never been and I’m not going until I have kids.” “I would never go to Disney World even if I did have kids”).
To the last: well, good, because Disney World wouldn’t want you anyway. True, some might find it hard to get past the stroller parking lots that seem to out-acre the rides themselves, but Disney is so much more than your everyday amusement park. If we are true to ourselves, growing up doesn’t have to erase our love of castles or fables, belittle the magic of passing a princess or catching a wave from Mickey Mouse, or diminish that indescribable feeling you get when you board your favorite ride again (or experience it for the very first time). After having made a very big adult decision, spending our first days as newlyweds in the most magical place on Earth seemed like the best way to celebrate our own fairytale.
Here’s how we did it, and what we learned:
The off-season is your saving grace.
November was never my favorite month—it’s the standstill between Halloween and Christmas, when fall leaves become dead leaves and Daylight Savings Time steals away the morning sun—but it can be one of the best times to get away, especially to Disney. Mid-November through mid-February (barring holiday weeks) are exceptionally good times to go. When we visited the week before Thanksgiving, temperatures hovered in the high 70s, hotel rates were among the lowest of the year, and ride lines remained consistently 30 minutes or less—laughable compared to the hour-plus waits during summer peak days.
Stay at a Disney Resort.
I’m a sucker for luxury and rooftop views—which the gorgeous new Four Seasons Orlando delivers in spades. But we opted to stay at a Disney Resort. Not only are Disney hotels closer to the parks themselves, cutting down transportation times, but they really ramp up the perks: complimentary shuttle service to every park including Disney Springs, knowledgeable staff, and MagicBands. Gifted only to Disney-branded resort guests, these colorful rubber wristbands act as your hotel room key, shopping (and dining) credit card, and keepers of coveted FastPass elections. What’s more, MagicBands open FastPass reservations up 60 days in advance, whereas non-resort guests can only reserve FastPasses day-of—frustrating for those with their hearts set on a particularly popular ride. It’s like vacationing at an all-inclusive. We chose to stay at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort, modeled after the Old South, and reveled in romantic nighttime walks among colonial plantation houses, over arched bridges, and past winding canals disturbed only by the occasional passing steamboat.
Tell everyone, and I mean everyone, what you’re celebrating.
It’s no secret: Disney loves newlyweds. Your first order of business, if you’re staying at a Disney hotel, is to inform the concierge desk upon arrival that you’re celebrating. Their gift—a “Happily Ever After” pin—will become your best friend. Expect a hearty “Congratulations!” from nearly every cast member you pass, as well as a few surprises along the way (we were serenaded with a personalized newlywed jingle on our way into Epcot, slurped free slushies in Magic Kingdom, and enjoyed a decadent dessert, compliments of the chef, in Disney Springs—all thanks to our pins.) And yes, Disney’s official bride and groom mouse ears might be cheesy, but they’re a must. Even if you don’t wear them everyday, they make great keepsakes.
Treat yourself to a fancy meal or two.
Book as early as you can to secure a reservation at the most romantic, in-demand restaurants, like Magic Kingdom’s Beauty and the Beast–inspired Be Our Guest or Epcot’s Le Cellier, but don’t sweat it if everything’s already booked (which happened to us). My husband and I left Hollywood Studios early to take a boat cruise over to Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney, which has been reenergized with a handful of upscale dining options from Morimoto Asia to the nautical-themed Boathouse (STK Orlando and Sprinkles Cupcakes are in the works for 2016). There, we gorged on the highly recommended seafood tower at Fulton’s Crab House, a huge replica riverboat with beautiful views of the lake—and relievingly free from the usual hordes of Disney park-goers. At Epcot, don't be afraid to book a late meal. We enjoyed a two-hour dinner at the Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room during the 9 p.m. nightly IllumiNations fireworks spectacular. (Tip: Ask to be seated on the outdoor patio, which overlooks the lagoon. If you time it right, you’ll have a front-row seat for the show.)
But don’t feel pressured to schedule your every minute.
After the anxiety-inducing whirlwind that is planning the perfect wedding, it’s time to slow down. Navigating a theme park vacation is taxing enough; instead of worrying about missing a reservation because we lost track of time shopping for the perfect keepsake, we left a day or two where we made meal decisions on the fly. There are a handful of walk-up counters and cafeterias serving great food options, like flatbread pizzas and good-sized salads. They may not be the most romantic option, sure, but there’s absolutely no shame in saving a little money and grabbing a quick bite before catching the fireworks or the bus back for a 9 p.m. turn in. (Plus, if you’re too sun-zapped or overdid it on the Mickey pretzels, you don’t have to feel pressured to force down another big meal.) “Take your time” should be your daily mantra. When we were beat by 4 p.m., we headed back to our hotel to nap before dinner. Whenever the ride lines became too long, we stopped for a snack. When I wanted to get that perfect selfie in front of Cinderella’s Castle, you bet we hung around an extra 15 minutes. When we wanted to sleep in, we didn't think twice about enjoying those extra zzzs! Fitting everything in at the expense of your stress levels and happiness just isn't worth it.
Just remember, it’s okay to be a kid.
Go ahead: wear those mouse ears with pride. Eat popcorn every day (your s.o. will be doing the same thing). Sacrifice your soul to get the best view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks (it’s worth it). Drink around the World Showcase at Epcot. Embrace being surrounded by children that are yet not your own. You just got married to the love of your life—all that’s left now is to let loose, be silly, hold hands, and enjoy every second.
Lindsey Olander is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @lindseytravels.