Mistakes I’ve Made Going Solo to Disney World

I’ve gone solo to Walt Disney World about a dozen times in the last year or so, with Sarah unable to accompany me due to erring on the side of caution during pregnancy and before Baby Bricker hit the six month mark. In so doing, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons along the way, some of which I thought it might be interesting to share so you can learn from or laugh at me. Really your call.

I’ll start by saying I’m actually a fan of taking solo trips to Walt Disney World. Or rather, I was a fan up until this past year. At this point, I am very much over it and ready to resume traveling exclusively as a family. We’ve already done that, and even shared ‘what went right’ during our family trip – part 1 and part 2, along with what wrong wrong part 1 and part 2.

Even though I’m looking forward to more family vacations, I also think solo trips can be a good way to see a different side of Walt Disney World or do things differently than when with a larger party. See our Top 10 Tips for Taking Solo Trips to Walt Disney World for more info. Think of this as a companion post to that, instead of recommendations for things to do to enhance a solo trip, this is the opposite–cautionary tales so you can learn from my mistakes…

Indecisiveness – You know that feeling when you’re sitting at home on the couch with a few free hours and a wealth of streaming programming at your fingertips? (I no longer do since Baby Bricker, but I used to!) But instead of getting right into it and selecting a movie to watch, you waste 30 minutes searching multiple streaming services for the perfect programming, before eventually giving up and just watching reruns of Frasier? (No? Just me? Well alrighty then.)

Unfortunately, I’m the exact same way at Walt Disney World when I have my own free time. When it comes to field testing, I’m absolutely in my element, ready to execute a perfect plan with precision while also having contingencies to which I can pivot at a moment’s notice. All of this is top of mind–I feel like part of Seal Team 6, but for dorks, or (more accurately) those elves from Prep & Landing. It’s a similar story when Sarah and I go to the parks together, albeit more laid back. Even though we’ve been hundreds of times, I feel a pressure to maintain momentum. (Doubly so on our family trips now.)

When I’m by myself at Walt Disney World and don’t have an agenda other than “have fun,” that’s where the wheels fall off. I have all the choices in the world, and can’t decide on what to do. This leads to a lot of wandering and revisiting familiar favorites, which is actually fun and satisfying, but often sunset rolls around and I find myself wondering “where did the day go?!” So many of the big plans I had for the last year didn’t happen because I had all the time in the world to do them…but didn’t.

Getting Soaked – I’ve been told I have “middle age absent-minded professor energy,” which I can only assume is high praise since it means that I am literate and competent at teaching. That’s not what is really meant by that, and a good example of the actual intent is made clear by my rain preparedness. I’m very familiar with Florida weather, having visited and lived in the Sunshine State for years. I know that the weather can turn to liquid sunshine without warning or notice, and you should always take an umbrella everywhere.

Somehow, I’ve managed to break or lose multiple umbrellas over the last year to the point that Sarah “joked” she should set up Amazon Subscribe & Save for an umbrella. Adding insult to injury, every single umbrella casualty came at a time when it was not raining, leaving me without an umbrella when it did rain.

Moral of the story: pack multiple means of staying dry–and umbrella and ponchos as a backup. Oh, and while we’re at it, always pack multiple pairs of shoes. This should be a given, for more reasons than one, but taking a single pair of shoes to Walt Disney World is like walking a tightrope with no safety net. Not advisable.

Mears Connect – This was not a mistake for me, as it didn’t make sense for me as a solo traveler to spend the extra money on Uber/Lyft or alternative forms of transportation, especially since I can work on my laptop while on the Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine shuttle bus. So the extra time was very much worth the money saved.

With that said, I want this to be a practical post for planners and not just a useless list of my goof-ups. For many/most other guests, I think Mears Connect is a suboptimal option, either due to the added time or added cost over the alternatives–or both. I think many people use it because it’s the spiritual successor to the free Disney’s Magical Express, so they stick with the safe and familiar.

To each their own, I guess, but with a party of 3 or more, I prefer the alternative airport transportation options to Mears Connect. For solo travelers or couples, it can make sense, but vacation time is money (or should be) for most of you!

Transportation Time – Speaking of which, the time-sink of transportation is another one. When it’s both of us, we tend to stay in the same park, enjoying as much as possible. There are many days that we don’t Park Hop at all, especially if operating hours aren’t conducive to it (meaning that there’s no benefit to hopping to extend the day).

With the exception of field testing days where I needed to spend the entire day in one park, I’m always bouncing around. I actually love this, but that’s in large part because I view the monorail, boats, and gondolas as a form of an attraction. I also like to stop by the various resorts and spend time at each. So for me, this works and wasn’t necessarily a mistake per se.

However, in ‘auditing’ my days after each trip, I couldn’t help but notice that I wasted a ton of time on transportation. Most of the time, I didn’t even come out ahead when accounting for starting at parks that opened earlier and ending at ones closing later. There were some days when transportation ate up multiple hours, in fact. I think this is worth highlighting because some guests underestimate just how much time commuting around Walt Disney World can take. (And very little of this has to do with inefficient buses or waiting–it was mostly the transit times themselves, going through security, etc.)

Family Style Meals – I love to eat and, although photos might suggest otherwise, can put down a lot of food. But on my own, I still typically cannot eat enough to fairly and thoroughly review restaurants without making multiple visits. And I refuse to waste food. That presented a dilemma of either overeating (or taking leftovers to back to my room) or doing family style meals.

Family style meals were attractive as the obvious value for money option that worked better, at least in theory, for solo trips as opposed to ones as a couple or, now, as a family of three. After all, the menu is the same whether you have a party of 1 or a party of 10–unlike a la carte menus, there’s no advantage to having a large party. It’s most efficient solo.

Again, all in theory. I learned my lesson the hard way with Toy Story Roundup Rodeo BBQ. I was seated at the very front of the restaurant, at a table every party would pass on their way to be seated, and right next to a little prep station for servers. I was already slightly uncomfortable to be a solo adult male in a kids restaurant, and being on fully display exacerbated it.

What really put things over the top was that the kitchen couldn’t prepare smaller size portions, so I got a whole ton of food brought out to me. And of course, I’m photographing all of this food. (My own “fault,” so to speak, but did me no favors in making myself less conspicuous.)

Even if Sarah were with me, this would’ve been way too much food–I’ll bet we could’ve only finished half of it. By myself, I was only able to eat a little less than half of it, and that was only after going way too hard to minimize the waste. I was embarrassed and apologized profusely for the food waste to my server. She was unfazed and told me not to worry about it–that Walt Disney World recycles all of the food (not to future patrons–this isn’t Chuck E. Cheese). Although I’m familiar with Walt Disney World’s commitment to reducing and diverting food waste, I’d still rather not be in that position in the first place.

For whatever it’s worth, buffets are a totally different story. I’d actually say those–especially Boma since it has a bit more of an adult vibe–are perfect for solo travelers. There are also other family style restaurants that are better about this, including Liberty Tree Tavern and Diamond Horseshoe, but Toy Story Roundup Rodeo BBQ was such an embarrassing experience that I stopped doing solo family style meals after that.

Eating Too Much – Probably an unsurprising outgrowth of the above, but I ate way too much at Walt Disney World in the last year. Not being willing to waste food (with the occasional exception for the barely-edible and desserts laden with artificial flavors and colors that barely qualify as “food” in the first place) and wanting to review as much as possible proved to be a dangerous combination.

It also didn’t help that, once pre-arrival Lightning Lanes were announced, I cut back significantly on Genie+ testing. This left the middle of my days wide open, and–rather than waiting in long lines for attractions I’ve done dozens or hundreds of times–I opted to eat. A lot. For research.

Combining all of the above (big meals for the sake of reviews, no waste, eating too often) along with Disney food being very different from what I eat at home led to me feeling bloated and tired. On the plus side, that also convinced me to walk more and faster than normal–I’d clock over 25,000 steps on an average day and burn 1,000 to 1,500 calories (according to my watch). All in all…I regret nothing. This actually was a lot of fun and not really a mistake, on balance. I probably should’ve opted for a few lighter dishes, though. That would’ve made it more enjoyable.

Too Much Caffeine – A common exchange between the two of us is me saying that I’m going to get a coffee or Coke at 3 p.m., and Sarah saying, “are you sure that’s a good idea?” It’s not, which I realize as soon as she says something–and don’t buy it as a result. This happens all the time when we’re out and about (including today as I was writing this post).

When I’m by myself, there’s no one to remind me of this obvious thing I should’ve learned a decade or more ago. And so I get a 3 p.m. coffee and sometimes a 6 p.m. Coke and, on rare occasion, an 8 p.m. Coke before the fireworks. It’s awesome! I’m hyped up and full of excitement!!! (If you’ve ever met me in the parks and I’ve been cheery and outgoing, this was within an hour of coffee or Coke.)

Then 3 a.m. rolls around, and I’m restless and anxious. I don’t get uninterrupted sleep. It sucks. Who could’ve known that caffeine would do this to me?! (I know I sound like an imbecile incapable of checking my worst impulses, but…eh, that’s about right.)

All Star Sports – This one isn’t what you might think. I have zero regrets about All Star Sports being my top resort (in terms of stays) over the last year-plus, with Coronado Springs being hot on its heels. I’m on record as saying that Walt Disney World’s cheapest resorts are actually good, and I mean that. That wasn’t just faint praise to reassure budget travelers.

To the extent this was a mistake, it’s that I became very accustomed to Walt Disney World trips being very inexpensive. And although I shouldn’t since I price this stuff out all the time, I had a bit of sticker shock when we started planning Megatron’s first trip and we wanted to splurge. They say that once you get a taste of filet mignon, you can never go back to lesser cuts of steak.

I guess I’m the opposite. Once I got a taste of doing Disney on a dime and having those accommodations be perfectly fine, it’s become harder to justify the pricier options. This is probably why Pop Century ranks as my #1 resort at Walt Disney World–it offers great bang for buck and I have a really hard time justifying the premium pricing on Deluxes, especially for anyone who will spend most of their days in the parks. Is it really worth spending hundreds of extra dollars to avoid bus rides at the beginning and end of the day?!

Flight Follies: Basic Economy – To save money, I routinely booked basic economy on Delta. I have their co-branded American Express card, so this wasn’t as much of a disadvantage as it might seem.

However, I didn’t earn miles (towards status or rewards) on those flights. So despite flying a lot, I don’t have anything to show for it with Delta. This is a good example of short-term thinking having a higher long-term cost. This can be applied far beyond flights, and I’m normally pretty good about this type of thing. I’ve also sometimes gotten stuck in the middle seat. I hate the middle seat. Anyway, lesson learned.

Flight Follies: TSA Precheck – I had Global Entry, which includes TSA Pre-Check. I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my email, and missed my extension window. Unfortunately, renewing once this expires is not easy–6 months later, and I’m still waiting on conditional approval. After that, I have to schedule an interview.

I’ve thus had a few flights out of MCO using the regular TSA security screening lines. 0/10, do not recommend. While MCO is a fine airport that’s as efficient as possible given the circumstances, I’d implore you to sign up for TSA Pre-Check. (If your trip is approaching, definitely do that–don’t wait for Global Entry, as processing times are absurd right now.)

MCO keeps breaking its own visitor volume records, and is bursting at the seams. The normal security lines can take a long time, and you’ll want to be at the airport over 2 hours in advance without it. Seriously–I’ve been doing 3 hours. That, or fly out of Terminal C if at all possible, as the situation there seems to be much better.

Finally, a “dishonorable mention” to flying into LAX. I have a love-hate relationship with Los Angeles International Airport. It even made our list of 10 Things We’ll Never Do Again at Disneyland. The reason it’s not an official entry is because I actually like LAX when flying solo, as I know the ins and outs of the airport and can get nonstop redeye flights to MCO that work really well for my schedule. I also love the Delta lounge and new terminal at LAX. But flying basic economy and not having TSA PreCheck exacerbate the negatives of LAX, so it deserves at least a mention here.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

What mistakes have you made when doing Walt Disney World or traveling in general, solo or otherwise? Does your partner likewise prevent you from making poor decisions at Disney? Any entry on this list “speak to you” or do you think these are all dumb moves that no functioning adult should’ve made? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

41 Responses to “Mistakes I’ve Made Going Solo to Disney World”
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