You take a Disney vacation to make memories with family and friends, right? So, what fun would anyone have going by themselves?
This was the question I asked myself over and over as I pondered whether or not to take a solo trip to Walt Disney World. I had a surprise extra week off of work at the beginning of January, and school wouldn’t have started back yet. After doing some pricing, I decided I could manage a quick visit by myself if I wanted. But did I want to? Aren’t the most special Disney memories the ones you share with other people? Last-minute Disney is not foreign to me, but this would be too last-minute to coordinate a travel party. If I took a brief Disney trip, it would be alone, something I had never done before. With a bit of hesitation, I went for it.
Before I discuss what I found, here’s a little about me and what I expected from the trip: On the Myers Briggs personality test, I’m an INFJ, with the “I” (introvert) being significant. (Fun fact: introvert and extrovert has nothing to do with being shy or social, but actually deals with whether you re-energize from being by yourself or with other people. Now you know!) Since I’m an introvert, being by myself in general is not something I’m uncomfortable with, though I understand how some people are. When I told a friend I was going alone, he guffawed and said he wouldn’t survive not carrying on constant conversation for that long. Don’t get me wrong, I love being around people, but I can manage not being around people and be ok with that. What made me nervous, then, about taking a solo Disney trip was an insecurity about how I would be perceived by other vacationers. What would people think as they saw a college-age male touring Walt Disney World by himself? Would I be treated differently by Cast Members? Was I “allowed” to meet characters? Would I wish I had stayed home? When it was all said and done, I had one of the most special Disney vacations I can remember with a newfound understanding for the way Disney ensures guests of all party sizes have an equally great experience. Here’s what I learned as a solo traveler about visiting Walt Disney World by yourself:
You spend less time in line. While only a few attractions have a formal single-rider line, almost all of them are looking for solo guests to fill in those small gaps of seats. When you’re by yourself, that gap-filler can be you. This sometimes means that you get to skip a significant portion of the line if Cast Members are walking the queue asking for single riders. Other times, it means you have a lot more space to stretch out, such as when I had the very back car of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad all to myself (the bumpiest ride of my life!).
You can stake out spots for shows much later. While traveling with other people, it is necessary to arrive early to shows, parades, and fireworks to ensure a good viewing spot that will fit your entire party. With only one person’s worth of space to account for, it’s much easier to squeeze in wherever there is a small gap of room. This also means you can move around a bit to test out several locations before settling on the one you like best without struggling to keep everyone together. I arrived in the hub about 15 minutes before Wishes! began, and was able to find a perfect viewing location. This would have been next to impossible with even a party of three.
You can tour at your own pace. It’s difficult to describe this one without sounding snooty. I love experiencing the Disney magic with other people. Whether it’s family I’ve been with too many times to count or a friend experiencing everything for the first time, seeing the way people we love connect with Disney is a special thing and something that never gets old. That being said… we all have those moments when it sure would be nice to just shake everyone off and go do our own thing. Traveling by yourself, you can. There’s time to be with your thoughts and let each experience sink in. When you are by yourself, you are not rushing on to the next thing so your first-time friend sees all the essential attractions in one visit or so everyone in your party gets to ride their favorite. There is zero expectation from anyone but yourself, and that’s kind of cool. This trip, I didn’t get around to riding Haunted Mansion, and that was fine because it was fine with me. Ordinarily, even if it’s fine with me, it’s not fine with everyone else, and I wouldn’t dream of not fitting it into my day. I took a solid 20 minutes to just sit in the hub grass and take in the atmosphere, something I couldn’t have done with other people because they’d be asking why on earth I’d want to do that. I watched Dream Along with Mickey three times, simply because I felt like it, something I would never do with a big travel group because they’d (understandably) want to spend their time doing more attractions. When you travel by yourself, you don’t have to go by anyone’s preferences but your own. (Like I said, that sounds a little selfish, but in this context, it’s a liberating realization you must come to.)
You can easily change plans without throwing everything off. The new FastPass+ makes for an innovative way to plan family vacations. However, especially for big groups, once something is reserved, it can be a struggle to switch things up. Not the case when you’re by yourself. The day before my day in the park, I replaced an existing FastPass+ selection so that I could watch the Festival of Fantasy Parade from the FastPass+ viewing area. It was simple, quick, and presented no problems. If I had been with my family of six, first, there would not have been a next-day availability for a group that large. Second, doing so would have likely thrown off the touring strategy for the entire day and led to having to create a completely new plan. As a solo traveler, I could make quick decisions like that, and, even when I was inside the park, make spontaneous choices that didn’t throw everything else out of whack. This doesn’t just refer to FastPass+, but also relates to basic decisions like where to eat a snack or when to experience a certain attraction. The only needs you have to accommodate are your own, therefore relieving much of the complication that can come from touring a theme park.
It’s ok to meet characters. I was nervous about this one. Meeting characters is one of my favorite things to do in the parks. While I’ve met a few characters by myself here and there on past visits, I was anxious about being by myself for every character. I shouldn’t have been. I didn’t get any awkward glances from guests like I anticipated, and even if I had… who cares? When interacting with each character, I completely forgot about any hesitations I might have had. They treated me no differently than anyone else, and spent just as much time with me as they did with large groups. More often than not, it was I who concluded the conversation, not them. I also attended the 1900 Park Fare character breakfast, which I was a bit hesitant to do. While the interactions at the meal felt a bit more rushed than the ones inside the parks, it was otherwise a positive experience with fun character moments. The only awkward part was the close proximity of each table (but that had nothing to do with the characters and would have been prevalent even if I was there with other people).
You can still make memories when you’re alone. I don’t know about you, but when I take a vacation to a place I’ve visited before, I can’t help but think back to memories that occurred at specific places—memories that stem from being with other people. When I ride Splash Mountain, I think back to my friend uncontrollably laughing at Br’er Fox. When I walk through Fantasyland, I think back to when my little sister was crowned “princess of the day.” In taking this solo trip, I expected to be reminded of these past moments I had with other people, but did not anticipate making any new moments by myself. I knew I would have a blast, but what special moments would I have to remember this trip by if there wasn’t anyone with me to initiate any such moment? That’s where I was wrong. The next time I approach the entrance to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I’ll remember running along that pathway to make it just in time for the Symphony in the Stars fireworks. The next time I grab a snack from Sleepy Hollow, I’ll remember how Minnie and Goofy waved to me from across the moat as they waited to go onstage for Dream Along with Mickey. There still can be those moments, and magic can certainly still be made, no matter the party size.
Have you ever taken a solo Disney trip?
(Images and video belong to author’s personal collection.)
Blake studies Electronic Media and Film at Appalachian State University. His favorite attraction is the hub grass. You can find him on Twitter @blake_242 or at BlakeOnline.com.