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Doing Disney Solo!

I’m currently on day seven of my Disney World Vlogs on my YouTube Channel. I thought it would be worth giving the overall low down of the solo trip now and how and why it worked. I could wait until the end, as I do cover this topic from my hotel room in the vlog of the final day, but I’ve decided it’s worth getting out there since the vlogs are taking twice as long to get through than I originally thought.

Since I thought I’d be finished with the vlogs around Christmas, I’m going to give you the lowdown now.

It’s worth noting before we go on that this isn’t about a single-day solo trip, or a long weekend. This is a solo trip from the UK involving 14-days staying at Disney World. It’s a true, honest to God solo trip as a primary holiday (as per the UK model of visiting Disney World).

Why A Solo Trip?

I’ve been seperated from my wife since the end of June 2015. This has meant the person I went on holiday with for the last 19-20 years, including a ridiculous amount of time spent at Disney World between 1998 – 2007, was now gone. There was always the possibility of going with friends and family but combining dates, agreement on place and everyone having the money at the same time is almost impossible.

It’s a bit like the stars aligning to raise an ancient God from the depths of the ocean.

So I started thinking about just branching out alone. I started to do some Internet searches and learned that a solo holiday is now no longer odd, it’s actually a big thing and there is whole businesses dedicated to it. I guess this is understandable, partners die or move on and people don’t stop living.

What Did I Consider Doing?

As I outlined in the pre-travel day vlog, there were numerous reasons for me ending up going to Disney World as my first solo holiday. The choice was not taken before considering other options. I, like I suspect a lot of people, initially thought spending 14-days in Disney World on my own was totally nuts. It was only after considering the other options I came around to the idea.

What other options did I consider?

I considered going to Canada and travelling around Jasper and Banff. I still really like this idea but it was just too much of a leap for my first solo trip as it was a very independent holiday involve trains, planes and automobiles. I put it to the back of my mind for the future. I then considered Las Vegas, which some might think is as odd as going to Disney World, but the aim was to use it as a base to different activities. I could also hop over to California and hit some theme parks.

I nearly did the Las Vegas trip, it was all planned out, but I just couldn’t bring myself to push the button so there was something I couldn’t consciously recognise that was stopping me doing it. On that basis I considered an all-inclusive trip to somewhere sunny so I could just laze around and read.

Once I thought of that I started thinking, is Disney World that stupid?

Why Disney World?

Ultimately, I chose Disney World via comparing it with the type of holiday people wouldn’t think was that stupid as a solo idea. If I’d decided to go on a holiday to an all inclusive resort, to sit by the pool or the beach, relax and read books, have some food and go on the odd excursion I suspect people would have decided it was unfortunate I was going on my own but it wasn’t that strange.

What I realised is my Disney World holiday wouldn’t be that different to that? I’d spend time relaxing by the pool, I’d go on ‘excursions’ to the theme parks and I’d read some books and enjoy some food. Once you disconnect the experience from hitting a theme park all day until you drop a Disney World holiday isn’t that different it’s just the theme parks become your focused ‘excursions’ to partake in specific experiences, your hotel has nicely themed pool and if you want a day by the beach you go to Typhoon Lagoon.

That was the theory I was working on. I’d organise my ‘excursion’ time into a morning and evening slot with the middle of the day spent being lazy by the pool. Obviously this is very weather dependent. It worked out great.

The Solo Disney Experience

There are number of things you come to realise after spending 14-days in Orlando, the vast majority of it in Disney World. It is these key realisations that allowed the holiday to work for me  and they may well be the reasons that persuade you it may be a good idea.

You realise, nobody cares!

The first thing you have to realise and I’d say you realise it pretty quickly is this: nobody cares! I can’t say how true this is as a universal truth of travelling solo, but in terms of being a Disney World visitor I can’t stress this enough.

Nobody. Cares. Repeat it. Nobody cares.

No matter what you might think before setting off about how conspicuous you are, in the words of the song, just let it go. Honestly nobody cares. I’m not saying it isn’t noticeable that you’re a solo traveller, just that it never seemed to be an issue in terms of my experience. I’d get on a Disney bus, no one cares. Hell, because I was going back from the parks in the middle of the day I had numerous solo bus journies, no one cares. You queue in a ride, no one cares. You announce one when the cast members asks how many, no one cares. Half the time you’re on the solo rider queue anyway. If you think you’re going to stand out and people are going to point at you like in The Body Snatchers film, don’t worry about it.

Also look at it this way, unless you’re a real out and out extrovert, it’s hard for you to compete with the solo travellers (or cast members on a day off) singing Let It Go to a camera by themselves in the middle of a busy walkway. On the scale of visual feasts for a visitors eyes, you’re not going to register.

I did notice other solo travellers on my ‘travels’. I encountered a handful over my time in Disney World and all but one of them were women. I suspect this is a thing as most content on the Internet about solo travelling is about women doing it.

I fully understand when you’re considering this you’re going to think you’ll stand out and people will think you’re strange, but literally no one pays you any attention they are too absorbed in their holiday and their fun.

If you do have hangups about this, and can’t really think no one cares, just think of all the reasons you might be on your own in that particular moment someone notices you? There are quite a few and probably the last one is the fact you’ve come on a solo holiday.

Single Rider Queue…Use It!

The single rider queue is you’re friend. I repeat, the single rider queue is you’re friend. There are two simple reasons for this.

The first reason is it is like having a permanent FastPass with super powers. I only queued for one experience in the whole of my trip (Hulk due to how people use Universal single rider queues). Everything else was a walk on or a 5-10 minute  queue which doesn’t really count as it feels like it takes minutes to walk through some of these queueing systems anyway. A large part of this was the time I went, the other reason was the single rider queue. I either never used my FastPass bookings or I used them as part of a second or third go. I was literally just walking on.

The single rider queue was that efficient when I was there you burn through park content ridiculously quickly even when doing everything 3-4 times.

The second reason is simply the fact that since this is the single rider line everyone is in the same position as you or there are numerous reasons why you might be in that line the last one probably being you’ve actually come on your own for 14-days. In the single rider line I encountered people, briefly as you’re walking straight on, who were truly in the park on their own (always women in Disney), people who were the only family member who was going on and so on.

Basically, the single rider queue is fast and the great equaliser.

I did notice a difference between the Disney single rider queues and the Universal ones. In the Disney parks it seemed universally true that the people in the single rider queue were on their own in the queue, while in Universal whole groups of people would join the single rider queue just because it was quicker. Obviously I’m working from a small sample here but that’s what I experienced. Basically, the Disney guests seemed to use the queue because they were going on their own, while the Universal guests seemed to use the queue because they didn’t mind who they sat with.

Is there any negatives to the single rider queue? I guess it might feel strange for some to find yourself getting into a ‘car’ with a family of three, or next to a couple, or whatever. I must admit I was conscious of it but it was never something that bothered me or seemed to bother anyone else.

Remember, nobody cares.

Social Media Really Helps

This may be highly contextual to the individual, but social media really helped. I may have been in Disney World physically on my own, but I wasn’t disconnected from conversations. This is the miracle of our modern, connected world.

At times I was holding conversations with friends and family about the holiday through either Facebook posts or Facebook Messenger. I enjoyed posting things to Instagram which got the odd discussion going. I was never a big user of Instagram but now I use it a lot more and it is primarily due to the solo holiday.

Basically, the social networks allow you to maintain a fabric of conversation across the holiday. It’s not constant, but it is there.

The vlogging also helped as you’re actually holding a conversation, right? Okay, I get it, it’s a solo conversation to a camera lens but if you had a problem with that you’d not be doing it in the first place. If you are vlogging it’s not that big a leap to see how it might compensate somewhat for no one being with you. I can say with complete confidence the holiday would have been radically different without the vlogging in ways I’d find hard to imagine. It gave a focus to my activities.

The social media elements reduces the isolation. I’m not saying social media can compensate for the isolation completely. It won’t. If you’re going to have problems with being solo you probably still will have problems no matter how much posting you do, but it does work as a very effective cushion or enhancer if you know you’re psychological fine with being on your own.

There Are No Compromises!

You have absolutely no calls on your time but your own.

I enjoyed this fact even though all my copious amounts of Disney World visits between 1998 – 2007 were just with my wife, we never did have kids. We also quite often wanted to do similar things (though I was often ready to come out the park slightly before her). It’s not like I had a handful of family members all wanting to do different things at different paces.

If I want part of my holiday to be walking from Hollywood Studios to Epcot then it can be. If I just want to spend a day leisurely touring resorts, then that is fine as well. I’ll freely admit I started getting a bit theme parked out by about day 11. I’d been to Disney World many times and one of the surprising things is how little had changed between 2007 and 2016 (another article may be).

I went on Test Track four times in a row just because I could. There was times I’d planned to do a late one in a park and decided I couldn’t be arsed, so I left and did something else. There was no one wanting to stay or do something different.

It is very liberating.

What Didn’t Work Solo

There were a number of things that I felt were impacted by me being a solo traveller. In virtually all cases another person may be totally fine with these and find a different few things that impact them. These were mine.

Sometimes White Lies Are….Expedient

I’ll admit there was a couple of times where I just didn’t want the conversation about being a solo traveller. At the time both of these occurred I was quite comfortable with it and didn’t feel the need to hide it out of embarrassment, it’s just sometimes you want to focus on different things other than the fact you’re a solo traveller.

At times like this, a little white lie just cuts across the conversation and allows you to move on. I used this on two ‘excursions’, one being the bus journey to NASA and the other being a Jet Ski tour around the Disney lake. I just said the family are in the Magic Kingdom but I’d had enough. Simple. It seems everyone understands this excuse and the bus company ferrying me to NASA thought I was a hero (they really have a problem with The Mouse monopolising tourist time).

I figured twice in a 14-day trip was pretty good going, especially since they were my choice rather than situations that had become uncomfortable? At all other times it never came up or wasn’t an issue or even raised. Remember, no one cares, even people you’re holding relatively long conversations with it seems. In none of those conversations did anyone say ‘heh, are you here on your own’. That’s weird now I think about it, but it’s the truth.

Table Service Restaurants

I had a counter service restaurant strategy on my trip. The reasons for this being I didn’t want to pay for a dining plan (it wasn’t worth it for counter service) and I was conscious of sitting at restaurant after restaurant on my own.

I did do it twice. I ate at the Hard Rock Cafe at Universal, which was a truly sit down experience. It was okay. It wasn’t a embarrassing or as big an issue as I thought, but it still wasn’t something I wanted to be facing every evening, especially since the Disney restaurants would have been packed. I also ate at Be Our Guest during the day, which is sort of table service, and that was okay also.

Having experienced the holiday I believe this was a good strategy. Having a table service experience to ‘look forward to’ every so often would have just preyed on my mind and not been comfortable. I’ll admit the Be Our Guest reservation played on my mind a bit and I did nearly cancel it. I was glad I didn’t.

I used to eat on my own occasionally when I was a consultant working away, so I can do it, but on a holiday? Not so much.

Disney Springs at Night

I loved the new Disney Springs, primarily because it’s got rid of the ‘nightlife’ area and just integrated the nightlife across the whole of Disney Springs and made it more family friendly. Disney Springs is great at night and I really enjoyed walking around it in the evening, which contrasts with the fact I really didn’t like going to the ‘nightlife’ area of Downtown Disney. There is drinking but it is spread across a very family orientated landscape and the music is integrated into the experience rather than being on some awful ‘concert’ stage.

The problem is it can’t really be experienced alone.

I wondered around it once at night and it became immediately obvious I was out of place amongst the couples and families. I kept going for a bit because I wanted to see it at night but one particular place brought home to me how it, for sure, was a place to be experienced in couples or groups. I went to the top of the Coke store. It’s amazing. It’s amazing because it works for those who drink alcohol and those who don’t. I could have spent a good hour or so on that roof looking out across Disney Springs while drinking different cokes. If I was with someone to do it with.

I’ll admit I went back to the hotel that night realising I’d encountered one place that wasn’t solo friendly.

The Magic Kingdom

Personally, I found the Magic Kingdom a bit uncomfortable and didn’t spend very much time there. I know this is not the case for many other solo travellers and they literally spend all their time there. It didn’t work for me. I suspect there are few reasons for this.

I was never conscious of my solo status in any of the Disney World or Universal parks, but I was mildly conscious of it in the Magic Kingdom. I’m not sure why. I guess it is the family nature of it. The fact it always felt so full compared to the other parks. I think my age and gender had something to do with, which again was probably just me, but I felt odd being a solo 45-year old bloke wandering around the place. It didn’t feel uncomfortable in the sense I thought people were thinking I was up to no good – it just felt odd. I’m sure no one cared. Remember? No one cares.

This is influenced by the fact it is my least favourite park. As I’ve changed over the years I’ve found myself experiencing the supposed magic of the Magic Kingdom less and it just becoming a tedious place for an audience that isn’t me. As a result, I wasn’t particularly inclined to get over this strange feeling towards the Magic Kingdom.

This is personal to me. Possibly it will be the same for you? It has every chance of not being the case though as many solo travellers go on solo trips just to spend all the time in the Magic Kingdom (though I do tend to think there is something in the fact they are either younger, female or both – but who knows).

Reflect On Yourself

If you’re thinking of doing a long solo trip I believe the key thing is to be quite reflective on who you are and how experiencing Disney alone would impact you. I can use myself as an example of this.

I know I’m an introvert, but not a crippling one. I can give presentations quite easily and I actually enjoy them. I’m okay in small groups. At the same time I am very comfortable spending hours, days and weeks on my own doing my own thing, with my own imagination and entertaining myself. The fact I’m an introvert shows in large groups where I have to fight to be noticed as I’m terrible at that and find it very uncomfortable.

After some reflection I was quite confident I’d be fine on my own for two weeks. I’d be fine experiencing Disney on my own internally and it would come down to how the environment around me coped with and interacted with me. I even did a four day trip to The Lakes in the UK to see how ambling around on my own worked (and it was great – wish I was blogging then).

Possibly this is different for you? Do you have problems being on your own for long periods? If so are you confident you’ll be able to make friends on holiday, in Disney world, to cope with this?

Basically, you have to understand yourself going into it as you’ll structure your holiday and plan to account for that.

And, Finally…

If you’re thinking of doing a solo trip I recommend you do a bit of thinking so you understand yourself and what that will mean for you day after day. Branch out on the Internet and read articles like this about other solo trips. Then factor what you are reading and filter it through with what you’ve learned about yourself.

Then plan the holiday and structure it so that it works for you. I knew I wanted to go to the parks to do specific things and then spend a good proportion of the day relaxing at the resort. I didn’t want to be a solo person slogging it out from 8 till 8 in a theme park. You might be different.

Once you start feeling comfortable with it…just do it. Do not let anyone put you off if you’ve reached a level of confidence that you will enjoy it. Do not let anyone else persuade you it’s a bit of a silly thing to do (as it is very easy for people to do that). Just do it, because whatever shape your own, personal solo trip takes it will be like no other Disney World trip you’ve had.

About Ian O'Rourke

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