When you tell someone that you’re going on a trip to Disney World or Disneyland, one of their first questions is usually, “Who are you going with?” If your answer happens to be “no one,” frequent reactions include disbelief, confusion, or, worst of all, sympathy because poor little you couldn’t find someone to go to Disney World with you. Solo travel isn’t for everyone, but for those of us who like it (or have no other options), it can make for some of the best experiences you’ll ever have.
As a veteran of several solo Disney trips to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, here is my best advice for making the most of your time alone…with thousands of other people.
Have the right attitude
The biggest, hugest, most important thing is to have the right attitude. If you go in expecting to have a blast, there’s a pretty good chance you will. If you go in expecting to be miserable the whole time, odds are you will. Part of it comes from knowing yourself. I’m fairly reserved and can spend whole weekends happily talking to no one but my dog, so taking a trip alone is absolutely fine by me. If you’re a chatterbug who prefers constant companionship, you may need to do a little mental preparation for being by yourself for a few days. I absolutely look forward to my solo trips – whether Disney or elsewhere – largely because of the next item on this list.
Do whatever you want
Enjoy your total freedom. I mean it. Do whatever you want whenever you want without having to have a group discussion about it. Want to ride Splash Mountain seven times in a row? Do it, because no one else in your group is going to complain about getting wet. Want to get to the Magic Kingdom before the park opens so you can see the entrance show and be there for rope drop? Do it, because no one else in your group is going to complain about having to get up too early on vacation. Want to have a Dole Whip, a Mickey bar, and a churro all in the same afternoon? Do it, because no one else in your group is going to judge you.
No matter how well you get along with your friends and family, there’s always going to be some level of compromise involved in your plan for the day, whether it’s which rides to Fastpass, where to grab dinner, and what pace you’re going to go during the day. When you’re by yourself, you never have to compromise, and it is not a terrible feeling. On my solo Disneyland trip, I spent one day at each park. It wasn’t until I got back to the hotel after spending the day at Disneyland that I realized I had only sat down for about 40 minutes the entire day (while I was eating lunch at Blue Bayou), aside from the rides I was on. I just never stopped going the ENTIRE day and I got so much more done than I ever would’ve with other people. When I’m traveling, I have this crazy extra gear that kicks in and almost no one can keep up with me. I don’t have to worry about slowing myself down when I’m traveling alone.
If you’re traveling in a group and you forget to pack sunscreen, odds are someone else can let you use some of theirs. When you’re by yourself, you don’t have anyone else to rely on. It’s really important to make sure you bring everything you’ll need for your whole trip so you don’t end up wasting time and money buying overpriced essentials in the parks. I always start my packing lists about a month before my trip. I keep a basic list in a Word document on my laptop and then modify it as needed for specific trips. The advantage of starting it early is that over time, you think of other things you’ll need and can add them to the list. It sure beats having those “OMG, I forgot the toothpaste” epiphanies at the airport or in the car.
Do a little research before you go. Find out which rides offer Fastpasses and which ones have single rider lines. Make your dining and Fastpass reservations as soon as possible. You’re not going to be able to book popular restaurants and rides if you wait until the week before to start looking for time slots. Get a general feel for how the parks are laid out. Make a list of your top 10 must-do attractions so you can make a rough plan for the day. You can always adjust your plans on the fly, but conquering the parks can definitely be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first trip.
Take your time and enjoy the scenery
Take tons of pictures. Wandering the parks on your own really opens up your eyes to the fantastic little details you can find in the parks. It’s easy to get absorbed in conversations when you’re there with a group, but walking around alone gives you a chance to spot great photo opportunities and notice things you’ve never seen before.
Take advantage of PhotoPass. Selfie sticks are banned in the Disney parks, so that’s not an option. PhotoPass is a great way to get beautiful shots. I’ve purchased Memory Maker at WDW, Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. It’s well worth it at WDW and Disneyland, but was a waste of money in Paris. The American parks have Photopass photographers stationed seemingly everywhere so you can easily get hundreds of pictures on a trip that lasts for a few days. If Memory Maker isn’t in your budget, the photographers and/or character attendants will also take pictures with your own camera or phone if you ask. My favorite aspect of the PhotoPass pictures is the fact that they generally snap a whole bunch of pictures as you greet, hug, and pose with the character. They’ll usually only take one posed picture with yours. If candid shots are your thing, you’ll probably love the Memory Maker pictures. The other advantage is that you can download them very quickly on your phone so you can share them online and show people back home how much fun you’re having without them.
Ask other guests for help
Don’t be afraid to ask other people to take pictures for you. This is kind of going out of style with selfies taking over and talking to strangers not being a thing anymore, but every single group shot I have from the family vacations I went on as a kid was a result of my parents asking another tourist to snap a picture of us with our camera. They’re not always great, but in the age of digital photography, you can always just delete blurry pictures. It can definitely be awkward when you first give it a shot, especially if you’re fairly shy like me, but I’ve never had anyone say no or steal my camera. If you don’t want to start out by immediately asking someone for a favor, try looking around for people taking selfies or a parent taking a picture of their spouse and kids and ask them if they’d like a picture of all of them together. If they agree, take their picture for them (They’ll probably be thrilled to get a nice group shot. Great job adding to the Disney magic without even being a Cast Member.) and then ask them if they’d mind doing one for you afterward. Only a truly terrible person is going to turn you down at that point.
Use your self-timer
If asking other people to take pictures for you isn’t your thing, try playing around with the self timer on your camera. I’ve gotten some really good shots using the 10 second timer and setting my camera on an available surface. You could also try using a mini tripod. This strategy works better in quieter areas of the parks where other guests aren’t likely to accidentally wander into your picture as you’re waiting for it to snap.
Book a table for one
Don’t be afraid to dine alone. This used to be the most awkward thing for me to do by myself. I was sure that people all over were snickering at me sitting in a restaurant all by my lonesome if I didn’t have someone with me. Then I started traveling for work constantly and I had no choice but to get used to it. It really doesn’t bother me at all anymore. Sure, I may have felt a teeny bit silly checking in for a reservation for one at the Blue Bayou, but I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and would’ve been really disappointed if I had skipped out on the chance to eat at one of the most famous Disney restaurants just because I was in California by myself. In all reality, other diners are much more focused on their own meals than looking around to mock other guests.
Take advantage of the single rider lines
Use the Single Rider lines. They’re not always super fast (I’ve seen Test Track’s showing upwards of an hour on the wait time sign before), but in many cases using Single Rider can be almost like having a free Fastpass. I use them even when I’m traveling with my family because it’s often worth it to get on the ride faster. If you’re traveling solo, you’re not going to be sitting with a group anyway, so why wait in the regular line?
Skip ahead in regular queues too
Don’t be shy about being a party of one in ride queues. Pay attention to Cast Members as you’re approaching a load area. A lot of times they’re looking for a party of one or two to fill an empty seat or row in a ride vehicle they’re loading. If you hear them calling for certain sized parties, raise your hand and you may get to skip a bunch of people. I’ve gotten pulled to fill the last seat of a Space Mountain train from way back in the line, skipping at least ten trains’ worth of people in line in front of me. It’s not a huge difference, but it can get you in and out a little quicker, and it’s good for CMs (they get to keep their ride throughput high) and other guests in line behind you (filling in those empty seats as efficiently as possible speeds up the line for everyone).
Enjoy the atmosphere
Resist the temptation to pop in some headphones and listen to your own music all day. Being alone with no one to talk to makes this seem like a great way to pass the time in lines, but Disney is the one place I will not carry my headphones. There is so much great area background music and millions of uniquely Disney sights and sounds that you’ll be missing out on a lot by retreating into your headphones.
Find a way to entertain yourself
Figure out how you’re going to pass the time in line by yourself. Unless you meet some friendly strangers, you’re not going to have anyone to talk to. Some of the queues have fun interactive areas to distract you, but the majority of them still have plain old railings and ropes. I’m a reader, so I’ll sometimes toss a small paperback in my backpack to kill some time in line. If you’re going to spend the day playing on your phone, invest in a portable battery pack. You can buy them in the parks, but they’re expensive. I’ve used a Mimo PowerTube on a couple trips with great success. It gave me the freedom to not have to ration my battery life in order to get through the day.
Most importantly: just have fun! If you’re on the fence about taking a solo trip, just go for it. Even if you don’t have the time of your life, it’ll still be worth it. You can always find a travel buddy for your next trip if you don’t like traveling solo.
Have you ever visited Disney parks solo? Do you have any tips for my next visit? Let me know in the comments.