How to Attend a Conference in Walt Disney World

I can think of many less-amazing places to flip through a convention program.

My first real trip to Walt Disney World was not for play but for work.  In fall of 2010, I made my first trip to the happiest place on earth not to ride Splash Mountain or explore World Showcase, but to attend the Annual NCTE Convention–the National Council for Teachers of English.

Yes, that’s right.  I went to Disney World to sit quietly in windowless rooms filled with fellow English teachers and take notes on power point presentations.  It sounds painful, doesn’t it?  Well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be.  In fact, it was on that trip that I fell in love with Walt Disney World.  That’s how magical it really is–even with an extremely time-consuming convention thrown in, it is still possible to have a great time in WDW.  Here’s how…

Look Into Convention-Specific Park Tickets
Let’s face it–when you are visiting for a convention, you’re just not going to have enough time to make any sort of ticket package worthwhile.  But that’s ok, because the lovely people at Disney have anticipated this need and have provided a cost-effective alternative.  There’s a whole Disney department called–punnily–Conventionears.  By booking through the convention, I was able to purchase special ‘after 4pm’ one-park tickets for $40 per day; there was also an ‘after 2pm’ option, but I knew there was no way I’d make it to any park that early.  

Arriving a day early allowed me to take a spin around the Magic Kingdom. Literally!

Stay On Site
As I’ve pointed out above, when attending a convention in WDW, time is of the essence.  Thus, staying on site saves precious commute time, freeing up your evening hours for park exploration.  In addition, it is possible that your work will help defray the cost of staying on site.  Add that in with the convention rates often offered to convention goers, and you might just snag yourself an amazing deal.

Full disclosure:  the first Disney resort I ever stayed at was the Beach Club.  This was for that convention trip.  I paid–wait for it–$100 per night out of pocket.  Yeah.  That’s just never going to happen again.  If you ever have this same opportunity, grab it!

Additionally, staying on site makes even a convention trip more of a vacation.  By staying on site, you have easier access to all of the things the WDW Resort has to offer.  From heated pools to themed restaurants, Disney magic is not limited to the parks themselves.  And I can’t think of a better way to end a busy convention day than an afternoon at Stormalong Bay or a meal at The Yachtsman Steakhouse.  Can you?

Arrive Early or Stay Late
Most conventions occur during the week.  This makes it easier to extend your stay in one direction or the other.  I chose to arrive early, and that was probably a good choice.  I was so exhausted by the end of the trip that I don’t know if choosing to stay late would have been in my best interest.  However, in a perfect world, one could arrive early and stay late.  But if you only have the option to do one or the other, take it.  You’ll be glad that you did.

On my bonus day in WDW–the day before the convention began–I spent an entire day in the Magic Kingdom.  It was a great way to kick off my convention visit and definitely put me in the Disney spirit for the rest of the week.  If you’d like to read about that day, please follow this link to read about my first day in a Disney park.  Spoiler warning:  I cry.

Plan Ahead
Even though this was ‘just’ a convention trip, I still did my pre-trip research.  I bought and borrowed Disney World guide books.  I became active in the Passporter forums, asking for advice for my upcoming trip.  I talked to friends, family, and even random strangers asking for tips and tricks to make the most out of my short visit to The World.  When time is limited, it is even more important to plan ahead.

Does he look like he’s at a conference? Aside from the nerdy National Writing Project shirt, I maintain that no, he does not.

Embrace Epcot
This is where those ‘after 4pm’ tickets and the ‘planning ahead’ and the ‘staying on site’ came in handy.  We arrived at the World Showcase gates to Epcot promptly at 4:00 and were able to fully enjoy all that World Showcase had to offer between the hours of four and midnight.

I knew, from my research, that Epcot had evening Extra Magic Hours on Friday night.  Because we were staying on site, we were able to take advantage of this bonus time.  And it only cost us $80 total for the two of us to get in.

We ate and drank our way around the world–you can read about that experience here–and took in Illuminations (during which, not surprisingly, I cried).  It was a fabulous evening, and the beginning of my life-long love affair with Epcot.  It’s still my favorite way to spend an evening in WDW.

Don’t Be Afraid to Go Solo
It is entirely possible that if you are attending a conference, you are doing so solo. Or you are attending with a group of coworkers who are either 1.  uninterested in the parks or 2.  uninteresting in general.  That’s ok!

While I did attend this conference with my fellow English teacher husband, there was one day during our trip where he had sessions to attend and I did not.  So what did I do?  I went to Animal Kingdom all by myself.  And do you know what?  I had a fantastic time.  It was not even kind of my last solo trip to Disney World.  In fact, solo is now my favorite way to enjoy WDW.  Try it–you’ll like it.  I promise.

Do you know how I saw this parade? I stayed at the Magic Kingdom way too late the night before the first conference day. And I’m glad I did.

Bonus Advice: You’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
Aside from one 50 hour day I spent on a sleepless red-eye flight between New York and London–and the London sightseeing that followed–I’ve never gotten by on so little sleep.  But that’s ok.  After all, pixie dust is stronger than coffee.

Honestly, I am forever grateful that the 2012 NCTE Convention was held in Walt Disney World.  Had I not attended that convention, I would likely never have traveled to Walt Disney World.  And honestly, had I never traveled to Walt Disney World, my life would entirely different.

I would not have opened my mind to more traditional travel.  I would not have taken a year off from work to write a book.  I would not have met Melissa Sue, and I would not be typing these words right now on this blog that I love.  It completely changed my life.  And it can change yours, too.

That’s what magic does.


Have you attended a convention in WDW?  What was your experience like?  Can you add to the advice given above?  Or do you have any WDW convention questions?  Ask and answer in the comments section below!