It’s been said that the only way to do Disney is not to do Disney.
I said it—countless times on my family’s first (and definitely last) Disney World trip this winter.
However, if you are among the guilt-ridden parents who attempt to buy your child’s happiness and fill it with unrealistic magic—much like myself—and if you insist on taking your children to the happiest (Ha!) place in the world, heed this advice.
1. When you book your trip, kiss your spouse and tell them you love them.
It might be the last time you do for a while. Planning and visiting Disney World is among the most stressful tasks a parent must endure. It’s right up there with assembling gifts from Santa at midnight on Christmas Eve. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe some couples soar through this process with flying colors. Maybe some couple still make out. But I doubt it.
Take making dinner reservations, for example. This is a step you’ll likely take 60 days before arrival. When it comes to making dinner reservations, you have two options.
2. $$$ with character appearances
Deciding between the two is when the marital disputes will commence. One spouse (aka the fun one) will want to opt for all the characters all the time for all the fun! #YODDO (You Only Do Disney Once) The second spouse (aka the practical one, or as I referred to my husband at this point, “the a-hole”) will not want to spend your retirement fund on crappy food that the kids won’t eat. Spouse 2 will be correct. Spouse 1 won’t realize it until after the trip.
2. Maximize your time by taking the 5 am flight.
Sure, this means waking your children up at 3 am. Don’t worry; they will be thrilled. Will they sleep on the plane ride to Orlando? Absolutely not. Will they remain tired for the remainder of the trip? They sure will. But it doesn’t matter because paradise awaits. You’ll arrive in Orlando by noon and hit the pool immediately. For a brief moment, life will be good. That is until the excitement wears off and the exhaustion sets in. Plan for an early bedtime. Unless, of course, you live anywhere West of Florida, and therefore, your child’s body time is anywhere from 1 to 4 hours earlier. In that case, pray Spouse 2 remembered the melatonin.
2. Swear profusely.
Is this good for little ears? Nooooo. Will it make you feel better when your four-year-old kicks over coffee in the airport while waiting to board your flight? Yes, yes, it will. Surely little Susie had heard the F word before this. And this isn’t the last time the children will hear choice words. Other opportunities include but are not limited to Grandma on a rollercoaster, momentarily losing a child and/or backpack, not getting a Lightning Lane for Frozen Ever After, etc.
3. Lower your expectations.
For every moment of magic at Disney World, you can anticipate three tantrums, meltdowns, eye rolls, and “I can’t walk any more’s!!” Expect the worst and your trip will be manageable. Take, for example, on the first day when my six-year-old said, “I thought Disney would be more fun than this.” Me too, kid. Me too. And it would be more fun if, instead of Disney, it was Mexico. And instead of millions of strangers surrounding me, it was just me, alone, on a beach. But it’s not so wave hello to the giant mouse and pretend you’re having fun.
4. Remember: Ride names are deceptive.
A ride with a name like “The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train” might conjure illusions of a sleepy princess, seven kind dwarves, perhaps a cameo from a wicked witch. One would not expect a raging rollercoaster that will leave your head spinning for hours, if not days. Have no fear—your very young children will love every second of it.
Then, friends, there is “Under the Sea—Journey of The Little Mermaid.” I have fond memories of seeing this timeless film in the theaters. I looked forward to the fond memories of the ride with my daughter. But does this look like the face of someone on “…a gentle ride that recreates scenes from the classic film!?” It.does.not.
5. Pick an upper of choice.
For me, it was caffeine. Multiple ice coffees helped me endure long lines, long days, and long tantrums. For my sons, it was Diet Coke and Orange soda. Tired? Get a soda. Thirsty? Grab a soda. Bouncing off the walls from adrenaline and pixie dust? Chill out with a soda. Find an upper that gets you from rope drop to the last teardrop. If you prefer the harder stuff, I’m not here to judge. Find Elsa in the ice castle.
7. Any claustrophobics out there? Go ahead and cancel your trip now.
Disney World challenged my claustrophobia in ways I never imagined possible. If the idea of being trapped in a spaceship, then being “captured” and whisked away to an unknown planet (still not sure how the Imagineers of Rise of the Resistance pulled that off) then being guided underground only to be locked in an even smaller room with a group of strangers to then finally be flung onto a trackless rollercoaster isn’t terrifying, good! Then it will be getting strapped into your astronaut seat and having the doors close around you in a dark capsule for an unknown amount of time while you orbit Earth during Mission: Space that will break you. On second thought, replace your upper with a downer (I recommend Xanax) and keep your travel plans. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
8. The highs and lows come fast and often.
The infamous ride “It’s a Small World” was right.
“It’s a world of laughter
A world of tears
It’s a world of hopes
And a world of fears.”
Little do you know when you’re on this creepy (yet oddly inspirational) ride that it will be foreshadowing your entire trip. I’m a firm believer that traveling, especially with children, brings out the best and worst in everyone. Disney exasperates this to the nth degree. One second your sleep-deprived four-year-old will be sprawled on the ground crying over a toy then Cinderella will pass by and cause instant joy for your toddler, prompting her to exclaim, “This is the best day ever!!!!” The twinkle in her eye will encourage Spouse 1 to convince Spouse 2 to do the teacup ride just one more time! One more time on the teacup ride will end in stomach aches and tears. Spouse 2 will become irritated at Spouse 1 for such an audacious idea and push the stroller irritatingly quickly to annoy Spouse 1. And so on and so on and so on. High low. High low. It’s very “if you give a mouse a cookie,” and it’s a painful place to live.
9. Pack your ponchos.
But save money and buy the kid-size ones. Bonus: Spouse #2 begrudgingly wears a kid-sized poncho because it always rains at Disney.
10. Don’t make friends.
If you see another sweet family walking through the resort and think about striking up a conversation so you have someone other than your children to converse with, think again. Their chaos will only become your chaos. Then you’ll just be one gigantic group of chaos. Stick to your small group of chaos and you’ll be fine. Just fine.
The hard truth is that Disney is magical—magically exhausting for parents and magically memorable for kids. While it’s not a relaxing beach vacation to Mexico, it is an unforgettable trip for families, unlike anything else you will experience together.
Will my family be returning to Disney World? Heck no. But with these simple ten tips, maybe yours will.