Disney World is a lawless place. Imagine a dystopian society where children are actually calling the shots and parents have no choice but to bend to their whims and desires lest they disturb the volatile peace they’ve worked so hard to maintain. At all costs, and believe me at Disney there are many, you must keep your children happy and as whine-free as possible.
The children are highly aware of this major shift in power. For the first times in their lives bed-times and vegetables don’t matter. Unfortunately, they do not always use this power for good. I have never seen so many parents crouch down, eye-level with their children, hissing empty threat after empty threat as said child continues to whine and cry. I say empty threat because, let’s be honest. Park tickets are not cheap and the journey from a hotel that is not on the monorail line is long and arduous. So we both know that when I say we’re going to go back to the hotel if you don’t straighten up that I’m lying through my teeth. Instead, you finally agree to shut up and in return I buy you an $18 glow-in-the-dark light-up spinner. This sort of behavior is not frowned upon in the least. I saw a kid with a lollipop in his mouth on the bus at 7:45am. In the real world I would question this mother’s judgment. At Disney World, I give her the Katniss Everdeen salute.
Still confused as to what I mean? You know that scene in Wedding Crashers where Vince Vaughn is making balloon animals for kids at a wedding to impress a girl and this real d-bag of a kid requests an elaborate balloon… anyway, here is the dialogue from that scene:
I want a bicycle.
Jeremy (Vince Vaughn):
A bicycle? Well, a bicycle, that would take a lot of balloons and honestly Uncle Jeremy’s a little tired right now so why don’t we do something like, uh, let’s say a giraffe?
I just want a bicycle!
Wh-why are you yelling at me?
Whatever, make me a bicycle, clown!
I’m gonna make you a bicycle. But I don’t want to make you a bicycle.
That basically sums up how I felt (and I saw a lot of other parents feeling) about a lot of the things that went down with their kids at Disney World. I don’t really want to get you cotton candy at 10:30am, but I’m going to do it because dear God I can’t handle what happens if I don’t.
Anything goes. At 4pm at Magic Kingdom I saw a 16-month old in a onesie and thankfully shoes rolling around on the ground near a garbage can. She was blissfully happy and her parents gave zero f*cks. Kids were sprawled out with their parents’ phones in hands and some of the more prepared parents had Kindles and iPads at the ready as they waited in line for rides. Anything, anything to keep the gremlins happy and buy themselves a moment’s peace from the chaos at the happiest place on earth.
Never in my life have I swung so violently back and forth from hugging my children and feeling my heart about to burst from happiness to whispering under my breath to Joe that I am going burn this hell hole to the f’ing ground, happiest place on Earth my ass. Whoever said that Disney World is one of those vacations that you’ll need a vacation from is spot on. Despite all of my seemingly negative comments here, there was so much good, truly there was. I loved seeing AJR bravely ride roller coaster after roller coaster. Especially Space Mountain, which we saved for the very last day of the trip. His grin as the ride finished and we pulled back into the loading area was enough reason alone for the trip. My heart grew three sizes each time Olivia saw a character and proclaimed that she was going to hug and kiss them. There was zero fear in this child, she was charming and adorable and hilariously decided that Donald Duck was her absolute favorite.
I don’t regret for one moment that we took this vacation and trust me, we will be back. We’re not “Disney People” but we will absolutely go back one day many years from now when they’re older. That said, I would definitely do things a little differently. We spent six straight days at the park, which in hindsight was definitely way too much. Everyone said to schedule a “down day” and while I didn’t disagree, the weather in December seemed to unpredictable to bank on a day at the hotel when the weather may have been too cool to use the pool. Instead we ran ourselves ragged with park hopping and squeezing in the equivalent of two Disney vacations into a week.
Actually going to Disney provides you with so much perspective that you can’t hope to glean while planning the trip. And while I am no Disney expert and there are 101 blogs with far more wisdom than I could ever bestow, here are some things I picked up along the way if you’re ever considering going:
- FastPasses are life and you get three free with your park ticket.If you’re staying on a Disney property you can book them 60 days out. Non-Disney property, 30 days out. DO IT! And if you the thought of having to make such calculated decisions about your day terrifies you, find a Disney vacation planner. They are completely free. Read up on the rides that you should absolutely get a FastPass for and prioritize those. The others you can probably pick up on the fly. PS: Once you use your three passes for the day you can book another one. We would be waiting in line for our FastPass ride and I was simultaneously looking for more. There was one glorious day where I was riding a FastPass hot streak and decided we couldn’t leave the park until my luck ran out. All in all because of the system, I don’t think we waited more than 30 minutes for a ride (except Slinky Dog Dash…but that’s another story)
- Use InstaCart or Amazon Prime Now or any sort of grocery delivery service for water, snacks, etc. You can bring food into the park and once you see the price gouging that goes on you’ll know why I said this. One day we literally ordered 5 hot dogs (they came with chips, so it was a deal, she muttered sarcastically) and 1 fountain beverage and the total was $70. Ain’t no shame in a packed turkey sandwich game. After a few days the food gets a little gross and I would have shanked someone for a plain turkey sandwich.
- Pack ponchos from the dollar store and stalk the weather religiously. If there is a slight chance of rain a day that you’re at the park TAKE THEM WITH YOU. I don’t give a damn if it takes up a crap ton of space in your bag. We brought ponchos with us but left them at the hotel. Idiots. As luck would have it a torrential rainstorm happened while we were at Magic Kingdom. Left to either hang out in a souvenir shop for who knows how long we ended up purchasing 4 ponchos…for $48. Disney is a sonofabitch and he knows he’s got you. You’re desperate and mildly panicking so you just fork over your credit card and try not to think about the free ponchos sitting in your hotel room. The icing on the cake is that AJR did not want to wear his. I’m talking screams of a POW being tortured when I tried to put it on. Olivia, who had been happily wearing hers while proclaiming she was a ghost, decided to show sibling solidarity and began crying and trying to rip hers off. Good times. Bring the ponchos. Better yet, practice having your children wear them.
- Do the fireworks. Depending on the age of your children this will not prove easy. You may be ready to rip your hair out and throw in the towel but do not, I repeat, do not. This was without a doubt my absolute favorite memory of the entire trip. I’m talking goosebumps, tears, and holding your kids tight as you soak it all in. Tinkerbell made her way down the zip-line from the top of Cinderella’s Castle and I could barely make her out because my vision was so blurred with tears.
- Prioritize. This is so key to making sure your Disney vacation is the one that you want to have it. Do your kids care about characters? If so, then I highly recommend trying to make a dining reservation where you can meet a bunch of them at once. Admittedly, these character meals will cost a small fortune (think $50 a head) but it’s definitely a convenient way to bang out a lot of meet and greets at once. You can wait to meet the characters at the parks, but depending on who it is sometimes the waits can get up to an hour if you don’t have a FastPass for it. Don’t care about characters then I say skip those meals and focus on a solid FastPass strategy. Short trip? Then decide which parks you can’t miss.
- Bring or Rent a Stroller: If you have kids under the age of 7, then I highly recommend bringing your own stroller or using one of the many companies in Orlando that will deliver a stroller to you. Olivia rarely walked and even AJR found himself in the stroller a lot of the time. It’s a lot of walking and sometimes the areas are so congested it’s more peace of mind to have your kids in there while you navigates the crowds.
- Download the MyDisneyExperience app. This is your lifeline to making your trip run smoothly: change and update FastPass and dining reservations on the go, check wait times are various parks, see your pictures, etc. They still offer paper maps, but you don’t want to mess around with them. Plus, Disney offers free WiFi. Bam!
- Pack Stuff for the Kids to Do. But you’re at Disney, what entertainment would you ever need to provide? Well, there is waiting for everything so be prepared. For food, for rides, and transportation to and from the parks (this is usually the worst when you’re trying to leave and it can take seemingly forever). We bought these cheap LCD writing tablets for the kids and a few Melissa & Doug books from Five Below and I cannot tell you how often we utilized those. The LCD tablets in particular were great at the parks because they took up zero room in our bag and kept them occupied.
- Schedule the Down Day. (if your trip is longer than 4 days) One of our most enjoyable days was when we got back from one of the parks around 2pm and we let the kids play at the playground on the hotel property. They played, without us needing to play with them, for a solid two hours. It was glorious. They so needed that time to actually run and burn off steam and we just needed to sit. Disney is so much fun for kids, but it’s also a lot of waiting and sitting still and listening to rules. The down day is the perfect opportunity for everyone to recharge their batteries to take on the parks the next day.