It’s no joke when I say that my little family unit is extremely laid-back (E & Z are high energy, but still very laid-back…believe me, it’s possible). We recently came back from a Disney World vacation which was an epic, incredible, magical time. I’m not exaggerating when I say I have been planning and saving for this for years, so to finally be able to do it was a huge reward. Plus, we celebrated Z’s 6th birthday down there which is just an event in itself. Anyway, I saw tons of families that looked…well, they looked miserable. And I just kept thinking, “Why the hell are you spending so much money to come and be miserable?” Some people looked like they were practically being tortured, and that just seemed so….avoidable to me.
So, here are some tips from my laid-back family to yours:
10. If you can save for/afford it, get a dining plan. I did tons of research before our trip, and there was a pretty big debate on whether or not the dining plan was worth it. For me, a person that is constantly thinking and planning, I can easily get overwhelmed with numbers and plans. So, the more “all-inclusive” my vacation is, the better. To just have to worry about the tip, and picking the restaurants, was pure gold for me and my over-thinking brain. And to really maximize our plan, we tried to get the priciest stuff on the menus. Don’t get me wrong, Disney can still be phenomenal without the dining plan, but for me, it’s a little extra luxury that I will always try and attach to our trips.
9. Chill the hell out. I mean this in more ways than one. If you feel your family getting irritable or tired, take a break. Whether it’s getting some lunch, a snack, going through Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean (which usually have a fairly short wait time compared to the rest of the rides), allow yourself to just relax. I can’t tell you how many breakdowns I saw…overly exhausted kids (and parents) trying to push through to try and do everything. It’s not worth it. Every afternoon, we’d go back to our hotel room, rest, go to the pool, take a nap, and head back to the parks at night. Some people might see this as a waste of money since we’re not in the parks every second of our trip, but I would much rather be rested and enjoy myself, then to be exhausted and overly emotional so I end up hating my life by the end of the day. Plus, I saw way too many people being grumpy and know that if they would have just gotten a cat-nap in, they would have been in much better spirits. I feel like I fully maximized my Disney experience because I genuinely enjoyed every second of it.
8. Be kind. This goes along with #9, but you wouldn’t believe how many rude people I saw. At one point, they were closing off access to Cinderella’s castle for a parade, and a lady with a walker was furious and started yelling at the Cast Member and ramming her walker into the rope (no joke). These Cast Members have to deal with extreme weather, tons of people, crazy happenings, while having to maintain an absolute perfect attitude, BE NICE TO THEM. Also, be kind to other guests: move out of the way if you need to stop, teach your kids to be kind and thoughtful of the other people in line (show by example), be thoughtful about where you sit/stand during parades and such. It should go without saying, but just be nice and courteous.
7. Stop trying to do everything. You will NEVER fit in absolutely everything you want to do in one trip…well, unless you get to have a 3 week trip…which would be AH-MAZING! But if you’re like us lowly poor folk, you usually only have 5-10 days (at most) to fit everything in. Again, you will never be able to do it all, so stop trying. When we go back for our second family trip, I definitely want to spend a little more time in Epcot and Animal Kingdom, but we all were so enthralled with Magic Kingdom that we left every other park early to go back to it, and I don’t regret a single second of it. Have something planned, but then go with the flow.
6. Learn the FastPass game. The longest I remember waiting is 15 minutes. At the beginning of June. In Disney World. All because we figured out how to play the FastPass game. And you can reserve passes 30-60 days out (depending on whether you’re staying on property or not), so DO IT. Completely worth it. (Here’s a definition of what FastPasses are).
5. FOOD! Try a pork shank from Gaston’s Tavern or an Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich from Sleepy Hollow Inn (both in Magic Kingdom). Also, we really loved Columbia Harbour House because it had tons of seating (sometimes hard to come by at QS restaurants). I was dying to go to Be Our Guest, but unfortunately couldn’t get in for dinner, but they opened up for breakfast a couple of months before our trip. Let’s just say, they haven’t mastered breakfast, but the atmosphere is incredible, and made this HUGE Beauty and the Beast fan’s heart jump with joy.
4. Find your family’s rhythm. This kind of goes along with #7. In all my pre-trip research, I read things like “Always get to the park at least 2 hours before opening.” And believe me, my family tried, but I quickly found that we just needed to find our own rhythm. I’m an early riser (like up by 6am most days), but E & Z are night owls and need a solid 20 minutes to wake up (and be pleasant…okay, E is almost always pleasant…Z is a different story). Needless to say, we only made it to MK before park opening once, and it was because we had breakfast reservations at Cinderella’s Castle. I will say, walking through the park with no one around is incredible, so I’m glad it happened, but for our family, it’s not necessary every day. To each their own.
3. Get your kids to start a DW savings (if you don’t have kids, you start one). One of my favorite parts of leading up to Disney World was seeing Z so excited about saving. She saved a whopping $41 (I know, it didn’t get her much of anything, but she was 5 at the time, so $40 was a big deal). She shocked me quite a bit with how much focus she placed on saving and then how careful she was with her money once we were down there. It was a big learning experience, and I loved watching her mature in that way.
2. Be flexible. It feels like I’ve said this a few times in different ways, but it’s really one of the key pieces to why my family never fought, we always enjoyed each other, and we got the most of the trip for us. The day we went to Hollywood Studios, it was a Star Wars Weekend, so it was insanely crowded, and we weren’t huge fans of the park to begin with. We were supposed to have lunch at Hollywood & Vine, but realized pretty quickly that we just wanted to go back to MK. So, I called, switched our reservation (and they were gracious enough to not charge me the cancellation fees since we were celebrating Zo’s birthday. Little disclaimer: don’t expect them to do this for you. Just be appreciative if they do)! There were a few other times I needed to have a flexible attitude (Particularly with Bibbiti Bobbiti Boutique…sigh…), but by being flexible, we all were just able to enjoy moment to moment.
1. Just buy into it. Disney World is going to be super lame if you don’t just invest in the magical nature of things. Yes, things are over the top…yes, the Cast Members and Characters have to practically be perfect, but just allow it to be magical. E & I were just as much kids during this as Z was. When Z got to meet Princess Jasmine, you better believe E jumped in for a picture with her (I’m still kicking myself for not getting a picture with Belle…) And there was actually a point, while watching the Festival of Fantasy parade that I looked over at Z, and her eyes lit up with pure joy, and I just cried (I’m really glad I had sunglasses on). You will enjoy yourself so much more if you just allow yourself to give in to the experience and take it all in.
What tips do you all have?!