Nothing seems to embody the difference between a “Family Trip” and a “Vacation” quite like a visit to Disney World.
In the culmination of months of planning and saving, my wife and I were fortunate enough to be able to take our twin six-year-olds to Orlando to visit the House of Mouse and it’s accompanying parks. We specifically chose this age for a few reasons. The first was because it seemed like a perfect age to capture the magic and fun that Disney represents. We wanted them to be able to appreciate everything from the costumed characters to the tiny details so often overlooked by adults. It felt like age six was a good age for the boys to appreciate as many of the rides as they could. We wanted them to be old enough to get the same joy out of the Dumbo ride as they would Big Thunder Mountain.
Neither my wife nor I had been to Disney in more than two decades. For those in a similar boat headed to Disney, I must tell you, it has gotten more complicated. While I am by no means a Disney expert, I did learn a few things over the course of our five days in the Disney parks with two small children.
Staying on Disney Property is Worth It!
While it may seem like a way to save a few bucks to stay outside of Disney, the perks to staying on property are very much worth it. The first benefit is free transportation to the parks. Getting to and from any of the Disney parks is a pain free process each morning. You don’t have to wait in the traffic, look for a spot, take a shuttle from that lot to the entrance to the park nor do you have to pay for parking.
The resorts also offer the opportunity to get into the parks earlier than general admission tickets, shaving a significant amount of time off that first ride.
While staying on Disney property may seem more expensive, there are a few options (such as Disney’s “All Star Movies, Music, Sports” resorts which offer prices very similar to hotels in the surrounding area. These resorts may not have a lot of the frills you may see at some of the higher priced offerings. The question you have to ask yourself is: how much time are you really going to be spending at the hotel anyway? These resorts have pools, a place to eat, clean rooms and comfy beds. When you’re going to spend most of your time away from your room, what more could you want?
Planning is important, but don’t over plan.
We spent our first two days in the parks without much in the way of planning. We knew there were some things we would like to do, but for the most part we were just winging it. Flying completely by the seat of our pants meant that we spent a lot of time aimlessly wandering. We were in search of the mythical short line that existed somewhere on the other side of the park. Midway through day two we bit the bullet and pay the extra $15 per day per ticket to upgrade to the Genie+ tickets. These tickets allowed us to reserve time at various attractions throughout the park. This brought a 90 minute wait down to a much more reasonable 15-20 minutes.
Building the best game plan
Our last 3 days, we had developed a much more solid game plan. We had made a point to pick which attractions were most important to us. We also found out where they were in relation to each other. Our Genie passes were used for rides that we knew, according to the Disney World app; we pretty much had high wait times in order to get the most out of the lightening lanes. We found we were able to do a whole lot more and had enjoyed our time much more.
At the same time, you can’t over plan. Things like dining at many of the restaurants require reservations made in advance. The problem with those reservations is they really impact the rest of your day. Suddenly its 10 am, you have a lunch reservation across the park at 11:30. It’s a 15 to 20-minute walk across the park. Suddenly you become paranoid that if you jump in the next line that you’ll miss your reservation. One or two of these reservations may be worth it. If you’re just looking to fill your kids full of chicken fingers, it’s probably best to use your time in line utilizing one of the many order ahead dining options on the Disney app and multitask while you’re waiting for The Haunted Mansion.
Suck it up and get in line
Genie+ is great, but you can only make so many reservations within a given time. This means you need to fill the time between those reservations. You can do so with the other various attractions the parks have to offer. You have two options, you can jump into the 60 minute wait for the ride you really want to get on or you can hoof it 15 minutes across the park to wait in line for 45 minutes in hopes of standing in a shorter line. Disney is Magical and crowded. Lines are inevitable. Just get in one and wait your turn to experience some of that magic.
When we think of Disney World, we tend to prioritize the rides, but Disney is full of some great shows. With everyone so focused on the rides, it’s often much easier to get into the shows. With small children, stimulation is important. Even the shows that seem mediocre to adults may be enjoyable for kids. This is especially useful for the lines that are 90 minutes long, like Splash Mountain. The Disney Parks are also a ton of walking so why not give your legs and the tiny legs of your children a break. One such break spot is the air conditioned Country Bear Jamboree.
Disney is Expensive
Disney is an expensive endeavor. While there are some things that can be done to soften the blow, its easier just to make peace with the fact that everything in the park is going to be at inflated price. There are ways to cut corners and save a little but it is best to just make your peace with the fact that it’s going to be painful to open up that credit card statement when everything is all said and done.
With the amount of planning and astronomical cost involved with going to Disney World, you’re going to have expectations of how you want the trip to go. “We’ll be the first ones in the park and the last ones to leave!” This is a noble pursuit indeed, but when you factor in small children that’s not going to be your reality.
Disney is a magic place, but it’s also massive, crowded, and hot. Even the seemingly boundless energy of kindergartners has its limits. It is a lot on your tiny humans to trek 7-10 miles each day. The only respite is often only broken by standing in long lines. It’s best to just go with the flow. Is dragging an exhausted 6-year-old whining through a park really going to be worth the experience of getting in 1 or 2 more 2-minute rides? Probably not. When its obvious that the kids are done, it’s best to head back to the hotel for the day (or at least for a midday break).
Ultimately, for us, Disney World was a great trip. We went in with the mindset that we were going to have fun as a family, and that was it. However that happened is how it happened. If I’m being honest, we didn’t get to spend as much time in the park as I would have liked to. I also missed out on that awesome new Star Wars ride, but hey…there’s always next time.