I just got back from the house of the mouse and aside from a few interpersonal glitches, I had a great time. With some serious planning which included reading the king of Disney strategy books: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, the help of a travel agent, and Vivel, my own personal Disney expert, I thought I had everything figured out. Not quite, but I'm pretty sure I know how to improve my strategy when I go back.
First of all, I learned I need to manage the expectations of everyone going on the trip. My husband and I had different ideas as to how we wanted to spend our time in Walt Disney World. I wanted to see it all, he wanted to meander. The stress of keeping up with the children, moving from attraction to attraction, and the crowds in the parks made his experience less than magical.
Disney is Disney and it isn't for everybody. It is busy and commercial and expensive. I understand why some people aren't into it, and I respect their opinion; but that is not exactly the type of vacation buddy you want when you are trying to get your magic on. I think the problem was he wanted to relax and not feel rushed around. A valid stance but not what I had in mind for the trip. This led to conflict.
In retrospect, had I followed the advice of the experts a little more closely, we both could have been happier. Because the second thing I learned is that you must leave the park midday when you have small children with you. It is a non-negotiable rule.
The days I pushed it, I regretted it. If I had just taken the advice as gospel and walked out at lunchtime to go back to the hotel to rest or relax by the pool no matter what was left unseen, I would have been happier. I believe my husband and children would have been happier too.
There is a scene in one of the Beverly Hills Cop movies where there is a group of robbers at a jewelry store and one of them is yelling out the time they have left before the cops come. Once it is up, they stop and leave the store even though there is more stuff to steal. Presumably, they went after the good stuff first. That is how you have to do Disney with little ones. Go for the good stuff and when time is up, get out of there before bad things start happening; like a hysterical, tantrum throwing three year old.
Luckily, in the case of Disney, (unlike the jewelry store), after some down time, you can go back for those left behind gems. But even still, with little kids you will probably not see all of them and that is okay. Leave them for the next trip.
One piece of advice I was glad I followed was the third thing I learned: to bag the late night events in favor of the early morning magic. The best time of day at Disney with small children is first thing in the morning. If you are there before the gates open and head straight to the most popular rides first, you are likely to encounter minimal or no lines. And lines are the enemy. Waiting in lines is the death of fun. That means setting an alarm clock while on vacation; another element of this trip my husband was not fond of.
Getting up early would have been too painful had we stayed up late to watch the fireworks then waited in (more) lines for transportation back to the hotel. We were still able to see the fireworks from our hotel and we were right there ready to go to bed when they were over.
The fourth thing I learned is if you don't like taking your children to nice sit down restaurants at home, taking them after an exhausting day at a theme park is a bad idea. With the free dining plan, all of those lovely sit down restaurants seemed too good to pass up, but going with children wasn't worth it. The Hoop De Doo Revue was great as was the character breakfast at Chef Mickey's but without the entertainment, a table service meal for children is basically just more waiting. By the end of the day, they have had enough.
The fifth thing I learned is not to skip over all of the shows. The pull of the rides is strong but some of my favorite moments in the parks were non-ride attractions like The Lion King and Flights of Wonder at Animal Kingdom, Mickey's Philharmagic and Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor at Magic Kingdom, and Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot. The shorter shows are nice because the wait time is only as long as the show itself and they are easy to fit in the day. The bigger shows like The Lion King you really need to keep an eye on the clock to catch.
Disney can be such a fun place to visit but there definitely is a right and a wrong way to do it. When my mother took me to Magic Kingdom I was about twelve years old and it was between Christmas and New Year's, the absolute busiest week of the year. My memories of that trip consist of hours waiting in long lines and vague memories of It's a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean. There is a picture of me and my mother sitting on a bathroom floor at the end of the night (I have no idea why), miserable. I had no real desire to return. Then my friend Vivel's infectious love of the place convinced me to go back and now I'm hooked.
I already have another Disney trip in the works with my mom and sister. Step one: I've told them how I plan on spending my time and sitting on a bathroom floor is not on the itinerary. I even wrote a blog post so they'd know my whole strategy. I think I have managing expectations down.
I like to throw things.