Are you one of the throngs planning a trip to Disney World and/or Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida anytime in the next few years? It’s expensive but totally worth it to be a kid with your own kids in the most magical place on earth. My husband and I just took our oldest (7yo) and spent about 50 hours in the parks over the course of 5 days. It was really fun but it took a lot to remain sane amongst the crowds, the pocketbook drain and walking around on feet that felt like hamburger meat. Luckily, I have a few excellent secrets to help you figure out how to stay sane at Disney World (and Universal Studios).
1. Don’t go on Christmas break. In fact, don’t go when kids are normally out of school. Pull your kids out of school. When we scheduled our trip, I didn’t even think about the fact that Christmas is the most crowded time at Disney. (So clearly I wasn’t thinking about how to stay sane at Disney World). I was just thinking how great it was that my son wouldn’t miss any school. The holiday season is so unbelievably crowded that the Magic Kingdom is at capacity by 9:00am every morning. On New Year’s Day, we became so claustrophobic, we gave up and went home at 3:00pm even though it was our last day there. My prediction is that New Year’s Day is the worst day of the year to be at Disney. Those upbeat, cheerful and kind Disney employees were kinda grumpy that day. Someone (or everyone) rang in the New Year with that hard-partying Mickey Mouse the night before.
2. I know you want to stay in that bed because the last time you were this tired, you’d just completed the packing, moving, unpacking at the new house process (that’s the only time I’ve ever felt so bone tired) but don’t do it. Get your butt out of bed and get to the parks (particularly Magic Kingdom) by 9:00am. You can navigate around in the mornings and get on rides without too much waiting. Come afternoon time, every late sleeper has joined the action and it’s a mad house. We found this rule applied to Disney but not as much to Universal. We spent 2 days there and had no trouble getting in in the afternoon. On those days, we powered through until late night and it was awesome. What better time of day to be in Harry Potter’s world? (Check out Asher using his interactive wand)
3. Plan far enough in advance that you can get the Disney fast pass. Please please trust me. We were able to bypass those massive lines all 5 days. I rode the 7 Dwarfs Mine Train by myself (because Asher doesn’t like roller coasters) and I sat beside a guy who seemed to moderately enjoy the ride but then at the end said, “I waited in line 2 hours for THAT?” All I said to him was, “You don’t even want to know how long I waited.” (Pssst: it was 5 minutes – also he was right, it was barely worth my wait)
4. Did you know you can’t buy any alcohol in the Magic Kingdom? That is no way to stay sane at Disney World. Luckily, I have a solution for that. It’s completely and totally copacetic to bring in sunscreen and tampons, right? So order at least a couple of these before you go and fill them with your poison of choice. Trust me, you’re gonna need a nip here and there to remain sane. On the positive side, you can buy all kinds of alcohol at Univeral, Epcot and Hollywood Studios but it’s EXPENSIVE (I saw a GLASS of champagne for $17), so I recommend you pack your tampons even if you’re not on your period if you know what I mean. I find sunscreen to be essential for all kinds of festivals, concerts and many other events. You will too.
5. When you take the inevitable spin through “It’s A Small World,” take time to enjoy just how high the creators of this ride must’ve been when they put this thing together.
6. Do Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure in Epcot. Wondering how to occupy your kids while you drink champagne in Paris and beer in the United Kingdom? This incredibly cool interactive game will keep them enthralled (and you too). They give your kid(s) a smartphone as you walk in and he or she follows the clues through each country with tons of chances for interaction/rewards. At one point in France, we got to see Perry the Platypus zipline high up between 2 buildings. If you’re not looking up, you’ll never see it but if you’re doing the challenge, you trigger it and you feel like you’re doing something really special. My kid (and my big kid – my husband) enjoyed it so much, they were really sad when we (I) decided it was time to go home and they had to drop the phone off in one of the top secret locations all over Epcot.
7. Take breaks, you old goat. You are too damn old for this shit. Your kids have motors that do not turn off – they can keep going forever. But you cannot. Every few hours, find one of the play areas all the parks have, like Curious George, Honey I Shrunk The Kids and that jungle one in Universal Studios where I took a legit nap – and get off of your feet. It’s also a good time to play drinking games like “Drink a swig of sunscreen every time your kid ends up drenched.”
8. Princesses, princesses everywhere. Buy the princess dress before you go and bring it with you so you don’t have to hand over your entire wallet and sell your body on the spotless street corner to get your girls one as they melt down in the street. Buy souvenirs at any nearby WalMart in Orlando. They have all have the standard stuffed animals, key chains, pens and t-shirts at a much more affordable price. And if you’re allotting a certain amount of souvenir money to your kid(s), tell them how much they get on the first day then tell them they’re not allowed to buy until the last day. That way you don’t fork over $30.99 for Buzz Lightyear on the first day only to have them change their minds and go postal for a giant Minion on the second day. Each time Asher said he wanted something, we said, “You have $30.00 to spend. You’re allowed to spend it on the last day. Look everything over,” and left it up to him. (Clearly this only applies to older kids. Toddlers are beyond reason.)
9. Pack your own snacks. Yes, you can bring food and water into the parks. That might be the single best tip we got (well, that and my ingenious tampon box). Some people make sandwiches to bring in. We just packed lots of snacks and a couple of empty reusable water bottles. There are tons of water fountains at every park except Magic Kingdom (there I resorted to trying to fill ours up from the bathroom faucet with the automatic on and off thingee where you wave your hand in front of it – go ahead, have a good laugh at that vision). We made sure to stop and have snacks at least every 2 hours because every single person in my family gets extremely HANGRY when their blood sugar drops and that is no way to stay sane at Disney or anywhere. Making sandwiches wouldn’t have been difficult but we went ahead and ate lunch and dinner at the parks. However, we bought things like hot dogs and hamburgers which are relatively inexpensive. We never ate at any of the park restaurants.
10. Give up on thinking you’re gonna look cute. You’ll be exhausted and you’ll just want to be comfortable. I am the last person to plan on ugly sneakers and utilitarian shorts but I gave up trying to look cute on the second day and wore whatever was most comfortable. Shortcut hairdos are crucial too. I like to wash my hair often but I quickly found out it was not even kinda going to happen every day. Braids were my go-to.
11. Go to weather.com and look up the weather expected for your trip, then disregard it completely. Pack for every eventuality except snow. It was supposed to be warm and sunny the entire time we were there. The third day, the rain came in and the temperatures dropped. We had 2 days of nonstop drizzle and cold and we were not about to let it stop us. Gabe went to WalMart and bought me a $9 sweatshirt which I wore (with the hood up) for the next 3 days. Go ahead and buy those cheap rain ponchos for every single one of you (4 to a pack) and throw them into your suitcase. Here’s a tip: the grown-ups will think the neck is a little too tight on their poncho. Don’t do what I did. I ripped mine a bit because I don’t like anything tight around my neck and then it just continued to rip down the middle all day long. Cold, wet boobies make you crave lots of expensive Starbucks coffee, btw.
12. Ride everything you can ride down to those dizzying teacups on the mad hatter ride and the flying dumbo elephants. Don’t give a shit what anyone thinks. Be a kid again. You don’t get many chances these days, now do ya?
12. End at least one day with the Magic Kingdom Light Show. Words can’t even describe how awesome it is. We sat cross-legged in the street in front of Cinderella’s Castle with hundreds of other people – all three of us completely wowed.
13. Put away your phone. Yes, take some photos and use the Disney apps when you need to but other than that, unplug. Be in the moment. It really is magic.
By the time we’d been there for 2 days, I’d already started planning our next trip in my head. Next time, both boys will go and we’ll get to introduce the little one to the magic of Disney too. I can’t wait.
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