Traveling to Walt Disney World is one of the greatest pleasures your family will ever experience. Days spent together having fun and being away from the stresses of life are some of the best you can imagine. Still, things can go wrong. Afterall, kids get tired and hungry, parents get frustrated, plans fall through. Believe me, I’ve been there and I understand. That is why I wanted to offer some tips for you today. These are not tips about when to go, where to stay, how many days on your park tickets, etc.; these are tips about keeping the peace, having a harmonious visit, making magical new memories and sharing this rare, precious time with those you love the most.
Here are some of my tips to use both before the trip and after the trip to help everything run more smoothly. I I hope you’ll find them helpful during your next visit to the Happiest Place on Earth!
BEFORE THE TRIP
Involve the whole family in planning: Make up a fun daily schedule with input from everyone, including children who are old enough to express their ideas. Asking for their input makes them feel respected and empowered. Make a “Must Do” list for each park. The Must Do list should consist of everyone’s favorite rides and attractions. Be sure to fit in some relaxing down-time into your schedule too. This will help you to plan which dining reservations you want, if you will need Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or Pirates League reservations, whether or not you will want to book special tours or excursions, etc. All these things need to be booked 6 months out. Your travel agent (me) will take care of this for you — no worries.
Research rides and attractions: Be sure to find out ride rules ahead of time. You wouldn’t want your son to look forward to driving his own car at the Indy Speedway only to find out he is not tall enough and must ride with you instead. Knowing this ahead of time will help you deter any pouting as well as keep you from having a heartbroken child to console. This will also help you to easily decide which fast pass reservations you want.
Give teens room: If you have teenagers, allow them some time to have fun separate from you and then plan to meet back up for meal time. Try to work this into your plan. They love you but they need their own space. Remember when you were their age?
Decide on the ground rules: Decide and discuss as a family the ground rules for the trip. Your family will appreciate the fact that you love them dearly and want to have fun with them. Tell them that you are taking this vacation because you want everyone to be happy and have a trip they will always remember. Everyone should commit!
Set a realistic budget: Include all your expenses in the budget and stick to it. Let the children know that the money you will save by eating breakfast in the room or sandwiches for one meal a day will afford you the opportunity to spend another day in the parks. If you have young children, I am sure you know that everything in every souvenir shop looks good to them but you may not know that most of the rides at Magic Kingdom have a gift shop you must walk through after the ride. Here is a good rule to follow: tell your children they can buy whatever they want with their own money, but they cannot ask you for more. If they want to make a collection jar at home to save their money before the trip they can. If they don’t, they can choose not to. The day you leave, give each child a set amount (I usually give them $20 each) in addition to what they have saved. Tell them that if they spend it the first day, that is all they will get. If they choose to spend it the last day, that is their choice as well. But they cannot ask for anything else except what you gave them already. This gives them the choice to save.
DURING THE TRIP
No work on vacation: Vacation literally means “a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation.” Your family will truly appreciate your willingness to focus on your relationship with them during this trip. If you absolutely must be available to your job, try telling your employer that you will not be available during the daytime but you will check for messages at the end of each day.
Go over the ground rules: No arguing, no name-calling, no yelling – whatever your family needs are, everyone needs to make a pact. If someone starts to argue or act in a way that will keep others from having fun, remind them that they are breaking the rules. Make it important to them to be part of the family and tell them how much you love them and want to spend this happy time together.
APOLOGIZE: This is the most important tip I can give you. In the course of everyday life, arguments happen. Good or bad, they do become a habit. If you accidentally start to yell or lose it yourself, take a deep breath and breathe out VERY slowly. Then a-p-o-l-o-g-i-z-e. Tell your loved one that you are sorry for expressing your feelings so strongly and assure them that they are more important to you than any silly argument.
Be flexible: Be flexible enough in your schedule to change it if needed. If your family has been looking forward to riding Rock N Rollercoaster and it is closed during that time, maneuver your activities for the day in order to go back and ride it later. It also helps to make sure everyone knows ahead of time that rides do sometimes have issues and it is always possible that one ride or another will not be available during the trip. We hate when this happens, but it does happen. No point in having a long face for the rest of the trip because all of the eggs were in one basket.
Know that you can’t force fun: If your child is getting cranky from the walking or the heat or getting up early, you can’t force him to be happy by saying things like, “we paid X amount of money to bring you on this trip and you ARE going to have fun.” It just can’t work that way. Even though there is so much to see and do kids sometimes just need to goof off and expel some crazy energy. There are fun spots around the parks and investing a little time there can be good for everyone. Magic Kingdom offers several play zones such as Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station, the Interactive queue at Dumbo the Flying Elephant (which is an air-conditioned playground complete with slides, climbing net, and even a toddler section), and Tom Sawyer Island which is awesome for running around, exploring and pretending. Innoventions at EPCOT has all sorts of “activ”-ities for kids to explore, at Hollywood Studios they can play at the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure and at Animal Kingdom they can explore and run and even dig up dinosaur bones in the Boneyard.
Give in a little: It’s a vacation so if you normally have to argue every night during dinner about ‘eating your vegetables,’ maybe you could let it go for this short period of time. One of the rules my kids have always loved is that while we are on vacation, and only then, if they choose to eat their dessert first they can. After the first few times of enjoying the pleasure, they decided to eat their food first so they would have the dessert to look forward to at the end of the meal. If they want to switch it up, though, they can at any time – but only on vacation.
Stick to the budget: If you gave your child(ren) a certain amount of money on the day you left (see #6 above), stick to that amount. That way you will not be asked for a million things each day of your visit. As I stated before, if they spend it the first day, that is their choice. If they choose to spend it the last day, that is their choice as well. You might remind them that they cannot ask for anything else except what you gave them already.
Start each day off right: Start each day off with some extra Disney magic. Set a wake up call for a few minutes after your planned wake up time. The kids will already be awake when the call comes in so they can all gather round to hear Mickey wishing his pals a fun day. Nothing beats smiling kids first thing in the morning for warming our hearts over coffee.
Your best free bonding tools: Children feel special when they are respected, noticed, listened to, and heard. Having conversations over meals, talking about each child’s favorite ride or attraction that day, or praising their behavior increases this wonderful bonding opportunity and strengthens your relationship — no cell phones allowed out (except for taking photos please). Share lots of hugs and kisses, and make many special memories together. This needs no further explanation.
HAVE A MAGICAL TIME!!!