We’re back! We’re back! We took the kids to Walt Disney World for two weeks and managed to bring everyone home in one piece so basically 2015 wins and all other parenting years will bow down to this one.
I have so much to share with you from our trip (food allergy stories and more stroller reviews and about a thousand photos of the kids) but I thought I’d start with this: a list of 7 things that can really take the joy out of your Disney vacation. We had a wonderful trip, but I did notice that we fell victim to a couple of these and the spectacle of other families having a terrible time at the happiest place on earth made me want to share these thoughts with you…just in case you’re headed to Disney.
Myth #1: Disney owes you a magical time.
The customer service at Disney is legendary, but I think the legend is starting to outrun reality. As wonderful as it is to have a company that works to turn “no” into “how can I make your request a reality?”, it’s just not realistic to expect Disney to deliver a perfect experience to every guest around the clock. Expecting the moon will only lead to frustration and disappointment!
For example: they close down part of Fantasyland during the fireworks every night for safety reasons (flaming debris, anyone?). This is a completely reasonable thing for Disney to do, but we watched a woman flip out on a cast member because she didn’t want to take the long way around to ride Dumbo and at the end of a lot of fuss she yelled, “I am NOT having a magical time!” before stomping away in frustration. Sadly, she had a bunch of kids with her, all of whom looked as stressed out and angry as their mom.
On another day, the posted wait time for Tower of Terror was 200 minutes, yet we were stuck listening to a guest rant and rave about how the wait was inexcusable and when we finally made it on to the ride, she couldn’t stop complaining about how she wanted her money back. Ultimately, she grumbled all the way through the pre-show and was still giving the cast member a hard time as she was loaded into the ride vehicle. Was that ride experience worth her three hour wait? Highly unlikely. Was that Disney’s fault? I don’t think so.
I think holding Disney to a high standard makes sense and if there’s a real customer service failure, complaining to the right person helps to correct that gap for the next person. Expecting special treatment, on the other hand, is toxic to having a good time and doesn’t accomplish anything beyond ruining your trip (and perhaps that moment for all of the people around you).
Myth #2: You have to get the good Fastpasses to have a good time.
Here’s a trap that we fell into for the first week of our trip. Fastpasses are a system Disney uses to create shorter wait times for certain attractions. They used to be paper, but now it’s an electronic service that lets you sign up to ride a certain attraction at a certain time without waiting in the long stand-by line. In theory, it’s great. In practice, it was insanely frustrating to navigate the new system.
Ultimately, we spent too much time stressing about getting Fastpasses and lining them up to be for the right things at the right time. We were not alone either – the parks are full of grim-faced people standing in a line waiting to talk to a cast member about their Fastpasses because WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS SYSTEM?? It’s tough because certain Fastpasses are sold out before the park even opens, making you feel like you missed out on the good stuff and now you’re stuck with long lines or the boring reject attractions that nobody else wanted (hello, Mission Space). Even when we got them, we often found ourselves standing around for long periods of time or hauling butt to get to the other side of the park so we could be there to use our Fastpasses at the right time. Not relaxing. Not joyful. Not the trip we signed up for.
The funny thing is this: a week into our trip, we got this amazing gift from the PR department at Disney that included 160 unlimited don’t-sign-up-just-tap-them-and-walk-on Fastpasses (an unheard of perk!). That meant that we didn’t have to mess with the system, we didn’t need to schedule anything, and we were able to walk right on to things that had been sold out forever.
You would think that would make all the difference, right? Well, it did…to a certain extent. Without it, we wouldn’t have ridden the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train attraction and Eva wouldn’t have been able to meet Anna and Elsa (twice!). Ultimately, though, we used a little less than half of those passes because once the pressure was lifted and we were just enjoying our vacation, it turned out that we didn’t want to rush from ride to ride anyway. Plus, once we didn’t have to schedule them, we recognized how many passes didn’t even need Fastpasses because the lines were so short. (I think at least 20 of our passes were used on near-empty rides and only saved us about 5 minutes.)
UPDATE: I wanted to explain about these passes a little more, since obviously not everybody is going to have basically unlimited fastpasses on their Disney trip. So, the way they worked was that each of us (me, Kyle, Calvin, and Eva) got 10 fastpasses per day to use over the span of 4 days instead of the 3 per day that they give you (you can get more after you use your 3). If we didn’t have the kids, it might have made a big difference but the funny thing was that once we had them we only used 3-4 per day anyway, so the major perk for us was using them on things that had sold out. So, even though I think the fastpass system is flawed and the old way was better (I hate pre-scheduling waaay before you get to the park) I also think that we were creating our own stress by trying to fight with the system when we couldn’t do anything about it.
Basically, we had whipped ourselves into a frenzy because we perceived that we were missing out when really Fastpasses are just a little extra boost in the middle of a lot of great experiences. So don’t stress! Don’t be like us!
Myth #3: It’s enough for your kids just to be at Walt Disney World.
We have great kids and I was really impressed with how well they handled the park chaos. Eva, in particular, did amazing for a four year old (we have a four year old now!!!) and she didn’t have a meltdown fit about anything until the very last night of our trip. That being said, I found myself getting annoyed with how often she wanted to buy something or eat something or turn right around and ride something again. It felt like she wasn’t appreciating how much of a gift it is just to be at WDW on a family vacation.
Finally, I had to do a little reality check. She has no idea how much of a gift it is! Eva’s concept of money and how it’s earned and how much things cost is loose at best. The idea that something is expensive is an abstract concept and she doesn’t differentiate between the value of a churro and the value of a deluxe Elsa gown. Plus, she was in major sensory overload in a place that is designed to make you want absolutely everything you can see! So, I brushed off those annoyed feelings and felt less frustrated with her for the rest of the trip.
Myth #4: Everyone is on the same vacation you are.
This is a tough one. It’s really easy to feel stressed with the other guests at WDW because there’s a constant sensation that someone is trying to cut you in line or get a better spot or is just generally in your way. I don’t feel like I’m a competitive person in general, but I do feel like I’m more aware of all of those thoughts while I’m on a Disney vacation. It creates an us vs. them feeling that just isn’t fun.
Realistically, there are a lot of people trying to get ahead of you on a Disney vacation and when they line-jump or sneak in, you might feel like your trip is getting ruined (and more specifically that THEY are ruining it). My thoughts: (A) that’s just going to happen sometimes and no amount of glaring at the back of their heads will help, (B) serious line-jumpers are both uncommon and likely to get into trouble, and (C) some people get different treatment at Disney and the easiest thing to do is to make your peace with that.
It’s a fact that some people get more perks than others as Disney guests. People staying on property get extra hours in the parks. People who have disabilities often have shorter wait times or are loaded onto busses first. Annual pass holders get discounts. Disney Visa members get special character meet and greets. Insanely lucky bloggers and their families get Magicbands with 160 free fastpasses. It sort of sucks, but there’s always a reason behind the perk and the reason isn’t to make you feel bad about your own vacation. So breathe and don’t let it ruin your vacation. That being said, be sure to reach out to Disney guest relations once you get home if you feel like there was a way your trip could have been better! I do think that they are putting a lot of effort into constantly tweaking and improving the system and I also think things like the new fastpass system have long way to go before they’re perfected.
As a side note, recognize that the competition is occasionally all in your head. At one point, I was hurrying with Eva and needed to cut through the middle of a Fastpass line to get to where we were going. A woman saw me trying to cut through in front of her and moved up so fast that she actually body-checked my little girl. While I understand that she wouldn’t want someone to rush up and snag the spot in front of her, she was missing the fact that we were actually in the middle of a preschooler bathroom emergency trying to get to the restrooms on the other side. Would she normally shove a little girl who was trying to not pee all over her princess dress? Unlikely. I blame Disney crowd madness.
Myth #5: Everything at Disney is too expensive.
Ugh. Talk about killing the joy in your vacation. Focusing on how expensive everything is accomplishes two things: (1) it reminds you of all of the stress waiting for you beyond your vacation and (2) makes you feel like everything is too expensive. What it does not accomplish is any kind of discount or financial benefit.
Get over it. Seriously. If you mentally can’t handle the expense, you shouldn’t be on a Disney vacation. If you’re on a Disney vacation, it’s too late to save that money and you should just enjoy yourself so you don’t ruin the thing you paid for. The funny thing is, I don’t actually feel like most Disney prices are any higher than other restaurants or fun activities would be. I think that they get a bad rep because the overall cost adds up.
I admit, of course, that some things at Disney are overpriced (like sunblock and diapers). Realistically, that’s because you’re supposed to bring things with you. Disney doesn’t want to be the number one sunblock sales center in the world. They’re just providing that because everyone keeps forgetting to SPF it up. Quit yer whinin’ if you need to buy sunblock in the park and be happy that they’re offering it at all.
Myth #6: Long lines mean that’s the good stuff.
This sort of goes along with the Fastpass problem, but I think it warrants its own thought. Many attractions are popular enough to have lines that are more than an hour long. Standing in all of these lines leads to having vacation memories that consist of waiting for hours to ride something that lasts four minutes. Blah.
There are so many things that don’t require lines (or have shorter lines) that are well worth your vacation time, so don’t get hung up on the classic things. Also, don’t jump into a line just because you see everyone else doing that. We did that for Gaston (waited an hour!) and when we finally got up there it turned out that Eva barely knew who he was and didn’t really want to interact with him. That’s time well-spent, I tell you. (Although he was awesome and very nice to look at in Mama’s opinion so maybe that’s not the best example…)
My advice would be to wait in one long line during the day and spend the rest of your time doing other stuff. Hit the attractions with long lines first thing in the morning or late at night when the lines are shorter and you’ll fit more stuff into your day.
Myth #7: You can do it all.
This last myth is the hardest to get past and the one that we fall victim to every time. Before you go on a Walt Disney World vacation, it’s easy to think of all of the things that you’re going to do when you get there. If you’re staying at a Disney resort, it’s also misleading to watch Stacey go through the Disney Must Do list because she pops from place to place and cheerfully tells you to just head over and do X before popping over to do Y.
This is not reality. There are a ton of guests at Walt Disney World and they will get in your way, creating lines, bottlenecks, and walls of people. Even if you sucked all of the people out of the parks, the parks themselves are miles and miles of sidewalk, with busses and monorails and boats between them. It’s just not possible to do everything you can do at Walt Disney World unless that is your full-time job (and even then??).
Case in point: my favorite fireworks show is Illuminations. I love it. I used to go to Epcot to watch it at least once a week when we lived down there. So I was beyond excited to share that with the kids and eat funnel cakes while watching the lights explode over the water. However, in the two weeks we were at Walt Disney World, we never saw Illuminations. A million things got in the way, from sleep schedules to park transportation to food poisoning to rain. Am I disappointed? Surprisingly, no. We didn’t get to do that thing because we were so busy doing all of these other things that were better choices for our family. Plus, that’s incentive to head back to Florida!
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I hope this list was helpful! Like I said, we had our own problems with some of these but I feel like reality checks and perspective shifts were all we needed to keep our vacation on track. Yes, crowds. Yes, lines. Yes, rude people. It happens. But we had a wonderful time and I feel so lucky that we had the opportunity to experience this vacation as a family. I can’t wait to share more of it with you!
PS – For more Disney goodness, check out our Disney Side page!