There is nothing worse than getting back from traveling and feeling like you need a vacation. In our house our arrival home goes a bit like this: People come in. Bags come in. Bags go to master bedroom and over the course of five days are unpacked and the contents are put into piles dependent upon final destination. Piles grow smaller as adults and little people rummage through them looking for specific items such as jackets and hair brushes. Diminished piles slowly make their way to where they belong and the contents are shoved into place. Sort of. Empty suitcases remain in rooms for weeks. If fortunate, they make it to stairs of attic. Then there are the endless piles of laundry (I am a sucker for a hotel that has a washing machine so I can do it before I get home). This is the same routine. Every. Single. Time. And it is my Achilles heel of travel. And this is only worse when the travel was exhausting, emotionally and physically. And a trip to Disney World can be both those things.
The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be those things. In fact, if it was those things for my family, I assure you my husband and I would not be going three times a year. And there’s no way we’d be bringing our little people with us. Whenever we go, whether for two days, five days, seven days, or any other number, we always leave with the same thought: I wish we had one more day here. It’s not because we need more time to see one more thing. It’s because we want it. We want to escape the real world one more day and relax amidst the cacophony of Disney (and probably avoid doing the laundry). So how can a place so loud, so colorful, so fast be relaxing? Here are a few tips on what we do to make all that noise a wonderful, calming, harmonious place to be.
Take a break: Walt Disney World is overwhelming. For me. I’m a grown up. That being said, I can only imagine what it’s like for my littles. It’s like their dreams staring them in the face. It’s the unicorn at the end of the double rainbow. It is emotional for them no matter how many times they go, so they need some breaks from that magical place. One way we do this is by making a point of sitting down to eat with our kids at Disney World. As soon as making dining reservations becomes an option to us, we do it. It is so important that my husband used to wake up in the middle of the night and in the darkness get on his computer and find us places to eat (and there are very few things he would get himself up in the middle of the night for). Fortunately, the reservation structure has changed, so this isn’t necessary anymore. At the parks, we all get to put the swirling world aside for a minute and just sit in a cool place, a comfy seat. We usually try to sneak in the added bonus of dining with characters–it’s one less line to wait on and the kids don’t feel the need to rush through eating to get back into the fray. It gives us a chance to talk and recharge. And seriously, no one wants to deal with a hangry toddler (or said toddler’s hangry mother). We also generally try to plan an early exit every third or fourth day. We go to the park in the morning (preferably one with morning magic hours), and then we come home so that the littles who still nap can get real naps (because let’s face it, they’re barely napping in the stroller) and the five year old can get some pool time. Another way we unplug from Disney is by taking advantage of their play areas. The parks have places for little people to blow off steam. So when we see the toddler or infant strapped in the stroller, desperate to get out and walk or crawl after a stretch of “grown up” activities, we go to those places like the Baby Centers where the kids can watch tv and wiggle around, The Boneyard play area in Animal Kingdom, or the indoor play area at the end of Journey into the Imagination with Figment ride in Epcot. There is so much to do, but we’ve found that pushing our kids and not taking breaks leads us to more disastrous outcomes than spending an extra half hour running through a sprinkler leads us to.
Prepare: Along the same lines, we make sure we’re well acquainted with our hotel and with the park (and all their separate events). Walt Disney World has a ridiculous number of things to do and places to be, but my husband and I have just figured out that we can’t do them all. Granted, we have the luxury of knowing we’ll be back, but even without that, I can’t imagine we’d waste a fast pass on a roller coaster our children can’t go on when there are more important things to use them on (like meeting princesses, of course). So, we decide what’s most important to our littles and work from there. My five year old is crazy excited to try splash mountain for the first time, so it’s one of the first fast passes we booked for our next trip. Then we hit all the others that we knew the little people loved. We know what rides usually have shorter (or at least manageable) lines and we don’t fast pass those (a little internet research will provide this info too). And the day of? My husband is constantly shifting our fast passes around to see if a new time opens up, or if there’s no line on a ride we have a fast pass for he’ll cancel it and book a new one for another ride. The point is, we try to make the most of our time and prioritize. Also, we pay attention to the weather. Sometimes a rainy day is the best day, as long we’re prepared. If it’s just going to pour all day, we head to Epcot (and yeah we wear those silly looking ponchos–how else do you push a stroller and keep dry?). There is so much to do at Epcot indoors, so it works for us. And on the upside, rainy days mean fewer people, which is always a plus (especially when dealing with the new Frozen ride).
Engage the Littles: Bored little people can make a long day even longer. My bunch of littles like to take their time and wander, but that’s not always a possibility when dealing with Disney World and a gazillion people meandering through the park (especially when our little Elsa decides she needs to use her powers to freeze those gazillion people). So, often they’re in the stroller amidst their, often loud, protests. And honestly, at some point those little legs are just so exhausted they need to take a break. To keep the little people happy while they’re sitting or while we’re waiting, we take advantage of the adventures that Disney has to offer. There’s Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure at Epcot, Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom at Magic Kingdom, and Wilderness Explorers in Animal Kingdom. In addition to these specific scavenger hunt/puzzle type of activities (which have generally been too complicated for my little people), there are the continuous hunts for hidden Mickeys, penny presses (they sell books to put the pressed pennies in), and pin collecting (and exchanging). The most exciting of all the hunts that my littles do are the special ones that Epcot puts on. At Easter they scouted for hidden eggs in the World Showcase,
and when they completed the chart, they got a prize. During the Food and Wine Festival, they hunted down Remy standing with a specific ingredient, and again, they won a prize upon completion (a special pin). The egg hunt and the Remy hunt both made my five year old happier to be in Epcot than she has ever been (excluding those times with the Frozen ride, of course).
Keep It Light: Maybe it’s because I’ve been lugging a little person around with me for five years (not to mention the 9 months prior), or maybe it’s because each of my three littles travel with quite a bit of…well…stuff. Either way, when strolling around the parks at Walt Disney World, the last thing that I want are bags banging into my shins as they dangle from the stroller hooks or bags wrapped around my wrist or worse, a child on my hip so that I can fill the stroller with even more stuff. Nope. Doesn’t work. I mean, I’m the kind of person who avoids carrying anything if I can. Stuff, clutter, just bothers me. The last thing I need is stuff cluttering up my little bit of Disney space. We have two ways of combatting this. First, we bring a few small things from home to give the kids in case they start to get that crazy kid urge to absolutely positively need a new something. A little piece of princess jewelry picked up at that sacred space known as the dollar spot at Target? Done. And when my little gets tired of it? It’s small enough to drop into the single small backpack she puts in the bottom of the stroller. Now, I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t say that we do in fact indulge our littles, and they often come home with ridiculously more than they left with. But, we get this shopping out of the way early in the trip so that we can have it directly shipped back to the hotel rather than have to deal with it all day. We buy it and never see it again until we decide to pick it up at the hotel store (this only applies if you’re staying on a Disney property). No worrying about whether the small pieces of the castle have dropped somewhere or the car has been vroooooomed into oblivion. And if we’re leaving the next day, or that afternoon, we just have our packages shipped to the front of the park and pick it all up on the way out (this can be done regardless of what hotel you’re staying at). I don’t have to constantly check for things. My little people don’t have to collapse into a heap because they’ve lost some part that is integral to their enjoyment of their new toy (aka any part they deem valuable, occasionally even packaging). Their daddy doesn’t have to frantically run through the park searching out a lonely Tinker Bell lying listlessly amongst the flowers. It’s all bagged up and waiting patiently for us.
Be a Grown Up: Just because we’re surrounded by talking animals and women dressed as princesses doesn’t mean that my husband and I can’t focus on being a grown up from time to time. Back to that prepare thing. When we book our hotels, we know our hotel before we get there. We determine what rooms are available, what amenities are available. When we have family with us, we ask them to watch our kids one night so we can have dinner together at the hotel. When no one is there to help us physically get away, we request a room with a balcony. After the littles go to sleep, we slip out to the balcony for a glass of wine and grown up conversation. But grown up time doesn’t need to be restricted just to the hotel. Often, my husband and I can barely have a conversation in our own home before our little people go to bed (the five year old hears everything we say, the two year old just likes to make sure it’s his voice that we all hear, and the 10 month old gets so excited by the two year old that he just screams. It’s great. Really.). At Disney, though, we can have longer conversations than we’ve ever had. The kids don’t care about what we’re saying to one another when there are flying elephants and spitting camels in the vicinity. This is our breathing time, our rejuvenating time.
Disney World can make a person’s head swirl. Just the thought of it exhausts some people, but it doesn’t have to be exhausting. In fact, it can be more relaxing than those few moments when all the children in the house take a nap and you finally stumble upon five unexpected minutes of quiet (before panic sets in that you may not be using these little golden nuggets of time effectively and there’s laundry to get done and dishes in the sink so maybe you should run and get that done instead of just basking in this pure silence…mom guilt is real). Disney can be that place that has no “to do” list; it can be that place that fills your cup rather than depletes it.