Originally posted March 11, 2009
Planning to take your brood to the Magic Kingdom for spring break? There's no place like it. It's truly worth the extra planning and penny-pinching to get there, but after three exhausting days, two near-abductions and one high-speed waterslide wedgie I decided that Disney definitely isn't for sissies.
By all means, go. Don't let me scare you, but do take a lesson: my family's recent Disney vacation was a little too much of a good thing - too much Mickey and not enough nappy.
Let's start with those seductive early-morning flights. In a word, don't. They're cheaper for a reason, folks. If I had it to do over I'd go with my original instinct to sleep-in and take the mid-morning flight so we'd all have been better-prepared to tackle the theme-parks. For better and for worse I had scored a highly sought-after lunch at Cinderella's Castle for that very day, so in spite of our kids' pleas to first take a refreshing break and swim at the hotel pool, off we went. Cinderella waits for no one, not even Prince Charming. Lunch was fantastic, but be warned: avoid over-scheduling dining reservations months in advance of your trip. How can you possibly anticipate when and where you'll be when hunger strikes? Don't be a slave to your schedule or you just might need a vacation from your vacation.
Another dining don't? One night I boldly scheduled a 9:30 p.m. dinner-theater meal at the famed Hoop De Do Musical Review. I'd originally reserved a more civilized time, however we were running late and inquired about a later reservation because they strictly enforce billing the entire meal if cancelled fewer than 24-hours before. Suffice it to say that I way overestimated my family's emotional mettle.
We weren't the only ones suffering from fun overload. One afternoon, after the kids developed a serious case of the crankies we made a lame threat to hire Donald Duck to babysit. Upon hearing our distress, another parent jokingly asked if he could share him and split the cost.
The moral? Know your family's limits. If your clan is a hardy crowd of never-say-never roller-coaster enthusiasts with endurance to spare, knock yourselves out. But what if you've got a few who aren't? Divide and conquer. Those needing rest can enjoy some down-time while the others go off to conquer the coasters. Noah and I struck out on our own one evening after Holly crashed early for the night and my husband stayed behind to rest. The cool thing about leaving them behind is that we brought their tickets with us (plastic pass keys used in your hotel room, restaurants and theme parks) and scored double the number of fast-passes for the thrill rides. I'll try anything once!
The Aerosmith-themed 'Rockin' Rollercoaster' at Hollywood studios was my favorite (though Animal Kingdom's Yeti-themed 'Expedition Everest' was a total blast -- not to be outdone by 'Thunder Mountain' in the Magic Kingdom, however ...), but I may have met my match in the 'Summit Plummet' waterslide at Blizzard Beach. Twelve stories, 60 m.p.h. and eight seconds later I felt like I'd been pummeled by a dozen angry gorillas. I limped away from that stupid slide, my bruised backside throbbing.
"Mom, wasn't that awesome?" Noah asked. He'd gone first. "Mom? Are you laughing?"
"No," I whimpered tearily, as I struggled to yank an industrial-strength wedgie from my backside and return my bathing-suit skirt to a more lady-like position. I swear I heard laughter. What's worse, one of those over-eager Disney picture-people had apparently captured my humiliation for posterity.
An hour later and still damp from my high-speed thrashing, I hissed at my daughter Holly to quit interrupting as I struggled to comprehend directions issued by the driver of an idling Disney bus. Holly snuck past me to climb on to the bus so I grabbed her hand and held her back.
She tugged and implored "Please let go?" Her voice was oddly unfamiliar, but I ignored her. She finally gave up and looked beseechingly at my husband, willing him to make it stop. I couldn't believe my mistake. It wasn't even Holly!
Later that night I nearly did it again, as a cashier rang up my purchase and I wearily leaned in to embrace the child standing beside me (this one wasn't even blonde, like Holly). I stopped short when I realized my error and the child's Mom chuckled and confessed to making the same mistake twice herself.
On our fifth and final Disney-day Holly begged to take my picture, but I'd submitted to enough photo-ops by then. She was persistent and quipped "It'll be perfect, Mom. Dreams do come true."
Sure thing, Tinkerbell. Maybe next time.
If You Go: Tips for Maintaining Family Harmony
Pick one 'can't miss' attraction for each family member, hit those first and remember: you just can't do it all in one trip
Limit the number of meal reservations
No 'Hoop De doo Review'ing past bedtime - yours or theirs
Occasionally forgo the soda and fries and push water to keep your cool and stay energized
Daily rest-periods are non-negotiable. Sitting while on a rollercoaster does not count!
Avoid long lines and more whines: start at the back of the parks and work your way forward
Avoid overcrowded busses between Disney destinations. Standing in the aisles is not a safe bet for tired tykes and their weary folks.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.