Going on a Disney vacation with your family is an exciting and memorable experience. But it can also be stressful and overwhelming, especially if you’re unprepared. To ensure that your family’s Disney vacation goes smoothly, here are five tips to keep in mind to keep everyone happy.
The key to a successful Disney vacation is doing all of the research and decision-making before you leave home. What days are you going to which parks? How are you getting there, and what time do you need to leave? Setting up the Walt Disney World app on everyone’s phones and making sure you’re all connected in the same family group — and making sure you understand how to use the app to find your way around, view wait times, order food, use Genie+ and Lighting Lanes (if you choose to), etc.
Research the parks, attractions, and restaurants and prioritize the ones that are most important to you. Create a loose schedule that includes breaks and downtime to avoid feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. A well-planned itinerary will help you maximize your time and minimize stress. But, it’s important to…
Set Realistic Expectations
Disney World is gigantic. There are thousands of things to do, and it’s impossible to do it all in one trip. If you made a list of everything you want to do while you’re there, especially during busier crowd days, you might be able to do half of those things. But if you prioritize that list, you can ensure that you get to have the experiences that are most important to your family.
Break up your list into three buckets: Must do, Would like to do, and It’d be nice to do (AKA, “I wouldn’t be upset if we didn’t have time for this”). As you’re planning which days you’ll be where, start with the “must-do” list and work backward from those, filling in the “would like to” items next and, finally, the “nice to dos.”
Make sure everyone in your family is on the same page about what they want to do and what they’re willing to skip to avoid disappointments and disagreements during your vacation.
You’re spending a lot on this trip, so it’s natural to want to pack in as much as you can to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. But there’s a TON of walking involved in the heat and humidity that most people aren’t used to, especially young children.
It’s ok to steal a few moments in the air-conditioned stores or benches in the shade. If your hotel room is close by, don’t be afraid to leave the parks mid-day (usually the hottest time of the day) to swim, take a nap, or just relax. Then head back to the park feeling refreshed when the crowds are a little lighter, and the heat is less intense.
Despite all of your planning, things can (and probably will) still go wrong. Attractions break down, lines can be longer than expected, and the weather may not cooperate. When this happens, be flexible and willing to adjust your plans. You may find this to be frustrating after you’ve spent all that time planning your itinerary, but that’s why you need a loose daily plan so you can adapt to the circumstances of that day. Being too rigid is only going to set you up for disappointment, especially with kids — they’re going to need breaks, and they’re not always going to want to do the same things you do.
When my son was young, he wanted to spend hours in the Bone Yard at Animal Kingdom, which sounded like a huge waste to me (we have playgrounds at home!), but it’s his favorite memory from that trip.
Finally, remember the reason you’re there. It’s probably not to see how many boxes you can check off or how many rides you got on, but to enjoy quality time as a family and to make memories together. How many opportunities do you get away from work and school, sports, and other obligations?
The first time I went to Disney as an adult with a family of my own, I saw little cartoon dollar signs floating up with every transaction. $20 for a hamburger that my kid didn’t finish? $30 for a t-shirt? $10 for popcorn? POPCORN?!? You have to accept that things will cost way more than they should, or you’re not going to be able to enjoy yourself.
Don’t push your kids too hard. They’re on vacation, too, and want to enjoy themselves without a laundry list of obligations. They’re going to get hot, hungry, and whiney — remember not to overwhelm them, and even give them some ownership over what your plans are.
If you’ve planned ahead and set realistic expectations, take timely breaks, and stay flexible, you set yourself up to be fully present (and remain positive) with your family to make sure everyone has a good time.