Three Disney Tips Learned the Hard Way

by  Paul Eisenberg | Mar 24, 2010
It's a Small World at Disneyland Resort
It's a Small World at Disneyland Resort / Barry Mulling/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); see links below

With so many family vacation topics to explore, why discuss more ways to prevail at Walt Disney World? Because Disney is perhaps the number one destination where bad decisions translate pointedly into wasted money. And as spring break fast approaches, I’m hearing tell of Disney itineraries riddled with the same mistakes fellow parents (not to mention myself) made during our first visits to the parks.

Herein, some tips learned the hard way.

Delegate leaders for group trips If you’re thinking about doing Disney as a big group, as I did when I traveled as part of a party of 16 not long ago, someone in your group needs to act as a “point person” to handle the planning . . . and ensuing questions. Each family involved should also appoint a representative to communicate with that point person. Once you have this basic structure in place, the need for another role will become apparent: in-park navigator. Even when we broke into smaller groups, we weren’t precisely sure in which direction we were supposed to walk, nor was someone routinely saying “turn here.” Being your group’s GPS isn’t an enviable job, but somebody’s got to do it if you don’t want to waste valuable park time.

Think twice about formal dining If your kids are young, the same issues you may have in restaurants at home – your food’s taking too long or your child is falling asleep in her chair – will be exacerbated by exhausting days at the parks. A formal Disney meal is too expensive a proposition to mismanage: Plan on eating dinner at least two hours earlier than normal, or, if you’re sensing as the day goes on that your family’s stamina is waning, cancel reservations on short notice and opt for more informal meals. Further, character meals at times feel like catered fire drills. No sooner will your child settle down for a bite then a character will shamble through the dining room, provoking kids to rocket out of their seats (pictured).

Anticipate character issues While it’s hard to know in advance, try to determine if any of your kids are afraid of the larger-than-life characters. One year during breakfast, Pluto made a surprise appearance at our hotel and rested one of his meaty paws on my 5-year-old’s shoulder.  She burst into tears and Pluto felt terrible, which we knew because he raised both paws to his mouth in an “Oh my!” gesture. After we shooed him away and calmed down our child, my wife and I later realized that it was seeing Pluto in the relative close quarters of the hotel dining room that freaked out our daughter: once we were out in the open-air vastness of the parks, the characters looked and felt more “scalable” to her and there were no more freak-outs (at least over the characters).

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