Anyone who has spent a day in a Disney park with their family will tell you that it was full of wonder, happiness and the occasional meltdown. The truth is that even the calmest individual can turn from Happy to Grumpy given the right mixture of heat, crowds and stimulation. After spending many days in the parks with groups of people ranging in age from 4 to 64, I have learned a few key guidelines that can help give you the best possible chance of a meltdown-free day. Let’s get started, shall we?
The motto I use at home all the time to
annoy help my family is ‘always have a clean workspace’. I can apply this to almost any situation, including a Disney day! Getting yourself prepped and ready will give you a great advantage in the morning.
Get a head start the night before –
- Go to bed at a good time to ensure you all get an excellent sleep (and maybe tire the kids out with an after dinner swim to ensure success).
- Pre-pack your park bag/backpack. If there is anything that needs to remain in the fridge or freezer, or get popped in at the last minute, leave a note for yourself on the bag itself so nothing is forgotten.
- Set out everyone’s outfits so you can all get dressed even if your eyes are still closed in the morning.
- Tidy up your hotel room/condo/house. It has been scientifically proven that a mess causes stress, so tidying up the night before ensures that your morning will be calmer.
Get up early –
- You will already know how much time it takes for your family to get ready and out the door in the morning, so add 15 minutes to that number to give yourself some extra breathing space.
- You will want to arrive at the park 1/2 hour before opening (1 hour during busy times) so factor this in when setting your alarm.
- Make sure to add in walking/driving time to your schedule as well.
Plan out your day –
Yes, you are going to have a bit of extra time while waiting in line to enter the park, so put this to good use! This is a great opportunity to discuss your Plan of Attack. Your POA will vary greatly depending on your group’s personalities. You may have no plan at all (rebel!) or every moment of the day mapped out. I suggest something in between. Start with the ‘must do’ attractions and work your way around the park in a systematic route using line apps to guide you. Make sure to leave enough time gaps in between your activities to allow for detours and spontaneous fun. (Yes, I plan time for spontaneous fun. Yes, I know it’s hilarious).
- *PRO TIP* Start at the back of the park and work your way back to the centre. Have you ever seen Critter Country completely empty? I have! It turns out that if there is no one in line at Splash Mountain when arrive back at the loading area, they will let you ride again!!! This was the highlight of our trip for my 6 year old daughter :).
Entertain your kids in the lineups –
One of the most common places where you will see tears in Disneyland is in the lineups. You are in a hot, confined space with lots of other people and tempers can run high, so here are what we do to keep spirits up.
- Play games (be prepared for other kids to join in, this is a great way for your kids to acquire new friends and make you a hero to a stressed out parent). Some of my game suggestions:
- 20 questions featuring Disney characters
- I Spy
- Disney Charades
- Disney Remember the Lyrics
- Make up a (fun, positive & kind) background story for an interesting person you have seen
- Eat a snack (keep that blood sugar up!)
- If your kids are a bit down, hand out suckers! You’ll have happy, quiet kids and be the envy of all the other parents. Bring enough to offer out to other parents who may be having issues with a ‘cranky kid’. I buy YumEarth Organic Pops as they work with my kids’ allergies (more on this in a later post).
- Take selfies with your kids and Cast Members
- Chat up a Cast Member. They will ALWAYS have a cute joke for your kids (my 8 year old son LOVES to learn new jokes!), and their hometown is listed on their name tag so you can ask them about it and how they ended up working at Disney! Fair warning: your kids will forever after have a dream of working in one of the Disney parks 😉
Make sure to take proper care of everyone’s physical well being –
- Drink plenty of water! Dehydration can sneak up on you when you are running around in the heat, so make it routine to have a drink in every lineup.
- Keep your blood sugar even with plenty of meals and snacks. We don’t usually snack at home, but we do at Disney. Lots of walking, screaming and laughing on rides, and standing in line can deplete your energy.
- If everyone in the group could use a rest, catch a sit-down show. Both parks have many shows playing at multiple times throughout the day, so check your daily entertainment schedule and find one playing soon. The first time we saw the stage show, Aladdin, my husband and kids slept through the whole thing! To tell you the truth, this was awesome for me and I know you other stay-at-home parents would probably feel the same way ;).
- If you have a napper in your group, it would be best if you can figure out a way that they can still get their mid-day snooze. Some people head back to their accommodations for a mid-afternoon break, but we are lucky enough to have a daughter who can pass out ANYWHERE! During our 2013 trip, the kids would take turns napping in the stroller, but on our last trip we felt that we no longer needed a stroller (she was 6, my son 8). My son hasn’t napped in almost 2 years but my daughter still needs to recharge on busy days. She fell asleep in many places including Carthay Circle Restaurant, Hyperion Theatre, and on my lap while waiting for the Soundsational Parade to begin which made more than a few moms giggle.
- A napping child can give you an opportunity to enjoy some of the rides with a height restrictions that are out of your child’s range. My husband and I took this time to ride California Screamin’ and we utilized the Single Rider Line!
And take care of their psychological well being too –
- Don’t force people out of their comfort zones. Encouragement is fine, but if one of your kids is afraid of a ride, that shouldn’t be a problem, it is their vacation too. Disney is even prepared for this and has a Parent Swap program where one parent goes while the other waits in the loading area, and then they switch out. This works very well if you are in a group, but if there are only two adults and one reluctant child, utilize the Single Rider Line option if it is available.
- Ensure that every group member’s wishes are heard and respected. Do they enjoy browsing in stores? Examining the architecture? Catching a stage show? Organize your day so everyone gets to do what they love.
Take a deep breath and relax –
This is a vacation, so why not relax the rules a bit? For example, if your kid doesn’t want to eat their carrots at lunch, that’s fine. Now I’m not saying that it’s cool to let them only eat Dole Whips and popcorn all day, but try to ease up on the rules while at the park, and maybe discuss with your children that this is happening ONLY on park days. A big rule we break is our no cola rule. Our kids get to have sips of Coca-Cola in the late afternoon and evenings when we are at the park because it keeps them awake and happy until the end of the day.
One last tip, be sure to have a discussion with the group regarding souvenirs before you enter the park. My kids both had to save up their own spending money for the last trip and this helped curb the toy requests immensely! They also had their grandparents with them who enjoy spoiling their grandchildren, so they did receive quite a few extra gifts. Their grandparents made sure to ask us if this was alright, which I greatly appreciated, but it was very difficult for me as I don’t usually allow too much spending on ‘stuff’, so this was one of the places where I had to relax my own rules and just go with the flow. I know a lot of parents who give their children a set amount (maybe $20) and they are permitted to spend it at the end of the vacation after they have seen everything. By giving a predetermined amount to be spent at a specific time, it can save everyone a ton of stress.
Well, that’s it! Do you have any great pieces of advice? I would love to hear them!