I am not a Disney person. Like many children, I visited Disney World when I was little, and I’m sure I had fun. But unlike many children, I only went once, and lack any vivid fond memories of the place. I watched and enjoyed many of the Disney movies of the 80s and 90s, but none of the stories or characters particularly captivated me. I never dreamed of being Ariel or Jasmine or anything.
So when my husband suggested taking our 5- and 8-year-old kids to Disney World, I saw few upsides, and many downsides: hoards of people, long lines, and lots of whining (both child and adult). But my husband, though not a Disney person either, felt it was one of those magical experiences every kid should get to have once. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed.
We have recently returned from that pilgrimage, and in the spirit of public service, I want to share my tips for fellow “non-Disney” parents contemplating such a trip:
1. Don’t wing it. Perhaps when planning other family vacations, you like to be spontaneous, to see what unexpected treasures you stumble upon. Don’t do that at Disney. Here, planning is your weapon against that most dreaded of Disney attractions: waiting in line.
The most important tool in your arsenal is the FastPass. When you book your trip, you will be granted a limited number of these virtual tickets, which allow you to jump to the front of the line at many attractions, thereby avoiding endless waiting times. Do some research to figure out what rides your kids will enjoy most, and book passes for those.
When you run out of these magical tickets, use the handy Disney App to check waiting times at each attraction. Disney-loving parents might be happy to wait two hours in the scorching midday sun to meet Anna and Elsa—I saw many people doing just that—but for everyone else, the lines are unbearably long. Although some amount of waiting is unavoidable here, do whatever you can to reduce it.
2. Seek advice only from other non-Disney parents. I have some friends who are Disney-obsessed. You probably do, too. These people have been to Disney many times, perhaps even—I shudder to think about it—without children. These otherwise normal people are so enchanted by the place, they practically hyperventilate when talking about it. I studiously avoided discussing my Disney plans with them.
Instead, I solicited advice from people like me—people who couldn’t help but roll their eyes at all the Disney hoopla, but went for their kids’ sake. They had a better sense of what I would enjoy and what I would find too ridiculous or overwhelming. I especially appreciated one friend’s metric for rating attractions, on a scale from “cheesy” to “super cheesy” to “cheesy as fuck”. Not only did her advice help steer me toward an itinerary I could handle, but it also injected some much-needed humor into trip-planning.
3. One word: Epcot. The Magic Kingdom, Disney World’s flagship park, embodies everything objectionable about the enterprise: wall-to-wall crowds, endless waits for mediocre rides and equally mediocre food, and a syrupiness you can practically smell in the air. If you are not a Disney person, it’s safe to say you will not like the Magic Kingdom. But, like me, you will feel that you have to put in some time there to give your kids the classic Disney experience. Fine. Do it on the first day and get it over with.
Then you can move on to Epcot, an infinitely better place. Yes, it’s still crowded and the lines are still long, but the rides are interesting and fun, the food much better (thanks to restaurants offering international cuisine), and the whole experience much more pleasant. I’ve heard good things about Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, Disney’s other two parks, but didn’t experience them myself—two days in the parks was plenty for me, and might well be enough for you too.
4. Wear something silly on your head. It’s hard to feel too cynical while sporting a pair of sequined mouse ears. Donning a ridiculous item of clothing helps you get into the spirit—and really, to enjoy Disney, you’ll need to adopt an “if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em” mentality. With all the terrible things happening in the real world lately, there is something to be said for escaping for a few days into a fantasy land.
Our trip did not convert me to the legions of Disneyphiles, but I’m glad we went. Even a grouch like me can admit there’s something—dare I say it—magical about seeing your daughter’s eyes grow wide as the sky lights up with rainbow-colored fireworks. And hearing your son, not known for effusive bouts of gratitude, say, “This was an awesome trip. Thanks for planning it.” There were even moments—a virtual reality ride on which my kids and I soared high above waterfalls, deserts, and mountains—that were fun for me too. So fear not, Disney-averse parent:
If I can be (reasonably) happy at the Happiest Place on Earth, so can you.