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Sometimes we feel like we need a vacation after a trip to Disney World. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here, a Disney veteran who dislikes crowds share her secrets for planning a stress-free Disney World vacation, including some counterintuitive advice on ensuring what may be a once-in-a-lifetime trip is one the entire family (including Mom and Dad) can and enjoy. Really. It’s possible!
5 Disney World secrets for planning a stress-free vacation. Really.
When we head off on vacation, we want to have a balance of lively activity and rest, of good food, the outdoors, and a little culture thrown in. We don’t seek chaos and crowds on vacation. We don’t want to wear ourselves or our kids out by the time we board a plane home. We may not sound like we are describing an Orlando vacation, but we are. We have found our own slice of Disney that we truly love.
I am the most unlikely Disney World expert. I told my best friend when I was pregnant with my first that she would have to take my kids to Disney World, since I had no intention of ever going. She laughs at me several times a year when I call her from the airport boarding another plane to Orlando.
In our several trips over the last five years for work and pleasure, we’ve stayed at more than 20 Disney World resorts. I have wielded a sword and beaten the dragon that is the logistical challenge of planning a Disney World vacation.
After several first-timer and rookie mistakes, I have developed a formula that my family uses over and over again for a relaxing, fun, and stress-free Orlando vacation.
1) Don’t plan a Disney World trip just for the kids.
It’s about you, too. If mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. Figure out what balance you need between kid activities and adult activities and stick to your guns. It is your precious vacation time also. Whatever you like to do with your family on vacation can be done in Orlando (probably not snow skiing, though) so plan an itinerary that serves everyone in the family. Incorporate non-park days filled with things based on your interests: spas, pool days, eco-excursions, shopping, museums, etc.
2) Spread the magic out over several days.
There are numerous ways to spend days you do not go to the parks in Orlando. The area’s resorts are some of the most thoughtful in the country regarding family amenities, so make sure you find out all of the options in advance. Water slides, lazy rivers, game rooms, kids’ clubs are found at many onsite and off site resorts.
Extend the Disney magic out by planning a character meal at one of the resorts, or attend a dinner show before or after a day of swimming at the resorts. Our favorite is the breakfast at the Four Seasons, and we have enjoyed the Cape May Café at the Beach Club Resort as well. I have also heard great things about Mickey’s Backyard Barbecue, which runs only certain nights at the Fort Wilderness Resort.
Disney Springs is increasingly evolving into the foodie capital of Disney World, which obviously pleases the parents more than the children. But the Lego store, the aqua cars at the Boat House, and the Disney souvenirs at the Marketplace will keep them happy.
I’ll be spending my next trip trying new foods at the recently opened Town Square section. It is a great way to expose picky eaters to new foods on vacation.
3) Don’t try to see and do everything in one trip.
Pick two of the four parks to visit, with Magic Kingdom being the obvious choice and a second park based on your kids’ ages and interest. Most families go more than once, and you can choose different parks on your next trip. (Read our recommends for the best way to see Magic Kingdom in one day.)
If you’re thinking, “Hey, I am only doing this once, so we should see everything,” be prepared to come home far more exhausted than when you left— and don’t say I didn’t warn you. The other flaw in this thinking is that you will enjoy your first Disney World vacation less than if you took it slowly.
By limiting your trip to two parks, you will be able to spend many days enjoying down time at all of the fabulous family resorts and their amenities. As great as the Disney parks are in their extensive offerings, it is difficult to maintain that pace of stimulation with small children day after day.
4) Or do a little bit of the parks each day.
I have several friends who do the opposite: they either have annual passes or purchase tickets for the entire length of their stay and just plan a chunk of hours at the parks each day. At the beginning of the trip, a few big days make sense with the excitement of being there. By the end of the week, you may just choose to use your tickets to see the nighttime shows at a park after a day relaxing by the pool. It feels far less stressful to be at the parks if you don’t feel like this is your only chance to see a character or enjoy a ride. That is not good vacation energy.
TravelingMom Tip: Buy your tickets through Undercover Tourist for discounted pricess.
5) Prepare for a marathon… in the rain.
The parks are physically demanding. If you wear a Fitbit, you’ll be thrilled with your total number of steps in a day at Disney World. It also means wear you should wear athletic shoes; believe me, I have seen the moms in heels inside Magic Kingdom, and I know that their days didn’t end well.
It is critical to keep everyone’s energy up, because Disney World meltdowns are a real drag. Figure out the healthiest breakfast your children will eat and spend the money to feed it to them. Months later, I can finally laugh when I look at the picture of my daughter pouting on the Fantasy Land carousel after refusing to eat her breakfast at Be Our Guest. But it wasn’t so fun in the moment.
We try to keep our children on a low-sugar diet at home and while we’re traveling. At Disney World, that’s difficult to do when there are so many tempting treats all around. When we have been lax and said, “Who cares, we’re on vacation,” we have always paid for it with very crabby children—instant vacation vibe killers.
We allow our children one special treat per day on vacation. This gives them the power to choose, and they do so very carefully. The other strategy we use to reduce overall sugar intake is that we allow treats as they pop up, but our family of four shares it, reducing the portion size dramatically, especially as my husband’s bite range resembles one of a Tyrannosaurus Rex when taking his share from a Mickey ice cream bar.
We have a stash of inexpensive ponchos we bring to the parks with us so we are prepared for rain, too. Fortunately they come home with us and go into the box we store Magic Bands, the autograph book and sharpie and are ready to pack for our next trip back to Disney World.
Every vacation to Disney World gets easier to plan. If you are at the beginning of this learning adventure, take it slowly so that you can enjoy every vacation that brings you one step closer to becoming a Disney expert.