We live in a technology-saturated world. Rarely do we go to a restaurant, a concert, the movies or the grocery store when we don’t see most people tapping away on their smartphones, more engaged in their devices than in the human beings around them. Everything in moderation is the motto we follow in our family, whether we’re talking about screen time or ice cream. While eschewing technology entirely is both impractical and unnecessary, finding a healthy balance between being connected to a device and being connected with one another is absolutely essential. In that vein, here are five great ways to unplug on your Disney World vacation.
A couple of years ago I attended my first Disney Social Media Moms Celebration at the Disneyland Resort where I joined a full day of conference sessions featuring an incredible line up of great speakers. One of those speakers was Tom Staggs, Chairman of Disney Parks. During his presentation, Staggs spoke of a concept that really resonated for me. He said that one of the goals of Disney Parks is to do whatever they can to create more opportunities for “heads up time versus heads down time.” One of the greatest things about Disney Parks, Staggs continued, is the connection that people can have with their families and with other guests around them during their vacations.
So how can we keep our heads up during a trip to the House of the Mouse? How can we be truly present with our families and free from the constant distraction of our mobile devices? Here are 5 of my favorite ways to get off the grid with your family during your next visit to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
1. Stay at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground
There are over 20 hotels on the Disney World property and one of our family’s favorites is the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground – a sprawling, 750-acre property nestled in the woods along the shores of Disney World’s Bay Lake. The first time I stayed at ‘the Fort,’ as it has been affectionately dubbed by its fans, was back in 1996 when I surprised my boyfriend, a huge camping enthusiast, with a birthday trip to Disney World. We packed up his gear and flew to Orlando, setting up camp at Fort Wilderness in one of the campgrounds many loops.
The Fort is a destination for RV and tent campers alike, with lovely, private sites, lush landscaping and top-notch comfort stations. For folks who like the idea of being in the rustic environment of Fort Wilderness, but for whom camping isn’t their idea of fun, the resort is home to 400 Wilderness Cabins which we absolutely love. The spacious cabins sleep up to 6 people and offer all of the comforts of home including a full kitchen and a deck with a picnic table and a barbecue. Outdoor activities abound at the Fort and a family could easily spend an entire week there having fun without ever setting foot into the Disney Parks. If you do stay here, try to factor in a day or two of your vacation to really slow down and enjoy all this wonderful place has to offer.
2. Head to Animal Kingdom
Like all of the Disney theme parks, Animal Kingdom features plenty of great attractions. Whether you want to experience the thrills of Expedition Everest, Primeval Whirl or DINOSAUR or would enjoy a refreshing soak on Kali River Rapids, you’re sure to have a ball in this park. On the other hand, Animal Kingdom’s role in wildlife conservation is something to celebrate.
Make it a point to relish all that Animal Kingdom has to offer by taking your time in this beautiful park. Sign up to become a Wilderness Explorer, take a walk on the Pangani Forest Trail or the Maharaja Jungle Trek, stopping to speak with the park’s guides, and visit the animal habitats along the Tree of Life paths. Take the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch to visit the Conservation Station and Affection Section for some up-close animal interactions. And be sure to see a performance of Flights of Wonder along the path from Africa to Asia.
3. Learn Something New at Epcot
As much as the Magic Kingdom is the quintessential Disney park, as an innovator Walt Disney was incredibly passionate about the project that would one day become Epcot. Originally planned as the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, Disney’s vision was to create a utopian community. In this vein, Epcot remains a place of invention and discovery, new technology and education.
The park is split into two sections. In Future World, guests visit several pavilions located either to the right or the left of Epcot’s principal landmark, the geodesic sphere that is home to Spaceship Earth, an attraction focusing on the history of communication. The pavilions highlight such disciplines as marine biology, agriculture and environmental sustainability, creativity and imagination, energy, space exploration, and vehicle testing and design. In the World Showcase, guests have the opportunity to visit eleven different country pavilions, each one showcasing the art and culture of the country it represents through authentic architecture, native visitors, delicious food, creative performances and inspired exhibits.
4. Get Out and Get Active
It goes without saying that most visitors to Disney World are there to experience the theme parks. As a world-class vacation destination, however, Disney offers an abundance of activities that take guests far beyond the realm of the parks. At 43-square miles, the Disney World property is replete with a series of lakes and waterways, most of which offer guest access.
Several Disney resort hotels have their own marinas where guests can explore the park’s waterways via kayak, paddleboat, sea raycer, and pontoon boat. Recreational and fishing charters area also available as are traditional bicycles and four-person surreys. Those looking to get some exercise will be glad to learn that having teamed up with New Balance, running and walking trails can be found throughout Disney resort property and many of the resorts have routes that offer runners and walkers loops of varying distances. For golf enthusiasts, the Disney World Resort is home to five 9- and 18-hole courses as well as to two whimsically themed miniature golf courses that offer old-fashioned fun for everyone in the family.
5. Enjoy the Show
There is nothing like the enjoyment and engagement of watching a live performance, and Disney, being Disney, puts on some truly spectacular presentations. Each of the four Disney theme parks features several elaborate stage-shows complete with singing, dancing, puppetry, live music, exhilarating stunts, beautiful costumes and dazzling scenery. Beyond these more elaborately staged performances, visitors are treated to myriad entertainers throughout each day.
At Hollywood Studios, guests can engage in some lively banter with the Citizens of Hollywood who appear with their playful schtick along Hollywood Boulevard. The Dapper Dans Barbershop Quartet serenades guests up and down Main Street, USA in the Magic Kingdom several times a day while the Main Street Philharmonic brass band marches through Liberty Square. At Animal Kingdom, music by Burudika in Africa or DJ Anaan in Asia has guests dancing in the street. The Jammitors rock their trashcans in Epcot’s Future World while the World Showcase Pavilions abound with performers of every variety. All of Disney World is a stage and cast members on site embody the magic wherever you go.
Technology can be awesome and there are plenty of ways our laptops, tablets and smartphones can facilitate our everyday lives. That said, take a vacation from your tech and unplug on your next family trip to Disney World. Look up instead of down. Look at your kids’ faces with your eyes rather than through an LCD display. Be present. Enjoy the ride.