Sometimes it feels like forever between vacations, especially for families with young kids. Wayfinding Traveling Mom Jennifer Kaufman shares her favorite way to pass the time in between trips, and to get everyone excited about an upcoming visit to Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Fair warning, though: not only will the time seem to go faster, you might find yourself making fun family memories as you wait!
Disney Family Days: The Inspiration
When my twins were three, my husband and I decided it would be fun to introduce them to our favorite Disney animated feature films with intentional and fun family movie nights. We were counting down to a Walt Disney World vacation at the time, so I also saw this as an
excuse opportunity to have some fun with simple, themed “events.” The idea eventually turned into nearly weekly events we referred to as “Disney Family Days.”
To Party or Not to Party?
While my daughters started referring to these movie nights as parties (“Is our Beauty and the Beast party on Saturday?!” “What are we having for dinner at our Ratatouille party?!”), don’t let that deter you. While I do love planning elaborately detailed birthday parties and large events, that’s not what these are.
Instead, our Disney Family Days are incredibly varied. Sometimes we go all out and have hours of themed fun with extended family members, “celebrating” throughout the day and finishing with the movie. Other times, you probably wouldn’t know we were doing anything out of the ordinary, save for a couple of quick printable decorations or activities. Honestly, it depends on how much time (or motivation) we have!
How to Plan Your Themed Movie Night
We threw these themed dinners and movie nights in an era before Pinterest… but luckily, you don’t have to! For almost every movie you can think of, there are dozens – sometimes even hundreds – of food items, simple decor ideas, and DIY activities. Choose what works for your family, your schedule, and your interests.
Creating the menu can be a lot of fun! Perhaps serve something eaten in the movie, such as ratatouille in the movie of the same name, or something inspired by a movie’s setting, like Chinese food for a Mulan movie night.
You could also consider a food that reminds you of the movie, or even of a feeling the movie evokes. For example, when we had a movie night/Disney Family Day to watch A Bug’s Life, we chose to eat quintessential summer picnic items, because it just felt right.
If you love to cook, you have my blessing to slave over the stove for a 7-course meal. If you don’t, make due with the skills and interests you have. There were even times where, in order to make sure our movie night happened at all, we just ordered takeout.
Finally, for some movies (or to otherwise build excitement for an upcoming vacation), you can find copycat recipes from Walt Disney World or Disneyland. When we had our Aladdin movie night, we made the Brouchette of Chicken from Restaurant Marrakesh in Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion.
Whether your dinner choices are elaborate or simple, one of the things that always tied it together for us was a printed menu of the evening’s meal. Which leads me to the next step in your planning…
Decor for your Disney movie night can be an area in which you spend a lot of time and money, or keep it really simple. We definitely spend a lot more money on large birthday parties than we do on themed movie nights; for many of our Disney Family Days, we reused a few decoration staples and dollar store items in a number of different ways. You might be surprised how many things can be repurposed to get more bang for your buck! Especially if your kids are small, it truly doesn’t take much to make the night extra special.
As with any “party” planning, I think it’s often most effective to build around one (or a few) central items and a color scheme. Purchase – or even print! – a centerpiece, tablecloth, or some hanging decorations, and fill in anything else (paper goods, etc) around your chosen colors. Don’t forget to consider what toys and stuffed animals you might have to round out your decorations or activities!
You’re likely beginning to sense a theme, but with the evening’s activities – as with everything else – you can go as wild or stay as laid back as you want. If you have time, throw a big carnival for your Dumbo screening, or learn how to shoot a bow and arrow for a Robin Hood or Brave themed movie night.
If you’re short on time (or creativity!), you’ll find that a quick web search delivers coloring and activity pages for just about any movie night or theme. It’s incredible how just adding a few coloring pages while dinner is cooking can change the feeling of the evening, versus just pushing play on a movie.
Traveling Mom tip: With a little thought, a version of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” can be adapted for any movie. We’ve pinned anchors on cruise ships, feathers in Dumbo’s cap, noses on Mickey Mouse, balloons in Pooh’s hand, and so much more! Also, don’t forget that a dance party (to a movie’s soundtrack, perhaps) almost always leads to good family fun!
WHAT MOVIES TO WATCH BEFORE YOUR DISNEY VACATION
Maybe you’re interested in planning themed movie nights just for the fun of it, or maybe you too are counting down to a Disney trip. Maybe it makes more sense for your family to have one big movie night blowout just before you leave, or as a fun way to announce a trip to surprised family members; or maybe like our family, it would just help to pass the time between vacations, using the movie nights as sort of a “countdown”. (Want a super simple, adorable physical countdown? Check out this one from Geek Traveling Mom Jana Seitzer.)
Over the years, we’ve had these “parties” for a dozens of movies – which means some have been more obscure than others. There is certainly no right or wrong movies around which to center your movie nights.
If, however, you are counting down to a Walt Disney World or Disneyland vacation and are looking for a place to start, here are our top 5 choices for each of the US parks. These movies have a particularly noteworthy presence in the theme parks, and watching (or rewatching) them might make your visit extra special!
Movies to Watch Before a Walt Disney World Vacation
- Beauty and the Beast
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
- The Lion King
Movies to Watch Before a Visit to Disneyland
- Sleeping Beauty
- Peter Pan
- Alice in Wonderland
- A Bug’s Life
- Toy Story
It’s all about creating memories.
Truth be told, it’s been a long time since these Disney Family Days were a priority for our family. (Cue the mommy guilt, since the third child doesn’t even know his parents were ever so much fun!) That said, the sentiment remains true: you don’t need a special holiday in order to celebrate family (or great films). And if you’re lucky enough to be using fun family nights such as these to count down to a Disney vacation, it’s definitely a win-win for you!