A few days ago, I read a post by Ian on Disney Hacks website titled Disney Vacation—Worst Thing Ever? I’m pretty sure his thoughts about a Disney vacation align with those of my blogging partner, Leana. They tolerate Disney vacations for the sake of their kids, but they don’t enjoy them.
I started to write a comment on the post itself, but then I realized I had way too much to say about the subject.
Before I continue, I want to be clear that I’m not trying to minimize Ian’s first-hand experience at Disneyland or say he is wrong for feeling the way he does. My family has absolutely been drop-dead tired at the parks, gotten sick of strollers and crying kids and wondered if it was all worth it. In fact, that’s why my family started drifting to Disney Cruise Line instead of the parks.
But, for Ian and others who haven’t had the best experience on a Disney vacation, I want to offer hope and tips on how to make a Disney vacation more tolerable in the future.
The Cost of Tickets
In the post above, Ian mentions that the cost of Disney tickets is hard to digest, especially for miles and points travel hackers who are used to almost-free and very cheap vacations. He is right!
Technically, you can book tickets through Undercover Tourist and use your Capital One Venture Rewards card points. But, depending on the number of people in your family and the number of days you’re going to the parks, you will need a very large number of points to make the tickets free.
To keep costs down, I recommend skipping the park hopper option. In my opinion, sticking to one park a day is more efficient and saves precious commute time.
Also, one thing to keep in mind about Disney park tickets is that they are pretty much all-inclusive and include more things than many other tourist attractions. The $109 entry fee at Disney World gives you access to a park up to 15 hours in the summer and includes all rides, parades, character greetings, shows and fireworks. I’ve been to local fairs (don’t even get me started on the high cost of the Texas State Fair) and concerts that are much shorter and cost way more. It’s all relative.
The Crowds, Lines and Exhaustion
In the past five years I’ve been to Disney World five times and Disneyland twice. In my experience, the crowds and lines are easier to navigate at Disney World. The FastPass+ system at Disney World allows you to reserve three rides in advance and continue to add ride reservations during the day. The MaxPass at Disneyland costs extra, and my family waited in longer lines with that system (see my post on Disney World vs. Disneyland: Which One is Better?). So if you’re only tried Disneyland, I recommend giving Disney World a try.
At both Disney World and Disneyland, exhaustion and sore feet are a legitimate issue! I really wish Disney would open some sort of foot massage service either in the parks or in the hotels for the end of the day.
To reduce exhaustion, I recommend four things: get in shape before your trip, wear appropriate footwear, make a lunch reservation and take break days.
When my two younger kids turned three, they refused to sit in a stroller again. That was fine by me, but I took them on walks all around our neighborhood before park visits to make sure they had enough endurance to walk in the parks all day. Walking ahead of a trip is a good idea for the adults, too!
My kids love flip-flops and sandals, but I make them wear socks and athletic shoes for park visits. It makes a big difference!
At Disney World, I always make an indoor lunch reservation for my family. It’s amazing what an hour in air conditioning can do to rejuvenate you!
And lastly, a Disney vacation will feel much more relaxing if you take a few break days and lounge by the pool. My family won’t do more than two park days in a row without a down day in between.
A Few Years Makes a Huge Difference
Speaking from experience with my kids, I can tell you that when they get older, it gets easier. MUCH EASIER! Even an extra year or two can make a big difference.
Last summer, I took my kids to Disney Animal Kingdom for one day. We started during the EMH at 8:00 a.m. and lasted until 10:30 p.m. I couldn’t believe it!
My kids were 7, 10 and 14. They were well past the age of diapers and strollers. But I noticed even a huge difference from the prior year’s vacation at Disneyland. My kids were more willing to try the extreme rides and more adventurous food. Progress!
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t bring young kids on a Disney vacation. Disney is great for all ages, and I’ve been bringing my kids since they were babies. But, a Disney vacation does get easier the older your kids get. And that makes it more enjoyable for the parents.
Why We Keep Repeating a Disney Vacation
In Ian’s post, he says, “I missed the memo as to why Disneyland and Disney World make for a great vacation.” I know he isn’t the only one who feels that way.
I’ll tell you why my family keeps returning. For us, a Disney vacation is like hitting the easy button. We can stay on Disney property and never have to leave. We’ve got rides, shows, great food, fireworks, recreation…everything! I actually find I need to plan less for a Disney vacation than I do for other trips.
Disney World and Disneyland keep changing and adding rides and attractions. No two visits have ever been the same! My kids can’t wait to see the new Star Wars land. I’m looking forward to riding the Frozen ride in Epcot and the Slinky Dog Dash ride in Hollywood Studios. We will try a new restaurant or two and stay at a different resort.
But undoubtedly, nostalgia plays a big role in why we return. My first trip to Disney World was when I was a baby. I’ve visited with my parents and siblings numerous times, and now with my own kids and husband. My husband and I got engaged in front of Cinderella’s castle in the Magic Kingdom!
My family has developed Disney traditions. We eat at the Crystal Palace every time (ever since I was a kid) and get pastries at the French bakery in Epcot. I love seeing photos of my kids with characters over the span of different ages. I hope to continue the tradition with my future grandkids.
I’m not trying to convince Ian and other Disney skeptics that a Disney vacation is the end-all be-all of family vacations. If you never want to go back, that’s fine by me! That’s one less family in line in front of me.
But, if you are reluctantly returning to Disney for the kids’ sake, I sincerely hope your next trip is more enjoyable and that you find the joy of a Disney vacation.
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.