I have to admit to being amused by people who don’t like Disney, mostly because they are so earnest in their dislike. I know you’re out there: The guy whose sister-in-law decides the whole family really needs to go on a family vacation to Disney. The parent who sees too many “What Will You Celebrate” commercials on late night TV and decides to make up for working so much lately. The wife who gamely indulges her husband’s yearly Disney vacation all while wishing for a spa vacation . . . alone, perhaps. So there you are, surrounded by a few thousand strangers too many, waiting in line for an hour in the Florida heat for It’s a Small World, gritting your teeth, trying desparately to pretend that you’re not having murderous thoughts toward a small, singing doll.
There are, truthfully, some valid reasons for the Disney hater’s antipathy. Maybe you’ve gone and had a terrible time. It was hot and crowded. You spent a lot of money. The kids whined a lot and the grandparents gave them too much sugar. You swore you’d never set foot on Disney property again. Or maybe you’ve never even been, but you object simply to Disney on the grounds that it’s commercial/manufactured/too much fun. Whatever the case, and I do understand, the truth is to keep the peace, you’re eventually going to have to go to Disney. This is particularly true if you have kids and if you belong to that solid hunk of America, the middle and upper-middle class. And while you’re there, you’re going to have to pretend to like it. In this type of situation, it’s best to find a way to enjoy it. Afterall, you’re paying a lot of money. Oh, I guess I shouldn’t remind you of that.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to make your vacation less miserable:
1) Try to go when it’s the least crowded. If that’s not possible, use one of the touring plans available to reduce your time in line. They really do work.
If touring plans seem like too much work (and honestly, I don’t always use an entire plan unless I’m going during a busy time of year), do these two things: 1) Get to the park when it opens; and 2) Go straight to the ride you’re interested in that will have the longest waits (for example, in Disney Hollywood Studios, go to Toy Story Mania), and get a fastpass for that ride. Then go ride something else. By the time you’re done, your first fastpass should be ready. If you’re in the timeframe for getting another fastpass, and you likely are, get one on the way over to your first fastpass ride.
2) You’re being a good sport, right? Why not reward yourself and go golfing? Don’t like to golf? Try fishing, right on Disney property. You can also rent little small watercraft (like double jet-skis, only slower) in front of the Polynesian Resort at at the Boardwalk. If you really need a break, go out by yourself.
3) Have a spa day. Disney’s Saratoga Springs Spa is often cited as one of the best spas in the Southeast; the Grand Floridian also has a spa. The spa at the Ritz-Carlton, a few miles off Disney property, is expensive and, according to those who’ve gone, worth every penny.
4) Hire a sitter or take the in-laws up on their offer to watch the kids and have a night out with your spouse. After a few days, you probably need a break from the kids as much as they’ll need one from you. California Grill is an obvious choice for a great meal on Disney property, but if you want quiet and fewer kids, try Citricos in the Grand Floridian or Artist’s Point at the Wilderness Lodge. If you really want some grown-up time, try Victoria’s and Alberts. Not only is it blissfully child-free, it’s also consistently named one of the best restaurants in Florida.
5) Be a hero and be the one who takes the little ones back to the room for the mid-day break. No one needs to know that you’re getting a nap too. Show up with the refreshed tot just in time for dinner.
6) Go off by yourself. If you’re staying on Disney property, take advantage of Extra Magic Hours at night and leave your spouse and the kids back in the room (no need for a sitter) while you explore on your own. Disney parks are pretty safe and especially beautiful at night and often considerably less crowded. Drink around the world in Epcot–and take the bus back to your resort. Switch off with your wife the next night. You’ll be surprised how much fun time in the parks can be without stragglers and obligations to others in your party. Go see the Christmas lights at the Wilderness Lodge or head on over the The Boardwalk and people watch; if you’re there long enough, a wedding might even break out.
7) Take a day off from the theme parks. You’re right in the middle of everything in Central Florida. Head over to the coast and hit the beach or go to the Kennedy Space Center. You get extra points for injecting an educational experience into your kids’ vacation.
8) Don’t try to do everything. The world won’t end if you can’t get a Fastpass for Soarin’ or if your youngest is really afraid of Mickey and won’t let you get a picture. Don’t be the guy in front of Mickey’s Philharmagic yelling at your three-year old because he wouldn’t eat his Figaro Fries. Why was that guy yelling? Chances are he’s a nice guy, but he’s stressed out and hot and the kids are overwhelmed. Time to remember that it’s a vacation and relax. Some of the best moments I’ve had at Disney World have been just riding the monorail and talking to a stranger about his grandkid’s first ride or sitting on a bench at closing (the parks actually stay open about an hour after the attractions close) with my best friend watching the castle turn colors and telling funny non-Disney stories while everyone else rushes out of the park.
9) If you’re travelling with extended family or a large group, agree ahead of time that you won’t spend all your time together. Instead, on some days arrange to go off in smaller groups and meet up for later dinner. It’s amazing to me how many family arguments are started because no one can agree on the same activity for the day.
10) Put together a good plan; know when to throw it out. I’ve travelled around Europe with little more than a Europass and a vague idea of where I wanted to go next, but I never go to Disney without making at least a couple advanced dining reservations and an idea of when the parks open/close and who has Extra Magic Hours. You won’t regret spending a small amount of time figuring out fastpasses, learning about on-site transportation, or making advanced dining reservations a few months before you go.
Have fun! You might just surprise yourself.