We just completed our annual rite of passage, returning from the happiest place on earth, Walt Disney World. We, along with hundreds of thousands of other families, braved the sweltering heat, afternoon thunderstorms and lines for a some fun at the parks. We’ve been going since my son was 11 months old; he’s 14 now so I’ve learned a thing or two about how to have a good time and keep everyone happy. Well, most of the time anyway.
- EASY DOES IT: When our kids were small we got into a great habit of getting up early, being at the park as soon as doors opened and being out by noon when the sun was starting to really beat down. We would have lunch off the property and then be back at the timeshare we own in Orlando for an afternoon nap. After an early dinner we’d go back to the park for another couple of hours. The kids were rested and so were we, the crowds had thinned out a little bit and it made for a better Photo: experience.
- BRING A PLASTIC PONCHO! As sure as the sun rises, it will rain in the middle of the afternoon in Orlando. You have two choices. You can stand in line like all of the other soggy parents willing to pay a premium for a poncho or you can hit up one of the many drug-stores in the area for a three-dollar version of essentially the same thing. Listen, the poncho-over-cargo shorts look is questionable no matter where yours came from.
- MEAL TIME: You can bring food into the parks, but no alcohol or glass containers. When I was a kid, my folks did just that. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die, being forced to eat a smashed-up, bologna sandwich while everyone else had delicious hamburgers with piping hot fries. I promised myself then I would not do that to my kids but guess which policy went by the wayside with the troubled economy? We also bring in water bottles. Quick tip: freeze them the night before and they’ll be nice and cold when you need them.
- DON’T BUY EVERY PHOTO AT THE PARK ENTRANCE: One is a nice thing to have, perhaps standing there on Main Street with the iconic castle behind you. But you don’t need to make that splurge at every park. Nearly everyone has a digital camera nowadays and they take great photos. Bring yours. Snap away.
- USE THE STROLLERS FOR AS LONG AS YOUR KIDS WILL STAY IN THEM! The ones they rent in the park are good, but if you’re saving cash, bring your own. These parks are ENORMOUS and even though Sally and Bobby are old enough to walk, little legs get tired fast. Then you’ll have them on your shoulders, risking a lifetime of back issues as you hoist and carry them for hours on end. And its friggin’ hot! Don’t do it. Just don’t.
- USE THE FASTPASS: If you take only one tip from these I have laid out for you here, let it be this one. Use the Fastpass! In the Disney parks, it’s basically appointment riding, especially for the popular attractions. Use Verizon’s Disney Mobile Magic App, to map out the popular rides, then head to those rides and pick up your Fastpass, which is a piece of paper that will tell you when to come back to ride. Go do something else until it is your time and when you come back, you will walk past the stares of furious customers who decided to wait in line for 90 minutes instead of using the system. You can almost walk right into the ride. Trust me, this is the way to go.
- BE FLEXIBLE. It might not go the way you want it to but remember, you are on vacation, so relax. Remember what it was like to have candy with breakfast or stay up late at night watching the fireworks. Deep breathe and have a magical time!