12 Disney World Parenting Lessons
After the BCS title game I took my family up to Disney World for a few days at the Magic Kingdom. We have two boys, ages four and two, and we didn't tell them we were going to Disney World until we actually arrived at Disney. There are few things better than a kid's reaction when he or she suddenly realizes that they're getting to go to Mickey Mouse's house. This was our second trip to Disney World with both boys and we'd previously been to Disney Land with our oldest. We also took the boys last year after the SEC title game. Our two boys were three and one last year and neither of them remembered a single thing about last year's trip to Disney World.
I mean, nothing at all.
In Friday's mailbag, I ranked the hotness of the Disney princesses, but I was also deluged with Disney World questions from dads and moms who also have young kids. That's because taking your family to Disney World is a bit like a trip to Mecca for Muslims, something that you're obligated to do at some point in your children's young lives. Lots of dads and moms look upon this trip with dread because, to be fair, it's stressful as hell to be at an extremely crowded theme park with temperatures nearing a hundred degrees and thousands of your hard-earned dollars melting as rapidly as Mickey Mouse ice cream.
Disney World is supposed to be the happiest place on earth, but it can also be the most stressful. Yep, meet parenting first world problems -- Disney World can make you want to drink yourself into blissful oblivion. (There is alcohol, but not in the Magic Kingdom).
Since I know all of you are thinking, the one guy I want to take parenting advice from is Clay Travis, I decided to fashion out 11 Disney World lessons based on our past three years of travel with a couple of kids under the age of five. (One benefit of taking young kids is that kids under the age of three are free. Which is pretty key because it's nearly $100 a day to go to Disney World now.)
Here goes with my 11 Disney World parenting lessons:
1. If your kids are under the age of five, they won't remember most of the trip.
This should actually lower the stress level for you. Because, guess what, you and your spouse and whichever other adults you go with are the only ones who will remember anything from the trip. The great lesson of parenthood is that you don't actually appreciate your parents that much until you have kids of your own. Because by the time you have solid recollections of your childhood you weren't that difficult to take care of; you completely forget the years when you were a terror and drove your parents completely insane.
When my sister and I were very young my parents would take us to Disney World for two weeks in a row. We stayed at Fort Wilderness in a pop-up camper without air-conditioning, a shower, or a fridge. (My dad still has the bills, the camping site was $6 a day. Really.)
I have no idea how my parents did this.
When I told my wife, she just shook her head.
Back then was a simpler era, when you could just vanish for weeks at a time and the only way anyone knew you were still alive was the post-cards you would send back from vacation.
No one had cell phones or social media or the Internet and people still communicated via mail.
If you took a photo it was weeks before you saw what it looked like.
And this was just like twenty-five years ago.
It seems like a hundred years ago now.
Some of y'all reading this right now are thinking -- I would absolutely love to go off the grid on vacation for two weeks and not have anyone able to get in touch with me. In the future, I'm convinced this will be the new type of vacation, people will try to escape their connectivity. Your status will be determined not by how many people you can keep in touch with, but by how many people are available to cover for you when you can't be reached by anyone at all.
2. Watch out for fat people on scooters.
Disney has a fat people on scooters problem.
Fat people on scooters are everywhere, and they're constantly poised to either run you or your kids over. I have no idea why so many fat people want to go to Disney World -- generally fat people and the heat is a bad combination -- but I do know the fat people on scooters are actually incentivized to ride around on the scooters all day because they get to skip people in line as if they have actual handicaps.
That is, Disney rewards people who are so fat that they've made their legs not work with trips to the front of the line.
Plus, these fat people are angry at you for having working legs, it's like they're a zombie cabal of demented fat people attempting to hit you with their scooters, wiping out your functioning knees and necessitating that you rent a scooter as well.
As if that wasn't bad enough, these fat people on scooters are actually making their "handicap" worse by eating food as they ride around on the scooter.
I stood in line behind a fat person on a scooter in the ice cream line.
You would think that a fat person on a scooter would be willing to get off the scooter to buy ice cream.
You'd be wrong.
Watch out for these fat people actually making themselves fatter as they ride around on the scooter eating fatty foods. As I told you in the mailbag, this is like a man with no legs sawing off his thighs with a pocketknife. These fat people have nothing to lose and will definitely run you or your kids over.
3. Kids five and under really don't care that much about rides.
Which is the first lesson you should probably imprint in your mind to make your Disney vacation less stressful.
Trying to make sure that you go on every ride is an adult obsession. Your kids would rather play on the park playground and get wet in the mini-water parks than they would ride most of the rides.
Once you realize this, the trip gets infinitely less stressful.
Pick four or five rides to do, but if the line is longer than twenty-five minutes, don't bother. The kids don't really care. (You can fast pass one ride at a time. During the course of a day you should be able to fast pass three rides or so. This means your actual line-waiting time should be relatively minimal).
4. Stay on site.
One of the most frustrating and stressful things about Disney World is actually getting to the parks. If you can afford to stay on site -- and there are tons of affordable options even if you don't want to drop $500 a night -- then do it. You can take a bus directly from your hotel to the parks and this eliminates the massive stress of parking eight miles from the park's entrance, taking a shuttle, completely forgetting where you parked at the end of the day, and having your wife slap you with a Goofy hat for promising you would remember where you parked and then forgetting. (Which has absolutely never happened).
Plus, since it's just a bus ride, you can leave the park in the middle of the day and take your kids back for naps. Or just go back to the hotel and spend some time at the pool.
If you aren't staying on site then once you're at the park you can't really leave.
Trust me, staying on site eliminates a huge amount of stress.
5. Go in the winter.
The crowds are much smaller and the weather is perfect.
Why does everyone insist on taking Florida vacations in the summer? This makes no sense to me. It's already hot wherever you are and everyone is going at the same time.
If you have kids in lower level elementary school, just take them out of a school for a week. If the teachers complain, tell them to deal with it. Your kids can handle a week of elementary school. If your kids can't handle a missed week of elementary school because they're going to fall too far behind then you've got a ton of future problems coming anyway, you might as well let your kids have some fun before they spend the rest of their lives working as grocery store clerks.
Fortunately, lots of schools are going to more of a year-round schedule. This is perfect for making the trip when it isn't crowded. There are few things worse on vacation than a crowded, hot theme park filled with screaming kids. In fact, I can't think of a worse vacation.
So be smart and don't choose to go to Disney World in the middle of July.
6. Kids like the pool as much as they do the theme parks.
How many times do parents spend tons of money on Christmas presents and then the kids just want to play with the boxes?
Again, try and think about it from the kid's perspective.
Remember how excited you were to go to a hotel with a pool? Just about every hotel in the Disney area has a decent pool.
Don't be afraid to spend a day hanging out around the pool, it's an outstanding option.
7. Meeting characters is an amazing life event for your kids.
But standing in line to meet too many characters will make any parent want to ram his head over and over again into the rock wall outside Ariel's grotto.
So don't try and meet every character, just pick the one or two characters that your kid likes the most.
We stood in line for an hour and a half to meet Mickey at Disney Land when my oldest son was two. It was complete and total hell.
You don't have to do this.
Pick one or two characters. If you have multiple kids try and pick characters that they both like.
8. Your kids are completely different.
My four year old can remember the name of every volcano in the world, but he knows about five people on the planet's name. Even if he's met you a dozen times, he probably doesn't remember your name. He calls his cousin Kelly, who he has met two-dozen times, "the red-headed girl." He is completely and utterly self-obsessed. (I have no idea where he could have gotten this trait.)
My two year old remembers people's names for a year after meeting them once.
This is a small thing, but it's uncanny how different kids can be.
So don't be afraid to split up the family if necessary. Some kids are terrified of rides that others would love. Why make everyone do the same thing?
9. Take as many pictures as you can without making your kids flip out.
Eventually they will want to see all these pictures.
But if your kids are anything like mine, getting them to pose for pictures is one of the most stressful things you do. They won't look at you, they're crying, one kid is blinking, getting the perfect photo taken is almost impossible. But fortunately you have a technological ability our parents didn't have, you only have to pick the best of the pictures.
And how many pictures does it really take to capture a trip?
Fifteen or twenty at most, right?
So don't drive your kids crazy with pictures. Snap candid shots, bribe them when necessary, but if you can get two or three good family photos, that's plenty.
10. Strollers are dangerous weapons.
Some strollers these days come equipped with nuclear weapon launchers and ballistic missile defense systems.
It's truly amazing how massive they are. So be aware that between the fat people on scooters and the kids in strollers, danger looms. It's almost impossible to cross from one side of the traffic flow to the other and emerge intact.
It's also worth noting that you can rent strollers at Disney, $15 for a single, $31 for a double. For any parent that has tried to lug a damn stroller on an airplane, this is money well spent. Go ahead and budget it into the mix.
11. Fireworks are terrifying.
The fact that we expect all children to find the sky loudly exploding into different colors to be fun is pretty astounding.
Kids love the sky fine as it is, bright blue, the moon comes up at night, they don't need the razzle dazzle of fireworks. And if you think about it, how terrifying would it be if the sky could just explode? Which means getting the "best" viewpoint for fireworks is another adult obsession that isn't shared by kids. The best place for kids to watch fireworks is somewhere far away from the cacophony of the explosions. Otherwise you can get a late night fit that it's almost impossible to cure them of.
12. Night giggles make everything worth it.
One of my favorite things about being a parent is still being awake after my boys go to sleep.
Well, for one reason it's peace for the day -- they're finally asleep! -- but for another reason, both boys sometimes giggle in their sleep. And if you're a parent who has ever heard a little kid giggling at night, it's impossible to forget. And a trip to Disney has to lead the world in causing night giggles.
Both of my boys may not remember anything about their trips to Disney World before they were five -- not even their kiss from Ariel -- but I'll always remember the sound of their giggles while they sleep after a day at Disney World.
And it's the very best sound in the entire world.