Let me preface this post by saying that there are TONS of other great ideas out there from legions of parents who have been there, done that, and achieved guru status. If you are one of them, please add your tips and tricks to the comments section below. Let’s make this a community thang.
The week we decided to move from Northern New Jersey to South Florida, I extracted a commitment from the Silver Fox that we would get Florida resident annual passes to Disney World. Scooter was six, and the time was ripe to infuse his cute little behind with enough Disney magic to choke a unicorn. Weekend getaways, pop-up vacations, extended family holidays–the options were almost endless. And at $404 per person for a park hopper annual pass with free parking that only blacks out during the six weeks of the year when the rest of the universe is there (Christmas and midsummer), how could you NOT go for it?
We’ve learned a lot over the last season and a half of Disney trips, both personally and via fellow Floridian recommendation. It’s a common theme down here, as you can imagine. I offer here my current Top Ten ways to maximize your Disney glee and minimize your agitation, whether you hail from Tallahassee or Tennessee or Taipei:
1. Make no mistake, a meltdown WILL happen at some point.
Disney is freaking huge, and every inch of it was designed to maximize munchkin wonderment. This directly equates to information overload, both for parents and kids, and when combined with dehydration, exhaustion and hunger, it’s only a matter of time before the poop hits the fan. Know this and embrace it. Drew Barrymore did it with uber-cool, and the resulting pic was as relatable as it was adorable.
2. For the love of all that is good and true in this world, for piss sakes don’t forget to put sunscreen on the back of your calves.
I’ve seen the results of this oversight, and it ain’t pretty. Lobster red where you can’t even see it, borne by Pasty Man in shorts in July because he spent an hour in line with a powerful Florida sun beating down on that one spot. Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s talk about tank tops. If it’s hot and sunny, just avoid them unless you have a rocking base tan and are completely dogged in your repeated application of sunscreen. The UPF factor here is unreal, especially in the summer. Cover up and be healthy.
3. Feel like you want to leave at lunchtime? Do it.
This is one of the first (and best) tips I got from my Florida resident panel of experts. In the middle of the afternoon, parks are hot and really crowded, especially in the summer. Who needs that craziness? Get up early, get in as soon as you can, do a bunch of neat crap, then when the gang gets hot and hangry–leave. Yep, you heard me right. Go back to the hotel, have a cheap lunch and hit the pool for a few hours. Or take a nap. Freshen up, cool your jets, then go on back to the parks for evening fun. Especially if your aim is a nighttime event, this will help the kids stay as rested and happy as possible.
4. Long lines don’t always suck.
The Disney honchos are fairly brilliant when it comes to maximizing the 60-plus minute waiting line experience. Rides like the perpetually crowded Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Toy Story Mania, and even Winnie the Pooh have interactive experiences along the queue that you may enjoy as much as your munchkins–Scooter has a blast with these every time. Plus, the design and layout of the queue areas are worth seeing, and all of these things you’ll miss with a Fastpass. So, if you have enough time, stop and mine for the gems.
5. Don’t Forget Disney Springs.
I love this place. Last week we had dinner on the Back Porch near House of Blues (meals under $14.99 per person) while listening to great live music. This area, formerly known as Downtown Disney, is exploding, and there are new restaurants (Morimoto Asia, hello?) and retail shops all over the place. It’s awesome. And parking and entry are free. Plus, if you prefer not to haul crap all over the parks, come here to buy all of your light saber and Mickey T-shirt goodness. I can’t say enough about Disney Springs. It really is very, very cool.
6. You don’t need all that stuff in your backpack.
You’ll be walking five miles with whatever is in that bag. Skip the six pack of water bottles–bring a refillable one (my gang and I share one canteen) and use the fountains all over the park to replenish, or get ice water from any food service area that has a fountain. Yes, food is expensive, so bring bars or something small to keep everyone’s energy up, but the main meal will bake in the sun–please realize this. Your turkey sandwich will be completely gross within two hours.
7. Those Mickey ears hats are awesome, but they have no brim.
Again, the heat and the sun. I cannot stress this enough–summer sun in Orlando is punishing, especially for those who don’t live in this climate year-round, and you need to protect your face and those of your munchkins as much as you can. While the Mickey ears hats are iconic and adorable, they offer no sun protection to the face whatsoever. Scooter has two, but wears them only in the winter or at night. Most of the time he rocks the house in a Goofy baseball cap we bought in the park, with a full brim. And for me? Sexy fedora–I just need to find one with mouse ears. The whole family should be wearing a real hat to Disney on sunny days.
8. Beer and cigars.
Every time we go to Disney for a weekend, the Silver Fox has his daily cigar from 1-3 PM. He goes to Bongos Cuban Cafe in Disney Springs, and if he’s forgotten his stogey, there’s a cigar shop right across the sidewalk. This is what many folks don’t realize at first glance–Disney World in Orlando is chock-full of good beer (try the frozen one in Japan at Epcot), excellent music (in and out of the park), killer food and high culture that will keep the most snooty grown-ups engaged and interested. And those giant pretzels in Epcot’s Germany? Legit.
9. Buy the Picture Package.
The first time we got our annual pass, I waffled at the concept of forking over an extra $150 or so for the membership level that offers free access to all professional photos taken in the parks. Hey, I take roughly a billion pics on my iPhone anyway, so no need, right? Wrong. As soon as I saw those babies load up into the My Disney app with a huge watermark across them, I cussed like Donald Duck on a tequila bender. Scooter in close-up on stage with Captain Jack Sparrow, the lot of us squealing on Test Track, the Silver Fox going toe-to-toe with Kylo Ren. Needless to say, I now have the Gold package.
10. Don’t Overlook the Little Things
The new Pandora experience and all of the famous elements of Walt Disney World will likely seduce you, for good reason. But if you have the time, try and slow down a bit and look at the fine details, because they are really stunning. For example, Scooter and I spent the better part of three hours of our recent trip on secret missions to two Epcot countries using the Phineas and Ferb Secret Agent game. It’s so cool–there are special things that happen to the attractions during this game, and you’re afforded a deeper look at the country areas themselves. Experiences like this (Animal Kingdom’s Wilderness Explorer program is another great one) are marvelous ways to while away an afternoon, and no lines involved. Disney has worked hard to make sure that every visit you make into their kingdoms is not only special, but special in its own unique way. Enjoy.