Debriefing Disney: Takeaways from our trip
When I signed off from my last post, I did so abruptly because I left out my takeaways from our first family Disney trip. If you haven’t read my previous two Disney blogs, you might want to do so before you dive into this one. It’ll make more sense if you do.
Oh boy, where do I start? First, let me say this: Overall, we had a fun trip. The big kids loved Disney and often ask when we are going back. Even my moody, 11-year-old middle-schooler admitted, “Disney is a really cool place.” I would like to believe he and C.C. will remember it fondly.
That said, there were moments of frustration that, if I’m being honest, I did not enjoy. Taking a 1-year-old on a trip like that can be stressful. I mean, Vincent doesn’t sleep well in his normal environment, so taking him out of his usual and plopping him into the most stimulating place on Earth — well, how could that not be challenging at times? I got very little sleep, and the whole thing felt more like work than a vacation.
Are you one of those people who, right now, is saying, “The baby’s not even going to remember it!” That is true, he won’t. But because his siblings and his parents will remember and because the big kids talk about Disney pretty frequently and because we will always have the pictures from our trip, I think Vincent will still be able to enjoy the memories. Just because he won’t remember it himself doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. Besides, when it comes to traveling to Disney, worth doesn’t matter because Vincent’s flight, park tickets and food were free. The whole he-won’t-remember-it argument just doesn’t fly with me. He also won’t remember me snuggling him for endless hours as a newborn because he wouldn’t sleep, but I did it anyway. And depending on when he weans, he probably won’t remember breastfeeding, but I’m going to keep on keepin’ on with that, too.
Now, would Disney have been easier without a 1-year-old? Oh my goodness, yes. But leaving him with someone else was not an option because he is still quite literally attached to me. Plus, we wanted to do the trip as a family of five.
Now, I give you my lessons learned.
I had made what I called “loose schedules” on Touring Plans, but after we got there, I realized I was mentally more committed to them than I thought. During our first two park days, everyone was very excited to be there and really wanted to go with the flow, not be on a schedule. I really had to relax and find a balance.
As the days went on, we learned how to make maximum use of our FastPasses and get to our dining reservations, while still leaving time for wandering freely. Once I embraced this mindset, everyone had a better time. So, I think the takeaway here is: Have a plan, but don’t be upset if it all goes to crap.
We didn’t see any fireworks or nighttime shows. C.C. hates fireworks or anything really loud, for that matter, so I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have liked them. I kind of feel like we didn’t get the full Disney experience because we chose not to see the shows, but I was happy not to have to fight for a spot and be stuck in a sea of wall-to-wall people — which was our experience for the Halloween parade.
I asked Mike if he felt bad that we didn’t see any of the nighttime shows, and, without hesitation, he said, “No. Vincent was exhausted every evening.” I know Elliot would’ve liked them, so I do feel some guilt about this. It’s silly, though. Elliot has never once mentioned any sadness about not seeing the shows.
Maybe it was because it was our first time at Disney, but I felt our schedule had to be packed full of character meals. That was a mistake; we did too many.
Character meals are just kind of weird to me. As if it’s not hard enough to convince your 6-year-old to eat her lunch, now you’ve got Rapunzel dancing about, stopping at every table. And the 6-year-old is constantly turning around and chirping, “When’s Rapunzel coming to our table?” And “She’s getting close.” Then when the characters finally get to your table, you have to stop eating, take out your phone, take pictures of the kids with the character and chit chat about Pascal and the tower. It’s a bit much for me. I mean, can’t I just eat my pastries in peace?
I hope I don’t sound like a big meany; I did let C.C. enjoy the experience and the characters. I’m just explaining what was going on inside my head. Now, it was nice that C.C. got to meet so many characters without waiting in line on our first trip, but the food was just not that great. This might go without saying, but food is exorbitantly priced at Disney. Well, actually pretty much everything there is unreasonably expensive. But my point is that if we’re paying $300 for a meal, shouldn’t it be delicious?
Dining plan…or not
Speaking of meals, we were not on the dining plan. I am still a bit torn if this was the right choice. We obviously did a few character meals, and it would’ve been nice to use snack credits at the Food and Wine Festival. I’m sure I would’ve liked the ease of knowing all the meals were pre-paid. However, I think we would’ve eaten more than we needed, and we may’ve ended up with meals or snacks leftover. Now that we’ve done it without, I have a better idea of how much to budget for food.
Although I hate numbers, I did the math, and what we spent on meals, snacks and drinks was almost exactly even to what we would’ve pre-paid had we chosen the dining plan. Even with all the character meals.
Remember my packing list from the first Disney post? Well, I have some takeaways on that.
- I packed too many glow sticks, necklaces and bracelets. Honestly, I found it be a hassle to take them into the parks, and the kids didn’t seem to care that much.
- As expected, they loved the bubble wands.
- Besides donning her Cinderella dress as part of her Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeover, C.C. wore only her Belle dress. All the other costumes just took up space.
- I guess I was glad we had the first-aid items, but we did not use a single one. Not even a bandage.
- The only thing I didn’t pack that I wished I had was a soft-sided cooler. It was so hot, and our water was always lukewarm a couple hours after entering the parks.
The stroller we rented turned out to be a good decision for Vincent. Mike did the bulk of the stroller pushing, and he seemed happy with it. Now, when C.C. decided she wanted to use the second seat in the stroller, that was a different story. It became much more difficult to maneuver. At six and a half, she is right on the border of Disney stroller age — most Disney resources recommend kids younger than 7 will need it.
When we weren’t using the stroller, the baby carrier was my saving grace. I love baby wearing in general, but it was so nice to be able to wear Vincent, especially in lines and when he needed to sleep.
Among Disney people, there is this concept called pixie dust. From what I can tell, it’s when magical things happen. Like when a character notices a child’s matching costume and invites her to hold hands and march alongside her for the rest of the parade. Or when a cast member at a restaurant unexpectedly brings a youngster an Ariel-themed fruity drink. Or when a stranger gives a balloon to a child who doesn’t have one.
So, if you read my first Disney post, you know my feelings about magic. I guess we had one instance of pixie dust: At the Backlot Express restaurant, a cast member who was cleaning tables approached our table and asked if we would like a free cupcake. Um, yeah. Who doesn’t want a cupcake? He ended up bringing two, which was plenty because they were huge.
I think we will go back. Perhaps at some point after the new Star Wars land, Galaxy’s Edge, opens. And you can bet your light saber that this Star Wars fangirl will completely geek out over it, too! That said, I don’t see myself becoming someone who goes to Disney a lot. There are so many other cool places to see in our beautiful country. And why not get a glimpse of the real Eiffel Tower, not the Epcot version?
As I mentioned in my last post, we did not go to Animal Kingdom. None of us had ever been there, so we didn’t really feel like we were missing anything. That is definitely on our list to check out whenever we go back to Disney.
I haven’t overtly mentioned this in previous posts, but my big kids did miss school to go to Disney. I’m sure some will think negatively about that, and that’s fine. However, I didn’t feel bad about it.
Why? Because traveling, in itself, is educational. Budgeting, navigating parking lots and airports, flying, riding buses, staying at hotels, eating at restaurants, spending money, meeting people — these are all valuable life experiences from which children benefit. A theme park vacation specifically provides physical activity in the form of walking (so much walking!) and swimming. And of course, you can never put a price tag on quality time together as a family.
In addition, Disney actually has quite a lot of educational attractions and exhibits. I’m not going to list them all, but Elliot still talks about how he got to use engineering to design his car for Test Track at Epcot. And C.C. participated in science experiments at Innoventions, also at Epcot. There’s Hall of Presidents and the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse at Magic Kingdom.
Most importantly, Disney provides the opportunity for children to see literary and movie characters. Kids get to interact with the characters and their environments; books they have read and movies they have watched come to life. That, my friends, is where the magic is.
Before I end, I would like to point you to a few of the resources I have mentioned in these Disney blogs. They are my personal favorites, so check them out if you’re interested.
- Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (Affiliate link is to the current 2019 version.)
- Touring Plans website and Lines mobile app (Tip: If you buy the Unofficial Guide book, you get a discount on a Touring Plans website subscription.)
- Smart Moms Plan Disney: Lots of good information for families going to Disney, including the school excuse template that I used.
- TheTimTracker YouTube channel: Tim and his wife Jenn post daily vlogs about all Orlando area theme parks, but many of their videos are about Disney. They are fun, cute and enthusiastic, and the whole family can watch their vlogs together.