These simple tips take this trip from manic to memorable!
by Maria Benetos
SHARE THE LOVE (& THE STYLE)
This spring break I took the girls to Disney World with a conflicting sense of both dread and excitement leading up to the big trip. I loved Disney as a kid – it was indeed a magical place to me back then, as it is to most children. As adult, however, the reality of this vacation was all too clear: long lines, fast food, on your feet all day with two young kids in tow, large crowds and in and out of monorails while trying to tame the MINIs who will likely be tired, overwhelmed and perhaps a little too eager to discover all that the parks have to offer.
This vacation was so important and special to my girls so I was intent on keeping the experience as positive and stress-free for all three of us as possible. Disney, I’m ready to take you on! And you can be too. Here’s how we did it.
The smartest decision we made was working with Passported, the chic family travel planning platform and site. After a few easy email exchanges they determined the best hotel property for us, secured it on our behalf and scored us some killer perks (free breakfasts, spa credits and an upgrade!). In our case, the Four Seasons Orlando fit our needs but it differs for everyone. We wanted it to be in the Disney complex, be a serene refuge from all the craziness of the parks and have it appeal to the grown-up (ahem, me) while also remaining fun for the kiddos. This is what we got: an insane pool area complete with water slides and a lazy river, an amazing kids club, an adorable ice cream parlor and many key on-site Disney amenities (character breakfasts!) for Kaia and Elin. A fab spa, delicious restaurants and chic accommodations for moi. Score!
Most mornings, we woke up early to get to the parks just as they were opening (often an hour earlier for Disney hotel guests) to (kinda) beat the crowds. So that meant no morning battles on what to wear and not packing anything too complicated. I stocked up on simple cotton dresses, tees and shorts from more reasonably priced retailers, such as H&M and Zara for the kids. The MINIs will get wet and they will get dirty, and the last thing you need is to be stressing about their clothes. Plus, comfortable shoes are key – there is a lot of walking involved. Like, really a lot. And bring a change of clothes in your bag for each kid. We ended up tapping into that emergency stash a couple of times and it was a tantrum saver.
We were fortunate to be able to afford a private guide and that was the luxury I was most grateful for on this trip. We used Elite Orlando VIP Tours at the recommendation of a friend. At first I balked at the price, but after hearing a bunch of people tell me it was worth the splurge I gave in. And yes, it was indeed worth the splurge. It can be so overwhelming to try to plan your day at one of the parks on your own and if you don’t do it way in advance with Disney’s Fastpass system (basically it gets you onto up to three rides with no wait times), all the good rides and attractions will already be booked. Elite took that stress out of the equation. We simply told them our likes and priorities, such as meeting key princesses, and they took care of the entire day, including restaurant reservations for both lunch and dinner. If you can’t get a guide, my biggest piece of advice is plan each day well in advance and have a clear schedule. You’ll be thankful for it later!
Be prepared to have to say no a whole lot to your MINIs throughout the day. Why? Well, there’s a gift shop on nearly every corner and many of the popular rides exit into themed stores that are tied to that attraction. If I followed the whims of Kaia and Elin, I would have left the park with Minnie ears, an Ariel costume, a castle, Star Wars figurines, a light saber, a giant lollipop… and the list goes on. At the start of each adventure I let them know that they could chose one small gift and one “experience” (i.e. face painting) on that given day. Did it stop them from asking for more? No, of course not. But knowing that they could at least get something each day softened the blow of all the other rejections! And it actually made them cherish the thing they did get that much more.
If you don’t want your kid snacking on a giant turkey leg or an immense wad of sky blue cotton candy, bring snacks that are healthful and filling. Each day, we stuffed my backpack with apples, dried fruit, cashews, protein bars and plenty of water. As fun as it is, it’s a long day for the MINIs, especially the younger ones. So staying hydrated and energized with hearty snacks is key. For lunch, we chose the sit-down restaurants in the parks which had salad and vegetable options. Not only were we able to stay away from the fast food, but having that hour to rest and recharge was a treat.
At four and a half years old, Elin was sometimes challenging, especially near lunch time and towards the end of the day. There were complaints. A lot of them! Some rational; many not. From getting miffed about not being tall enough to get onto a ride to losing it when her older sister Kaia got the “better” seat in the teacup, I had to keep my cool when she was losing hers. Not always easy. Instead of getting rattled and annoyed, I took a deep breath and stayed calm, which would in turn soothe her. If that failed, I would go for some humor, often getting her to eventually giggle. Just know there will be tantrums and have a plan to manage them as best you can. Show no fear… those littles can sniff that out immediately!
The fact that my girls had each other throughout this experience made it that much sweeter… and easier for me. They’d pair up for most rides and would play in the pool together for hours. When I did take an hour escape for myself at the Four Seasons spa they felt more comfortable at the kids club knowing they had a built-in buddy (although they made a bunch of new friends immediately!). In the evenings I’d sit on the sidelines sipping a much needed glass of wine while they chased each around the gorgeous grounds of the property. Having a dynamic duo at Disney, whether it’s a bestie or a sib, is a wonderful thing.
This is a big one. While it’s tempting to schedule your days from start to finish, thus hitting up everything at Disney, don’t do it. What made our trip so pleasurable is we knew when to call it quits. On the mornings we’d wake up early for rides and attractions, we made sure to be back at the hotel by 2pm so the girls could chill by the pool and relax a bit before dinner. Other mornings we decided to take our time and indulge in the breakfast buffet then would leisurely hit up the parks in the afternoons and evenings. A highlight of my girls’ trip? The “Dive In” movie at the Four Seasons where kids could splash around while watching a flick on a massive screen just over the pool, complete with bags of popcorn for each MINI.
Finally, know that things won’t always be perfect. Was it disappointing that Elin had a complete meltdown, forcing me to leave Kaia with grandma at a Star Wars experience we were all loving? Most definitely. When you spend this much time and money on a single trip there can be an expectation or at least a desire to have everyone be happy all the time. Impossible. So just roll with the punches and fully take in those times when your kids’ eyes completely light up at the sight of their favorite character. It’s those small moments that made this experience all worth it.