by Kathryn Trudeau
The clock struck three as the airport van pulled into my parents’ driveway. I’ve always thought that pre-vacation excitement made the 3 a.m. departure totally doable. After all, who wants to sit around all day waiting for a late-in-the-day departure?
But this was my first early vacation with children. As my husband carried two suitcases, a camera bag, a diaper bag, and a toys-for-the-airplane bag into the van, I buckled in the kids – one three, the other three months old.
As I stared at my sweet sleeping infant, I worried about his GERD-induced screaming and how the impending airplane ride would unfold. Were we making a huge mistake? Were we about to be the most stressed out parents in the history of family vacations?
As fate would have it, my littlest boy slept the whole flight, thanks to a nursing session. Bags in tow and fueled by Starbucks, we made it to the inspiring Wilderness Lodge. Walking through the lobby and feeling the rush of cool air as we walked through the door, I felt the same giddy excitement in the pit of my stomach that I felt as a young girl. And now I got to share that excitement with my two boys.
All obsessions aside, Disney still ranks as one of the best family vacation destinations.
As a self-proclaimed obsessed Disney fan, it was only natural that I voted for a Disney honeymoon. My then-fiancé, now-husband quickly said, “Uh no. Isn’t that for little kids?” I then delivered a monologue about how Disney World is anything but “just for little kids.”
We booked the honeymoon. I’m proud to say I converted my husband into a Disney superfan.
Taking our kids was a very different experience, but no less awesome. Disney World offers something for everyone. If you take your kids and still want some couple time, there are kid centers at each hotel that will watch your littles while you escape to a world-class spa or a romantic candlelit dinner with your honey.
Disney World can entertain a wide range of children. If traveling with young children and teens, you will find activities for everyone. Between the live shows, gardens, thrill rides, pools, and water parks, outdoor recreational activities, and interactive events, your kids are sure to find something to thrill them.
One of my favorite parts of traveling to Disney with my family is the meal plan. Eating out three times a day can get costly, but the meal plan allows you to budget ahead of time what your food will cost, which saves money in the long run.
I may be a super Disney fan, but I’m no stranger to other amusement parks or vacation destinations. When I was 14, my family traveled to an amusement park in Southern California. From the grimy food service counters to the trash littering the paths, the lack of cleanliness drove us from the park before the day was half done.
That being said, cleanliness is something to consider when planning a family vacation. Who wants to make their family memories among the smells floating from hot steaming garbage cans? Not me.
Disney cast members work diligently to make sure the entire park is not only clean, but invisibly so. As a guest, you never have to witness their garbage removal process (thanks to underground tunnels for the purpose.)
A common obstacle for any family vacation is the price tag. Between airfare and quality accommodations, a one-week trip can be costly. But if you compare oranges to oranges (Get it? Florida...oranges…), a Disney vacation lands in the “pretty affordable” column when compared to other similar destinations.
Follow these few tips, and you can snag a super deal, too:
Book a trip in the off season. Not only will you have better rates, but the parks will be less crowded.
Subscribe to the vacation planning email lists. Periodically, they send out mailers with special rates and promotions. If you’re not opposed to planning a trip within a few months of notification of a promotion, this is a good way to get a deal.
Customize your package. You can opt for park-hopper status (ability to go to multiple parks in one day) or not. If you’re looking to save a little money, you can opt out of the park-hopper. Alternatively, choose the hotel pools over the water parks.
A final thought on price: Is it expensive? Yes. Good, activity-packed vacations usually are. Is it over-priced? No. The value of the whole experience is worth every penny.
My son stared out of the car of Spaceship Earth. He was mesmerized by the giant image of our planet. As we exited the ride, we entered a pavilion that showcases new and upcoming technology. My son was silent as we moved from demo to demo. He’s always been a techie-in-the-making, and here, he was able to live out his need to tinker with real-life gadgets.
Disney is all about moving forward, upward, and bettering ourselves in the process – what a great mentality to show our kids.
The last reason why I love Disney: the magic. One of my most favorite memories from the trip was when my three-year-old met Mickey. My son, forever toting small toy cars in his pockets, whipped one out and wanted to play cars with Mickey. Ever the good sport, Mickey got on his knees and played cars with my boy. Nothing makes a mama heart sing as much as seeing pure joy on her baby’s face, and Disney did not disappoint in this department.
Still not convinced? That’s okay. Disney has a team of veteran moms who help answer vacation questions, from what to pack to where to stay. They can answer anything you throw at them. Maybe they’ll convince you it’s worth a try.
No matter what expectations you bring to a Disney vacation, you’ll walk away with happy family memories. And that’s a win in my book.
By Cheryl Maguire
We made it. After a three-hour flight and two bus transfers, we were standing in front of the iconic Disney World Cinderella Castle. During my year of researching and planning, I wondered if this moment would ever happen.
We waded through the crowd and snapped a quick picture. Since I was uncertain of when we would actually arrive here, the only unplanned hours lay ahead of us.
“What should we do first? Magic Mountain? Meet a princess? It’s a Small world?” I asked.
“Swim in the pool,” my eight-year-old twins and five-year-old daughter responded.
“I didn’t spend an obscene amount of money on a Disney World vacation to swim in a pool. Which attraction will it be?”
We chose to split up. The twins and I went to meet Ariel, while my husband and daughter headed in a different direction. The problem was I couldn’t remember which direction, and I realized he took my cell phone with the back pack. Hours and hours of planning, yet I never created a plan if someone were to get lost.
“Who remembers what shirt Dad was wearing?” I asked.
A stranger passing by overheard my question and, with a laugh, said, “Oh, that can’t be good.”
Even though my husband is an adult (at least most of the time), I felt as if I’d lost a child. I panicked. How was I going to find him in this sea of neverending people? We started walking. I examined the faces of each person we passed by, hoping to find him.
One of my children remembered they were headed to the Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster, and somehow we managed to locate them. He, of course, had no idea he was missing (or that he took my cell phone). He’d been waiting in line the whole time.
“How was the Big Thunder Mountain ride? Was it worth waiting an hour?”
“Definitely not. It was really bumpy. I felt like I was going to vomit,” my husband responded.
“I agree with Dad.”
“I’m glad we spent thousands of dollars to wait in line and feel nauseous.”
They all wanted to go on the next ride, so I found a bench, absorbing the interesting surroundings. I couldn’t help but notice a man and woman, their arms flailing as they shouted obscenities at each other loud enough for everyone to hear, including children. So much for this being the “happiest place in the world.” I also witnessed many children in full blown meltdowns.
When my kids got off the ride, they asked, “Can we go to the pool now?”
Sweat dripped from every pore in my body and, from the looks of it, my family was experiencing the same. I relented and off to the pool we went.
For the rest of the vacation, we didn’t experience any major problems. But the heat, long lines, and crowds continued to wear on us. At the end of the vacation, I asked my kids, “What was your favorite part of the trip? Meeting Elsa? Toy Story Mania? The Aerosmith rollercoaster?”
In unison they responded, “The pool.”
If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I ignored several red flags. My kids seemed more excited about flying on a plane than going to Disney World. My kids had never been enthusiastic about their experiences at the local amusement parks we visited. I think I overlooked these things because I felt pressure from society to give my children a magical Disney World experience.
The average cost for a family of four to vacation at Disney World for four nights costs between three- and four-thousand dollars. Before you make this huge investment, you might consider the following questions to determine if you really want to go there:
The bottom line: You don’t have to go to Disney World. Figure out what type of vacation best suits your family. There are millions of cities to visit, and lots of those places have pools.