Disney: the agony and the ecstasy

photo-399I just got back from a 6-day trip to Florida last night. The first two days were work (I keynoted a conference in Tampa; I brought the baby and my mom) and then since my boys had days off school for Rosh Hashanah, the rest of my family met me for 4 days in Orlando at Disney World.

I remember the phrase about agony and ecstasy from a guidebook on the parks. Tales are legion of families saving for a year to go and then the children wanting to skip the parks in favor of swimming in the hotel pool. Disney seems like it’s aimed at young kids, and yet young kids have a lot of trouble dealing with crowded theme parks. Frankly, everyone has trouble with crowded theme parks, and the overwhelming nature of the place (and the expense) can lead to short tempers. There are moments of wonder, and moments where you might sell a kidney to be able to sit in a quiet bar all by yourself.

I had both! My mom stayed in the rental house with the baby, so we didn’t have that source of stress for 3 of 4 days. The 8-year-old, 5-year-old, and 3-year-old had a lot of fun. Thanks to some strategic uses of Fast Passes and a “baby swap” pass, they rode Soarin’ three times at Epcot and loved it. We enjoyed Toy Story at Disney Hollywood Studios and Buzz Lightyear at Magic Kingdom. We all rode some roller coasters together like the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the boys went on Splash Mountain with me. My daughter and I ate with the princesses in Epcot (thanks to travel agent Jamie’s reservation prowess) and she was just beside herself with excitement. It was so cute. We all sang along with the Frozen sing-along at Hollywood Studios (“Let It Go” is a new karaoke favorite of mine) and the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom.

Of course, there were other moments. Like carrying my daughter – she’s a bit big for a stroller, but a bit small to walk miles daily. There was her inability to go to the bathroom at the theme parks, yet her regular announcement as we’d get to the front of long lines that she had to go (I stopped believing her after the first time — I think it was nerves about the rides). There was Disney’s lack of transportation optimization. Getting from Epcot to Magic Kingdom in the middle of the day took 90 minutes — they’re about 4 miles apart. I could have walked that. Then there was attempting to leave Magic Kingdom post fireworks. I sometimes wonder if they train “cast members” in riot control. I also had my least relaxing lobster dinner ever at a restaurant in Celebration (the cute, if somewhat creepy, planned community near Disney) though my children’s in-restaurant meltdowns could have happened anywhere.

Flying was tough, but not atrocious. For that I am grateful.

It was, perhaps, somewhat questionable to plan a second vacation so soon after the first to Indiana Dunes right before Labor Day. But I do think our remembering selves will look back on this Disney trip fondly, so it was worth pushing our experiencing selves through some of the madness and psychosomatic bathroom emergencies. However, my husband and I made a pact that we are done with traveling with the kids this year. Other people can come see us for the holidays.

Have you done theme parks with young kids? Do you come out on the “agony” or “ecstasy” side? (Or both?)

NOTE: I am still figuring out the comments settings. I am getting spammed heavily with this new website set-up, so I have everything still in moderation, but I will try to check frequently. I apologize to everyone whose comments were waiting in the spam queue for 5 days last week. Aaargh.

25 thoughts on “Disney: the agony and the ecstasy

  1. I have to say – I came out pretty heavily on the “ecstasy” part. We went to Disney two years in a row – June 2013 and April 2014, and it was great both times!! That was before baby #4, though, so I had kids that were in the range of 5, 7 and 10. Perfect! In my opinion, much of the “agony” of Disney comes with taking kids that are too young. Kind of ironic because, as you say, it’s geared for young kids, especially Magic Kingdom. The sad thing is that our oldest will be 15 by the time I want to take our baby back to Disney at age 4, so there really won’t be any overlap on the rides they’d like to go on 🙂 Hopefully, the 15 year old can be persuaded to accommodate his baby brother!

    In other news, I think it’s interesting that your school closed for Rosh Hashanah. I mean, my kids school was closed but that’s because it’s a Jewish day school. I didn’t realize public schools did that too. I guess I should be wishing you a “shana tova” 🙂

    1. @Rinna- if the public school district has a high enough percentage of Jewish families, then it makes sense. I think some districts in NJ have Hindu holidays off because they have a high percentage of families of that culture. Since we figured a lot of districts *didn’t* have it off, it would be a less crowded time to visit. And having been there during spring break, I’d say it was in fact better.

  2. 8, 5, and 3. Hmm. My kids are 5 and 2 right now, and my husband says we’re quickly going to “miss the window” of Disney being really magical if we don’t go soon (in the next year or two). I went for the first and only time when I was in 8th grade, and I looooooved it. No, I didn’t have breakfast with princesses, but I was cracking up at the Muppets show and loved visiting all the different countries in Epcot. And I’m pretty sure even at 13 yrs old I still got a bit tired and grumpy by the end of the day. So… I’m thinking the “magical” age for our family might be closer to when the kids are 10 and 7. (Then again I have boys so I don’t really care about missing the princess-obsession stage)

    1. @Sarah K- I think you are not going to miss the window, particularly with boys. Indeed, it’s really problematic to have anyone under 40 inches with you, as you can’t go on anything cool (whatever the child’s tolerance level for rides is – little ones may not like dark jolty things anyway). I’d say 6 and 9 or 7 and 10 would be great. Or 8 and 11!

      It’s like a particular Disney cruelty that the princess stage is marketed at 3-6 year olds.

  3. I saw the title of your post in my email, and I thought- that’s a chapter in the unofficial guide to Disney! Ha!

    We did the Disney parks in Orlando last February. We drove though, an experience in itself. We stayed at the Art of Animation, and the kids were really drawn to the Big Blue pool (which was super cool). It was really hard to balance my pleading to get out of that pool and to the park we planned on for that day with wanting to give them what they really wanted. They had lots of fun though. I would not do it again without 1-2 no park days. We needed more down time. My kids were 7, 3.5, and 1 at the time. The City Mini Double Jogger stroller (or whatever the heck it’s called, lol) was key, Laura. Key! My 7yo even rode in it occasionally. That Toy Story Mania was a blast, wasn’t it? At one point, I stopped trying to help my 3.5yo play and just went for broke myself! But agony and ecstasy? Yes. 😉

    1. @Anne- I could see the double stroller thing. We brought one when we went in 2012 (with a 4, 2 and 6 month old) and it was key. I could wear the baby, put the 2 boys in the stroller and just wheel around with everyone contained. This was in some ways harder because they could go off on their own and fight with each other in sophisticated ways they hadn’t quite figured out 3.5 years ago. The downside is that the 2-year-old and baby couldn’t go on much.

  4. Our 8th graders do a 4-day “music experience” at DisneyWorld, so of course we signed up to chaperone. We took our 8-yr-old along, and it was a great way to do the parks. The tour forced us to get to the parks early…we rode Soaring 3 times in a row without getting in line! The 8th grader ran around with his foursome, in between their music experiences, while DH and I rode rides and wandered with the 8-yr-old. He was big enough to go on everything, and young enough to still enjoy younger rides. The downside was that they were loooong days spent in the parks, and it rained right after the fireworks. Boy, did it rain.

    One of the music experiences was Disney workshops: they practice music from a Disney movie, and then record it against the film like a soundtrack, all an authentic-ish environment with professional Disney directors. The choir kids worked with a Disney choreographer and vocal director to prepare an act. It was awesome. And they performed in each park, as well. They got to see “backstage” that even the chaperones didn’t get to see.

    When our younger was in 8th grade we signed up to chaperone again, but this time we got to enjoy the parks on our own or with the other chaperones. That was almost as much fun!

    I’m glad we waited till the kids were old enough to go without strollers, able to go in a restroom alone, carry their own food trays, go back for ketchup, etc. Made DH and my experience better 🙂 Although, trying to keep tabs on 5 parent-free adolescent boys? Maybe not.

  5. Our Disney experience was quite good, but I think that’s largely due to the fact that we waited to go until our children were fairly old. My youngest was 8, so even the smallest in our party was able to ride everything, walk everywhere, wait in lines, etc.

    I don’t think I’d have been nearly so zen about it with small children in tow.

  6. I’m glad you guys had fun and that the Princess lunch was a hit? Why did it take so long to travel to Epcot? Was the monorail down?

    We love Disney but I think a lot of the negatives fade away with time. Our first trip we had a 4 yo and 2 – 2 yo and I remember it as amazing – but of course there were meltdowns. I just have (mostly) forgotten the more difficult parts. We have found it easier with each subsequent trip!

    1. @Jamie – I agree that the remembering self will remember the ecstatic moments. Seeing my daughter hug the princesses and jump up and down was really cool! Yeah, monorail was down, and some of the ferries were taken out of service for repair — it was like a refugee scene trying to get on the remaining boats… 🙂

  7. This whole discussion strengthens my resolve to wait a couple years before we go. My 4 year old is still super into sitting in the stroller, he has no stamina & still naps. It would be really hard to do multiple days at a park for us. Legoland was more our speed—one day, zero crowds when we went, got to see everything at our own pace, the park closed at 5 so we left & went swimming at the hotel & then the kids fell asleep on their dinner plates.

  8. This was great- too funny and oh so common, we spend money (a lot of money) on Disney for what??? I have to remember those magical memories. My husband wrote a blog post on our spring break, Disney and sunk costs. We had a 3 day pass and after 2 days of long lines, crowds and whining kids (why are you whining, this is suppose to be the happiest place on earth) we had to make the decision on what to do… play at the pool, relax OR fight crowds, hear kids whine… We chose the pool and it was a GREAT decision! Here is the blog about Disney- http://www.theemotionalinvestor.org/disneyworld-sunk-costs-loss-aversion-investors/

  9. We had ecstasy with A (3 at the time) and total agony with C (14 months at the time OMG). We are going to go back when they are 3 and 5 and I think it will be awesome! Yes, there’s still plenty we won’t be able to do, but there will be a ton that they can do and the ‘magic’ aspect really is amazing in a 3 yo. That said, we live within reasonable driving distance so we’ll likely go every couple of years. If it were further I could see waiting until they were older to truly optimize the experience.

    1. @SHU – I think 5 and 3 with just two of them should be fine. Though possibly waiting until the 3-year-old is 40 inches tall might be best. Ours hit it this summer (at 3.75 years) and it made a huge difference in getting to go on rides as a family.

  10. Ha! So relieved to discover that I’m not the only one who sensed a certain creepiness at Disney theme parks! We took our then 7 year old to Disneyland Paris 2 years ago, and it really was for his benefit, as we’re not Disney fans. Just all a bit.. weird, really. He loved it, though, which was the main thing. Glad it was just a day trip – 10 hours in the magic kingdom was more than enough!

    1. @Karen- funny about it being just for your kid. I met a couple on the plane who went when their one child was 9 months old. As the husband confided to me, the kid was just a prop. His wife was obsessed with Disney and used having a kid as a reason they “had” to go.

    1. @Meg- I didn’t pump – I had the baby with me most of the time on 3 of 6 days. On the 3 days he didn’t come with us to the park, we were gone 8-4:30 day one, so I just nursed before and after. The 8-7 day was hard (I was very, um, full by the end) but then the next day we did 8-3:30 and came home, then went back, so I nursed in the break. He’s usually only nursing at morning, mid-day, and night now (and if he wakes up in the middle of the night).

  11. We love Disney World and go 1-2 times a year. I readily admit I miss the days when it was just me and my husband, but we are in the very young kids age, 2 year old and baby coming in 7 weeks. There are fun new things about taking our 2 year old like seeing his face light up when he meets Mickey. Sometimes we take someone with us (Aunt or Grandma) to be able to have some alone time on rides as well. There are many attractions for adults to love too especially when you consider the entire Orlando area. Cast Members treat you like family and make the whole experience feel like luxury. After years of going we have developed ways to never wait more than 20 minutes for anything even during busier times (except maybe New Years Eve!). Keys are to arrive early and if possible be in good shape when you arrive. There is so much walking and I always regret not being in better shape. Glad you were able to enjoy the trip overall.

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