Friday, May 23rd, 2014
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is writing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
My five-year-old, Antonio as Jake of the Neverland Pirates. You’ll be seeing those eyebrows again later.
My Disney Experience. That’s the name of the app which allows you to keep your plans organized for your eagerly anticipated (and pricey) trip to the magical Promised Land known as Disney World. Now, the word “experience” is thrown around in the digital space quite a bit. But aside from Jimi Hendrix, can any entity truly leverage the term accurately? Is it really an experience? Well, I’m here to tell you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, yes. But for more than simply sharing personal space with a fictional, jolly giant mouse.
For starters, Disney is the strongest brand on planet earth. At least for my money (and they certainly have a lot of it after my vacation last week). You simply can’t go to any other location on earth and see the type of brand loyalty shown by people who just spent upwards of $100 a pop just to walk through the door. Hats, t-shirts, socks, ponchos. If you can put it on your body, Disney has its name on it. I remain in awe of their marketing prowess.
But aside from the aforementioned genius of their branding strategy, Disney also provides something invaluably educational to those of us with children. Put simply, a Disney vacation is parent boot camp.
If you’re anything like me, you’re used to the utter chaos that your children unapologetically hurl at you on a daily basis. But at least for me, I’m not used to dealing with that chaos without some sort of break in the action, be it my job or letting them watch Frozen for the 176th time. While on vacation, it’s like you’re running a marathon. Or, if it’s a Disney vacation, it’s like running a marathon while wearing a Darth Vader helmet with Mickey ears and eating a Donald Duck ice pop. Quite literally, actually.
The good news is that, at Disney, there is an overall acceptance of any sized stroller and all possible erratic behavior your children might exhibit. We’re all in this together, it seems. And we’re just trying to survive. Both of my sons ran dead smack into a stranger’s legs at some point and I had plenty of kids run into mine. We all responded the same way to the apologetic parent of the running child. “It’s fine. I get it.”
My Disney Experience was as rewarding as it was draining. And I certainly learned a thing or two along the way. So, in case you’re thinking about taking the plunge and emptying your bank account into a Magic Kingdom cash register, here are some things to think about.
- Have an agenda
I’m a “go with the flow” kind of guy when I go anywhere for leisure. But when bringing your kids to the Mecca of mirth, that mentality doesn’t jive. If you’re the spontaneous type, this will scorn your soul to hear, but making reservations at the restaurants you want to hit months in advance of your trip will save you headaches (and waiting time) later. My wife is terrific at keeping us in order with things like this. So, to summarize, bring my wife with you on your vacation. But I strictly forbid any sort of “magical time” happening if you do. Got me?
- Use FastPass+
Waiting on a long, seemingly endless line is hard enough when you don’t have hungry, whiny children either asking you to hold them or refusing to, you know, stay in line. But either by using the My Disney Experience app or by accessing your account on the site, you should be able to select the date, time, and attraction you’re interested in and sign up for a FastPass+ (which is actually free!). FastPass+ is exactly what it sounds like. It allows you to pass, faster. It easily shaved 20 minutes off the wait times of at least five attractions, which ultimately allowed us to see more things. You simply show up to the ride at the time of your reservation (you’ll be given a block of time, if available), flash your Disney Magic Band (which they send you when you book the trip), and you’re directed to a much, much shorter line. While some of the passes were set up weeks in advance, we were able to secure a couple the night before our visit to that particular park. So, all you need to be is the tiniest bit proactive for this to be a viable option for you.
- Bring a stroller
This might seem like a no-brainer if you have children under the age of four, but consider it even for five or six-year-olds. My older son is five and I don’t doubt that we were able to see as much as we did because of the breaks the stroller gave his legs. Surely, it can be a major pain to cart on and off a shuttle bus, but ultimately, it’s worth the struggle.
- Keep track of your things…all of them
As if keeping a watchful eye on your children wasn’t challenging enough in a theme park, you’ll also likely have the aforementioned stroller, diaper bag, camera bag, and every imaginable souvenir that you’ve convinced yourself your child deserves. It’s very easy to shove an item into the nearest available compartment with a zipper, only to be searching for it frantically later. I’m certainly guilty of that. So, try to compartmentalize your items, and keep them together. And when you do board that bus to leave, for the love of God remember that you’ve stored things under your stroller BEFORE your collapse it. Learned that the hard way.
- Be sneaky
We were in Magic Kingdom practically till its closing one night. The “Celebrate the Magic” projection show on the Disney castle (which I strongly recommend) had taken place, and the rest was simply fireworks. The vast majority of the people in the park had eyes focused on the lit sky. Us? We took that opportunity to meet Mickey himself. And we waited a grand total of three minutes.
- Don’t over-spend
Sounds counter-intuitive since you pretty much did this when you bought a park ticket, but that doesn’t mean you have to crawl even deeper into a financial hole by purchasing anything and everything with a Disney character imprinted on it. While it won’t be easy to say “no” as often as you’ll have to, walking the Disney parks is good practice in doing exactly that. Once you’ve reached the point where you start to wonder if you’re spoiling your kids, that’s likely a good time to lock up your credit card and punch out.
- For God’s sake, don’t put a child on your shoulders during a live show
This bullet pretty much speaks for itself, but all it takes is one person who thinks they’re being a helpful parent to ruin it for everyone else behind them. If you’re 5’9” and put a child on your shoulders, you’re effectively 6’6” now. If you’re 6’6” already without the child, then duck. It’s only fair.
Antonio out of his Jake costume, but not out of his new eyebrows.
To Disney’s credit, they pack a serious punch of entertainment and convenience for the money. We checked our suitcases at the airport on the way there and didn’t see them again until they were in our hotel room, and it was similar on the way back. Also, at every single restaurant we ate at on Disney property, the chef personally came out to speak with us about our son’s food allergy. Between that, the live shows, the fireworks, the character breakfasts, etc, it makes the pain of depleting your bank account hurt a bit less. Although, I must say, the fact that all employees are referred to as “cast members” and the bell hop at the Animal Kingdom villas kept saying “welcome home” when I walked past him was a bit unsettling and Twilight Zone-like.
Despite the inherit madness involved with a theme park excursion, if you do it right, there are moments when your children are beaming with joy, their fists clenched tight with euphoria, where you know you’ve just created a memory that will last a lifetime. For your children and for you.
Not even the eyebrows could ruin this one.
Thanks for reading, and tell me all about your Disney experience in the comment section below, or by tweeting me with the hashtag #mydisneyexperience. And of course, have a magical day.
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