Matthew DeJong is the owner of Winding Road Productions specializing in feature films, documentaries and video game production. Through his travel writing, he encourages young families to conquer their fears and explore the world with their children.
Anticipating your trip to Disney World might provoke many well-marketed scenarios: meeting Princess Aurora for the first time; sauntering through the castle on a perfect summer day; your child turning to you as fireworks dazzle the night sky saying “Thanks for everything, mom.” However, those who brave the parks with very small children know that at any moment, the magic could turn to tragic. As veterans of two tours of duty, there are several ways to keep the dream alive.
Don’t plan a road trip if you know it will take multiple days to get there. Being behind the wheel for eight hours each day, you also have to take into consideration bathroom and meal breaks every few hours, as well as those emergencies that would make prospective parents think twice. Granted, road trips can stretch your dollar, but when you consider gas, hotels, meals and incidentals, the savings are generally minimal, especially if you can take advantage of the type of flight deals that you find on Fly.com. Some might also suggest that traveling by car “adds to the fun.” We found that such a long drive simply exhausted our children before they even entered the gates. Spend your energy wisely: save it for the parks!
Have a Plan
If you haven’t been to the “house the mouse built” since you were young, you need to know something. It’s changed. A lot! What once was a leisurely two-day tour through Magic Kingdom and Epcot is now an epic journey through four sprawling theme parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney and more, notwithstanding the endless delights provided by a range of custom hotels like The Grand Floridian or The Yacht Club. For the kids, Magic Kingdom is everything. We found that rides are fun but are soon forgotten, yet experiences like lunch at the castle with Cinderella are worth their weight in memories. However, the rides that you want to plan for are those famous for a reason – It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and even the Haunted Mansion for the bravest of little souls. There are other attractions appropriate for young kids at Epcot, Disney Studios and Animal Kingdom, and circling age-appropriate activities in the helpful brochures makes the best use of your Hopper Pass.
You Can’t Do It All
Much to the chagrin of list makers, you can’t do it all in one visit, especially with young children. In fact, there are large components of Disney World that are geared for much older teens and even adults. Kids need those times of rest and recovery from their overloaded senses rather than just being dragged from exhibit to exhibit, dispassionate and uninvolved. Surprising to us was that staying around the hotel and going for a leisurely dip in the pool or a free ride on the monorail was just as satisfying to our brood as exploring Ariel’s Grotto. As well, depending on the time of year, excessive lines, frequent summer storms or an intense August heat could prevent you from a couple of “must dos” the first time around. It’s better to take your time and maintain a right attitude rather than following a frenzied state. Just keep telling yourself you’ll be back someday, and if you set the right tone your kids will want to come with you.
Take Some Time to be a Grownup
Walt must have known that as much as we like to believe we’re young at heart, we still need to be treated like adults. And these days at Disney, there are endless activities for moms and dads like Magnolia Golf Course near the Polynesian, the luxurious Grand Floridian Spa enjoyed by stars such as Paula Abdul, award-winning restaurants like Victoria & Albert’s Chef’s Table, and a thriving nightlife filled with dance clubs and blues nooks. Such activities can be embraced during scheduled “nap times” or even while the kids are down for the night if you want to take full advantage of Disney’s convenient babysitting service. If you’re feeling guilty enjoying the pleasures of the Kingdom without them, you can sooth your conscience by enrolling the little ones in the Mousekateer Club, a sensational program for kids as young as 4 who will be entertained with crafts and fascinating activities. Those solitary moments of peace and quiet or an exhilarating date under the stars will leave you refreshed for another day of child-like activity under the Florida sun.
Anyone who has ever taken young children to Disney World knows the experience is unique. The excitement, the wonder, the belief in the magic can never be replicated by any other vacation or perhaps by any other age group. Consider not just their limitations but yours because, with a little planning and patience, everyone’s dream can come true.
To keep up with Matt and his travels, you can find him on Twitter: @DeJongMatt.