By Carla Johnston

My husband, two children (ages 6 and 8), and I just returned from a whirlwind adventure in Orlando’s Disney World.  I would describe our time there as an exhausting, but enchanting whirlwind voyage filled with more than a little magic!  Here’s what you need to know:

• Buy the book:  You NEED to know the “ins-and-outs” of the parks.  What rides might be scary or cause motion sickness, maps, dining etc.  Make a loose plan for each park, but be willing to “go with the flow.”  A friend suggested I photocopy the maps in the guide book and get them laminated.  This was a great suggestion!  We highlighted the rides we didn’t want to miss and the lamination prevented it from getting squished or wet from rides.

• Redefine “Vacation”:  A Disney “vacation” cannot be defined in the traditional sense of the word.  Mom and Dad, you will NOT be on vacation.  You will still be prepping, planning, coercing, and using every last morsel of your patience.  There are no hammocks or Mai Tai’s at the Magic Kingdom.  (However, if you don’t mind spending $9 a beer, Epcot’s Germany serves up some fine brew.)  Accepting that this vacation comes with a work-load will put you in the right mindset.

• Wear “The Pack of Fanny”:  This is how my husband lovingly referred to my smokin’ fanny pack, which I imported directly from 1992.  They are big enough to fit most all your necessities, they fit easily on all rides without having to be stowed (and likely forgotten), and us mothers can avoid a dented shoulder from lugging a purse all day.

• Are you of age?  Well, yeah YOU are, but are you taking your kids at the right age?  Toddlers don’t have the stamina, nor will they remember much of Disney.  If you can hold out until your youngest is 5, you’ll be doing yourself a great favor.

• Embarrass your children:  Squeal when you see Mickey, volunteer for every stage show by jumping up and down, and sing Disney tunes at random times.  You’re already wearing the “Pack of Fanny”, so does it really matter?

• Budget for the “little” things: Strollers are $15 a day, depending on the park and the age of the child you may find them to be a necessity.  Our 6 and 8 year olds did fine without a stroller at the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, but they were totally necessary at Epcot, a park that is very spread out.  Not staying at the resort?  Then parking is another $15 a day.  $2.50 will get you a bottled water, and you should buy several (keep hydrated!).  Then there are the $4 popsicles, $7 rain ponchos, and this is only the beginning.  Plan for it, it is less painful that way.

• Appreciate the detail and the enormity:  Disney must be about the cleanest, most well-run theme park I’ve ever experienced.  You are never more than 25 feet from a bathroom or a garbage can.   “Did that garbage can just start talking to me?”  Why, yes it did, because at Disney you can even have fun throwing out your gum.  I actually witnessed a janitor squeegee off the top of a garbage can.  Immaculate.  If only Walt Disney had designed the airports we flew through on our way to Disney (but that’s another blog).

• The “Fast” Pass:  Good for popular rides with long waits.  You go to a kiosk and insert your park ticket and voila’ a ticket shoots out telling you when to come back (which could be anywhere from 1 to 6 hours later).  What you need to know: if you have a fast-pass in your hand, you will not be able to get one for another ride until 2 hours later… so prioritize.  Also, the most popular rides actually “sell out” of fast passes by 10am.  If you want to ride Toy Story Mania at Hollywood studios, bring your running shoes and send your fastest group member straight to the fast pass distribution area.   They can work AWESOME if you know the rules.

So remember, preparing for Disney is like planning a mountain-climbing expedition.  If you are prepared mentally and physically, are willing to go with the flow and make a fool of yourself… Disney will be the most magical vacation you’ve ever taken with your family.Image