How to Avoid the Disney Meltdown

The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is called the “happiest place on earth.”  And, it usually is.  But what happens when you combine overheated, overtired, and overstimulated children with parents in the same boat? Things can turn sour … and quickly.

At the end of June, my family of  four made our way to Orlando for our 19th visit. I wasn’t surprised to see many misbehaving children at the parks. I was pleasantly surprised that my own kids kept on a pretty even keel. But, after 19 trips, we’ve kinda figured out some tricks.

One thing for parents to think about is that months of anticipation and build up about going to see Mickey will suddenly give way to visual and auditory overload.  Think of it as arriving at the North Pole, and being given the keys to Santa’s workshop. There’s so much to see and do, and so much to experience – you’re not sure where to start. If your children are also in unaccustomed heat, they may be perspiring excessively, and can quickly get dehyrdrated. Throw in some long waits in lines, more crowds than they may be used to, and perhaps one too many Mickey Mouse ice-cream bars, and suddenly, you might start witnessing behaviour that is more akin to the Exorcist than your little angel. 

So – what to do?  Every parent who has planned an outing to an unfamiliar environment with a child knows it’s always best to set some ground rules before you go. Here are some suggestions that have worked for us at Disney:

1. No doubt, you have guidelines for behaviour at home.  Being on vacation doesn’t mean that guidelines go out the window. Make sure everyone knows what is going to be acceptable before you’re waiting in line to see Peter Pan. If you’re going to loosen rules, be clear what the baselines are, and just what will fly and what won’t.  

2. If you can, stay at a monorail hotel. Being close to the parks will optimize your time. You won’t waste precious vacation hours travelling.

3. Don’t try to do everything in one day. Have a plan for what you want to accomplish on a certain day, but leave time for flexibility.  Try to schedule some down time at the pool each day.

4. Wear hats, and appropriate clothing for the weather. (Animal Kingdom, in particular, is notorious for its lack of shade. A hat will give you a break in scorching heat. And if it’s 100 degrees out, don’t wear black shirts and shorts.)

5. Wear comfy sneakers. Don’t wear sandals that won’t support you, or crocs that may gall. (Remember, you can walk 8-10 miles a day at the parks – I often do, and have measured with a pedometer.  Wear shoes that will not make you suffer.) 

6. Drink lots of water. Make sure each child drinks lots of water. (Dehydration really bites. Besides getting very cranky, you get nauseous and can develop a terrible headache. It can really put a crimp in a day at the park.)

7. If you have more than one child, have a plan for how you can keep each of them happy – at least in turns. You might alternate days where one chooses rides, or schedule some alone time with one parent for each. Siblings will bug each other on vacation as much as they might at home. Prepare for it, and have some outlets built in. 

8. If possible, have each child wear a fanny pack. That way, they each can carry their own water bottle, and carry their own autograph book and pen, along with a snack.

9. Have a plan for purchasing souvenirs and treats.  Make sure each child knows what that is. When possible, give them guidelines, and let them choose.

So – those are my suggestions.

Tell me – what works for your family?  I’d love to hear!