I posted a poll on my insta stories recently asking whether you’d prefer a Disney land review or a Lapland review. As always when I post polls I seem to get a 50/50 response. Helpful guys, real helpful. So, I’ve decided I will do both starting with Disney. It seems more relevant as I have read quite a lot of controversy recently surrounding how magical it really is. I’m sure others may have conflicting opinions and I might get a bashing from some die-hard Disney fans but here’s our experience. Of course, this is only an opinion piece based on our experience alone and I appreciate others might have had a more positive encounter.
For Toby’s fourth birthday I had my heart set on taking him to Disneyland, Florida. It was in fact the second time he had been but the first time he was 6 months old and as I’m sure you can imagine was completely and utterly pointless. (Don’t take a baby, they don’t give a shit where they are. Go somewhere peaceful while you can before your holidays become kids disco and fancy-dress costume hell). This time he was going to love it. He was at the perfect age and knew who all the characters were. It was going to be perfect. I planned our two-week holiday schedule within an inch of its life. I made a list of all the must do’s and created a timetable of what we would do each day. Printed it, laminated it. You think I’m joking, don’t you? I’m not. It was more like a military operation than a holiday and I was thrilled with my plans. We were going to squeeze in as much as possible into these two weeks and create the most incredible memories.
The first time we went when Toby was a baby we had no real plan and we wasted days pondering over what we should do that we later lived to regret. We learnt the hard way that if you have leisurely mornings eating brunch by the pool and then popping over to the parks in the afternoon you have not a cat in hells chance of getting on any rides. That wasn’t going to be the case this time, we’d be there at crack of dawn and experience all there was to experience if it killed me. What I didn’t factor into my plan was that Toby like every other young child, doesn’t always play ball. And that by doing this, you all end up bloody knackered!
I’d decided that we would do magic Kingdom in two parts. The day of Toby’s birthday we would we would spend the day playing in the pool and have a little pool party, by pool party I mean an inflatable shark and a Walmart birthday cake. The days where pool parties meant bottles of grey goose and house music are a distant memory. He would have a nap after lunch, he doesn’t have naps anymore and hasn’t since he was two but to make it through my fool proof plan and keep him in good spirits until late at night, it was a must. And we would head to Magic Kingdom at around 6pm to see the forever after firework display. Then we would go back to Magic Kingdom another day, early, to see it in a different light.
Unfortunately, as happens often in our world, everything didn’t go quite so accordingly. Despite my best efforts Toby point blank refused to nap so we headed to Magic Kingdom anyway. When we arrived, we were told it was shut to the general public due to a “Halloween Spooktacular” it was 22nd September! Great. Of course, this spiralled a full-blown melt down, (Toby was pretty pissed off too) but after I’d calmed down we decided to make the most of the evening and so went to Epcot to watch their firework display instead and planned to head back to Magic Kingdom the following day for a full day. This was not what I had wanted to do. The following day Toby was in the worst mood imaginable having had a late night the day before. Our options were limited because the fast passes that I had booked for the day before were now useless, and everything bar the shit characters that nobody wants to see were fully booked or had a two-hour long que. Everything I suggested to him to go and see was shut down, “No. I want to go home and play in the pool”.
I managed to convince him to go and see Rapunzel from Tangled as he loves the film. We queued for an hour, only made possible through YouTube on my phone and sheer bribery with sweets, ice-cream and whatever over-priced crap we could find. When we reached the front, we were greeted by a different princess, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, when she said hello to Toby and held out her arms he responded, “No. I don’t know you. I want Rapunzel”. I awkwardly apologised and hurried past her to get to Rapunzel who’s overly energetic and spritely manner he was unsure of. Her character was spot on for whom she was supposed to be I’ll give her that, if not a little too enthusiastic, but it took him a little by surprise. He wasn’t sure what to make of her and was a bit uncomfortable. I’d expected this big wow magical moment and what I got was “I don’t want a picture with her”, she scooped him up and the photographer did get some good pictures of him awkwardly smiling with her. After this he point blank refused to meet any other characters. I begged and pleaded with him, I managed to get him to meet one more by brute force and that was it. They also do this thing where by they have allocated time slots so whether you’ve queued up for hours or not, once their time slot for that session is over they walk off leaving a line full of angry and upset children for the parents to contend with. Never have I wanted to punch Mickey Mouse in the face so much. The beautiful personalised autograph book his cousin bought him for his birthday has only two signatures in.
He had an almighty tantrum throughout the parade because he wanted to get past, the sun was in his eyes and he was too hot. His face was bright red, so we ended up stripping him down to just his shorts and paying a ridiculous amount of money for a fan that he then decided he didn’t like and didn’t use. Every ride that we came off conveniently exits through a gift shop so there were constant meltdowns because he obviously spotted some all singing all dancing toy or memorabilia shit he wanted in every single shop we found ourselves in. And on the odd occasion it’s not your own child kicking off, it’s someone else’s. The place is filled with screaming children. It truly is what dreams are made of. Said nobody ever. We couldn’t get into any restaurant’s or cafes as they were all fully booked and the grab and go food is naff. Then let’s talk about the castle, from the minute Toby spotted the castle from the carpark he wanted to go inside, you can only imagine his disappointment when the castle isn’t actually anything, it’s just a tunnel leading you to another section of dated rides and uncontrolled queues. The same thing happened with the “beast’s castle” he desperately wanted to go inside, but of course it isn’t an attraction that’s open for everyone. It is in fact the ‘Be Our Guest’ restaurant that like every other character lunch or breakfast, you have to book approximately seven years in advance. So, you know, if there’s even a 20% chance of you conceiving a child in the near future. I’d get yourself a place booked now. There are way too many people, everywhere. It’s overcrowded, over stimulating and over-priced. The entire day was a whole load of disappointing and not in the least bit magical.
We did have some amazing days at some of the other parks, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a favourite of ours. But, I must admit I am 100% team Universal, it is more current, more exciting, more practical, more exciting than Disney which as it stands in comparison is kind of dated. Having said that, putting the horrific ques, the disappointing food, the overcrowding and the extortion aside when the heat had diminished, the park was still, everyone was sat on the pavements waiting in silence, the look on Toby’s face when those first fireworks shot above the Disney castle will forever hold an imprint on my heart.
I’ve put together a list of my top tips for surviving Disney with young children, in hope to make others experience a little less stressful.
1/ Chose where and what is most important to you before go. Which park’s do you want to visit and how many times. If you plan on getting to as many as possible including Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the waterparks Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. You’re best to get a Disney pass. These are expensive, you’re looking at around £250 per person adult or child but if you are going to do everything, they save you money in the long run and give you that much needed flexibility to enter and leave as many times as you like. If you are for instance only going to go to Magic Kingdom for one day, just get a one or two-day pass. Like any theme park they are always cheaper bought in advance and online than on the day.
2/ Dress accordingly – Shorts, a vest top or t-shirt and trainers would be my go to Disney outfit for all the family. You’re cool enough to handle heat (it’s fucking hot!) in shorts and a tee. You’ll need comfortable shoes because there is a hell of a lot of walking and standing around in ques involved. Take a light waterproof jacket or poncho with a hood. When it rains, it rains and trust me you don’t want to be stood in a mile-long que trying to get your hands on the last Disney printed overpriced rain-mac for your hysterical four-year old screaming “I’m wet!!!!”.
3/ Buy your merchandise before you go, if you really can’t resist the Mickey mouse ear headbands/naff quality t-shirts and other general Disney tat, there are a million gift shops that sell them for a fraction of the price on your way there. Walmart has a huge selection and they don’t break the bank. Your kids won’t know the difference, but your wallet will. Same applies for light up toys/glow sticks for the night-time parade, grab them from the local dollar store before you go.
4/ Take your own autograph book, then if you can withstand the excruciating two-hour que to see what is essentially a delusional college student dressed up in a Disney costume at least you’ve got something to show for it.
5/ Don’t be too disheartened if your kids don’t like the characters, and you don’t get the reaction you were hoping for. They’re much bigger than they look on photographs and for a pint-sized person they can be daunting. Even meeting their most favourite characters can be overwhelming.
6/ Speak to your child about what is going on beforehand and during. For us especially this is crucial, if he doesn’t know what to expect or what is going on he is thrown. Explaining that there will be ques and a lot of people around is helpful in preventing them feeling overwhelmed.
7/ Busy is an understatement, if you’re anything like me places that are too busy and crowded stress me out. When Toby is running around, weaving, ducking and darting in between people I ended up losing my cool because of the panicking feeling that I am going to lose sight of him. Reins or buggies are a must. Toby as I’m sure like any other four-year old hasn’t been in a pram for a really long time and if I tried to put reins on him he would lose his tiny mind. We found that you can rent a car looking buggy from every park and they honestly saved our lives. He loved them because he thought they were toy cars and for us it meant we could strap him in and push him around which meant we knew where he was all the time but also meant we could get places quicker than his excruciating walking pace. They also give you a place to dump all the crap you will inevitably end up with. The only trouble is these are around $15 per day, and we got one every day. That adds up. So, if you can take an alternative with you, you’d save yourself a bob or two!
8/ Refillable drinks! Something we discovered way too late in the game. It was at least day 8 before we cottoned on these $20 miracles. You buy a refillable cup on your first day in the parks for around $20-$25, there are refill stations all over the parks that are unlimited, and you can fill up with a million different options all day. Each day that you take your cup back to use again you are charged $3 for the reuse, they really are a saving grace in that heat with all the walking. You can take drinks in with you but who wants a bottle of boiled water when you’re absolutely melting, not me.
9/ Split. It. Up. The parks are exhausting for adults let alone children. They’re over stimulating, there’s a lot of walking, a lot of waiting, you’ve all probably still got jet lag, it’s boiling hot and unless you take some down time it can just be a total disaster. If you have the unlimited passes, go for half a day and then go back to your villa or hotel for a swim and some wind down time. You can always go back another day. Even if you are only planning to visit magic kingdom, I would suggest buying a two-day ticket and splitting the days to get the most enjoyment out of the experience.
10/ Fast Pass & Apps – another crucial must have. Once you have purchased your park tickets online you can download the Disney App and book your fast passes online up to 60 days in advance. You get 3 fast passes per day, so have a research into which shows, rides or meet and greets your child would like to do the most and book them. Don’t underestimate how far in advance people book these things, Disney fanatics are crazy. I would suggest booking one of each to ensure you have experienced a little of everything in case everything else is booked up or the wait time is insane. You can also use the app while you’re in the park to keep checking on the current wait times and strike while the iron is hot. If there’s a ride you want to go on and the wait time is 20 minutes you know you’re busting a gut running across that park and getting on there while you can. If something has a wait time of three hours you can go for some lunch and check back later. You can also book restaurant’s in advance on there too, this is something I would strongly recommend because you can bet your bottom dollar (how’s that for authenticity) that they’ll all be fully booked for lunch and dinner when you get there and you’ll end up like me in a ridiculously long que in Starbucks at 8pm begging a woman to let you have the last pot of boiled eggs because your child has eaten nothing but ice-cream and candy floss all day.
11/ Photo Pass. This is part of the App and it’s great. One thing I hated about Disney the first time was how everything was such a money-making scheme while they bang on about creating magical memories in one breath they’re robbing you blind in the other. So, this relatively new feature is something I did like. There are dozens of professional photographer’s dotted around the park and loads of photo opportunities whether it be walking down the boulevard at Hollywood Studios or the meet and greets at Magic Kingdom, having a professional who can capture the moment for you and that you can just tap your Disney card onto their tablet and have the photographs instantly appear on your app is something I can get on board with. There’s a positive for you.
11/ The food is biz. There’s nothing else I can tell you other than to expect the taste of disappointment. You can’t find much else other than your stereotypical shit quality fries, burgers, chicken nuggets. You’re going to gain approximately 10 lbs there’s nothing you can do about it except embrace it. And there’s so many amazing restaurant’s and food places in Orlando outside of the parks, so you just have to slum it while you’re in there. One thing that most people don’t know though is you can take food and drinks into the park. I wouldn’t recommend taking a full-on picnic because for one the heat will spoil most things, and for two you don’t want to be lugging around that weight. But do take snacks to help you through the tantrums and the ques – breadsticks, fruit, crisps, cereal bars.
12/ Relax and try to embrace it. There is a lot to do and a lot to see, chances are you won’t see everything in one trip but don’t stress yourself and your children out trying to. Let them lead and if you don’t get the reaction you wanted, don’t be disheartened, try something else.
I have written this post as honestly as possible, I wanted it to be something I wish I’d have come across before I went. I think it’s important to go there with an open mindset. Stepping off that boat/train and expecting a magical stress-free day with no preparation from morning until night just isn’t realistic. I have tried to feature this post solely around Disney’s Magic Kingdom as this is where people tend to have their hearts set on visiting although I have touched on some of the others as well and if anyone has any questions about the other parks, I’d be happy to help if I can. Of course, I’m no expert, I can only advise based on our experience, but I’d like to hope it is helpful to some.