Earlier this year, my husband and I planned a trip to visit family for a long weekend. The caveat was my daughter and I would be traveling separately as he would be flying in from a business trip.
The day before he was set to leave for his work trip, I was going over our travel plans when he surprised me with something equal parts anxiety-inducing and absolutely incredible: we were going to Disney World. But, we weren’t going to Disney next year, or even in six months; we were going in FIVE DAYS. The family visit was just a smoke and mirrors trick to get me to block off the days on the calendar.
Immediate panic ensued. People spend months, and sometimes even years, planning their trips to Disney. There was so much to do! Did I need to talk to a special travel agent? What things are not-to-be-missed inside the parks? Should I make an itinerary? Did we need matching shirts? I was spiraling out of control within minutes of getting the news.
I took a deep breath and started to do some research. The last time I went to Disney was 15 years prior. All of my knowledge was based on other people’s Instagram feeds and horror stories of how wrong things went when they didn’t take the time to plan. No stress, right? It’s only Disney. How hard could it be?
The answer? Easy as pie.
My husband made reservations at an off-property hotel that had amazing accommodations, including a two-bedroom, condo-style room and a gigantic swimming pool. The cost of staying off-property was a fraction of what we would have paid staying in an on-property resort, and it was only a 20-minute drive to the parks.
We were only in Orlando from Friday to Monday, so we had two days to hit the parks. Seeing that we aren’t crazy people and know the limitations of our three year old, we chose to visit two parks: Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. This was based primarily on her main interests in Minnie Mouse and animals.
By only going to two parks, it immediately cut the stress in half because I didn’t need to think about Epcot or Hollywood Studios. It also meant we could spend the entire day at one place and not have to be on a time crunch to utilize a park hopper ticket.
It seems as if the pinnacle of parenting is planning the ultimate trip to Disney. All the details have to be there. There has to be an element of surprise. You have to share all of these things on social media but #donttellthekids.
The reality is that you don’t have to do any of that; instead, take my advice for a more relaxed trip:
- We didn’t get matching shirts. Can we all please remember that vinyl doesn’t breathe very well in the heat and sun?
- Since we were staying off-property, and it was too close to the departure date, we didn’t need to worry about getting fancy MagicBands. We just used the cards they gave us at the park entrance.
- Each park ticket comes with three FastPass+ reservations for shortened lines to rides and attractions in the parks. I went online and scheduled our FastPasses for things I knew our daughter was going to love and that traditionally have longer lines, like the Safari experience at Animal Kingdom. Planning the FastPasses close together in the morning was smart because after we used our three reservations, we had access to get more.
- Five days out made it nearly impossible to book any kind of character dining experience during normal mealtimes. As it turns out, our daughter was not at all excited about meeting the characters. Our park time was more enjoyable because we weren’t stressed out about schedules due to reservations. We ate when we were hungry, even if it meant grabbing a Mickey ice cream and enjoying it while walking around.
- Speaking of food, we didn’t bother getting a meal plan. We ate breakfast at the hotel before heading to the parks and packed snacks to have throughout the day. We ate lunch at the parks both days and also splurged on some treats.
- The only have-to item we really wanted was the surprise. This trip was a complete surprise for our daughter. She didn’t completely understand where we were until we saw Cinderella’s castle while riding the ferry to Magic Kingdom. She had no idea what to expect on the other side because we never told her. Watching her experience the magic of Disney without any expectations made the trip even more incredible, and honestly, that much easier on us.