I’ve always thought of Disney World as a parenting right of passage. Just an unavoidable box to check and you’re gonna do it whether you like it or not. Sorta like performing the Hajj. A pilgrimage that lasts six days, and all able bodied persons who can afford it are expected to go at least once in their lives. As our girls grew older the question was never if, but when are you taking them to Disney World. It’s asked with the same ‘it’s just one of those things’ inflection as “What’s your favorite color?”, or “Would you rather be shot or stabbed to death?”
Our thought was that we were legally required to go once and then we’re off the hook. Our kids can never grow up and throw “You never even took us to Disney World!” in our faces. Which is pretty much what everything boils down to anyway, right? My parenting strategy is to give them as little motivation to put me in a nursing home as possible. “BUT I TOOK YOU TO DISNEY WORLD!” I’ll yell as the orderly straps me to the gurney and wheels me into the old folks’ home. At least that might give them some pause as they fight over my Great Grandmother’s china.
Now that we’re back everyone is asking me how it was. Tips, tricks, what would we do differently? Was it better or worse than what we thought? Apparently a lot of parents are in the same boat I was a year and a half ago when I started planning this trip. Overwhelmed, apprehensive, terrified.
Let me put it this way. Over the summer we took a family vacation to the beach. There was literally not a single minute of planning involved. I may have bought a new bottle of sun block. The five of us shared one small suitcase and I threw in some swim toys and snacks for the drive right before we left. No schedule, sleep in until we felt like waking up, walk the five steps from the beach to the condo to take a nap if anyone got grouchy. It doesn’t get easier than that, but even this most basic level of vacation with three little kids was exhausting. My job was to do nothing but sit on the beach with a book and a beer and somehow you throw a few kids into the mix and suddenly even that becomes work.
So you can imagine how a trip that took a year and a half to plan unfolded. Dining reservations were made six months in advance. Endless trips to the Disney store to find the perfect little princess shirts for each day. Backpacks filled with carefully planned out plane activities. Hundreds of hours scouring tips on Pinterest. Tickets, magic bands, rain gear, princess dresses, autograph books, glow sticks, water bottles, an entire drawer of underwear just in case. My neighbor (whose family went with us) and I had no less than five meetings to finalize our grocery order. How much food nine people will eat in six days was anyone’s guess.
All the while keeping it a secret from our kids; I wanted to give them the surprise of their little lives when we woke them up an hour before we left for the airport to tell them their dream of visiting live princesses was coming true. I constantly fantasized about how excited they were going to be as I was in the stressful throes of planning. Would they cry with joy? Run to me with open arms and proclaim my parenting wonder? Their reaction would make it all worthwhile.
And they didn’t disappoint – just look at the joy in their faces behind those cold, dead stares.
But despite the eons of planning, I promised myself that I would just go with the flow. It was my mantra, one which I closed my eyes and whispered over and over as we accelerated down the runway. Sure, we had every day planned to the nanosecond, and this trip cost enough to send a small country to college, but I was just going to let it go and have fun no matter what.
If my kids threw a tantrum and I would smile and skip back with them to the hotel so they could take a nap. Too scared to ride a ride, even though my neighbor and I stayed up until midnight to reserve the fast passes exactly two months out and coordinated them using no less than five criterion? No big D. Let’s go get some ice cream and wait for everyone else.
“It’s just like a little train,” I said to my 5-year-old in I held her sweaty little hand in line for Space Mountain. “Just a nice train that takes you for a zippy little ride. It’s really fun!”
“Is it dark in there Mom?” “Well, maybe a little,” I reassured my 6-year-old. “But there will be pretty lights flashing every once in a while. Sort of like Christmas!”
“Mom? Is this ride scary? Why can’t Lila and Hadley go on it with us?”
“No! It’s just like a little car that goes round and round. It starts out a little fast but it’s super fun!”
“Not like yesterday when you lied to us about that space thing?”
“Mom? Is this a roller coaster?”
“No! It’s a magical Snow White adventure! You like Snow White, right?”
“Okay! Let’s go!”
Here’s one last tip – rent a stroller. We picked the week we did because the week after Thanksgiving was supposed to be one of the less trafficked times. I have nothing to compare it to, but all I know is that there was an assload of people. AN ASSLOAD I SAY! Having a stroller was key, and not because it gave the kids a break from walking when they got tired.
No, the stroller is how we battled the crowd to get from point A to front-row spot for the parade lickity split. I was the scout, the navigator – booking it to here or there. Every few minutes I heard a man behind me yell, “Hey buddy watch out!” or a woman scream, “Ouch – my ankle!” and I knew that Nick was still back there, safely forging ahead with our kids.
I just love family togetherness.