Growing up in Southern California, going to Disneyland was an annual event for my family. My father received discount tickets for the whole family so we could go the last weekend of every January. Since about the time I became somewhat aware of the world around me, I was fully convinced that going to Disneyland at the same time as my birthday meant that the Park and I had a special connection.
I became a fan of the Walt Disney Company from a very early age. Just after turning 22, I went to work at Disneyland, where I stayed for just over a year. I was treated to a number of special experiences most guests never get to enjoy. Standing on the top of the Matterhorn. Dining at the elusive Club 33. Getting a personal tour of the Indiana Jones Adventure by one of the Imagineer’s who built it. Hanging out with folks who worked side-by-side with Walt himself. Getting to see the magic, first-hand and from behind the scenes, almost on a daily basis.
Having grown up going there so often, I was very eager to share the experience of going to a Disney park as the parent. I have been back to Disneyland several times over the years, but only once since moving to Texas in 2008. My daughter did not join me on that trip. When my chance came…it would not be to Disneyland. We would be going to Walt Disney World, and we would both be going together for the very first time.
An opportunity presented itself roughly two years earlier to go to Walt Disney World, but the timing was not right. I had already purchased my ticket to SXSW Interactive and that was the exact time I would have had to take off in order to make the trip with my family work. So we put it on the calendar to go over Spring Break in 2014.
What follows is one unique observation from our trip. Often times when I am planning a trip to somewhere I’ve never been before, I like to ask friends (and sometimes strangers) what they would do different the next time they go. I did this in my planning for Walt Disney World and I think it gave me some valuable insight prior to taking the trip. So, allow me to give you some personal thoughts, now that I have gone…and returned.
Never underestimate the time you have to spend there. You will always need/want more.
Here’s what we did: Our party of eight (eventually ten) arrived on a Saturday, secured our condo (just outside the resort), unpacked, checked out the pool, ate dinner and turned in at a reasonable time so we could all be ready for the “rope drop” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom the following morning. Our returning flight left early Friday morning and we had purchased five-day passes (Originally, we intended to only get four-day park hopper passes, but at the time we obtained our tickets, we could upgrade to five-day passes for no additional charge. Ha! Gotcha!). We told ourselves that we would only go all five days if we felt like we had the energy. Who were we kidding. You don’t travel 1,500 miles, spend money on a rental car you’re going to pay to park, a condo you plan to only sleep in and NOT go all five days!
That was out first big mistake.
Here’s what I would/will do different next time: Easy! Extend the trip by two days. After taking a look at what we planned and how it actually unfolded I have concluded that a few extra “buffer” days will save any family from potential burnout, exhaustion and fatigue. Giving yourself some “down days” will recharge your batteries, rest your feet and grant you what you need to make it through the final day with (hopefully) energy to spare.
My ideal seven+ day (really nine days if you include travel days before and after) WDW trip looks like this:
Day 1 – Where you start doesn’t really matter. Ideally you want to avoid the busiest days of the week, which is why we started our five days on a Sunday. That being said, if you’re going to spend a whole seven days on the resort, perhaps it’s best to plan one of your off days to be one of the busiest days (Just a suggestion).
We chose Animal Kingdom to start because it was the first park to open that day (8AM instead of 9AM like the three other parks). I suggest you do your homework. Start wherever you like, just as long as you seriously consider that afternoon nap time when all the parks are at their fullest capacity, temperatures are the highest and lines are the longest.
The first day we went from 8AM to 1PM at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We then left, took a nap at the condo (NAPS were a required activity and the parents told the kids we could not return to the Park unless everyone actually slept – It worked like a charm!). We returned to Disney’s Hollywood Studio between 4-5PM. We stayed until the last showing of Fantasmic and then returned to the condo. It’s also a good idea to end the first day at a park that closes a little early. Remember, this is a vacation, not a military operation. Try and enjoy yourself.
Day 2 – Again, where you go is not as important. Realize that you may want to start a little later if you stayed up late the night before, but don’t start too late! Remember, you have a nap coming and you want to take advantage of the smaller crowds whenever possible. This is also a good day/night to hit it hard at the Magic Kingdom. Stay until they kick you out, because tomorrow is a…
Day 3 – BREAK! Soak in the pool. Go to the spa. Check out Downtown Disney or Celebration or just rest and watch Netflix videos. Plug in your laptop, reply to emails on your iPad, get some work done OR you could just read a book! Whatever you do, rest.
Day 4 – This could be another good day to take it easy inside the park. Check out Epcot’s World Showcase, or spend half a day at one of the water parks. If you have a little one who loves to see the characters, make part of this day dedicated to getting autographs and photos. A character breakfast or lunch is a great idea if you have not already done this by now.
Day 5 & 6 – These days are interchangeable. I have played it in my mind both ways. Depending on how you are feeling, you may need to take another break now so you can push through the last two days. You can always rest when you get home, right?
You decide – If you’re feeling tired, don’t push it. If you have the energy, this is a good opportunity to spend it and then rest on the 6th day. If you have very little children or grandparents over 60, I suggest taking it easy on Day 6.
Day 7 – Give it all you’ve got! At this point, you have one chance left to hit the highlights one more time. Grab the photo moments you missed before or just relax knowing you’ve done all you wanted and today is just a freebie!
Well, that’s it. We’re planning another trip back as soon as possible. I plan to try this out personally and report back to you here, on TravelingDad.com, just how it goes. If you want to try this plan or let me in on your master plan for enjoying WDW, I’d very much like to know about it. Reach me on Twitter or comment below!