We’ve all been there: enjoying a perfectly pleasant Disney day when, out of nowhere: BAM! Meltdown city. You watch, feeling helpless as your son freaks out because Mickey’s Star Traders didn’t have the exact Buzz Lightyear t-shirt he wanted. (How oddly specific …)
That was me. Starring in horror as he threw his little three-year-old body on the floor, and I tried to figure out where things went wrong and, more importantly, how to disarm my little whine-bomb.
Yes, taking the kids to Walt Disney World is a challenge, but with some advance planning, you can head off some of the most common meltdowns before they start. Here’s how:
For the love of Pluto, get your tickets before you get down to Orlando! If you’re not purchasing your tickets as part of a Magic Your Way Package, have them delivered to your home well in advance of the trip. But never, never, never plan to buy them when you get there.
Kids need a lot of stuff. More stuff that I ever thought possible until I had one. Sunscreen. Toys. Wipes. Juice boxes. Clean socks. Those tickets you made sure to buy in advance. I mean the list never ends. Are you that mom who’s frantically throwing things in a backpack or bag as her kids whine at her from the door, ready to hit the road? Don’t be that mom.
Make a list of everything you need. Check it twice. And then pack it. Preferably at night, after the kids have gone to bed, but in the morning, before they wake up also works. Just make sure you pack it before they’re impatiently chanting at you from the doorway. That’s really obnoxious. And it starts the day off on the wrong foot—for them and for you.
Beat the Heat (Before It Beats You)
It is summertime, and the heat index is crazy high, but Orlando can be unbearably hot even in January. Subvert a meltdown before it starts by including some air-conditioned attractions in your touring strategy so you can cool down those precious little noggins without cooling down the fun. To give you a head start, here are my favorite cool-down spots in each of WDW’s four Parks:
1. Animal Kingdom: It’s Tough to Be a Bug
2. Epcot: The Seas with Nemo and Friends
3. Hollywood Studios: The Great Movie Ride or MuppetVision 3D
4. Magic Kingdom: Hall of Presidents
There are, of course, more attractions with cool, indoor queues (Editors note - the new Dumbo queue play area seems to be a perfect place to spend time!). Know them and learn to love them. Tell your kids about them before you get on the plane. Build it up. You want them to want to ride Spaceship Earth. Why? Because it’ll make convincing them to get out of the heat a little easier.
Another great tip? Take a break in the middle of the day. This timeless suggestion has helped many families (including mine) make it through Disney vacations. Head back to the hotel, or schedule a table-service sit-down meal midday so that very little ones can nap and toddlers or older kids can rest.
Know the Limits
All of this advance planning is meaningless if you don’t know—and respect—your little ones’ limits. Even if you let them sleep in, keep them out of the sun, and keep them plied with snacks and drinks; your kids can’t go all day. (Neither can I, so I totally get it.)
Disney is exciting, and it’s easy to get carried away. But do your best to keep the tempo reasonable and give them time to take it all in. Talk to them—what do they think of that ride/character/experience? There’s a lot going on at Disney World, and their little brains need time (and permission) to process it all, otherwise they’ll be overwhelmed and overtired before you are two rides into Fantasyland.
Above all, when they tell you it’s time to stop, stop. Knowing their limits and listening closely enough to know when they’re reaching them is the best advice anyone can give you.
Expect Defeat … and Have Fun
You can’t control everything. It’s pointless to try. And keeping yourself on high alert is just going to stress you out. And you know what causes more meltdowns than heat, lines and hunger combined? A stressed out mommy or daddy. I don’t have to tell you how perceptive our children are; they are just as impacted by our moods as we are by theirs.
Control what you can, and let go of the rest. Have fun with your kids. Get Goofy, hug Mickey and try on a few silly hats. In short, enjoy your vacation and your little ones. They won’t be young forever, and this is, after all, a vacation.
So, yes, plan, plan, plan … but then let go and make those memories!!
About the author: Elisabeth McGuirk is a full-time mommy and part-time Disney enthusiast living near Johnson City, N.C. She works on MickeyFix.com, helping fellow Disney fans find all of the Disney stuff they didn’t know they needed. Find your Mickey Fix on twitter @mickeyfix.