Auntie Tip: Emotional Highs and Lows

Up, down, and watch out signs in Alice's Curious Labyrinth in Disneyland ParisWalt Disney World is the most magical place on earth. You and your family will make some of your most precious memories there. There will be smiles and laughter, but there will also be tears, and sometimes tantrums. And I’m not just talking about the kids.

You see, the magic comes with a price. A financial price certainly, but also the toll that comes with abandoning routine. Your meals, sleep patterns, and miles walked in a day may vary dramatically from your everyday life. You may be spending a lot more time with friends and family members than usual, which can be wonderful, but can also diminish any sense of privacy you usually have. Add in issues like sickness or bad weather and your trip can quickly go off the rails.

On the same wonderful trip during which my nephew celebrated his first birthday, I have a memory of the terror on my 18-month-old niece’s face when meeting the characters for the first time. We’ve seen the kids wake up Tinker Bell, get first haircuts, and ride their favorite attractions over and over, but we’ve also strapped screaming children into strollers and had more bathroom accidents than I could count. (Not to mention the trip when one of the kids was terrified of automatic flushing toilets.) It’s times like those when you wonder, “Why do people take kids to these places?”

It’s not just the kids, though. We adults have certainly had our share of crabby moments, exacerbated by sick kids, hunger, cold weather, conflicting priorities, and lack of alone time. Sometimes you wonder if it’s worth it.

But it is. I wouldn’t give up all those wonderful memories for anything, and I’m still eager for more, even knowing that some emotional lows will accompany them. This November the whole clan is heading to Disneyland, and we adults will be evenly matched for the first time: seven adults and seven kids aged seven and under (totally violating my preferred adult-child ratio). It’s going to be insane, but there are things we can do to reduce (although never eliminate) the challenges.

I know I’m going to need to take some breaks from the family and go off on my own for a little while. I’m an introvert; this is necessary for my mental health. We’ll consider things like nap times and try to not completely obliterate the kids’ sleeping schedule. That means although it’s less than ideal for park touring, we might not be there at opening every single morning. (The ideal thing is to be there at opening, leave around lunch for naps, and then come back late afternoon, but we never have the discipline to make ourselves leave the park.) We will pack for a wide range of weather possibilities, because being too cold (or paying $60 for a sweatshirt) never put anyone in a good mood. We will take time for some of the simple things, like playgrounds, because sometimes the kids need to run around and make their own fun rather than experience a preprogrammed activity. We will take regular bathroom breaks (it’s shocking how easy it is to forget this). Your family may have additional preventative measures you can take to keep the emotional lows to a minimum.

So while I could easily make a list of our top 10 worst moments in Walt Disney World, I could just as easily make a list of our top 100 best moments. And that’s why I still love Walt Disney World.

Auntie Tip: There Is No Best Restaurant in Walt Disney World

I follow a lot of Disney-related podcasts and blogs, and whenever the hosts answer listener or reader questions, someone almost always asks, “What’s the best restaurant in Walt Disney World?” or “Which restaurant should I choose for my birthday/anniversary/proposal/celebration meal?” Although the hosts helpfully offer suggestions, I think these are questions without good answers, because so much depends on you.

What food do you like or dislike? Do you want to feel like you’re in Walt Disney World or somewhere else entirely? Does a fancy atmosphere make you feel pampered or intimidated? Do you like interacting with characters or do they annoy you? Do you like shows or other entertainment during your meal, or does that distract you from the real star: the food? What’s your budget? How long do you want your meal to take?

There is no definitive best restaurant in Walt Disney World, but there might be a few that are best for you. To find out which those are, use the resources available to you online and in guidebooks. AllEars.Net has menus with prices from every restaurant in Walt Disney World, so you can make sure the food selections and costs meet your preferences. If there’s a particular food item you’re looking for, you can use the tool on the DIS dining page. You can get a sense of the ambiance by looking at restaurant photos on sites like AllEars.Net or using Google Images. Restaurant reviews are available on many sites, including AllEars.Net, DIS Boards, and The Disney Food Blog.

Vacationearing is all about engineering your vacation around what’s important to you, and that goes for restaurant decisions too.

P.S. This is what’s important to me:

Dessert sampler from Tony's Town Square in Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney WorldChocolate dessert at Coral Reef Restaurant in Epcot Future World, Walt Disney World

Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with Bailey's Irish Cream Ganache from Ireland booth at Epcot Food & Wine Festival 2010, Walt Disney WorldChocolate mousse from Le Cellier Steakhouse in Canada pavilion, Epcot, Walt Disney World


Auntie Tip: Becoming Those People Who Leash Their Children

Pinocchio with a kid on a leash at Walt Disney World

I love the juxtaposition of Pinocchio (who's got no strings) and a leashed child. (This is a random kid, not one of my nieces and nephews.)

I always thought the idea of putting a leash on your kid was ridiculous. And then we took my 18-month-old niece to Walt Disney World. It was on that trip that we lost her briefly in Once Upon a Toy in Downtown Disney (as I mentioned in one of my things to bring to Disney posts). And then I was glad that my sister had brought along a cute puppy backpack that, yes, had a leash attached. We didn’t use it extensively, but it was helpful when my niece really wanted to walk.

On later trips, when the number of children had multiplied, we still used the leashed backpacks but even less often. The bigger ones wouldn’t wear the backpack, and when the younger ones were, the big kids wanted to “walk” them. (We had to make a rule that only a grown-up could hold the leash.) So, we’re mostly back to strollers, but on our trip to Disneyland next November, we’ll be up to seven kids aged one to seven, and I suspect we’ll be taking at least one leashed backpack along.

So are you one of those people who leash their children?

Auntie Tip: Breakfast Beverages on the Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan

Until the last year or so, the Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan included two beverages  with breakfast, to make up for the lack of dessert for that meal. (Lunch and dinner meal credits include an entree, drink, and dessert.) Now, you only get one beverage with breakfast, but you do get a refillable mug for use in your resort.

Resort refillable travel mugs from Walt Disney World

How useful this mug is depends on how you vacation. If you spend a lot of time at the hotel pool, it’s invaluable. It’s great to be able to get something cold to drink any time of day. If you spend all day every day in the parks (like me, usually), it’s not as useful.

Still, I’ve found that on certain trips, I love the refillable mugs. If I’m with my family and we have strollers along, I like to get my morning coffee or hot chocolate in the travel mug and take it along. It’s especially nice to have on cooler mornings while we’re waiting for the bus. Then, with my dining plan breakfast credit, I get a bottle of water to drink in the parks later in the day. This saves a little time and money not having to buy one later, and having it with at the start of the day helps me remember to stay hydrated.

The reason I do this only when we have a stroller along is that I don’t want to be stuck carrying the travel mug all day long. I only bring a small drawstring backpack into the parks, and the mug wouldn’t fit comfortably in there, and I’d have to go to a bathroom to wash and dry it first.

So, I only bring a mug into the parks if I can throw it in the bottom of a stroller. On grown-ups-only trips, the mugs usually stay in the room unused. That’s OK, though, because when I get home, I love using my Disney travel mugs to have a little magic every morning.

How do you use the refillable mugs on your trips?

Auntie Tip: Traveling with Large or Odd-Number Groups

I am the youngest of three children. Growing up that meant that someone would have to sleep on the floor whenever we stayed in a hotel room, and we’d have to add a chair to the end of the table if we sat in a booth at a restaurant. In theme parks, it meant that my dad was often in a row by himself. (We figured he was the toughest; he could handle it.) Now that we’re older and my siblings are married with kids, our numbers have grown and figuring out who sits with whom has become more complicated. We also take trips with extended family, and remembering how many of us we have at any one time can be difficult. Here are a few tips from this aunt’s perspective on traveling to Walt Disney World with large or odd numbers.

1. Consider a variety of lodging options.

I love staying on Disney property, and our budget usually places us in a value resort. Rooms in those resorts are limited to four people age three and older, plus a child under three in a crib or Pack ‘n’ Play. If you choose a family suite at All-Star Music Resort, you can fit six in a room. We’ve never done that because it’s actually less expensive to get two rooms than a suite (plus you get a second bathroom), but it may be a good option for your family. There will also be suites in the new Art of Animation resort opening next May.

If a moderate or deluxe hotel is in budget, many of those hotels accommodate five or six people in a room. A Disney Vacation Club villa accommodates even more, up to twelve people in some cases.

An off-property alternative for larger groups is renting a vacation home from a company like All-Star Vacation Homes. We did this on one trip, and it was great having a kitchen and plenty of space. The downside is that you need a rental car (or cars), and if you’re sharing a car, it gives less flexibility to split up and come and go as you please.

This is just the briefest of overviews of lodging options, so I highly recommend you refer to a guidebook like The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World or websites like AllEars.Net to help you choose the best option for your group.

2. Decide who’s riding with whom as soon as you get in line for each attraction.

Some attractions, like Expedition Everest, accommodate two and only two people per row. Others, like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, can comfortably accommodate two adults plus a small child or two. It will save time and reduce confusion if you figure out when you get in a queue how many can fit in each row and who will sit with whom. If you’re unfamiliar with the attraction and can’t see the loading area when you enter the queue, you can ask a cast member or refer to a guidebook. Some attractions also have a ride vehicle out front so you can see how you’ll fit.

You will also need to know the total number of people you have in your party, because a cast member will ask you when you get to the front of the queue. This may seem like a simple thing to know, but when you have a group of 15+, and you’re constantly splitting up and regrouping, it can be difficult to keep track. Help keep the queue moving by being ready for the question.

3. Take advantage of FASTPASS.

FASTPASS is great for all guests, but it can be especially helpful when you have a large group with lots of kids who aren’t big on standing in line. Getting FASTPASSes can be time-consuming, however, if each member of your group gets their own. What we like to do instead is to give all of our tickets to one (trustworthy) person who runs and gets FASTPASSes for all of us. You should also make sure to note at what time you can get another FASTPASS and send a runner to get the next set of passes as soon as you can.

4. Coordinate bathroom breaks.

When you’re traveling with a lot of small children, bathroom emergencies are inevitable, but you can reduce them by making sure you take regular bathroom breaks. My rule is that when we stop for one person to go, everyone has to try to go. Otherwise you spend the whole day stopping at the bathroom for just one child at a time.

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Does anyone have any other tips for traveling with large or odd-number groups?