Fodor's Walt Disney World with Kids (2015)
When it comes to visiting Walt Disney World, there are plenty of obvious decisions you’ll need to make in advance: when you’ll go, how long you’ll stay, which hotel you’ll choose, and how much you plan to spend. But there are also some less obvious things to consider, such as where you’ll put your focus and what attitude you’ll bring to the trip. Our checklist will help you plan the perfect vacation for your particular family.
At Disney, timing is everything, and savvy travelers must understand the difference between the on-season and off-season. You also need to consider which money- and time-saving tips are worth it, and which ones are just too much hassle for the payoff. Finally, we will learn how to best use that bewildering bevy of high-tech planning tools that Disney now offers visitors.
It may seems like a lot of preplanning: And it is true that the advent of programs such as the Disney Dining Plan, FastPass+, and MyMagic+ means that more and more decisions need to be made before you leave home. You may even fear that all spontaneity is going out the window and your so-called vacation is feeling more like a part-time job. But, actually, by making these decisions now, you’re saving yourself a lot of lines, hassles, and headaches down the road, and once you get into the parks you will be able to relax and focus on family fun.
What Time of Year Should We Visit?
Crowd levels at Walt Disney World vary seasonally, so one of the most important decisions you’ll make is deciding when to go.
To check projected hours of operation during the weeks you’re considering, visit www.disneyworld.com. Park hours generally remain as projected but can change; to be safe, revisit the site a couple of weeks before you leave home to reconfirm.
Spring is a great time to visit. Except around spring break and Easter, crowds are manageable—not as sparse as in fall, but smaller than in summer. Although park hours don’t run as late as they do in summer, they’re generally longer than in either fall or winter. The weather is sublime, with highs in the 70s, lows in the 60s, and less rainfall than in any other season.
The good news about summer is that everything is open and operational and the parks run very long hours. The bad news is that it’s hot and crowded—so crowded that the wait for many rides can be as long as 90 minutes.
If you have preschoolers, babies, or seniors in your party, avoid summers like the plague. But if the schedules of school-aged kids dictate that you must visit in the summer, the first two weeks of June and the last two weeks of August are your best bets.
Fall has lighter crowds than summer, and the weather is often great, but the season does have some disadvantages, too. You have to work around the fact that older children are in school, and the parks run on shorter hours. The Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood may close as early as 5 pm, although Epcot always remains open later. Earlier closings mean that some of the special evening presentations, such as the evening parade in the Magic Kingdom, are scheduled only on weekends.
Fall is the season for two of Walt Disney World’s most popular events: Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom (with selected dates beginning just after Labor Day) and the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. These events are doing exactly what Disney designed them to do—drawing people in during slower times. The Food & Wine Festival is open to all guests, but the Halloween Party requires a separate ticket. Consult www.disneyworld.com for dates and prices and be aware that October 31 always sells out first.
If you want to go to the Halloween parties, great. The fun is worth the extra effort. But even if you don’t, be aware of the dates. The Magic Kingdom closes early on evenings the parties are scheduled to run, so you can’t go there without a ticket to the event, but with so much of the crowd clustered in the Magic Kingdom, it’s the perfect time to visit the other parks.
Late summer and early fall make up hurricane season in Florida, so there is some risk that you’ll schedule your trip for the exact week that a hurricane pounds the coast. Fortunately, Orlando is an hour inland, meaning that coastal storms usually yield only rain. And, should worse come to worst, Disney has “ride out” plans to ensure your safety. Furthermore, there are more rainy days in summer than in the fall, so, in general, the advantages of autumn touring far outweigh the disadvantages.
Time-Saving Tip The size of the crowds corresponds with the school schedule. Any time kids are out of school (i.e., summers, spring break, and major holidays) is the “on-season.” Any time children are traditionally in school is the “off-season.”
Winter is a mixed bag. The absolute worst times to visit are holidays. Christmas and New Year’s can pull in as many as 90,000 visitors per day, and even extended hours can’t compensate for crowds of this size. But if you avoid the holiday weeks, winter can be ideal. With the exception of the weekends around the main winter holidays (Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day), January and February aren’t crowded—and they’re pleasantly cool. The first two weeks of December, when the Christmas decorations are already up but the crowds have not yet arrived, are a wonderful option. The parks run the same shortened hours in winter as in fall, but because the crowds are so much lighter, you’ll still have time to see everything you want.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, held each year on several evenings throughout December, is wildly popular. If you want to attend the party, get tickets early—they sell out months in advance. Dates for each year’s parties are listed on www.disneyworld.com.
Visiting in the Off-Season
Some parents have written to say that they like taking the kids to Orlando during the off-season, but that they’ve heard this time of year is when Disney is most apt to close attractions for refurbishing. It’s a valid point, but I still believe it’s better to tour during the off-season. Here’s why: During a recent visit in January, the most popular Magic Kingdom attractions, such as Splash Mountain, were posting wait times as short as 20 minutes, about a third of what they normally are, so even taking closings into account, you’ll still ride more and wait less during the off-season. If your kids have their hearts set on a certain attraction, you can avoid last-minute disappointments by checking www.disneyworld.com to see what’s scheduled to be closed during your trip.
However, water babies should take note: Pools may be closed for refurbishing in January and February. Generally, only one water park is open at a time in winter, and both may shut down if the temperature dips below 55°F.
How Long Should We Stay?
It will take at least four days for a family to tour the major parks. If you also want to visit the water parks and Downtown Disney, make that five days. Six days are best for families who’d like to work in sporting options like boating or golf or those who would like to tour at a more leisurely pace.
If you plan on visiting other area attractions, such as SeaWorld or Universal Orlando, allow a week.
Certain annual events—most notably the marathon in January, College Week in April, Gay Day in June, and various press events throughout the year—bring large groups into the parks. Check the Disney World website to see what events might be taking place or what large groups may be visiting before you book so you’ll know what to expect.
Should We Take the Kids out of School?
Even if you’re sold on the advantages of off-season touring, you may be reluctant to take your children out of school. But there are ways to highlight the educational aspects of a trip to Disney World. Work together with your child’s teacher to create a plan that keeps him from falling behind. Ideally, half of the make-up work should be done before you leave: The post-trip blues are bad enough without facing three hours of homework each night. Also, timing is everything. Don’t plan your trip for the week the school is administering exams or standardized testing.
Happily, visiting the parks can also be a learning experience of sorts, and Disney offers several programs for parents who want to enhance the learning value of their vacation.
In addition to the suggestions below, help your child create a project that’s related to the trip—perhaps something like a scrapbook. The mother of one first grader helped him design an “ABC” book before he left home, and he spent his week at Disney World collecting souvenirs for each page—Goofy’s autograph on the “G” page, a postcard of a Japanese pagoda on the “P” page, and so on. An older child might gather leaves from the various trees and shrubs that were imported to landscape the countries in the World Showcase. A young photographer could demonstrate her proficiency with various lighting techniques by photographing Cinderella Castle at early morning, high noon, sunset, and after dark.
You can also work on math. If a car containing six people departs from the Test Track loading area every 20 seconds, how many riders go through in an hour? A day? If the monorail averages 32 mph, how long does it take it to travel the 7 miles from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot? Once you get going on these sorts of questions, they’re addictive. Or give your kids a set amount of mythical money to spend, such as $1,000. Then let them keep track of expenses, deducting purchases from their starting total and making decisions about what they can and cannot afford on their budget.
The Behind the Seeds greenhouse tour in the Land is full of information on futuristic farming.
Marine biology is the theme of the Seas pavilion.
The World Showcase demonstrates the culture—including music, architecture, food, and history—of several foreign countries.
Animal Kingdom Projects
Rafiki’s Planet Watch is the park’s research-and-education hub, where kids can observe veterinary labs and watch interactive videos about endangered animals.
The Wilderness Explorer interactive experience—based on the movie Up—is tailor-made for kids 5 to 10. By showing their knowledge of facts about animals and their habitats, participants earn “badges” (actually stickers) from “troop leaders” (actually cast members) stationed at marked kiosks throughout the park. With 33 available badges, it’s unlikely you’ll get through them all in a single day, but the challenges are well designed and perfect for getting kids to both slow down and notice the animals. The sticker book is also a good souvenir to bring back to your child’s teacher.
It’s always fun to do a report on one of the animals you see on Kilimanjaro Safaris or along one of the exploration trails. Animal-crazy kids who are eight or older will get a lot out of the Wild Africa Trek, a three-hour tour that takes you behind the scenes.
Other Orlando Educational Programs
Disney World isn’t the only place in Orlando that can be educational. Consider the following:
SeaWorld: SeaWorld offers daily tours as well as weeklong classes and overnight programs in summer and during holidays. Visit www.seaworld.org for information on extended Adventure Camps. If your kids aren’t up for a full program or you’re visiting at a time when they’re not offered, it’s easy to work in one of SeaWorld’s behind-the-scenes tours, which run throughout the year.
Orlando Science Center: This impressive facility has oodles of hands-on exhibits and programs for kids of all ages. Something is happening all the time—especially in spring and summer when most of the camps are held—and the prices are reasonable. Admission to the center is $19 for adults, $17 for students and seniors, and $13 for kids ages 3 to 11. Classes are individually priced. To see what’s happening during your visit, call 888/672-4386 (888/OSC-4FUN) or 407/514-2000 or visit www.osc.org.
Kennedy Space Center: Orlando is only about an hour’s drive from the Kennedy Space Center, which can make for an easy day trip. Kids will enjoy seeing the rockets and the IMAX films about space exploration. The Shuttle Launch Experience takes place in a looming, six-story structure that looks like the real thing. It requires riders be 44 inches tall and is included in your general admission ticket. The two most recent additions to the Space Center are an interactive attraction called the Angry Birds Space Encounter based on the popular video game and the $100 million home of the space shuttle Atlantis. Needless to say, the Angry Birds game, which is included in the general admission, is especially popular with kids. Crew passes, which include a bus tour of the space center as well as the IMAX film, are $50 for adults and $40 for kids ages 3 to 11. A second day at the Astronaut Hall of Fame is also included. If your kids are really into space exploration, weeklong summer day camps begin at $295. Make reservations for programs or get details on classes, camps, and tours at www.kennedyspacecenter.com.
The Kennedy Space Center’s Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) is ideal for kids seven and up. The full-immersion experience includes riding in flight simulators, building and launching rockets, and playing crew in a mock-up of a shuttle mission. The half-day experience is $175 per person.
Should you buy a package? This is a toughie. There are advantages to package trips, most notably that if you play your cards right, you can save money. It’s also helpful to know up front exactly what your vacation will cost. Packages often require hefty prepayments, which are painful at the time, but at least you don’t return home with your credit card utterly maxed out. And with the mega-popular Disney Dining Plan package, there’s the convenience of having one card (or MagicBand) serve as your room key, theme-park ticket, and dining ticket. It eliminates the hassles of carrying cash and tracking how much you’re spending.
But package trips can have drawbacks. Like buying a fully loaded car off a dealer’s lot, you may find yourself paying for options you don’t want and don’t need. Unless you’re certain you’ll use most of the features contained in the package, you’ll probably end up losing money on the deal.
Disney Vacation Packages
By far the most popular packages are those offered by Disney. The basic Magic Your Way package includes a hotel room on Disney property and theme-park tickets. You can choose any resort in any price range as well as the ticket options that suit your family’s needs. Magic Your Way allows you to customize your package to the nth degree, fine-tuning the time of year, length of stay, resort, type of ticket, and type of dining (more on that below). The good news is, it gives you lots of options. The bad news is—it gives you lots of options.
Park Ticket Options
So how do you know what to choose? Let’s start with tickets. The rule of thumb is, if your kids are young or this is your first trip to Disney World, you’ll probably be spending most of your time in the four major theme parks, so choose a package with base tickets. If your kids are eight and up, consider upgrading to the Park Hopper Pass, which gives you the flexibility to move from one park to another in the course of the day. The more expensive premium and platinum options are really only helpful for families who’ve been to Disney World before and want to explore beyond the basic parks and those whose kids are old enough to enjoy the water parks, sporting options, tours, and Cirque du Soleil. For most families, either the base ticket or the base ticket with the Park Hopper Pass works fine.
How does the ticket type affect the cost of the trip?
Let’s look at a typical family of four and walk them through the process. If they’re traveling during the off-season—let’s say in October—a five-night package at a value resort with base tickets will cost them approximately $1,600. Pretty reasonable, huh? If they add the Park Hopper option to their tickets, the price will rise to $1,800.
How does the type of lodging affect the cost of the trip?
The resort category—from value to moderate to deluxe to deluxe villa—and the season also affect the price of a package. (Chapter 2 outlines the pluses and minuses of each on-site resort; for now, you just need to consider how much this choice affects costs.) For our family of four, that same package will cost them approximately $1,900 during peak season because the cost of accommodations (even at a value resort) is higher. Still pretty reasonable. But what if they upgrade their hotel? A stay at a deluxe hotel for five nights during the off-season will cost them approximately $3,300 (closer to $4,200 during peak season). So by making two changes—the type of resort and the time of year—our family has almost tripled its vacation price.
How do I make a final decision?
Going through the exercise above has probably done two things: given you sticker shock and overwhelmed you. Still, it’s a good introduction to the Disney vacation experience, which involves an almost staggering number of choices. Your best bet is to go to www.disneyworld.com, click on the pricing bar, then start tweaking, eliminating, or downgrading options, changing the dates of your visit, and so on, until you arrive at a price you can afford, or at least live with.
Before you finalize your plans, however, you also need to decide whether or not to add a dining plan, which ups the package price by from $100 to $130 a day for a family of four.
Money-Saving Tip During the economic downturn, Disney has been running specials more frequently, sometimes dropping the price of an on-site hotel room or including a free dining plan. The pricing examples in this chapter assume no specials are in play, but if you are lucky enough to snag one, the savings average 20%.
Travel-booking websites can offer genuine bargains, especially if you don’t plan to stay on Disney property. For deals online, check out the following:
www.aaa.com (discount park tickets)
www.expedia.com (for general vacation packages)
www.hotels.com (discount hotels and rental cars)
www.mousesavers.com (tips and tricks for saving money at the parks)
www.smallworldvacations.com (Disney vacation packages)
www.vacationoutlet.com (discount vacation packages).
Money-Saving Tip If you’re calling to book your room, whether on-site or off-site, always ask, “Are there any discounts or special offers available?” Sometimes you’ll learn about deals over the phone that aren’t listed on a website.
Some of the most popular Disney packages are those that combine a cruise with a vacation in the parks. Check out www.disneycruise.com, call 800/951-3532, or contact a travel agent, who may also be able to offer discounts on cruises and vacation packages that include a cruise. See Chapter 12 for more information.
Disney Dining Plans
The standard dining plan includes, for each day of your trip, one full-service meal, one counter-service meal, and a snack from a list of the 100-plus participating Disney restaurants scattered throughout the four theme parks and on-site hotels. Dining plans are only available for guests who book packages and stay on property, and they raise the price of your package by about $130 a day.
Is the standard plan worth it? If you have big eaters in the party, then yes, as the standard plan can save you about 30% over the cost of individual meals. But if six-year-old Katie eats nothing but cereal and three-year-old Danny grows so restless that sit-down dinners are a nightmare, it’s unlikely they’ll eat enough food to justify the cost of the standard dining plan.
A couple from Georgia with three children under age 10 said that the standard meal plan wasn’t for them: “In our opinion,” said the father, “adding meals to your package only makes sense if you’re prepared to eat 6,000 calories a day and spend three hours a day in restaurants.” A mom from New York added, “We considered it a hassle to have to plan all our full-service meals in advance and make reservations. Normally we’re pretty flexible on vacations—but not this time.”
Quick-Service Meal Plans
If your kids are too young to sit still for table service—and you’re not planning to splurge on a character meal—then consider the quick-service plan. It allows you to eat smaller amounts a few times a day—perfect for kids who get hungry frequently but don’t eat a lot at one sitting—and increases the package price for a family of four by roughly $100 a day.
If that sounds like a lot for fast food and snacks, welcome to Disney. Most of the families who’ve written to me report they believe the quick-service plan is still a good deal. One mom did the math and reported a 30% savings over ordering the same meals à la carte. If you’re worried about facing a whole vacation eating nothing but burgers and fries, relax. Disney has done a good job of expanding quick-service options, especially at Epcot. With a little preplanning, you should be able to find a wide variety of food options.
Character Meals and Premium Restaurants
Certain experiences, like dinner shows, some character meals, and the “signature” (i.e., most upscale) restaurants, cost more than your daily full-service meal allowance. If you have a standard dining plan, you must swap out two of your regular full-service meals for one of these exceptional dining experiences. But the swap can still save you a bundle on what would otherwise be a very expensive dinner. One mother wrote, “By eating at counter-service places for a couple of days beforehand we saved enough credits for dinner at California Grill and it was superb.”
Another mom wrote that “the standard Dining Plan makes a lot of sense if you want to take in multiple character meals. We were able to attend three: at Crystal Palace, Chef Mickey’s, and 1900 Park Fare, and we could not have afforded all this without the plan.”
A father from Texas added, “I’m a little compulsive, at least according to my wife, and I ran a tally of what we would have paid if we’d ordered menu items on our own versus going with the dining plan. Trust me, the dining plan is a great value.”
One family of foodies from New York opted to upgrade to the deluxe dining plan, which allows sit-down dining at every meal and further added the “wine-and-dine” option. “For us, it was worth it,” said the mother. “We had some terrific meals which were, thanks to the plan, reasonably priced. And our kids are old enough to enjoy the ambience of the restaurants, which are actually as full of Disney atmosphere as the resorts and parks.”
Getting Your Money’s Worth
To make sure you get your money’s worth from the dining plan, follow these steps, which are explained in more detail on the Disney website, www.disneyworld.com/dining.
Choose a Price-Level Option
There are five price options, but most people traveling with kids can safely eliminate the deluxe, premium, and platinum plans, which include so much food you’ll spend your entire vacation in restaurants. The vast majority of families go with the quick-service dining plan (two quick-service meals and one snack per person each day) or standard plan (one table-service meal, one quick-service meal, and one snack per person each day).
Study Your Options
To get the most use out of your dining plan, study up in advance. The menus at www.disneyworld.com/dining will help you decide which, if any, signature restaurants are worth a multicredit splurge. You can also find out which character meals require two credits and which don’t. And—perhaps most important with kids—you can find restaurants that serve foods your whole family will enjoy.
Choose Your Upgrades
If you want to try one of Disney’s swank signature restaurants or if your kids have their hearts set on a certain character breakfast, combine two table-service credits for these special experiences and book them well in advance.
Make Your Dining Reservations
Unless you’re sticking solely with the quick-service plan, lock in your dining reservations at table-service restaurants at least 90 days in advance, either by booking them online or calling 407/939-3463 (407/WDW-DINE). This is especially key if you’re traveling during the on-season.
Pick Up Your MagicBand
If you have planned far enough in advance (and live in the U.S.), then you will get your MagicBand in the mail before you leave. Otherwise, when you arrive at your Disney hotel, your dining plan information will be preprogrammed into your MagicBand, which is also your theme-park ticket and room key. Handy, huh? The band automatically monitors your allotted meals, and your receipt from each meal will show your balance so you can easily keep track of how many meals are left on the plan.
Plan Your Meals
For families on the standard plan, meal choices usually shake out like this: an in-hotel muffin or bagel breakfast as the “snack,” a quick-service lunch, and a full-service dinner. But you don’t have to have your big meal at night; some families sit down at lunch to rest up, regroup, and escape from the parks during the hottest and most crowded times of the day.
Another thing to consider: The number and categories of meals you’ve purchased are loaded into your ticket or MagicBand, but you can redeem them in any order. So if you want to use two of your full-service credits on your day at Epcot, which has lots of good restaurants, and use two quick-service credits on your day at the Magic Kingdom, which isn’t exactly a dining mecca, that’s fine.
Money-Saving Tip Deals and packages that include the dining plan are most commonly offered to guests at Disney resorts during the off-season, so make sure to ask about them when booking your room. If your dates are flexible, you may be able to save some money by traveling during a week when the dining plan is included.
Disney Park Tickets
Under Disney’s flexible Magic Your Way ticketing system, you can customize your tickets to reflect your family’s priorities and length of stay.
How Pricing Works
Let’s say you have a long weekend to visit and want a three-day ticket. The base price is $274 for ages 10 and up, which comes to about $91 a day, a savings over the one-day ticket price of $94 (10 and up) for all but the Magic Kingdom ($99 adults, $93 kids 3-9). This base price lets you into only one park per day. The more days you buy, the less your per-day cost. If you’re staying for a week, your ticket price per day drops significantly. An adult buying a seven-day basic ticket ends up paying around $46 per day, a huge savings over the one-day ticket price.
The more options you add, the more the price increases. If you add the Park Hopper Pass, which increases the price of your three-day 10-and-up ticket (regardless of length of stay) to $334, you can move from park to park within a day. If you add on Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and DisneyQuest—the Water Park Fun & More option—you add $60 to the price of each ticket (regardless of length of stay), also raising the price to $334. If you want both the Park Hopper Pass and the Water Park Fun option, you pay an additional $86 per ticket, increasing the price of a three-day pass to $360.
Disney “adjusts”—that is, raises—prices regularly, so you should always confirm these numbers by visiting www.disneyworld.com. Also note that children under age three are admitted free.
Most tickets expire within 14 days of first use. The only way to prevent this is to add the No Expiration Option onto the tickets. Some guests will buy the maximum ticket possible and then add this option, intending to use their ticket over multiple trips. Just be aware: This option is only available over the phone or at the gate, and it isn’t worth the extra cost unless you are already planning your next vacation to Disney World. If you are planning repeat visits, call or visit Guest Relations (a.k.a. Guest Services) and have them run the numbers for you.
Sticking to the Basics
So, how do you know which ticket to buy? If this is your first trip to Disney World, keep it simple. If you have young kids, you’ll likely spend most of your time in the four major parks, so a base ticket is fine. As a mom with three preschoolers said, “We bought the Park Hopper option but the logistics of moving around with that many strollers and backpacks was just overwhelming. After one day of trying to park hop we decided it would be less stressful to stay in a single park every day. So we basically paid extra for nothing.”
Money-Saving Tip Not sure about upgrades? Buy the basic. If you get down to Orlando and decide that you’d like to park hop or go to the water parks, you can always upgrade your ticket there, which is much better than paying for options that you don’t end up using. “We paid for the water-parks option,” said one mom from Massachusetts, “only to arrive on a week full of thunderstorms, when the water parks were closed at least half the time.”
Considering Your Upgrade Options
If your kids are older and able to withstand a long day, the Park Hopper Pass is worthwhile. It also comes in handy if you’re traveling during the off-season, when the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios close early; without it you may find yourself with little to do after 6 pm (Epcot is the only park that’s always open late). It’s good for people who’ve been to Disney World before and know exactly what attractions they want to see or who know they like to move around swiftly, revisiting these favorites. (Many of the touring tips in this book assume that you have the ability to move from one park to another in the course of a day.) If any of these conditions applies to you, the vote on the Park Hopper Pass should be “yes.”
The Water Park Fun & More option makes sense if you have older kids who would enjoy the water parks and DisneyQuest, or if you’ve been to Disney World before and are looking to venture outside the four major parks. On the other hand, if this is your first trip to Disney World, you’ll have all you can handle just visiting the four major parks. If your kids are very young, you may find that your hotel pool is a far more practical way to cool off. So, it’s a “yes” on Water Park Fun & More only for families with kids over eight or who are visiting Disney World for the second time. For first-time visitors or families with kids under eight, the answer is usually “no.”
Bottom line: If in doubt, go with the base (and thus cheapest) ticket. If you get to Orlando and change your mind, you can add these options at any time during your vacation.
This is probably a good time to note that your theme-park “ticket” is not going to look much like a normal, movie-style ticket. Disney has recently rolled out a new technology called “MagicBand,” which is in essence a wristband that serves as your theme-park ticket (using RFID chip technology). Both guests who are staying on-site and off-site can get MagicBands. If you are staying on-site, you will get one automatically, either in the mail before your trip (assuming you have planned far enough ahead) or at the hotel once you arrive; if you are staying off-site, you can buy a MagicBand on arrival for $12.95. If you’re staying on-site, it also serves as your room key and allows you to make charges to your room and stores information on your dining plan. It also links to all your personal information regarding reserved FastPass+ reservations, PhotoPass pictures, and the like regardless of whether you are staying on-site or off-site.
In other words, that one little wristband is pretty much your everything. The good news is that it drastically cuts down on how much you have to take with you and keep track of as you tour the parks.
Because so much information is encoded into a typical MagicBand, Disney has taken extraordinary security measures. No personal information is stored in the MagicBand, which contains a code that links to an encrypted database. A band that has been lost can be immediately disabled. If this technology still makes you nervous, you can certainly opt out of using MagicBand in lieu of a standard ticket, but most guests are thrilled with the convenience.
Advance Planning Is Your Friend
Once the kinks are out, Disney’s new technologies will help guests streamline their vacations, making a trip to Disney as simple as life on a cruise ship or an all-inclusive resort. The bad news is that not everyone understands quite how they work yet, which means that in the short run there can be massive confusion, especially at check-in. We recently stood in line for over an hour at The Art of Animation resort, noting to our frustration that the line wasn’t moving at all. The reason? Cast members spent an average of 35 minutes per guest explaining the MagicBand system. In contrast, the line for preregistered guests, who presumably had done their homework and handled most of the details online, was zipping along.
The moral? Do as much as you can in advance, and learn about the MagicBand and My Disney Experience systems (which are collectively called My Magic+) before you ever set foot in the parks.
Download the free My Disney Experience app as soon as possible. Explore it to get a sense of all the types of information it can provide.
If you plan to stay on-site, include your theme-park tickets in your package when you make your hotel reservation. Then go immediately to www.disneyworld.com and create a MyMagic+ account.
Enter your hotel and ticket reservation number so that the app and your reservations are linked before you leave home.
Off-site guests will have to work a little harder. Buy your tickets as soon as possible after you begin planning your trip and also create a MyMagic+ account. Once you have tickets in hand, enter the ticket numbers (or scan the bar code) to link them to My Disney Experience. (Note that to do this you will have to have your actual ticket in hand, not a voucher.)
Once the system “knows” you have tickets and how many days you will be in the parks, you can use FastPass+ to make three attraction reservations for each day of your trip (60 days in advance for on-site guests and season pass holders, 30 days in advance for off-site guests). Remember that each person will need his or her own FastPass+ for each attraction.
On-site guests should now personalize their MagicBands. Each member of the family can pick their own color. This keeps you from getting them mixed up when four MagicBands are lying around the hotel room, and also adds a bit of fun. (Disney, always quick to recognize a marketing opportunity, has even come up with charms to allow you to decorate your MagicBands, in effect turning them into jewelry.) Once you’ve picked out the colors, the personalized bands will be sent to your house—and boy, is it an exciting day when they arrive. If you’ve cut it too close on time to have them shipped, the bands will be waiting for you when you check into your resort.
Use online advance check-in (detailed instructions will arrive by email a few days before departure). This will make your on-site check-in experience go much faster, and you can start having fun while everyone else is still standing at the front desk asking “What are these MagicBands, anyway?”
Keep in mind that the MyMagic+ tools, including MagicBands, the My Disney Experience app, and all the things you can do with this technology—especially reserving FastPass+ attractions—is still relatively new and in flux. Disney openly admits that some of these options are in the testing phase and that new perks could be added at any moment. Read the information you receive when you book your trip carefully, and vow to exploit each tool to the max. Used correctly, this technology can reinvent vacation planning.
In addition, Disney uses a biometric identification system to keep track of exactly who is using the band. The first time you enter a Disney park, you’ll be asked to do a finger scan, which records minute measurements (not fingerprints). You’ll be rescanned each time you enter a Disney park to make sure that the finger measurements match. The MagicBands are color-coded so that different family members can tell their bands apart. Just as with the old-style tickets, it’s up to parents whether or not older kids have charging privileges.
MagicBands make everything easier—including spending money. Rather than the old method of swiping a room key like a credit or debit card, which did at least signal to your subconscious that you were making a financial transaction, the bands require you to merely tap your wrist against an electronic plate to charge a purchase. You tap, enter your PIN number, the Mickey turns green, and boom, you can have whatever you want.
Money-Saving Tip Paying with your MagicBand is a little intoxicating—at least until the cold-water slap of the bill arrives—so consider carefully whether you want to give charging privileges to kids and teens. Or maybe even your spouse.
My Disney Experience
Another new user-friendly guest technology is the My Disney Experience app, which allows guests to preplan their vacations to an unprecedented degree and then access that information once they’re in Orlando. The app, which works on iPhones, iPads, and Android smartphones, is free and easy to navigate. Moreover, Disney now offers free Wi-Fi throughout the theme parks, so you don’t have to use your own mobile phone minutes or data-plan bandwidth to access the useful features of the app while you’re enjoying the parks.
MagicBands can be used by guests staying at Disney resorts or by those staying off-site; the My Disney Experience app is also available to anyone, including people sitting at home on their couch just wanting to learn more about Disney. Download and install it to start poking around. My Disney Experience gives you general info about the parks and resorts, as well as helps you to make dining reservations in advance.
But the best perk of all? It allows you to make FastPass+ reservations in advance. FastPass+ will be explained in detail in Chapter 4, but for now the main point is that you can reserve approximate times to visit the most popular attractions at Disney World, thus vastly cutting down on the amount of time you spend waiting in line once you get to Orlando.
On-site guests with their hotel reservation and tickets in hand can reserve their FastPass+ options 60 days in advance. Off-site guests with tickets in hand can reserve their FastPass+ options 30 days in advance. You get three FastPass+ choices per day to begin with, through the app. These reservations can be used in only one park, and they have to be for different attractions (i.e., you can’t make a reservation for Space Mountain three times). After using those, you can get as many more as you can use, one at a time through one of the FastPass+ kiosks located within any park. These additional reservations can be used in any park (assuming you have the park-hopper option) for any ride (even four more rides on Space Mountain). Each member of the family who wants to avoid a particular line needs one, so a bit of preplanning is necessary.
But if you know you’ll be at Hollywood Studios on Wednesday of your vacation, for example, you can go ahead and reserve a time to ride the most popular attractions there. Just be aware: at Hollywood Studios and Epcot, the FastPass+ rides are divided into tiers and you can choose only one ride from tier one. For example, at Hollywood Studios you can get one FastPass+ reservation for either Toy Story Mania or Rock ’n’ Rollercoaster—but not both, since they are in the same tier. Then you can use your other FastPass+ reservations for attractions such as Tower of Terror and Star Tours, which are in a different tier.
Clever readers will have deduced two things by now. The first is that you should use your precious FastPass+ choices for the most popular attractions. Don’t burn them on minor rides or theater-style attractions where the wait would only be 20 minutes. Save them for either big deal rides or for interactive attractions like Enchanted Tales With Belle, which is so popular that 90-minute waits are the norm, and Princesses Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall which can have waits of more than 2 hours (the single longest wait in all of Walt Disney World). But if you have made a FastPass+ reservation and arrive to find only a 5-minute wait, you can change the ride or time through the app or at a FastPass+ kiosk before the time expires.
Now that Disney provides free bus transportation from the airport to your on-site hotel, it’s important to consider whether it’s worth it to rent a car. For most families staying on-site and focusing primarily on Disney attractions, the answer is probably “no.” Quite a few families have reported that they used their rental car less than they anticipated. “We paid $350 for the privilege of driving from the airport to our hotel and back,” wrote one father.
But for families staying off-site or anyone planning to visit both Disney and non-Disney attractions, renting a car can make sense. “We got a great hotel rate, but it was about 15 miles from Disney World,” one mother reported. “We also spent a day at Universal and a day at SeaWorld, so we would have been sunk if we hadn’t had our own transportation.”
Renting a Car for Walt Disney World
While a rental car isn’t a necessity in Orlando, especially for guests staying on Disney property with access to the Disney transportation system, some families simply prefer driving themselves. They argue that having a car makes it easier to visit non-Disney destinations, such as Universal Studios or SeaWorld, and that a car allows them to eat off-site more easily, since eating all meals at Disney parks and hotels can indeed get expensive. “After our first $50 breakfast in the food court of our Disney hotel,” wrote one father of three, “we decided to drive to the parks, stopping for a fast-food breakfast along the way. This saved us at least $30 a day.” It’s also worth noting that some people are irked by waiting even 20 minutes for a bus and like to come and go entirely on their own schedule.
An average weekly rental fee for a midsize car is around $350. Don’t be fooled by the quoted rate of $30 a day; by the time you add on taxes and insurance it’s closer to $50. Gas may add another $50 or $60, depending on how much you drive.
Disney Without a Rental Car
If you’re not staying at a Disney resort and not renting a car, you have two options for airport transfers. The fastest and easiest is a cab; prices average about $50 to the Universal-SeaWorld area and $60 to the Disney area, plus tip. Alternatively, you can take the Mears Shuttle Service, which costs $30 round-trip for adults and $24 for kids. You can reserve your shuttle before leaving home by calling 407/423-5566. Shuttles may seem like a money-saving option, but if there are more than two people in your party, it’s cheaper to take a cab. The other option is the Magical Express Service.
Magical Express Service
If you’re staying at a Disney resort, the Magical Express Service makes transport from the airport to your hotel room less costly, and potentially more convenient.
You simply check your bags at your hometown airport. This is the last time you’ll see them until you’re in your Orlando hotel room, so be sure to put anything you may need in the meantime, such as medication or summer-weather clothing, in your carry-on. When your plane arrives, you don’t have to go to baggage claim; instead, follow the directions of the Disney representative waiting on the baggage-claim level. You’ll board a bus and head for your resort, and—if all goes smoothly—your bags will arrive in your room about three hours after you do. You don’t have to be on-site to sign for your luggage; if you want to go straight to the pool or theme parks, the bags will be waiting for you when you get back.
The Magical Express Service not only saves you the hassle of tracking and dragging your bags every step of the way, but it also means free airport-to-resort transport for all Disney hotel guests. This single perk saves a family of four between $120 and $350 when you consider that they would otherwise be taking a shuttle or a cab or even renting a car.
The biggest downside of the Magical Express airport buses is that buses usually stop at several hotels, which can mean a long commute time. If you’re really eager to get your vacation going fast, take a cab. Some families have also reported significant wait times for their luggage, so pack essentials in a carry-on. “It took seven hours for our luggage to be delivered to our room,” said one mother from Wisconsin. “We couldn’t take the kids swimming, we didn’t have our camera, and we ended up spending the whole first day walking around in 90-degree weather in long sleeves and jeans.”
Time-Saving Tip You just got to Orlando, so of course you’re not thinking about going home yet. But, as a sadder-but-wiser mother from Ohio advised, “If you use the Magical Express for your return service to the airport, don’t book your return flight before noon. They require you to be on the bus three hours before your flight time, which for us basically involved getting up and checking out in the middle of the night.”
Walt Disney World Transportation System
The Disney Transportation System, which is composed of buses, monorails, and boats, is designed to transport guests from one side of Walt Disney World to another. But is it good enough? The ease of your transportation options depends on two things.
The first is the popularity of the destination. It’s relatively simple to get to Epcot, for example, from anywhere on Disney property. If you’re trying to get to the less popular Wide World of Sports, you’ll have a more complicated journey. The second factor is the price point of your resort. One of the things guests staying at the luxury resorts are paying for is faster and more direct transportation around Disney property, and they often have a fleet of options at their disposal, ranging from boat launches to monorails. Guests at the budget resorts (and all the resorts at Animal Kingdom) must rely on buses alone. But the key thing to remember is that with a little planning and patience, on-site guests can use the Disney transportation system to not only get back and forth to the airport, but to everywhere within Walt Disney World as well.
Whether or not you decide to use the Disney transportation system, the time difference between driving yourself and the bus ride is unlikely to be more than 15 minutes, so it pretty much boils down to your preference. Do you want to be in complete control of your destiny, able to change plans on a whim? Take your car. Do you want to zone out and forget all about maps, traffic, parking-row numbers, and dead batteries? Leave the driving to Disney.
Here’s a time-honored question. You’re staying on-site, and you have a car—either a rental or your own. Is it faster to drive to the theme parks or to take Disney transportation? The answer varies. If your resort offers monorail or boat access to a certain park, take it. It will always be your fastest way there. If your resort offers only bus service, the decision is a little trickier. The buses can be slow, especially if you’re staying at a big sprawling resort like Port Orleans/Riverside or Caribbean Beach, where it can take 15 minutes for the buses simply to circle the property.
If you’re planning to park hop, having your own car will save you some time, and, as long as your hotel car pass is visible on your dash, theme-park parking is free to on-site guests.
At times it may make more sense to use taxis than to rent a car or even take Disney’s transportation. Taxi rides within Disney property average $15, and parking (at least for guests not staying at a Disney resort) is $17—virtually equal. If you plan to drive a lot, it makes sense to have your own car, but if you need direct transportation only occasionally, a cab is a perfectly fine option. Consider taking a cab if:
You’d like quick direct transportation from the airport to your hotel.
You’d like quick direct transportation from one resort to another.
You’re headed to a minor park like Downtown Disney or the water parks and don’t want a lengthy shuttle commute.
You’re staying at a Disney hotel but heading to Universal Orlando or SeaWorld for the day.
Everyone’s absolutely exhausted. If you’ve pushed too far and the kids are having a meltdown, cabs are the fastest way to get back to your room.
Taxis are always waiting near the theme-park exits and, at times, this $15 is well worth spending. As one mother wrote, “Our kids get so excited at Disney that they go full-out the whole time, running around in a frenzy. But when they collapse, they really collapse. There were a couple of times when even having to wait 15 minutes for a bus would have been a disaster. Every time we left a theme park, they’d be asleep in the car before we were even out of the parking lot.”
Countdown to Disney World
Okay, let’s summarize. Here’s everything that needs to be done—and when.
As Soon as Possible
Choose your resort. To help find the best on-site hotel for you, consult Chapter 2, and once you’ve narrowed your options, make reservations at www.disneyworld.com or by calling 407/934-7639 (407/W-DISNEY).
Book your room. Even if you’re staying off-site, booking early is smart. A great way to get discounts on off-site lodging is to go to the Orlando Travel Bureau website at www.orlandoinfo.com for instructions on how to get a free Orlando Magicard discount card.
Buy your theme-park tickets. You can either buy online at www.disneyworld.com or by calling 407/934-7639 (407/W-DISNEY).
Download the My Disney Experience app. Then link your tickets to your personal MyMagic+ page on www.disneyworld.com. Select how you will use your three FastPass+ options for each day of your trip.
Six Months in Advance
Airline tickets. Flying? Book now.
Car rentals. If you need a rental car, reserve it now.
Make dinner plans. You can arrange for dining reservations, including character meals and dinner shows, 180 days in advance (90 days in advance during special promotions) by calling 407/934-7639 (407/W-DISNEY) or booking online at www.disneyworld.com. Making your reservations online is faster if you know exactly what you want; if you need advice, make the telephone call and talk to a real Disney cast member.
Book a stylist. Does your little princess want to be styled at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique? Sign her up 180 days in advance by dialing 407/939-7895 (407/WDW-STYLE).
Plan Tours. Families who would like to take a behind-the-scenes tour or enroll their kids in one of the Grand Floridian programs—such as the pirate-theme scavenger hunt or tea with Alice and the other Wonderland characters—should book at this stage. Call 407/939-8687 (407/WDW-TOUR) for the tours and 407/939-3463 (407/WDW-DINE) for the Grand Floridian programs. Kid-friendly tours and programs are explained in Chapter 10.
Four Months in Advance
To book a fireworks cruise, call 407/939-7529 (407/WDW-PLAY). See Chapter 10 for more information.
Interested in golf, parasailing, surfing, or some other sport? Book your time by calling 407/939-7529 (407/WDW-PLAY). See Chapter 10 for details.
For Cirque du Soleil tickets, call 407/939-7600 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.
Just Before You Leave Home
If you’re staying on-site, utilize advance online check-in for your resort. Then you should be good to go. Just reconfirm theme-park hours at www.disneyworld.com or on the My Disney Experience app, and review your reservations, so when you get to Orlando all you’ll have to focus on is having fun.
Numerous websites provide information and advice on Walt Disney World. Disney’s official site, www.disneyworld.com, is definitely the place to start, but the Disney site will present every ride and restaurant as wonderful. For no-holds-barred reviews, check out the following: www.mousesavers.com, www.disboards.com, and www.fodors.com/community.
Money-Saving Tip The Magicard, offered through the Orlando Travel Bureau, is a great source of savings for families staying at off-site hotels. You can download the card, as well as get lots of general Orlando information, by visiting www.orlandoinfo.com.
What to Discuss with Your Kids Before You Leave
It’s important to include the kids in the vacation planning, so discuss the following topics before you leave home.
The Trip Itself
There are two schools of thought on just how far in advance you should tell the kids you’re headed to Disney World. Because many families make reservations as much as a year in advance, it’s easy to fall into a “waiting for Christmas” syndrome, with the kids nearly in a lather of anticipation for weeks before you leave. To avoid the agony of a long countdown, one couple packed in secret, then woke the kids up at 5 am and announced, “Get in the car, we’re going to Disney World.” The best method is probably somewhere in between. Tell your kids at the time you make the reservations and solicit their opinions about what activities to book in advance, but don’t begin poring over the brochures in earnest until about a month before the trip.
One thing you probably don’t want to bring with you is the family pet. If you do, board it at the kennel on Disney property, Best Friends Pet Care (877/493-9738 www.bestfriendspetcare.com/waltdisneyworldresort). They take excellent care of the animals there, and our readers have been impressed with the cleanliness of the facility and professionalism of the staff.
The Layout of the Parks
Testimonies from the more than 1,500 families surveyed or interviewed for this book have shown that the amount of advance research you do directly correlates with how much you enjoy your trip. Don’t get us wrong—visitors who show up at Disney World without any preparation can still have fun, but their comment sheets are peppered with “Next time I’ll know …” and “If only we had …”
If you’re letting preteens and teens roam around on their own, brief them on the locations of major attractions, but the pleasures of being prepared can extend even to preschoolers. If you purchase a few Disney World coloring books or a kids’ touring guide, even the youngest child will arrive able to identify Spaceship Earth and Splash Mountain. A little knowledge before entering the gates is essential to helping you spend your time in the parks wisely.
The Classic Stories of Disney
If your kids are under eight, another good pretrip purchase is a set of Disney books with CDs or tapes. Even though parental eyes may glaze over when Dumbo starts for the 34th time, these recordings and books help familiarize kids with the characters and rides they’ll be seeing once they arrive. “I made sure my 1-year-old was familiar with the Disney characters, but what really helped was buying the Disney Classics CD before the trip,” wrote one mom. “We listened to it in the car every day and when we were at Disney, we would get so excited when he heard a song; we knew that he would jump around and try to sing along.”
Some families rent Disney movies before the trip. Watching an old favorite like The Little Mermaid or Aladdin can refresh your child’s memory and make it doubly exciting when, a few weeks later, he or she comes face-to-face with the characters in the park.
Special Academic Projects
See the section “Should We Take the Kids Out of School?” earlier in this chapter for ideas. Whatever project you decide upon, it’s essential you get the kids on board before you arrive in Orlando. Once there, they’ll be too distracted for your lectures on academic responsibility.
Souvenirs and Money
Will you save all souvenir purchases for the last day? Buy one small souvenir every day? Are the children expected to spend their own money, or will you spring for the T-shirts? Whatever you decide, set the rules before you’re in the park. Otherwise the selection of goodies will lure you into spending far more than you anticipated. One excellent technique for limiting impulse buys is to give kids a gift card preloaded with a certain amount of spending money.
The Scare Factor
Finally, give some thought to the scare factor. A disappointing meal or boring show can ruin an hour, but misjudging a ride can leave you with a terrified or nauseated child and ruin the whole day.
How frightening a ride is can be tough to gauge because Disney World scariness comes in two forms: the atmospheric or creepy kind (as in the cobwebbed old hotel in the Tower of Terror), or the motion-related kind. And note that while Space Mountain and Expedition Everest are obviously risky, some guests can lose their lunch on sweet little charmers like the Mad Tea Party.
Disney’s guidance comes in the form of height requirements, but saying that a 40-inch-tall five-year-old can ride Big Thunder Mountain is no indication that she should. As we all know, some 6-year-olds are fearless and some 11-year-olds easily unnerved. Read the ride descriptions and scare-factor ratings in this book to find out what you’re dealing with.
Not all rides at Walt Disney World have height requirements. Here are the ones that do.
THE MAGIC KINGDOM
Big Thunder Mountain
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Stitch’s Great Escape
Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster
Tower of Terror
Kali River Rapids
Strategies for Dealing with Fearful Children
If you’re still unsure about what you kids can handle, employ these strategies:
Do a Baby Swap. (No, this does not mean you can trade your shrieking toddler for that angelic napping infant behind you!) If you have doubts about whether a ride is appropriate for your child, inform the ride attendant that you may need to do a Baby Swap. One parent rides and returns with the verdict while the other parent, who was given a FastPass+ by the attendant, waits with the child. If the first parent thinks the child will do okay, the second parent uses the FastPass+ to immediately board and ride with the child. Otherwise, the second (yet-to-ride) parent uses the FastPass+ to simply ride by him- or herself. It sounds confusing, but the attendants help you, and it actually works smoothly. An added bonus: Older kids in the family often get to ride twice, once with Mom and once with Dad.
Slowly increase ride intensity throughout the day. This advice runs counter to the touring tips you’ll find later in this book that recommend you ride the big-deal attractions first thing in the morning. But if you’re not sure whether your seven-year-old is up for a roller coaster, start her off slowly. Kids who begin with something relatively mild like Pirates of the Caribbean often build up their nerve throughout the day and close out the night on Space Mountain.
Avoid motion sickness. Obviously, steer clear of bumpy rides after eating. If you feel queasy on a motion-simulation ride like Star Tours, stare at something inside the cabin, like the seat in front of you, instead of the screen.
The Frantic Factor
Although we rate rides throughout this book according to their “scare factor,” we’ve often thought that we should include ratings on the “frantic factor” as well, measuring how hysterical the average parent is apt to become in any given situation.
We’re often asked to speak to parent groups on the topic of family travel. Almost inevitably, someone wants tips on how to make a Disney vacation relaxing. These people are very earnest, but they might as well be asking us to recommend a nice ski lodge for their upcoming trip to Hawaii. The only honest response is, “If you want to relax, you’re going to the wrong place.”
Disney World is a high-stimulation environment, a total assault on all five senses mixed in with a constant and mind-boggling array of choices. This is not the week to take your kids off Ritalin or discuss marital issues with your spouse. It helps to keep a sense of humor and to go in with a full understanding that, vacation or not, this is unlikely to be the most relaxing week of your life. As one French mother of three sagely pointed out, “You can sleep later, when Mickey is done with you.”
Actually, high stimulation and a lively pace may be the reason most people go to Disney World in the first place. Families who slip over the line from happily stimulated to unhappily frantic often do so because:
They forget to build in adequate rest breaks.
They’ve planned their trip for the busiest time of the year.
They’re confused about the logistics of touring.
They’re hell-bent on taking it all in because “We’re paying through the nose for this!” and “Who knows when we’ll get back?”
This book is full of tips to help you avoid the first three mistakes, but your attitude is pretty much up to you. Just remember that doing it all is not synonymous with having the most fun, and if time is tight, limit your touring to those attractions that have the most appeal for your group. As for when you’ll get back, who knows? But using this as a rationale for pushing everyone in the family past his or her exhaustion limit only guarantees that you’ll never want to return. The way for parents to relax at Disney (besides spending time in hotel hot tubs with adjacent bars) is to do a little less and enjoy it a little more.
Don’t Leave Home Without…
Comfortable shoes. Forget about wearing sandals or slides in the parks—stick to sneakers. This is no time to be breaking in new shoes.
Minimal clothing. Many hotels have laundry facilities, and you can always wash clothes in the sink. Most families overpack, not figuring on all the souvenirs they’ll bring back. Disney T-shirts are great for touring and can also serve as swimsuit cover-ups and pajamas. Unless you’re planning a special evening out at Victoria & Albert’s, casual clothing is acceptable everywhere.
Sunscreen. Keep a tube with you and reapply it often. Sunburn is the number one complaint at the first-aid clinic in the Magic Kingdom. You need sun protection all through the year in Orlando, not just in summer.
A waist pack. Unlike a purse, a waist pack frees up your hands for boarding rides, pushing strollers, and holding on to your kids. A backpack is another option and good for carrying snacks and water, but even a light one can start to hurt your shoulders after a while. Plus, some rides don’t allow backpacks, so you may have to keep putting yours in a locker.
Resealable plastic bags. Disney serves such large dining portions, even for kiddie meals, that some parents report they save some of the fruit or chips for a snack later.
Sunglasses. The Florida sun is so blinding that more than once I’ve reached into my bag for my sunglasses only to realize I already had them on. Kids too young for sunglasses need wide-billed caps to cut down on the glare.
Strollers. Most Orlando hotels are huge, so if you have an infant or toddler, you’ll need your own stroller just to get around your lodgings.
One wise-beyond-his-years 14-year-old admitted, “I was really obsessive-compulsive about getting everything done, seeing every ride, parade, and show. This led to a couple of breakdowns halfway through the trip, but we pulled it together and the last few days focused more on having fun in the moment than planning what we would do next.”