The Disney World Guide for Skeptical Parents
For many adults, Disneying is not a choice.
It is something one does for the children they love—and if those children have access to television, you’re likely to end up in Bay Lake, Florida sooner than you’d hoped. Just because you’re vacationing with your entire family in tow, however, doesn’t mean the trip has to be a carnival-colored daymare. Finding the cure for never-ending lines, cotton candy dinners, and sunburns galore is easier than you think.
Get ready to glide by glassy-eyed parents and crying children because we’ve already solved every panic-stricken part of the trip you’re dreading. Here’s how to tick everything off your kids’ dream Disney list in the most sane, manageable way possible—and maybe even have some fun yourself while doing it.
“The Whole Character Thing Just Freaks Me Out”
If the idea of waiting in line for 210 minutes so your son can meet Princess Elsa sounds like purgatory, you’re not alone. Luckily, there are two options to save you from the slow-moving meet-and-greet line. Set a FastPass+ reservation as soon as possible, which will get you in and out in a reasonable amount of time. No time slots available to meet Mickey Mouse? Opt for an in-park character meal. Breakfasts and lunch are expensive but similarly priced, and since children aren’t likely to eat $30 worth of scrambled eggs, opt for a late lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table, Tusker House Restaurant, or Akershus Royal Banquet Hall instead. You’ll be so wiped from a day at the park that you’ll be happy to sit down, whether or not it’s surrounded by Goofy and Donald Duck or a gaggle of princesses.
Related: T+L’s Disney Secrets
“Can’t I Just Wing It?”
You can be spontaneous on-site, but it’s only going to work if you have solid plans in place, so lock down the basics. Restaurant reservations open 180 days in advance at Walt Disney World and go quickly, so research if the Disney Dining Plan is for you and and commit to which day you'll spend at what park. Each visitor's three FastPass+ reservations can be made 30 days in advance, or 60 if you're staying at a Disney hotel. When your trip is approaching, select your Magic Bands and set up Disney's Magical Express with your flight information. If this sounds confusing, it is—prepare to spend some time on Disney’s customer service hotline—but embrace it! A helpful human is much simpler than navigating the online labyrinth of advice-filled mommy blogs. Once you’re there, download the My Disney Experience app, which serves as a virtual vacation folio (and even lists ride wait times) as well as the Shop Disney Parks app, which is the best way to find everything from detergent to a second BB-8 toy so your twins will stop fighting over the one they should be sharing.
“Great, I’ll Have To Eat Chicken Nuggets All Week Long”
Food at Walt Disney World can be fresh, healthy, and delicious, but you need to know where to look. There is pre-packaged (albeit pricey) fruit available everywhere, and nearly every hotel has hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, and salads available all day long. Disney is obsessively accommodating restrictive diets, especially at table-service restaurants: so tell them what you can eat and they’ll do their best to make it happen. (I’ve seen steamed salmon and vegetables come out of the kitchen at a fried-chicken-only dinner, so anything’s possible!) The parks can be a bit trickier, but if you’re health-conscious, Grilled Chicken Skewers at Animal Kingdom’s Harambe Market and the platters at Tangierine Cafe in EPCOT’s Morocco pavilion are must-haves, along with salads served at neighboring countries. The Fixins Bar at Pecos Bill’s at Magic Kingdom turns any meal into a vegetarian’s dream, and the falafel at Mr. Kamal’s in Animal Kingdom is to die for. Gluten free? Don’t worry—between allergen-friendly stands, clearly marked menus, and Erin McKenna’s baked goods across Disney property, you’re practically in better hands than back home.
“The Kids Are Asleep! Too Bad I’m Stuck In A Children’s Paradise”
You probably never noticed while growing up, but you can drink alcohol across most of Walt Disney World property, so hire a babysitter and get ready to rage. EPCOT's World Showcase is typically open until 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. one night each week. The Rose & Crown Pub in the UK pavilion and La Cava Del Tequila in the Mexico pavilion are always a party scene. Don’t have park tickets? Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and Tiki Bar in the Polynesian Village Resort, the California Grill atop the Contemporary Resort, and Territory Lounge at Wilderness Lodge are well worth the cab over. And while Disney Springs' recent rehaul isn't as legendary as your parents' late nights at Pleasure Island, the Indiana Jones-inspired Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar will be worth bragging about to your friends back home (especially if you nab a seat in the private diving bell).
“I’m Using All My Vacation Days. I Want To At Least Have Some Fun!”
You can still have a blast, even if your toddlers aren’t ready for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest and EPCOT’s Test Track, each park’s most thrilling ride, quietly offer single rider lines which allow you to zip through without keeping your family waiting for too long. If your child is this close to the height requirement, Disney’s Rider Switch program ensures both adults get their fill of Space Mountain and fifteen other fantastic rides across park property so that no thrill-seeking sibling or parent gets left behind.