A few months ago, we packed up our family of nine and went to one of the greatest places on earth—Disney World. Can you imagine two parents and seven children under the age of 14 being in Disney for eight days? Our friends and family couldn’t either. But it was by far one of the most EPIC family vacations we have EVER had. How we pulled it off without a hitch and without our children knowing our destination in advance took an amazing amount of luck, but our success was due mostly to planning. Being The Family Strategist™ with a Ph.D. in Motherhood, I put together a strategy that any family, large or small, can use when going to any amusement park.
Preparing to take our family to Disney World took months. Choosing not to go in the summer meant coordinating time off of work, after-school activities and school schedules. I had to make sure suitcases were secretly packed, our home was secure and the mail was held at the post office. Since our trip to Disney was for eight days, we decided to do a trial run at a semi-local amusement park to help us work out the kinks in our plans and master our strategy.
They say presentation is everything. I decided to video-record the moment we told our children about our upcoming EPIC Disney adventure. Recording things like this helps you capture the raw response of your loved ones. This is the moment when you get to see all of your hard work captured on the faces of the people you love. Because I am a writer, I revealed our trip by reading a bedtime story that I wrote just for them. After I read the story there was silence and then massive mayhem erupted all over our TV room. The sweet part was hearing our four-year-old say, “I have wanted to go to Disney World my whole life!”
No matter what amusement you decide to take your children to, it is imperative that you have a safety plan in place. When you go to Disney almost everyone wears something Disney-related. In order for our family to stand out and be safe, we did just the opposite–we wore superhero-themed shirts. Our safety plan also included:
- Buddy system
Going to a busy park with nine people in one group without losing anyone in the crowd could have been a major challenge, but by using the buddy system, we were able to keep tabs on everyone with (relative) ease.
- Bathroom system
Before going into each park, we mapped out the bathrooms we wanted to use based on their locations. We also made sure that no one ever went to the bathroom alone.
- Medication and First Aid system
Small ouchies, like blisters, can easily derail a fun day. Don’t let them! Pack a small bag with basic first aid supplies (wipes, band-aids, painkillers, etc.) to save you from having to find a medical center or needing to go back to your hotel early.
- Eating system
Meals can quickly become the most expensive part of your family vacation, especially with nine mouths to feed! Before your trip, plan out your meals, deciding where and when you will eat. If possible, check the menus of the restaurants to see prices and ensure each meal will meet your dietary needs and preferences. It’s also a good idea to check if the park has a cost-saving meal plan. For example, Walt Disney World offers a Disney Dining Plan.
- Ride system
If you don’t like standing in long lines, the Disney FastPass is your friend. You can schedule your FastPasses up to 60 days in advance. You can learn more about scheduling FastPasses on the Disney World website. At other parks, try to work from the back of the park to the front of the park (doing the opposite of what most people will probably do will reduce your wait time in lines. Decide who will ride with who ahead of time (again, the buddy system is important!)
- Day and night system
Establish a routine! Even though you’re on vacation, an active trip like multiple days at an amusement park requires you to be rested and ready to have the most fun.
Most importantly, every day before going to the park, I took a family picture that included everyone’s clothes, their faces, and shoes. In a worst-case scenario, these photos would help authorities and park staff if the children were to get lost or if someone tried to take them.
Going to any amusement park can be very expensive. We saved thousands of dollars on our Disney adventure by:
- Choosing to drive vs. flying
- Packing meals vs. buying food in the park
- Cooking vs. eating out
- Buying souvenirs outside the part vs. in the park
- Using a timeshare vs. staying in a hotel or Disney property (I dream of staying at a Disney property just once.)
Parks, Recreation and Application
Navigating Disney meant going to four separate parks—Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios and Epcot. We dedicated one full day to each park and hopped between parks on other days. In order to be successful, we needed a few key things:
- Maps of each park
- The Disney app (The Disney app helps you navigate parks, tracks pictures from your photo passes, and gives wait times for rides and shows.)
- Photo pass cards (Photo passes are a great way to log your pictures and track your Disney experience)
- Park hopper tickets
When navigating Disney, it is important to have days of rest. We went to the park every other day. On the days that we did not go to the park we went to Disney Springs formerly known as Downtown Disney. Disney Springs has great shopping, great shows, great food, and all kinds of fun things for Disney lovers young and old.
Taking your family to an amusement park does not have to be a hard or expensive undertaking. If you decide not to fly, consider driving at night while your children are sleeping. Driving at night cuts down on bathroom breaks and the number of times that you will hear, “Are we there yet?”
When deciding to go Disney or another amusement park, don’t get overwhelmed! Just remember to be prepared and present. If you do, you’ll capture every moment, protect your family and be prudent with your time and money.
Charlotte E. Avery is The Family Strategist™ with a Ph.D. in Motherhood who helps women go from overwhelmed to overjoyed in marriage, motherhood, and the marketplace. She is the wife of one, mom of seven and the owner of no pets. Along with being a busy mom, Charlotte is an author, sought-after speaker, blogger, magazine writer, coach, entrepreneur, parent and family expert, and TV and radio personality. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram at Being Charlotte Avery, on Twitter at BeingCharlotteA, and BeingCharlotteAvery.com.