Your first vacation to one of the Disney Parks is an incredible experience, most commonly likened to the existence of magic itself. There is a lot to take in and plan for along the way, but one of the most critical aspects of that preparation process is often overlooked for first-time visitors; preparing your children for the enormity of Disney as a whole.
The experience of a crowded theme park isn’t all rainbows and butterflies; in fact, for some children, this might be the most confronting and hectic environment they have encountered so far, especially for younger ones that have spent the last two years in primarily sheltered situations. In our normal day-to-day, most parents will try to limit the amount of time that their children are kept waiting. We avoid making our kids wait in long lines at the bank or post office, often opting to make the trip solo instead. Now that we are living through a history-making pandemic, we try to steer clear of crowds altogether, focusing on open-air spaces and social distancing. It’s now, more than ever, that it is essential to prepare your children for the more trying aspects of Disney.
Let’s look at a few things you can do to get those youngsters ready for the busy vacation ahead.
Get Comfortable in Crowded Areas
If you’ve been avoiding those crowded malls and playgrounds, it might be worth spending a bit of time re-learning how to maneuver around large groups of people. As adults, this will come as second nature, but for our children, particularly the younger ones, this isn’t something they are overly familiar with anymore. Teaching them to be aware of their surroundings might help lessen the anxiety that can come with crowded spaces.
Get Mask Ready
Like it or not, masks are going to be an integral part of traveling for some time to come. Even if only limited to indoor spaces or plane trips, it’s not likely that you will be making vacation plans without one in some capacity. If you aren’t going out as much as you previously did, your need for a mask at home might be pretty limited compared to when you are on vacation. Make time to do everyday things while wearing a mask, even if you are just practicing while watching TV or doing the grocery shopping. The last thing you want is for your child to feel overwhelmed with being faced with wearing one unprepared.
Instead of leaving the kids in the car with your other half the next time you line up to order lunch or run errands, take them with you and practice that routine of waiting. There is nothing enjoyable about lining up for attractions, and I often think that with all the conveniences we have these days, the art of waiting was lost after the children of the ’90s grew up. Nowadays, every second child needs to be occupied with a smart device if there is more than a 60-second wait time.
Try being a little less accommodating when sparing them the boredom of a long wait and get them used to standing in those long attraction lines before you arrive.
Set Screen Time Boundaries
If your kids are used to a substantial amount of screen time at home, expect a bumpy transition to a tech-free circumstance. While you might be ok with having some screen time when waiting in line, set boundaries with your kids ahead of time and practice them at home before you leave. Time limits or perhaps a designated time of the day, whatever you think might help keep the peace while also keeping everyone present in the moment. You won’t want your kids suffering from screen withdrawal a few hours into your vacation.
Prepare for Intense Attractions and Characters
As a Mum (<– Aussie spelling) of tall kids, I know that being tall enough to ride doesn’t mean being prepared for the ride itself. Just because your child meets the height requirement doesn’t automatically mean that it’s kid-friendly and suited to your family. Even some characters can be a bit intimidating, such as Stormtroopers as they wander through Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Familiarize yourself with dark or intense attractions ahead of time, so you don’t end up with a little one in tears. For example, in my personal opinion, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Pinocchio’s Daring Journey in Disneyland are two of the most intimidating rides in the park. And yet, both have no height restriction and are recommended for preschoolers and kids. Though I am not suggesting these aren’t appropriate for children, if you know that one of yours might feel a bit wobbly in dark sections with a bit of intensity, take the time to talk to them about what to expect.
Start Walking and Standing
You might recall that a few months back, practicing standing was one of my top tips for physically prepping for a Disney vacation. It’s pretty widely accepted that you will hit your step goal each day while on-site, but many people don’t realize how much harder standing still can be, and when you are packed into all of those lines, you will be doing a lot of it.
Get your kids up and moving to prepare for the walking but don’t forget the standing still. Make it into a game for younger ones or encourage older ones to get some computer work done in a standing position. Even cooking can be a great way to get used to that standing time with small pivot-like movements in between.
Have A Plan to Keep Hands and Minds Busy
It can be as simple as a fidget keyring-style toy that stays in the pocket, or maybe a word game you can play as a family. No matter what you settle on, having something you can use as a distraction in those stressful moments of waiting is worth spending time working on in advance. Many products come in miniature keychain sizes like puzzle cubes, gear puzzles, push pop bubbles, and more. If your kids like to keep their hands busy, pick up a few of these and keep them handy for those tense moments where a bit of sensory input can regulate some of the more uncomfortable feelings of frustration.
Know Your Limits
With the exception of a stroller where a child could take a nap and rest their legs, Disney is a huge physical undertaking for both your body and your mind. Even though we all like to think we will pack as much in from rope drop till closing, realistically, this isn’t the best recipe for your most valuable moments on vacation. Have a plan in advance on how to handle tired little ones and let kids in that early teen/tween bracket know it is ok to speak openly with you when they are starting to feel fatigued. Bowing out an hour early might just save you from exhaustion-fueled arguments and meltdowns that taint your whole day.
As a well-established Disney Parks lover, it’s easy for someone like me to focus on the day-to-day changes of Disney, forgetting the most essential basics of first-time planning, especially when children are involved. I was reminded of this as I read about a beautiful story of a family celebrating an adoption with their first trip to the magic. It occurred to me that not all first-time stories are with younger kids accompanied by experienced adults like mine was and that when it is the first time for everyone, it’s hard to know exactly what you are walking into.
Everything else aside, communication, planning, and staying flexible is the key to success with Disney. I hope the ambient music delights you, the sights enchant you, and the memories you make last a lifetime.
Feature Image: Photo By Michelle Perrin Crawford
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.