When we plan for a theme park vacation, we spend a lot of time thinking of how magical it will be. If you are sharing the planning process with your children, they are most likely seeing the experiences to come from all the best angles. So how do you save your children from a huge shock when you arrive and everything isn’t quite picture perfect? Prep them for the unexpected. Here are five things you should sit your kids down and talk about before you leave.
Disney, in particular, love to show marketing images with wide open spaces when truth be told, there are times of the year where there’s barely enough room to fit in those magical smiles. Talk to your children about the crowd expectancy while you are on-site and what that might mean for wait times and experiences. This is also a gateway conversation into why it is so important to stay close and not wander off for younger kids. Research what sort of crowds will be in the parks when you are visiting and be open with your kids about how long some of the more popular rides may take to get on.
When inside the parks you will encounter lots of strollers, wheelchairs, and mobility scooters. Yes, they can be frustrating however, if you see one coming, try to be compassionate and help let them through where possible. It can be very difficult for people trying to move through crowds with a stroller, wheelchair, or scooter and I can promise you it is equally as frustrating for them as it is for you. If you are using a stroller, wheelchair, or mobility scooter, keep an extra eye out for little ones the might not see you coming. We tend to keep our eyes up in the parks, checking out the sights, and navigating our path further ahead. Just be sure to also keep an eye down low as well, where little ones can easily get caught up in crowds with nowhere to move.
Talk to your kids about how to maneuver through crowds and let them know that everyone is just trying to enjoy their day. If something happens, try not to react, just give everyone the benefit of the doubt; intentions are not always bad on either side.
Closing Character “Meet and Greet” Lines, Unexpectedly
You spot your child’s favorite character from across the way. You calmly grab your child by the hand and quicken your pace in the direction of a growing line. Your child starts to vibrate with excitement once they see what they are in line for. Fifteen minutes later your child is nearing jumping out of their skin, just a handful of people from the front of the line. Only four families in front now and a cast member walks towards you smiling. Their arm reaches in front of you with the other up in the air.
And then it happens.
“Sorry Folks! Buzz Lightyear needs to go and check on Woody and the gang!” They motion that everyone behind the line of doom, (their arm), must disperse as they will not be able to visit with Buzz at this time. A flood of emotions washes over you. Among them, sheer fury at how your child could be left in line, excited to meet his hero, only to be turned away at the last moment. He looks up at you, wondering what is happening and it is then on you to break the bad news.
Cue the heartbreak.
This can happen at any time. Some characters have a handler that cuts off the line before it gets too long, that way no one is turned away after waiting patiently. However this isn’t always the case, as other handlers will pay no attention to the line and give virtually no notice when it is time to go, leaving you in shock and your child in tears.
How do you avoid this nightmare scenario? Talk about it in advance. Let your child know that when you join a character meet & greet line, there is always the possibility that this could happen. As you enter the link, talk about how hopefully you will make it to the front and meet the character but if not, have a backup plan in mind for what to do next.
“We are pretty close to the front now. We might make it! But if not, we won’t worry will we? We can just go and have a churro instead.”
Another tip to avoid this disaster… be wary of joining character lines with more than a few groups ahead of you when the character is in a fully enclosed costume. These cast members have timed appearances and are less likely to bend the rules for the last few people in line.
One of the worst experiences in the parks can be when a ride suddenly breaks down. This can happen at any time. Sometimes you enter the park and see the empty tracks of your favorite ride before being turned away from the closed attraction. However, this can also happen when you have waited in line for an hour, or even, when you are on the ride.
This can be a huge let down for everyone but even more so for children. Talk at home about how rides can close down at any time and how you can deal with the disappointment that comes from it. Also remember, as quickly as a ride closes down, they can open back up again. Often if you are waiting in line, you may receive an open FastPass for another attraction.
When big ticket attractions in Disneyland close down, we have been encouraged by cast members to check in with the rides re-opening status while enjoying other rides. So, if you have your heart set on riding Radiator Springs Racers in Disneyland California Adventure, for example, ask cast members on your other rides if they can check if the ride as re-opened. Just don’t drive them crazy! I suggest not asking more than once and only in conversation when close to a cast member with a headset.
Those of you using MaxPass may also be able to find the information there as well.
When discussing ride breakdowns, make sure you cover what to do if the ride breaks down while you are on-board. If you have more than one child, you aren’t always in the same ride carriage as the rest of your family, so it is important to talk about what to do if something goes awry. Especially if you have older children that might be riding together without an adult. What is it they should do? Sit tight. A cast member will let them know what they need to do and until then just stay put and don’t worry. Often the ride vehicles themselves have a speaker system that will convey any updates or instructions. Let them know that if something happens, it will be ok. Some kids may not be phased by this, however others might feel totally unprepared if they aren’t reassured in advance.
Interruptions To Planned Events And Shows
It can be a good few hours until you mosey around the park far enough to notice that the World of Color water area you were expecting to enjoy, has been drained. Instead of that glistening, reflective water, you are greeted with the dismal site of thousands of pumps and water spouts that clearly won’t be producing any water or color, anytime soon.
You may have researched the shows and events schedule for months in advance however that doesn’t always mean things go to plan. It doesn’t necessarily come down to mechanical issues either, as something as unpredictable and uncontrollable as wind can cancel fireworks and water shows.
Even when purchasing dining packages that include show FastPasses, the FastPasses themselves are always weather dependant, with no refunds or exchanges if the universe has other plans.
Nearing the front of the line is so exciting! You start to hear the mechanics of the ride and the dynamic music that wafts energetically through the air. The anticipation can sometimes even outweigh the experience itself. When you’re about to step through that last gateway to the loading area and instead, get stopped in your tracks, it can feel extremely disappointing. The chain comes down and locks into place before a cast member allows a stream of other random people into the loading area in front of you. None of these faces are familiar from the last 45 minutes you have spent quietly studying those around you out of boredom. They are new. New people that were not waiting in the regular line.
Welcome to the backside of FastPass.
Now, there is nothing wrong with this process. In fact, its existence is going to work in your favor as well. But it can still be a little frustrating to watch others walk right past you when you are convinced your turn is next.
I am sure you know what I am going to say here.
Talk to your kids in advance about how FastPass works. Let them know that the two lines join together closer to the front and you may be stopped to let a few people through in front of you. It isn’t that shocking when you are expecting it and on the flip-side, you’ll be allowed to pass in front of others when using your FastPasses. The easiest way to deal with it, is to have realistic expectations and a good attitude. The process can be theoretically beneficial to all.
(Reminder: book any FastPasses you can well in advance, so you don’t end up with the short end of this stick.)
There you have it, a few more conversations to help fill the months of waiting before you embark on your adventure. Involve your family members in your research and talk about it during dinner every now and again, so they know what to expect while on vacation.
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.