While trips to Disney are synonymous with family vacations, I recently boarded a plane without my husband and two children and set off for a Walt Disney World vacation all by myself. I am not ashamed to admit that it ranks as one of my favorite trips to Disney ever.
The trip came about as a thoughtful gift from my husband, who surprised me one afternoon with a printout of a reservation in my name at Disney’s Pop Century Resort. After being a stay-at-home mom for 11 years, he suggested I treat myself to a break. I mulled over the idea. It would be a short trip – just four nights. With travel time factored in, I would have three and a half park days. I decided I could do this. I wanted to do this. I took him up on the offer and dubbed it my “momcation.”
While some moms (or dads) may brush off such an idea, thinking they’d feel selfish or even guilty taking a Disney trip without their kids, I found I did not have those feelings. We are fortunate to travel to Disney regularly as a family, so this trip was in addition to our family trips – not instead of them. Also, I was excited that my trip would be during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, but I knew my kids would not enjoy it very much at their current ages. When I told my kids about the trip, it was surprisingly a nonissue. They would be in school anyway, and I told them I was going to leave room in my suitcase to bring them each back something from the parks. With the decision made, I booked my airfare, created my itinerary and counted down the days until my trip. Here are five things I enjoyed most about my solo adventure:
Planning and Anticipation
For all of our family Disney trips, the tasks of creating an itinerary, poring over restaurant menus and making strategic Fastpass+ selections are all part of the planning process. For my getaway, I did all of these things, but it was a very different mindset planning only for myself. Rather than scouring restaurant menus to see which ones have options for my picky kids, I was reading them to make sure I didn’t miss anything I had been wanting to try. I made my Fastpass+ priorities based solely on my favorite attractions. I also created a plan with lots of park hopping so I could enjoy as many of the offerings at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival as possible. A perk of being solo is how much easier it is to park hop when you’re not transporting strollers, overloaded park bags, and tired children.
Having the anticipation of my getaway was a gift unto itself. As any stay-at-home parent knows, there are some days that can feel incredibly long. When I would have a particularly difficult day, it was a nice mental escape to think about my upcoming adventure. I continued to tweak the itinerary and spent my rare moments of free time reading touring strategies and restaurant menus looking for ways to maximize my time.
Exploring the Parks at My Pace
I certainly made sure to hit up my favorite attractions, but I also allotted time to do some things I normally don’t do on our family trips. Being an early riser, I was at rope drop at one of the theme parks every morning. And not just at rope drop, but in the very front row, touching the rope and chatting with the cast members while waiting for them to open the park. This not only allowed me to make use of every minute I had in the parks, but I was able to ride many of my favorite attractions with no wait before the crowds arrived. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I rode on the first truck of the day at Kilimanjaro Safaris. The animals tend to be particularly active early in the morning, which makes for an exciting journey through the savanna.
When my ride was over, I immediately walked through the queue again and got right onto another truck to enjoy a second ride without any wait. After my second ride, I happened to look to my right when exiting the ride area and saw one of the gorillas enjoying his breakfast in a small alcove on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. This was a very close-up encounter and I stood there for a long time with nobody else around, just enjoying the moment. I had a similar experience in Epcot at The Seas with Nemo & Friends when I stumbled upon the manatee exhibit. When traveling with others, they tend to want to move along. But being solo, I was able to take as much or as little time as I wanted, doing anything I wanted.
I also made a point to get very good viewing spots for parades and fireworks on my trip. With young children, sitting on the concrete for an hour in the summer Florida sun and humidity to have a good spot is just not worth it for our family. We either catch the parade or fireworks show from a far-off vantage point or skip them entirely to do something else. When alone, I made a plan to choose my spot at least an hour before the scheduled starting time. I grabbed a snack, staked out my choice of prime viewing spots and people-watched until it was time for the show. Not only was my wait enjoyable, but it also served as a nice break for me since I wasn’t leaving the parks midday to relax at the hotel. I rekindled my appreciation and excitement for the parades and fireworks by being able to view them from those ideal locations. As a bonus, I was able to score some amazing photos from my front-row seats.
Visiting during Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival had been a goal of mine for several years, but a family trip to Disney in the fall is just not feasible with our kids’ school schedules. Going solo opened up that opportunity for me, and the experience did not disappoint.
My itinerary was entirely planned around maximizing my time for the Festival, but by park hopping I was still able to feast at all four theme parks and even spent a few hours at Disney Springs. There is a freedom to being solo in terms of dining at Disney. I could eat entirely on my schedule. Sometimes I would sit down for a slower meal in the air conditioning and other times I would just snack my way through mealtime, picking and choosing items I’d been wanting to try.
A Surprisingly Social Solo Trip
I know some people feel they would not want to travel alone to Disney fearing they would get lonely. However, the Food & Wine Festival turned out to be an unexpectedly social part of my trip. The standing high-top tables placed around the Festival booths are in short supply, and being alone, I almost always wound up sharing my table with other people. I surprised my normally introverted self by enjoying the experience. The Festival creates somewhat of a party atmosphere and everyone I met was friendly and eager to chat. I had the pleasure of sharing tables with a wide range of people. One time my table mates were a couple of sweet older ladies who were locals and were able to give me advice on the best items at the Festival this year compared to last year. Another time I ate with a boisterous group of three middle-aged couples wearing matching t-shirts who travel to the Food & Wine Festival every year without their kids. Meeting them made me feel that what I was doing was not so unusual.
Whether it was during flights, while waiting in lines for attractions, or at the Food & Wine Festival, I was constantly interacting with people. Nobody who knows me would describe me as being outgoing. However, I think that traveling solo greatly increased my awareness of other people. Normally I would be fully occupied with keeping tabs on my kids and making sure we were all having a good time. Being alone enabled me to take more notice of the people around me, and I was rewarded with very enjoyable interactions throughout my adventure.
Whether you are a mom or a dad, whether you work or stay home full-time, most parents have very little time to themselves. Taking a few days to recharge myself led to me discovering all sorts of surprise indulgences that come with solo travel.
I don’t think I ever gave thought to how truly luxurious it is to have a hotel room all to myself. Though I spent almost all of my time in the parks, it still felt indulgent being able to unpack just how I wanted, sleep with the TV on, and fulfill every mom’s dream of going to the bathroom alone.
Not needing to take into account anyone else’s schedule proved very freeing. I was able to be out the door very early every day, explore at my own pace, ride my favorite attractions repeatedly and have ice cream for lunch if I wanted.
There is also something special about having some memories all to myself. Sure, I shared what I was doing with my family – I used FaceTime on my phone to regularly check in with my husband and kids and show them what I was up to. But after returning from my trip, I created a photo book chronicling my adventures. Every so often I sit down with that book, remember the experiences I had when I was taking those pictures, and I smile at the memories that are all mine.
While nothing eclipses enjoying the magic that happens while at Disney with my children, experiencing Disney just for myself comes in a close second. I will never forget my “momcation” trip to Disney, and I am very much looking forward to planning another. One interaction I had at the beginning of my journey summed up my trip quite well. I had entered the queue line at the airport to board the Magical Express bus transportation to be taken to my resort. There was a gentleman in front of me who took notice of my being alone. He jokingly said to me, “did you forget your kids?”
“Nope,” I answered, smiling ear to ear. “This one’s just for me.”