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Why I Took a Break From Disney, and How it Helped Me Rediscover the Magic

It’s been a weird few years, to put it gently. The last time I stepped foot in a Disney park was Christmas 2018. I know some would roll their eyes at the thought of just over three years being “a long time away from Disney,” but for a family that went annually—sometimes multiple times a year—it’s felt like an eternity. 

We’ve been going to Disney for as long as I can remember. My grandma lived near Tampa, so every 2-4 summers we’d take the drive down to Disney for a week, then head over and see Grandma Pirone for another week. In between those years, we’d take smaller road trips along the east coast. We’d spend a long weekend in the Poconos or Lancaster, Pennsylvania; we went to New Hampshire one year; even smaller theme parks in the New York/New Jersey area like Knoebels, Story Land, and Hershey. In other words…Disney was always our big vacation. 

By the time I was in college, my dad was retired, my mom had accrued tons of vacation days, and my sister was a few years into her teaching career. Because we’d all have the holidays off in one way or another, we decided to try visiting during Christmas. Our one-time trip in 2009 quickly turned into an annual tradition. By around 2012, our family simply stopped asking what our plans were for Christmas, knowing very well that we’d be spending it in Disney. 

After I graduated and got a full-time job, my sister and I were able to pay our own way. We started staying at Deluxe resorts (Beach Club was our go-to), and would visit for other holidays, like Easter and Halloween. We even became Annual Passholders one year! 

So why’d we take time off from Disney? It’s only fair that I tell you that we fully anticipated going for Thanksgiving 2020. It would have been my godson’s first trip, but COVID put it on hold for a bit. But even as the vaccine rolled out and everyone was hopeful that the pandemic was over in 2021, we couldn’t bring ourselves to go back to Disney just yet. Here’s a few reasons why we took the break from Disney World and how it helped us rediscover the magic heading into our 2022 return. 

A Disney Vacation stopped feeling like a “vacation”

It’s something I tell anyone who’s going to Walt Disney World for the first time. Whether it’s waking up early to get to rope drop, or the 20k+ steps you’ll walk each day, you will return from your vacation needing a vacation. But it goes beyond waking up early and exponentially increasing your daily steps… 

A Disney trip requires a lot of planning, but back in 2018, you basically needed to start planning your trip at least a year in advance. You’d have to set calendar reminders for 180 and 60 days in advance. We had to make dining reservations 180+ days in advance. I can’t tell you what I want for dinner tonight, let alone 180 days from now. And booking FastPass+ 60 days in advance meant betting on a number of factors, like the weather and how your day was going to play out. 

<em>Prime Rib at Crystal Palace<em>

Because we had always gone to Disney growing up, we were always used to being on the go. But somewhere around 2015, waking up at 4:30am on Christmas Day wasn’t met with excitement, it was met with a sigh and eye roll. 

Between all the planning and always moving, Disney vacations started feeling like work. Even when we started to pull back and make time to enjoy the pool or wake up later and head to Disney Springs instead of battling the crowds at the parks, we found ourselves checking the time to be sure we’d make our next FP+ or dining reservation. 

My family has since learned that it doesn’t matter whether we’re at Disney or at the beach, we’re simply programmed to go-go-go. But at least we’ve now channeled that energy and sense of wanderlust to see some new places. 

Taking a few actual vacations and seeing some new places has allowed us to relax a bit—comparatively speaking. We found ourselves actually sleeping late and taking things slow as we explored new cities. It was refreshing to not always be on a schedule or worrying about what’s next…despite still having a pre-built itinerary going into each and every trip (I couldn’t help myself).

Having not been to Disney since 2018, I’m excited for a bit less structure. With Disney adding park reservations, we no longer feel the need to rush to the parks for rope drop. And now only having to make dining reservations 60 days in advance, it takes a lot of stress out of planning. We no longer have to think about what we’d like to eat nearly a half-year in advance. I’m also intrigued by the new Genie+ and the ability to make selections day-of and on-the-go. I really preferred MaxPass while in Disneyland, and believe Genie+ will allow us to carve out some time for a pool day. No more making a FastPass+ months in advance and feeling guilty when it’s a picture-perfect 80-degree day in December and you’re stuck choosing between the pool or riding Seven Dwarfs Mine Train for the umpteenth time. 

Disney started to feel a bit stale

I feel guilty even muttering those words. No matter how many times I saw Wishes or Fantasmic…or even Illuminations, it always felt like the first time. But during our last trip, I didn’t feel the same level of excitement that I’d felt in past years. Going to Disney felt almost robotic. 

Now having not been since 2018, there’s a lot of new things at the parks to see and do. The last time I stepped foot in Hollywood Studios, there were walls around Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Admittedly, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, but I’m excited to see how Disney has brought the movies to life. While I enjoyed Happily Ever After, I’m pumped to check out the new fireworks at Magic Kingdom, see the new Ratatouille ride and show at Epcot, and even the resort we’ll be staying at, Gran Destino Tower, wasn’t open the last time we visited. 

<em>Future entrance to Star Wars Galaxys Edge in Hollywood Studios<em>

And as they always say, distance makes the heart grow fonder. I’m upset that Expedition Everest won’t be open when we return in April, but can’t wait to be launched on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or dropped on Tower of Terror. I’m looking forward to trying all the nostalgic snacks and to once again experience all the sights, sounds, and smells that are so authentic to Disney, as well as all the new ones. 

Disney Became Too “Comfortable” 

The Disney bubble is very real, both from a theming standpoint, as well as feeling safe and comfortable. Think about it: as you enter Disney, it’s like the rest of the world is left in the rearview mirror. From there, everything is a short bus or monorail ride away, both of which are pretty foolproof. Disney is more or less an all-inclusive resort (you know…plus the cost of food and drinks!)  

Yes, planning a Disney trip can be stressful and used to be even more tedious, but the more we went to Disney, the faster we learned. And suddenly, we had a collection of go-tos and strategies for tackling the days. And with that, our trips started to grow formulaic…and we became incredibly comfortable. 

So when we finally did start to book trips to other cities, I was overwhelmed. Getting dining reservations was the least of my worries. I was concerned with how we would get there, what traffic would be like, whether we were staying in a “safe” part of town, and how much to budget for meals and activities. 

I remember when planning our trip to California, my mom remarked “there’s something to be said about going to Disney! It’s so much easier to plan!” And that’s when I knew we needed to break out of the Disney bubble and try new things. 

Now having traveled and gone outside of our “comfort zone,” it’s not only allowed us to see new places, but it gave us a new appreciation for the normal Disney routine. We will certainly value the ease of hopping on a bus and arriving at a park that we know like the back of our hand. It no longer feels redundant, it simply feels familiar. 

There’s so many other places to see

Like I said, we grew up going to Walt Disney World. It was the only “big” vacation we knew. Don’t get me wrong, I’m forever grateful for it and we made tons of memories, but we missed out on seeing a lot of places. 

I’m not sure if it was my dad passing away shortly after our 2018 trip—when we promised that we’d travel to different places; or COVID making me appreciate travel and see how quickly it can all be taken away; but we’ve really prioritized traveling and seeing new places over the last three (well, two) years. 

Sure, I had gone to different cities with friends; and my job allows me to travel to some pretty interesting places from time to time; but it took me thirty years to fly cross country and see California. When we did, we went big: starting in San Francisco and driving down the coast to San Diego. We celebrated last Easter in Tennessee, took a summer trip to Savannah and Charleston, visited New Orleans for Thanksgiving,  and spent Christmas road tripping around Texas. 

We now feel a lot more rounded. No, we can’t walk around the Epcot World Showcase and marvel at how “realistic the pavilions are” quite yet; but we have traveled to a lot of the locations that inspired some of our favorite resorts and areas within Disney World. For example, by driving through Muir Woods and Big Sur, we gained an appreciation for the theming at Wilderness Lodge. In San Diego, we toured the Hotel Del Coronado, which was the main inspiration for Disney’s Grand Floridian exterior. And while exploring the French Quarter in New Orleans, we couldn’t help but notice its similarities to Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside resorts. We also made a stop at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, where we learned about the man behind all the magic. 

As we head into our next Disney trip, we no longer feel guilty for going. We’re not left wondering whether there’s more places we should be seeing or things we can be doing. Disney is now just another location (one that’s near and dear to our heart) on our long list of cities and destinations.

It’s hard to justify the costs

It’s no secret that a Disney vacation is expensive and only getting more pricey. In years past, we’d grin and bear it. We’d “stick with what we knew” and return to the very place that made us happy. But in 2019 we “changed it up” and took our trip through California and realized just how much more we can see for a fraction of, or a similar cost. 

Last Easter, we did a road trip through Kentucky and Tennessee. We had always wanted to see Pigeon Forge and the Smoky Mountain area; and if we were going to be within driving distance of the bourbon trail in Kentucky, well, I insisted we make a ‘pit stop’. The entire trip cost us just under $3k and we got to see new places, eat some truly amazing food, and check new cities off our bucket list. Had we gone to Disney during Easter, it would have cost around $6k to stay on property and visit the parks. 

Fresh off our Easter and summertime trip to Savannah, we decided to cancel our Christmas vacation at Walt Disney World. It would have cost nearly $10k for eight nights in Disney, staying at the Beach Club. Yes, we tried to downgrade to a Moderate resort, but there was nothing available. Instead, we flew to Dallas where we rented a car and took a road trip through Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. This was obviously before the crazy gas prices, but we did rent a hybrid van, which I highly recommend if you plan on doing a road trip! We were able to see the four major cities in Texas; explore the Hill Country; enjoy the best barbecue and food we’ve ever had, and again, check new cities off our bucket list for right around $7k. Mind you, that price could have been lower, but we dined out almost every meal.

As we get ready to return to Disney, well, it’s still expensive. In fact, it’s more expensive than we remember. And frankly, the prices of food and hotels are a bit more glaring after a few trips to different cities. But I think our time away from Disney and knowing that it’ll be a “once every few years” type of trip (not counting Easter or our Thanksgiving trip with my entire family) makes it a bit more palatable. But if we had only taken trips to Disney and planned on returning for Thanksgiving and Christmas and the Christmas after that, it’d be a lot more difficult to swallow the accept the cost. 

We’ll never stop going to Disney. Maybe we’re a bit too nostalgic, but it was such an instrumental part of our childhood and shaped us as a family. But gone are the days going every year. Just like when my sister and I were younger, Disney will become a once every 3-4 year vacation, and making sure we’re visiting during bigger events (like the 50th Anniversary) or after new attractions and shows have opened. 

And therein lies Disney’s greatest issue, but also its greatest strength. Every fan is different, but I think with the ever-increasing cost of a Disney vacation, many fans will visit less frequently. But…they’ll still visit. And those less frequent trips, along with a few new attractions or shows every few years will help keep things fresh and more importantly, the magic alive.

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Pete Pirone is a 32-year-old writer who loves Walt Disney World. He grew up going to Disney. His family has celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and even attended a wedding at Disney World.

Pete and the rest of the Pirone clan have celebrated every Christmas from 2009-2018 at Disney. Having spent years traveling during the most crowded time of the year, Pete uses his knowledge to develop tips and tricks for tacking the crowds and creating an efficient trip itinerary—no matter when you go!

When he's not writing, Pete is cooking and trying out new restaurants. He's a huge foodie and can often be found dining and eating his way around Walt Disney World.

Pete also hates writing in the third person...


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