Many first time visitors to Disney theme parks are surprised to learn that Disney vacations can be a physically demanding affair. While some people prefer to spend their vacations sitting on a beach, or casually walking around small city centers, many theme park visitors find themselves ill-prepared to face the hours spent on their feet in Florida’s summer humidity and heat. Though the thought of preparing for indulgence in an ice cold Dole Whip, stopping in to greet Magician Mickey on Main Street, or plummeting down Splash Mountain don’t necessarily scream, “Drop and give me 20!”, even a partial day at a Disney park can leave many tired and sore. Though I am not a doctor, and cannot give personalized medical advice, years of Disney vacations have taught my family, friends and I many helpful tricks to set our vacation up for success before we leave. From toddlers, to grandparents, and everyone in between:
Here are 5 tips that may help you to physically prepare for your Disney vacation:
1) Sleep, sleep, sleep!
Just like mamma used to say when we were little, it’s important to get a good night’s sleep. And while it irritated us back then, it’s started making more and more sense now. (Some would even say we started to overestimate this sage wisdom as we made our way through our early 20’s, but I digress…) Sleep and rest are especially important when faced with long days in the parks and around the resorts. Many people like to maximize their time as best as possible during their stay, including early entry to the parks, spending full days on rides….in attractions….meeting characters, and then finally staying up late to catch the final moments of magic for the day. This means you need to have energy before you start your vacation….which will inevitably require….more energy to fully appreciate and enjoy! (Funny how life works sometimes, isn’t it?).
Though you may be tempted to sacrifice sleep before and during your vacation, be careful that you don’t push your personal boundaries too far. When your body finally says, “Stop!”, there isn’t a whole lot more you can do than listen. You will no doubt want to enjoy all that Disney has to offer during your vacation, so make sure you get plenty of sleep and rest before arriving. (And if you are parents of newborns? If you can balance your schedule beforehand to get enough sleep, you have set yourself up for success already.
2) Think ahead about your health – Go for walks / jog, then Give the Dr. a call?
Let’s be honest: In this day and age, many of us lead pretty sedentary lives. Many people are not prepared for walking and spending long hours on our feet in the hot summer sun, regardless of age. Add in different eating habits & food, less rest, and more time spent on your feet, and many will quickly notice the hours and steps logged daily.
According to friends, family, and personal experience, we walk at least 10-12 miles on an average day visiting the parks. This is a lot more than many of us walk normally! If you are not prepared beforehand, this can be quite a physical shock. And not only a shock, but a costly one, if it means that you are forced to miss out on a large portion of your time recovering at your resort (or even worse: in an emergency room).
If you are not used to walking or being on your feet very much daily, it may be a good idea to set up your own training schedule before your vacation. Though the idea of physical training may at first seem a bit absurd (considering you are prepping for a vacation, and not a marathon), many may find the extra preparation well worth it. Draw up your own personal schedule, starting a month or two ahead of time. Start slowly, and gradually increase time and distance each week or so. Don’t push. Take it in small steps (Hint: Listen to a DIS podcast or Disney tunes while you walk. It will help you have fun, make the time go faster, and remind you why you are doing it in the first place.) When it’s time for your vacation, you will avoid the sudden physical shock and can instead enjoy yourself in the moment! To boil it all down: The better physical shape you are in, the more you can potentially do and enjoy on your vacation.
While calling our family physician is not exciting or on a typical list of Disney prep items, it may be important for some people. Though many don’t necessarily need to give their doctor a call, there may be many who find themselves struggling with strange pains or nagging illness in the weeks leading up to their vacation. If you have previous outstanding health issues, or perhaps have lingering issues that have snuck up out of nowhere, it can be very beneficial to set up an appointment. You or a loved one may just need some advice on how to best deal with their previous health issues, in order to ensure they are safe and comfortable on their vacation. But checking out nagging newer problems can also help you avoid having to leave the Magic Kingdom on your first afternoon, after finding out you were dealing with a more serious health condition than you had first anticipated.
Calling your doctor is not a must. However, if in doubt, it may be wise to give your doc a call. After all, why potentially spoil your big Disney vacation? No one wants to spend their Disney parks time at the emergency room (or a hospital bed!). Unseen medical emergencies can always come up unexpectedly, with no forewarning. But we can all minimize our chances of an unhappy ending in the “Happiest Place on Earth”. If you need medical advice, it is wise to seek out an expert. Be prepared!
3) De-stress before you arrive
No, I’m not talking about taking a vacation before your vacation (You know. To deal with the stress of your bigger upcoming vacation. That’s a whole different article entirely…and not a luxury I’m used to. But I hear rumors…)
Many people make “to-do” lists in the weeks prior to their vacation. At work or home: Life is busy, and we have things that need to get done! While these lists are perhaps necessary, and at least well-intentioned, they are often filled with many large tasks and unrealistic expectations. These expectations we place on ourselves may exert massive amounts of stress on both us and our loved ones, draining us of both time and energy in the hopes that we can get them done before leaving (so we can finally “relax on vacation”).
While it is important to be responsible, and maybe even create a little extra pixie dust for our little ones prior to departure, it is important to ensure that stress does not ruin your Disney vacation before it gets started. If you work yourself into a frenzy up until departure, you may find it hard to flip that switch back off when the magic is supposed to begin. This may not only empty you of energy, but may also create unwanted strain on patience and relationships…Definitely not a good game plan for your precious vacation! Sometimes it means striking some items from our list. Other times it means we plan on giving ourselves an extra day at a hotel until we can fully let go and enter into vacation mode. There are many ways people de-stress. No matter how busy you are before you leave, it can be greatly beneficial to plan ahead to allow yourself to “catch your breath” before you leave. If you wait too long, it may be too late!
4) Have a plan
In my experience, there are two basic types of visitors to Disney parks. The first typically likes to show up and walk around, doing whatever strikes their fancy “then and there”. They may be new to Disney vacations, or are simply spontaneous in spirit. Adventure and mystery are the name of their game! They like to be completely uninhibited and “go with the flow”. They may find the “Disney magic” by seeing each day unfold in a unique and spontaneous fashion.
The other type typically likes to plan their Disney vacation ahead of time, albeit from varying degrees, so they are at least somewhat prepared and know what each day will at generally look like. From several sentences to a detailed minute-by-minute itinerary, this type better enjoys their “Disney Magic”, knowing they will get to experience the rides and attractions that enticed them to book their vacation in the first place.
No matter your preferred strategy, from a physical perspective, having at least a general daily plan will allow you to schedule breaks at more convenient times and places. This will allow you to potentially have better control, and give you the maximum amount of rest and comfort when you need a meal or rest. It also allows you to avoid situations where you could potentially face a physical challenge you weren’t prepared to deal with. Your plan does not have to be rigid or call for micromanagement. Just save some time…ahead of time. And use your time wisely.
Another part of having a plan means packing a small kit of health related articles you will or may need on your trip. This list may range from the absolutely necessary (medication), to the very smart to have (painkillers, nail clippers, allergy medicine, blister bandaids, etc.) While medical staff at the parks have access to the usual (bandaids/disinfectant), it is always nice to have easy access to items you may need during the course of your vacation.
5) Even the best laid plans… Take it easy!
Relax! Take a break…You’re on vacation, after all! Though we all want to get the most out of our Disney vacation, sometimes we can all reach the point where we’ve started to reach our physical limits. Everyone is different, and just because something worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for everyone else. (And, as we get older, sometimes we find that something that worked for us before doesn’t necessarily work for us now, either.) And that’s where we face the choice: Do we push through the pain or physical discomfort setting in? Or can we allow ourselves to take a nap or break by the pool, in order to head out refreshed and ready later on? Just remember: Life is about balance. Take it from one of James Tolkan’s famous words of wisdom: You’re a slacker, McFly! Be careful not to let your ego “Write checks your body can’t cash.”
Above all, it’s important to remember that life has a tendency to give us the unexpected from time to time, whether good or…not so good. While there are things we have no control over, there are things we can do to try to minimize our risk. There are concrete steps we can take in order to ensure we can withstand the “typical” physical challenges that an exciting Disney vacation offers. (Just remember to consult a medical expert before forming a plan to meet your own health needs.) With a little extra effort and forethought, we can all avoid common pitfalls and more comfortably enjoy our Disney vacation!
Jonathan is a Disney and Star Wars aficionado who currently resides in Europe with his beautiful (and out of his league) wife and awesome kids. When not planning his next WDW vacation, he has been known to write here and there about various topics in his spare time....