A trip to the Happiest Place on Earth can go sideways if you don’t plan ahead.
I love taking my family to Disney World (and Disneyland, and Disney cruises….) But it isn’t the Happiest Place on Earth when someone is having a meltdown. Listen to your kids (and your spouse) when they aren’t excited about the next ride or show and start saying things like, “I don’t want to meet Minnie Mouse; I want to go to the pool!” That means it’s time for a break. Head back to the hotel for a while or find a play area in the park. Mixing the high-intensity fun of rides and shows with a little relaxation is the key to a truly magical time at the Magic Kingdom.
Happiness research tells us that some of the pleasure in taking a vacation comes from planning it and thinking about it ahead of time. Let your kids participate in decision-making (when possible). Watch videos and look at websites together to get excited about the parks. To savor the trip even more, take photos while you’re there, get them printed and get together to compile them into an album when you are back home—thus reliving the fun over again.
Here are 10 more tips to make the most of your visit:
1. Do a little research
2. Set priorities
When planning your trip, ask family members what are the one or two things they don’t want to miss, such as meeting Tinker Bell or riding Space Mountain. Then build a schedule, making sure to include those things, and if you miss some lower-priority items, it’s OK.
3. Prepare a budget
Before you go, research and find out what it will cost for room, food, transportation, souvenirs, etc. Choose what you can afford. You don’t want to be surprised by the costs, or be so far over budget that your vacation becomes a financial albatross. Make sure to leave room for little splurges that will make everyone happy, like Mickey ice cream bars, T-shirts or other souvenirs.
4. Get the apps
Disney has gone high-tech—and we’re not talking about the Main Street Electrical Parade. Download some important apps before you go: The Disney Wait Times app is available in both Apple and Android. In addition, Disneyland and Disney World both have their own proprietary apps that let you know which characters will be where, when (essential!), FastPass return times (see below), restaurant menus and other handy items.
5. Get the Pass
Disney offers a FastPass that is free to everyone. Learn about it and use it! It will save you hours and hours of standing in line for rides.
6. Come early
7. Look around you
8. Take an animal break
9. Take advantage of together time
When standing in line (and you will be standing in line), don’t just look at devices to check email or play games—talk to one another! Don’t think of it as killing time as you wait to get on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride, think of it as a rare opportunity to spend quality time with your family. Don’t waste it.
10. Remember why you’re there
This is a vacation—not a competition or task to accomplish. Sleep in if you want to. Go back to the hotel to nap or play in the pool if you need to. The important thing is not to visit each ride or each park, but to have the best time with your family.
Read more: 8 Secrets to a Happy Family Road Trip
Deborah K. Heisz is the CEO and Editorial Director of Live Happy.