I did all the heavy Disney lifting so you won’t have to

Major Epcot topiary cuteness.
Epcot topiary cuteness. I don’t even know what those are.

NOTE: This post is about Disney World in Orlando, FLA, not Land in Anaheim, CA. 

Even cursory readers of this blog know I frigging love Disney.

Wait – is ‘frigging‘ considered cussing? If it is, I’d like to retract. Momover Lady gave up swearing for Lent, and now she’s pretty much a cuss-free zone.

Anyhoo, I’ve written about my love for Disney on many occasions. I went there several times before the Wee Lass was even a twinkle in my eye, including an 8-day(!) trip with my sister during which Chip – or was it Dale? – took advantage of his costumed status to get totally handsy with me over breakfast at the Land in Epcot.

My point is that I’m a very good Disney customer.

And so is Hubby; we’ve taken our tot-lette three times, including this most recent trip, and have stayed at their premier properties (Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Animal Kingdom Lodge) for lengthy stretches.

“Lengthy stretches” is code for serious coin, btw; we don’t zip in and out, and we don’t stay off-property.

But while the previous jaunts with our little missy were quite fun, this one….wasn’t.

Let be more specific: Our trip was eventually fun.

But we had to work so hard to make it fun that it didn’t feel like a vacation, and I returned home utterly knackered, as the Brits say.

And I’m sorry, but I don’t think a trip to Disney should feel like work. It should be fun right out of the starting gate – and stay that way until you head for home.

Partially, this was our fault, which I’ll get to in a moment.

But mostly, it was Disney’s fault, which I’ll also get to in a moment.

And I’ll bundle all that finger-pointing in the form of tips to make your trip to Disney easier, and – gasp – fun.

But before you read any further:

These tips are aimed at first-timers and visitors from outside the States. Seasoned park-goers, especially Floridians, might read this and think, “Duh.” Consider yourself warned, Floridians.

On y va. Allez-y. Let’s go!

6-Tip Newbie Guide to a Less-Stressy Trip to Disney

1. If you book on the telephone – with a live human being – make sure you ask that live human being to disclose ALL restrictions.

Hubby is one of those rare individuals who still picks up a landline to actually speak to people. And even though it took literally HOURS for him to book our most recent trip (one call got dropped, by Disney, about 60 minutes in, and he had to start all over again), we still got hit with major sticker shock at the gates of Magic Kingdom. There were “blackout” dates around Magic Kingdom that we weren’t warned about, and it cost $800 – on the spot – to upgrade to “Park Hopper” tickets that would enable us to bounce around everywhere, unrestricted. Hubby thought he’d already bought Park Hoppers, so that was a rude, costly awakening.

2. Don’t even think of entering Magic Kingdom without Fast Passes for rides your tots most want to go on.

Because we like to be “spontaneous” and hop on rides as whimsy strikes, we aren’t Fast Pass People. But let me be clear: There is nothing even remotely spontaneous about standing in line for north of an hour. On our second night, the Wee Lass and I stood in line for Space Mountain for 90 minutes, only to get to the top and have the Disney operatives say the ride was shut down – temporarily but indefinitely. The indefinitely bit really threw me. It was hot and stuffy up there and packed with wild, hooting Space cases. Suddenly, I got claustrophobic, and panicky, and pulled the Wee Lass out to exit.

She was heart-broken, especially when, as we were exiting down a long, dark tunnel, we heard the ride crank back up again. She started crying, I started yelling, and it was all really, really sad.

The happy ending to this Tragic Kingdom Tale? When we got back to our room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Hubby got right on his iPad to suss-out the Fast Pass sitch. And the Wee Lass and I went on Space Mountain, stress-free, at 8 am the next morning.

We are now Fast Pass People.

3. Dial your dining expectations way back.

Food is the (very) weak link in the Disney chain. Even if you pay handsomely for it, as we did at Chefs de France at Epcot.

On our two previous trips as parents, Hubby and I dropped the Wee Lass off at the Neverland Club for the evening and headed to “Paris” for romantic dinners at Monsieur Paul. The ambiance was lovely, I used my bad French to order, and Champs was part of the equation.

I realize Chefs de France isn’t Monsieur Paul.

But for $170 for three people (one of whom is 9 years old), I don’t want paper placemats and napkins. And I very much don’t want chicken nuggets for my daughter. The last time I checked, chicken nuggets weren’t French. Step it up, Disney! Get pretentious on us! I want that in “Paris”!

And, bonjour, I want to be able to order Champs. A frosty, sparkling glass of Champs can go a long way in mitigating the sadness generated by a mediocre meal.

Even the (not cheap) simple stuff can be pretty bad in Disney.

I seem to recall the following exchange with my betrothed in Frontierland:

Moi to Hubby: How can you screw up a corn dog?

Hubby to Moi: I don’t know, but somehow they did.

Okay, I’m getting mean now, and I don’t want to. Moving on to other helpful tips…

4. Know that the newer roller coaster rides are far, far scarier than the older roller coaster rides.

Because Hubby’s back is prone to flaring, and he gets extremely “hurl-y” after bumpy rides, I got stuck going on all the coasters with the newly emboldened, thrill-seeking Wee Lass.

Thus I now have an informed opinion that I’d like to share with you to help you figure-out which, if any, of your kids should partake:

Space Mountain @ Magic Kingdom = Not Scary (Though it was renovated in 2009, it was originally built in 1975. Coasters just weren’t as death-defying back then.)

Expedition Everest @ Animal Kingdom = Pretty Scary (But so scenic and experiential, it’s worth it.)

Aerosmith Rock ‘n Roller Coaster @ Disney Hollywood Studios = Incredibly Scary (And utterly pitch-black inside, which ratchets up the terror.)

5. Give the less-famous parks a chance.

I understand completely that Magic Kingdom is the focal point for many families. And for good reason; it’s incredible. And so storied. It’s a Small World just might be the best ride of all time.

Still, there’s so much to see and do outside the Castle walls. The water parks – Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach – are adorbs, not that crowded, fun for all ages, and boast some of the best food (and beer) in the parks.

In addition to an excellent safari, and Expedition Everest, there are other really good rides in Animal Kingdom. We loved DINOSAUR, for example.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios was another low-key, pleasant surprise.

6. Do everything in your power to plan your trip for the off-seasons (i.e., not “spring break” in the U.S.)

I actually almost never yank the Wee Lass out of school for any type of vacation or otherwise festive activity.

However, I think that – especially if you’re coming from outside the U.S., and traveling a very far distance, and this may be your one and only trip to Disney  – you should try reallllly hard to avoid going in March and April. In particular, Magic Kingdom is uncomfortably packed during that time-frame.

In the three years that elapsed between our last visit and this one, the crowds have grown exponentially. And Hubby and I very much feel that Disney doesn’t have your back on this.

As great as it is – and I still, despite this last trip, want to go back some time – Disney is in the business of making money.

Make sure you get all the bang you can get for your bucks. Or your euros.