Taking the kids to Disney: What to do?

Is it possible for adults and children to both enjoy a family trip to Disney?

Disney-family-vacation Photo: iStockphoto

My parents took my older sisters and me to Disney World when I was just three years old. I don’t remember anything about my trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. So I knew that I would wait to take my own kids until they were old enough to really enjoy it. I think that time is now—Anna is eight and Avery is six—so I started putting out feelers about other parents’ Disney experiences.

The first three people I spoke with, coincidentally, couldn’t say enough about the amazing virtues of the Disney Cruise. “It was the best vacation I’ve ever been on,” said one (yes, an adult). “They think of everything—it really is magical,” said another. And finally, the one that made me second-guess how I’d assumed our Disney adventure would play out: “We did the cruise/park combo and I wish we’d spent all our days on the cruise. It was incredible.”

I started to think: Do we need to go to the Walt Disney World park? Will my kids be irreparably harmed for life if they don’t see that famous castle up close and can say to everyone “We’ve been there!”

Read more: The ultimate guide to Walt Disney World>

Because I have to be honest: Disney seems like a whole lot of work to me—work that starts a long time before we even step foot on a plane and continues through all the days we spend there. It also sounds like lots of lines and lots of structured timelines and lots of “Hurry—we’ve got to be here now!” and lots of packed days so we don’t miss anything. It’s kind of funny—whenever I ask someone who’s been to Disney World about her experience, the exact same thing happens: She gets this manic look in her eyes and then launches into a very passionate monologue that includes the phrases, “You have to make sure you do X” and “It’s best to stay on the resort/off the resort, because XYZ” and “Don’t do the meal plan” or “Absolutely do the meal plan” and “Make sure you book XY and Z early because they sell out” and “You can do X in one day, then do this the next day, then this and that the next day” and “You need to get Disney stuff to wear at the park” and “All little girls need to do the Bippity Boppity Boutique!” She then sits back and sighs and smiles and says, “It really was so much fun.”

They all say that. Even the people who aren’t keen on Disney return completely entranced by the experience. It amazes me. I guess the thing is, as much as I want to give my girls the Disney experience—I think it’s something they’ll love and remember—I’m not convinced it has to take place at Disney World.


Read more: Amusement parks: A survival guide>

I may have it all wrong (and I write this in the hopes that you’ll correct me if that is so), but the park doesn’t sound like fun to me. It sounds busy and crowded and structured and like a lot to cover in a short period of time, even though I hear they make it easy for you to do all the things you want to do. My kids aren’t huge on rides (and we also live very close to an amusement park) and they don’t do well being rushed. Besides, the last thing I want to do on our holiday is have to bark at my kids constantly about keeping to a schedule. I worry they’ll get tired of all the walking instead of enjoying the fun stuff, and just want to hang out at the hotel. (We also live near hotels with pools!)

Which brings me to the cruise. We went on the Barbie Cruise early last year and the kids had a blast. Scratch that—we all had a blast. I loved that there was so much fun stuff to do and it was all contained in one (gigantic) ship. There were pools and mini golf and shows and a boardwalk and a kids’ club and self-serve ice cream machines. The food and service were amazing. When we needed downtime, we could go to our room and order snacks and chill out, but, within minutes, we could head out to do something if the mood struck us. We loved the ports and excursions and at the end of our seven days, we all wanted to stow away and keep on going.

My understanding of the Disney Cruise is that you get the “experience,” just without the rides. Kids still get to enjoy the characters, the shows, the million special little touches to make the magic—and I think those are the things that would make the holiday so memorable for my girls. Not to mention, I think Sean and I would have a much better time. But maybe I’m letting that sway my opinion too much. Am I being selfish? I don’t get a lot of vacation time, and I really do want to enjoy this time away, too. And truthfully, I'm not the best trip-planner—I'm more of an all-inclusive girl—and I worry that I'll be dropping balls all over the place and turn this cherished childhood holiday into a stressed-out splotch in their memories.

Of course, the cruise does come with a bigger price tag and the amount is significant. But if we’re going to do Disney once—and I only plan to do this once—should we save up for the experience of a lifetime? Should we do a combination of the park and cruise to get the best of both worlds (albeit each at an accelerated pace)? I really don’t know.


I’d love your best advice and strategies for giving your family the best Disney experience.

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005. Read more of her Tracy’s mama memoir posts and tweet her@T_Chappell.

This article was originally published on Jul 30, 2014

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