Ellen: It’s just that I know how you build things up in your mind, Sparky. You set standards that no family event can ever live up to.
Clark: When have I ever done that?
-Clark and Ellen Griswold in Christmas Vacation
Let's face it--Disney vacations can be stressful. It's no longer a matter of simply choosing some dates, reserving lodging, buying tickets and showing up. From ADR's and FastPasses to transportation and lodging choices, crowd calendars, and extra magic hours, things can complicated in a hurry. For that reason, deciding to go on a Disney vacation often triggers many months of careful planning and building anticipation. For many of us, it also encourages wildly unrealistic expectations for the perfect Disney vacation. While it’s fun to laugh at Clark W. Griswold as his hopes for a flawless Wally World or Christmas vacation come crashing down thanks to a painful reality check, we can learn a lot from Sparky when it comes to preventing a similar experience for our families and ourselves.
One of the most common mistakes families make in planning Disney vacations is not thinking and talking early on about what they want most to take home from the experience. I think it’s safe to say that for many of us, the takeaway we want more than anything else is a batch of good memories of enjoying time together and taking a break from our everyday routines. Trouble is (and I learned this the hard way) if you don’t make a conscious decision before you leave home to maintain that perspective, there’s a good chance you’ll end up disappointed and even create special moments that make everyone wish they were back home.
Despite Disney’s best efforts to provide a trouble-free, “happiest place on earth” type of experience, things happen: attractions break down, parks get crowded, the weather gets bad, kids misbehave (not to mention all the potential issues that can crop up on the way with airport delays and so forth). Depending on how tightly we’ve wound ourselves up prior to the trip, it can take only one mishap to start making memories that are anything but happy. Here’s a personal example: on one of our early trips to Walt Disney World, a dad and his daughter cut in line in front of us on Kali River Rapids. (The fact that the standby and FastPass queues are only partially divided encourages this, but that’s another story.) To say the least, I was not happy about the fact that anyone would dare to do such a thing especially after I had gone to the trouble of making FastPasses (!) and was quick to make my feelings known to the offending party.
I was pretty proud of myself for standing up against such remarkable presumption until I finished the tirade and looked at my family. I thought for sure they would all be beaming with pride that I had refused to allow anyone to trample our right to be next in line. Instead, they were appalled and embarrassed. From that moment, despite everything else that had gone fine (and would, for the rest of our time there), that trip became known as “the one where Dad flipped out in line at Kali River.” Not exactly what I had hoped for. Perhaps the most ironic part of the whole story is that, after all the hubbub, it made absolutely no difference in our wait time and we all ended up in the same raft which was more than a little awkward.
Looking back, I’m just glad it didn’t draw enough attention to get one or both of us thrown out of the park for disruptive behavior. (Yes, Disney has a policy on that.) More than that, though, I realized that my efforts to achieve a perfect trip had backfired and that my reaction to a minor problem had turned it into the kind of memory no one wants to travel home with. If only a PhotoPass photographer had been there to capture the moment!
When visiting the parks, it doesn’t take long to notice that there are a lot of very unhappy people there. They don’t look like they’re on vacation or even in a good mood, and very often it’s because something has happened that’s not consistent with the perfect vacation they anticipated. They’ve spent a lot of time, money, and energy to make sure everything turned out just right and it didn’t. At the risk of stating the obvious, no one’s vacation is ever perfect--despite what we see and hear in the “Facebooked” versions lots of people share during and after their trips: “There were no lines anywhere, the weather was perfect, and a bus was waiting for us every time we needed one!” Yeah, right.
It’s no secret that our reactions to problems are contagious—if you don’t believe me just take a look at the faces of the kids who accompany one or more parents who have “had it” around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. on a hot day in the Magic Kingdom. So do your homework and plan ahead (preferably with the free, expert help of a ConciEARS vacation planner), but refuse to allow unexpected, unavoidable deviations from those plans to become the focal point of your vacation. To quote what has become the cliché of all clichés, “Let It Go” and stick to the goal of making your trip memorable in the best possible ways. As Clark learned at Wally World, taking those mishaps in stride can even make things more fun.
Do you have a strategy for preventing mishaps from ruining your Disney vacations? Please share in the comments section below. Next time we’ll review some tactics for dealing with large crowds at the parks. As I mentioned above, it’s one of the most common Disney guest gripes but doesn’t have to drain the fun from your trip.