Crying, yelling, pouting, meltdowns, from children and adults alike: anyone who has spent even a few hours in a Disney park has seen some of these behaviors. If Disney is the “Happiest Place on Earth”, then why can it provoke so much stress?
I’m going to get brutally honest in this blog about some of the stresses of a Disney vacation. I’m not trying to convince you not to go, or say that it isn’t worth it. It totally is! I love Disney and the parks fill me with joy. I want you to get the most out of your time at Disney, and with an honest discussion of the ways things can go wrong, I think you’ll be prepared for an amazing trip.
A year ago I was at Disneyland with my youngest daughter for a Halloween trip. We were in a very long line to see Maleficent at about 10:30 PM. In line ahead of us was a family with a tired and frightened little girl of about 5. That girl was terrified of meeting Maleficent. She complained, begged, whined, and cried, asking to just go to bed. For some reason, a photo with Maleficent was important to her parents. First, they locked her in a stroller, saying “babies have to stay in strollers,” then called her a variety of names including “selfish” and “brat”. Finally, when the poor girl was at complete meltdown, her mother raised her hand and nearly slapped the crying child. I gasped so loudly that the mother stopped and glared at me. Then she said something nasty to her daughter and stomped away.
I hope that we can all agree that if you’re so invested in a Disney experience that you’re willing to hit your frightened, tired child, you need to reassess your priorities. Variations of this kind of behavior happen all the time at Disney. How many times have you heard something like “if you’re not having fun, I’ll make you have fun!” Families can’t agree on what to ride; they get tired, hungry, and stressed out. Then their magical vacation crashes down.
I think some of this stress is exacerbated by how different time at Disney is from our everyday life.
Most of us do a lot of things at Disney we don’t do every day:
Walk long distances
Stand for long periods of time
Wait in long lines
Get up very early and/or stay up very late
Spend more money than most of us do daily
Feel the stress of not missing anything while also trying to make everyone happy
Repeatedly experience attractions designed to overwhelm the senses
Another part of the problem is that for most of us, a Disney vacation is a serious investment of time and money. I won’t sugar coat it. Disney is expensive for the average American family. I believe it’s worth it, but that doesn’t change the cost. For some people, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We want to get the most out of what we’re spending. When in other situations we would rest, eat, sit down, or take breaks, we don’t at Disney because it’s expensive and we don’t know when, or if, we’ll be back. This is a pressure cooker of family stress.
This is a good example of the economic principle called the “sunk cost fallacy”. My cousin Kate who is a brilliant economist taught me about this a long time ago, and it really changed the way I view the world. The idea is that once you’ve spent the money, you think you need to keep going with the activity, or your money is wasted. When you say to yourself “I’ve spent money on these tickets, we need to get our money’s worth” but you’re tired, grumpy and miserable, then you’re in the sunk cost fallacy. The money is spent, you are not getting it back. The best way to make sure your money isn’t wasted, is to take care of yourself, and actually have a good time. It doesn’t do you good to spend a lot of money and not have fun when there are things you can do to take care of yourself and your family and prevent your vacation from melting down.
What I hope you will take to heart is that a Disney vacation is not meant to be an investment in misery. If you need 30 minutes sitting on a bench with a snack and some water to recharge, or to go back to the hotel for a rest, then do it. It’s a far better choice to take some time out than grind yourself down, wear out your children, or have a family fight. Plus, the parks are full of places where you can sit and watch amazing shows. Plan those as part of your day so you aren’t on your feet all the time.
If you find yourself getting grumpy and tired, take a break, have a snack. If your temper is rising, leave the kids with your partner or friend, and walk away for 5 minutes and just breath. If your group allows, divide into smaller groups so everyone does age-appropriate activities. Go back to the hotel for a swim during the hottest part of the day. Take a nap. If your child is frightened of something, don’t force her. If there is a way you can do it on your own, try to make that work. If not, you don’t want your child’s memory of the Disney trip to be one of being terrified, do you?
Be gentle with yourselves and those you care about, even at Disney where there is so much to do and see. It’s not bad to have long days, to get up early, to stay late, to try to ride as much as possible. That’s part of the experience of Disney! I urge you to pay attention to when you’re hitting your limits, and not try to go past them. That way lies misery.
Finally, let go of the idea that you can do it all on one trip. It’s not possible, and that’s ok. Do the things that are most important to you, do them twice if you want! I’ve been going to Disneyland pretty consistently since I was an infant, as have my children, and the list of things we haven’t done is probably longer than what we have done. We have made a lot of memories, and enjoyed ourselves. I believe that when my children grow up, they’ll look back at trips to Disneyland the way I do, as magical experiences they want to repeat.
At ConciEARS, we’re experts at helping you plan a Disney vacation that fits your family’s needs and schedule. Talk to your personal ConciEAR about working out a schedule for each day of your visit that will help prevent meltdowns by kids or grownups.