If You Do This on a Disney Vacation, You May Totally Regret It Later

2 princess how to behave at Disney World

Updated for 2016!

The Disney Company are masters of commercials making their theme parks seem like magical lands where happy families come to laugh, smile, and enjoy each other’s company. In Facebook group after group, people rave about how fantastic their Disney vacations were. They talk endlessly about how they can’t wait to return again for more fun. If there were problems, you may hear about long lines, occasional service or reservation issues, and maybe rainy weather. But most often lost among the happy Disney chatter is the rare discussion about how traveling to Disney World with friends, family, and children can be incredibly stressful.  And so, expecting  smiles and fun, many people are caught off guard by the reality of the situation.

So let’s get it out there in the open and talk about it.

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how to ruin a Disney vacation

Disney World vacations can be stressful.

Extremely stressful.

Crazy stressful.

This is not a secret to Cast Members. They deal with exhausted and stressed out people all the time, every day in fact, and they do a remarkable job smiling while people lose their cool all around them.

Despite your best made plans and good intentions, sometimes friends and family just can’t quite hold it all together when they leave home for some vacation fun. Kids have tantrums in very public spots like packed monorails and boats. Couples have verbal fights in ride lines that seem to go on forever. You suddenly realize how much this vacation is costing, and the small things start irritating you. Tempers flare, words are exchanged, and suddenly the trip you planned for months can take a sad turn for the worst in just minutes. Unreasonable happiness expectations are as crazy high as summertime Florida temperatures, which can lead to some epic scenes of personal sadness.

The reality is that you may not look like the family in the Disney World commercial, laughing on Dumbo or hugging each other as you walk down Main Street, U.S.A. And when people start stressing and freaking out, saying all sorts of horrible things to their traveling companions, vacations can be ruined.

Once those words and actions are out there, you can not take them back.

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stress on vacation at Disney World

People watching is a fascinating way to pass the time, both observing their interactions and listening to conversations. In the last two years, I wrote down conversations word for word in preparation for this article. Verbatim. You can’t make this kind of stuff up, or you wouldn’t if you really loved Disney. I’m going to share some stories we overheard at Disney parks during various times.

I want to give a word of warning about the following edited-language. It’s rough and quite unpleasant, but it’s honest stuff with real emotions.

Let’s talk about it…

Last summer my family walked by a group of about eight people who were most likely family as well. This was 9:30 a.m., and they had probably been there since before 8:00 a.m. for Extra Magic Hours. Why would I guess that? They already looked hot and tired, and they also looked visibly mad. One person was refusing to ride the Tea Cups, thus the anger. How do I know they were angry? Because three of the eight people were screaming at each other, and I mean literally screaming. Four members of my family over heard this, “You have been a *******  ***** ever since you talked to your ******* sister this morning,” yelled by a man to a woman standing less than one foot away from her face. I’m standing 10 feet away from the Tea Cups entrance; I can hear Disney music from speakers.

I don’t want to seem like we’re a family of prudes (we are not, having seen Step Brothers more times than I should publicly admit) but my mouth fell open. As did my 9th grade daughter’s. My 5th grade son couldn’t look away. As we walked past, the yelling continuing at full volume, just screaming, and I looked back several times to see if a physical fight would ensue.

So much for the Happiest Place on Earth.

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how to behave at Disney World

Let’s talk about it…

Mom to teen daughter, “You’re going to get your a$$ magically smacked if you don’t shut up.” 

Mom to teen son, “Are you having a good time?” Surly teen, in a tone you would recognize if you have ever had dealings with teenagers, replies, “Nope.” Mom, “I just want to choke you right now.”

Mom to her middle school-aged son, “Next time you talk to me like that on a ride, I will slap you in your Mickey Mouse face. Then the pirates can sift through your ******* teeth for gold. Or have Goofy bury them.” Not a word was spoken in response from the formerly chatty son.

A mom walked by with her 10-year-old son and said,” I am going to put my foot so far up your *** that you will be ****ing shoelaces for a week.”

My husband and daughter watched a woman in her thirties say to her male companion, “I’m going to choke you now and throw you down.”

It’s not like we were eavesdropping on any of these conversations. These people were speaking louder than a normal conversational voice while several were actually shouting.  There seems to be a somewhat common theme running through these verbal snippets, and it has to do with bodily harm and being choked while on vacation. If you aren’t feeling the love, neither was I. And obviously at the time, these people weren’t feeling the love either.

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Grumpy at Disney World

And sometimes verbal incidents escalate into physical altercations. It only took a little Google research to find news reports.

In 2000, a waiter and a child were held hostage by the child’s father in a Disney hotel room over domestic issues.

In 2009, a woman from New Orleans faced child abuse charges after she allegedly beat her child while they were at Magic Kingdom.

In 2010, a man, his wife, and a baby were waiting for the bus, but there wasn’t enough room for them to ride.  The bus driver informed them another bus was on the way. According to witnesses, the man became enraged and allegedly threw the baby at the bus driver and then physically attacked the driver.

The man threw his baby at the driver…Please take a moment to let that sink in.

In 2011, a woman was arrested for punching and kicking her 22-month-old child at Magic Kingdom because the child would not walk properly. The affidavit says the woman used a closed fist at one point, which caused the child to bend over and cry.

In 2012, a 41-year-old doctor from Italy was arrested after allegedly kicking his three-year-old son in the face on Disney property. According to arrest reports, several witnesses saw the doctor kick his son while he sat in his stroller during an argument he was having with his wife and children.

Now, it certainly is possible that some of these families had domestic violence issues way before they ever arrived in Orlando. On Disney property, I have witnessed children thrown into strollers and others yanked forcibly out of resort high chairs. I have watched parents spank children while they screamed and cried in front of other kids and families trying to enjoy their trip. I’ve seen pre-teens yanked off monorails and faces grabbed on boats, while parents cursed and kids howled. I’m certainly not suggesting anyone should suspend all discipline on vacation, but there is a time and a place, and there are better ways to handle issues than these people did.

Not one of the conversations we overheard or the incidents that were reported by the media had anything to do with Cast Member issues or Disney World itself. These were just people who lost control of their emotions while on vacation. While this can happen anywhere, Disney is probably the last place some people will expect it. And once the words and behaviors are out there, again let me say, you can not take them back.

One of the most common denominators in all these incidents seems to be stress.

The Day You Arrive at Disney World, Don’t Waste Your Tickets on This…

how to have fun at Disney World

The bad news about losing it in Walt Disney World is you probably won’t be alone, because you will be overheard as you stand in line or eat a meal with a room full of people. During high traffic vacation dates, there are thousands of people everywhere within earshot. The good news, if there is good news about losing it on vacation, is that you are not alone in your feelings. Lots of other people will struggle with stress, even if you rarely hear anyone talk openly about it.

So when you are romping through the Happiest Place on Earth, surly teens stomping and fussing ten feet behind, cranky kiddies whining and talking back, a loved one pushing your hot buttons, remember you don’t want to do this. You don’t want to be THAT person.

You don’t want to be overheard threatening your child.

You don’t want to have other people overhear you say anything you wouldn’t shout in church, a public school classroom, or at your boss in your workplace.

You don’t want to be that couple screaming words at each other that parents later have to explain to their small children as they pull them away from your epic melt down.

You don’t want to be the family people stare at as you completely lose your cool.

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Disney Vacation Regret

So what can you do to prevent meltdowns, and shouting matches, and using language that you can only hope no one else overhears?

We have a few suggestions to help you deal with vacation stress.

1. Movement

For adults, you need to be prepared to move, to walk a lot. I can not over-emphasize this point. Miles and miles a day wears on people physically fit and more so on those individuals that are not. Read this to see why you need to be walking in preparation for your vacation:

The Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Disney Vacation? It’s a Four Letter Word!

For the children with you, remember that standing in line is not so much a physical activity. Sometimes kids just need a quiet playground to stretch their legs, a dig at a resort beach, a swim in the pool, or maybe a place to run around and blow off steam. They may need movement to counteract hours of sitting in strollers.

2. Rest

I hear this quite frequently, “I’ll sleep when I get home.” What works for those families that can make it 17 hours a day, for days on end, may not work for you.

Your whole family may need a nap or several hours free time just to watch TV and relax mid-day. As you turn off the light and pull up the covers, it may not seem like the best use of your Disney time and money, taking a nap, but you’ll thank us later, especially if your children are small.

3. Advanced Notice

While surprises are nice, it’s a good idea to prepare your children in advance for the upcoming vacation. Talk about it. Let kids and teens know about the behavior you expect in lines, gift shops, and restaurants. Role play if necessary, but coach them through situations that may come up so you’ll all be better prepared.

Advance notice gives kids time to save money for the trip as well. If you think gift shops aren’t stressful, guess again.

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Stress less vacation tips

4. Regular Schedule

Unfamiliar places, people, events, characters, and loud sounds stress kids out. Changes in schedules, other people, and problems with accommodations or meals generally stress adults out. The best thing you can do, within reason, is stick to a regular schedule. If the kids usually get naps, (see #3 above) make sure they get naps in Orlando. If you are exhausted, sleep in or work in a nap for yourself as well.

Try not to stay up late and wake up early for too many days in a row, because the more tired everyone gets, the more stressed out you all tend to be. The crazier your days are, the more likelihood there can be stress-induced trouble.

5. Limited Daily Events

Park hopping, character meals, and lots of time spent on transportation tends to pack on even more stress for adults and children. Go, Going, Go More may help you get your money’s worth, but at what cost? Traveling the Disney property roads are even more insane these days as Downtown Disney is being re-imagined into Disney Springs, parking spaces sometimes difficult to find and traffic often at a standstill. You will all spend a lot of time getting to and fro, which can translate into stress.

If you need to, do less so you enjoy the day more. And remember, you can not do it all, so try to enjoy what you can do without stressing everyone out by pushing for more activity.

6. Food Choices

WebMD.com says that recent studies show sugar is not necessarily responsible for hyperactivity in children. But the more cake, candy, and cookies children ingest, the less room they will have for nutritious foods that provide energy to walk miles and miles on WDW sidewalks.

The same goes for adults. While all the Disney sweets look amazing, the American Heart Association recommends that adults limit their sugar consumption to between 100 and 150 calories per day. The more sweets you eat, the less room you may have for the foods that provide energy for you to get through the day without losing your mojo as well as your cool.

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tips to lower stress at Disney World

6. Control It

Kids or no kids on the trip, you, the adult, have to stay calm. Adults with you are counting on you to maintain your cool. Children who love you are counting on you to maintain your cool. And this is tough when you are exhausted, sleep deprived, and facing yet another long roller coaster line following yet another early morning wake up time.

Take a deep breath.

Think about what you will say next before you let it fly.

Pick your battles.

People might forget what you say and then again they might remember forever. But they definitely won’t forget how you made them feel on vacation.

7. Plan 

Most people who complain they had a terrible time at Disney World traveled during peak vacation periods, like holidays, spring break or deep summer. You will need to do some planning to take advantage of all Disney has to offer.

If you want to enjoy those character meals or some of the amazing fine dining opportunities Disney has to offer, you can no longer walk up and expect to be seated.

Read some books and internet articles, or even talk to friends that have traveled to Disney to determine what will work best for your group. If you plan, plan, plan, then when you get home from your vacation, hopefully when you get back, you’ll want to start planning your next trip.

8. Talk About It

I have said this many times: once the words are out there, you can not take them back. And the last thing you want to hear, years from that vacation, is someone asking if you remember that time you threatened to choke Uncle Orville outside of the Space Mountain restroom. You don’t want to be reminded about the time you used language so foul that people backed away from you, mother’s covering their little children’s ears as they staggered out of your way before your head exploded.

Talk about what you want to happen on vacation, so then hopefully everyone is on the same page. Involve your children in making a game plan on activities they would like to do, and let them talk about how they can avoid vacation stress. Talking at home can be a great first step in maintaining your cool when the temperatures and your temper get hot.

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Enjoying a Disney vacation

You don’t want to be that guy. Or girl. Or mom, granny, brother or sister. You really don’t.

And you won’t be, if you prepare for the trip, mentally and physically, and take steps to minimize your stress level. Sometimes you just have to relax and take it down a notch. By preparing for stress before the vacation, you can ensure you and everyone else comes home all smiles.

Here are two of our best articles on dealing with stress and planning a memorable vacation.

A Cheapskate Princess Guide to Less Stress on Vacation

120 Walt Disney World DO NOTs: Tips From Real People on How NOT to Screw Up a Disney Vacation! 


And a big thanks to Linda over at Great WDW Tips To Help You Get The Most Out of Your Trip to Disney World for giving me her two cents on presenting the not-so-pleasant info. in this article. She has a great way of knowing what people want to read about as they prepare for trips.

You can find her incredible Pinterest page using this link: Great Walt Disney World Tips on Pinterest.


Disney is an amazing place where you can make life-long memories with family and friends. You want to be THAT person, the one that comes home smiling and scheming plans for your next Disney vacation.

You can do it…

To see more of our Cheapskating Guides, use this link.

Amanda Major Cheapskate Princess


Disney’s Cheapskate Princess


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Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from Erin, Julie, and Elizabeth, our Disney Vacation Planners with Destinations in Florida travel.

You can also e-mail them at cp@destinationsinflorida.com.

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Amanda Major CheapskatePrincess.comAmanda Major is the creator of cheapskateprincess.com. She remembers her first visit to Magic Kingdom like it was yesterday, because she had a ham sandwich tucked in her shorts pocket. The whole family snuck in their lunch; you can’t make that kinda stuff up. 40 years worth of trips to Orlando later, she is still trying to save money on vacations.

Amanda is a Disney Vacation Club Member and Annual Pass holder. Her amazing husband, band director Carl Major, plus three teen children and two dogs keep her busy. Amanda teaches Leadership to high school seniors in the almost-coastal town of Foley, Alabama. Read about her cheapskating local vacations with this link. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking somewhere, or paddling a kayak. Life is indeed a blast. 

We hope we can help save you some money too. Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from our Princess Travel Experts with Destinations in Florida travel, Erin, Julie, and Elizabeth. You can also e-mail them at cp@destinationsinflorida.com.


  1. Susan says:

    Sometimes things get overwhelming for one child or one adult, and families think they have to do everything together at Disney. Truth is, they don’t. If an adult and child has had enough, they can go back to the resort and the others can stay. It’s okay if everyone doesn’t do everything at the same time together.
    When we went, our daughter wound up not feeling well at HS. Instead of all of us going back to the resort my husband took her back and my son and I stayed. I felt bad at first, but quickly realized it wasn’t fair to her to be miserable and it definitely wouldn’t be fair to my son to have to leave because she didn’t feel good. Turned out just fine! The following day she still wasn’t feeling well and my son and I went to AK while her and dad hung around the resort. We all were able to return to AK that evening for our reservation. I would almost suggest a day when families split and go different ways, especially if there are different places they want to visit on an extra day.

  2. Tonja says:

    OMGosh those were some horrible things that were said. I can’t imagine. We (hubby 4yr old son and myself) are planning our first trip (our first ever vacation!!) later this year and while I know there will be some stress and exhaustion I am going to try to be as relaxed as possible, even while things might not go our way. I can’t imagine saying the things those above have said and I want my family to remember our vacation as fun and (somewhat) relaxing. These tips are very helpful so thank you!

  3. Liane says:

    I find people don’t treat a Disney vacation like they would any other vacation. They run themselves ragged trying to squeeze in as much as possible. Sometimes fun is relaxing by the pool, or at a playground. We sometimes hang out in our room for a morning, the kids play with the treasures they have bought, and we relax. I think if everyone would just slow down, they would enjoy it so much more.

  4. Kim says:

    This is true. We went at Christmas and while most of the trip was smooth we went to the Magic Kingdom on evening for the shows. The way I saw small children being treated that night was very upsetting. In a span of a couple hours children being thrown into strollers, adults jerking kids around by their arms and finally a mother screaming at a toddler being changed in the bathroom because the child was screaming about it hurting. I wanted to tell these parents to stopmthyebhave pushed the limit of enjoyment and needed to take the children home it was likely past their bedtime anyway.

  5. charissa says:

    We have been to WDW 4 times. The first when our daughter was 8yrs old. I commend those who arrive in the World with newborns and toddlers, but wonder, if the extra baggage of strollers, diapers, and special foods are worth it. We’ve encountered sooo many worn out parents and youngsters, alike, that I wonder if any of them are enjoying themselves. I think the worst thing I’ve seen is a father trying to force feed his over heated, over tired toddler (in a stroller), an ice cream. The poor child eventually vomited on dear old dad putting a damper, I’m sure, on the day. The common thread to any Disney vacation is what seems to be common sense to most experienced WDW travellers: plan, plan, plan, and if you get going early, take a mid day break. I definitely love my afternoon swim and refresh before heading back to the parks for dinner and evening entertainment.

  6. che says:

    This article genuinely upsets me. Walt Disney himself dealt with abuse from his father which is truly one of the reasons that he wanted to create this magical world for us. It is absolutely ridiculous for adults to treat children that way. There is absolutely no excuse. I wish there was a way to stop people from behaving like this on property.

  7. Amy says:

    I think the time of year you go also affects this. I go anywhere from mid January and mid February. I haven’t seen much of this when I go, but the last time I was there I was flipped off while walking through a gift shop in MK for being in the way. He was a teenager and felt I wasn’t moving fast enough. Being from NJ I was actually shocked at how nice most of the people we encountered were. Mind you I have never been with children. I think preparing them for crowds is a great sentiment, but the amount of people you encounter are overwhelming. There are sites you can use to better plan what days to go and which parks to avoid on certain days; Like Undercover frog. Also on days you go to AK or HS(when it closes super early) You should take advantage of your resorts activities or spend a day off property if you can.

  8. Jennie says:

    I admit to having lost my temper and argued with my spouse in the middle of Disneyworld. Over several trips, it was the only time, and I did not (thankfully) descend to the levels described in this article — my language was clean and only my words were involved. You’ve spoken many times in this article, excellent reminders, that there is great potential to ruin other people’s vacations with words that you can’t take back. In my case, the reality is that the rest of my family later told me that I was right in everything that I said and doesn’t remember it badly. But I do — it certainly didn’t ruin my vacation, but that shameful memory is as sharp as any of the many wonderful memories that I have from our trips. As someone who has been there, I second what Amanda says — don’t let that happen to you.

    Food choices are important — you mention that overloading on sugar doesn’t leave enough room for the nutritious food that will keep families going for the long haul. That’s true, but it’s just as important to remember that you will need more food than usual — you are walking a lot more than usual, and getting much more exercise than usual. Your caloric needs will be higher. If you have small children, this means you will need to feed them more frequently — extra small snacks, because their stomachs are simply not big enough to add the extra calories they need into the meals they’re already eating. We bring cheese and Gogurt in a small cooler backpack and let the kids snack while they’re standing in line. If you are a grownup, it ALSO means you should eat more frequently, because even though you can hold more at one meal you will feel better overall if you distribute the extra food more evenly throughout the day. If you feel that everyone is getting cranky, it might be that it’s time to leave the park — but it also might be that it’s time to stop, take a break, and raise everyone’s blood sugar.

  9. Marilyn says:

    We have been fortunate to go to Disneyworld a few times. The best times have been when we scheduled separate times and break times. Moms and Grannies took kids to a character breakfast… Guys golfed. Met at mid morning for family time and lunch at a park. Then an early afternoon break at the hotel (much easier if you stay on the property). The grandparents watched tiny ones while they all napped. Parents and older kids hit the pool. Evening for grandparents, little ones, and one parent ending after the fireworks. One parent and older kids stayed and hit all the shorter lines for wilder rides. Scheduled restaurant reservations and fast passes accordingly and ahead of time. Hoop De Doo is fun for all ages! Works great.

  10. Tonja says:

    Don’t forget to Goldbond! Someone inevitably gets a little friction in the nether regions and that will be a life saver!!

  11. Rochelle says:

    She forgot to mention Don’t invite your self centered misserable MIL. The happiest place on earth couln’t d curb her crappy personality.

  12. Laura Smith says:

    Some good points and great tips. Someone once gave me this advice about the “top of a lifetime” my husband and I took to Hawaii: “Don’t plan to see everything. You’ll be back.”. I think that’s advice people should apply to Disney as well. God willing, you’ll probably go back. More than once. And if you don’t get the chance to go back… Is that ‘one more ride’ worth the stress of the fight you’ll get into by pushing yourself past the point of exhaustion? Of course it isn’t.

    My one little practical tip: I know the buses are a nice little perk when you stay on-property, but after a day full of dealing with crowds of people in the parks getting on a bus that reminds me of Manhattan at rush hour is the last thing I need. We always pay the extra to rent a car. Getting that few minutes of peace at the end of the day does wonders for balancing my stress levels during a Disney trip. 100% worth the money.

  13. Courtney says:

    Great article! I went with my husband and grandma last year, and by the 4th day of 24 hour togetherness (grandma insisted on staying in the same room to save money) we were having to really watch what we said. BUT we didn’t lose our cool in public. We overheard a man tell his toddler age son (who was sitting on his shoulders) during the Main Street Electrical Parade that he was “going to punch him so hard in the face if he didn’t shut up”. I don’t know what their situation was but my husband looked at me and said “happiest place on Earth, huh?”

  14. Dawn says:

    And if you are fortunate enough to take a Disney cruise, don’t forget that walls are thin. We took our 6th Disney cruise right before Christmas last year and overheard every word of a huge fight in the room next door. At one point the mom shouted to her pre-teen son that he was ruining everyone’s vacation, to which he responded “It’s my vacation too!” We then spent Christmas Day at Magic Kingdom. If you decide to do something crazy like that, plan in advance and do your research. And pack your patience! But it was totally worth it.

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