Updated for 2017!
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.
Disney World vacations can be 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.
People watching is a fascinating way to pass the time, both observing their interactions and listening to conversations. In the course of several 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 want to 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.
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.
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 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. Really not ever, but especially not here.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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, mothers 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.
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.
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…
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Amanda 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.
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