The first time I learned the importance of reasonable travel expectations.
Tasha, age 5 and Kaitlyn, age 1
On the first and worst trip to Disneyland that we ever took as a family Darren and I pulled the typical young parent stunt of surprising everyone with a gift of a trip to the “Happiest Place on Earth” and completely going crazy ourselves to hype everyone up – THIS IS GOING TO BE SO AWESOME!!!!
The first thing Tasha wanted to do when we arrived was to “meet Mickey Mouse”. After a little on the spot research I figured out where in the park one does that. Off to Mickey’s House we raced and when we arrived… we stood in line.
After about ten minutes (which isn’t bad, by Disneyland wait time standards but was “FOREVER!” from Tasha’s perspective) we got our little tour of the house, finally met Mickey, snapped a photo and moved on.
About a minute after it was over, Tasha burst into tears – not sniffles, of course, but hiccupping wails of utter despair. After some confusion (and a hefty amount of embarrassment as other parents gazed either smugly or consolingly at us) Darren and I realized that Tasha had completely believed all the Disney commercials that repeatedly played during her favorite cartoons. Tasha’s expectation was of Mickey and her skipping down Main Street together while chatting, hugging and laughing together.
The Disney reality of course is long lines and 10 second photo ops. There are few “magic moments” in Disneyland that you get all to yourself. You have to share them with the other kids in the park and that’s ok as long as you’re all ready for it.
So what did we do wrong? A million things, I’m sure – but here are the ones we worked on fixing for future vacations:
* Chill out – don’t work on getting everyone to max-excitement levels before the trip even begins. As much as you want them to have fun, an overexcited child is usually an emotionally unstable one. Laughter easily turns to tears and excitement easily turns to disappointment. I’ve learned that if I stay cool and relaxed they tend to as well and the cool, relaxed vacation almost always turns out better for all of us.
* Research – for me, nothing beats some pre-reading for a successful vacation though I don’t always share everything I’ve learned (it never hurts to have a secret back-up plan in case things go wrong).
As the official family travel agent, research allows me to pace the trip, alternating between high energy and restful moments and between activities that different members of the family will enjoy.
Most importantly, research allows me to make sure everyone’s expectations match or dip a little bit below what I think the reality of the situation will be. Instead of starting a trip with, “I’m so excited to meet Mickey Mouse”, I’m more likely to say things like:
- “I’m going to bring my favorite walking shoes so my feet are comfy if we have to stand in line to meet Mickey Mouse” or
- “Gosh, I wonder how many people from all different parts of the world will be visiting Mickey Mouse at the same time as we are?”
It can be challenging to keep expectations reasonable without sounding like a negative-nelly but it can be done with a little thoughtfulness, lots of “ifs” and a few “I wonders”.
In short, don’t hype it up too much if you know it’s an event they’re already looking forward to. Prepare everyone a little bit for the negatives and don’t over-emphasize the positives – just let them happen.
Tasha, age 10 and Kaitlyn, age 6
Of course, the second time we went to Disney (this time DisneyWorld) we overdid it the other way and once again had a less than magical Disney vacation.
We managed to go during mid-October because Tasha was in a “year round” school with holidays at weird times (the students didn’t go to school any more than normal but there were 4 tracks and one group of kids was always on holiday – it let them fit more kids into one building).
Anyways, we were wiser and older and downplayed the experience a bit. We also went during a less busy time of year instead of during the peak holiday rush.
It was AWESOME… and Tasha had a lousy time.
There were days when we pretty much had the park to ourselves. We could get off Pirate’s of the Caribbean or Splash Mountain run back over to the entrance and get back on WITH NO LINE.
It was cool (a little sprinkly rain) which suited Darren and I just fine as I’d nearly fainted from heat and dehydration (literally) on a previous vacation. We’re used to cooler weather and were pleased as punch that it was just a little lower than typical room temperature when we were there.
But we’d over-prepared Tasha for possible negatives — “it will be hot”, “there will be LOTS of people”, “there will be long lines”. We made lots of definite statements and, once again, set her up for failure when the reality wasn’t what we’d explained it would be. Apparently she was looking forward to the crowds, lines and sweat on this trip as much as she’d been looking forward to skipping down Main Street with Mickey in tow on the previous one. Kids are weird.
Tasha, age 14 and Kaitlyn, age 10
Success! DLTK finally succeeded in a near perfect Disney experience. We all had a wonderful time in DisneyWorld. We went during the first two weeks of December, which is a good time to go.
The only cranky moment was in the Animal Kingdom when Tasha got soaked on the Kali River Rapids ride. She was miserable. I bought her new capris at the gift shop next door – crisis averted.
We’ve finally learned how to prep the kids for reality by keeping our mouths shut more and incorporating the magical phrase “I wonder …” into our pre-trip vocabulary.
We’ve also learned that Kaitlyn is much easier to travel with than Tasha, hehe. Thank goodness for child number two – we can fix all the parenting mistakes we made the first time around. Poor Tasha!