Disney World Planning Challenges: Managing Vacation Fatigue

Share This!
Don’t be Dopey – plan ahead for vacation fatigue ©Disney

When you’re looking forward to a Walt Disney World vacation, it’s easy to imagine that the sheer amount of fun to be had will drive away any effects of fatigue—that you and anyone traveling with you will have endless energy and enthusiasm. The reality is that the typical Disney World vacation is far more active than restful, and underestimating just how tiring the fun can be is a common pitfall. Fortunately, a little planning can go a long way toward fending off some of the usual fatigue-causing culprits and keep the fun rolling.

Here are some of the common causes of fatigue during a Disney World trip and steps to take before you or your fellow travelers find yourselves overtired and crabby in the most magical place on earth.

Walking

Disney World is huge! If walking is your main mode of getting around in the parks, plan to do a lot of it. My family generally covers 7-14 miles a day, even when we take an afternoon break. I love that we get so much exercise to help offset all the yummy meals and snacks at the World, but reaping the benefits entails some precautions:

  • Stats from a day of walking in Disney World (Photo by Sarah Graffam)
    Stats from a day of walking in Disney World (Photo by Sarah Graffam)

    Wear comfortable shoes that you have broken in before the trip. Shoes with socks can give you extra cushion.

  • Give your feet a rest by sitting whenever you can in attractions, at shows, and during meals and snacks. Or just grab a seat on a bench for a few minutes. Lacking a bench, lean against a wall or a fence for a bit. Even a short rest can make a huge difference for feet.
  • Take advantage of no-charge package pickup. If you buy souvenirs in a park, there’s no need to carry them around for the rest of the day. With package pickup service, the store can send purchases to a package pickup office near the park entrance where you can pick them up when you exit the park. Or, if you are a resort guest, you can have your purchases sent directly to your resort. Stores will even ship your purchases home for a charge. See Erin Foster’s “Moving Merchandise at Walt Disney World: Getting Goods to Your Hotel and Shipping Stuff Home” for more detail.
  • Use a stroller for “little ones” and even “older ones.” The last place either of my children ever sat in a stroller was Disney World. If you have a mix of younger and older kids, let the older children have a turn in the stroller. Not only do strollers give kids a break, but they allow parents to navigate more quickly and efficiently.

Hunger, Thirst, and the Heat

Mickey ice cream bar
A snack can help fight fatigue (Photo by Sarah Graffam)

With all of the walking involved in getting around, it’s crucial to keep up your energy and stay hydrated. Being hungry or thirsty can make the difference between an exhilarating and a gut-wrenching ride on Space Mountain. And the effects are magnified when Florida heat gets into the mix:

  • Pay attention when someone in your party wants to stop for a snack or a drink. It’s tempting to forge on ahead when only one or some people in your party need food or water, but one unhappy person will affect everyone.
  • Keep some small snacks handy for times when you can’t take the time to stop.
  • If you don’t want the added weight of water to carry during the early or late part of the day, you can of course pay for a bottle of water in the parks. Or bring in an empty water bottle to fill at a water fountain. Even better, ask for water with ice at any quick-service restaurant and you will be given one free of charge.
  • If your plans include touring in the middle of the day, keep in mind that that it will be the hottest part of the day and is a good time to take a break for food.
  • Definitely get off your feet when you eat. Ideally, and especially if it is hot, skip outdoor seating and eat in a restaurant with air conditioning. Bonus point for finding someplace quiet. My favorite place to rest during a quick-service meal is the upstairs at Magic Kingdom’s Columbia Harbour House.

Tiredness

Making sure everyone in your party gets plenty of breaks, naps, and night-time sleep can make a huge difference when you head to the parks:

Sometimes a good night's sleep is the best answer (Photo by Sarah Graffam)
Sometimes a good night’s sleep is the best answer (Photo by Sarah Graffam)

Waiting

monorail
Waiting for transportation can be a source of fatigue (Photo by Sarah Graffam)

Even with using the various TouringPlans.com strategies for avoiding long waits in attraction lines, some waiting is an inevitable part of a Disney World vacation. Whether waiting for attractions, restaurant reservations, or transportation, keeping your party occupied can stave off some of the fatigue of waiting:

  • Experience attractions with detailed/interactive queues. Peter Pan’s Flight, The Haunted Mansion, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Soarin’, Test Track, Star Tours, Muppet*Vision 3D, and Expedition Everest are some of the attractions that give you something to look at or do while you wait.
  • Play a game like I spy, blow bubbles, or look for Hidden Mickeys (images of Mickey Mouse hidden in design elements throughout the Disney parks).
  • People watch.
  • Discuss what you are going to do next.
  • Use the restroom while waiting for a restaurant reservation.
  • Waiting for transportation is the worst, particularly for buses when leaving a park! You often don’t know how long the wait will be, the scenery can be uninteresting (again, bus stops are the worst), and there is sometimes nowhere to sit, especially when leaving after a long day at the park. I would love to hear some suggestions for this one.

Overplanning

Disney is definitely driving guests to plan as much of their vacation as possible in advance. The ability to make dining reservations 180 days in advance and FastPass+ reservations 30-60 days in advance has practically turned scoring these reservations into a competitive sport. Although there are advantages and disadvantages to this system, one unfortunate side effect can be the feeling that you are missing out if you don’t do everything in your plans:

FastPass+ keeps guests on a schedule (Photo by Sarah Graffam)
  • When your party just can’t stand another moment of fun, it’s a good sign that you need to rethink your plans. If you can, move must-dos later in your trip. Or you may find that an experience you thought would be crucial to enjoying your vacation is less important than some downtime. The key is not to be disappointed. In fact, skipping part of your plan may leave room for an even better experience or much needed rest.
  • By charging a fee when guests are a no-show for an advanced dining reservation (see more details here), Disney has made it harder for people to be flexible with dining and the parks to visit each day. One approach is to continually assess your dining for the next day. If you decide to make a new dining reservation or switch a dining reservation, you may find availability as other people make last-minute cancellations, especially the evening before. While Disney says it requires 24 hours’ notice, you can cancel up until midnight of the day before your meal.
  • Like dining, FastPass+ can cause stress when you feel like you must press on to your next FastPass+ attraction even when fatigue has hit. Take a breath and check the My Disney Experience app or an in-park FastPass+ kiosk for other options. Maybe your party needs to split up if some are ready to take a break instead of experiencing the next FastPass+ attraction. If you decide to change plans the night before, there may be availability due to last-minute cancellations. Disney also appears to release some FastPass+ slots the day of, so check in the morning on My Disney Experience or at a kiosk.

Too Much Togetherness

When traveling with a large party or with teens in your family, it usually becomes painfully obvious when people are experiencing fatigue from too much togetherness. The good news is that adults and teens can split up into smaller groups or take some time alone:

  • Plan for your party to split up for most of the day but meet at a specific attraction or have a meal together.
  • If parents and grandparents are on a trip together, take turns giving each other a break from the kids.
  • Teens especially might need some alone time. Be willing to give them some space by letting them sleep in or hang out at the resort while you go to the park (or vice versa).

Focus on fun, not fatigue, on your Disney World vacation! Being aware that fatigue can happen and knowing a few strategies to handle it could be the key to avoiding unmagical meltdowns. What strategies have you found to be the most effective for handling fatigue at the World?

Sarah Graffam

Sarah gets that giddy feeling when walking down Main Street, U.S.A. (and sometimes in her own living room just thinking about her next trip to Disney World). She is a Disney Vacation Club member and has been a professional writer and editor since 1990. Other favorite places she has traveled include Hong Kong, the Czech Republic, England, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska, Kenya, Tanzania, and Disneyland.

12 thoughts on “Disney World Planning Challenges: Managing Vacation Fatigue

  • February 12, 2015 at 12:17 pm
    Permalink

    My mom and I did a ton of planning for our 9 day trip with 2 kids (5 & not quite 2) myself and my folks (late 60s). If I was to give advice to anyone, I would tell them that you will get done, at most, 2/3 of what you plan. We were slower, it was hotter, kids tired more easily. We had a fabulous trip, and all the planning helped us change gears on the fly, but don’t be overly ambitious. It’s not worth it. Also, I would seriously evaluate how “relaxing” a sit down meal is depending on the age of your children, and what the context is. A character lunch at Tusker House turned out to be way way more relaxing than an overtired night at Boma, because the kids were entertained. If your kids are not at the age that sit down dining is much of a pleasure at home, the Disney magic will only compensate somewhat for that.

    Reply
  • February 12, 2015 at 12:47 pm
    Permalink

    On the waiting note: My family just got back from WDW, and halfway through our trip, we downloaded an app called Heads Up. After our three-hour Space Mountain wait (the ride broke down multiple times while we waited), it made our 1.5 hr wait for 7DMT pass by in a flash! The best part is when the families next to you get into the game as well! Very highly recommend, especially if you have an external charger with you and can spare a little battery.
    And on the shoe note- This sounds ridiculous but Rainbow brand flip flops are perfect for the parks (and stylish too).

    Reply
    • February 12, 2015 at 8:24 pm
      Permalink

      Jessa, you’re spot on with your shoe reference. Rainbow sandals are pretty much the only shoe I wear when I visit the parks (and anytime, really). I get the double arch support and break them in at least a week before hitting the pavement. The only downside is when they get wet- that leather color rubs off on the bottom of your feet, and they can become slick. On days when I know rain is in the forecast, I wear Havianas.

      Reply
  • February 12, 2015 at 12:49 pm
    Permalink

    Amen, Sarah! (And Ellen, too.) Our first weeklong at WDW: day 4 daughter says, “I just can’t get out of bed.” So we just took a whole day off. Never left the room (except for me to get food for us). We learned from all the great advice offered here, and to respect that afternoon break…and little breaks when possible. Anyone at any time can call time out for any reason.
    And, if we are fortunate to enjoy a week at WDW, we now go Saturday to Saturday, because the first Monday back is rough enough. Sunday is rest up day.
    And, plugging this site and the books, the adage is true: Being the day with a good touring plan and there will be plenty of time to enjoy what unfolds. 🙂

    Reply
    • February 12, 2015 at 1:07 pm
      Permalink

      I love all these suggestions! Ellen, that is a great point about which sit down meals are more likely to be a success when you have little kids. Jessa, I’ve got to try out that Heads Up app–sounds like a ton of fun. Disney Dad, I definitely hear you on reserving a day to rest up at home after a Disney vacation–my family likes to do that too if we can.

      Reply
  • February 12, 2015 at 1:32 pm
    Permalink

    Sarah – we always use the model 2 RD days followed by 1 sleep in day. Sleep in day is great after Evening EMH.
    If you go to a party – sleep in that day and the day after!

    We like a nice lunch ADR, we do one more thing and back to the hotel for a rest out of the sun and swimming.

    Always remember – it is Walt Disney World – you can enjoy attractions you skip this time for your next trip!
    Tired families do not make happy memories! Great article!

    Reply
  • February 12, 2015 at 3:18 pm
    Permalink

    Break days can be so important. It’s good to pace yourself and maybe take a day to hang out at the resort by the pool or go to Downtown Disney. Maybe go to the movie theater or to Splitsville for some bowling. And of course, some casual resort hopping and riding the monorail a few loops can be a relaxing change from the parks during the midday rush.

    Reply
  • February 12, 2015 at 5:51 pm
    Permalink

    On the tiredness — I’ve posted this on other blogs because I forget where I saw it but I remember it turned out to be so important to me on my first trip.

    If you are traveling with small children, remember that like everyone else with you the extra exercise, excitement and heat will translate to needing more food. However, because they are small children, you will need to feed them more often in order to get them more food, not just more food at the prescribed eating time. I actually find this is still true with my older kids, but it’s not quite as pronounced — when they were toddlers and pre-schoolers we fed them at least once an hour when we were in the parks, and if we didn’t the change in temperament was pronounced.

    Reply
    • February 13, 2015 at 7:27 am
      Permalink

      This is so true. Even though we ate regular large meals, the kids would still get cranky in they didn’t have snacks in between. I found that fruit gummys or granola bars were a big hit while waiting on line. The grown ups liked the emeralds nut packs a lot. A cool drink was also appreciated. We got capri suns and packed a few a day for when we are stranded on line.

      Reply
    • February 22, 2015 at 5:17 pm
      Permalink

      The giant Mickey soft pretzels are the best for “meals” in between meals. We eat a lot of those.

      Reply
  • February 14, 2015 at 4:57 am
    Permalink

    I agree with so many of these comments. It is amazing how just small snacks every hour or so (even just an apple slice or two) prevent meltdowns. We too subscribe to the “next trip philosophy” and don’t drive ourselves crazy trying to do it all. We discuss before the trip each person’s “must do” list and we make sure to do those things. That way we never leave the parks disappointed. We also try to “plan” in some down time – such as reading in the room or going swimming.

    To reduce stress it’s also really important to travel with “like-minded” people. We always go with my sister and her husband because we have the same travel habits – we’re all early risers, sitting down to eat our meals together is important to us and we like to take time getting from point a to point b because often the memories created during the journey are worth it.

    We make a point of not telling other family members we are going because we don’t have the same travel habits – for them it’s all about rushing around and ticking all the boxes to say “been there, done that”. Makes me exhausted just thinking about it!

    Reply
  • February 15, 2015 at 12:16 pm
    Permalink

    We learned the hard way on our first trip, don’t overplan! I planned for early breakfast and rope drops and forgot that 7 am at WDW is 5 am at home. I learned that a few very early mornings are fine, but a whole trip of them is too much. Now we strive for a balance and plan for more breaks.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *