In these uncertain times, there is one certainty that ranks up their with death and taxes, and that is that the week between Christmas and New Year’s will be packed at Walt Disney World. During this time of year, there are often times where Phased Closures, making it a risky proposition to leave the parks for an afternoon break. Any parent of a young child knows how essential those afternoon breaks are, but what happens if you don’t feel you can leave the park? Here’s some suggestions to try and survive for a long day in the parks.
Pack Your Patience (And Plenty of Supplies)
I’m the kind of person who prefers to go to the theme parks carrying the bare minimum of items. Even when I had an infant in tow, at most we would bring in one small backpack and an umbrella stroller. This is the one time of year when packing extra is something I wholeheartedly embrace. My personal preference is to have a comfortable backpack, and then include the four essential park categories: Food, clothing, shelter, and play.
- Food: It is a good idea to carry some snacks with you, and possibly pack a lunch or dinner, as lines will be long for places to buy food. Make sure to include favorite snacks that are easy for your child to eat with minimal mess. Goldfish crackers, applesauce squeeze pouches, and a disposable container of your child’s favorite cereal are a welcome sight when your child gets a case of the “hangrys”.
- Clothing: Florida weather in December can be odd. Some mornings, it can be cool and foggy. During the middle of the day, it can be very warm. At night, it can be outright chilly. You’ll want to be prepared for all of those possibilities. In addition, if you have a young child, carrying a spare set of clothes is a wise choice. If the weather is warm, you might also pack a swimsuit (in a Ziploc bag for storage when it is wet) to make use of the splash pads and water play areas in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
- Shelter: Unless you’ve shelled out the money for a Tomorrowland private cabana, “shelter” is a loosely defined idea. First and foremost, make sure to bring a beach towel. Whether using it as a blanket, a rug to sit on, or even a beach towel to dry off, Douglas Adams was absolutely correct with the essentialness of a towel. If you have a young child, you may also want to bring an inflatable rectangular pool float. It doesn’t take up much space, but inflate it, put the towel on it, and you have a portable bed for naptime if you can find an out-of-the-way area. Even in winter, sitting in the sun can wear you down over time. Consider packing an umbrella to provide shade if the sun gets to be too much.
- Play: Sometimes kids just need time to play. Consider bringing some toys that are old standbys along with some new and inexpensive toys to ensure that you don’t have to make an emergency run for an overpriced toy. Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars, a small canister of Play Doh, a checkout-lane My Little Pony doll–stocking stuffer toys aren’t just the domain of Santa Claus. Don’t forget nighttime fun–glow sticks and other light-up toys can be popular choices and are much cheaper to buy outside the parks. And, when all else fails, sometimes screen time on an smart phone or tablet can be a good way to help your child have some down time. Make sure to bring extra batteries. As a family, we go with the Fuel Rod system because we like the ability to swap them throughout the day and always have a charged battery.
Get a Stroller and a Locker
Disney lockers make me cringe when I rent one because it always feels like throwing money away, but they are much better than carrying around all of your supplies. If you have a child that can fit in a stroller, either bring a stroller or rent one for the day. If you don’t want to push it around for the whole day, find a stroller parking area to stash your stroller for a while. For a personal stroller, take a photograph of your stroller with your smart phone. Later on, if you aren’t able to find your stroller, having a picture to show a cast member attending to the stroller area is much more helpful than saying “It’s black or grayish and has wheels”. Bringing a travel pillow for the stroller can also be useful if you can get your child to nap in it. (If you don’t have a travel pillow, you can always use that towel that you packed!)
Make Use of the Baby Care Centers
If you have children at the infant or toddler age, the Baby Care Centers (one in each of the four theme parks) can be your best friend. Although, like everything else in the park, they will be more crowded than normal during high-attendance times, it is worth a shot if you need a place to take your child for a few minutes of quiet time.
Take an In-Park Break
Although long lines makes it feel that you need to spend all your time trying to squeeze in rides, it is important to also take a break in the park, if possible. Because of large crowds, it isn’t likely that you can get on a ride and ask to ride again and again (I’m looking at you, Peoplemover), but there are some places where you can take down time. At the Magic Kingdom, hop on the Walt Disney World Railroad and sit near the back, where it is more quiet. The rocking motion of the train might help a young child get a nap. Take a ride around on the Liberty Belle — you might have the ability to stay on board for more than one loop. At Epcot, Universe of Energy means a long ride in a cool and dark room, perfect for naps. (For children who might be bothered by loud noises, bring earplugs.) One of my favorite spots for a few minutes of quiet is in the preshow area for the Circle of Life theater. At Epcot, you can also find some quiet places in World Showcase in the different museum exhibits, such as the ones in China, Japan, or Morocco. Look for out of the way places, or places that are not being fully used at any given time, like the Tomorrowland stage area. Think out of the box when it comes to finding places for some down time.
Don’t Wait for Essentials
Lines for essentials like food, drinks, and restrooms can get lengthy at times, and there’s no FastPass+ to jump to the head of the line. Take frequent breaks for necessities before you absolutely need them. Even in winter weather, make sure to drink enough water to stay hydrated–dehydration can cause children (and adults) to be cranky.
Know When to Say When
It’s a tough decision to make — you want to squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of your day at Disney. For nights with special fireworks (like New Year’s Eve), you want to stay until the last teeth-rattling explosion. But in the end, if no one is having fun, you won’t enjoy the experience. It can be a tough choice, but sometimes it is better to leave when everyone can look back and say “We had fun” than to try and slog it out where your memories will be fodder for family therapy in future years. Remember also that Phased Closures don’t lock the gates forever. If you leave, there is a chance that you can return later on, especially if you are an annual passholder or are staying at a Disney resort. Before you leave the gate, ask how crowds are looking and whether you will be able to get back in. Although cast members cannot guarantee that you can get back in, they can give you an overall vibe for how the day is going.
When It Is Over, Don’t Rush to the Exit
At the end of a long day, it is tempting to rush for the exit with tens of thousands of your closest friends. Especially if your child has passed out in the stroller, stay put where you are for a while to let the crowds clear. It is far more enjoyable to stay put for 15-30 minutes and let the mad throng of people push and shove their way to busses, boats, monorails, or parking trams while you soak in the beauty of a Disney park at night.
Got any other tips for keeping your sanity and your children’s happiness on a maximum park crowd day? Let us know in the comments.