The Nitty Gritty

Leaving Disney: Planning for the Inevitable Trip Home

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Do something fun before you leave!


You knew this day would come—somewhere deep down you knew you’d have to face it eventually. But time marches on—and it’s time to leave Disney World and go home. But the tears! The sad eyes! The clutching the bedpost desperately in an effort not to leave!

Your kids try to comfort you, but you are distraught.

Buck up, mom and dad–it’s hard on them too, remember.

Going home is never pleasant–but with our tips, it can be easier and less traumatic—for all of you.

And not to rub salt in the wound, but that inevitable transition can be easier if you do some planning ahead of time—so yes, that means thinking about leaving pretty much when you get there. Following, some tips to ease the trip.

Buy some goodies for the trip back and for when you get home.

In our family, we always save one present for New Year’s Day. It helps with the post-Christmas letdown, and gives everyone something to look forward to. Apply the same principle to returning home from Disney World. There is always one souvenir that kids desperately want but never buy–maybe they forget about it, maybe they can’t make up their mind and choose something else. If it’s not prohibitively expensive, buy it. There are always tears when we get on the plane because my daughter laments the One Hat That Got Away. Nothing will make kids happier than when you hand them a Disney bag as you are at cruising altitude over North Dakota, and say casually, “Oh, here. I thought you might like this.” Have Disney cookies or other sweets put aside for dessert on the plane or in the car.

A few days after you get home, try the same thing, perhaps when they are moping around saying moodily, “I’d rather be on Splash Mountain. I don’t want to clean out my clothing drawer.” The home gift could be something that they can use and/or share—a new scrapbook; an item of clothing. You can even tuck something in their luggage for them to find when they unpack. And having said that…

…Buy it When You See it. Then put it away. While some merchandise can be found at various locations in the parks and resorts, some can’t. If you are at a store in the Animal Kingdom and your son has fallen in love with a stuffed gorilla, get it when he isn’t looking and tuck it away. We always buy some things when we are there to save for future birthday and holidays gifts: Think about earrings with your daughter’s birthstone; sports logo clothing for the beginning of baseball season for your son. Buy something directly related to an activity you did at the Parks: one year we did the animation drawing class at Hollywood Studios, and I bought a book in the gift shop that showed us how to draw some of the characters. I pulled it out one rainy day, and we had our own drawing session—huge hit. A Disney cookbook is a great souvenir to take home, as are Disney cook and housewares. One year we bought Disney decorated sugar cubes–we enjoyed them for many months and thought about our trip each time we used one.

Buy a souvenir that reminds you of an activity you especially enjoyed

Do something special the night before you leave or that morning, time permitting. It’s nice to have something to anticipate so the last day or the night before doesn’t just become about going home. Book ahead so you have a reservation at a favorite restaurant for the last night; a return trip to a favorite attraction; even a visit to somewhere you haven’t been before (We played miniature golf one year and it was the perfect way to take our minds off the return trip.)

Plan “Disney day(s)” for a few weeks after you’re home. One of the hardest things for kids is feeling like they are leaving something behind that they can’t get back; extend the visit for them.

Try to get a recipe for a dish you enjoyed and to plan an activity based around something you all liked—see above for ideas as well. Research ways you can help animals in your own area for Animal Kingdom fans, for example. Make plans to show a Disney movie, look at photos from your trip, eat a Disney meal, and revel in the whole experience.

Give kids a “Disney to do” list at the resort. Aside from packing and getting ready to go, right before you leave is the time to give them some fun chores so they don’t have time to dwell on the trip. Have them buy gifts for friends and family back home;  give them Disney postcards to mail out; suggest they write a thank you note to someone at the resort who’s been especially helpful. If you’re on the Dining Plan, save some snack credits and get gifts.

You can also have kids do something in preparation for your next trip there. This one is your call, of course.  But if you already know you’ll be returning, there’s no better time than when you’re still there to jot down possible rooms you might like to stay in, and other details you can only get when you’re there.

 …And at home. Have them put photos in an album; complete any Disney projects they started. If they have or are starting a Disney collection, ask them to clear out a space and start setting things up, complete with labels.

Make a treasure hunt to be done in stages.  Have them do part of it at the resort, and design part to be done on the trip, and then the rest back home. Find other activities that can be divided up similarly; for example, have kids start writing a story about their trip, or a series of journal entries when you are still down there. When they get home, give them something small to help complete the project: Disney stickers, for example.

These tips won’t erase the fact that you’re going home, of course, but they will make things easier. Now if your kids can just get you to let go of that bedpost…

Do you have tips for making the return journey less traumatic? Let us know what they are!

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Evan Levy

Evan Levy likes baking cupcakes, hanging out with her family, and all things Disney.

12 thoughts on “Leaving Disney: Planning for the Inevitable Trip Home

  • I am 33 and sad to say I just returned from my first trip to Disney World. My wife and I took our 14 year old daughter (her birthday week – they are amazing with birthdays there).

    We drove from northeast Ohio, so it was a long drive. It was longer on the way home. I have to admit, I did shed a tear (me, a 33 year old man) mostly because I am not sure if I will ever make it back there. I really don’t want to wait 33 more years to go again. 4 days later I am still a little depressed; I really didn’t think it would happen to me.

  • When we were packing up last year for the long journey to the UK – my husband casually said “who knows when we will be back” Having made regular trips over 20 years – I got such a shock at this horrendous possibility – I burst into tears. A year later my eyes are still filling at such a dreadful notion! I feel quite shallow when I stop to think of the real suffering in the world – but what is it about WDW that generates sadness like this! I just can’t bear the thought…. Happily, my husband has learned the error of his ways and we are planning another big trip in 2012 and also I have realised that I need even just the hope of coming back one day…

  • For our upcoming trip, I purposely planned MK last (save the best for last, right?) and we are going out with a bang. We are going to do our 1st MNSSHP! Since we’ll be out late, the day of our departure I planned an evening flight home to give us a chance to sleep in, finish packing and enjoy a late character breakfast at O’hana before our departure for the airport that afternoon. This will be our 1st time spending our last day leisurely instead of racing around to get ready to go. Won’t get home until late that night, but hopefully, the kids will be so tired from the week’s non-stop activities that they will sleep on the 2 1/2 hour drive home from the airport and forget about the disappointment of not being at the World anymore. At least postpone it til the next day.

    As for keeping the Disney spirit alive even when we’re not there, I always buy the Chip and Dale pretzels (they do still make those, right?) and cookies to enjoy when we are home. Better yet, is to ship the purchases home and avoid having to pack them in your luggage. 2 weeks after you get back home it’s so much fun having a package from Disney arrive at your door for you to unpack. It’s like Christmas! Speaking of which, I plan on doing some Christmas shopping while we are there. It will make Christmas morning extra special and bring back memories of our trip!

  • I love to take a lot of pictures on my trips and go through them slowly so the trip lasts longer. Then I pick out my favorites and set them to Park music in a movie slide-show so I can sit back and watch the whole thing over with happy tears or I create a book online so my library grows with every trip!

    • What a good idea to add the music!

  • We usually don’t do evening EMH, but for our last night we go to the evening EMH park so we can get every last ounce out of WDW before we leave.

    And we like to take a morning swim before we leave, just to get one last bit of fun out of the resort before we pile in the Family Roadster for the drive home. 🙂

  • I hate the last day. So, it make it something more tolerable, I don’t plan a really early flight. That will just ruin the night before. Instead I plan a noon-ish flight. That gives us time to sleep in a bit, pack up, and have a nice lunch or brunch before heading to the airport. One of my favorite plans it to have a late breakfast at Kona Cafe, visit the Poly’s gift shop (our favorite), and spend as much time as we have taking photos at the resort.

    We have AP’s so a few hours in the park is possible, but we always ended up getting to the airport late–turning an otherwise excellent vacation into a nightmare. So, I try to stay away from the parks on that last day.

  • I download all the pictures a Disney photographer took during our trip and choose a few to order. When they arrive in the mail it’s like re-living the trip all over again!

  • I usually have a dinner at a signature the night before I leave. Since I’m only a 2 hour flight away, I also get a 1/2 day in a park on departure day. I use that time to just wander around and take in my favorite attractions one last time, and then sit down for a nice lunch right before I leave. It’s always sad 🙁

    • So sad! A good time to start planning the next trip!


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