A Disney World vacation is usually loads of fun, but it’s often not the kind of vacation where you come home relaxed and refreshed. Particularly after a lengthy absence (um, COVID), it can be tempting to storm the parks from sun up until they kick you out. When I’m in that mode of frantically trying to experience every attraction in the parks, I’m often more tired after my trip than before I started. You may having great time, but it’s not a restful vacation.
Despite the impulse to conquer the parks, following a tough year you might need pure chill time as much as frenetic distraction. Believe it or not, there is another way to do Disney. Let’s call it the Relaxing Way. With a Relaxing Way Disney trip, you come home rested and refreshed, ready to conquer the real world with renewed energy. Here are some tips to make the Relaxing Way a reality:
1. Choose your resort wisely. During at least one research trip each year I visit every Disney-owned hotel at Walt Disney World for several hours each over the course of less than a week. These concentrated visits often highlight the resort intangibles in a way that is not readily apparent from website summaries. While the Disney resorts each have their charm, a few of them just feel lazier than the others (and I mean that in the best possible sense).
For example, my family often stays at the Beach Club or Bay Lake Tower because of their quick and easy access to theme parks. That’s great if you’re spending lots of time in the parks, but having that speedy park access can make me feel guilty if I don’t take advantage of it. (EPCOT is RIGHT THERE, Goooo!) The deluxe resorts are lovely, but the guests there can be decidedly type-A. However, I feel absolutely no sense of urgency or stress among the guests at Old Key West and Fort Wilderness. Folks there are puttering around, riding bikes, fishing, playing catch, having a beer at the poolside bar, and just generally chilling like regular human beings on vacation. For a relaxing trip, it can help to surround yourself with people providing a good example of relaxation.
2. Choose the right time of year to visit. Sometimes schedules don’t allow the luxury of an off-season Disney visit, but if you can possibly make it work, try planning your Disney trip for times like early November or late January. The weather will be cooler, the crowds will be thinner, and the prices will be lower. Any one of those things can reduce your stress level; the trifecta is positively blissful.
3. Use a touring plan. And no, I’m not just saying that ’cause I work here. A well-crafted touring plan can take hours of wait time out of your day in the parks. Less waiting = more relaxing and more fun.
4. Take a nap. Taking a snooze break in the middle of the day can mean the difference between sanity and meltdown. You’ll be more relaxed if you avoid a daily meltdown. If a full-on nap isn’t in the cards, then a mid-day swim, or even a long, table service lunch can help you re-center.
5. Spend time outside the parks. I love the theme parks, but even a Magic Kingdom addict can get sensory overload. When you’re in the parks, every one of your senses is fully stimulated: non-stop music, busy colors, fragrant popcorn, and constant motion. It’s a lot to process. The pace outside the parks is significantly slower. Take a walk around your resort, take a dip the pool, or even skip town and head to the beach for the day – anything to dial down the influx of stimulation for a while.
6. Have some non-walking physical activity. Using your body for exercise is a great way to burn off physical and emotional stress. Many of the WDW resorts have fitness centers with a full complement of exercise equipment. You could also go for a run, play golf (even mini-golf works), play tennis, rent a traditional or surrey bike, anything to just get moving.
7. Have a date night. Yes, it’s a family vacation, but sometimes hanging with your kids 24/7 can get to be a bit much of a togetherness. Give everyone a break by sending mom and dad (or mom and mom, or dad and dad) off for some quality time on their own. Childcare options are available at Walt Disney World. A glass of wine and a nice dinner away from bickering kiddos can do the grown-ups a world of good.
8. Make dining reservations in advance. It can be stressful to think about where you want to eat months in advance. You know what’s even more stressful? Waiting an hour and a half at Crystal Palace to see if there’s a table available for you and your cranky five-year-old. Give yourself one less thing to worry about during your trip by planning your vacation dining while you’re still at home.
9. Keep yourself physically comfortable. Physical discomfort is a big stress inducer for everyone, including kids. Avert problems by keeping cool, staying hydrated, eating on a regular schedule, not overeating, wearing comfortable shoes, resting when appropriate during the day, and going to sleep at a reasonable hour at night. There – I bet you feel better already.
10. Try something new. New stimuli are candy for your brain. If you’re a frequent Disney visitor, actively seek out new rides, restaurants, and other experiences that you haven’t done before. The happy center in your head will thank you.
11. Give yourself permission not to do something. It’s simply not possible to do everything at Walt Disney World in a single vacation, so stop trying to make that happen. Once you give yourself permission to not visit one of the theme parks, or not go on a less important ride, the layers of stress just fall away.
12. Don’t compare your vacation to someone else’s. Several years ago, a neighbor of mine took her kids to Walt Disney World for a five-day vacation. During a trip-planning mind dump, I spewed information at her for hours about all the incredible things she could (SHOULD!) do at all four parks. When she returned home I was horrified to learn that she went to the Magic Kingdom every morning, hung out at the pool every afternoon, and never made it anywhere else. As I tried to wrap my mind around the countless number of things she missed, she explained that her kids were having a great time and she didn’t want to mess with something that worked. She decided to tailor the vacation to her family’s vision of fun and not my vision of fun. Smart lady!
13. Evaluate your transportation situation. I hate to drive, so I adore the Disney free transportation system and often opt to use that over renting a car. Other folks may love to drive and hate waiting for public transport to arrive. They’ll be better off with a rental car during their Disney visit. Another subset of folks may prefer a hybrid approach of Disney transport and ample use of ride shares. Choose the version that brings you the least amount of stress.
14. Communicate your expectations to your kids. Are you a vacation rule keeper or rule breaker? How will you handle your child’s souvenir budget? Will the kids take turns choosing activities or will mom set the pace? Whatever your family’s hot button issues are, make sure your kids understand the situation. Lots of stress can be avoided by simply letting everyone know what’s going on.
15. Bond with nature. Time spent in nature or with non-human living creatures are proven methods of calming the mind. To bring your blood pressure down, take a stroll along the forested paths at Fort Wilderness, bond with the goats at Conservation Station, or stop to watch the parks’ resident squirrels and ducks.
Do you come home from your typical Disney vacation refreshed and rested, or ready for a nap? What are your tips for touring Disney the Relaxing Way?
First published March 30, 2021. Updated June 10, 2021.