If you’re a grandparent, chances are that you grew up watching the Wide World of Disney and dreaming of taking the jungle cruise or flying with Peter Pan. Now that you are a grandparent, chances are that at some point you will consider going with some or all of the grandchildren to Walt Disney World. If so, it’s absolutely vital that you know how to do Disney. These hints are valuable for everyone, but for grandparents, who may have limited funds and stamina, they are priceless.
Choose Your Dates Wisely.
It’s tempting to visit on a holiday because of work and school schedules. Don’t do it. Instead, take advantage of any break in the school calendar that is not tied to a regular holiday. If you have to visit during the summer, crowds will be large but probably manageable if you avoid weekends and holidays. Summer visitors should be aware that rain is common, especially in the afternoon. Put in lightweight ponchos for everyone, find shelter and wait out the rain, even if it seems heavy. It will lower the temperatures and reduce the crowds. If you aren’t blessed with a summer shower, it is wise to leave the park in mid-afternoon for a late lunch or early dinner, either preceded or followed by a nap. You can return to the park in time for the evening festivities.
Do Your Homework.
Well in advance of your trip, buy and study The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. This book is based on one simple but oft-ignored principle: Have a plan. It then provides the detailed information that you need to make your plan. Some of it is common sense: Get to the park before it opens. Head to popular, slow-loading rides first. Don’t be distracted by any attractions that are not in the plan. Besides this basic advice, the book offers information on each ride, such as whether it is slow-loading or fast-loading, what the ride time is and what time of day is best to ride it.
Use the Fastpass and Rider Swap systems.
Fastpasses are dispensed for some of the most popular rides, and they are free. They allow you to ride within a certain time frame without waiting in the regular line. You’ll feel almost guilty as you stroll past people who have been in line for an hour—but not that guilty. Only a certain number of Fastpasses are dispensed at a time. If you make maximum use of the Fastpasses, you will spend a minimum of time waiting in line. Many park goers do not realize that you can sometimes get another Fastpass before you use the one you have. Each Fastpass has a time printed on the bottom that tells when you are allowed to get another. Also, although each Fast Pass has a time of expiration, they will be honored after that time. Another helpful Disney innovation is Rider Swap, which allows you to wait with a child who is too small for a ride, then hand off the child to another adult in your party and get on the ride without waiting in line again. Rider Swap is only available for certain attractions. The Unofficial Guide gives more information about Fast Passes and Rider Swap.
Have a Meal Plan.
If you have an overall plan for your visit, you’ll know which food venues will be nearby at lunch or dinner time. Food at Disney World is expensive, but less exorbitant than the food at many ball parks, special events and other theme parks. More importantly, their food is higher in quality than similar venues, and healthful choices are available. You can choose to bring in food, and it's not a bad idea to bring in some snacks, but don’t be afraid to try the theme park food if your budget allows it. Glass containers, large coolers and coolers on wheels cannot be taken into the park.
Plan and Budget for Souvenirs.
Talk to the grandchildren ahead of time about souvenir shopping. Do not buy anything that has to be carried until you are on your way out of the park. Browsing in the gift shops is a huge consumer of time and will almost certainly throw you off your carefully planned schedule. Although Disney routes its visitors through gift shops, and the entrance to the park is down Main Street lined with shops, if you stride briskly through the shops on the way to the next attraction, you should be able to avoid the shopping trap until the time you have designated, if any. Another option is to buy Disney gear ahead of time for the grandchildren to wear to the park. If you're going to be there for the SpectroMagic light parade, you can save money by buying glow sticks at a discount store outside the park.
Make Disney World an Educational Experience.
Most grandparents love to see their grandchildren learning something. Educational opportunities abound at Disney World, but the learning should start before the trip begins. Children will enjoy the rides more if they are familiar with the stories. Most children will know the recent movies, but they may not know about The Swiss Family Robinson, immortalized in the treehouse in Adventureland, or the Brer Rabbit stories illustrated along the Splash Mountain ride in Frontierland. These stories can be found in versions for younger and older children.
School-age children can participate in planning the trip, including formulating a budget, a great real-world math skill. They can practice map reading if the trip is to be made by car and learn about the states that lie along your route. Children of all ages will enjoy learning about the creatures in the Animal Kingdom.
Take Care of Yourself.Drink lots of water. Take frequent breaks for a drink or a snack or just a brief rest. Look for places where you can sit instead of standing. Use a stroller for young children. Remember that it usually takes at least half an hour to leave the park, and don't wait until you are exhausted to start for the exit. Grandparents with disabilities will have to be particularly careful not to overschedule themselves and become overtired. Walt Disney World provides a Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities to help park visitors with special needs.
Enjoy the Magic!
Stick to your plan as much as possible, but don't stress out over the inevitable bumps in the road. Disney gets a lot of things right. Relax and enjoy the magic.