I’ve been off the blog for a few days now because I took an extended Labor Day weekend retreat with my family. We went down to Walt Disney World Resort and played in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios for a few days.
As a former theme park employee, I’ve seen the stress that’s caused by visiting an expensive place like Disney. The heat makes everyone grumpy, the prices makes everyone stressed out about “getting their money’s worth” out of the experience, and so the dream vacation often ends up with family quarrels and disagreements.
We decided to do things differently.
Now, I’m surely not a professional vacationer or anything, but I have to say that by following the “rules” below I really enjoyed our family retreat and I feel refreshed and rejuvenated. I’d suggest these for any vacation, but particularly if you’re going to be heading to a theme park.
Rule One: Disconnect
Other than our phones, we decided that the best way to spend our time together would be disconnected from the internet, social networks, and other outside experiences. We left the computers at home and didn’t use our phones to access our e-mail, facebook, or twitter.
As difficult as it might have been to break my internet addition- I gotta admit that I didn’t really miss it that much. I mean, I like spending time with my wife and my child. And with my attention focused on them and on the experiences at hand, there wasn’t really a lot of time to miss my “online presence.”
Rule Two: Don’t Do Everything
Theme Parks are huge. In a really part of the year like the beginning of November, it might be possible to do experience most of what’s offered in a Theme Park, but not on Labor Day Weekend- and most certainly not with a seventeen month old in tow. It’s just not realistic to expect to do everything and so we maximized each moment by enjoying all the things we were engaged with at that moment instead of rushing onward to the next thing.
Rule Three: Do Things That Everyone Will Enjoy
So, you agree not to do everything. Great. Then what DO you do with all the possibilities out there?
I think it's best to focus on things that everyone will enjoy. For instance, my son is too young and too short to experience some the activities at Disney. He’s not going to be going on a rollercoaster for a few more years and some of the attractions are a little too advances for his attention span or abilities. So we stuck with things that were exciting for him. We spend 15 minutes watching him watch the dolphin swim past the viewing window. We rode the Mexico ride twice.
The only two times we broke this “rule” was when we took him on the Energy Ride (boring) and later went to the Nine Dragons Restaurant in China. Boy did we regret it!
He was a mess. He wanted to run around and we were making him sit on our laps on a loud, boring movie ride or sit up in a high chair while we were anxious about the fact that his high pitched shrills were bothering everyone else.
The entire experience worked much better when we merely enjoyed the things that he enjoyed instead of trying to get him to enjoy the things we wanted to do.
Rule Four: Take Naps, Drink Water, and Eat Regularly
Who wants to be cranky on vacation?
Yet, I’ve seen a lot of parents pushing their kids beyond naptime when they’re too young to be without naptime. I’ve seen people in the parks dehydrated because they forget that walking around in the hot sun is taxing. I’ve seen people forget to eat because of the excitement around them. All these things add up to disaster- a big blowout fight waiting to happen because everyone’s on edge because of exhaustion.
We brought a big water bottle with us and drank from it often. We got a big breakfast every day and then tried to eat regularly, even though it meant buying overpriced theme park food. But most importantly, we napped.
Because we stayed at one of the onsite hotels, we were within about 30-40 minutes of a bed at all times. The busses dropped us off and picked us up at each park and delivered us close to our room within a fairly reasonable time, anytime we needed. So, we went to the park for a few hours in the morning, went back to the hotel from about 12:30-3:00pm and came back and spent the afternoon and early evening at the park again before bed.
We missed the really hot, crowded times and were fresh and ready to go in the evening when everyone else was dragging and beginning to get cranky with each other.
Rule Five: Leave Time to Recoup After Vacation
As good as vacation can be when it’s truly relaxing, it can be stressful to head back to work the day after returning from vacation. We spent two nights at the Disney hotels and two and a half days at the theme parks. Then we came home and spent two and a half days at home, hanging out and recouping.
Vacation is only a success if it doesn’t cause more stress- and having a normal weekend to mow the lawn, hang out together, and do the typical stuff that needs to get done during time off is an important part of vacation. It meant that my mind was completely focused on my family and my surroundings instead of thinking about when I was going to get the ivy pulled down from the side of the house or get the ironing done.
Nathan Key likes to think about faith and philosophy and talk about it with others. He lives with his family in New Hampshire. He doesn't always refer to himself in the third person.