There was a young mom on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom sitting on the curb crying. Her child was in the stroller next to her.
Her husband or boyfriend or whoever was upset. Stamping around demonstratively, throwing his arms up and spitting out whatever it was he had to say to her.
If you go to the Magic Kingdom enough times, you’ll see it. The stress of a vacation – especially an expensive one – can be amplified under the Florida sun.
Most of the time, it’s a momentary frustration, a blip on the radar of an otherwise fun family vacation.
Sometimes it turns into something else.
We had just gotten back into the park after taking a mid-afternoon break when I saw this young family falling apart.
I wanted to tell him so many things at that moment, so many things he needed – not just to navigate a Disney vacation – but life.
There’s nothing that bad. Nothing worth taking this experience – one that you presumably worked hard for months to provide – and dashing it to pieces over the course of 15 minutes on one bad afternoon.
However, it wasn’t my place to intervene.
Cast members arrived quickly, helping to de-escalate the situation. The family was escorted toward the exit.
When it comes to a Disney vacation, it’s important to think about what you want to do throughout the trip. But even more importantly, it’s a good idea to think about what you’re not going to do. Here are a few best tips for what not to do at Disney:
7. Don’t get into altercations about the line
I hadn’t thought about that family in years until I read about an incident that started in a line to see Mickey’s PhilharMagic recently.
You may have seen it on the news.
Apparently, one family member got out of line to retrieve something they’d left behind in their electric scooter. Later, when they tried to rejoin their family in line, another family took exception. Allegedly, there was a push.
Anyway, after seeing the 3D movie – which just reopened after having been on hiatus for a couple of years – the families reconvened outside the PhilharMagic and a donnybrook ensued.
The massive fracas involved about a dozen people and sent one person to the hospital, resulting in a couple of arrests. Afterward, all members of both families were booted out of the Kingdom.
It was a mess. Over Mickey’s PhilharMagic.
I know the show which – spoiler alert – ends with Donald Duck’s behind sticking out of the back wall had just returned. But of all the attractions to get squirrelly over in the Magic Kingdom, the PhilharMagic might be a the bottom of the list.
The wait time is always short. It’s a big, air-conditioned theater, not a ride.
In fact, if I was making a recommendation for a change at Disney World, the top of my list would be to remove the PhilharMagic and bring back Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or Snow White’s Scary Adventures.
Getting froggy over a 12-minute 3D concert? Nah, son.
So, having gotten the serious one out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of our don’ts for Disney World in modern times.
6. Don’t dump your family member’s ashes at Disney
I said “mostly” lighthearted. I honestly understand, at least in broad concepts, the idea. Many people ask for their ashes to be spread in places that were important to them in life. The ocean. The mountains.
And, for some, Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride.
But Disney isn’t public land. Disney doesn’t want your family member’s ashes in its park. Besides, it’s someone’s job to clean up the deceased who – after they’re cleaned up – are not going to get the final resting place they hoped for.
5. Don’t walk on the Main Street tracks
Main Street can be one of the more difficult places to navigate on all of Earth. Traffic is flowing in multiple directions as pedestrians are peeling off to go to a shop here or crossing the street to go to a shop there.
You have large families trying to stick together, people randomly stopping for pictures. It’s delightful chaos.
The trolley tracks are a somewhat reliable way to move through that traffic. The tracks are perfect for stroller wheels, it’s a little bit more wide open. However, the gained freedom of movement isn’t worth the risk of getting distracted, taking a wrong step and twisting an ankle.
A series of basketball and football injuries have left my ankles weak and easily turned. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the Magic Kingdom, looked up to the castle or over to Casey’s or at some other distraction and stepped wrongly either slightly injuring myself or coming close to it.
I haven’t completely crashed at Disney yet like the time I face-planted walking over uneven cobblestones on our way to the London Zoo, but I’ve come close.
When it comes to walking along the trolley tracks, mind the gap.
4. Don’t lose perspective
One of the appealing parts of any vacation is finding time to relax and chill out. Nevertheless, for a lot of people, the amount of money, time and planning that go into a Disney vacation is the opposite of that.
Throw in the crowds and the heat and Disney vacations will have moments of stress.
I know, at the moment, it can be hard to enhance your calm, but in the long run, you, your family and your vacation will be better off for it.
3. Don’t stay in a Disney Resort hotel
It breaks my heart to say this. We love staying in the Disney resorts but in the modern era, with Disney apparently busting at the seams with customers, the benefits of staying on the property have lessened.
Extra magic hours? Gone. Currently, you get a half hour, barely enough time to get a single ride in before the hoard is unleashed. Early reservations for FastPass? Gone. With the FastPass system kaput, it’s all Disney Genie+.
The people in Disney resorts do get a minor head start for Genie+ and the Lightning Lanes. However, I don’t know that it’s worth the increased cost of staying on park.
The fact is, it is getting increasingly hard to find affordable rooms on property in Disney. The Value Resorts are frequently near $200 a night. If you have a family larger than four? Forget it. Disney simply does not have affordable options for you.
The most recent time we went to Disney, we got a large Airbnb and split the cost between three families. Ultimately, our housing cost was about $400 for the week.
Yes, we had to pay to park, but Disney resorts charge a per-day parking fee as well. We missed the Disney transportation system, but it was more than offset by the $1,500 or so we saved by not staying on park.
Of course, not everybody wants to vacate with other families. There are massive amounts of hotels in the Disney area that can save you hundreds on a week-long vacation. When we visited Universal this summer, our hotel cost was something like $89 per night for a suite that comfortably slept the five of us. A similar room at Disney would have cost twice as much or more.
The only way a Disney Resort is really worth the price is if you plan to make it a vital part of the vacation. However, if it’s mostly just a place to rest between massive days in the parks, save your money.
2. Don’t force it on your kids
Expectations do not always meet reality. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over again, at least once with each child. We plan, prepare and dream about how perfect the experience is going to be. Then, fate or the weather or our kids just don’t cooperate.
When Sofia was little, I just knew she’d love Splash Mountain if I could just get her to ride. We spent a week talking about it and visiting it to boost her courage. Finally, before we had to leave on Saturday to get on the road home, we (I) decided to go for it. Her nerves were apparent as we worked our way to the queue and by the time we got on the ride, I should have accepted she wasn’t ready. I didn’t.
She was miserable and we ended that trip with tears, enough tears ironically, to float Splash Mountain.
Years later, we booked a princess dinner for our youngest Ainsley in EPCOT. She’d loved breakfast with Mickey and Minnie and the gang at Chef Mickey previously. We were sure she’d go nuts for the princesses at the EPCOT castle.
The problem? The girl was hungry. After meeting Belle at the entrance, she wasn’t really interested in meeting anyone else. She just wanted to eat. For two of the four princesses who came to our table, Ainsley declined to even get down from her chair and get a picture. I’m not sure she even spoke to Snow White.
But have I learned my lesson? Apparently not. For example, on our most recent trip, the big kids in our group wanted to start the day at the Haunted Mansion.
None of my kids have ever really been into ghosts, goblins or zombies and my 9-year-old son JP was openly afraid of the ride. Still, he wanted to be cool like the big kids and so he decided if they could do it, so could he. I knew better.
I knew that just like Splash Mountain all those years ago, I should have stepped him out of line and gone to do something else – anything else. We didn’t. He wanted to be brave.
It was bad. I can’t imagine a worse way for a kid to start a Disney vacation unless maybe it’s as a dad who saw his son walking into that situation and didn’t do anything to stop it. He was embarrassed and I felt awful. Welcome to the Magic Kingdom!
1. Don’t bother characters outside of the designated areas other than a wave
The thing is a lot of people who come to the parks for the first time don’t understand how the character interactions are supposed to work.
They’ll see Winnie the Pooh or Peter Pan in transit from backstage to the character area or vice versa. It is unbelievably hot in Orlando most days of the year. I cannot imagine what it’s like to work in some of those suits. Disney has a fairly regimented schedule to keep them from suffering heat exhaustion at work.
Still, invariably, you’ll see someone – usually innocently – try to stop the hustling character for a picture or a hello. Maybe they don’t know better. Or they may be over-excited. Maybe they think they can force an exception for their darling angel.
Disney’s handlers usually do a good job of explaining the process and the characters are almost always gracious.
But don’t put them in that position. A shout hello and a wave are best. If you really want the interaction, get in the queue.
What is your best tip for what not to do at Disney? Let us know in the comments!