We were all rookies once, wandering wide-eyed around the Magic Kingdom and continually taking steps in one direction, only to think better of it and start off in a different direction — which was probably the wrong direction. We arrived at the parks too late, stayed stationary too long, and were too easily flustered by the myriad opportunities and options this wonderful, magical place presented. We hurried to rides with typically low wait times while saving other, far more popular, rides until later — only to find their weight times stretching all the way until a quarter to never. Trust me, I might go by Rad Disney Dad on this blog and on Instagram, but back in 2010, I was anything but. I was a Disney rookie, a “noob” as they
say in the gamer world, and Rad Mom and I arrived at Walt Disney World for the first time with only the faintest idea of what we’d be doing for the next two days. (Can you believe that we thought we could accomplish anything worthwhile in just two days?!) Though subsequent trips saw improvements in our planning and preparation, it took a good three or four trips before we achieved anything even remotely resembling the (self-proclaimed) Rad status we enjoy today. Perhaps I can spare you from making some of our more facepalm-worthy mistakes. Or just give you a chance to laugh at our expense.
Our first mistake that quite literally occured the moment we left our resort was that we brought our refillable mugs with us, which have no special privileges in the parks. To make matters worse, the mugs are not watertight at all, so they cannot be stored in any position other than upright. Furthermore, the mugs are designed for straws, so a jostling stroller or brisk walk will cause liquid to splash up through the straw opening — not something you want when you’re hurrying around the parks. Since Disney will allow you to bring water bottles into the parks, we strongly recommend that you do so, especially ones that are vacuum sealed and can keep water cold for hours. (Pro Tip: Fill them with ice at the resort. You’ll appreciate the cool water during Spring and Summer!) However, we’ve found it to be quite unnecessary to bring more than one or two medium-sized bottles. They can become surprisingly heavy, so sharing among family members makes more sense and will spare some poor soul the agony of an extra ten or fifteen pounds in his or her bag. No matter how strong you are, that can become tiresome. Also, this prevents you from wasting snack credits on something as mundane as water, a mistake we made on our first two trips when the sun was scorching and the dehydration unignorable. (It didn’t help that the first two times we went
to Disney it was the end of July.) Sure, if your kids have grown up anywhere other than the coasts, they’ll probably complain about the Florida water taste, but I can assure you that such prissiness will fly out the window when you present to them a bottled water vs. Mickey head ice cream choice. Suddenly tap water tastes just fine!
And speaking of poor choices, make sure you bring a stroller. A good one. You are not strong enough to carry your child around Magic Kingdom, no matter how in shape you think you are. On our first trip with Rad Ella, I declared a stroller a waste of time and space and volunteered to carry her whenever she got tired. I thought that as a former D1 college athlete who is 6’6” and 230 pounds, carrying a four-year-old would be a piece of cake. There were two problems with this foolish plan of action: the first is that a four-year-old child is still a substantial weight burden when she’s been on your shoulders for several hours, causing your spine to slowly compress like an accordion and reducing your formerly above-average height
by several inches; the second is that not having a stroller means having no real place for her to nap, which also means that when she inevitably falls asleep you will carry her as still as possible, no matter how numb your arms become, lest you wake the demon. When we returned from our trip to Disney, I was several inches shorter and one arm was alarmingly larger than the other — and not in a Lincoln Hawk Over the Top kind of way. (If you get that reference, I love you.)
Having a decent stroller really helps, one that rolls easily and has an assortment of storage cubbies for your odds and ends, but just remember one very important thing: strollers must be parked in the appropriate locations; otherwise, they’ll be moved. No, you’re not the first person ever to think of that hiding place behind the column in the shadow of the door alongside the trash can. Your stroller will be gone when you come back for it, neatly placed in one of the nearby stroller parking areas (so have a neon nametag on it or something else easy to identify it at a distance). On Rad Hallie’s first trip, I was constantly trying to outwit the cast members and find that one spot that they would never expect in which to stash our super conspicuous stroller. Of course, I failed every time. Then, the one time I actually ran to park the stroller in a designated area before we watched the Festival of the Lion King, I left Rad Hallie in the stroller. Upon returning to the line and after being asked (with more than a tone of concern) by Rad Mom, “Where’s Hallie?” I ran back to find Rad Hallie smiling and laughing at Chip and Dale who happened to be walking by greeting guests and signing autograph books. She had no idea that she had been left. To this day, Rad Mom never lets me forget about the time I left our two-and-a-half-year-old child in stroller parking. In my defense, the whole ordeal lasted about three minutes. That’s OK, right? Right? Anyone? (Please don’t contact the authorities.)
When we visited Disney for the first time in 2010, the iPhone was a new device, apps were what you ordered at restaurants, and the primary means of navigating the parks was still a paper map. Though I had a rough idea of where things were, we wasted a great deal of time crossing and recrossing Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom in search of a particular ride or character experience. It wasn’t until the second day at Magic Kingdom, when a wonderful cast member took us under her wing and circled all of the different places the princesses appeared around the park, that we began to consider our path around the park more carefully. (If you can believe it, nearly all of the princesses just appeared in random places around the park at appointed times. It was fun and, honestly, more magical than waiting in line for them inside a building.) Have a plan — even if it’s only for the short term. No matter how long you’re staying at Disney, time is always ticking away, and you could be knocking out rides, shows, and character meets in an orderly fashion and in a single location instead of running all over the park, crossing your own path time and time again like some sort of tourist fox attempting to elude his best vacation experience. Now that the Rad girls are older, this isn’t as important, but when you have young children, attacking the park piece by piece can be much more efficient. Having a plan also means being prepared. After standing in a decent-sized line for Rad Ella’s very first character meet, we got up to the Mouse himself only be politely asked, “Do you have an autograph book for him to sign?” To which we of course replied, “A what now?” This necessitated the purchasing of an autograph book and another trip through the line. If we had simply used our special eyes, we might have noticed all of the other parents and children holding them at the ready during our half hour in line. Such is life.
Now we can look back at some of these mistakes and laugh. No matter how much we love Disney prior to visiting the parks, blunders will be made because we all have to start somewhere. Experience is the best and bitterest of teachers, and there are aspects of the Disney experience that can only be understood once you’ve been there. Maybe you succeeded on your first trip and heeded the advice of friends, family, and cast members, or maybe you thought you’d break the mold and forge your own path — later regretting some or all of your decisions. It doesn’t matter. Because years later, when you’re waiting in line to ride Expedition Everest with that same child you left in stroller parking six years earlier, you’ll cherish
both memories equally and for entirely different reasons. You’ll remember the times you were an out-of-breath, sweaty, and tired Disney rookie, and you’ll savor them as much as the day you spent eighteen hours in the Magic Kingdom and closed the park down with two girls who no longer need to be carried or pushed. Because there’s one constant that unites those two very different trips: you shared them with the people you care most about in the world, and you all learned how to be a Rad Disney Family together.
Special thanks to the ZADD Crew, Nicole Ellington, and mickeys_photographer for the images in this post.