Back in October, we visited Walt Disney World as a family for the fourth time. It was always my childhood dream to visit the most magical place on Earth and I'm grateful to share my childhood dream with my son, Norrin. But the more we go, the more I learn.
Our last trip was different than usual because it was a multi-generation vacation with my parents. Vacationing with my 70-year-old parents and my 9-year-old son with autism was quite the experience. I'm happy we got to visit Disney World as a family and we had a great time, but it wasn't easy.
I'm not saying we'll never return to Disney World again, but I would do things a little differently the next time we visit.
1. Trying to do it all in a single day.
Thanks to my iPhone, I was able to keep track of how many miles we walked per day. Each day we visited a park, we averaged about eight miles per day. We got to the parks early in the morning and didn't leave until after dark. By mid-afternoon, my kid was hot and cranky and made it very clear he wanted to leave. Each time, I said, "In a little while..." I bribed him with candy and soda and promises of toys. But after riding his favorite attractions, he's done, and I have to learn to accept that.
I love Epcot; it's a beautiful park. It's just not the place my kid wants to be. Sure, he likes "The Seas with Nemo and Friends," but that's pretty much it. Norrin's not interested in walking around the entire World Showcase. Yet year after year, I make an attempt to see every single country. (It doesn't happen.)
3. Pictures, pictures, and more pictures.
I love taking pictures, but we have very few family photos. It's either me with Norrin, my husband with Norrin or just Norrin by himself. If you see one of the three of us, chances are it's a selfie. At Walt Disney World, we buy the Memory Maker photo pass and I make sure to get my money's worth. There are photo opportunities everywhere! If I see a photographer, we're stopping for a picture. Norrin doesn't always want to take a picture. Because I'm all about capturing the magical moment, I make him pose for pictures he doesn't want to take. And trust me, there's no fake smile with my kid — he doesn't even make an attempt.
4. Waiting in lines for rides... for nothing.
A trip to Disney usually means standing in long lines. (Yes, we use Disney's Disability Access Card but we don't use it for every ride.) By now, we have an idea of the kinds of rides Norrin likes. I'm very aware of what he can and can't handle. Yet we still waited in lines suspecting that by the time we got to the front, Norrin would flat out refuse to get on the ride. (This happened at least once at every park.)
Photograph by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez
5. Not visiting the Disney Water Parks.
Norrin loves the water. His favorite part about our Disney vacations is splashing around in the hotel pool. In all the times we've gone to Walt Disney World, we've never done either of the water parks. #DisneyFail
Seven days at Walt Disney World is a lot and I filled up our days. We spent five days at the parks, had dining reservations every day and scheduled FastPass+. Our plans were so rigid, it left us with very little wiggle room for spontaneity. Trying to keep my parents, my sister, my husband and my kid on a schedule was kind of stressful. But I wanted to make sure that we got to do as much as possible (refer to mistake No. 1).
Seems weird right? How can I under-plan if I over-planned? I don't really know, but somehow it happened. No matter how many times you visit, you always need some kind of plan at any Disney park. While I planned out our days, I didn't really plan our days wisely. We spent a lot of time walking in circles, waiting for shows to start or rushing to a reservation.
8. Not listening to my kid.
I'm a Disney-loving mom and I will never get tired of visiting Disney World. But Norrin just doesn't love it as much as I do. At least not right now. During our visits, I'm so focused on what I want to do and what I think he'll want to do, that I forget it's supposed to be about him, not me.