I’m going to start off by saying, I am an impatient introvert. In my childhood, I had never been to an amusement park larger than the Six Flags in Shakopee, MN (RIP, Prince). My parents never took us on a family trip to Disneyland or Disney World. We drove around the country in a rented RV and camped for a few summer vacations.
We used to stay in a cabin on Lake Michigan without electricity or running water. We used kerosene lamps and the Daddy-Long-Legs-covered outhouse. We bathed in the lake and body-surfed until our lips turned blue. I loved it. I have very fond memories of waking up to the sound of waves crashing on the shore and the bitter aroma of coffee percolating.
I never thought that at 40, I would join the masses at a Disney park.
I’m not a Disney fanatic. A child of the ’80s, I like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and most songs from Disney movies. I’m not crazy about Disney princesses. Their exaggerated large eyes and exaggerated tiny waists get under my feminist skin.
Our nine-year-old kids have grown to love Star Wars over the past few years. When my husband heard about Galaxy’s Edge opening this year, we started planning a big ol’ family trip. Our kids would be at a good age to not throw tantrums but still think their parents are cool enough to spend time with. We decided Disneyland seemed easier to manage than Disney World, and there are other attractions within driving distance we had been to and wanted to take the kids to.
In the year leading up to our Disneyland adventure, I pinned about 1,000 lists on Pinterest of what to do, what not to do, what to see, what to eat, what to pack, what to avoid. I browsed these periodically, but nothing really stuck. I read some suggestions to work up to several-hours-long walks to build up endurance, but that’s not super feasible in Wisconsin winter.
Here’s what we brought along with us to Disneyland:
- comfortable walking shoes for 12+ hour days
- sunblock, reapplied often
- a water bottle or two that can be refilled in many places throughout the parks
- our smartphones with the Disney app, which made finding restaurants and (super clean, thankfully) rest rooms easy
- a cross-body bag so I could have my hands free
- a book to read while waiting in lines
- a few snacks so we didn’t have to buy all food there
- sweatshirts or jackets
My husband volunteered to bring a backpack, so those extra layers didn’t have to be worn all day long. The weather vacillated from chilly in the mornings and evenings to slightly too warm at mid-day, so it was helpful to dress in layers.
MaxPass is a great service to make reservations for rides and skip long lines, but it’s not available for everything.
Waiting is inevitable. And the time commitment meant we had to be on a schedule, not something I love to do on vacation. Or during normal life, to be honest, but especially on vacation.
There were two main barriers to having the best time ever that we anticipated: exhaustion and hunger.
That meant, sadly, we turned down the chance to see the World of Color show that didn’t start until 10:00 pm. The parks stay open until midnight, but we dragged ourselves out around 7:00 while marveling at people zestfully strolling in to start their Disney fun time. We were all zonked out around 8:30.
Stopping for meals and snacks helped to break up all the hours of walking and standing. We bought some snacks and raided our own stash other times. We over-packed snacks from home and had to leave a lot at the hotel in order to close our suitcases. And while we definitely indulged, I was happy to discover I lost a few pounds after this trip anyway.
One thing I would do differently if we redid this trip is to stay at Disney hotel. We stayed in a decent hotel within walking distance, but it would have been really great and worth the extra money to be closer and get special Disney perks.
I hope my children will always remember this vacation and never, ever question what I will do for them.
I know full well it’s a privilege to be able to afford this kind of experience. We had been planning for this and socking away money for years. I will not hesitate to remind my children of this should they ever forget. And in the same token, I am forever grateful to my parents for taking us on simple trips and encouraging us to enjoy down time and nature.
Special shout-out to our friend Julie Franklin, without whom we would have been up a Disney creek without a magical paddle. Find her here.