Magic Without Meltdowns

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

We were just steps inside the Magic Kingdom when I saw the father leaning into the stroller yelling at his son.

"Now," he said, his voice dripped with sarcasm, "are you ready to have a maaaagical day?!"

It was just past 9 a.m.

Ah, Walt Disney World-happiest place on Earth. Also the land of many a meltdown, for kids and parents alike.

The funny part is that any of us are surprised by this. Parents have saved for months or years to afford the trip, and they are going to squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of it, gosh darn it. (Though the very angry man in front of me at the Pinocchio Village Haus café did not actually say gosh or darn to express his disgust at his wait time for flatbread, which I say to make a point. Seriously, people. This is fun, remember?)

Kids are under slept, over sugared, flushed with heat and shown shiny, pretty presents at the exit of every single ride that, of course, they keep asking for. It's the perfect storm.

I once witnessed aliens take over my then-2-year-old at Disney. He wanted a toy that I wouldn't buy him, and he went straight-up movie scene on me, dropping to the floor and literally writhing as he screamed. I actually walked out. (Trust me, nobody was going to take him in that moment. I promise.)

I was mortified. But I quickly realized it wasn't exactly his fault. And I adjusted my thinking entirely.

Our Disney trips since have been blessedly joyful. To spare other poor souls the horror of a momentary alien abduction, or just to assure you do squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of your (thousands of) dollars, here's my advice.

1. You can have anything you want; you just can't have everything you want. It's a fruitless endeavor, this idea that you can somehow conquer Disney in a week, let alone a long weekend. So let it go. Instead, identify three priorities and let whatever else happens happen. Our favorites? Fantasmic, a spectacular nighttime show at Hollywood Studios; Festival of the Lion King, a Broadway-style production at Animal Kingdom; and Space Mountain, the legendary Magic Kingdom roller coaster.

2. Be tech savvy. If you're staying at a Disney resort (we highly recommend Art of Animation for families with young children), register online for FastPass+ 60 days before your trip. (You get three a day, and they essentially bump you to the front of a particular ride or show's line.) Then download the My Disney Experience app to find food, characters, ride wait times and more. (Also highly recommended: Our 20-minutes-or-less line rule. Sure, it means that beyond FastPass+, you won't be riding the newest, most popular attractions. But guess what? You ride a whole lot more, with a whole lot less irritation. And the old ones are still pretty grand.)

3. Skip the reservations. There's plenty of delicious food to be eaten at Disney parks-if you make reservations far in advance. The challenge, especially if you have little ones, is that overscheduling can completely kill the experience. (See No. 5.) Trust me, there is no shortage of food, and giving up gourmet for the convenience of eating when and where you want is well worth it. Exception: If you are so inclined, reserve a table for one character or princess breakfast. It's an easy way to see a lot of characters or princesses at once, and since it's the first meal of the day, you know you won't be in line for a ride clear across the park at the very moment you're supposed to be seated.

4. The early bird gets the worm. Or, in this case, the ride. Arrive at the parks early, and you will be rewarded with short lines for the first hour of the day. Just know where you want to go and zero in. On our latest trip, we rode Space Mountain-often a 60- to 75-minute wait-three times in 30 minutes.

5. Live the moment. Remember why you're on the trip in the first place: to enjoy time with the people you love. Your joyful moments might not look exactly like they do in commercials, but find them and embrace them nonetheless. If the kids want to swim in the hotel pool for another hour, swim! If you're all too tired to stay for the fireworks, leave! If you want to watch Mickey's PhilharMagic for the third time because the wait is always short, the A/C is always cool and you secretly still love singing The Little Mermaid song you performed in the seventh-grade choir concert (apologies to the people sitting around me), do it! And enjoy every moment.

Kristy Eckert is a Powell mom and founder of Kristy Eckert Communications. You can reach her at