Survival Tips From a Disney Mom

A mom who’s visited Disney 54 times explains how the ever-daunting Disney World vacation can actually be a walk-in-the-park.

I’m just going to put this out there:

Disney World gives me hives.

There. I said it.

I am a parent of a toddler and given a choice between eating a vat of worms and going to Disney World, I would chow down on worms a la mode every single time. Fear Factor, here I come.

I know, that makes me a bad person. I’m working on it with my therapist.

So when I first heard about Jenn Hart, I had to find her and make her talk. Hart, 34, has been to Disney World no fewer than 54 times.

You heard me. Fifty-four times. By choice.

Dude, I had to know why.

Affairs of the Mouse

The Naperville, Ill., resident began her love affair with a certain dapper mouse three decades ago, when she and her family traveled to Florida on vacation.

“The park opened in 1971, I was born in 1972 and I went to Disney for the first time in 1973,” recalls Hart. “I was itty-bitty. My dad’s boss had a condo in West Palm Beach, and so we went to check out this new place.”

The trip to visit Mickey and the gang became an annual tradition for Hart’s family.

“We would go back once or twice a year,” Hart says. “My brother took his first steps in Disney. ”

Once Hart and her siblings reached school age, the family began to make an annual, two-week pilgrimage to Florida—get this—in July.

Holy humidity, Batman! My last visit to Florida was in April, and it was so hot and wet that you practically needed to wear your bikini to bed. You should have seen my hair. It was not pretty, friends.

Not surprisingly, Hart says summertime is the busiest time of year at the Magic Kingdom, but not necessarily because it’s when kids are on summer break.

“There are a lot of tour groups [in summer], especially from Brazil, because it is their winter,” Hart explains. “You’ll find groups of thirty to forty people, and if one of those groups gets in front of you, you’re going to have a very long wait.”

Line-Cutting and Other Sneaky Secrets

Ah, yes. The famous Disney lines. I have to admit that waiting to ride some of the attractions wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The park is very efficient and moving people is a science for Disney employees.

Even so, Hart highly recommends using the park’s “FASTPASS” system. This line-management method allows you to swipe your ticket through a “FASTPASS” machine, located near the more popular rides and attractions.

Once you swipe your ticket, you get—you guessed it—a pass, printed with a specific time. When that time arrives, take your pass, head to the special FASTPASS line, and jump the queue.

While you may wait a few minutes, you won’t be standing there for an hour. I know this from experience because we did FASTPASS for a few of the rides. It is pretty sweet. But with a toddler or preschooler in tow, even waiting 15 minutes is too long.

Hart knows all about that—she and her husband took their 3-year-old daughter, Kate, on her first trip to the Magic Kingdom when she was just an infant.

So, you’ve got a kid, and the kid doesn’t want to stand in line. But you’re at Disney, dad gummit! You want to ride Space Mountain! So, what’s a parent to do? Stamp their feet and have a hissy fit?

That’s what I would do. But Hart is waaaaaay more mature than I am, so she takes advantage of the “Baby Swap Pass” system.

Say both you and your partner want to ride Space Mountain. To avoid standing in line twice, ask the line attendant for a baby swap pass.

“You and your child go hang out somewhere, and your husband goes and gets in line,” Hart explains. “Then after he gets out, you go and get in line, in the FASTPASS line.”

Pace Yourself—This is One Giant Park

Hart has plenty more top-secret tips to share, which is why she started her own website, Disney Savvy. The site includes detailed information on attractions at all of the theme parks that comprise Disney World, as well as gems like this:

Build up your stamina before you get to the resort by taking walks with your child to prepare yourselves for all the footwork ahead of you!

And she’s right about that, because let me tell you, it feels like you are walking to oh, say, THE MOON. These parks are huge, people. Add the heat and humidity, and this mama is ready to drop by noon.

So be sure, says Hart, to arrive early—before the crowds really get unmanageable— always carry a bottle of water, and don’t try to pack a two-week vacation into a long weekend. Disney World spans thousands of acres, and you must have realistic expectations for your trip.

And, those of us traveling with kids should do our best to maintain a somewhat reasonable schedule—that means taking frequent snack or drink breaks, or going back to your lodgings for a nap and some downtime.

“It isn’t fun to watch moms walk around with kids who are dead tired,” Hart says. “You don’t want to go and not get your money’s worth, but you do need to keep to your routine as best you can.”

She makes it all sound very easy. Very tempting. I think I’m having a change of heart!

Wait a minute, why is my nose growing?

Destinations: Florida, Orlando

Themes: Amusement Parks, Family Travel

User Comments

WOW Someone has been to Disney World over 50 times!?!? That's INSANSE. She could have probably written this entire issue from memory. Would be cool if you found destination junkies at other plaaces and interviewed them...