Between couch potato kids struggling to trek miles of park and parents looking to get their money's worth in one day, a vacation in Walt Disney World can quickly become a stressful trip. Disney experts Bob Sehlinger and Liliane Opsomer, co-authors of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids, join host David Lytle to discuss how to prepare your family for the park, ways to plan your time and make the trip fun for all ages, and some straight talk about realistic expectations that may help you retain your humor and sanity.
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Top Tips from This Podcast
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- Expectations: Find out what everybody expects out of the trip, and figure out which are logistically possible.
- Sensory Overload: There is a lot to do, and a lot to see. Don't try to see everything in one day.
- Roll with the punches: Don't expect the trip to go exactly as your itinerary has listed. Unexpected things come up and you've got to just go with it.
- Overplanning: Try not to plan your days out to the minute. It's good to have an idea of what you want to see and where you want to go, but you don't need to overly plan your day.
- Physical Preparation: It is a big park, and you'll be on your feet walking a lot. Don't be surprised when you you've walked over 10 miles.
- Get out of the park: Spending every day of your trip in the theme park is draining, and leaves little time for relaxation. Think of alternative times to just kick back.
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David Lytle: Hi, this is David Lytle, editorial director of Frommers.com. Today we're talking with Bob Sehlinger and Liliane Opsomer, from the "Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World With Kids." They are contributing authors to the book. Hello.
Liliane Opsomer: Hello there.
Bob Sehlinger: Hey there, how you doing?
David: Doing quite well. As I said a little earlier to you guys, before we started recording this, this book is really dense with information. And so today, just to get a good feel for what's in here, and to help all listeners, I think I'd really like to focus on a chapter that you have called "Disney Boot Camp" -- which initially, when I saw it, just made me laugh out loud. It makes it feel like a military operation. Why did you name it "Disney Boot Camp", to begin with?
Bob: I think we wanted to emphasize that you really have to take preparation for going to Walt Disney World seriously, and it's not something that you can just shrug off.
Most kids and adults tend toward being couch potatoes, and they don't walk any farther in the course of a day than maybe to the store, or a little trek at the mall. When you get down to Disney World, in all probability you're going to be walking somewhere between six and 12 miles a day in the theme parks, not to mention what you might walk at your hotel, and getting to and from the transportation centers, and that sort of thing. If you don't start preparing for that in advance, you're really going to be in trouble when you get there. You're going to wear yourself out the first day, blisters, the whole shooting match, and then there goes the vacation.
And that's just part of it. It's psychological preparation, it is emotional preparation, it is logistics preparation. The people who take the time to give their vacation a little forethought generally have the best time when they're on-site.
David: Right. I think you say, in the beginning of the chapter, preparation can either make or break -- or, I guess, the lack of preparation -- can make or break your vacation. Especially if you're traveling with kids of different ages, and a spouse or a partner. Everybody's going to have different expectations about what this vacation is supposed to be about. So why don't we talk a little bit about what people can do to sort of mentally prepare themselves for their trip?
Liliane: Well, I can only reiterate what Bob said, that preparation goes on a lot of different levels. In talking about mental preparation, it's important to know "What is it that I want out of this vacation?" And the same thing will go for the children. You can ask everybody give you a wish list, and then you are the one to fulfill that wish list. At least it will give you a good idea, if you ask everybody involved what it is they want.
And then, from there, also prepare that not everything can be achieved. Maybe time-wise, maybe just logistical, or for the simple fact that, as you mentioned early on, different age groups create a hurdle that one has to take into consideration.
David: Right, exactly. A good point that you bring up in your writing is that oftentimes, both adults that are going have different expectations for the trip as well. The person who is full time mom, for example, shouldn't necessarily be expected to continue their primary parenting role when they go to Disney; and the person who maybe goes in to an office shouldn't expect this to be a real vacation for them, while the other person still has to take care of kids.
Bob: This is something that people rarely think about. Everybody has their expectation of how this trip is going to go. And if the full time caregiver, so to speak, gets down there, and expects his or her spouse to share the load, or take most of the load, so she can have a week off, and the other person's not on the same page, then that's going to create difficulties once they're there. The most important thing is to determine who's going to have responsibility for what, before you ever leave home.
David: Exactly. It is that preplanning, it is that sort of discussion. Saying, "You know what? I work 60 hours a week, and when I'm down here, I really would like to maybe have some time to myself" or, "I would like to spend most of my time with the kids, because I normally don't get to do that." It's stating those expectations ahead of time.
Liliane: Right. I think it also can backfire the other way around. If you, as a mother, are permanently used to being in charge, you might tend to overdo this whole organizing thing too; and not leave the father, that suddenly has time with the kids, any possibility to make decisions.
And as Bob said, this is something that has to be discussed before you ever leave -- before you even put down the money, deciding, "That is what we are going to do." And that is notwithstanding all the other factors, such as the time you're going. Very often, in reality, families go during the summer. It's hot, it's hot, and -- it's hot.
Liliane: And that works so much on everybody, the grownups and the kids alike. I am right now sitting in my apartment, and it's terribly hot. And you can only imagine what happens once everybody goes down there, and thinks, "Oh, this is not what I thought it was going to be."
David: Right, it makes you want to do less, definitely, when you start getting hot and sweaty and tired.
Liliane: But everybody is so psyched up, saying, "I want to do this and that" and the reality is you can barely walk. And that also goes for all age levels, including the grownups. What Bob said at the beginning, that you have to really consider that most of us are couch potatoes...
Liliane: That goes for the grown-ups, that goes for the little ones, and let's not even start with the teenagers, who are playing lots of video games, don't really go for big hikes anymore.
David: Right. And they're in a world to themselves, too. I mean, the teenage years are completely different.
Liliane: Right. And if you add to that the very fact that being a teenager is a label by itself, then yes, it takes a lot of consideration to think about all that before going.
Bob: A very basic consideration, and another one that most people give short shrift, is whether both people -- both parents -- are equally enthused about the Disney brand of entertainment.
Bob: If you've got a spouse who really doesn't like Disney entertainment, or is lukewarm, you've either got to plan some outside activities for that person -- for instance, golf or fishing -- or it is best if they stay at home. There's nothing worse than having somebody that, even though they may have been polite about it, were essentially coerced or dragged to Disney World.
And when you get that person, as Liliane suggested, in 104 degree heat with 90% humidity, standing in lines, and being in the sun, what little tolerance and courtesy that person was manifesting is going to fall through the roof in a hurry.
David: That actually touches on a topic that I think could be an entirely different podcast session, which is, "Why would somebody subject themselves to waiting in line at 104 degrees?"
Bob: Well, there are two reasons, and we get a lot of correspondence from readers about this. We advocated so greatly, in a number of editions of the book, that parents take their kids out of school for a week, so that they could avoid the heat and the crowds of the summer.
You know, we started getting all these letters from educators and it turns out that there are very definitely two sides of the story. Teachers will tell you that if you take your child out of school for a week, that's going to have significant repercussions in regards to their grades in what they learn for the entire year. And I'm convinced, having heard from so many teachers, that it's probably not a good idea except maybe at the very beginning of the term or in the end of the term or some particular time when because of holidays or other considerations, there's not a great deal going on. But the bottom-line is that you can have good time down there anytime of the year. And you know you have to put up with crowds and heat in the summer but there are a lot of people that really don't have any choice about when to go.
David Lytle: And that's absolutely right and I have to add full disclosure here. I taught school for 10 years and didn't necessarily look down on those parents who pulled their kids out but it was frustrating to have them taken away for a week. And parents have unrealistic expectations of the teacher taking on the additional burden of teaching a child something that he missed because the family took a vacation.
Bob: Well, not only that. Some parents ask the teacher to prepare assignments or something, projects for the child to do while he's on vacation.
Bob: And we've heard some readers who say that the child can stay up-to-date by doing an hour's worth of homework each night. Well, if that's true, why is the child going to school seven hours a day everyday?
David: Right, for central skills.
Liliane: Yeah, I think this is yet another decision that parents just have to look at and decide and then list the consequences of it because those really are unrealistic. You cannot decide even if let's put aside the fact that you could maybe catch up. When are you going to do that? When you're totally exhausted after running through the park all day? And everybody else is going to swim in the pool, and you tell your daughter or your son going to do your homework. This is very unrealistic to talk with.
David: Right, exactly.
Liliane: That's done in very special cases, and again, then you have, as a parent, to assume responsibility and not put the blame on the teacher or the kid about grades.
Bob: Early on, I touched down another point which also people say or consider and that is that trips to Disney World is really a dream vacation in most rigorous sense of the word. And a lot of folks will arrange their vacations so they arrive home on Monday evening either in the car, by plane and everybody has to go to school or work the next day.
Bob: And we're here to tell you that you're going to be trashed. What you really need to do is to give yourself perfectly two days to sort yourself out and rest before you have to go back to the real world.
David: Right. And because in some sense, look at sensory overload, it's a sort of a marathon of, you know, potential activity that you can do. What do you recommend to sort of decrease that pressure, you know, to do everything, to get up at seven a.m. and get back to the hotel at 10 at night with a 5-year-old and a 12-year-old?
Liliane: Now, I will let Bob elaborate on it since my first answer would be: just don't. Don't, just don't. I mean, just the idea of getting up everybody out of their room at eight means that already you are late in very heavy period of time in this new world, meaning the park is open. Number two, it means that you depend on caretaker has gotten up even earlier because he wants to get everything ready for you. And then, by the time, it's over 10 o'clock to get back to your room and to start this all over again the next morning, it's just hard. And the real truth is that you can't see it all. You should try not to wish to see it all. And the easiest way albeit the expenses is to take at least enough days to be there to see or to view the satisfaction of having. Maybe not see it all but what you wanted to see.
Bob: Number one thing you have to reason yourself, too, if you're a parent are actually anybody going down there, is that you can't see it all in a week. You can't see it all in two weeks. You really can't see it all in three weeks. And you have to understand that nobody's going to box Walt Disney World up and ship it to Cambodia. It's going to be there next year.
Bob: And, well, you can go about this one or two ways. You can understand that you can't do everything and also understand that sometimes, getting your money's worth and having fun are two different things which seem so many parents, dragging their kids through the park at 5:30 or six in the evening saying things like, "Well, we've got two more rides and then we can go back to the hotel." Well, that's speculative kind of mentality?
Bob: They're not having fun at that point. Sometimes during the day, somebody just short of sat down and thought, "Well, would we be more happy going on another attraction or do we be more happy having an ice cream cone or would it be better if we went back to the hotel for a swim and a nap?" You can think about these things in advance but in actuality, what Disney World and its effect on families is self-filtering.
If you go down there and your intention is to see a theme park everyday from basically opening until closing, what's going to happen is that you're going to hit the wall after about a day and a half. It will be just be physically impossible for you to continue at that phase. At which time, you're going to have an enforced rest and it's so much better if you instead, you sort of chart your week and build into it swims and naps, see the theme park a little bit at a time, go back to your hotel, relax and come back later to the theme park for fireworks or something to that effect. And if you faze yourself, you'll never going to hit that wall and everyday would be a good one.
David: So, you're saying really look at the theme park as one of many options during your day.
Bob: That's exactly right. Most people go down there to see the theme park. But most people don't realize that spending everyday in the theme park is pretty much incompatible with any semblance of relaxation on a vacation.
Bob: And they put themselves through so much mental and physical stress that they just give out long, long before the vacation's over.
Bob: Even families with older teenagers run into this. It gets to be impossibility. But if you anticipate it and you build rests and naps and sleeping days and various other things into your vacation plan, then you're going to stay refreshed throughout your vacation and you're not going to be a basket case when you arrive home.
David: Right. I mean, isn't it one of the nice things about a vacation are those extra naps and the ability to sleep in sometimes that you can't do during a, you know, work week.
Bob: Exactly right.
Liliane: Yes, absolutely. And this is just not happening if you stay in the parks all day. And added sensation will come. The kids will be unhappy. So will be your spouse. They will get upset and say, "That's it." Another thing you don't want to happen in your own vacation, all those added arguments, if you will, hoping actually maybe to avoid. And we also, talking the books at some point ask children pretty much all age group, what they remember, what the most fun thing they did when they were at Walt Disney World and you will get the answer is the pool of the hotel.
It's that and then also you need to consider that if parents go down there, they should have some time on their own and we talk about that in the book two to get some special free time for parents. Now the good news about Disney vacation is there is possibility, plenty of it to have baby-sitter, to have child activities are available in many hotels in and outside of the world so that you can have some time together, which doesn't also need to be organized, maybe the parent want to sit at the pool and not argue for a while, what do we with the children.
David: Well, you also plan something that Disney does to allow that sort of helps cut down even the waiting time in line for parents that have multiple age kids. He may be waiting to ride on a roller coaster but you have a young child who can't go and so they can switch off.
Bob: That's right, and for those who don't understand the terminology, this happens when usually a child who is too short to meet the minimum height requirements to ride the attraction, those and joins the line with his parents and when they get to the boarding area, one parent must stay with the child while the other parent rides the attraction.
The parent that rides the attraction is guided back to the loading area by one of the Disney cast members and then they switch and the person who had had the child originally rides and the other parent takes care of the child. This is a great boom and they modified this on certain attractions where, when you walk to the front of the attraction they will give you fast passes or in other words, appointments to ride the attraction later and one parent will go ahead and ride and the other parent doesn't even have to be in the line, doesn't have to be just standing there, shifting and trying to entertain the child the whole time that they're walking their way toward the boarding area.
David: And it's sort of amazing to me that just the signs of efficiency that Disney attempts to build in to enjoying the park.
Liliane: Well, that is correct. While there are always thing that don't work and we do fund them out, there's one thing I think Disney doesn't like is to get to be unhappy, that when you realize I think yeah. So there are lots of possibilities whereas the fast pass, all this works and I am still amazed every time I am going down there and I am actually going back next week but yes, there are people standing in line for hours, while not even attempting to use the fast pass system, for example.
David: When you go to the parks and you see that happening, do you ever sort of reveal yourself as the author of the unofficial guide and give them a hint?
Liliane: No, but sometimes....
Bob: We never do that, we just wait out. We just don't reveal ourselves ever either really our data collectors or researchers that are in the park with us know.
Liliane: No, I would never do that. If I would have much I would point out, there's a fast pass line, go and check it out.
David: Yeah, you can...
Liliane: You can say that, you can and sometimes I get a fast pass away by Mohan, not going to use it anymore because I feel really bad and especially when they ask little ones and it's hard understanding there.
David: Right, you said it quite...
Liliane: ...whom you are...
Bob: Yeah, really this point is well taken. You can help a person that you see needs help without telling them that you're the author of a guidebook. If you can make a little minor intervention. Here's what I did and it worked really well and you might want to try and then I go oh, we're going to solve that, thank you and we stay totally anonymous just because and even nowhere in the park.
David: That's good; I mean that's how you keep on as basically, otherwise I am sure they would be tracking you too as well.
Liliane: I just really touched down on the integrity of the book. We also don't take any suitable cost, freebies in the industry; we pay our way all the way through but if we don't tell the park, it's so dynamic.
David: Right, well it seems like any sort of family trip to Disney is really a sort of a supreme test of parenting skills as you guys have laid it down on the book.
Bob: I think it can be and you can make it hard on yourself or you can make it easy on yourself and all that is wrapped up in your attitude toward preparation. If you're adequately prepared before you go, then the trip really should just be a breeze, if you get crosswise because you haven't planned adequately and you're contemned in with a whole family all on a short fuse and hot and air the balloon so forth and that can really ethical laid on you and kind of effect not just one day but sometimes whole trip.
David: Right, and you actually touch with the other extreme, you have sort of a funny point in the book where a person who writes and fully confessing that they are obsessive compulsive and that they have planned this, I think three or four day itinerary and they were so held to, she was so held at her itinerary that she actually had an anxiety attack and had to go to the emergency room.
So I think the idea is, the happy medium is prepare ahead of time and then once you're there, understand, you know that things can change and you have to have a sense of humor about it.
Bob: Yeah, you number one have to be prepared to roll with the punches, number two, you have to understand that you just can't park your itinerary, it's good to plan but in sort of a generalized way and not to try to account for every minute and if you become obsessed with your plan then in essence the tail's wagging the dog, you're not having a vacation, you're simply executing a plan.
Liliane: I am actually known to be extreme when it comes to planning but I think where you can win this is when you plan it up well, that you really realize that there are moments where you can't just go ahead and skip that and then you fall back basically to the ground idea, to relax and have fun and to let it go when it's time to let go. I think the planning in itself should of course not interfere and that goes very often and insisting graphically need of how many more rides to do.
If everything has been running smoothly and you're done early, well, you're done. Go and have fun or do not faint, watch other people.
David: Yeah, keep a watch at...
Liliane: Yeah, that's actually a real interesting thing to do in a park.
David: I'd like to do that anywhere I go. Bob and Lillian, I really want to say thank you for talking with me today. I hope this has been some valuable information for our listeners. Again, you are the authors of the unofficial guide to Walt Disney World with kids and it is densely packed with information, itineraries, just great overall trip planning advice. It's a wonderful book that you guys make.
Bob: Well thank you, we enjoyed being with you.
Liliane: Having us.
David: For more information on planning your trip or to hear about the latest travel, news and deals, visit us on the web at www.frommers.com and be sure to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or suggestions.
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