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So You Can't Stand Disney Parks... but Your Family Wants to Go...

  • 2nd week of January through early February (avoiding holiday weekends and Disney marathons)
  • The first two weeks of May (mid-level crowds)
  • September after Labor Day weekend has passed (the opening of Galaxy’s Edge may affect this at Walt Disney World)
  • The first week of October
  • Early December on weekdays, avoiding Christmas week (moderate crowds, though these have increased in previous years.
  • Epcot forever concept art
    Image: Disney

    Other planning tips to consider for a less-stressful Disney parks vacation may include choosing to fly instead of drive (if you don’t live in the immediate area of Florida), which can reduce travel time. If you’ll be staying at a Walt Disney World resort, you’ll have access to Disney’s transportation network of busses, boats, monorail, and the Disney Skyliner (coming soon), eliminating the need for a personal vehicle. If you bring a car, avoid parking at Magic Kingdom’s Transportation and Ticket Center, the Most UnMagical Place in the Most Magical Place on Earth-- seriously, it's a pain. Just take the bus to the front gate and save yourself the headache. Eliminating a car from the equation can save money, time, and stress if you won’t be leaving WDW property.

    Choosing where you’ll be staying is also important, which leads us to another point…

    2. Identify strategic retreats (for if that old Disney-frustration kicks in)

    Rooms at the Boardwalk Inn

    Image: Disney

    One of the biggest benefits to Walt Disney World as opposed to Disneyland in California is the variety of resorts and the availability of places to retreat if the parks just get too frustrating. Different families will have different needs, but all healthy relationships need boundaries. If at all possible, set a plan in place where you can get some fresh air or space from the standard-Disney craziness if you just aren’t feeling it, even if that means breaking away from the family for a bit. This may not be possible for families with small children or unique needs, but there are circumstances where it can work.

    Your first retreat will likely be your resort—choose it wisely. If you have a hand in planning your trip, don’t just choose the cheapest resort and call it a day. You should pick somewhere you will genuinely enjoy resting at. You also shouldn’t just pick a Magic Kingdom resort for the sake of your Disney-crazed family. While these are some of the most beautiful resorts on Disney property, they also have the most frustrating crowds and tourist-y feel at times.

    Copper Creek Cabins at Wilderness Lodge

    Image: Disney

    While it may defy logic, staying on Disney property can reduce stress in a number of ways. The main benefit is ease-of-access if you need a break. While there are resorts that are close to Walt Disney World, like the Good Neighbor resorts surrounding Disney Springs, most people don’t realize how insanely big Walt Disney World is compared to Disneyland. Commuting to and from an off-site hotel takes time, and it will make it harder to take a mid-day retreat if you feel like you need it (a practice many experts recommend). The Epcot resorts are an especially nice choice since they are within walking distance of World Showcase.

    Choose a resort that matches your tastes. If you appreciate the “getaway” feel of some Disney resorts, aim for something charming like Animal Kingdom Lodge, Port Orleans French Quarter, or the cabins at Wilderness Lodge. If you prefer something that doesn’t feel so Disney-fied, consider the more mature Swan and Dolphin, Old Key West, or the Yacht and Beach Club. These gorgeous resorts are all accessible through Disney transportation and make for very cozy recovery spaces.

    Your strategic retreat doesn’t have to be just your resort. If you enjoy shopping, consider spending a few hours at Disney Springs, an expansive shopping district that includes some of the finest retailers in Orlando (some of which you won’t find at malls). If you have park hopper access, you may want to get lost in World Showcase, which can often feel like the most “adult” part of Walt Disney World and includes myriad opportunities for leisurely exploration (we especially love the inner courtyards of the Morocco pavilion for getting a little peace and quiet). If you really want to step away, call an Uber and visit The Four Seasons Orlando. You don’t have to be a guest to stop by—just tell them you are eating on property. You’ll feel like you’re in another world exploring the beautiful Spanish-themed grounds of this luxurious resort.

    3. How do you normally like to vacation? Plan around that.

    Family fishing on Bay Lake

    Image: Disney

    One of the biggest misconceptions about Disney parks is that they’re all about rides, parades, and character encounters. The truth is, you could spend an entire Disney vacation without doing any of these things (though you might be missing out if you skip all the rides). We already mentioned shopping, but what about dining? Disney World is full of unique culinary experiences. If you like fine dining, you may enjoy a visit to the Flying Fish at Disney’s Boardwalk, Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge, or Monsieur Paul at Epcot. For world cuisine, consider a reservation at Tutto Italia, Tiffins, Tusker House (it’s a character meal, but the food is outstanding), or even the Biergarten if you don’t mind a whole lot of lederhosen. If you happen to visit during Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival, you could spend hours exploring creative cuisine and wine-tastings and even enjoy a culinary demonstration from world class chefs.

    Even your choice in attractions and parks can be tailored to include things you are passionate about. Do you love animals? You may enjoy Disney’s Animal Kingdom, especially the walking trails like the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Care deeply about the science or the environment? Don’t skip Epcot, especially the Living with the Land attraction. Do you love learning about other cultures? Again, don’t skip World Showcase. If you enjoy thrill rides and adventure, plan a tour of Disney’s “mountain” coasters and other thrills.

    The possibilities don’t stop at the parks. You can plan some Treat Yo’ Self time during your vacation, like a visit to the spas at The Grand Floridian, Saratoga Springs, or the Swan, or maybe you could take an afternoon or morning to enjoy one of Disney’s incredible golf courses. There really is something for everyone, and there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy something you especially love.

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