Home » So You Can’t Stand Disney Parks… but Your Family Wants to Go…

So You Can’t Stand Disney Parks… but Your Family Wants to Go…

Mickey standing with suitcases next to Magical Express Bus

“Disney parks are just… seriously, the worst.”

It’s a phrase that may make Disneyphiles cringe. It’s no secret that we love Disney here at Theme Park Tourist—both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. However, we wanted to touch on a subject that many superfans don’t usually care to talk about.

Not everyone likes Disney parks, and that’s okay

Different people enjoy different things, especially on vacations. There are dozens of reasons why people may end up with negative feeling towards Disney parks. Maybe you had a bad experience on a trip as a child. Maybe the expectations of friends and family who idealize the Disney experience are just annoying. Maybe you can’t stand crowds or the whole experience just felt “phony” or overpriced. Some of these issues may be based on misconceptions rooted in a bad trip, but they aren’t all necessarily that case. It’s reasonable that some people just don’t consider Disney parks their cup of tea.

However, what is a non-Disney fan to do if your family or loved ones really want to take a Disney vacation with you? What if that special someone is your spouse or child, or what if the family has planned a trip and it’s looking like you’re going to get swept up in it?

The good news is that it is possible to redeem a looming Disney vacation, even if you couldn’t stand Disney parks in the past. You may even end up enjoying yourself. Here are five tips how…

Note: While most of these tips will work at either Disney resort—Walt Disney World in Florida or Disneyland Resort in California—we’ll be putting most of our emphasis on Walt Disney World since it offers more possibilities for non-fans to find enjoyment outside of the normal Disney parks craziness.

1. Plan wisely

Mickey standing with suitcases next to Magical Express Bus

Image: Disney

Planning can make or break a Disney vacation. It’s not impossible to enjoy a poorly planned vacation, but it will be harder. If you get a chance to participate in planning your family’s Walt Disney World (or Disneyland) vacation, resist the temptation jump on the first sale you see. A lot goes into planning a Disney vacation, and some simple choices really can make all the difference in setting the stage for a more pleasant trip.

Crowds are one of the number one reasons people hate their visits to Disney parks. Who wants to spend all day waiting in line with a bunch of strangers or being shoved about by a Mouse-ear-wearing mob? While you can’t completely avoid crowds on a Disney vacation, you can mitigate them substantially by planning when you visit carefully. Avoid holiday weekends (and weeks) at all cost if you can, especially 4th of July, Christmas, and New Years Day. Magic Kingdom and Disneyland get so miserably busy on these days that they sometimes even reach capacity and have to turn people away.

If you really want to avoid crowds, aim for times when kids are still in school. If you have the option to take your kids out of school for a half-week to a week, do so (it can be a great motivator to keep their grades up and do their chores!). While crowd trends have fluctuated wildly in the last few years, the best times to visit are currently:

  • 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.

4. Embrace moments of connection with your loved ones

Mom smiling while daughter uses Magic Band on resort room door

Image: Disney

We discussed this in our recent article about if non-Star Wars fans have any reason at all to care about the arrival of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Sometimes the best part of a vacation is seeing the joy experienced by someone you love.

If you will be visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland with your child or with a dedicated Disney-fan, embrace moments to see the parks through their eyes and just participate in something they enjoy. You might not care about meeting Kylo Ren, but your Star Wars super-fan spouse might be giddy with joy over the idea. Have fun watching their reaction—maybe even film the experience. Little kids make this so easy. I was not a huge fan of Magic Kingdom until we took my four-year-old niece for her first visit. It completely altered my definition of what fun at Disney World could look like, and so much of the enjoyment came from just watching how she experienced the parks.

It’s better to give then receive, and this applies to a Disney parks vacation. Yes, you should plan some things that you will enjoy as well—you don’t need to just endure while everyone else in the family has fun doing something you aren’t into. However, there is a wonderful unexpected happiness when you connect with your loved ones by participating in something that means a great deal to them, and this definitely applies to a Disney vacation. Embrace it!

5. Think outside the box—don’t follow trends

Couple has sushi at California Grill

Image: Disney

One of the most common reasons why people end up not liking Disney parks is because of the tendency we all have to follow trends. There are certain things you’re just supposed to do on a Disney vacation, right? Ride It’s a Small World even if you don’t have small children? Spend most of your time at Magic Kingdom (which may be a half-day park at best if you’re not a Disney fan or if you have teenagers)? Eat corn dogs and Mickey Ice Cream bars even if you’d rather be having sushi?

To these expectations, I say, “Bah.” You may safely stick out your tongue and make pbbbllllt noises at them.

The most important step to planning an enjoyable Disney parks vacation—especially if you’ve never had one before—is to make it your own.

Yes, if you are visiting the parks with loved ones who like Disney, you will need to make some compromises. You may stand in some unpleasant lines and ride some rides that just aren’t your thing. However, you don’t have to plan your entire trip around the same ebb and flow of every other tourist. For example, if you are staying at a Disney resort, you will have access to Extra Magic Hours—an extra hour of park time an hour before or after one of the parks opens. Extra Magic Hours are an awesome way to get on rides that may otherwise have a long line.

3 women enjoying food and wine festival

Image: Disney

However, for odd psychological reasons that Disney experts can’t fully explain, whatever park has Extra Magic Hours also usually ends up being the busiest park that day. If you’re not into crowds, don’t feel like you have to follow Disney’s schedule for what park to visit on what day. If you have a park hopper pass, you can even hit Extra Magic Hours in one park then zip over to another one with less crowds. Plan smart rather than following the crowd.

There really is something for everyone at Walt Disney World. I recall a few dear friends who couldn’t stand the parks but ended up going with family (during the busy season—eep!). They had zero expectations for a good trip, but we gave them some tips and tricks to make the most of their time. They ended up reasonably enjoying themselves, but one of the things that surprised them the most was when they discovered how helpful Disney is to visitors with special diets. They both had special dietary needs and had a great time eating at the parks because of this extra care on the part of Disney cast members. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities for enjoying Disney. On their next trip, they found all new things they enjoyed even more.

Think outside the box and take time to research everything Disney parks have to offer. You may need to go off the beaten path, but go ahead and do so. The trick to enjoying a Walt Disney World (or a Disneyland) vacation, even if you have always hated Disney, is to find ways to make it your own. Embrace the possibility that you might just end up enjoying yourself and find ways to defy expectation to make it happen.