Lessons from Disney for Life: Eat, Sleep, & Pace Yourself

It's been said that a vacation is a crucible of family life. When a family takes a vacation, all the good things about that family are better; they glow golden. And the not-so-good things? The flaws? The places we need to improve? They stand in stark relief against the very good.

I hope to spend a few days making observations and passing along some ideas fresh from our extended vacation. I hit a few of the biggies here (in a now-expanded, complete with pictures post). Today, I'm going to take on the not-so-good, the bumps in the road where I wish we could have a do-over. There are just two nuggets here.



Eat, Sleep, and Pace Yourself. The meltdown started on Disney Day 7. We had wonderful lunch in a super-fun place. Spirits were high despite the poor weather. We had made a decision–because of the weather–to go to the Disney Store (the biggest one in the whole world) and allow the children to spend the Christmas money Grandpa and Barbara had designated for Disney World. Everyone else went to the Disney Store that day, too. It was big and noisy and overwhelming. Sarah and Karoline wanted to hold everything they saw while they tried to make decisions. Mike and I were being pulled in six directions and we were trying so hard to please. Some of us were so overwhelmed that we couldn't make a clear-headed decision and left with nothing.

We left Downtown Disney and decided to take the rest of the afternoon and do short return trip to Epcot. After a quick trip back at the hotel to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner, we were off. Mike took the big kids in one direction. I took the littles in another. While standing in line for Nemo inside the aquarium building, I looked at my phone to see what time it was. I noticed I'd missed a text. I read a heartbreaking message from Colleen. Trapped with my little girls in line and no cell service, I swallowed, blinked back tears, and prayed. When I connected with Mike, he took everyone back inside and I went out to make a phone call.

After the call, I tried to pull myself together, but my heart wasn't in it. All the fatigue of the previous week started to gather momentum. The kids were getting increasingly cranky and we decided to eat dinner. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One of the adults doesn't eat wheat and had neglected to pack anything of substance without it. One of the adults doesn't like jelly with his peanut butter. I've known this fact for about 30 years.  In my efficient assembly line sandwich-making, I'd forgotten. Two hungry and tired adults. Wet, tired, hungry kids. We called it a day and went back to the room. 

I might have dissolved into a sobbing heap. We might have made up and slept hard that night.




We needed to hustle to pack up the van and get out of the hotel. Since it had rained the previous day, we'd left Animal Kingdom for the last day. I buckled an exhuasted Sarah back into the Ergo. It was the warmest day we'd had. Not hot, but more uncomfortable than not with a three-year-old strapped in an infant carrier. Everyone was tired. And everyone was sad. We were leaving. Oh, and I had skipped breakfast to pack the van.

My aunt tells me that my cousin has had a meldown in front of the Tree of Life on two separate trips. She's the mom of four little ones. There must be something about mothers of many at Animal Kingdom. The park is designed around this huge (fake) tree. There are spokes to amusements all branching from that tree. If you walk too far, missing the sign telling you your intended destination is down a particular path, it is highly likely you will walk a long way. Indeed, walk a long way very quickly, so as not to miss the FastPass window. Over and over again. Carrying the preschooler. You might be tired. You might miscommunicate with the person you love most in the whole world. And you might keep up the family tradition of falling apart in Animal Kingdom. And then you will be very sad because it was not The Perfect Trip.

I wasn't the only one struggling. I've never been one to tell tales on my family members here, so we'll leave it at that. We'd all had enough. We were all hungry and tired. Too tired. In hindsight, we should have taken the previous day to just eat a good meal  and hang out in the hotel. I think there is a tendency at Disney World to forget that the hotel is a part of the experience. If we'd soaked up a little more hotel and a little less crowded-noisy-crazy, we might have saved the last day from despair. But there is a corollary that is probably even more important for me.


Lessons from Disney for Life: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Very Good

I have tendency to see things in black and white and to be incredibly hard on myself. Either it was the perfect trip or it wasn't. I beat myself up over jelly on peanut butter and miscommunication. I took too personally the expressions of other people's fatigue and hunger. I focused on the imperfections and I might have missed the fact that this trip was very, very good. We returned to my mom's house that night utterly exhausted. We slept. We awoke to a relaxed day and an evening of good food and laughter at my aunt's house. Perspective restored, we drove all the way home the next day, proud that we'd done really good things. 

It might seem strange to begin a series of vacation posts with the end of the trip and the only negatives, but I wanted to make it clear right from the get-go that we are real people with real frailties. I have a couple of close friends who have compared notes with me over the years on the "vacation fight." It happens almost universally (but I'm still shooting for the vacation without one). We've mutually agreed that if any of us texts another with the message "St. Joseph prayers needed now, please" from a family vacation, we are to pray hard. No questions asked. No details necessary. And none given. Stuff happens. Strong families survive and thrive despite the stuff. They might even improve because of the stuff.

We took eight children from 3-19 to Disney World, traveling from DC to Orlando in a big, rented van. It wasn't perfect. But it was good.

Very good.


  1. Ashley says

    Thank you for your honesty. We are currently contemplating a trip next month. I am on the fence not wanting to do a trip with poor planning (our first). My husband is more afraid that if we don’t go now, we might not get there any time soon, and then the older two will miss their “magical” experience. All that you expressed is how I know things will be for us; I also know there will be a lot that is good.

  2. says

    Ashley, you could plan it in the month you have and it would be well-planned. I’m going to spend the next week, God willing, laying out how we planned and what we learned while there. I was really afraid that I couldn’t possibly cover all the bases. And I didn’t. But I learned that disney is so well planned itself that even when the plans don’t work out just so, good things happen. Hopefully, I’ll have more on that tomorrow.

  3. says

    Thanks for this post. I am a very black and white person myself. Either we’ve had a good day (in general) or it was bad. I’ve always had troule with the in-between. I sometimes fear vacations because of the inevitable bumps.
    On another note, your Google Reader is back? What’s the story? no FriendFeed? I just removed my Google Reader shared items from my blog since I couldn’t add them anymore. What did you do?

  4. says

    Carmie, Gae Onions read Saturday’s post with the links and told me on Facebook that she could still use her Reader to share on her blog. I went back in to Typepad to my content and reinstalled the widget (it was still there, I had just “unpublished” it). For a time, the “SHARE” button at the bottom of posts in Reader was gone, but it’s back now. So, once the widget was reinstalled, it worked the same as always. The bookmarklet to snag items from the web doesn’t work though and I’ve looked and looked for a new one at Google and can’t find it.

  5. Kim says

    We have a trip planned to Disney in Oct with our 4 kids under 6 and our in-laws…first trip to Disney with kids (there will be 7 kids under 6 total). I can’t wait to hear more about what you did as I plan our trip. God bless!

  6. ann says

    It’s called travel tension a natural byproduct of traveling with those you love, not pleaseant but not a sign of a flaw.

  7. says

    I can only write from my personal experience, but the communication breakdowns we experience while traveling are a microcosm of the things we need to work on in our day-to-day lives. I chose to call them flaws because I consider them to be things we could work on and improve upon as we strive to live together more peacefully and ultimately, as we strive overcome our human weaknesses in favor of greater sanctity. Familiar patterns of behavior are more likely to tand in stark relief when you’ve been together for many days in a row and you are away from your familiar environment and its retreats. In her book, Adventuring with Children, Nan Jeffrey writes, “Successful family adventuring has more to do with the success of the family itself than with being well-versed in the mechanics of travel.” I wrote about it in more detail 9 years ago here: http://www.catholicherald.com/stories/Family-Trips-Serve-as-Learning-Experience,3219?content_source=&category_id=80&search_filter=&event_mode=&event_ts_from=&list_type=&order_by=&order_sort=&content_class=&sub_type=stories&town_id= I find, in the years since I first wrote about it, that she is spot-on. In many families, day-to-day life leaves them little time to spend together, never mind long stretches of time. The “vacation fight” might look different for each family, but if it happens, almost every family, if they are being honest, can see in it the bare bones of day-to-day relationship struggles. Successful families navigate the bumps and learn from them, taking honest account of the lessons and resolving to do better the next time. Troubled families find travel and time together to be altogether miserable. Even still, that’s not all bad. If we can be frank, look at what happened and why, we can still see the good and improve upon the bad. To dismiss it as a natural inevitability would be, for me, a missed opportunity to improve upon it next time (and at home). By the same token, to dwell upon it and consider it the ultimate value of the vacation would be to overstate its importance.

  8. Jennifer says

    Thanks for that post Elizabeth. We leave Friday morning for 10 day trip with 15 people, two vans and 1300 miles to Disney World. Will share this article with the other moms on this trip. The way I figure it… a bad day at Disney is better than a good day at home cleaning, washing, or scrubbing. :0)

  9. says

    Thank you so much for posting the REAL stuff. We’ve piled 6 kids & two dogs in a mini van several times for a trip from TX to NJ in 2 days. (and one to Disney this past Sept). I always want it to be perfect. It never is! And you’re right, it still turns out to be a great vacation because special memories are made. I LOVE the idea of texting the prayer request to close friends–will definitely have that at the ready next time–great idea!! Your posts continue to inspire me–God Bless!!

  10. says

    Oh, my. The inevitable vacation fight. Yep. Will have to keep the St. Joseph prayer request text in mind for our next vacation.

  11. Erin from Louisiana says

    Elizabeth – thanks for the awesome posts – I so enjoy reading them. We are planning a trip in May to Disney – it is a trip that we are planning for my 24 year daughter who will be graduating from Grad School -and this is what she wants to do before she starts working – she wants myself (mom), dad, her younger siblings to come – no one else just us five – like she says “This could be our last trip together – so let’s go make some awesome memories”!!!!! Makes me smile!!! Take care!!

  12. says

    Jennifer, I hope you have a truly “magical” time. Look out for each other, mamas, and make sure no one gets too burned out…
    Sharing the load with other moms could be a great solution. On the other hand, I’m sure that has its own tensions, too. All a chance to grow and what a great, great place to learn lessons!

  13. says

    We saw a family when we were there wearing identical t-shirts that read “Lauren’s Last Magical Vacation Before College.” Lauren was one lucky girl:-)
    I hope your trip is as wonderful as your daughter!

  14. Elizabeth says

    I just recently began reading your blog and it is a joy to read! Ironically, we made our first trip to Disney just a couple of weeks after yours and we made an important discovery about FastPass: you don’t have to use them in the window printed on the pass. You can use it anytime AFTER the beginning time. So if, say, your window says 9:10-10:10 am, you can still use it at 5 pm that evening. You might know this, but I couldn’t tell from the Animal Kingdom experience, and thought I’d share, because this simple bit of information allowed us to really use our FastPass well. We only have three children (7, 4 and 2), but my husband had to tell me on multiple occasions to just chill out, that everything doesn’t have to be perfect for us all to have fun (which we did, despite a lack of perfection)!

  15. says

    We had Cast Members explain to us that technically they expire after the hour. At their discretion, the Cast Member at the FP entrance can allow people to go in after the expiration. But we were warned that because it was unusually crowded for that time of year and we were going in as a big group (sometimes ten of us), that we couldn’t count on it and then we’d have to get a new FP all over again. They also warned that on busy days, Fastpasses run out. We did experience that. I cannot begin to imagine navigating it all in the heat of summer.

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