In the months before we left for Disney World, we began to plan. Of course, there was research on hotels and rental vans and some reservation-making. Mike managed most of that. Once he had the dates nailed down, I started planning each individual day.
There were a few major planning tools. We read three books: Birnbaum's Walt Disney World, Birnbaum's Walt Disney World for Kids, The Unoffical Guide To Walt Disney World. The kids devoured every page of the kids' book. The other two books bounced around the house from reader to reader. I challenged every one to pick up little tidbits here and there that they could offer as we considered what to do each day. When we arrived, it was funny to hear them all quote the books while we were in the park. A few days in, we recognized that the books weren't always right. Still, they were a place to begin.
In addition to the The Unoffical Guide To Walt Disney World book, we got a subscription to Touringplans.com. This service will plan your entire day, one event and attraction at a time. For ten dollars, the site offers several different plans for each park: plans for just adults and teens, plans for tweens, plans for families of little ones, and big, happy family plans. I planned each day of the trip and printed the plan and put them in a three-ring binder. Honestly, the greatest value these plans had was my sense that I knew we were going to arrive at each park and not waste time getting the lay of the land and figuring out what to do when.
If you have a smart phone, skip the printing and binder step. We learned that Mike could download the plans right to his smart phone. He could also check (in real time) the wait time on any attraction and the crowd level at any park. Buy the book first and then the app. Book owners get a discount on the app. And really, the book is so worth the purchase cost. Touringplans.com also provided valuable "day of" information. We were reminded to be in Magic Kingdom the night of the Electric Parade. We knew that Dumbo (Sarah's absolute favorite ride) was going to be closed for renovations the fourth day of our trip and would remain closed a long time. We made sure to ride on third day. I can't begin to tell you how much we learned from those books. nearly as much as I learned from careful reading through Dawn's notes. There is nothing, nothing like another generous mom to mentor.
All that said, the plan is just a skeleton of what your day will look like in real life. Like any good plan, it works only as well as your ability to look at it critically and deviate if necessary. Despite our very careful planning and all our research, we missed a big detail. None of the sites or books told us months in advance that the Disney Marathon and Half-Marathon were being run the first weekend we were there. Not only were crowds much bigger than they were historically on those dates, the foot traffic inside the parks was re-routed for the runners. Our plans as written were as worthless as plans for a full co-op day the morning you discover your kids have chicken pox.
We didn't panic. We were determined to mine for the magic. As a result, we ducked into far more shows than we had planned, discovering the happy fact that Disney puts on a very fine live theater presentation--consistently, in every park, every single show. That crowded marathon day found us in Hollywood Studios as the runners ran through the main walkways. We sat it out in a stunning performance of Beauty and the Beast. I think it was my favorite attraction of all and it wasn't on the plan at that time. Days later, when crowds weren't an issue at all, we were lost and late in Animal Kingdom just as the Lion King show was beginning. So we stopped rushing to where we were going and stepped inside to take in the show. Absolutely awesome. I mean that. We were awestruck. That one wasn't on our list at all because everyone had told us to make sure to see the Nemo show and that was our priority. In the end, we saw both.
There were several times we vehemently disagreed with the opinions expressed in the guidebooks, mostly when it came to dining. I'll cover dining in another post. Within hours of our first day, I reconciled myself to the fact that autopilot wasn't going to work in terms of planning. The first ride we took with Sarah (who had never been to an amusement park) was Living with the Land. It's train-like ride that moves through a dark tunnel, into a lighter tunnel and then into a bright open greenhouse space. She hated the dark tunnel so much that the rest of the ride was tough. Then we went to The Seas with Nemo and Friends, another dark tunnel, a scary shark. Then, we moved over to the Mexico section of Epcot. Three Caballeros: by now Sarah was sure that Disney was all moving train-like rides through dark tunnels. On to Norway: The Maelstrom. Dark tunnel. Scary trolls. The ride got stuck. We sat there forever about twenty minutes. I talked and talked and talked to Sarah about what we were seeing and how it was built and anything else I could throw at the situation. By the time we were unstuck, she wanted to go again!
The plan is flawed or the plan goes awry, but something better than the plan comes to life.
That was easily the theme of our trip. Over and over again, serendipitous good things happened for us. I think being planned helped put us in position for some of them and certainly, reading up ahead of time and doing some research and availing ourselves to tools helped, too. But in the end, praying for grace and being open to the unexpected good was what made the trip great. I was also struck time and again by how well Mike was able to cheerfully reassure me that it was okay that the plan was going awry, all the while coming up with Plan B or C and steering us forward.
The big planning picture was important, but so was the micro-planning picture. We put thought into packing. That translated well when we grabbed a ziploc bag with a full outfit in it and laid it out the night before, so that girls could quickly dress themselves in the morning. We shopped well for breakfast items so that we wasted neither time nor money getting well-fed at the beginning of every day. We did laundry as we went, so that it never became a big pile of worry. We ended every day with the next one in mind, mentally rehearsing where and what we'd do and devoting a good deal of creative thought to troubleshooting.
I've heard stories from lots of moms with far fewer children than I have. They tell me how hard vacations, particularly Disney vacations, can be for them. There are classic articles out there about how difficult vacationing with children is. I think I was intimidated by those. The reality though, is that moms are overwhelmed at home, too. And moms write all the time to tell me how glad they are when there kids get on the bus in the morning. Homeschooling a big family is great training for taking one on vacation. Whether vacationing in Orlando, taking a huge trip to China, or just trying to do a good job at home on a gray day in February, the principles are the same.
Study up. Become an expert in the field.
Pray hard that you will know when and how to diverge from the planned path.
Think creatively about what may come.
Embrace the surprises because they often yield the greatest blessings.
Look to Dad for reassurance and another creative solution.
If you have to abandon the plan, abandon it for something better, not for sloth.
Plan for meals and rest and make sure they happen.
When it gets scary, hold them close and talk it through together.
Expect that it will good, very good.