So you’ve saved for a year (or more) with help from the cool app you downloaded to your mobile device, had monthly planning/budget meetings, even shared your fancy spreadsheet with family members. Tickets are purchased, resort and dining reservations are made, fast passes are booked, then ultimately the family is loaded and you are off to the Most Magical Place on Earth. Sounds perfect right? Sadly, for far too many folks, this is where the magic ends. So many Disney vacations are ruined or cut short because folks underestimate the fitness level required to fully enjoy the parks. Sunburn, blisters or just plain fatigue on day-1 of your vacation, can throw a wrench into even the most magical plans.
So much goes into planning a Disney vacation, but what may be some of the most important parts are often the most overlooked. Preparing your body for a daily average of 5-15 miles walking/standing, sometimes in intense heat, high humidity, large crowds, and unpredictable weather are all aspects that should be taken into account (and yes, trained for) long before you are in sight of that iconic gateway.
Every body is different, so what works for others, may not work for you. The following is intended as an outline to get you started preparing yourself (and the family) to take on everything the World (or Land) has to offer! Make it work for you… and please share your thoughts/ideas by commenting below.
1. Everyone in the pool – First and foremost, the following advice applies to everyone in your party (the kids, grandparents, everyone). Now is the time to find out if physical limitations are going to be an issue for anyone. This is also a good time to answer questions like, “Will I need to rent a stroller for Junior?” or, “Will Grandma need a walker, a wheelchair, or a scooter?”
2. Walk, LOTS (no, really) – As mentioned above, you can easily cover 5 miles in a day at Disney, and most folks cover an average of 10. Many people don’t include this kind of physical activity in their daily lives, so starting to do so at least 6-8 weeks before your vacation, will make your time at Disney much more enjoyable. A good rule of thumb is that everyone should be able to cover 4-5 miles at a comfortable pace. Remember, this is not a race (unless you are like us and are at Disney World for races, but we won’t cover that here) actually for this purpose, the longer you are on your feet, the better. In addition to walking, you will spend a large amount of time standing in queue lines, so spend time on your feet. At a loss on how to get started on a walking program? There are tons of walking apps out there (many of them are free). I won’t go into detail or make suggestions here, but if you would like advice just reach out and I can point you in the right direction. I also highly recommend picking up a fitness tracker (eg, fitbit, garmin). It’s a great investment (even after your Disney trip).
3. Hydrate – I can’t stress this one enough. Drink lots of water before, during, and after your days at the parks. Sodas, coffee, and alcohol don’t count. Of course, I am not opposed to having additional beverages… we’re on vacation here! (The frozen rum and coke at Drinkwalla – Animal Kingdom is amazing!) And in case you didn’t already know it, you can get free cups of ice water at any quick service or table service location in all of the parks. No excuse to not stay hydrated.
4. Healthy Snacks – Again, this is something you can give some trial and error beforehand. I love a Mickey Pretzel and
frozen rum and coke Dole Whip as much as the next guy, but don’t put yourself (or your family) into a position to have to eat park food. Seek out some easy to pack, nutritious snacks, and carry (See below for carrying tips) enough for everyone to at least have some fuel between park meals.
5. Shoes – Being a runner, I have no trouble having an in-depth conversation about shoes, but we’ll keep it brief for this purpose. Everyone should have a good pair (or two) of walking shoes. I suggest closed-toes (for ANY crowded places), but some folks do fine in sandals. Do not for any reason, show up at the park in your new “I bought them for this trip” shoes. If you are purchasing new shoes, wear them several times before wearing them to the park. “Comfortable at the store” does not always equate to “comfortable after 10 miles”, and it’s way better to find that out at home, than on day 1 (or 2) of your vacation.
6. Clothing – Light colored, comfortable clothing is highly recommended. Dri-fit/wicking materials are indispensable in the Florida heat and humidity (and it can get pretty toasty on the West Coast too). You may really want to wear your theatrical quality, full Jack Sparrow costume to Mickey’s Not-so-scary Halloween Party, but it’s really not that important (not that anyone I know has experienced such a thing). Be comfortable (and smart) there are many ways to wear your Disney best, and not die of heat stroke.
7. Gear – I know, gear is not necessarily something you wear, nor is it a body part, but having too much can be an issue for your body. Pack light. Instead of mom or dad (or grandma) being the pack mule, have everyone carry a small bag of their own. Back in favor with even the most trendy of trendsetters, fanny-packs are the ultimate accessory for a day at the park. If you do have the need to carry more stuff, a park locker is always an option and I strongly suggest making use of this amenity. And as always, check the ever-evolving bag restrictions at the parks before visiting. Tip: runners do something we call heat training, which is basically spending time in the heat and humidity on purpose (yeah I know, runners) some even go as far as spending time in a sauna. Not saying you need to go to this extreme, but acclimating your body to spending time in the heat is not a bad idea.
8. Sun Protection – As much as it seems silly to have to say this, sunburn is probably the biggest cause of discomfort at most vacation destinations, and it might possibly be the easiest to avoid. Wear sunscreen, and reapply it as needed. Wear a hat, or other head covering, and sunglasses to protect your peepers. Don’t ruin your family vacation because you are “too cool” (or too stubborn) to wear sunscreen. Yeah, it stinks, but so does sunburn (and skin cancer).
9. Florida Weather – Being from Texas, where we have our fair share of weather memes, preparing for possible (sudden) inclement weather is something that comes naturally. For those of you who don’t have the pleasure of living on Mother Nature’s bad side: Yes, it CAN be sunny one minute, and a torrential downpour the next. (Remember that wicking clothing thing?) Don’t let the fear of inclement weather discourage you from enjoying the parks, just have a plan.
10. Make a Plan – Last but far from least; Planning. I know, you are on vacation, but having a good plan will not only avoid disappointment but can also help you see more of the parks, without a lot of wasted walking and retracing your steps. Study maps beforehand, know what times are best to visit which attractions, and most of all… be realistic. Only seasoned veterans can see all 4 parks in a day. Make a list of “must-dos” and plan around them. Familiarize yourself (and your family members) with resort transportation. In case of a separation, plan muster spots ahead of time. Finally, plan downtime. Our instincts tell us to go, go, go, but planning some recharge time will do wonders for your stamina. Even planning short “A/C” breaks (seeing a show, or having lunch inside) will keep everyone refreshed, energized… and happy! Disney World Tip: The MyDisneyExperience app is an indispensable tool for pre-planning, AND for during your time at the parks. Camp Fatman highly recommends downloading and using this app!
Bonus points – Kick the butts! We all know smoking is bad for us, not gonna lecture anyone about the hazards of tobacco use. BUT, with the recent changes to smoking regulations at the parks, smoke breaks will most likely require you to take time away from your family. Time away from making memories. I know from experience that quitting is hard, but is there a better reward for quitting than spending more time with your family at Disney World or Disneyland? (Ok, there are some, but this one is still pretty legit!) So, give it some thought… wadda ya got to lose? Only increased lung capacity to gain… ok I wasn’t gonna lecture, but if it helps, I am speaking from experience.
So there ya have it a foolproof way to ensure that you and your family have a magical Disney vacation. Um, no… not even close. Vacations have so many moving parts that there is never a guarantee of success, but a thorough, realistic plan is a solid foundation from which to build a memorable trip.
Life is short, get out and live it!