How to Relax at Disney World

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On several occasions I’ve come home from a trip to Walt Disney World, looked at my husband and proclaimed, “I need a vacation!”

While I’m always happy to have a Disney visit, with all the walking in the heat, staying up late for Extra Magic Hours, and frantically trying to experience every attraction in the parks, I’m often more tired after my trip than before I started. It’s a great time, but it’s not really a true vacation.

Believe it or not, there is another way to do Disney. Let’s call it the Relaxing Way. With a Relaxing Way Disney trip, you come home rested and refreshed, ready to conquer the real world with renewed energy. Here are some tips to make the Relaxing Way a reality:

Fort Wilderness is the epicenter of Disney chill.

Fort Wilderness is the epicenter of Disney chill.

1. Choose Your Resort Wisely. While I have been to every Disney resort hotel many times, earlier this year I was on a research mission and visited ALL WDW hotels for several hours each during the course of one six-day period. This concentrated visit highlighted some of the resort intangibles in a way I hadn’t previously noticed. A few of the resorts just feel lazier (and I mean that in the best possible sense) than the others. My family usually stays at the Beach Club or Bay Lake Tower for quick park access. That’s great if you’re spending lots of time in the parks, but having that quick park access also makes me feel guilty if I don’t take advantage of it. (Epcot is RIGHT THERE, Goooo!) The deluxe resorts are lovely, but the tenants there are decidedly type-A. However, I felt absolutely no sense of urgency or stress among the guests at Old Key West and Fort Wilderness. Folks there were puttering around, riding bikes, fishing, playing catch, having a beer at the poolside bar, and just generally chilling like regular human beings on vacation. For a relaxing trip, it can help to surround yourself with people providing a good example of relaxation.

2. Choose the right time of year to visit. Sometimes schedules don’t allow the luxury of an off season Disney visit, but if you can possibly make it work, try planning your Disney trip for times like November before Thanksgiving or January after the marathon. The weather will be cooler, the crowds will be thinner, and the prices will be lower. Any one of those things can reduce your stress level, the trifecta is positively blissful.

3. Use a Touring Plan. And no, I’m not just saying that ’cause I work here. A well-crafted Touring Plan can take hours of waiting around time out of your day in the parks. Less waiting = more relaxing and more fun.

Some time in your resort fitness center can burn off your frustrations.

Some time in your resort fitness center can burn off your frustrations.

4. Take a nap. As noted in our recent post on the Art of the Walt Disney World Nap, taking a snooze break in the middle of the day can mean the difference between sanity and meltdown. You’ll be more relaxed if you avoid a daily meltdown.

5. Spend time outside the parks. I love the theme parks, but even a Magic Kingdom addict can get sensory overload. When you’re in the parks, every one of your senses is fully stimulated: non-stop music, busy colors, fragrant popcorn, and constant motion. It’s a lot to process. The pace outside the parks is significantly slower. Take a walk around your resort, take a dip the pool, watch an outdoor movie, or even skip town and head to the beach for the day – anything to dial down the influx of stimulation for a while.

6. Have some non-walking physical activity. Using your body for exercise is a great way to burn off physical and emotional stress. Many of the WDW resorts have fitness centers with a full complement of exercise equipment. You could also go for a run, play golf (even mini-golf works), play tennis, waterski, rent a traditional or surrey bike, just get moving.

7. Have a date night. Yes, it’s a family vacation, but sometimes hanging with your kids 24/7 can get to be a bit much of a muchness. Give everyone a break by sending mom and dad (or mom and mom, or dad and dad) off for some quality time on their own. Both individual and group childcare options are available at Walt Disney World. A glass of wine and a nice dinner away from bickering kiddos can do the grown-ups a world of good.

A little grown-up time away from the kiddos can do everyone a world of good.

A little grown-up time away from the kiddos can do everyone a world of good.

8. Make dining reservations in advance. It’s stressful to think about where you want to eat six months in advance. You know what’s even more stressful? Waiting an hour and a half at Chef’s Mickeys to see if there’s a table available for you and your cranky five-year-old. Give yourself one less thing to worry about during your trip by planning your vacation dining while you’re still at home.

9. Keep yourself physically comfortable. Physical discomfort is a big stress inducer for everyone, including kids. Avert problems by keeping cool, staying hydrated, eating on a regular schedule, not overeating, wearing comfortable shoes, resting when appropriate during the day, and going to sleep at a reasonable hour at night. There – I bet you feel better already.

10. Try something new. New stimuli are candy for your brain. If you’re a frequent Disney visitor, actively seek out new rides, restaurants, and other experiences that you haven’t done before. The happy center in your head will thank you.

11. Give yourself permission not to do something. It’s simply not possible to do everything at Walt Disney World in a single vacation, so stop trying to make that happen. Once you give yourself permission to not visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or not go on a less important ride, or not stay up for Extra Magic Hours, the layers of stress just fall away.

12. Don’t compare your vacation to someone else’s. Several years ago, a neighbor of mine took her kids to Walt Disney World for a five day vacation. I took her to lunch and spewed information at her for hours about all the incredible things she could (SHOULD!) do at all four parks. When she returned from her trip I was horrified to learn that she went to the Magic Kingdom every morning, hung out at the pool every afternoon, and never made it anywhere else. As I tried to wrap my mind around the countless number of things she missed out on, she explained that her kids were having a great time and she didn’t want to mess with something that worked. She decided to tailor the vacation to her family’s vision of fun and not my vision of fun. Smart lady!

13. Evaluate your transportation situation. I hate to drive, so I adore the Disney free transportation system and often opt to use that over renting a car. Other folks may love to drive and hate waiting for public transport to arrive. They’ll be better off with a rental car during their Disney visit. Choose the option that’s going to make your world a better place to be.

14. Communicate your expectations to your kids. Are you a vacation rule keeper or rule breaker? How will you handle your child’s souvenir budget? Will the kids take turns choosing activities or will mom set the pace? Whatever your family’s hot button issues are, make sure your kids understand the situation. Lots of stress can be avoided by simply letting everyone know what’s going on.

So peeps out there, do you come home from your typical Disney vacation refreshed and rested, or ready for a nap? What are your tips for touring Disney the Relaxing Way?

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Posted on July 26, 2013

10 Responses to “How to Relax at Disney World”

  • Great list! I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • by Cheryl Klein on July 27, 2013, at 7:19 am EDT

    #9 is HUGE! My husband & I figured out an extra hour of sleep & eating when ever we got hungry (lunch time or not) made our trips 1000% better!!

  • Regarding the choice of resort — we love Beach Club but the downside is that there’s always the temptation to burn the candle at both ends. We like to be at the parks for rope drop; when we come back to the hotel for rest, we end up at Stormalong Bay (not necessarily very restful!); and then in the evening, it seems like there’s always something going on over at BoardWalk. Love the whole scene there, but for a resort that has a laid-back, beach-vibe theme, it has ended up being a go-go-go kind of place for us!

    Wilderness Lodge is a more relaxing resort, imho — so many great places to sit and enjoy. Riverside always seems peaceful and relaxing to us, too.

  • I can’t wait to try the new optimized touring plans this year! Now that we have iPhones it will make planning so much easier for us. We’re going to try to actually take it easy this year so I’m hoping the touring plans help us get more done in less time. The last time we went after Thanksgiving I don’t think we stopped once to relax. There was so much extra going on in the parks and we tried to do too much. I never really thought about all of the sensory things going on at the parks (and I should. I have two children on the Autism spectrum). I will definitely keep that in mind this year. :)

  • We just make sure to schedule 1 do-nothing day in the middle and 1 or 2 days when we get home to relax…because we’re also park openers & closers (with a nap). That helps a lot!
    Thanks for another excellent column, Erin!

  • As always, thank you for a wonderful, detailed article. We tried to do a more relaxing trip to Disney this summer, but despite my efforts, we still didn’t actually relax. I think there’s a mindset that WDW vacations are Soooooo expensive, you have to do a lot to get your money’s worth.

    I think we would do better with more time. We’d feel less like we were wasting our time and money if we had a week and a half — or better, two weeks. We could do all we wanted to do and would still have time for do-nothing days. I know this isn’t practical for most folks, including us. But I do think the notion that you have to get your money’s worth really creates this manic urge to overdo things.

  • My partner and I found a great way to dial down the stress, but still not feel like any time (or costly tickets) were going to waste. We tend to travel frugally, so this fit our style perfectly. One day on (parks), one day off (other).

    Our trip was a Sunday to Saturday and we’re in our mid 30′s.

    Sunday, arrive in Orlando, rent a car (vital for this plan), head to WDW and check in. We stayed at Pop Century for the value and got a 3 day park hopper plus. That’s right, 3 days only…yet we still had our share of all 4 parks.

    Day 1 Monday: Full day, MK all Day! 9am to 11 pm…Yikes! Utilize Disney Transport.

    Day 2 Tuesday: Slow day. Get up late, drive to I-Drive for a leisurly lunch, walked around Celebration. Buy a few groceries, snacks etc, explored the Pop Century grounds and watched a movie outdoors on the resort grounds.

    Day 3 Wednesday: GO GO GO! DAK follow by Epcot in the evening.

    Day 4 Thursday: Sleep, low key day at blizzard beach and stroll downtown Disney. Visit Disney Quest (for all of an hour, it’s one of the options on the plus part of the ticket)

    Day 5 Friday: Epcot and HS…all day.

    You get the idea. There’s minigolf, walking the different resorts, dingin outside of the parks, the water parks, riding the monorail midday..just for fun!

    The park hopper plus and a car is key for us. And…as you may have noticed, for a 6 day trip we needed only a 3 day pass.

  • what a great topic! also great to be reminded how important this is. especially important for me this yr, since first visit for my 2 and 4 yr old grandchildren. ive been to disney many times over last 30 yrs, but many yrs since traveling w little ones.

    the unofficial guide book says somewhere that w littles less is more. or maybe that was meant f all of us! so good so true.

    this trip we have to go aug 10 6 nights, no other choice since fam member now works within school system. so i put my old knowledge re disney to work (including new fastpass challenge – whoa)!

    were staying in park at dolphin, but good to be reminded to even there slow it down. im focusing on keeping it simple as i can.

    so far a few slow down strategies:

    1. a long break every day, leaving parks 11am or 12pm. back after leisurely dinner.
    2. simple meals most day, either in room or nice cafe in hotel. interspersed w special child oriented meals, like chef mickeys, whispering canyon. also boma brunch for health and relaxation.
    3. leaving parks b4 fireworks, eve shows, b4 crowds leave. only eve show at magic kingdom, parade and castle show for day when sleeping in plans for following morn.
    4. taking afternoon off animal kingdom day. taking morn off studios day.
    5. using personalized plan, to avoid all lines – my claim to fame in fam. and being willing to skip some rides if hit snafoos (w littles have to be flexible).

    so far so good.

    my only question is this: what if my 4 yr old sees characters and makes beeline, when theres this huge line or when we want to make it to ride at certain time? so far my solution is that i booked 11:20 chef mickey for first day. so i will say: we are having lunch with mickey! so lets spend some special time with him then! do you think that will work? or are you all now laughing at me? ha ha.

    my best to all you fellow mouseketeers!