On our most recent visit to Walt Disney World, I decided to do things a little bit differently. I usually do most of the planning and try my best to accommodate everyone’s wishes. This time around, though, I let my kids take the reigns.
Would they choose to spend our whole day by the pool eating snacks and making me feel as if the money I had spent on Disney World tickets for two adults and three kids was all for naught? Would they want to spend the whole day bouncing from park to park? Would they eat so many Mickey Bars we would have to find the nearest garbage can after hopping off the roller coasters?
There was only one way to find out. So, I let my kids plan our whole day at Disney World.
Choosing a park
Months before our trip, I asked my kids which park they wanted to visit first. Under Disney’s current procedures, you must make a theme park reservation for the first park you plan to visit each day. If you have park hopper tickets, you can visit another park after 2 p.m.
They’ve visited Disney World enough times before that they are pretty familiar with which rides are in which parks. As a result, they pretty quickly chose Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as that’s where Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land are located. Based on our Disney+ watch history alone, they are pretty big fans of both.
Despite their affection for “Toy Story” and “Star Wars,” they were distracted by the neon lights of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway when we entered the park. My oldest wasn’t thrilled about the 30-minute wait, but I assured him it would probably get longer as the day went on, and he acquiesced.
We purchased Disney Genie+ so we would have access to skip the line via the Lightning Lane used on most Disney attractions, but we had already secured one for later in the morning for Toy Story Midway Mania — where the standby waits regularly climb above 60 minutes — so we chose the standby line for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
Time to eat
Before Toy Story Land, it was time to let my kids choose their own breakfast. Also, Mom and Dad were in desperate need of caffeine to fuel this kid-powered adventure. I wasn’t at all surprised that the kids chose giant sprinkled donuts from the coffee stand for their first meal of the day.
Normally, I would try to get them to share one or two donuts because I hate wasting food (especially when I pay Disney prices for it), but they each happily gobbled up their donuts as I waved goodbye to $18 (before tax, of course). Their need for snacks was probably the aspect of this day that I most anticipated.
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I had a feeling they would want every tasty treat they laid their eyes on, and I was right. After donuts, it was Blue Milk and Green Milk in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Then it was Mickey-shaped ice cream bars. After that, it was a milkshake with dinner for my oldest and soda in a special glowing souvenir cup for the other two.
If I had been in charge, I probably would have limited them to one or two treats or had them share with each other, but their little chocolate-covered smiling faces made it worthwhile. It’s easy to forget how special it felt as a kid when your parents let you choose any snack or toy you wanted.
I had to remind myself that a Disney day is a special day. I hope that one day they will look back and remember the day their parents let them eat ice cream with almost every meal.
More rides and more fun
After breakfast, we headed to Toy Story Land to battle each other in Toy Story Midway Mania. We went straight from there to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and played a few rounds of Batuu Bounty Hunters, a fun augmented reality game in the land.
To play, you need a MagicBand+ and the free Play Disney Parks app. It’s a type of “hot and cold” game that involves scanning your band at the “bounty board” and receiving a bounty to locate. Your MagicBand+ will then glow green if you are getting closer to the door your bounty is hiding behind or red if you are getting farther away. It’ll turn purple when you locate your bounty, and then you can use the Play Disney Parks app to scan the door and confirm your bounty.
We let each kid find one bounty, which took about 30 minutes in total. I asked if they wanted to keep playing, but they were ready to move on to the next thing.
Our next stops were the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Star Tours — The Adventures Continue and Muppet Vision 3D rides.
My oldest wanted to ride his favorite coaster at Disney World: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. The other two kids weren’t thrilled about that idea, so my husband took him and I asked what they wanted to do. I told them about some of the attractions that were nearby and they chose Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy.
In fact, I found that method to be the best way to make sure the kids got to do everything they wanted without them throwing out anything too off the wall, like going to another park just for one ride. Oh wait, that’s actually exactly what happened next because my kids could not leave Disney without riding the resort’s newest roller coaster. Only problem? The coaster was all the way over at Epcot.
A detour to Epcot
My kids haven’t been to Epcot since the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. This one-of-a-kind ride is Epcot’s first-ever roller coaster and the first reverse launch coaster in any Disney park. It’s as much a thrill for Marvel fans as it is for roller coaster fans, and doubly so for those who are both, like my family.
They were so excited to finally ride the attraction (especially because all three of them are tall enough and we could all ride together) that we made a special trip to Epcot just for this ride. My fast fingers had secured a virtual queue spot earlier in the day for around 2 p.m., so off to Epcot we went.
It would have been quickest to take our rental car to Epcot, but the kids wanted to ride the Skyliner and I had no choice but to oblige. I, too, love the Skyliner, but with only one day to squeeze in as much Disney fun as we could, I would have opted for the quickest option.
That was another of my big takeaways from the day. When a lot of people (myself included) plan their Disney trips, they pack their days with activities from morning to night.
By letting my kids take the lead, I learned that they actually don’t care about racking up as many rides as possible. Instead, we took time to walk through gift shops, stopped to see characters and played some of the park’s interactive games.
They did care about riding their favorite rides (although “favorite” can change from minute to minute with kids). However, they didn’t care about your meticulously planned schedule or Excel spreadsheet designed to get the most out of the day. They are happy to stop for a half-hour at a play area or sit down and eat a snack rather than rush from one ride to another.
It was a good reminder that Disney can be even more fun when you slow down and take it all in.
Back to Hollywood Studios to wrap up the night
After a quick stop at Epcot to save humanity with the Guardians of the Galaxy, we took the Skyliner back to Hollywood Studios to tackle the one ride the kids had been asking about all day: Slinky Dog Dash.
It’s one of the most popular rides at Hollywood Studios, and I was able to secure a Lightning Lane earlier in the day so we wouldn’t miss out or have to stand in line for 80 minutes.
It was dark outside by the time we rode Slinky Dog Dash, yet the kids were all smiles and giggles when we hopped off the ride. It was the perfect ending to a fun-filled day. I hadn’t planned it, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
Would I let my kids plan a Disney day again?
Here’s how our day stacked up by the time the park closed:
- We ate two servings of ice cream.
- Zero vegetables were consumed (do french fries count?).
- A grand total of seven attractions were ridden.
- Three boys ended the day with huge smiles on their faces.
With Disney Genie+, Lightning Lanes and virtual queues being such an integral part of visiting Disney World right now (and for the foreseeable future), it’s a little tough to be totally impulsive at Disney World.
There were a few things the kids wanted to do that had long enough waits to cause them to ultimately want to skip those attractions, despite being a bit disappointed. If I were to let my kids plan the day again, I’d probably give them two options to choose from throughout the day. For example, they could choose between two rides or a ride and a play area or another Mickey ice cream bar.
Speaking of ice cream, it’s clear that when the kids are in charge, our snack budget can climb quite high.
I’m looking forward to putting what I learned to use on our future Disney trips. Disney Genie+ is great for helping us get on those must-do attractions, but now I know they are happy to snack, play and explore in between their favorite rides.
I loved the experience of doing Disney their way. We had a lot of fun and still accomplished a lot. More importantly, I learned a lot about what is important to my kids when we go on vacation. That knowledge translates beyond Disney to all types of travel and will ensure our other vacations are fun for all five of us.