How I Survived My Kids' Disney World Meltdown


It’s called DWM, Disney World Meltdown and I experienced it full throttle. It was day one into my seven day family vacation at Disney World. My face was puffy, red, and soaked in tears. I was sitting on a park bench at Animal Kingdom sobbing in front of Colubus monkeys while my 6-year-old son was kicking and screaming, “I don’t wanna dig for dinosaurs bones, I wanna go home!!!!”

Here I am, absolutely exhausted, and having my own Disney Meltdown. (Photo: Carey Reilly)

I sat there thinking, “What is wrong with him? We are at Disney! Doesn’t he care that we sacrificed a new bathroom for this trip? That we surprised him and his sister at the airport! Doesn’t he care?” No, he didn’t care. Why? Because he was hot, tired, and overwhelmed — and I was frustrated, exhausted, and crying. It was the first day of our seven-day trip, and it already seemed seven days too long.

The cause? Aside from dinner reservations and a few Fastpass tickets, we didn’t have a strategy to enjoy the parks. We were, as they call it, “winging it.”

After a couple of taxing, eight-hour days of dragging our two children from one end of the park to the other, we smartened up and hatched a plan. You must have a strategy to do Disney or that mouse will eat you alive!

Try these 10 tips to avoid your own DWM.

1. Hydrate

The author’s son, John Michael, gobbling up his Mickey treat. (Photo: Carey Reilly)

Disney brought out the junk food crazies in my children. My kids were eating everything from soda to cotton candy to chocolate-dipped Rice Krispies lollipops shaped like Mickey. Soon after eating a sugary treat, the meltdowns began. A nurse visiting Disney saw one of my son’s tantrums and gave us some great advice: “One of the reasons children meltdown in Disney is dehydration.”

Related: Forget the Wait! 9 Ways to Spend Less Time in Line at Disney World

After she said that, I slowly moved the bag of cotton candy out of her sight and behind my back. She went on: “Stay away from sugary treats or beverages and drink enough water to make sure they use the bathroom every hour.”

If you are on a budget like me, then buy a bottle of water and refill it at the water fountains in the parks.

2. Schedule

I rebelled against the idea of having a schedule — after all, we are on vacation! The first few days, we followed my husband around the park in full force determined to see it all. That’s when the meltdowns started. Finally, we made peace with the idea that it was ok to not see everything.

Related: An Ode to 11 Disney Rides of the Past

Here’s the schedule we used to enjoy the rest of our trip; Start your day as early as you can: 8 a.m.-noon, go to the park. Then around noon-4 p.m. go back to your hotel and nap, swim, or enjoy a mango margarita. At 5 p.m. head back to the park for dinner, and rides, then stick around for the fireworks until the park closes.

3. Use a Travel Agent

With the Beast at one of the best places booked by our travel agent: Be Our Guest restaurant (Photo: Carey Reilly)

Use a Disney therapist… ah, um… I mean, travel agent. My travel agent Jeanette booked reservations for Fastpass, hotel rooms, and dinners. Having dinner reservations at the park each night helped us structure our evenings and avoid long lines. Knowing each day which Fastpasses we had also really helped avoid meltdowns. A few times in desperation I called Jeneatte for advice on how to make the trip less stressful. She even changed a last-minute dinner reservation — all without a co-pay.

4. Avoid Souvenirs

Ava, posing with a possible souvenir (Photo: Carey Reilly)

John Michael’s potential souvenirs (Photo: Carey Reilly)

Most rides exit out into a gift shop. Gift shops = meltdowns. To avoid spending $60 a day on souvenirs, I told my kids we were window shopping. I let them take pictures of all their desired souvenirs. After a few days of good behavior they could sort through their “wish list” of pictures and pick one treat. They loved the process and it diffused any meltdowns.

5. Rent a Stroller

Consider renting a stroller at the main gate. They cost about $15 a day. To our disappointment my VERY tall, 55-pound, 6-year-old did not fit into the stroller. A cast member offered us a solution: “You know for $3 less you could get a wheelchair.” I said, “Wheelchair? What? That’s terrible if we don’t truly need one. Isn’t it?” He assured me, “We have hundreds, more than we could ever rent out.”

Related: Tech Nerd Tuesday: The New Gadget That Makes Disney Even More Magical

So out we went into the park with a wheelchair. Before you judge me, at first I really didn’t feel comfortable about it — but man, was it nice. My kids were rested and happy, My son even took a nap in it. At closing time we booked it, from one end of the park to the other. If you can shake the idea of a wheelchair and think of it as a Tired People Mover, it’s a GREAT tip that avoids a DWM.

6. Remember: It’s Ok to Cry

My husband: crying? Sleeping? You be the judge. (Photo: Carey Reilly)

It may be the happiest place on earth, but you will cry. I cried almost every day in Disney. I cried when I saw my daughter watching her first Disney fireworks. I cried when my son punched me in the kidney during a meltdown. And I cried when I paid our hotel bill at the end of the trip. Crying at Disney is a rite of passage. You will cry in some form or another, expect it, bring Kleenex, get over it, and move on.

7. Pack That Fanny

I dusted off my 20-year-old fanny pack last used when I backpacked across Europe — and, boy, was I glad. Set your ego aside and wear a fanny pack. The functionality of a pouch way outshines its lack of fashion. It’s a quick grab to a cellphone, sunglasses, or lip balm. Plus, if you cinch it just the right way, it is a terrific tummy controller.

8. Get in Shape

I thought I was in decent shape, until my children wanted to go on one more ride before closing. With eight minutes to spare, we ran from Space Mountain to Splash Mountain. My legs felt like Jello and I thought I might need an inhaler.

Related: Around the World in 11 Drinks at Walt Disney World’s Epcot

Seriously, a few weeks before your trip, walk just 30 mins a day to train yourself for your Disney Marathon. One day at Disney, I logged 33,183 steps on my Fitbit — which is well over 16 miles.

9. Strategize Around the Fireworks

Disney’s fireworks (Photo: Trey Ratcliff/Flick)

The first night we were in the Magic Kingdom we didn’t know the scheduled time for the fireworks. We were on the Barnstormer in Fantasyland when we heard the loud booms. So we watched the fireworks all the way in the back of the park in Fantasyland, which was crowd-free and lovely. After the last boom we walked to the gate, only to find ourselves shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people who were also exiting the park. After an hour trying to get out of the park and then another hour waiting for the bus, we vowed to always check the time for the fireworks and watch them by the exit.

10. Motion Sickness

John Michael, fast asleep on the bus back to Animal Kingdom Lodge (Photo: Carey Reilly)

Pack Dramamine. Both of my children’s most favorite ride was the Mad Tea Party’s giant spinning teacups at Magic Kingdom. At six and nine years old, my children were too young to ride alone but I couldn’t risk my breakfast so my husband rode with them . By the second day my kids begged me to ride the teacups and I did because I was armed with dramamine. I took those twirling teacups head on. There are a lot of ride’s at Disney so take a motion sickness pill, strap on your bead wristbands or bring some ginger chews.

WATCH: Keeping Mickey Mouse’s House Full

Carey Reilly is a comic, actress, writer, and host of “How Are You So Sexy?” and “Dear Buddha” on ulive. Follow Carey on Twitter or visit her blog Not So Skinny Mom.

Let Yahoo Travel inspire you every day. Hang out with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.