To be honest, I didn’t want to go to Walt Disney World.
Anyone who knows me knows this is a highly unusual statement, given that it is one of my favorite places on the planet. But I had been only six weeks earlier, traveling with a party of 12, and as it had been a pretty hectic trip, I felt the need to decompress a little.
But my parents wanted to go, and I wanted to go both with and for them. So I dove into planning. Along the way, there were many conversations between the three of us about how this trip was going to be different from all the others we’d taken in the past. None of us are as young as we used to be, and we all had aches and pains that slowed us down, so this was going to be a more laid back vacation with lots of rest and relaxation.
Not that any of us really believed that.
After all, Walt Disney World is a sprawling resort boasting four theme parks, two water parks, dozens of restaurants, endless shops and more things to do than could be experienced in a month, let alone a week.
But a funny thing happened once we got there: We not only stopped to smell the roses, we sometimes curled up to take a nap beneath them. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Instead of rushing around trying to experience the exact same things that everyone else at Walt Disney World was racing around trying to experience, we meandered. When one of us got winded or a hip began to hurt, we sat on benches and just watched the world go by. We took afternoon naps and sometimes evening ones, too. Rather than pushing ourselves to stay in the parks one more hour in order to stand in one more line for one more attraction, we said, “Let’s Fastpass it tomorrow,” knowing full well that the odds were 50/50 at best that we actually would.
We also allowed one another to have a little space. When Mom felt like resting instead of going out to dinner, Dad and I hit Boma — the incredible buffet at the Animal Kingdom Lodge — on our own. I’d spent afternoons hanging at Trout Pass, the Wilderness Lodge’s pool bar, chatting with perfect strangers, while my parents took long walks around the Fort Wilderness Campground.
At the end of the week, as I prepared to leave my folks and fly back home, we all agreed it had been the best vacation any of us had ever taken. For weeks afterwards, we would casually mention during phone calls or in E-mails how fantastic a trip it had been.
It’s perhaps the ultimate irony that vacations can sometimes be far more stressful than the day-to-day grind they are supposed to help us leave behind. And it is terribly easy for a Walt Disney World vacation to spiral out of control if one falls into the trap of thinking, “We spent a lot of money, we need to make sure we see and do every single thing!” Look around the parks, and you’ll see frazzled folks whose eyes are filled with terror at the thought of not getting on Toy Story Mania. Parents push exhausted children past the point of no return (and into the crying zone), all in the name of squeezing in more fun.
It doesn’t, however, have to be that way. Whether it’s your first trip to the Magic Kingdom or your 100th, one thing holds true: The best way to enjoy a Walt Disney World vacation is to not stand in your own way of doing exactly that. Every corner of the parks is filled with something to see, and not all of it involves standing in a line or scanning a Magic Band. Wander through the Animal Kingdom’s oasis as opposed to rushing through it in order to get to Expedition Everest. Interact with the street performers at Hollywood Studios rather than bypassing them for a 10th ride on the Tower of Terror.
The moments you’ll remember won’t involve screaming on Splash Mountain or fighting over how to use that last Fastpass. It’ll be the joy you took in walking through Adventure land at night and seeing the white lights twinkle in the trees, or the silly picture you took of your dad donning a sombrero at Epcot.
It should go without saying when you’re on vacation, but relax. The best moments aren’t planned… they just happen, like magic. Because that’s sort of Walt Disney World’s specialty… magic.