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  • Writer's pictureDiserella

Five Tips for a Magical Family Vacation

Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and the Disneyland Resort are dream destinations for most families. Parents meticulously plan their vacations with magic in their hearts and pixie dust in their eyes, joyfully imagining the incredible fun and wonder they are bringing to their children by taking them to the “happiest places on earth”.

Unfortunately, many people do not realize that even in the most magical of places, flowing with Butterbeer and Dole Whip Floats, the real world can creep in. Blisters, heat, sunburns, crowds, and missed opportunities can sometimes derail even the most enthusiastic vacationer.

Let’s face it, any theme park vacation is an extravagance, and sometimes the wary traveler can be unprepared for the reality of the place. This can cause “buyer’s remorse” and unmet expectations.

But never fear, dear Adventurer, Diserella is here with our tips for a magical family vacation.


Has anyone ever told you that both Florida and California are hot? They are. But it’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity. Florida, in particular, is particularly damp, and if you are not ready for it, it can do a number on your body. I’m talking about the dreaded “Disney rash”, blisters on the feet, and chafing of the thighs (and other sensitive areas). Think about it, you are traveling (usually to a different climate), walking more than you are used to, and rushing around, trying to see everything. It is really easy to not pay attention to your body. Fortunately, with a little preparation, you can keep these enemies of fun at bay.

  • First, and foremost, you need a good, strong sunscreen. Don’t try to burn the first day, hoping it will turn into a tan. Trust me, waddling around a theme park in 90-degree heat with a second-degree sunburn is absolutely miserable. Lather first thing in the morning, and then multiple times during the day. Pay extra attention to your children and make sure they are protected from the tropical sun.

  • Secondly, I highly recommend an anti-chafing balm. I remember being a young man, trapsing around Epcot, when suddenly… ouch. My thighs were burning like poison ivy. The culprit was not some three-leafed little plant, it was the Florida humidity. I tried talcum powder, I tried regular anti-perspirant (don’t do that), and then I found Body Glide (and no, I don’t get a kickback from this, or any other product on these posts – these are just items that have worked for me). The Body Glide brand has many different products. I currently stock up on their original Body Glide and their Body Glide Foot before any trip. This helps with chafing and blisters. We’ll talk more about blisters and footwear later on.

  • Third, be prepared for rain and water rides. Pack umbrellas, ponchos and… extra shoes? It rains in both California and Florida. Sometimes, it rains a lot. I don’t particularly enjoy walking around in soggy britches. I also don’t like wet shoes because that leads to blisters and blisters lead to misery. A Disney vacation is an expensive vacation and anything you can do to help the budget is a win. Before you go, purchase some small, inexpensive umbrellas and ponchos. I usually grab two Dollar Store ponchos for each person traveling with me. They are small and disposable. Score! When you are finished with them at the end of the trip, you can toss them and not feel guilty and maybe have a little extra room for souvenirs in your luggage. Ponchos are also great for water rides – and theme parks, especially the Universal Parks – seem to really enjoy soaking you. If, like me, you don’t particularly enjoy wet clothes, but still want to ride the water rides, then these are Godsends. I would also highly recommend bringing some flip-flops or crocs for rainy days and the above-mentioned water rides. In Spanish, they call walking around in soaking shoes: “No Bueno”. A quick change of footwear can be the difference between enjoying the rest of your vacation and purchasing stock in the local moleskin and bandage factory in order to try and cover the oozing blisters caused by wet shoe leather on sensitive footsies.

  • Fourth, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. The sun in both California and Florida is no joke. You will want to drink water. Trust me. Heat stroke and dehydration are both not only miserable, they are also dangerous. Fortunately, almost every restaurant offers free ice water. Unfortunately, Florida water tastes like it smells (if you know, you know). That’s where a filtered water bottle comes in. There are many different bottles you can get that have filters on them. We use a 20 oz charcoal filtered water bottle. Slap a carabiner on it and you can easily carry it around. Make sure you and your children are drinking 8-10 cups of water per day. And no, soda is not a substitute for good ol’ high quality H2O.

  • Fifth, dress appropriately. I know, I know, I don’t need to harp on this. You are an adult; you know how to dress. Hear me out, here. It sucks to walk 20 miles around a hot theme park, carrying a bunch of excess baggage. I’ve made the mistakes. I’ve brought jackets on Florida days where you could fry an egg on the sidewalk, and I’ve worn shorts on California nights where my teeth were chattering, and my lips were blue. The last thing you want is to not have the right clothes for the climate you will be exposed to all day.


Man, I miss the days when my children were small enough for a stroller. I’m serious. These things are solid gold on a theme park vacation.

  • For one, you can store so many items in the basket; backpacks, shopping bags, snacks… My wife even had a backpack with a built-in cooler for string cheese, ice, and maybe even some emergency chocolate.

  • Number two, they are perfect for afternoon naps. Look, I know that most sites will tell you to go back to the hotel for an afternoon siesta. I think that’s nuts. First of all, I am spending over $100 per person for a ticket to the park. Secondly, even though Disney transportation is awesome (and best of all, free), by the time you get back to your bus, then to your room, then back to the bus stop, then back to the park, you could have wasted three to four hours of your day. That could amount to ¼ of your day, or over $40 depending on the time of year you purchased your park tickets.

Wouldn’t it be much easier to have a little private bungalow for your darling children so they can nap while you can still enjoy the parks? I think so.

My wife and I would use a double stroller for our two boys. When it was nap time, we would close the awning as far as it would go. We would get one of those portable, battery-operated fans, and hang them on the awning, pointed at our child. Then we would use binder clips to hang a thin blanket or sheet over the front of the stroller to make a little room for our children. Sometimes, we would even bring Ziploc baggies and fill them with ice. Then we would hang them in front of the fan and Voila! instant air conditioning.

Now, if you are going to do this, you have to regularly check and make sure it is not getting too hot in the stroller. Just put your hand in there and test the air. But I’m telling you, if you do the fan and baggy full of ice trick, you will wish you could crawl in there with them.

Once they are having their nap, you can enjoy all the attractions you want using the child swap feature, or just have a nice meal with your significant other while the kiddies snooze.


We’ve already talked about how expensive these vacations can get. One way to make them more affordable is by packing your own snacks. Look, I don’t want to cheat you out of the amazing treats of a vacation to Disney, Universal, or even Sea World (which has some surprisingly tasty treats). Everyone needs to eat their way around the Food and Wine Festival, and don’t even think of skipping the Butterbeer.

But when you travel with children (or even a hangry dad) having a cache of snacks is a good idea.

My family would always go to Walmart or Target a few days before we left, when the energy was high, the excitement was at ten, and always when we were a little bit hungry. Then each person would pick out some snacks.

Slim Jims, beef jerky, trail mix, and dried fruit are good for energy. Goldfish, Cheez-its and other snack crackers are satisfying, and some of them are downright addicting (I’m looking at you, S’mores Goldfish). Don’t forget the sugary treats, as well. Theme parks sell candy… at about three times the prices of your local grocery store. Grab your gummies, sour balls, suckers, and other yummy treats beforehand and when your precious little one begs for the Goofy candy, you have a cheap alternative to satiate their candy cravings.

Pack all these snacks in your luggage or carry on, and when you return home, you can fill the empty space with souvenirs.

I’d suggest you buy a small box of zipper baggies and load them up in the morning before heading to parks. Each person can carry a bag, or two, and if you shove them in your pockets, you don’t even have to worry about pulling them out at security.


My mom was a planner. She had to be. Her little munchkins were active and sometimes, they’d get into mischief, especially when they were bored. Sound familiar? Here are some things you can do to make the lines a little less painful:

  • Theme parks have lines, and no matter how amazing the queue may be, little guys and gals get bored. My mom had a bag of coloring and activity books and crayons and PrestoMagix (does anyone remember them?)

  • My brother always had a paperback and we would usually have to tell him to put it away for the rides. The kid once read the Hardy Boys at the circus. While we “oohed and aahed” over the lions, he was trying to find out if The Tall Man was going to get away. Still, books did help pass the tedious time in the long lines.

  • These days, everyone has a phone and now, Disney has numerous online activities that interact with the parks. Make sure you have the Disney Play App and the My Disney Experience App. If you have Genie +, have them help plan. Just make sure you bring an extra charger, or two. The last thing you want to do is lose some juice.

  • Let the kids interact with the queues. At the Magic Kingdom, a growing number of queues have interactive features. Peter Pain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster, Haunted Mansion, and Winnie the Pooh are a few of the interactive queues that delight family members of every age. You may want to use some hand sanitizer after being the 20,000th person to touch the honey screen that day.

Test Track line

  • Get yourself a guidebook. What separates Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens, Legoland, and SeaWorld from other parks, is their attention to detail. The theming is becoming more immersive with each new attraction. Kids and grownups, alike, can immerse themselves in a whole new world. Learn about the details. Look for trivia or guidebooks and help your young ones see all the work that is put into making these worlds come to life. Every detail is important, from sights to smells, to color choice, to soundtrack to even the walkways. Play with your children, get lost in imagination, who knows, you may be a pirate or an alien for a day.


Stay on property. Seriously. Do it, at least once. There is no better way to completely immerse yourself in the magic than to stay safely in the warm embrace of Disney, or Universal. These resorts are unbelievable, and the free transportation is worth it.

Want to ignore my previous advice and go take an afternoon nap? It’s just a simple, free bus ride away. Most of the resorts have early or late exclusive access to the parks. In the past they have had free meal offers, and some Universal resorts even come with free ExpressPass where you can move to the front of the lines.

Most importantly, the theming in these hotels is amazing and the theming usually extends to the pool. If your kids are like mine, they want to swim in the hotel pool. It doesn't matter how many cool things you tell them they are missing by taking a dip, they want to cannonball in, even in a plain oval pool. When the pool has Aztec pyramids, pirate ships, or water slides, it is almost an obsession.

Take the time. Enjoy the resort, even if it is not on property. There are some really cool hotels around these parks, especially in Florida. You’re paying for the privilege. Enjoy it. Your kids will thank you, and trust me, having a break day or two in the middle of 40,000 step theme park excursions will have your body thanking you, as well.


About the Author:

Derin Dopps is a travel advisor and minister in Denver, Colorado. Derin has been visiting the Disney parks since 1988 and has traveled extensively through out the world, spending time in 47 States, Japan, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, and the Philippines and sailing on many cruises.


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