My wife and I typically go to bed by 11pm, owing to both our jobs and an (almost) 5 year-old who wouldn’t sleep past 7am if we bathed her in Benadryl. But this Sunday night we’ll be awake past midnight, stressed out and on our laptops.
And it’s Disney’s fault.
Okay, maybe that isn’t entirely fair. After all, I was the one who thought it would be fun to take our daughter to Walt Disney World for her birthday this November. She has one more year until kindergarten begins, so I figured that this would be our last chance to enjoy shorter lines by visiting The Happiest Place on Earth© during non-holiday weekdays. Plus, it seemed like such a simple trip. Book the airfare, hotel and park tickets — then the rest would take care of itself. Walk left, walk right… it won’t matter. There will be something magical for my daughter around every corner.
But it seems that I was thinking about the Disney World of my youth, when the most advanced software was housed in a blue robot at Epcot that could kinda-sorta have a conversation with you.
Today’s Disney, as I’m learning, is much different.
Every person through the turnstiles has the opportunity to secure up to three FastPass selections per day — selections that let you essentially skip the lines at top rides at pre-determined times — which connect to both a mobile app and your own personal MagicBand bracelet. And by “opportunity,” I mean “responsibility.” After all, who wants 45 minutes of waiting in line, while your kid keeps asking why so many people get to cut in front of her. “But daddy, couldn’t you have made a reservation?”
But the thing about these FastPasses is that you don’t sign up for them when you arrive at the park, or even first thing in the morning. No, if you’re staying in a Disney hotel (as we are), the FastPasses go on sale 60 days before you arrive (30 days for everyone else). And, from what I’m told, they go so quick that if we don’t have a plan of action put in motion at 12:01am, we might as well not bother.
And that doesn’t even take into account the process for making reservations for character meals, like what we had hoped to be her birthday dinner in Cinderella’s castle. Those began 180 days out, and we hadn’t decided on the trip by then. So that’s not happening.
To Disney, all of this is supposed to make our trip easier and, thus, more enjoyable. But Disney is wrong.
Some of my frustration relates to the prep work we need to do before the coach turns into a pumpkin on Sunday night, or what I imagine will be our stress level during those precious few moments.
More of it, however, relates to how all of this park planning is taking away from what should be the wonderful spontaneity of being with a 5 year-old at Disney World. She may still walk left or walk right, but always with an one eye on the clock, lest she miss her one opportunity to meet Anna and Elsa. Oh, yeah, I forgot: the characters no longer roam the parks, giving children the unexpected joy of bumping into them. Instead, most of their meet-and-greets are scheduled, with the mobile app letting you know where to go and when.
To be sure, I know that I’m incredibly fortunate to be going on vacation to Disney with my family. And it will almost certainly create happy memories that my daughter will carry for the rest of her life. But in an age where so much of our children’s lives revolve around screens and schedules, I was kind of hoping for an oasis. Instead, we’re headed to mission control.