I started the Outkick radio show back in September. Over the past six months I haven’t taken any days off other than Thanksgiving and Christmas. So we decided around Thanksgiving that we would take a vacation once the football season ended. (I try not to take days off radio from September until the Super Bowl because football season is the highest rated time of the year.)
My idea of a vacation is going somewhere warm and not doing much of anything but hanging out by the beach and the pool while I read books. And when you wake up at four in the morning every day for six months, all you really want to do is sleep and not get woken up early in the morning.
I’ve previously written about the tyranny of our family beach trips to the Destin area and my wife has written about why I’m awful on family car trips.
I understand people who want to go hike Machu Pichu or camp in the Rockies beside a bucolic stream, but that’s not me.
Once my wife came to me and said, “Did you hear about this trip to Africa where you dig wells?”
Yeah, I am not digging any fucking wells in Africa on my vacation.
With three boys nine and under every day of our life is a frenzied zoo. I’ve got 18 jobs and I don’t want to have a more stressful vacation than I do a normal workday. Plus, I don’t like crowds and I don’t like waiting in lines and I don’t like riding on buses or having everything scheduled all day long.
So you can imagine how excited I was when all three kids and my wife decided we should vacation at Disney World for a week.
With that in mind, here’s my first installment of the Disney World vacation.
1. We leave on Friday morning and we have eight people on our trip.
My wife, our three kids, my parents, and our nanny, who is from Orlando and will join us on Sunday night after attending a wedding.
Everywhere we go now is like traveling with a small army.
I booked all the flights and then I told my wife to take care of everything else.
She booked a villa that sleeps eight people at the Wilderness Lodge, which is near Magic Kingdom on the expansive Disney property. The Wilderness Lodge is designed to look like a lodge in the wilderness and features faux wood finishes, a babbling stream rolling over a cascading stream of rocks, and a geyser that shoots off like Old Faithful every hour from early in the morning until after dark.
The Wilderness Lodge is located on the Seven Seas Lagoon, a man made lake where a young child was killed by an alligator last summer, within sight distance from Disney World.
When my wife started looking up how much rooms were a night at Disney World and telling me the costs, I told her I didn’t want to know what anything clost because it’s all highway robbery,
I feel like Disney CEO Bob Iger showed up at my house with a gun.
When I say that Disney World is insanely expensive, I mean it. It’s incredibly easy to spend $10,000 or more on a week at Disney World if you have a normal sized family.
Hell, one day passes are now over $100 a day per person.
So for my family of five we’d spend $500 just for one day, and that’s before hotel, travel costs, food, drinks, or the inevitable souvenirs.
2. We took the two oldest kids, in third grade and kindergarten, out of school for a week because we thought the crowds would be smaller in February.
My wife said, “Are you sure you want to do that?”
And I said, “If our kids can’t recover from missing a week of third grade and kindergarten we are fucked already. Might as well enjoy them when they’re young before they end up in jail for dealing meth.”
So we took them out of school.
But first we had to get permission from their school in order to do this and my wife was worried about what would happen if the school said no and refused to excuse their absence. Turns out schools are really focused on unexcused absences now. When I was a kid no one kept track of how many days kids missed. You had to be a total idiot not to pass a grade. We had kids who couldn’t read passing my sixth grade. And only half of them got SEC football scholarships.
I said, “What are they going to do, fail them? Are they going to arrest us for going to Disney World? We’re going no matter what. If they refuse to pass the kids we’ll pick a new school.”
A few days before we left the absences were excused.
But when we arrived at Disney World we found President’s Day week is one of the busiest times of the year at Disney.
3. When we were kids my parents used to bring my sister and me to Disney World every May.
That’s what we always did on our family vacations. We would load up in the car and drive down to Orlando from Nashville in our old red, bedraggled Volvo station wagon. My parents would put down the back seat and my sister and I would play in the rear of the car, unbuckled, for the entire trip down.
Now if that happened parents would get arrested.
Back then the only rule was we couldn’t play catch and throw things that might hit my dad while he was driving.
In the early 1980’s it hardly cost anything to stay where we did, at Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Campground.
Both my parents worked, but neither would ever make $50,000 a year. In fact, the most they ever made as a duo was $67,000 a year. We were totally middle class, but Disney was an affordable trip.
When I was five and three my parents took us to Disney World for two weeks and we stayed in my uncle’s old peach and brown pop up trailer that was old even in 1984. It smelled like mildew and rust and it only had room for two twin beds, didn’t have air conditioning, had no kitchen, no television, no radio and we used the public bathrooms at the campground every morning.
The camp spot cost $25 a day.
And my dad and I spent every morning looking for alligators in the local lakes and streams on the campground. There were a ton of alligators back then and those alligators hadn’t eaten any kids yet so you could rent canoes and paddle boats and lose yourself in nature not far from Disney World.
The only contact my parents had with anyone during this two week vacation was a couple of collect phone calls to my grandparents and post cards that we also sent to my grandparents. Otherwise they were completely unreachable.
Did I mention that they could take a full two weeks in a row of vacation?!
That year I saw Ronald Reagan at Epcot and I remember it very well. The day that Ronald Reagan came to Epcot it was so hot that the band members started passing out waiting or the president to drive by. I worked my way to the front of the rope line — my mom said she could look down and see my feet — and I remember how impressed I was to see Reagan drive by and wave at everyone.
I’m sure that my parents are better parents than I am. There are many reasons why, but I think one primary reason is because when they took vacations from work they actually had vacations. They were totally unreachable. It was like like dropping off the grid.
They were also incredibly patient, I think partly because they were old for parents back then. My mom and dad turned 35 a few months after I was born and they turned 37 not long after my sister was born. This meant they were ancient for parents when I was growing up. No one had parents anywhere near as old as mine. I always felt a little embarrassed by how much older my parents were than everyone else’s parents.
Like most of you reading this I have been reachable every minute of every day for the past 15 years. That’s why my fantasy is just disappearing for months and being totally unfindable.
I promise myself that while I am at the Disney Parks the only social media I will use at all is Snapchat and only then because it’s basically documenting our trip. I can take ten second videos and save them to my phone.
Now that I have kids of my own I am absolutely, positively in awe of the fact that my parents could take a five year and a three year old to a campground for two weeks and sleep in a popup trailer and that we could have a nearly perfect Disney vacation. At least in my memory. My parents still say it’s the best vacation they ever had.
I’m sure they had to be frustrated with us at some point in time, but I never even remember them raising their voices and yelling at us. They certainly were always with us for every minute of every day for the entire two weeks.
And they didn’t have iPads to distract us with or even any movies at all. They were engaged all day long. I have no idea how they had the energy
The result of trips like these is that kids like me, having grown up at Disney World, now return with our own kids, riding the same rides that we rode as kids, remembering our vacations past while we watch the same old animatronic rides, Captain Hook and Peter Pan from the floating ship, the Haunted Mansion with the ghosts in the mirror as you leave the ride, the rides are timeless and unchanging even as you grow up.
Marcel Proust had his madeleines and American middle class kids have the Magic Kingdom.
4. My nine and six year old boys have 174 fights a day.
They end up rolling around on the ground wrestling no matter where we are. So, of course, as we prepare to go through airport security they are rolling around everywhere on the ground.
We have to separate them from each other and put double parent barriers between them or else they immediately start fighting. It’s uncanny.
Airport security is always hellish because there are still people who don’t understand the airport rules nearly 16 years after 9/11.
Yes, you have to take your shoes off. And you can’t put liquids through the metal detector.
My God, people are fucking imbeciles at the airport.
I think if you fuck up the airport security in multiple ways it’s time to start passing out flight bans. You left your shoes on and you had a liquid in your carry on bag? That’s it, you can’t fly anymore. You have to drive everywhere for the rest of your life.
5. My wife has made all the Disney travel plans.
As Disney has expanded to have four full-size parks, two water parks, and sundry hotels and restaurants, it’s now virtually impossible to just show up at the park and have a decent time
When I was a kid, you just walked into the park and then ran and stood in line for whatever attractions you wanted to ride. You had no idea how long you might be in line and the lines could seem endless. You’d be standing there sweating your ass off in the hot sun as you waited for Space Mountain or the damn Epcot ball ride that never made any sense. (Honestly, none of Epcot ever made any sense. It still doesn’t to me.)
Now you have to schedule your day at Disney World like you’re storming the beaches of Normandy on DDay.
You get three fast passes per day — a fast pass entitles you to skip the line so long as you return at a designated time — and there’s now a magic Disney band that can do everything. It unlocks your hotel room door and stores your fast pass rides for entry. You can also buy all food and drink and put it on your band too. Essentially you don’t need anything for your day at Disney but these bands, which they mail to you a couple of weeks before your trip.
My wife is incredible at organizing things and she has an Excel spread sheet of our entire week’s itinerary. She passes it to me on the airplane and this is the first time that I realize that our entire week is planned. Our meals, our rides, which parks we’re going to on which days and which rides we’re fast passing, it’s pretty remarkable.
It used to be that you could just walk up and eat in the Disney parks, now every meal has to be planned and you need reservations for all but the cafeteria styple places. And these cafeteria places are insanely specific and limited in the food they offer. Across the walkway from the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” there is a Disney retaurant called the “Tortuga Tavern” that only offers turkey legs, hot dogs and chocolate chip cookies. That’s seriously all that’s on the menu.
On Saturday at Magic Kingdom my wife has scheduled Thunder Mountain for the older kids and Small World for our youngest at 9:45 AM. Then comes Pirates of the Caribbean for everyone at 11:35 and the Dwarves Mine Ride at 3:10.
It’s like a damn college syllabus.
6. On Friday night we check in at the room after taking the Magic Express from the airport to our hotel.
The Magic Express is a Disney bus that will pick you up and take you to your hotel room. They will also pick up your luggage and deliver it to your rooms if you schedule it. Again, my wife’s planning on all of this is pretty incredible.
My two year old is dead tired on the bus ride to the hotel and he’s got a huge poop that makes the entire bus stink. He’s asleep on my lap and he’s developing a pretty nasty cold.
(As a general rule if you have three or more kids one of them is always going to be sick on any trip you take.)
We go to Chef Mickey at the Contemporary Hotel on Friday night to meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy. We take a boat from the Wilderness Lodge to the Contemporary Hotel and when my kids won’t sit down and my two oldest ones are inevitably fighting I tell them there are alligators in the lake and they ate a little boy this past summer.
They think I’m joking.
But when I insist I’m telling the truth they sit down and don’t move.
All of the characters come around while the seven of us we eat off a buffet.
I’ve never been able to figure out why Goofy is a dog who can talk and seems to have a first class friendship with Mickey and Minnie that is founded on mutual respect and Pluto is a dog that can’t talk. Also, why do mice have a dog as a pet? And why doesn’t Minnie wear underwear? No wonder Mickey’s always smiling.
Anyway, I have no idea the answer to all of these questions, but we get back home and go to sleep, gearing up for the trip to the Magic Kingdom in the morning.
7. The Magic Kingdom is impossibly packed.
I mean, the entire park is more crowded than I’ve ever seen it. It’s so crowded that it’s impossible to even walk across Main Street. They need street crossing guards to make walking possible. There’s just a tidal wave of human beings everywhere.
I don’t know if it’s possible for the park to reach full capacity, but it has to be getting close.
There are strollers stacked as far as you can see in Fantasy Land.
The wait for the Seven Dwarfs roller coaster ride is 2.5 hours.
For a mediocre two minute roller coaster ride.
I’ve never seen a line this long for anything. I’m trying to decide how much you’d have to pay me to wait in line this long with my kids and I’m still not really sure.
But fortunately my wife got a fast pass. Only my two oldest kids are rebelling and say they don’t want to go because they’re afraid of the roller coasters. Which is potentially going to drive my wife crazy because she’s even more aggressively #dbap than I am.
So I do what I do best, I try to bribe them while telling them not to tell their mom about the bribe.
Eventually my six year old agrees to go on the ride for a Star Wars figure and a trip to the swimming pool. But my nine year old won’t budge. Grandma ends up taking his place. Instead he goes to mom, violates the number one of dad’s bribery rules — “You don’t tell mom about dad’s bribery.” and complains to her, “Dad’s bribing me!” he whines. “No,” I say, “I’m attempting to bribe him, big difference.”
I would say the number one lesson of Disney World is that your kids are going to drive you crazy at least three times a day. The key is realizing this is going to happen in advance and refusing to get worked up over it.
You have to expect that things are going to go bad. So when they actually go bad you’re ready for it. You see parents melting down alongside their kids everywhere in this park and I think the reason is because based on what they’re spending and the effort involved in the vacation they expect the day to be a flawless, perfect event.
But here’s the deal, your kids can only be guilted into feeling like spoiled brats so much.
Odds are they don’t need to do every ride in the park and will probably have as much, if not more, fun at the hotel swimming pool.
So just chill.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
8. But Disney World can drive even the best parents insane.
Our last real family trip to Disney World probably happened when I was 13 or 14 and my sister was 11 or 12.
That trip we pulled into the Magic Kingdom and we waited so long to park the car that eventually my dad just skipped the line and parked the car himself.
A Disney worker tracked down our car and made my dad pay, but the cost wasn’t the issue, it was just too crowded to have a good time.
My dad ranted and raved about the crowds that year, way back in 1993, when the crowds were a pale approxomation of what they would become by 2017: “You should only be able to come to Disney World every other year based on your last names,” he said, “A-M on even years and N-Z on odd years.”
That didn’t stop my dad from keeping a nightly journal from all of our Disney vacations though. Every night he wrote up the family trips. And he still has those diaries today.
9. The Hall of Presidents is closed while they add Donald Trump to the roster alongside Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDR.
I can’t believe I just wrote that.
They should go ahead and add Mike Pence given that Trump’s favored to be impeached right now according to OddsShark.
10. We survive the Magic Kingdom and come back to the hotel for naps and swimming pool time.
It’s cloudy and overcast, but my six year wants to spend the rest of the day at the pool.
They are also showing “Tangled” on a movie projector beside the pool, which is admittedly pretty fantastic.
I meet up with my law school friend Chad, who now lives in Orlando and has also had his two boys, ages 7 and 3 with us at the Magic Kingdom, at the Wilderness Lodge bar.
It’s around seven at night and parents are in here slamming drinks like crazy. Many parents are also getting drinks made, putting them into plastic cups and taking them to the Magic Kindom. (The Magic Kingdom has alcohol, but only in restaurants where you sit down for meals. There are no bars or portable liquor drinks that you can order without a table reservation.)
We watch the end of the Kentucky-Georgia basketball game and then decide to call off a return trip to Disney and drink at the resort.
By 8:30 my wife is with us and the kids are down with my parents. (Chad has a babysitter provided by the Disney resort, which he says is the best thing money can buy at this point.)
We sit alongside the lagoon and have drinks and dinner until nearly midnight.
Day one is in the books, but there are still several more days of Disney to come.
Tomorrow my Disney World diary continues with our trip to Hollywood Studios.
Here’s a preview.
Culturally insensitive droid sombreros!