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Plan a Low-Stress Trip to Disney World With the Grandkids

Get tips for navigating big amusement parks without losing your cool

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Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom, fairy castle


En español | Taking your grandkids to a Disney theme park is a special memory maker, but with the huge crowds and constant excitement, it can quickly become a high-stress experience. Susan Veness, author of the new Disney World Hacks: 350+ Park Secrets for Making the Most of Your Walt Disney World Vacation, has seen it firsthand: She lives a few minutes from the famous Orlando attraction and has been visiting it regularly since 1971.

Veness’ top meltdown-prevention tips for navigating Disney World with children can be applied to any big amusement park.

• Save toy/souvenir purchases until trip's end. Kids tend to feel very strongly about wanting to buy certain things, so one of my favorite hacks is to say, “We're going to take a picture of everything that you really want, and then at the end of the day or at the end of the vacation you can choose one or two of those things.” It gives them separation to figure out what they really want.

• Encourage bathroom breaks. Children are so excited they don't want to take the time to go to the bathroom, which can lead to trouble. One roadblock: Little kids can get scared of those turbo toilets with the loud automatic flush, especially when it goes off when they are still sitting on them. Take a little packet of sticky notes with you, cover the sensor on the back of the toilet and it won't flush until you remove that sticky note.

• Have fun waiting in line. In the old days, you'd play rock-paper-scissors to keep younger kids entertained in line, but now there are things like Heads Up!, which is an app you can get for 99 cents on your phone (you may have seen Ellen DeGeneres playing it on her show). One person holds the phone up to their forehead with the screen pointing out, and everyone else has to offer clues to help the person guess what the word or the name is on the screen. You can do it as a family, even with little kids.

• Try a no-cellphone policy with older kids. We did this with our boys when they were teens to give us time in the park where we could really talk as a family. I just think that as grandparents, you have so little time for that kind of interaction with your teenage grandchildren. Make the most out of it.

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• Don't pay for water. Ask for a free cup of water at a counter-service restaurant. (And remember that it's important to stay hydrated.)

• Let it glow. Stop in one of those dollar stores near your home and get a few light-up toys. In attractions like the Haunted Mansion, which can be scary when you're 4 or 5 years old, they can hold up those lights in the dark corners. You can also buy some of those inexpensive light-up necklaces for your grandkids to wear when you go out at night. You'll be able to see them better.

• Bring earplugs. Carry a few pairs of those soft foam earplugs to smooth out the loud bang of evening fireworks or high-volume shows and attractions. Just twist them into a point, insert them in youngsters’ ears, and they'll expand to create a noise-softening seal. They're also great for blocking nighttime hotel noise (for grandparents, too).

• Avoid four o'clock meltdowns. If you spend the whole morning on the attractions, take a break back at your hotel in the afternoon so everyone can wind down, maybe have a nap. It's so counterintuitive to leave the park when you've spent that much money, but when you come back in the evening, you'll get so much more out of it. It's time-tested advice that the smallest fraction of guests actually heed.

• Be kind to your feet. The average Disney-theme-park visitor walks about 10 miles each day. Super comfy shoes are essential, but you might also consider bringing an extra pair of socks to change into midday or if your feet get wet. You'll feel surprisingly rejuvenated. Soak feet at the end of the day by sitting at the edge of your bathtub, alternating cold water for one minute, then hot for one minute, several times. Near-instant relief!

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