Saturday, February 17, 2024

How to solve 99% of parenting problems

 My favourite advice columnist was asked about how to raise kids so they don’t end up being the type of parent that gets written about in an advice column. Even though she doesn’t have kids of her own and doesn’t plan to, I think her advice was spot on. It made me want to offer my two cents, especially since this is something I was just talking to my daughter about.

Although the Captain alluded to this in her advice, 99% of parenting is dealing with your own shit. When your kid cries (and there will be a lot of crying), it will trigger your shit. When your kid gets angry, or doesn’t listen, or does something bad, pretty much when your kid does anything, it will trigger your shit. You won’t be able to gently shepherd your kid through whatever it is they’re going through if you can’t process your own shit. You will let your fear turn into anger, and your anger will cause you to focus on making your kid do whatever it is you want them to do, and as the good captain said, kids are people. You can’t make anyone do anything.

Case in point, toddlers throw tantrums all the time. They are as natural as pooping, and it helps to think of them that way, because too much and too little are bad. If a tantrum triggers you, you will do whatever you can to avoid them. Either on the authoritarian end, punishing them for their tantrums, or on the permissive end, giving in, coddling them, making sure nothing ever upsets them. Both of these things are damaging for the same reason: they teach their kids that negative emotions are to be feared.

The reason negative emotions are scary is because we worry that we will get carried away by them. It’s that much scarier for our children who don’t have the experience to know that losing it doesn’t mean losing themselves. This article popped up in my Facebook memories this week and I’m grateful to my past self for sharing it so that it could be remembered. The tl;dr that I got out of it is that we are a tether for our children. I imagine an astronaut tethered to the space station so they can go safely explore, and if things get dangerous they can be pulled back to safety. 

How does one be a tether for their child? What I have found helpful when my kids are having big feelings is to first sit beside them and regulate myself. I take a deep breath and I imagine a big open field with a big blue sky. There is so much space for these feelings. And that’s all we have to do in this moment: make space for the feelings. I look over at my child, in a turbulent sea with a storm swirling around them, almost drowning, and I imagine myself throwing them a life preserver. Sometimes they won’t be ready to be saved but the life preserver is there when they’re ready. I don’t need to be afraid because all storms pass eventually. They may not know it because they haven’t weathered as many storms as I have, but I can believe it for the both of us. I don’t have to do anything but wait for the storm to pass. This has worked since my kids were newborns, and as I enter the teenage years, it’s still useful.

As I moved from the “baby who’s cool as long as their basic needs are being met” phase and moved into the “I just learned that I am a separate person and I can say no” phase I knew I needed help. As someone who was raised by Dr. Dobson’s methods, I wanted to seek a new way to parent my kids. Thankfully there are lots of other experts out there. Janet Lansbury is one of my faves; I recommend her books. I love her because she believes in boundaries for both parents and kids, and that gentle parenting means parenting with gentle strength. I have always aspired to her ideal of the “unruffled” parent, one who aptly handles (as the Captain astutely describes) “instances where you zip an irate being who is screaming, suddenly unbendable, and somehow increasing exponentially in mass into a little snowsuit and strap them into a car seat against their will because you gotta be somewhere.” 

Find your parenting gurus, ones who encourage and inspire, not ones who make you feel judged. And remember that they are giving you stars to guide yourself by. I don’t know who said it, but “shoot for the moon, for even if you miss you will land among the stars.” You won’t always be a perfect parent, but you don’t have a perfect kid either. And since we don’t have perfect kids, it’s better that we aren’t perfect parents, so we can be a good example about how to live in this world as imperfect beings. As the Captain said, apologies go a long way.

The Captain’s advice about curiosity is also spot on. I will add one other thing to be curious about. What if there are no bad kids? What if you approached every problem with the certainty that your kid is doing their best? What if your child is not giving you a hard time, but having a hard time? How would you approach the problem differently? I have seen it repeated many times that children who most need our love ask for it in the most unloving ways. It’s easy to throw a life preserver to someone who is drowning. It’s a lot harder to do when someone is being an asshole. The better you are connected to your child, the easier it will be to see the drowning child behind the asshole mask.

Connect before you correct. Sometimes if you do that the problem will solve itself. Sometimes it requires a conversation later to talk about how it’s ok to have big emotions, but the way you’re going about expressing them is a problem. Getting curious will help you find that balance between dictator and doormat. But always, always wait until the storm has passed. Although I have heard that the “lizard brain” concept is not accurate, I think it’s a helpful analogy. When we are mired in emotion it is much harder to access our logical side. That means that even if someone knows better, they may not be able to act better. This is as helpful to remember for ourselves as well as for our kids. It’s why we yell when we know it isn’t helpful and why our kids hit when they know they’re not supposed to. If we have trouble regulating ourselves from time to time, how can we expect better from our kids?

The rest, as they say, is just details. When you find yourself asking “how to I get my child to…” (eat, sleep, and poop are the biggest concerns in the early years), rephrase the question to “how do I get my spouse to…” The answer is you can’t. All you can do is forge a relationship with that person and hope that they see your influence as beneficial. The difficulty is that you won’t be able to see that influence for a number of years, all the while worrying whether or not you’re doing a good job. And they’ll be a lot of points where you might be inclined to believe that you are not. But having made it to the other side of the tantrum/difficult behaviour years, I’m feeling pretty good about how everything has turned out. As my children have grown and matured, so has their ability to regulate themselves. I have great kids! And having successfully made it through, I feel more confident for the next turbulent age - the teenage years. 

I’m really sorry the letter writer had such a crappy childhood. He didn’t deserve that and I get that feeling of wanting to do things differently but not knowing if you are capable of it. While it can be tremendously difficult I can say that it is possible. It’s a wild ride with lots of ups and downs but it’s one that I’m happy to be on. Bon courage!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

5 - What to take to Disney

Finally. You've decided when you're going, made your advance dining reservations, made a touring plan, or have at least a general idea of what you're going to do when you're at the parks. Now it's time to pack for your trip.

We walk, on average, 10km every day we're at a park. No joke. Pack good shoes. Don't wear flip flops to the park.

Remember how I said Disney was like a movie theatre? Everything will cost a lot more there and you'll have to wait in line to get it. Try to think of things you can bring from home that will mitigate the cost. Reusable water bottles are at the top of my list -there are water fountains you can refill them at. Rain jackets (the almost disposable ones you get at the dollar store) are also a good buy -they're cheap and small. Snacks are also handy to have around. Another tip: DisneyWorld offers free wifi. You’ll want to pack a charger (although you can rent one if you need to) and load up your phone with the Touring Plans App, My Disney Experience App, and the Play Disney Parks App. The Touring Plan App is the simplest way to keep track of your plan. My Disney Experience lets you see your reservations for restaurants and Genie+ selections (and allows you to make new selections). It also has maps that will give you directions in the parks much like a map app (this is especially handy when you need to find the closest bathroom!). Play Disney Parks is an app that can be used on some rides while you’re waiting in line. Some of the games are park-wide - Epcot has a neat Phineas and Ferb game I highly recommend (this is being replaced by a DuckTales one, which I'm hoping is just as good)! You’ll get to travel around the different pavilions and interact with the scenery.

Keep in mind that you'll be going through a security check before you enter the park (or before you get on the monorail), so try not to bring too much. The more bags you take, the longer your check will take. Check out the park rules for a list of prohibited items.

Just a few more things to decide about in advance:

Magic Bands: If you buy a ticket, it's like a hotel key card that you carry around (if you buy them online, you pick the physical tickets up at the park entrance). Aside from the inconvenience of having to get another one, you don't have to worry too much if you lose it because everything is attached to your account, not to the ticket. If you're staying onsite, you get a discounted magic band if you order it at least 10 days in advance of your trip. Basically, you will have to decide whether it's more convenient to have your ticket on a watch-like thing on your wrist or to take your card out every time you need it. You need your card to get into your onsite hotel room, to get into the parks, to get your pictures from rides/photographers (see Memory Maker below) and to use your Genie+. It's not a huge inconvenience, but the cost of a magic band is not a huge expense either, depending on the size of your party. We usually keep the kids' cards and take them out as needed, but we thought the kids would like wearing a magic band so one year we tried them out. They did not like them, and we ended up keeping them in our pockets and distributing them as we did when we had cards. When we stayed onsite a few years later, they did like using their magic bands to open the hotel door, so maybe it’s an age thing.

Memory Maker: there are several rides at Disney that take pictures while you're on them. There are also photographers stationed all over the parks. Obviously, if you feel no need to buy these pictures, don't. But if you're like us, and you don't always remember to take lots of pictures, you might find it useful to purchase Memory Maker. It's cheaper if you buy it in advance, so if you do plan on getting it, make sure you get it more than 3 days before your trip. Once you're there (whether you've purchased it or not), you use your ticket/magic band (of the person who purchased Memory Maker on their account, if no one purchased it then it doesn't matter) to tap and the pictures will be linked to your account. Some rides automatically assign pictures to your account. If there's one particular picture you really like, you can just purchase that picture, but if you have Memory Maker, you get access to all the pictures.

Strollers: remember when I said we walk, on average, 10km everyday we're at a park? You might be able to handle it no problem, but even if your kid hasn't used a stroller in awhile, they might not be able to. The first trip we took with no stroller my kids were 8 and 5. That means they were 7 and 4 and still using a stroller.

You have three options when it comes to strollers: bring your own, rent one from a company near Disney, rent one at Disney. You might already be planning to bring your stroller, so maybe this isn't a huge decision for you. We didn't have a double stroller, so our options were to rent one from a company or rent one from Disney. The benefit of the company is a snazzy, comfortable stroller. Disney strollers are just hard plastic, and are not divided so the kids sit right next to each other (cue: "they're taking up all the room" arguments). These are not strollers for infants that need to be strapped in. Also, you will have to wait in line to get a Disney stroller (if you do a mutiple day rental, the line is shorter, and it's good across all the parks). However, the benefit is you will not have to bring a stroller on the tram or monorail. We've actually walked from the parking lot to the park (and vice versa) rather than deal with the hassle of folding up the stroller to get it on the tram. So if you're kids are a little older and may not sit in the stroller the whole time and you can tolerate a little arguing about who's hogging all the room, you may want to opt for renting a stroller at Disney. Regardless, make sure you have something (like a rain jacket from the dollar store) to cover up the stroller when it rains, as well as a small towel in case it gets wet anyway. Stroller rental companies and Disney will give you a sign, but you may want to make one if you're bringing your own stroller. Even when we've rented a Disney stroller (which looks the same as all other Disney strollers) we have never had our stroller lost or stolen.

Safety: wear sunscreen and drink lots of water. Also, make sure to TAKE BREAKS. The first time we went, I bought some SafetyTats but we never used them (their labels are very good though). Honestly, nobody wants to steal your kids at Disney. The people there barely want their own kids. It's probably a good idea to have a conversation about what to do if they do get separated (talk to the nearest Cast Member). We haven't lost a kid yet! (knock on wood)

Souvenirs: Disney really, really, wants you to buy their merchandise. So much so, that almost every ride you get off of exits right into a store. Decide in advance how many souvenirs you're going to get (if any) and speak to your kids about it. You'll save a lot of begging and pleading if they know whether or not getting something is even on the table.

Things to remember while you're there:

Take a picture of your parking spot. We forgot where we parked once. Not a pleasant experience at the end of a long day, and this was in one of the smaller parking lots. Just snap a picture and you won't have to worry about it (especially if you leave the park and come back again).

HAVE I MENTIONED YOU SHOULD TAKE BREAKS? No, but like, seriously. We take a longish break almost every afternoon. We head back to the rental for lunch and when we get back to the park around 3 feeling refreshed everyone else has hit melt-down o'clock. It is super intense being at the parks. TAKE BREAKS. Magic Kingdom takes the longest to get in and out of (because you have to take the Monorail/Ferry from the parking lot) so if you opt not to leave the park, find a quiet spot (the Tomorrowland Terrace when it's not open is great) to just sit back and chill for a bit. At Hollywood Studios, we also like the end of the alley where the Incredibles hang out. We got some funny pictures of Frozone bugging my son while he was playing on his iPad.

My best advice:

Roll with it. There's a lot of pressure to HAVE FUN when you're on a Disney trip. I get it. It's expensive, you want to get your money's worth, and it's the happiest place on Earth. If you can't have a good time there, where can you? But all the pressure can be counter-productive. It's not going to be perfect. The fact is, you will be annoyed, overwhelmed, stressed, etc. Remember, it's the album, not the individual photographs. So even if a couple of your memories are not going to be good ones, as long as the overall trip is fun, you're doing OK.

Here are the other posts on DisneyWorld planning:

1 - When to go to Disney: what age is a good age? What time of year is good to go?
2 - Where to stay at Disney: breaking down the pros and cons of off vs. onsite
3 - Advance Dining Reservations: because hour long waits for lunch/dinner are for non-planners
4 - Genie+:  getting on the rides faster
5 - What to take to Disney: including discussions about strollers, magic bands and memory maker

Updated Nov 30 2021

4 - Genie+

Disney took advantage of the pandemic —which caused them to suspend the Fastpass+ system so that they had room for social distancing in lines —to totally revamp it when they brought it back. Much to the dismay of everyone who knew the free system and how to best use it, it was brought back as an extra offering with a fee attached.

The system is now actually three systems, and anyone who thought planning with it before was too much trouble will certainly not want to have anything to do with it now, especially given that someone once described Disney's IT as "powered by a Windows 95 machine held together by duct tape." While the more optimistic among us have hope that the system might be improved, I won't hold my breath.

Hopefully I can break this down simply enough for the average person to know if this purchase is worth it.


Genie is what Disney is calling their new planning system. If you watch this video (it's an hour and a half documentary about queuing, so kudos if you actually watch the whole thing) you will learn that when it comes to going to Disney, the planners will always come out ahead of the non-planners. This is a disadvantage for those who might face a language barrier when it comes to planning, and those who just aren't that into planning. So Disney said, what if we came up with some AI that could even the planning field? To which the AI said: You should go on Prince Charming's Regal Carrousel first (cue gasps from everyone who knows that's a terrible first ride pick). So not exactly a resounding success. Genie isn't totally useless, if you do decide to use Genie+, you can hack it so that you'll be able to make your selections faster.


The old Fastpass+ system had tiers at certain parks and the new system does too. While the fast lane is referred to as a Lightning Lane for both tiers, we will call the two tiers Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane. Let's start with Genie+.

Genie+ is 15$ per day, per ticket. This can really add up over multiple days, especially for bigger families. While you can add it to the entirety of your trip in advance, you're only able to add it on a day by day basis after midnight the day before you are planning to use it. As long as you have it added before 7am on the day you want it (you can add it at any time during the day you want it, but to make best use of it you'll want to get it before 7am), you don't need to stay up late. You do, however, need to get up early, since your first selection will be made at 7am.

Much like the old Fastpass+ system, Genie+ is not just an add-on that allows you to hit the fast lane of any ride at any time. First, only certain rides are included. Then, you are allowed to make one selection at 7am. This selection gives you a return time for when you are allowed to use the Lightning Lane for that ride. When that selection is used, you can make your second selection. If your first selection is later in the day, you'll be able to make a second selection 2 hours after the park opens (but you can only have 2 selections max -a loophole to stack up selections was closed shortly after it debuted). If the ride you're interested in no longer has selections available, it's possible more may drop during the day, but for most rides, it's too bad. This was an issue with the old Fastpass+ system, but that was free. So even though there may be 17 rides you could possibly use your Genie+ on, I would not count on being able to use it on all 17 rides, especially on the busiest days. Using the old Fastpass+ system, we did a max of 5 selections in one day. I'm thinking that it will be similar for Genie+. Furthermore, you're only allowed to use Genie+ to access the Lightning Lane once per ride —the system will not allow you to book the same Genie+ selection twice in one day.

Individual Lightning Lane

At each park, there are two rides which are not included in Genie+ and require a fee per ride. This fee depends on the park/day/ride and can be anywhere from 7-15$ per person, per ride. You can only book each ride once per day, and only 2 rides per day, so even if you were to hop to another park after riding both rides, you would not be able to book an ILL at the second park. These also sell out, depending on the ride and how busy it is. The same reservation system is in effect: you can book your selection at 7 am on the day of (at park opening if you're staying off site) and you will be given a return time to use at some point during the day.

It's worth noting that unlike the old Fastpass+ system, there is nothing to prevent you from booking your Genie+ selection, your ILL and your dining all at the same time. Tread carefully, because while your Genie+ selection can be cancelled and replaced (with whatever is available), your ILL cannot, and your dining usually requires a fee to cancel with less than 24 hours notice. Also, if you miss your window, it's considered used, meaning you can't book the same selection again, and 1 of your 2 ILLs is gone.

If you're still with me at this point, you may still be wondering if it's worth the cost. Have no fear, because a blog that loves crunching numbers has crunched all the numbers and created four posts (one per park) to see how much time you would have saved using the old Fastpass+ system. TL;DR: with careful planning (especially on the low crowd days) you can avoid these purchases. On higher crowd days, you'll probably benefit from using Genie+ at Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom. When I did my own number crunching for my own trip based on these posts, I figured I could save up to an hour in line with it (if not more), but I can't decide for you if that's worth the cost.

Whether or not you decide to go with Genie+/ILL, it's still worth planning your day. I'm going to plug Touring Plans again. I'm not affiliated, but I would not plan a trip without them. Not only does their crowd calendar offer invaluable information about what days are the best time to visit the parks, the information that they have collected on the wait times of rides in the parks will help you plan your day at each park and lower the amount of time you spend waiting in line. Once you sign up, you'll have access to a variety of premade touring plans that they have made that you can adapt to your needs, or you can make your very own plan from scratch. I also love that their website gives details about every single ride and show, so you can make good decisions about which rides you and the people you are traveling with will enjoy. I also recommend watching YouTube videos of the rides you are thinking of going on -I show them to my kids to see if they are interested or if they think it will be too scary. I could have saved myself a lot of angst if I had done that before taking my daughter on the now-defunct Great Movie Ride! You can also enter in breaks (for the love of everything, please plan breaks!) and dining plans into your touring plan. Then, when you're at the park, you can check off the things that you've done on their mobile app, recalculate if you've gotten off track, and ensure that you are visiting each ride at the best time to avoid waits. Seriously, they've done the number crunching and their app will tell you at any given time of day how long you're likely to wait in line. If you put in all the things you want to do into a touring plan and hit "optimize," you will now have a plan that will help you avoid waits AND you will know if it's even possible to do all the things you want to do. If this doesn't convince you to get a subscription nothing will.

Many people will think that this level of planning is too much, and they would prefer to be more spontaneous on their days of the park. Personally, I like having a plan rather than wandering around seeing which rides have the shortest wait times (which we will sometimes do after we've finished our touring plan early). Following a touring plan doesn't have to mean following the touring plan to the letter: you can still be flexible and spontaneous. However, the parks are big and have a lot to offer and YOU CAN'T DO IT ALL. Having a touring plan means that you will a) prioritize the things you do want to do b) waste less time wandering around deciding what to do c) have a plan that will maximize your time riding the rides instead of waiting in line. You can also leave holes in your schedule for "planned spontaneity."

Touring Plans will also tell you which rides/shows you should try to get a Genie+ selection for once you've added everything into your touring plan (they even give you a spot to enter your Genie+ reservations). This is important because not every ride that offers a Genie+ needs a Genie+.  

I know that this is a lot of planning (I've heard that people think a multi-day European tour requires less planning than a Disneyworld trip) but hopefully I've taken some of the mystery out of it!

 Here are the other posts on Disneyworld planning:

1 - When to go to Disney: what age is a good age? What time of year is good to go?
2 - Where to stay at Disney: breaking down the pros and cons of off vs. onsite
3 - Advance Dining Reservations: because hour long waits for lunch/dinner are for non-planners
4 - Genie+:  getting on the rides faster
5 - What to take to Disney: including discussions about strollers, magic bands and memory maker

Updated Nov 30 2021

3 - Advanced Dining Reservations

Everyone's got to eat! And before you think, I don't want to eat at any fancy Disney restaurants, remember, you still have to eat. Where are you going to do it?

Let's back up a little and talk about eating at Disney. As long as you're not bringing a cooler in, you can bring in as much food as you want. In fact, I highly recommend you bring your own snacks and a reusable water bottle. Aside from the fact that you can bring your own food and drinks in, Disney is very much like a movie theater, in that, you'll pay movie theatre prices for the food, it's not that great, and the lines are long. So if you wanted to bring both lunch and supper with you, I wouldn't fault you.

But let's say you do want to buy something to eat at Disney, because you've always wanted to try a Dole Whip, or it seems easier than bringing a lunch, or you're staying onsite and have little access to food. There are two food options at Disney, one is called Counter Service and the other one is called Table Service. Do your research, look at the menus for all the places and see which ones you might want to eat at, and which one has that snack you've always wanted to try.

Counter Service places are fast food. You can get snacks and even full meals. The quality may not be very good, but it's fast. Here's a tip: use Mobile Ordering. You can skip the lines and just pick up your order. Most people are not taking advantage of this system yet so you'll be surprised at how much faster this is! Some Counter Service restaurants do not offer seating nearby (or very little seating), so keep this in mind if you're planning to eat a meal, especially if you have people in your party who need to sit while eating.

If you want to have one special meal, or you plan to eat a meal every day at Disney, you may want to make a reservation at a Table Service restaurant. Some restaurants even have character dining, which is a fantastic way to get pictures with your favourite characters without having to wait in line. Having breakfast before the park opens can be a great way to be first in line if you finish before the park opens (we did breakfast at the Garden Grill at Epcot and we loved it).  At this point, you will want to book a Table Service. The way you do this is by making an Advanced Dining Reservation, which can be made 60 days in advance of the dining day. Here's a great trip calculator to help you figure out what day you can make your reservation on. Just pop in the day you'd like to reserve for, and check the date under "60days - Dining Reservations." On that date, get your browser open to the right page, ready to refresh at 6am when the reservations open up, and book the restaurant you want before the reservations are gone. Some restaurants, like Cinderella's Castle or Be Our Guest, are very hard to get reservations for. Consider booking at off times -having lunch at 11 or 1, having supper at 4 or 5 or later in the evening. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the booking process before you actually have to book. You don't need a ticket to book (just a free Disney account), so if you wanted to, right now, you could make a booking and cancel it just to practice (just make sure to cancel it!). You can always cancel or change your reservation as long as its 24 hours in advance, so if you didn't get the reservation you wanted, check back because one might open up. I would recommend using the browser over calling (the wait time to get connected means you'll lose valuable time, and they don't have any reservations that are not online, and they only open at 7am) and even over the app (which always seems to crash at an inopportune moment).

Dining plans are available for people staying onsite (but have been suspended since Covid began). Basically, you are prepaying for all your meals by paying a certain amount per person per day. I'm not going to go in-depth talking about Dining Plans, because my understanding is that you have to really crunch the numbers to see if it's worth it money-wise, and it can cramp your planning because you have to see if a restaurant accepts the dining plan, how many credits it uses, etc. Sometimes Disney offers free dining plans, in which case, if you're staying onsite, you'll need to calculate whether using the free dining plan is worth losing out on other discounts.

My favourite restaurants:
The Plaza
Liberty Tree Tavern (family style)
Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen (it's affiliated with the Jungle Cruise ride, and very underrated)
Cantina de San Angel
Akershus (princess dining!)
Animal Kingdom:
Yak and Yeti (try the burger)
Hollywood Studios:
Brown Derby
Sci-Fi Dine In (my kids really like this one)

My worst restaurants:
Tony's Town Square (my kids didn't even like it -how can you mess up pasta and pizza?)
The Diamond Horseshoe
The Crystal Palace (you're there for the characters, not the food -I'm told breakfast is better)

 Here are the other posts on DisneyWorld planning:

1 - When to go to Disney: what age is a good age? What time of year is good to go?
2 - Where to stay at Disney: breaking down the pros and cons of off vs. onsite
3 - Advance Dining Reservations: because hour long waits for lunch/dinner are for non-planners
4 - Genie+:  getting on the rides faster
5 - What to take to Disney: including discussions about strollers, magic bands and memory maker

Updated Nov 30 2021

2 - Where to stay at Disney

UPDATED 30 Nov 2021

A lot has changed since I first wrote this post. I had my first stay at an onsite Disney resort, for one. We stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and it was really cool to be able to see giraffes from our balcony. We weren't really in our hotel room that much besides to sleep, but it was very well appointed. We did make use of the pool a few times, which was also fun. Since then, Disney has changed some of their policies. This makes the discussion of whether to stay onsite or not very complex! Here I outline the pros and cons of staying onsite.

You have 2 options when it comes to finding a place to stay at Disney: stay onsite (or at a Disney-affiliated hotel offsite) or stay offsite. You can check out Disney's website for all the options and costs associated with staying onsite. Staying offsite can mean renting a place (like through AirBnB) or staying at a non-Disney-affiliated hotel.

Cost: it will probably always be cheaper to stay offsite. Even when you factor in the cost of the car rental/hotel and the parking at Disney, you'll probably still be coming out ahead. 

Space: this is the main reason why we have always stayed off site in a rental. Having limited space and no kitchen is a real downside to us, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

Food: staying a Disney means eating at Disney. Your food costs will definitely be less than if you went to the grocery store and cooked your meals. But then again, who wants to cook on vacation? But even if you ate at restaurants outside Disney during your trip, you'd still be saving money vs. eating at Disney (and in some cases, would probably be eating better food).

Transportation: staying onsite means using Disney transport, which is still free. You'll have a system of buses and (depending on where you're going) the monorail and Skyliner to get your where you're going. Some Disney locations are even walkable depending on where you're staying. However, keep in mind that while this service is free, the cost is the time you spend (I would also add the cost of being on a crowded bus). Everything you do is on their schedule. There is the option of Minnie Vans and Uber if you are staying onsite. Driving your own car to and from Disney will make it easier to take breaks and arrive and leave when you want to, so it's all about weighing your time vs. the cost of a rental/parking. Also note that Disney no longer provides free transportation to and from the airport. 

Dining: Guests staying offsite and onsite can book their dining 60 days in advance, however, guess staying onsite can additionally book their dining for up to 10 days of their trip (as long as they are staying onsite for the duration of their trip). So if there's a restaurant you really want to eat at, you'll have a better chance at booking it if you're staying onsite.

Genie+: Disney no longer has a free fastpass system, so the advantage offered to guests onsite of earlier booking of fastpasses no longer applies. we'll get to talking more about Genie+ in a later section. The new Genie+ system is paid (15$ per day, per person) and everyone, regardless of whether they are onsite or offsite gets to select their first option at 7 am the day they will use them. For Individual Lightning Lane selections, onsite guests can book them at 7am, whereas offsite guests can book them at park opening, although I understand that a portion of the selections are held back and released at park opening. You may want to crunch numbers and see if rather than get Genie+, staying onsite and getting Early Theme Park Entry will be more friendly to your budget.

Early Theme Park Entry: This is one of the big changes Disney has made since our last visit. Disney used to offer Extra Magic Hours, where guests staying onsite got an extra hour before/after the park opens/closes. Not every park had hours every day, so in my mind it wasn't a huge advantage, especially since with young children we wouldn't be able to take part in the later hours anyway. This has since been changed to Early Theme Park Entry. Guests staying onsite get to enter parks a half hour before offsite guests. That's every park, every day. Prior to this, as long as it wasn't a day with Extra Magic Hours, everyone was at an equal advantage when they entered the park. Now offsite guests are entering a park that already has lines, and their ability to get on rides with minimal wait first thing is gone. This is a huge advantage to onsite guests who will get to do a few rides with minimal wait early in the morning and a big disadvantage to those offsite who like to get an early start. Obviously, if you're not a morning person, this will not sway you, but this is enough for me to change my mind about whether it's worth it to stay onsite or not. If you think you can swing early mornings, I would definitely plan to stay onsite, at least for part of your trip. See the link for which resorts/hotels can benefit from this.

Extended Evening Theme Park Hours: This only applies to some onsite guests, namely, those staying at Deluxe resorts and villas. Like the old Extra Magic Hours, this offers additional time at the end of the day for Deluxe guests to stay late and enjoy a less crowded park, and is not offered at every park every day as the Early Theme Park entry is. See the link for which resorts/hotels can benefit from this.

The Disney Bubble: is what people call being at Disney. Some people really like the intensity, theming and the overall experience that Disney offers. Staying onsite means staying immersed in that experience.

 Here are the other posts on DisneyWorld planning:

1 - When to go to Disney: what age is a good age? What time of year is good to go?
2 - Where to stay at Disney: breaking down the pros and cons of off vs. onsite
3 - Advance Dining Reservations: because hour long waits for lunch/dinner are for non-planners
4 - Genie+:  getting on the rides faster
5 - What to take to Disney: including discussions about strollers, magic bands and memory maker

1 - When to go to Disney

The discussion for when to go to Disney is two different discussions. The first part is what age is the right age to go, and the second is what time of year is the best time to go?

A. What age is the right age to go?

There isn't one right answer to this question. What it depends on is whether or not you will go again. If, like me, you're going multiple times, you can take any kid of any age there. My son was just over a year old the first time he went; he napped in the stroller while one parent took our older daughter on rides (and if both parents want to go on rides, check out rider switch). At that time she was three, and the look on her face when she saw her first princess....priceless. Nowadays, at age 8, she's a bit over it. The nice thing about going multiple times as the kids age is that you'll find yourself trying out different rides and shows as they get old enough to appreciate them (or tall enough) and the experience changes every time. Of course, I recognize that not everyone is as fortunate as I am to go multiple times, so this answer really depends on your family. You want your kids to remember it (but even after going at age 7, my sister doesn't remember her trip to Disney very much). Are your kids good travelers? Do they sleep well on vacation? How well do they deal with overstimulation? Disney is an incredible place but it's also busy, noisy and exciting. This can be a lot to deal with for some kids, and sometimes being a little older will make it easier. If it's a big deal for you to go out with diaper bags and strollers, it will definitely be worth it to wait until you're out of that phase. Sometimes even just a year can make a big difference between a fun trip and a journey to melt-down city.

B. What time of year is best to go?

Obviously, when the kids are in school. September, just after school starts, is probably one of the best times to go. Even Summer break isn't bad because not a lot of people want to deal with the Florida heat. Winter break (the two weeks around Christmas/New Years) is the absolute worst time to go - you couldn't pay me to go at that time. Spring break is hit and miss, because unlike Winter Break, not every single school in North America has the same Spring Break. The week of American Thanksgiving is almost as bad as Christmas. Your absolute best bet at figuring out the best time to go is Touring Plans. Getting a membership will not only be the cheapest thing you do when you visit Disney, but the smartest. Have a look at their crowd calendar, which is on a scale of 1-10. Obviously lower numbers are better, and beware that if you do decide to go on a day when it's a 10, you will need a park reservation early on or you might not get in at all (no more last minute trips at Christmas!). I prefer days that are 6 and under, but even an 8 is comfortable with enough planning. Sometimes, shifting your vacation by just a few days can make a big differences in crowds, so I always check the crowd calendar to see what days would be optimal in the time frame I'm thinking of. We'll talk more about why Touring Plans is so awesome when we talk about Genie+ and planning your day at Disney.

Once you have decided when you are going, you'll have to decide how many days your trip will be and how many of those days will be spent at the park. It makes sense to go for 4 days, one at every park. In an ideal world, you'd go for at least 5 (spending 2 days at Magic Kingdom), taking a break in between each park day. Having a longer trip is cheaper if you're staying off site, which is what the next post is about. I will finish this post by saying that in addition to deciding on the length of the trip, know which days you'll be visiting each specific park (the crowd calendar will help you figure out which day is better for which park), which will make the rest of your planning easier. There is a ticket called Park Hopper that lets you visit more than one park in a day, but I feel it's easier to stick with one park per day (not to mention cheaper!). I would also at this point make an account at DisneyWorld. Every adult in the party will need to have their own account -you will need one if you are staying on site, to make dining reservation and Genie+ selections. You can add people to your Family and Friends list so that one person can make all the reservations for everyone, but each adult will need to have their own account.

 Here are the other posts on DisneyWorld planning:

1 - When to go to Disney: what age is a good age? What time of year is good to go?
2 - Where to stay at Disney: breaking down the pros and cons of off vs. onsite
3 - Advance Dining Reservations: because hour long waits for lunch/dinner are for non-planners
4 - Genie+:  getting on the rides faster
5 - What to take to Disney: including discussions about strollers, magic bands and memory maker

Updated Nov 30 2021

Planning for DisneyWorld- Introduction

So while this isn't an authentic parenting post per se, it's something that's been on my mind to write for awhile and I needed somewhere to put it and this is the best place I have. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I've been to Disneyworld 6 times (once as a kid and 5 times as an adult) and am currently planning my 7th trip. Needless to say, I feel like I've got a lot to share about how to do it.

To many, Disney planning can seem daunting. And while there are a lot of steps involved, it doesn't have to be all done at once, and the nice part is that once you get there everything is done and you don't have to think about it. However, if you're thinking you can just decide to go to Disney next month, you'll probably miss out on things you wanted to do or wait for a really long time in line (for example, if there's a popular restaurant you want to eat at, Advanced Dining Reservations are made 60 days in advance and you will probably not get one a month before). That's why I highly recommend planning a Disney trip at least one year in advance. Although you can do it in less time, a year gives you a nice leisurely time to plan. For the first month or two, start planning when you're going to go, then take a month or two to decide where to stay, then a month or two to familiarize yourself with restaurants and by the time you get to 60 days you'll be ready to make your dining reservations! After that, you have two months to check out each park and decide what to do when you're there, which will naturally segue into making Genie+ selections. Then all that remains is to pack!

I've broken down the Disney planning into a few parts.

1 - When to go to Disney: what age is a good age? What time of year is good to go?
2 - Where to stay at Disney: breaking down the pros and cons of off vs. onsite
3 - Advance Dining Reservations: because hour long waits for lunch/dinner are for non-planners
4 - Genie+:  getting on the rides faster
5 - What to take to Disney: including discussions about strollers, magic bands and memory maker

While I really enjoy the planning part (almost as much as the going part), I hope that if you're not a planner like me you will find this simplifies the process. If you have any questions or suggestions, let me know in the comments!

ps. if all this still seems like too much work, there are many travel agencies (some that specialize in Disney travel) who will do all this for you, including Fastpasses and Advanced Dining Reservations. Some will even do it FOR FREE, as they receive commission from Disney. I can't make any recommendations as I've never used any companies, but do make sure that they are booking everything for you and not just your hotel reservations.

Updated Nov 30 2021