The other day I wrote about things tourists do to annoy the locals, as well as their fellow tourists who have better manners. Today, I thought I’d shift over to the things parents do to torture their kids at Walt Disney World and the other Orlando theme parks. A trip to Disney is supposed to be fun, right? It’s supposed to make the kind of happy memories that your whole family will cherish for years to come. Unfortunately, sometimes it becomes the stuff of nightmares as the kids remember how Mom or Dad forced them onto Mission Space and yelled at them for puking afterward or forced them to stay at Epcot Illuminations even though they slept most of the way through it, in between sobbing, “I’m sick of all this fun. I want to go to bed!”
Here are three ways I’ve witnessed parents torturing their kids on what should be a fun, happy, and carefree trip. They paid their money and, by God, they’re going to force the whole family to enjoy every single minute. If you’re tempted to try these things yourself, remember: someday those kids are going to choose your nursing home.
1) Keeping the kids up too late and running them ragged. Little kids are bundles of energy, but it burns out fast. They can be running at full speed one minute, then drop like a box of rocks the next. Fortunately, they tend to recharge pretty fast. Still, I see plenty of parents at the Disney parks who aren’t willing to give them that recharge time. They paid for a park ticket, and their family is going to enjoy every stinking minute possible at that park, from rope drop right down to the moment they’re forced out at closing time, with no breaks in between. I cringe at the cranky and crying kids begging to go back to the hotel while their steely eyes parents tell them to shut up and enjoy themselves, dammit! A good parent recognizes when the kids have had enough and takes them back to the hotel for a nap or bed. Yes, you might want to see Illuminations, but as stunning as it is, it’s just a musical fireworks, laser, and water show. Is it really worth spoiling your poor, exhausted kid’s trip?
2) Forcing the kids onto rides they’re not ready for. This happens at Walt Disney World, but I see it more frequently at Universal and Busch Gardens, simply because they have more terrifying rides like my favorite coaster, SheiKra, that towers at 200 feet. All but the most timid youngsters and those with the queasiest stomachs can handle most of the Disney rides. Still, I see parents forcing crying kidlets onto the likes of Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Expedition Everest and the like. The child is begging, “No! I don’t want to ride it!” and the parents are fluffing it off with, “Shut up and get on. You’ll love it once you do it.” Yes, that might be true, but it also might be a terrifying experience that spoils the poor kid’s day.
3) Forcing the kids to see the characters. This one isn’t relevant to a lot of families because their kids absolutely adore seeing Mickey Mouse. However, there are plenty of little ones who are terrified at the sight of Mickey and his friends towering over them in real life, even if they love ‘em on the TV or movie screen.
But do their parents respect that? Nope, they want a magical moment on the camera, so they force the crying child to confront what, to him or her, no doubt looks like a nightmare creature. If your kid’s not down with the whole character thing, don’t force the issue. There are plenty of other great photo ops that don’t require terrorizing a toddler. There are lots of “face characters,” too, like the princesses, and they’re usually a lot less scary to the younger set.
The character thing applies to older kids, too. I get it, you want your tweens and teens in the family photos, but some of them really don’t want to spend three hours waiting for Anna and Elsa when they could be doing something more exciting. Don’t force them to waste precious time for the sake of a photo in which they’ll be rolling their eyes and putting on their most cynical faces anyway. If you have younger kids who want to see the characters, let the older ones do something else in the meantime. If you’ve only got teens and tweens, give them a break. Get a photo or two with the characters, but don’t force them to pose with the entire Disney movie catalog if they’re really not down with it.
Family friction makes great movie fodder, as anyone who’s ever seen the classic “National Lampoon’s Vacation” can attest. But in real life, when you visit Walt Disney World you’re making memories that will last a lifetime. Before you force your kids into something that induces tears, ask yourself if you really want that to be their standout memory of the “dream vacation.”
Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog In the Shadow of the Mouse.