At the end of my first day of an Orlando theme park vacation, my friend and I (both childless and in our twenties) met an adorable family on line for a ride in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom. This wouldn’t normally be something that would have such an impact on me, but we had spent the entire day (and would spend the next three days of theme park visits) surrounded by not-so-adorable families.
If I had to guess, the girls were probably in the second half of elementary school, and they had bright multicolored stripes in their hair. The stripes were topped with lots of chunks of a metallic foil paper that glittered. It was really cool looking, so I asked the girls about it. They told me they got their hair done at a place on Main Street in Disney, and the older girl was really proud that it only cost $7. (For the sake of perspective, this is less than the cost of a cheeseburger, turkey leg or ice cream sundae inside Disney parks.)
Even though it was the end of a really hot day, and they’d probably been in the park since it opened, the whole family was in good spirits. They were all getting along, they were nice to the people on line around them, and the kids weren’t begging their parents for more stuff.
For those of you who assume this is the norm at the “Happiest Place on Earth,” I’m guessing you haven’t been there on a hot and crowded day. (Not to pick on Disney, this is what I’ve noticed in all theme parks.)
Here are my tips for not being a sucky person in a theme park:
1. Do not force your children to go on rides they don’t want to go on.
Please, please for the love of all that is good in the world, just DON’T. I’ve been on the Haunted Mansion ride at least ten times in my life, and every single time, there has been at least one screaming, crying child being dragged on line by their parents. And every single time, there’s a child leaving the ride in tears or pouting and resentful. Parents, why are you doing this? If your child says they don’t want to go on a ride, please respect their wishes. Not only will they be miserable, but so will everyone on line or on the ride near them. The Haunted Mansion isn’t the only ride I saw this happen at. About a third of the rides I went on had someone dragging a resistant child or cranky baby along. If your child is afraid of the “It’s Tough to Be a Bug’ 3-D show, don’t force them into it and yell, “It’s only a movie, it isn’t real bugs!” at your sobbing kindergartener. Just don’t. Please. As someone who has to awkwardly stand next to you, I really wish you would be nicer about your child’s fear of bugs.
2. Don’t talk during the ride.
You’re ruining the magic, butthole!
3. Look at the posted wait time, and be prepared to wait at least ten minutes longer than what is posted.
Seriously, this line said 70 minutes, If you start whining 30 minutes in, I wonder why you’re here. Get your food and bathroom break before if you need to, and allow your group to split up if possible so no one has to wait a long time on a line for a ride they don’t like.
4. Don’t cut the line.
I saw a lot of families send a child ahead, and then shove their way up to meet the kid, passing by lots of people. It’s rude. Worse yet is when a family gets in line, one member leaves, and comes back with ice cream or other treats for their whole family. Please just get your stuff before you get on line. One exception I am happy to make is this: if your kid has to suddenly go to the bathroom, I’m cool with you sending a member of your party with them to go and then rejoining your group. I understand that this happens, and that you probably begged them to go before you got on line and I’m not going to fault you for this one. I’d rather you deal with it than have some poor kid wet their pants in the middle of Disney World.
When it comes to food lines, figure out what you and your party want before you get to the person taking your order. Hungry people behind you are seriously annoyed with you making them wait longer for their overpriced food.
5. Be aware of your grump triggers and deal with them.
I become an asshole after several hours in the hot sun without caffeine. In order to minimize my irritability, my friend and I always stopped for lunch somewhere indoors and I could spend a few blissful moments sipping a soda in air conditioning. (And yeah, sometimes I snapped at her before we could get to the A/C and soda. I’m a terrible person who needs to take her own advice.) We also planned to do more rides with indoor lines during the hottest hours of the day. She needs to drink a lot of water, so we were always on the lookout for a place where we could get a free cup of tap water (Hint: anywhere that serves fountain soda.) If you smoke, there are only a few places you can do so inside theme parks, so plan ahead for how you’ll get to them before you bite off someone’s head. If you need it, booze is available at most theme parks. (But Epcot has the best booze selection out of any theme park.) Figure out what makes you a nasty grump and plan ahead for how to deal with it before you turn into a firemonster.
6. Be courteous of the people around you and instruct your kids to do the same.
People are crammed into tight spaces for ride lines. Out of respect for those around us, my friend and I would seriously edit our conversations. Usually we’re filthy, but we kept it P.G. rated inside the parks. Swearing and talking about your sex life in front of kids is obnoxious. Couples who make out on line for rides are seriously gross. It’s 90 degrees out, why are you all over each other? Please try your best to avoid touching strangers. When my sweaty body is bumped into by an unknown sweaty body, I want to hurl. Small children who run around in my small area of personal space make me nervous, because I worry I might accidentally elbow a kid that runs up behind me and spend the next hour standing next to their glaring parents. (This has happened) A child kept jabbing my friend with his sharp little fingernails and his father pretended not to see. Kids and adults alike sat on and hung over railings and fences in line, giving a complete stranger a close-up of their perched butt. Some parents propped their kids on top of railings and their little feet would kick me in the back.
7. Give people with obvious injuries a little extra space.
My friend was wearing a cast on her foot/leg that allowed her to walk, but left parts of her injured foot exposed. During our week in Orlando her bad foot was stepped on, shoved into, and run over by a stroller. Small children ran towards it as if it was made of candy. I saw some kids run dangerously close to people with canes. If someone looks old, frail, or injured, do everything possible to avoid hurting them.
8. Don’t complain about the ride/park loud enough for strangers to hear.
It kills the mood to be waiting to get off a ride you loved, and to hear the person behind you whine, “That’s it?” or to walk through the park you waited years to go to, only to hear someone go on a rant about how much they hate the park. Try to stay positive until you leave the park. Attitudes are contagious and today is a special day for everyone in the park.
9. Remember that park employees are people too.
People who have to do the same repetitive tasks all day long and wear stupid outfits. People who get yelled at constantly for things that are not their fault. Be nice. Don’t make a mess. Remember that they know the park better than you do, so asking them for directions, advice on rides or a suggestion on the best stuff to eat makes sense. If they’re extra helpful, you can always call or email the park the next day to compliment them and let their supervisor know how that employee made your trip special.