Confession of a Recovering Disney Parks Commando

I sat drenched in stale sweat, tired and sore from carrying my four year old brother on my back as we trudged from the last ride to our appointed parade and fireworks positions. Briefly resting on the curb at the hub as we pushed through our tenth hour in the parks, my slightly melted Reeboks tipped up to allow my feet to uncramp into a more natural position. As the eldest of four, my dual roles as carrier and occasional navigator helped our military strike team of "vacationers" hit every single ride in the Magic Kingdom in clockwise order, hopefully without contributing to the inevitable whining of the younger kids in a single day.

Several years later, on the occasion of our Disneymoon, my new husband came away amazed and shocked that you can hit almost everything in any given park in a single day as he hadn't been raised in a "Dumbo or Die" style Disney family. As a matter of fact, he hadn't even heard of a Disney Commando or that this vacationing style existed. I knew that many others vacationed in a similar checklist, rope drop and Mickey Bar fueled rush. I wished there was a way to take a vacation from my vacation. Despite my love of the mouse, we did not go take another Disney vacation of any kind  for six and a half years.

Around that time a Dutch study on vacations emerged.

According to "How Vacations Affect Your Happiness:"
"The largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a vacation. In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks."
Score one for planning early and enjoying the process! What I found even more fascinating is that those who evaluated their overall vacation as either "neutral", "stressful" or even "relaxing" did NOT have any more happiness just after their trip than people who hadn't even been on vacation.

(Post trip slump, anyone?)

The only people who did express a post trip increase in happiness described their trips as "very relaxing." These lucky few felt happier after vacation for an extra two weeks following their trip.
So my newest vacation goal became to prioritize relaxation. That may be a bit ironic, needing to prioritize relaxing. In my Type A mindset, relaxation needs to be a goal or I will not leave time for it.
Always booking the longest vacation your schedule and budget allows helps. How could I invite a relaxed atmosphere into my vacation minutes and still enjoy the Disney experience?

Fun? Yes. Relaxed? Maybe Not.
After entering uncharted waters, so to speak, with my Disney cruise vacations, I returned to the parks once again and found the experience a far cry different than my once hectic and rushed vacations.  I loved it!

Here is what I, as a recovering commando vacationer, do in order to slow down my vacations.
  1. Get up early. Okay, this can also be a commando thing.  Instead of getting up early to rush to an ADR in the parks, rise early and wander around the resort or ship with plenty of extra time to appreciate details without rushing. Watch sunrise or sunset. Without a doubt, the parks and ships are breathtaking. Taking the opportunity to look around and see the beauty of these times of day allows a time out to remember how blessed it is just to experience these surroundings. 
  2. Play a game of shuffleboard or go for a swim or a hike. Exercise. No, not just trudging around the parks! Getting a workout or run every other day on vacation clears your head to let you approach the rest of the day in a more mentally relaxed fashion. A commando NEVER uses the pools. It "wastes park time." Kids can have tons of fun in the pool and during the less used hours, it's pretty easy to supervise. 
  3. Be weird. Visit the parks either first thing in the morning or starting in early evening (or both) as the midday lines and the heat are the worst of the day. You will be able to see more while walking slower if you arrive at the beginning or end of the day. In the parks you can tour and ride with less waiting and crowds if you're willing to forgo a parade or two. Similarly, I have been known to skip the Sail Away party and go get a spa treatment/pedicure/etc. This slows me down in no time and generally there is no wait.
  4. Enjoy a calm evening. Try one of the fireworks cruises at WDW.  The stillness of the water and the fireworks are beautiful and away from the crowds. On the ships, go out on deck after dinner and watch the stars. The longer you look, the more you'll see. It's really amazing how many stars you can see at sea compared to land.
  5. Breathe. Just take a moment every so often to look around and breathe. Take up photography. You don't need to be any good for this to help slow you down.  The act of looking around for interesting and new things to capture on an iPhone helps ground that moment. The appreciation created in these moments allows enjoyment throughout the day.
  6. Skip it. Skip some stage shows that you don't think will be your favorite. Skip the MDRs at least one dinner per cruise. They're a bit noisy after a while. Room service is included during cruises. Skip the ADRs at least once per day. Try something that catches your eye instead and avoid the whole white rabbit "I'm late" feeling.
    1. If you're an early riser, eat breakfast before you go to the park. Why arrive to the parks grumpy and starving and miss the least crowded part of the day eating breakfast. Skip it.
    2. If you are on board a cruise, you must catch Jack Jack's Diaper Dash at least once. Baby racing is awesome, hilarious and low key.
  7. Have at least one adults only dinner per trip. (Slow relaxed dining!) Let your kids enjoy the clubs. On the cruise ships and at the resorts, the kids clubs allow for a little time away from each other to relax and recharge. At WDW, five different resorts host different themed clubs for the kids.
  8. Enjoy the trip. No, really! Take a tender to shore. Ride the train clear around the Kingdom. Kickback and relax on the monorail. Hop on a FriendShip and watch the beautiful waterways flow past. My kids even enjoy the Magical Express. We let the kids at four and six pick where to go next. One day, they picked the monorail three times. I think this is a step that younger kids intrinsically "get."
  9. Allow for a strategic retreat. Sometimes it's just time to go back to the room and crash.
  10. Find ways to add pixie dust for free. Bring stickers or glow sticks for your kids to pass out to others as they wait around. Let someone ahead of you in line. Let someone in front of you at a parade. Move to let another party get better seating together. Passing along the pixie dust is Magic everyone can enjoy!

Much better.

And as with all things, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again!
How do you take your Disney vacation up to the level of "very relaxing"? Are your trips ever relaxing? Should we just join in with the commandos? Should we just save up enough to retire on board a Disney cruise ship?


  1. I used to be a Disney Commando also. It was during a trip in 2009 that I learned to slow down. We took another couple and their baby along with us - with a baby and a 2 year old, I had to learn to relax a LOT. Ever since, I've been less commando and more spur-of-the-moment. Sure, I still plan ahead (because that's 1/2 the fun for me), but we are able to take in those special moments now because we aren't so rushed. Great post!

    1. What's interesting to me is the commando trip cited above we had a just turned for and an under two in our family. I think that the decision to commando or "do less, enjoy more" is a choice at any and stage. I must admit, I do enjoy more now!

  2. Yes!! This year I had to keep myself from obsessively checking out Disney stuff while planning our trip. Of course now that I see that they say you get 8 weeks of happiness from planning I can Disney-obsess away!! :)


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