Ask anyone who has been to Disney World more than once, and they’ll tell you that “The Disney Meltdown” is real. It’s real, it’s terrifying, and it doesn’t just happen to kids. A Disney meltdown has struck every member of my family (myself included) at one point or another. When it hits, you’ve got no choice but to buckle up and manage it before it turns into, well….this.
You’ve got two options when the Disney meltdown hits you or a loved one: let it ride or figure out the cause. I’m not here to say either is better than the other but figuring out the cause and alleviating it is the quickest way to go back to having “the best day ever”! Whether you’re 1 or 100, below are some of the most likely culprits (and how to fix them).
I’m sure I’m not giving you new and shocking information when I tell you that Florida is HOT. However, did you know that some Disney parks are hotter than others? EPCOT is likely to be the hottest park (least shade), but Animal Kingdom is going to be the Park where you’ll find the least relief from the heat (fewest indoor attractions). When people get hot, tempers flare. This has caused many meltdowns in our family. Someone is hot, they snap at someone else, and then familial chaos ensues. It’s not pretty, but it’s an easy fix. Hydrate and find AC ASAP. Preferably someplace cool where you can sit down. This is why I ALWAYS suggest having a nice sit-down meal for lunch instead of dinner. Lunchtime is right smack in the heat of the day. By scheduling a lunch when it’s likely to be the hottest outside, you’ll have a chance to sit down, relax, and cool off (literally and figuratively). By doing table service instead of quick service, you’ll have longer to escape the heat and more fuel to recharge so that you can tackle the rest of your day. Some may suggest a midday break at your hotel or pool, but this is Disney Dining, and we like to eat!
This one is pretty self-explanatory. We’ve all been hangry at some point. Still, when the excitement of a day at Disney hits, it’s not only easy to forget to eat but not to notice you’re hungry. Until the tempers start flaring, that is.
The best fix for this one? You guessed it- eat something! You already know I’m going to suggest a midday table service. Still, if you’re dead set on ignoring that advice (see the above photo for evidence that I don’t always take my own advice), you’ll find plenty of on-the-go snacks and quick bites (here are some of our favorites). I get it– there are rides to ride, shows to see, and fun to be had. Just make sure to eat. The hangry meltdown is one of the worst.
Too Much Togetherness
Listen, your family is great. You love them. They love you. But when you’re on vacation and spending every single second of every single day together…it can be a bit much. You suddenly notice everything. Did your spouse always breathe so loudly? Do your kids always chew with their mouths open? Omg, does your friend ever stop talking!?! When every little thing about your travel companions starts to grate on your nerves, it’s time for a break. Suggest splitting up for a bit if possible. You don’t even have to let them know you’re irritated. You can do it so tactfully that they think you’re doing them a favor. More than once I’ve said to my husband, ” hey, why don’t you go to >insert nearby location (usually a bar) here< and have some grown-up time while we >insert thing he doesn’t like to do<.” Or, “hey, I think I’m going to shop for a bit. I won’t drag you guys along. I’ll catch up later”. No one is the wiser, and I don’t end up looking like a psycho by using a grown-up word-laced criticism of their minor character flaws.
This one is a doozy. Disney trips aren’t cheap, so, understandably, you want to squeeze every possible second out of your vacation. When that happens, it’s easy to go full-scale Disney Commando and push yourself (or a family member) too hard. After all, you’re there for fun, not naps, right? However, is it really any fun to go so hard that everyone gets snippy with each other? Many well-meaning people have ruined their Disney day by trying too hard not to ruin it. Listen to your body (or let your travel buddies listen to theirs). Stop when you/they need to stop. There are no awards for doing the most, and the world won’t end if you don’t get to everything. It’s far more important to rest and keep everyone happy than to try and push through exhaustion. Again, this is where that midday table service meal comes in handy. An hour or two off your feet in an air-conditioned building will make everyone happier (and you won’t have to feel like you missed out on something because food is part of the experience, after all).
This is a sneaky one; you rarely notice that’s the cause of the meltdown until it’s too late. My little guy gets this one often. So often, in fact, that I’ve gotten great at handling it. The only way through an overstimulation meltdown is to remove the stimuli. You could return to your room and call it a day from the parks. Sometimes that may be the only way around this one, but I always try a “reset” first. What is a reset? It’s a small break from the crowds, colors, noise, and excitement to calm down before resuming the day. I’ve found spots in every Park that are great for this.
Magic Kingdom – Tom Sawyer Island! Even on crowded days, this area is often overlooked, and you’ll find wide open spaces away from people. Our favorite way to reset here is a little spot by the water with rocking chairs and a checkerboard. It’s low stimulus but still engaging enough not to be boring. It’s an incredibly relaxing place to be. We usually emerge ready to take on the day.
EPCOT- there are two options we like to go with here, depending on what part of the park we’re in. In Future World, we head to The Seas With Nemo and Friends. Depending on how bad the meltdown is, we sometimes skip the ride and go in the back way to the aquarium area. It’s dark, it’s cool, and we can usually find a peaceful fish tank away from people to sit and watch for a bit. At the World Showcase, we head to Morocco. Since the reopening, that whole area has been a ghost town making it a perfect “people escape,” “but there’s a little courtyard, in particular, that’s great for resets. It’s near the cultural exhibition and usually pretty quiet.
Hollywood Studios- This is the most challenging to take a stimuli break from. Usually, we head to Star Wars Launch Bay. Even though the area can be pretty exciting, you can still find places for some respite. It’s dark and cool and usually gives enough of a break to continue.
Animal Kingdom – This park is excellent for meltdown management! There are so many off-the-beaten-path trails that we just pick the closest one to us. Depending on the meltdown, we walk the trail or find a quiet bench, but with no shortage of spots like this, Animal Kingdom is amazing for sensory resetting. My favorite is Maharajah Jungle Trek because it has everything a reset needs: low crowds, soothing surroundings, nature, and even, once things have calmed down, an exciting encounter or two!
This is, of course, not a complete list, but it does cover some of the most common reasons for the dreaded Disney meltdown. Knowledge is power. Next time you find yourself or someone you love experiencing this unfortunate Disney side effect, know that you’re not alone. Almost everyone has been there. Your Disney trip won’t be perfect, but it will be wonderful, Disney meltdown and all. You’ve got this!