What do those Walt Disney World guidebook authors know? Well, they know a lot, and sometimes that's the problem: they forget what it's like to visit Disney World with a family, not as ruthless ride maximizers. This guidebook shelves the statistics and preaches the practical.
You know people like Trisha Daab. They're the ones who get all the Disney trip planning questions, because their trips always turn out so well. But when Trisha became a (not-so-evil) stepmother, she needed all her pixie dust to help plan Disney vacations for a larger, more diverse brood, ranging from infants to elders.
No matter the size of your family, Trisha has you covered. Her many trips to Disney World over the past ten years have spanned romantic getaways for couples (including her wedding!) and excursions for crowds (11 relatives sure can seem like a crowd).
She dispenses practical, doable advice, battle tested in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and everywhere else at the most magical place on earth, plus perspectives from her many family members who offer their own tips.
If you're looking for sensible touring plans, not lockstep logistics that keep you on the clock as you race from ride to ride, this is the guidebook for you.
As they often say (well, no one really says this): a not-so-evil stepmother shall lead them!
Experience 2005: Disney for 8
Chapter 1: Four Parks and a Beach Club
Chapter 2: The Evil Stepmother’s Disney Wedding
Chapter 3: Sci Fi, Belly Dancers, and Soarin'
Chapter 4: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas
Chapter 5: Not-So-Evil Stepmother Disney Secret #1
Chapter 6: Not-So-Evil Stepmother Disney Secret #2
Experience 2007: Disney for 2
Chapter 7: Swans, Spoodles, and Showcase
Chapter 8: Not-So-Evil Stepmother Disney Secret #3
Experience 2013: Disney for 3
Chapter 9: Bay Lake, Boats, and Birthdays
Chapter 10: A Day of Magical Firsts
Chapter 11: Jedis, Mickey Hugs, and Babysitters
Chapter 12: Bugs Under My Butt and Lazy Susan
Chapter 13: Celebrating 5 Years of Oliver
Chapter 14: Not-So-Evil Stepmother Disney Secret #4
Chapter 15: Not-So-Evil Stepmother Disney Secret #5
Experience 2015: Disney for 11
Chapter 16: Food, Family, and Giraffes
Chapter 17: Traveling to a Small World
Chapter 18: Eating Our Way Through Epcot
Chapter 19: Shopping and Singing in the Studios
Chapter 20: The Best FastPass+ Decision Ever Made
Chapter 21: The Kingdom of Bollywood and Everest
Chapter 22: Be Our Guest
Chapter 23: The Disney Bubble Bursts
Chapter 24: Not-So-Evil Stepmother Disney Secret #6
Chapter 25: Not-So-Evil Stepmother Disney Secret #7
I love a Disney vacation. There is nothing that makes me forget all the stress and anxiety of daily life like a Disney vacation. When you are there, you are in this bubble where the most stressful thing is making it to your FP+ (FastPass) or dinner reservation on time, and where the most important decision is whether to ride Expedition Everest again when the stand-by line is only 30 minutes.
One of the best parts of the Disney vacation for me is the planning stage. Then I love sitting back and watching as my family enjoys the results of my plans. And my family is big, varies in age, and loves to eat! My husband, Joe, and I have a blended family. A yours, mine, and ours. I am the bonus mom of three: Nate, Maggie, and Annie (the yours) from Joe’s previous marriage. Joe is the bonus dad of Austin (the mine) from my previous marriage, and together we have Oliver (the ours.) Throw in my mom and dad, and a couple of the older kids’ significant others, and the Evil Stepmother (or Bonus Mom as we call it in our house) is planning a vacation for 11, and it’s a blast.
A (Not-So-Evil) Stepmother in the Most Magical Place on Earth is divided into four Disney Experiences with multiple chapters within each experience. Sprinkled throughout the experiences, like pixie dust, are tips for having the most magical Disney vacation. Also included are the Stepmom’s Seven Disney Secrets. You can find these at the end of each experience. These secrets will help you plan your Disney vacation, select the Disney hotel where you will rest your weary head and the Disney restaurants where you will fill your empty stomachs, decide what to reserve and pack, and get your crew excited for the adventures to come. The tips and secrets are based on our family’s experiences and the fun of planning for a couple, a trio, a wedding for eight, and a 10-year anniversary trip for 11.
At the beginning of each experience, you’ll find stories of our trips to Disney World. You’ll hear from a clan of 11—with kids ages 7–26, plus grandparents—about their favorite moments, meals, and rides from our most recent trip to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary! You’ll experience the beauty of a “post-Thanksgiving but before Christmas crowds” trip. You’ll find out what it’s like to have a Disney wedding, and you’ll learn about what makes Disney magical at every age. And you’ll share in one of our favorite parts of any trip—the food—as you travel Walt Disney World with our blended family of food lovers, magically munching from Jiko and the Epcot Food & Wine Festival to Be Our Guest and Coca-Cola’s Club Cool.
Before every trip I would always seek out new and different books to read to get me excited. Most of the time I wasn’t looking for a planning guide but just something that could whisk me away and remind me of all the fun to come. My hope is that reading this book is akin to having a coffee and a chat with a clever friend who is telling you about her Disney trips while helping you plan your own. This is a book to get you excited for your next trip. Or to get a little Disney fix between trips. Maybe to find a new food you want to try on your next trip. Or to experience Disney through a different set of eyes.
Come along with us and experience the Most Magical Place on Earth, not-so-evil stepmother style.
The Not-So-Evil Stepmother, aka Trisha Daab, is the proud mom/bonus mom of five incredible Disney-loving kids. This is her first book, but the food at Disney has inspired her to write a second.
See photos from the Not-So-Evil Stepmother’s Disney Wedding, Disney at Christmas, the souvenirs we couldn’t live without, and more Disney love by following Trisha on Instagram @notsoevil_disneystepmom. You can also follow her on Amazon or contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
There's no less glamorous topic than a primer on packing for Disney World. But everybody has to pack. Some do it well, some don't. Trish has tips on how to pack just a bit more pixie dust into that carry-on bag.
I’m not as vain as the Evil Queen nor am I planning to poison my wonderful bonus daughters, but I do like to look good, even when we are on a vacation that involves walking about 10 miles a day. Within our group, Nick and Austin are the only ones who don’t care that much. Austin just wanted to make sure he had a photo at Disney in his co-ed cheerleading shirt. For the rest of us, it requires planning. Sam, Annie, and Mags were all into DisneyBounding (dressing up in contemporary versions of your favorite Disney characters) and had been gathering hairstyle photos, vintage t-shirts, and comfy flats for months. Nate was all about his t-shirts and even had a few picked for specific parks. My dad is the same way and had his “¡Por favor manténgase alejado de las puertas!” t-shirt for our monorail day. Joe’s version of casual is linen pants and lightweight button-down shirts, and all Oliver cared about was being around Nate as much as possible, and that he had his Jedi Academy t-shirt. Shoes are always a bit of a challenge for me, but I have found that a good pair of espadrilles is invaluable. I planned for what I would pack months in advance, did a few fashion shows for Joe, and didn’t try to poison beautiful Annie once.
Stock up on travel-size toiletries. For face creams, special lotions, and those tricky products that don’t come in travel size, pick up a set of travel bottles. Use the Ziploc space of the low-maintenance men in your life. I always use that space to pack things like shampoo and sunscreen, as it’s easy to justify because everyone uses them. Make a pit stop on your way from the airport and have a list. Quite a few of the car services will make a stop for you at a grocery store or a Walgreens/CVS. The cost savings of purchasing toiletries, breakfast and snack foods, and bottled drinks outside the Disney “bubble” instead of on-site at your hotel can go a long way to paying for the cost of the hired car. There are also a few grocery services that deliver to Disney resorts.
Standing in baggage claim is a waste of perfectly good park time, so we try and travel carry-on only. The most important trick to carry-on only is planning and being willing to tell yourself no. You will likely have to wear a shirt or maybe a pair of pants or sweatshirt more than once. I also do a lot of layers on the flight out, sometimes having 2 days worth of shirts on, and plan it so some shirts I end up wearing as pajamas or for lounging in later. This also requires knowing when you have too many clothes. You will not need 3 pairs of sneakers, your 2 super-cute black dresses, 12 pairs of underwear, or two bulky sweaters at Disney (unless you are going late November through February; it can get surprisingly chilly at night).
If you know where you are eating, the parks you are visiting, and where you can expect Florida air conditioning, you can plan out your wardrobe and fit at least 7 days in the largest United/American-approved carry-on. If you are staying at a villa, you can (usually) do laundry in the room and most of the Disney hotels have a self-laundry on site. We were able to have every person in our group of 11 do carry-on only, including me with my shoe obsession and Annie, the girl who once had a bag just for shoes. Sam and Nate were able to share a single carry-on bag, so we had one whole empty bag for souvenirs on the way home. I promise you, it can be done.
Whether you decide to do carry-on only or not, make sure everyone has a change of clothes in their carry-on in case the room isn’t ready. In the last 10 years, my room was ready twice and once was on a work trip and I arrived late. The last thing you want is to be starving, tired, and trying to dig through your well-packed suitcase trying to figure out what to wear on 4 hours sleep. Have a pre-set outfit ready to go for each member of your party easily accessible in their carry-on. Also, have your in-the-park bag packed up when you leave the house. Then, when it’s a 3-hour wait for your room, you can pop in the pool bathrooms (they usually have great changing spaces), change, freshen up, give your bags to the bellman, and be on your way.
Continued in "A (Not-So-Evil Stepmother) in the Most Magical Place on Earth"!
You see them at Disney World all the time. People who look like they've been mugged, or who have just heard that their goldfish (named Mickey, of course) died back home. It's worse than that. These people are at the end of their vacations. Trish has tips (she calls them "keys") on how to survive this existential crisis.
Key 1. Picture this: by the third day your feet hurt so bad you want to tear them off, you’re tired of hearing complaints about lines, heat, or any number of other things not within your control, and you can’t imagine enjoying one more minute let alone another 4 days of this.
There is no magical solution. Your feet are going to hurt. I so wish Disney would have a reflexology massage place in the China pavilion. It would challenge Anna and Elsa for popularity. Someone is going to crack and complain at some point and you will feel like all your hard work is not appreciated. But I can say you will make it through 4 more days. Not only that, it is likely within a week of getting home you will wish you were back there doing it all again. And there are some things you can do, starting with your feet. Bring a tennis ball or golf ball, throw it in a sock, and slowly run your feet along it. You can do this in the parks, but may get some strange looks, so I recommend you do it at your hotel after a long day. Pain medicine will help a little and if all else fails, cocktails. Epcot, the park that is biggest and hardest on the feet, may not have reflexology, but it does offer a wide array of tasty options to numb the pain.
Key 2. Schedule one day or at least a half day where you can do something again that you enjoyed the first time—maybe a ride, a show, somewhere to eat, or just another dip in the hotel pool.
Key 3. Make dining part of the experience. It’s a chance to talk about what you did that day, and live it all over again. With restaurants featuring flavors from over 50 different countries, visiting Disney World is a chance to try new foods. Seeing Austin try butter chicken, naan, and African-spiced lamb and surprising even himself at how much he liked is a fun memory.
Key 4. Take a night off and hang in your room or by the pool. If a new Disney movie has just been released, watch it together as a family. If you are going for six or more days, this is really important, because it’s easy to get Disney burnout and once it happens the rest of the trip can be affected. For some, Disney is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the need to ride every ride, see every show, and experience every single thing can result in exhaustion, short fuses, arguments, and bad memories. Not every moment of your trip will be perfect, but you will have many more magical memories if everyone has the chance to take a breath, recharge their batteries, and have unstructured time to relax. An afternoon at the pool may be all your group needs, but after doing this with every age range, I can tell you that sometimes it’s the grown-ups who need the break the most.
Key 5. Be present. If you’re the planner in the group, you’ll find yourself focused more on checking the My Disney Experience app for the shortest wait time, making the next FP+/dining reservation, or making sure everyone else is where they’re supposed to be and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. You come home and realize you don’t remember anything.
Stop and absorb the magic. For each day, schedule at least one thing where the organizer can just sit and hear about the trip. I suggest a dinner. Ask everyone what they liked about the day, what they want to see again. Not only do you get a few minutes to absorb, you’ll learn how everyone is enjoying all those hours you spent on planning the trip. And hopefully this will also remind your group to thank you for all your hard work. Suddenly the daily phone calls to book Be Our Guest may feel a bit more worth it.
On the rides, be there. Take five pictures and then just sit back and enjoy. While riding Haunted Mansion on the most recent trip, I realized how different Disney can be when you remind yourself to stop and take it all in. Actually taste the ice cream, look around when walking from one attraction to the other, have a conversation, ask your group what they see that they think is magical. I’m no expert at this. I sit back now and have regrets on not really savoring moments when we were there. I had moments where I spent unnecessary time focused on what was happening next, where we needed to be, checking things off the list. Don’t get me wrong, I have incredible memories and writing them down along the way for this book made me stop and remember more than on any previous trip. If there is any advice I hope you take, it’s this: stop and savor the magic. Hug your kids, laugh with them, scream on a coaster, taste something new together—all of that will matter so much more than whether you made your Peter Pan FastPass.
Continued in "A (Not-So-Evil Stepmother) in the Most Magical Place on Earth"!