Last year in February, one of our froggy cousins surprised their kids with a trip to Disney World. And the parents expected the kids to leap for joy when they woke them up and told them that they were going to the airport to go to a Disney vacation instead of going to school. It turns out these excited parents did not get the reaction they were expecting when one of their tadpoles burst into tears. She did not want to miss her Valentine’s Day school party, even to go to Disney World. It’s because the anticipation of an event and the time and planning leading up to it are really important parts of the event. It’s hard to see past that loss. Of course, once she got to Disney World and had some distance from the disappointment, she cheered right up. I mean, she was at Disney World after all. She even told her parents she had the time of her life. But her tears touched on something very real, and that’s the disappointment you feel when your plans don’t work out as expected.
So this year, the tables were turned when these same cousins were all set to head to Disney World for spring break when the coronavirus rapidly led to the shutdown of theme parks and ski resorts around the country. Now their daughter was crying because she was waiting so long for this vacation and now it wasn’t hoppening. How do you share the disappointment of a trip postponed with your kids?
Many families are facing this dilemma right now and we feel you. You put so much time and planning into your perfect family vacation. The vacation is set for a time that the tadpoles are off school and you can break away from work. You save money, get a hoppin’ deal on tickets and your hotel, plan which parks to visit which day and plot out which characters you want to see. You know which rides you want to go on and plan for your must-see shows. Maybe you made reservations for restaurants and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. You bought that swimsuit, excited for sunshine and warmer temperatures.
Suddenly, a virus stops the world as you know it. But it could be a death or sickness in the family or some other tragic event that stops you from taking that vacation you are so excited about. What do you do? Here’s how to soften the blow, get the kids counting down to the next vacation and make some magic of your own!
Breaking the Bad News
You have to break the news. There is no easy way to do it. You’ll have to find a way that lets your kids know that sometimes these circumstances are beyond our control. How much you tell them may depend on their age. The younger they are, the less concept of time they have, so when you move your trip back, they know it’s coming but they might not even realize that next week is much different from a few months from now. When you do break it, reassure them that you will get to make it someday. Also, it helps to have some fun alternatives in place for the time that you would be gone.
Be empathetic. That shouldn’t be hard. You lost your vacation too. It’s OK to feel sad. In “Inside Out,” the character Sadness sits with Bing Bong and supports him while he has a good cry. But then he feels better and can move on. After a brief mourning period, try to be optimistic.
Find fun alternatives for the time you would be gone. Spend quality time with your tadpoles, playing games, doing crafts or making special foods. They’ll feel the love and family bonding over this sad news. We frogs just put the finishing touches on a printable Travel Activity Book that has a ton of fun games, puzzles and more that you can share with your own tadpoles. It's a toadally terrific activity that will keep younger kids engaged and excited about travel, even if they can't go right at this moment.
Our froggy cousins were stuck at home for spring break. To keep the excitement and pass the time, they went on a virtual trip to the park that they would have visited that day. The Magic Kingdom day began with Mickey waffles and ended with watching the fireworks on video. During the day, they met stuffed characters and watched movies and read books related to the various attractions. They watched YouTube videos and went for virtual rides. For EPCOT, they made their own map. Doing crafts is a great way to keep your creative tadpoles busy!
We have found joy in watching many families creatively going on virtual trips with their kids. They act out the jobs of both cast members and park guests. Families go for walks with Disney balloons. They use toys and props to re-create rides and character greets. They wear their ears and wizarding robes and eat special park foods. While we know it’s not the same as a visit, it sure heals our hearts to know others are spending quality family time that is inspired by their vacation dreams.
The joy on these kids’ faces (OK, let's face it, adults too) as they pretend to go on rides and spend this time with family shows that the most important part of vacation is bonding with loved ones. No doubt these kids will remember the time their family spent pretending they went on vacation. And this process of accepting disappointment and turning around and making the best of the situation will be an important life lesson that helps kids get though future troubling times. You are building resilient kids who can adapt and stay positive and get through whatever comes their way. You are raising people who will rise up when life gets them down. Plus, you are giving your kids great family stories to tell their kids and grandkids. This social distancing period is their equivalent of walking to school uphill in the snow both ways, but with a positive spin.
How to Keep the Magic Alive Until the Next Vacation
Hopefully, you can reschedule your next trip. Try to plan the next trip and get a date on the calendar. We know financial situations are changing, and that it is not always possible to visit in the near future. The policies of each theme park vary when it comes to unused tickets. But you can use your tickets at a later date or reapply the money you already spent toward new tickets for that future trip.
Fall and the holiday season will be here before we know it, and we expect it to be a great time to visit the parks! (If you haven't already booked a trip, it's a great time to book that trip). Once you have a new date or even year to look forward to, put it on a calendar. Make a new countdown. Our cousins have a Mickey-shaped display plate on which they write the number of days until the next Disney trip. Every night, the kids beg their parents to change the number. That way they physically can see it getting closer and closer.
You can now start planning that trip (we've got a ton of resources to help you!). Chances are, if you’ve recently done the work, your plans will fall into place. Plus, look for the silver lining. Maybe going later means that the park will be open later at night. Or, you can see a new ride or new show that has opened in the meantime. Perhaps you get to experience a new season or holiday in the park, or a special party that falls during your visit. Maybe that FastPass+ reservation you could not get for the last trip is available this time around. And maybe you will get better pool and water park weather. Fall in love with those little differences. Celebrate them. That can lift those spirits.
In the meantime, keep the Disney or Hogwarts magic alive. Gather all your stuffed animals and Disney plushes for your own character dining experience. Make some Butterbeer of your own (we add some butterscotch syrup to cream soda and add whipped cream). Make Mickey waffles or pancakes. Watch ride and show videos on YouTube. Make a growth chart with theme park rides on them and talk about the rides that you are most excited to ride. Are they tall enough for a new ride by the next trip? So exciting! Watch Disney and Universal movies together.
Our cousin has Disney World plates so the kids eat dinner on their special plates. A Mickey waffle on a Disney plate can turn a school-aged tadpole’s frown upside down. Arrange berries as a Hidden Mickey on the plate and see if they notice. Make banana Minion snacks. Turn a Twinkie into a Minion with some frosting! Wear your ears and wizard robes and souvenir T-shirts around the house. Make your own magic wands and cast magic spells.
Most importantly, if you find yourself on a staycation instead of a vacation or have more time at home due to social distancing, make the most of that time with your kids. Turn off the news and visit the world of fantasy. We promise that this special time together will bond you as a family and help prepare you for the next journey. If you are looking for family-friendly YouTube videos, definitely hop over to the Undercover Tourist YouTube channel to experience rides, shows, parades and even foods from the parks.
What are you doing to keep the magic alive and pass the time as a family? Please share your stories and tips in the comments section below.