From Kim and Jeff | Family Education - FamilyEducation

From Kim and Jeff

Bloggers Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel Break It Down: When Should You Take Your Family to Disney?

-by Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel
When vacation planning with kids, it’s natural for the conversation to eventually turn to that giant magnificently expensive magical castle/orb in the middle of the Orlando swamps. Kim and Jeff tackle the question faced by countless families every year: “So, alright, are we really serious about this Disney thing?”
Disney Parks Symbol

J: What's the earliest age that a Disney family vacation is worth it?

K: We went when the kids were 2 and 4 and it was painful. Sweaty kids who miss their naps and are too little to ride the rides they want to ride on is like vacationing in a migraine.

J: When my oldest was not even 2, we went the week between Christmas and New Year's, and it was basically like being in the pit at Bonnaroo, except the people were much meaner. We got in a human logjam in front of It’s a Small World, and it didn't move for 10 minutes. Some woman behind me kept bumping us with her jogging stroller, and we nearly came to blows. Have you ever gotten into a fight in front of It's a Small World? It’s a weird feeling. Anyway, we abandoned the park at 11:15AM since Jake was napping, so we monorailed to the Polynesian for cocktails. All in all, a pretty good day. Eventually.

K: Sounds…wonderful?

J: Point is, there's introducing your child to magic and wonder, and there's some expensive madness they won’t remember. I'd say the kids should be 5 at least, maybe even 7-8. For, you know, memories and stuff.

K: So when your kids are old enough to hold their own in a family vs. family amusement park fracas. Got it.

J: Aggressive mêlées aside, I really like it. I'm a huge Disney nerd, actually. If you stay in the cheap hotels, bring snacks to avoid the $14 feedbags of French fries, and bail in the afternoon, it's pretty great. If you don’t like interacting with other humans, go on marathon weekends. Everyone there runs a race in the morning and goes to nap at like 1 p.m., so the park is empty.

K: You almost lost me at “marathon,” but that is kind of a genius avoidance technique.

J: When you go, do you maximize all possible seconds of your day, arrive at the gate opening and stay until post-closing, or do you come and go and take breaks?

K: I prefer to get there upon opening, but my kids like to talk to whatever birds are on display in the hotel lobby for like an hour first. But once we get to the park, we stay until we're ready to collapse. Then we go to the hotel pool and order dinner there because putting clean clothes on at the end of a theme park day is exhausting.

J: My kids don't eat anything, anyway, so food is not an issue. We legitimately bring a backpack full of Clif Bars, juice boxes, granola and chocolate. We pack like we're starting Kilimanjaro, which of course would be less taxing. Maybe we have one meal on site.

K: Do you plan every moment? I bet you plan every moment.

J: My dad used to keep us there from basically Florida daybreak until the bleeding end; I remember attending the 11:55pm Hall of Presidents show one year, which I'm reasonably sure contributed to my parents' divorce. As a result we try to keep it chill. We plan nothing, except the Fastpasses.

K: Ah yes, the Fastpass! A glorious creation, indeed. Paying to be able to cut in line is a highlight of any theme park trip.

J: When we’re there, I try to stop about every two hours and ask my wife: Is this fun right now? That's a helluva lot of effort to not be fun.

K: I find that a popsicle/ice cream/margarita break every two hours keeps it fun.

J: When my oldest was littler, we'd just ride the monorail around. We did that once for hours. Got lunch in that hotel where the monorail rides through, it was his legit highlight. Total cost: $12. Well, it was a Disney lunch, so probably $85.

K: My kids looooooooved watching the monorail. Watching it. Not even getting on it. This is why I am so hesitant on dropping big bank on fancy family vacations: they like looking at zippy things and playing with cardboard.

J: So how do you decide if Disney is worth it?

K: 1. Do the kids really want to do it? 2. What do they actually enjoy in the real world, and can they get it there? 3. How easy can that vacation make my and my husband's life?

J: And your answer here would be...?

K: 1. Duh. They're kids. Of course they want to go. 2. If we see/do animal stuff (daughter) and do rides (son) and access lots of junk food (me and my husband), then yes. 3. We basically walk around watching our kids be amazed for hours, and at the end of the day they pass out in their hotel mac and cheese so we can hang out together to have adult conversation at the end of the day.

J: Sounds good to me. I've heard good things about Disney cruises, but I can't help but notice how on the "price" part is much higher than other cruises. I'm sure they're fantastic, but, yikes.

K: I'm on the fence here. I mean, on one hand, you walk on board and you're done. BOOM: all the vacationing is happening. On the other hand, not sure about being trapped on a boat for a week with my family. I like ground. And personal space.

J: Well, it's a large boat. It's not like you're on a catamaran – they have floors.

K: True.

J: The one-unpack thing is great. The not sweating food ever is amazing. The availability of on-site day care made me weep with joy for the first two days.

K: On-site daycare fills my heart with glitter and sunshine.

J: And you can be reasonably sure the kids are not gonna pop on a monorail by themselves.

K: But my kids tend to jump off of things. I would like that thing to not be the side of a boat into the deep dark ocean.

J: Maybe you could teach them to not leap off the ship? Maybe make that like 8-9 on the list of things to tell them before you go? 1. Check in regularly. 2. Don't lose your room key. 9. Don't leap off the balcony.

K: I mean, there's that, but it's my vacation, too. Why must I have to always be parenting? Vacation rules are the wooooorst. Also, jumping off the balcony looks really fun.

J: No. They have whales in the ocean

K: I like whales!

J: Whales are terrifying.

K: It's not like they eat HUMANS. They only eat krill and rogue, unfriendly fish. Stop overreacting.

J: Prove it

K: Finding. Nemo.

J: Turns out that's actually not a documentary. I also have bad news about The Secret Life of Pets.

K: SAY IT ISN'T SO. Question: do your kids run free on the boat? What's the visual on them?

J: Well, we had an 11- and 4-year-old, so we did most things together. A few times we left one or both of them in daycare, to eat a dinner/hang out with one or the other/because they asked, but for the most part, we had visual at all times. And we left the boat every day, which was good for — and I know this took place under the strict comfortable confines of Cruise Rules — exploring new places. New island, new taxi, new beach. Trying to show them how to get out and around in unfamiliar places.

K: But what if you miss getting back ON the boat? I could see us getting left on some island. We are not a particularly well-organized bunch.

J: You know, I'd say if you worry about returning all four members of your family to a large departing vessel, maybe a vacation at sea is not for you.

K: I think you might be right.

J: I admit that I was skeptical at first about cruises because 1. Expensive 2. Other people 3. Confined 19-square-foot room, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. If you avoid the bars and pool deck, and do a little exploring, you can find plenty of quiet places.

K: Especially if I explore the on-site child care. And then explore a book and big hat and ear buds.

J: I mean, we hate talking to new people as a general rule, but it was easy to avoid them.

K: Vacation people can be VERY chatty, which is so very horrible.

J: Of course. See here's the problem: I would just go to a beach – just a beach – for a week. That's it. Nothing else.

K: Yes. I could do that, too. But do I have to bring my family?

J: If it's me, I don't want a park, or rides, or roller coasters, or boats, or tickets, or boarding, or Fast Passes, or road trips, or maps, or travel mugs, or excursions, or reservations. Just. Beach.

K: YES. Because beach requirements are as follows: 1. Sunblock 2. Books 3. That’s everything.

J: What's your stance on phone during vacation?

K: No screens unless we're in the hotel room, chilling out. Or unless you are reading a book on it.

J: Same. Although the 100% approval to use it during the entire duration of the trip so they stay quiet is still in effect. "Dad I'm" [shoves phone in face, returns to Delta Magazine].

K: Planes – yes. Long car rides – yes. Rainy days when we're stuck in a hotel for many hours – hell yes.

J: I'm just hyper-programmed and OCD by nature. Busy vacations, while fun, tend to not be especially relaxing. This year I think we're just unplugging 100%. Beach, the end.

K: I think we're going to do something in the middle. A week at a hotel by the beach with a pool, but that also has some entertainment for the kids (i.e. on-site childcare that isn't called childcare so my kids don't feel like they're being left with babysitters). Not as hectic as a theme park, but not as I-don't-get-a-break as a beach vacation. Maybe we’ll do Disney next year.

J: Done and done. That decision was easier than I thought.

K: You know there are a few other options we could consider. How about a staycation? People seem to like those?

J: That would probably work for lots of people, but I can't get out of the I'm At Home So I Should Do Home Things mentality.

K: So it'd be like bring-your-family-to-work-day every day, which sounds pretty awful. Agreed. How about camping? Nature! Fresh air! Roughing it!

J: Camping has spiders.

K: OKAY SPIDERS NEVERMIND. A cross-country trip? Rent a Winnebago, visit the sights, hours together with the ones you love on the adventure of a lifetime!

J: That would be fun, if we had a Winnebago. I don't think we have a Winnebago. Let me check. Nope, that's a tank.

K: FINE. Um, visit family? Like, hang out with people you are related to for a long stretch? That's fun…right?

J: I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that.

Kim Blog Head Shot Kim Bongiorno is the author, freelance writer, and blogger behind Let Me Start By Saying. She lives in New Jersey with her handsome husband and two charmingly loud kids, who she pretends to listen to while playing on Facebook and Twitter. If she were less tired, she'd totally add something really clever to her bio so you'd never forget this moment. Learn more at



Jeff Head ShotJeff Vrabel’s writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, the Washington Post, Vice, Indianapolis Monthly, the official, the official Indy 500 site and several angry Neil Diamond comment threads, because wow can those people not take a joke. He is currently the Guinness World Record holder for Most Bruce Springsteen Songs Identified By Their Lyrics in One Minute. He can be reached at the cleverly named

Panic Mode! Bloggers Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel (Hilariously) Discuss How to Survive a Snow Day

-by Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel
Jeff and Kim are both parents and reasonable, mature adults. Until there is a snow day, because they both work from home and are terrible about planning ahead for these sorts of things. Here is a typical snow-day conversation during which they barely panic at all while trying to come up with solutions for this problem.
Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel headshot

K: HELP. I got the robocall this morning that school is closed. You?

J: Same here. Remember when you'd have to listen to like morning FM radio to find out if your school was closed? And put up with lots of boring ads for mattress stores and traffic reports and Belinda Carlisle songs to find out if you had school or not? Robotexts are so much more efficient.

K: Heck yeah. Hey, um, I have too much work to do today for the kids to not be in school.

J: I have to entertain a 13-year-old and a 5-year-old. They can play Super Mario Kart 8 and watch Phineas and Ferb together, but that fragile peace isn't gonna hold all day. At some point they're gonna need food and/or attention.

K: I’d just let mine take of themselves, but that’s a dangerous scenario. The last time they made breakfast, they almost lit the kitchen on fire. But I can't not work today. I even have a video call, so I need to be showered and background-noise free.

J: Showering and a lack of background noise won't happen here. My 13-year-old will come in every six minutes to tell me about something he saw on Honest Trailers, something he read in a Charlie Brown book, to ask where the Pop-Tarts are. I mean, I feel terrible, because he's looking for attention, you know? It's not like they're fighting all the time, or he needs me to open food. He's just bored, and lonely, and 13 and WHOLLY UNABLE TO READ THE SIGN ON MY OFFICE THAT SAY I AM WORKING AND THIS OBJECT NEAR MY FACE IS A PHONE, THAT'S WHY I'M TALKING INTO IT, SO I'MMA NEED YOU TO NOT OPEN THE DOOR AND TELL ME WE NEED BACON.

Do signs work for you? Mine get good grades at school, but seem genetically unable to process the words "Do Not Disturb" Is there any way you can get out of work? Honestly, on days like this, I usually end up having to punt by 10AM.

K: Signs are just materials on which kids file formal complaints under my office door. And, nope. Deadlines. I need to distract my kids for the next six hours or so.

J: Three words: screens, screens, and Pop-Tarts, and then more screens. Four words. All our usual screen time rules are hoisted delightfully out the window on such days. Unfortunately, I can't be a good dad and get a day's work done at the same time. I think a lot of folks feel like they're obliged to do just that.

K: I feel no such obligation. Over summer break I had a set daily task list for my kids to keep them busy while I worked. I had binders with printable worksheets at grade-appropriate levels. Plus reading assignments and book reports, i.e. “bad mom.”

J: OK, so [makes notes] summer is not fun at your house, got it.

My approach to snow days is usually: 1. See if there's any remote chance I can call off my work day, because one way or another, once the robotext comes in I'm already screwed. 2. If I can't call off, get comfy next to an outlet, kids, and happy jamming your face into a device all day.

K: My son is happy to disappear with a device, but my daughter is more…adventurous. Oooooh here’s something my kids could do today while I worked: go in the snow! It would only take me a solid hour to find the gear and get them out the door into the yard.

J: Ah, but these things involve our participation. Do you think it's better to maybe not tell them we're busy? I mean, telling kids "I'm busy" is like sending up 200 flare guns saying, “COME TELL ME NOW ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK HAPPENS AFTER DEATH.” If you just put on a movie and quietly scuttle away, it's not Letting Mom Work, it's just watching a movie on a snow day, which is SUPER FUN.

K: I do have one trick. It is called The Doo-ti-doo." I'll be in the room with the kids and when I see they are settled and distracted, I casually slip out all DOO-TI-DOO and sneak to my office to get back to work.

J: Please tell me you actually say, “doo-ti-doo” when you leave.

K: In my head, of course.

J: Do you think that this is a problem with our parenting? That our kids can't exist for a few minutes without us? I mean, I don't remember hitting up my mom to play games or see stuff every few minutes. It would have interrupted her People's Court time.

K: Um. Maybe? I remember one summer day my mom just was so done with my brother and I so she locked us out of the house and yelled through the screen window to go play. That was it. We were about 7 and 9. We survived!

J: I should organize with a friend and do something like a You Take My Kids for the Morning and I Take Yours for the Afternoon sort of thing. And when a 5-year-old waddles in and climbs on my lap and snuggles on my shoulder it's not like I need to be all, “BEGONE CHILD, I TOLD YOU DADDY HAS A WEBINAR.”

K: I like the trading thing, but most of my friends have 4 kids and I am ill-equipped for being that outnumbered.

J: If there's an upside, it's that most of my interview subjects/employers/people I need to chat with during the day are unfailingly understanding about this sort of thing. "Hey, it's a snow day, apologies if I'm briefly distracted" is a pretty solid excuse.

K: True. So I guess I’ll just print out some worksheets and bribe my kids to leave me alone or else they’ll get more worksheets. Oh -- and keep an ear out for the smoke detector. What are you going to do?

J: [looks at watch] I’ll likely give up trying to focus on work in about 45 minutes, so let me go so I can make sure all the screens are charged.

K: Maybe we should plan better for next time?

J: You mean plan to charge the screens when I hear a storm's coming?

K: Yep.

J: Done.