Deprived of Vitamin D and perplexed with ways of entertaining children indoors as rain and snow pelt their windows, many families throw in the towel this time of year and book a pilgrimage to that storied place that bills itself as the Happiest Place on Earth: Disneyland.
But this hot spot can quickly become Nightmare on Main Street if you don't plan properly. Read this list of dos and don'ts before arriving in the Magic Kingdom to ensure you don't tell Mickey to take his overpriced ears and shove them where the sun don't shine.
*Do plan to be up with the birds. Be at the park when it opens to get a few minutes of peace before the mobs arrive - it only gets busier as the day goes on.
*Do bring a daypack. The energy required for hoofing it all over the Magic Kingdom requires more fuel than greasy donuts and pop. Stack your day pack with healthy snacks and bottled water. After a day filled with grease and sugar, even the unlikeliest of suspects will be clamouring for a grape. Once you pass through those gates, there is not a vitamin-filled morsel to be found.
*Do book lunch beforehand. If your entourage includes little girls who are starstruck by the thought of meeting princesses wearing more make up than Lady Gaga, don't stand in those long lines at the wishing well to meet Snow White. Book lunch at Ariel's Grotto, where six princesses will come to your table while you eat your lunch in a booth shaped like an oyster shell. You need to eat lunch anyway, and having the princesses come to your booth can save you an entire day of pain and suffering as you try to track them down.
*Do start at the back of the park. It's not easy to drag your children past some of their favorite rides, but books have been written on this subject: start at the furthest reaches of the park and work your way forwards for the best use of your time.
*Do plan to hit a show at the peak of the sun's rays. Usually it's the rides that get top billing, but some of the musicals I've seen in Disney rival Broadway. If it's a hot day, pick a noon time or early afternoon showtime, and sit down in a nice cool theater for an hour of bliss. Aladdin and A Bug's Life are two of my favorites. No joke.
*Don't buy your child a souvenir until the end of the day. Every ride you exit forces you to go through a gift shop for that ride, to the chagrin of every parent alive. Murphy's Law has it that they will buy the Winnie the Pooh mug, only to find the Jack Sparrow mask they've dreamed of ten minutes later. I've had great success putting this task off until the end of the day while we are waiting for the parade to start. Almost all of the souvenirs can be found in the shops on Main Street; those Disney marketers know what they're doing.
*Do set a souvenir budget. Be forewarned they will be wanting every Goofy hat and Belle boa that walks past them. If you don't prepare them beforehand, you will spend their education fund on such useless trinkets.
*Don't bother reserving a curbside seat for the parade or fireworks. People will stand in front of you at the last minute anyway, and it's difficult to find a bad seat for the fireworks. Do your souvenir shopping and wedge in somewhere at the last minute.
*Don't ask a person with a thousand pins on their banner for directions. They may look like a Disney employee, but these people are not employed by the park, they are just strange people who spend a lot of time at Disneyland.
*Do use Fastpasses for the most popular rides. As you are hightailing it to the back of the park to begin your day, grab a Fastpass for a super popular ride like Space Mountain on your way, to save yourself an hour long line up later. The caveat, however, is you can only hold one of these golden tickets at a time.
*Don't put your little cherub in her Cinderella costume on hot days. I've seen more children melting in these polyester torture devices on hot days than exhausted adults. Throw fashion sense out the door and dress all family members in runners and comfortable clothing, with either sunscreen or umbrellas at the ready in your day pack, depending on the weather forecast.
*Do divide and conquer. Little boys won't be as enchanted by the magic castle, and my eleven-year-old won't care to ride the merry go round. If there are two adults involved in this pilgrimage, split up for part of the day to concentrate on child specific requests.
*Don't try to do it all in one day. We have attempted this, and it is the equivalent of running a marathon backwards. Don't frustrate yourself and your children by promises of doing it all. Pick the most important things, and be happy with a few extras thrown into the mix.
*Do bring Tylenol. Enough said.
I have seen more unhappy children at Disneyland than any other place on this planet. Plan and prepare properly beforehand so that your child isn't added to this medley of overtired, sugar-fueled, hysterical orangutan's during the fireworks