Our trip to Walt Disney World was to be the trip of a lifetime, the culmination of untold hours of movie-watching, merchandise-buying, wishing, and hoping through a financially turbulent decade that had us worrying we’d never make it (to Disney World or otherwise). We spent more money on this trip than we’ll likely spend on any trip for the rest of our vacationing lives. We pulled out all the stops, so that if we had a lousy time, we couldn’t say “Oh, it’s because we didn’t stay at the resort” or “Oh, it’s because we didn’t book that princess makeover salon session.”

We stayed at the resort. We booked that princess makeover salon session. We gave Walt Disney World every opportunity to show us a good time. So in the end, was it worth it?

What i can say at the end of it all is that going to Walt Disney World is not a relaxing vacation. i spent the lead-up to our week away working really hard so that i could enjoy my time off in peace, but in many ways, the vacation itself was work: get here by this time so you can go on this ride. Catch this bus so you can make your dinner reservations. Make sure your water bottles are filled. Always keep tabs on the closest washroom. Fight your way past these crowds. It was pretty exhausting.

i honestly got pretty bored during the vacation, to the point where, on our second-last day, i fired up my geocaching app to see if there were any goodies to find. We wound up nabbing a virtual cache outside Cinderella’s castle. Part of the problem is that the FastPass+ system, which sees you skipping many of the queues, is so efficient, that we saw most of the Magic Kingdom in a fraction of the time it usually takes.

We had a 7-day Park-Hopper pass, but i would say that if you make good use of your FastPasses, you can see much of Walt Disney World in 5 days, and spend your other two days in wild and woolly Florida at, say, Gator World (which i was very sad we didn’t have time to visit, because that place is awesome). In those 5 days, you can safely skip Epcot, unless you are 80 years old and all the really fun stuff is liable to crack your hip bones.

PhotoPass+ is a good idea because it takes a lot of hassle out of the trip, but you only have a month to download your pics, and it can take that long. Take advantage of the sunshine while you can. Remember to get creative. Look for other photo opportunities you can nab on your phone, because the PhotoPass+ photographers are few, far between, and in predictable places.

The Dining Plan is also a good move, if only that it keeps you from having a heart attack after buying tiny eight dollar bags of grapes all day. We went with the dinner/lunch/snacks format, and found our hotel fridge had filled up with uneaten food by the end of the week. And that wasn’t entirely because the food is wretched.

i am very glad we went when the kids were the perfect age. The park was lousy with parents dragging babies and toddlers around, kids who hadn’t the foggiest idea where they were, so it struck me as being really pointless. You can take a toddler to a free city park and have the same kind of impact, so save it for when it’ll count.

All in all, i kind of regretted going to Disney World, but paradoxically, i knew that if we hadn’t gone, i would have regretted it. While we were there, i started to really carefully consider what i valued in a vacation. My youngest daughter was very happy drawing and completing the colouring sheets we received at the various restaurants. My eldest likes exploring and building. My wife likes spa days. i like climbing high structures, and meeting strangers and tellings them jokes. If pressed, none of us would have told you that our favourite holiday activities included waiting in lines, fighting crowds, eating terrible food, or watching animatronic ads for movies we’d already seen.

i began to fantasize about the different vacations we’d take together as a family in the future, and i knew that i wanted to structure those vacations so that we’d all actually spend our time off doing what we enjoyed doing — drawing, exploring, relaxing, conversing. The value for me in a Walt Disney World vacation was in how it helped me to define what i really wanted, because what i really wanted wasn’t ever at Disney World. Disney World only offered me, has only ever offered me, the illusion of what i want.