Andrea Updyke and her family were wrapping up their Disney World vacation last fall and Updyke wanted another picture before they headed home to Raleigh. The four of them would wear Mickey Mouse ears and face Cinderella’s castle, a pose that has become an unofficial symbol of the massive theme park.
But everyone was tired and cranky, including her sons, 6-year-old Oscar and 3-year-old Calvin. Updyke forced them to pose for the shot – a tense moment for the Updyke family at what’s supposed to be “the happiest place on earth.”
The experience reminded her that she and her husband, Jerry, don’t have to cram every special moment into one vacation.
“My takeaway from that was to remember why we’re here,” Updyke said. “We’re not here for the photo-op.”
Updyke, 37, can now share her Disney vacation wisdom with others. She is one of 22 people from around the world appointed to the 2015 Disney Parks Moms Panel, an online forum for people seeking advice about all things Disney, including the resorts and cruise line.
Updyke is an expert of sorts on Disney World. She grew up in Clearwater, Fla., about an hour and a half from the park. Her family regularly took day trips there, and when she graduated from high school, she asked for an annual pass.
When she was 19, Updyke moved to North Carolina for college, but her love for Disney didn’t diminish with the distance.
She and her husband and their two boys regularly vacation at Disney World.
“I feel like it’s an entirely new vacation destination for me as an adult than it was as a kid,” Updyke said.
She knows planning a trip to Disney World can be overwhelming. There are four theme parks, two water parks, more than 20 hotels and a slew of dining and recreation options.
In Anaheim, Calif., Disneyland offers the same seemingly infinite array of activities, lodging and parks.
Some online forums are dedicated to tips and tricks to better navigate the park, and Disney World offers a DVD to help families through the vacation-planning process.
Updyke has always planned her family’s vacations on her own, picking out attractions that she thinks her boys will enjoy. She also makes sure the adults have time to sample their favorite foods and drinks, like the Bloody Mary at the Dawa Bar in Animal Kingdom.
“We like to get a Bloody Mary, put the kids on the ride, and everyone gets what they want,” she said.
This year, Updyke hopes to include Calvin and Oscar in the vacation planning since they’re getting older and have visited the park several times. She’s hoping for another trip in October to take advantage of seasonal activities, like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.
“It really is magical ... being a child there and seeing a child there,” Updyke said. “I’m feeling nostalgic for my own memories and watching my kids experience the same things I experienced, and it’s this whole big, cool thing.”