Seeing a show in the park, boarding a ride, or even going to a table-service restaurant where you have a reservation is always risky if you’re particular about where you sit. Even if you have VIP seating for a show, you’re still not guaranteed that someone taller won’t sit in front of you or hoist a child onto their shoulders just as the show starts. And blocking the seats around you with bags and jackets isn’t just frowned upon, but prohibited. In attractions with rows of seating, you’re probably all too familiar with the boarding directive, “Continue all the way down the aisle to the next available seat. Do not leave any empty seats…“
So… if you’re like us in these situations, you’re already taking inventory of everyone in your immediate vicinity, whether you’re in a queue, a pre-show “holding area,” or being led through the restaurant to a specific table. You’re paying particular attention to young children and who they belong to. If they’re happy, well-behaved, attentive or excited, you might be fine, you tell yourself. Kids aren’t so bad when they’re engaged in the experience instead of whining about it, you tell yourself. But then, sometimes the kids aren’t the problem. Sometimes, it’s the parents, who feel the need to explain every scene—or worse, photograph it, and in so doing become an unwanted source of illumination! Or perhaps they’re just loud reprimanders—or worse, they’re not reprimanding at all, but letting the bad behavior go unchecked. There are any number of ways—and combinations thereof—for your ride, show, or dining neighbors to spoil—or, at the very least, diminish your experience.
But what can you do?
Start by being aware. Make note of the people around you and try to identify any and all available options should you need to take evasive maneuvers. You almost always have a shot at saving yourself if you see the need coming.
When you’re in a single-file queue…
- Request the front. The upside is you’ll only have people behind you, which is rarely as distracting as having disruptive people in front of you. The downside is a potentially longer wait to board the attraction.
- Request the rear. Depending on the ride, this might be the most romantic seat—or the scariest. Regarding the latter: everyone always thinks it’s scariest in the front. It’s not. It’s scarier in the back—you just get the benefit of seeing something first or an effect that’s short-lived in the front row, but the experience on the whole is scarier. The upside of sitting in the back is there’s usually no additional wait, and you can pretend you’ve got the place to yourself (kinda).
- Take advantage of a fork in the queue. If there’s an option to split off—left or right—choose wisely. The left side can give you a speed advantage when the left option goes overlooked (which is frequently the case). However, if there are riders up ahead you’d give anything to not be grouped with (potentially), take whichever fork they don’t take.
When you’re all clumped together…
If you’ve ever watched the beginning of a horse race, when all the horses are led into their gates and some go willingly while others rear up and refuse to be led, that’s not unlike the feeling we’ll have as we try to jockey our position away from the projected problem children—and/or their parents. True, your assessments of who’s going to be loud and disruptive (having nothing to do with age) is never going to be 100% accurate—the most well-behaved child might have the least well-behaved parent. Still, it’s worth trusting your gut and going with your instincts. At least you will have made the effort and then you can laugh together at how “off” your judgment was.
Based on our experience, we’ve found a few ways to minimize the pain of sharing an attraction with tantrum throwers and non-stop talkers:
- Front is always better than back. Parents with toddlers and infants will tend to be considerate of others and go for the back aisles in a theatre, where they’ll be less likely to disturb the rest of the audience and can also exit more easily in the middle of the show should necessity call.
- Middle is preferable to sides. Generally, the middle of any aisle is going to give the best view of the show and the best balance of sound. Adults with children who may not be able to make it through an entire show will seek the aisle seats, which are closest to the exits, and are most easily attained by being among either the first to enter the theatre or the last. You’re most likely to land in the central sweet spot if you’re just slightly ahead of the last to enter. Rows 3–5 have tended to have the fewest number of unruly seat mates per capita.
- When the doors open, hang back. Everyone’s first impulse is to rush through the doors the moment they open and permission is granted to cross the yellow safety line and enter the theatre. However, the “first-come/first-served” logic doesn’t actually pay off: If you’re the first one in, you’ll find yourself moving all the way across the aisle to the farthest edge in the theatre. Remember: “Continue all the way down the aisle to the next available seat. Do not leave any empty seats….” Instead, take your time and let the seats fill up a bit. Not only will this facilitate your sitting in the middle section of the aisle, but you’ll also be able to get a better lay of the land, as it were, and spot problem people before they become your problem people.
There’s nothing like being led into a near-empty restaurant only to be brought to a table right next to one that’s occupied. It almost doesn’t matter whether you’re seated next to another couple or a family of eight spanning three generations. You were expecting to have an intimate—and potentially romantic—dining experience, and instead, you’re going to feel like the third wheel in someone else’s party and aware of every word you say—or don’t say—because of the proximity to others. While the family probably won’t notice your presence, the couple will instantly feel the intrusion, and the guilt shouldn’t be on you.
Even if you’re uncomfortable or self-conscious about requesting a different table, it’s not at all like sending a dish back to the kitchen. And guaranteed: the couple will be grateful for your consideration, and the family won’t raise an eyebrow much less take it personally (even though they should!). Here are our best tips for making your dining experience more to your liking:
- Request a booth. Booths are always more private than tables, but they’re also in higher demand. It’s never unreasonable to ask for a booth, and particularly when the restaurant has a lot of empty ones available. Likely your demand will be met easily enough. But if not…
- Request something a little more romantic. Disney loves happy people, and Disney particularly loves happy people in love. Even if you can’t get a booth, your host or hostess will do his or her best to accommodate your wish. It also doesn’t hurt to add the reason for the request, such as you’re celebrating your anniversary or a birthday (which will likely result in a free dessert), or it’s your first time visiting the park or staying at the hotel. First times and celebrations are always honorable reasons for wanting a more intimate table.
- Be agreeable and willing to wait. When you’re considerate and courteous, you’ve got a pretty good shot at your request being met. Even when the restaurant is empty, there could be a valid reason why seating is limited. Rather than thinking the host or hostess is deliberately being unaccommodating, assume there’s a reason you can’t be seated elsewhere (if none is forthcoming) and be willing to wait a little longer if that’s what it takes. A positive and flexible attitude is almost always rewarded!
Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing…
The one thing all these tips have in common is being aware of those around you. Even if you don’t have much maneuverability in your particular situation, you can make certain adjustments to better your circumstances:
- Focus on each other. Disruptive or unpleasant “elements” can be minimized or even tuned out altogether simply by shifting your focus from the periphery to your mate. Two people deeply involved in each other can weather the most tumultuous of storms—and are likely not to be interfered with by others.
- Do not inadvertently engage. Exchanging funny faces with an infant or toddler, or getting pulled into a conversation with a neighboring diner can make for a fun and memorable experience under the right conditions. But as 50% of a couple, you may want to think twice before giving your attention to another.
- Time for a selfie. If you’re really stuck, pull out your SmartPhone and snap some photos. Or text each other. Or check wait times on your Disney app. Your electronic devices are always good distractions—and they’re universally accepted as a Do Not Disturb sign. Just remember to look up and around from time to time so as not to lose touch with where you really are.
Bottom line: You almost always have more control than you think—even when you think you have none. When you take the time to look around, strategize, and be willing to voice a request to better your situation, your experiences will be more positive and you’ll soon be toasting your successes over a romantic Disney meal.