We took our kids (ages 2 and 5) to Disney World in October and had a blast. I learned a few things that are worth sharing. Here are some things to keep in mind when you are planning a Disney trip with small children:
TRANSPORTATION: There are advantages to taking a car from the hotel to the park. There can be long lines to ride the Disney Transportation and at the end of the day when your kids are pooped you have to deal with them while you wait in a line for a bus. It was REALLY nice to just get in the car and leave when we were done. If you have a car, it also is really convenient to be able to drive to a restaurant or hit a drive through for breakfast. You can spend a fortune at the resort for mediocre food. Plus, it takes time out of your morning to go through that process. You want to save all the happy kid wake time for the parks.
STROLLERS: There is so much walking that even my five-year-old was glad to have a stroller. They have strollers you can rent, but if you drive instead of fly, it is really nice to have your own stroller. Not only does it save you the $31/day double stroller fee, but you have to check that at the door to the park when you leave. So if your kids are wiped out and you have to get them through a bus line or to your car, you might be carrying them (plus all the stuff you brought with you).
Before we went, I got two bright orange bandanas. I put one on each of our strollers. Here’s why: When you go to an attraction you put your stroller in the stroller parking area. Disney employees are constantly rearranging them as people come and go, so you will benefit from having a way to easily identify your stroller (especially if you rent one and it looks like every other stroller there).
One other note about the double strollers you can rent – the kids sit side by side with no barrier between them. I know my kids would have fought like cats and dogs. On the other hand, an advantage to a double stroller is that you don’t have to always be pushing a stroller. One parent can be hands free.
MEALS: We were on a tight budget, so I didn’t do the meal plan. I was worried the kids wouldn’t eat enough to make it worthwhile. In the end, I was happy with that decision. When they are a little older it might be different. The good thing about doing the meal plan is that it includes sit down meals. You can book character meals for those. You don ‘t have to be on a plan to book a character meal, but they book up fast and you can make reservations 180 in advance (used to be 90 days).
We did the Princess Breakfast at Cinderella’s Castle. It was fantastic. If you have girls, have them wear their princess costumes. It was a lot of fun and we thought the food was excellent. My daughter didn’t eat much. She was pretty overwhelmed by the whole thing.
They have the Bippity Boppity Boutique where you can take your kids for a dress up session, but I thought it was too expensive. I am sure my daughter would have liked it, but the whole Disney experience was so magical that skipping it didn’t matter. I will say that the little girls who had been to the boutique had their hair in a bun with some spray glitter on top. I did put her hair up in a bun, and next time I will take some spray glitter. She really liked it on the other girls.
Additionally, the menus of the park restaurants are online. I have picky eaters, so I looked at those beforehand to know where my family would be happiest. I took a lunch-size soft cooler with juice boxes and bottled waters. I brought a handful of sandwich bags from home and used ice from the hotel vending machines to make ice packs for the cooler. Taking our own drinks saved us lots of money and it is just convenient not to have to go find a drink if you want one.
ATTRACTIONS: Have a game plan in advance. I made a huge itinerary for each day. Did we stick to it? Not really. But I was glad I had done it because I knew how to manage our activities so I could minimize waiting in lines. This is KEY when you are there with little kids. It can be hard to entertain them when there is a lot of waiting, so think about what kinds of things you can throw in the bottom of the stroller for that. Also, when you are looking at the attractions you want to do, keep the Fast Pass in mind. You can only do one fast pass at a time, so hit that first and then go wait in line for nearby attractions that don’t have a Fast Pass option. You get more done that way.
This picture is the place where they do Story Time with Belle. Note the people sitting on the ramp on the right side of the stage. Those people knew something I did not. After story time (which is great fun), the gate is closed and no one else can enter. Anyone that was there for story time can stay and meet Belle. The people on that ramp obviously knew that. They were first in line.
AN EXTRA SET OF HANDS: We took my mother-in-law and it was awesome. Not only did we have an extra set of hands, we had more flexibility. One of the days we were there, my two-year-old wasn’t feeling well, so my mother-in-law stayed with him, so we could still take our five-year-old to the park. Additionally, thanks to our extra set of hands, my husband and I got to have a Disney date night.
HOTEL: We stayed in a budget resort (Pop Century) and it was decent. It was clean and pretty new, but it was small. We were tripping over each other in there. If we take an extra set of hands again we will definitely need two rooms or a bigger room. You aren’t in the room that much, but you do want to be able to sleep well. If you work with a travel agent, a lot of times they can get you a good deal, so consider upgrading if you have Granny with you.
PARKS: Since it was our first trip, we focused mainly on Magic Kingdom (3 days). We also did Hollywood Studios (1 day), mostly to see the new Toy Story ride. It is fantastic. We just bought the base tickets and that worked out fine for our first trip. However, I think next time I would do hopper passes so we can have more flexibility. In my opinion, Hollywood Studios didn’t have quite as much for the little ones. It was hard to fill an entire day with that park. It would have been nice to split that day between that park and another.
CALENDAR: Check the Disney Calendar as you make your itinerary. Some parks have Extra Magic Hours, which means they open early or stay open late and that privilege is only extended to patrons of the Disney resorts (your room key gets you in). If there is an attraction you want to do that typically has a really long line – this is when you should take advantage of extra magic hours. Also, certain times of year there are special events. We went around Halloween and the Halloween party, parade, etc. was well worth the extra money.
AUTOGRAPH BOOKS: When you are a little kid, Disney is as much about meeting characters as it is about the attractions. You can buy autograph books that are also photo albums. The character signs the page and then you put the picture of your child with the character in the picture slot opposite the autograph. You can order those in advance on Disney’s web site.
There are photographers all over the parks. When they take a picture, they scan your PhotoPass card. The card is free and any photographer can give you one. Then you can go online when you get home and buy any of the pictures you want.
BUTTONS: In the Magic Kingdom, you can go to City Hall and get buttons that say it’s your first trip to Disney. Might seem goofy (pardon the pun) to wear them, but if you do and Disney employees see them – your kids will get extra attention.
For example, during a parade, two Disney employees saw my daughter’s button and decided to wrap her up like a mummy in Mickey Mouse stickers!
I actually used the buttons for a secondary purpose. Before we left home, I put our names and cell numbers and hotel name on a little laminated card. I punched a hole in it and had intended to just pin the card to their clothes in a pocket or something. But when I saw the button I realized I could just put the tag on the back side of the button. If you do the laminated card thing, you want to cut the corners off the laminated card if it is stiff so it won’t poke your child.
Two Good Disney Planning Websites:
A fantastic travel agent/deal finder:
Small World Vacations…. where the magic begins!
Dedicated To Your Dreams and Your Dollars
Toll Free: 1-866-360-0400
Office hours: Mon-Fri 9am – 5pm