We took our first family trip to Walt Disney World almost one year ago (last October) and our family had the best and most magical time ever. In fact, we had SUCH a memorable and wonderful time that we’re going back again this October.
But, before we got to the happiest place on earth I’ll be honest – I was nervous. My kids are little (last year they were 2 and a half and 4 and half). People thought we were crazy to take such little kids to Disney. I wondered myself if it made sense and whether they’d remember it. But the more my husband and I talked about it the more strongly we felt that it was in fact the perfect time to go. They were at an age were princesses and talking mice were still real and possible and magical to them. Where Peter Pan was a hero and beloved friend. Turns out it was the perfect time to go indeed.
Traveling on a plane and spending several days at a totally overwhelming theme park however was still daunting to me as we prepared for our trip. We spent a lot of time planning our first trip to Walt Disney World and trying to really prepare and plan the best we could. We worked with a Disney travel agent last year because as newbies the options and choices were just so overwhelming to us. In addition to booking our trip with our Disney agent, we read a ton of books and websites, listened to podcasts and tried to really understand what we were getting ourselves into as best we could before we showed up with two small children. All that prep may have been overkill but it was a great learning experience and know we know A LOT about Disney and understand some of its magic and ways better for sure.
I’m happy to share my tips and tricks for Making the Most of the Magic in Disney with Small Children with you and all families who are on the fence about whether or not to go. Hope these tips help make your trip a little more relaxing and even more magical!
1. No, they’re not too young! They WILL remember it.
My kids were 2.5 and 4.5 when we took them to Disney World for the first time. Family members called us fools and told us we were wasting our money and they would not remember it. Au contraire – not only do they remember it but it was so memorable, so life changing that our kids talk about it all the time and can’t wait to go back. Even our youngest (now 3 and a half) remembers in vivid detail things that happened on our trip or characters we met and experiences we had. It was worth every penny and the memories set a foundation for a shared family experience that was like no other. Bonus: If you need more convincing to take your littlest children, remember that kids under 3 get into the park free. This is a HUGE savings for a family to have one less park ticket to purchase! This next trip coming up we now have 4 full price park tickets to purchase so our trip cost increased significantly.
2. Get a Stroller.
Disney World is humongous. The average park guest walks 10 miles a day. 10 MILES! Seriously, you walk a ton. Kids, especially little guys, simply cannot walk this much without tiring. You can bring your own stroller of course. Or you can get one once you’re down in Disney. I highly recommend that you rent a stroller from a local stroller company. Since we flew and our double stroller is rather large and unwieldy, we decided to leave it home and get one down there instead. We rented ours from Kingdom Strollers. You can also rent one from the park directly but after reading this post about renting strollers in the park, we decided to rent from Kingdom Strollers instead. We could not have been more thrilled. The stroller we selected was delivered to our hotel and was very easy to take with us on the busses to the parks each day. The kids were happy as clams to be pushed around for long distances in the parks in the stroller and it was the perfect place for naps. Our 2.5 year old napped in it daily and even the 4.5 year old fell asleep in it on the first day!
3. There’s an app for that!
When we were planning our first Disney trip we purchased a few books to help us plan. The books we ended up getting were the Bimbaum’s Walt Disney World Guide and The Complete Walt Disney World 2012 Guide. And they were both wonderful and served us well but who wants to carry a guidebook in a theme park when you’re already pushing a stroller and walking 10 miles a day, right???!!! Thankfully there are some incredible apps for mobile devices that are lifesavers and offer so much valuable information about being in Disney. Our number one favorite app during our trip last year was WDW Lines from Touring Plans. This app from the Disney Touring Plans folks is sheer genius. Not only do you get a realtime reading of the park crowds and wait times for rides and character meet and greets but for an $11.99 annual fee you get access to custom Touring Plans that help you strategize and map out your day in each park and know which rides to hit first, which fast passes to get and when to ride certain attractions, and so much more. The WDW Lines app also list each restaurant in each park along with menus, prices, etc. My husband and I spent waaaay too much time reading restaurant menus on the WDW Lines app before we ever stepped foot in Disney World. And of course while we were in the parks we used it to look up menus and attraction wait times as we were in the parks, of course. Since our trip last year however, Disney also has their own app that is incredible. You simply must download the free WDW My Disney Experience App before you go. It’s the official app of WDW and it tells you where the characters are, park hours, tracks your plans and reservations, gives you access to the daily Times Guide online and so much more. Between these two apps you’ve got a LOT of information at your fingertips for planning your trip and as you are in the parks, too.
4. If Mamma ‘Aint Happy
In addition to all the things I thought about (ok, obsessed about…) when planning our first Disney trip like which rides our young children could go on, where we would eat, which dining plan was best for our family, how we’d fare on the airplane, etc etc etc one of the “other” details I worried about was did I have the right gear for ME. You know… did I have good enough shoes to walk around in all day. Did I have the right diaper bag or purse to be comfortable in the parks but still have what a mamma needs to have on her at all times (you know diapers, wipes, change of clothes, snacks, cups, etc). I’m not really a sneakers kind of girl. Most of the summer I spend in flip flops but I worried about whether flip flops would provide the right support for all that walking. I read some other sites on Disney and consulted with some other friends who had just gone to Disney about their experiences too. After much deliberation I ended up getting a nice pair of Privos by Clark on sale before we left. I also picked up a fabric backpack that I thought would serve me well. Unfortunately, the back pack (while light and enabling hands free mobility) was actually kind of a pain. I had to take the back pack off and unzip or open a compartment every time I needed to check my phone or use my Key To The Kingdom or pay for something on my credit card. This was suboptimal as far as I’m concerned. My next bag that I would like to take to Disney World is going to be a cross body bag. I have not purchased one yet (don’t own any actually) but having done Disney once I know think cross body bags are the way to go and am planning to find or buy one for our upcoming trip. Also, for as comfy as my walking shoes were it got so hot that usually I just wore my everyday flip flops anyway. The shoe solution for me was to have both each day. Wear the good walking shoes and switch into flip flops when needed. The overall point is, make sure the adults are comfy too and have good bags to carry all your family’s needs (sippy cups, diapers, wipes, snacks, sunscreen, change of clothes, etc.) and that YOUR footwear will serve you well (you know what with all that walking!)
5. Have A Schedule. Or Not.
Listen… every family is different and each kid is different right? Having a schedule on vacation is tricky. But that said, having a schedule is kind of important for a trip to Disney so you have a plan. Prior to actually being in Disney World we knew what parks we would be visiting on which days of our trip. We were only there for four and half days on our first trip. And we had park hopper passes so we had four parks to fit in to four days! That’s a lot, right? Right. In fact, we never even made it to Hollywood Studios. Because our first day at Magic Kingdom was so overwhelming and we missed so much (and frankly despite all our planning we still did not plan our day properly) that we decided to ditch Hollywood Studios and go back to Magic Kingdom and I’m so glad we did. I had made a daily schedule of our time there with the Extra Magic Hours listed, any of our ADRs, and other important information like which rides to start with first upon arriving in the parks based on the info we got from our Touring Plans. For the most part we were able to use the schedule as a guideline but mostly, we had many changes to it. For example, shows would happen that we were not aware of before being in Disney and we’d stop and watch the show (almost immediately upon entering Magic Kingdom we saw the crowds waiting at the bottom of the Cinderella Castle and wondered what they were waiting for. We waited too and it was the best shows ever with princesses and pirates and Peter Pan and of course Mickey and the gang. I kid you not, we ended up seeing the “Dreams Come True” show probably about 3-4 times during our trip because our kids loved it so much. But this was never on my plan or spreadsheet before we left. And yet it was magical and wonderful and we loved it and spent a good portion of our day watching it. The point is, have a plan, have a schedule but then be flexible too. If something comes up and everyone wants to stop and do it or see it then by all means don’t drag the kids kicking and screaming just to stay on schedule. A lot of families recommended that you go back to your room mid-day and let the kids take a nap or have a rest and then maybe a swim before going back in the parks. For our family, this wasn’t really our goal. We were only there four days and we wanted to make the most of the magic so we stayed in the parks each day, all day and even a little past bedtimes. Our 2.5 year old was fine with just napping in the stroller and our 4.5 half year old got her nap one day in the stroller when she needed it, too. At the risk of stating the obvious, whatever works best for your family is obviously what you should do.
6. All Things Dining – Or Why I Love My ADRs
As a foodie, dining in Disney was of much interest to me. Thinking about dining options and making restaurant reservations was one of the most fun aspects of planning the trip for me. If you’re completely new to Disney and you don’t know about ADRs (or Advanced Dining Reservations) this is a pretty important tip. Disney has three types of restaurants: Table Service, Quick Service and Counter. You need a reservation for any table service restaurant and the most popular table service restaurants and especially the character dining experiences book very very quickly and are hard to get in if you don’t book well in advance. Table service reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance so for the most popular restaurants (currently the new Be Our Guest restaurant in the new Fantasyland is one of the hardest to get an ADR for or Cinderella’s Royal Table, Chef Mickey’s, etc) and so as soon as you know you’re going to Disney, go online or call 407-WDW-DINE and make that ADR. If you book last minute or you had no clue what an ADR is, have no fear there are still plenty of dining options available all around. Another tip is to not neglect the hotel and resort restaurants as often these provide a much needed break from the stimulation of the parks and are delicious and unique in their own right. No matter what you do though while in Disney you must get a Dole Whip. Period. Don’t ask questions just go to Aloha Isle and order one. (You’re welcome…) And if you want to read more about food at Disney be sure to check out the Disney Food Blog, one of my absolute favorite sites to read about Disney.
There is so much more I could say about making the most of the magic with kids in Disney. But since our countdown calendar is ticking and we’ll have more experiences and insights to share upon return from our next trip, I’ll save the rest for a Making the Most of the Magic in Disney World with Small Kids Part 2 post to come!
But to wrap-up this post, here are a few more quick tips especially for families that might come in handy for your next trip to Disney World:
– You can get FREE ice water at any quick service or walk up counter restaurant that has a kitchen. This does not apply to carts but any restaurant in the park. This is great to hear for those hot days when you run our of water bottles or need sippy cup refills.
– There are Baby Care Centers at each park for guests to use. Baby Care Centers offer a safe and private space to feed, nurse, and change your little ones. They have a room with highchairs for toddler feedings, a private room with rocking chairs for nursing, and diaper changing area, too. Plus Baby Care Centers have all the essentials like wipes, diapers, and other baby essentials for sale that despite your planning you might end up needing at some point.
– Fast Pass is your friend! Waiting in long lines with small children is kind of challenging, right? Fast Passes allow you to get in shorter wait lines for the most popular attractions. Make sure you get your Fast Passes for any of the popular rides to significantly reduce your wait times with small children. When you first get into a park, beeline it to the most popular rides that have Fast Pass available or send Dad to go get the Fast Passes for everyone while you get in a line for character greet. Get those Fast Passes early because some attractions’ Fast Passes run out really quickly. (I hear Toy Story Mania Fast Passes are often completely gone for the day by 11:30am!)
– Use Rider Switch for the “scarier” rides: If you have smaller kids who are afraid to ride some of the bigger or scarier rides but other children who are old enough you can do a Rider Switch so nobody misses out on the fun! Here’s how it works: one adult waits with the non-riding child while the other adult rides with the older kids. Then, when the ride is done, the adult who had been waiting can ride without having to wait in the regular line and the big kids get to ride it again. Cool, huh? And the older kid gets to ride two times in a row – bonus!
Thanks for reading this post! Obviously there is so much more I could say but I’ll hold the rest until it’s fresh in my mind again when we return from our next trip and tell you all about it! Please take a moment to share YOUR favorite Disney tips and tricks (especially to make the most of the magic with kids) below. We’d love to hear your suggestions and tips, too!