Okay, friends, here’s my Disney How-To post at long last! So, I’ve geared my info/advice toward those traveling with small kids because that’s my most recent experience and my particular area of expertise. Obviously, if you don’t have small children, ignore the parts about breastfeeding and naps and carry on.
Here we go!
Go Ahead, Take ‘Em When They’re Young – Everyone always says they want to wait to take their kids to Disney until they’re old enough to remember it. I get it, Disney is expensive. But kids 3 and under are free…so go ahead and take ’em when they’re young if you want. In my opinion, I don’t think a trip is any less valuable if my kid doesn’t remember every single detail in a few years. Did we have fun in the moment? Did we enjoy each other at the time? Did the entire family have a good time? Do I remember how cute they looked riding Dumbo with their wispy baby hair blowing in the breeze? If the answer is yes, then I’m cool. Now, you may differ on this if you’re only going to go to Disney World one time in your whole entire life. But if you’re like us and you know you’re probably going to be back at some point, just go ahead and take the babes.
Do it Big – If you’re going to go to Disney, my suggestion is to do it big. Go into it knowing that it’s going to be expensive. Trust me, the convenience is worth your money. Disney has a reputation for making things super convenient for guests. They’ve thought of everything, and while it might cost a little more money, take advantage of it. It truly makes for an awesome vacation. Disney isn’t cheap. I know that there are cheaper ways to do it, and if that’s your thing, go for it. But, in our experience, it just made for a better experience if we budgeted a lot of money ahead of time, paid for as much in advance as we could, and didn’t stress about money once we got there. Mickey Premiums for everyone!!
And speaking of snacks, go ahead and get the meal plan. This lets you prepay for all of your meals and it truly makes feeding a horde of toddlers a lot easier.It’s just one less thing for you to think about. You’ll get two quick service meals, one sit-down meal, and a snack per ticketed person per day. That’s a lot. You can also use it however you’d like. So, in our situation, we didn’t buy a ticket for Everett, so he technically wasn’t covered under the meal plan. But we could use an extra kid’s meal every day for him if we wanted to and then split our sit-down meals into extra quick-service meals or snacks later on. Basically, it’s fairly flexible and it was plenty of food for errabody. (Edited to add: There are a few different choices as far as the dining plan goes, this was just the option we chose. Make sure you check out all the different meal plans when you book your fantastic vacay!)
As far as where to eat, the one place we think is not to be missed is Whispering Canyon at the Wilderness Lodge. Aside from the fact that it’s located in my favorite resort, this place is SO fun. They have stick ponies that the kids get to ride around and there are lots of surprise shenanigans I won’t spoil here. Basically, if you can handle a joke and like a big breakfast, this is your spot. We love it!
Stay on property. The Disney resorts have amazing amenities and buses will take you wherever you need to be. If you’re flying, they’ll pick you up from the airport and drop your bags at your room for you. AND you can check your bags and get your boarding passes right at the resort, when it’s time to leave.
Stay for a week. It’s probably still not enough time to do everything but I think a week is the right amount of time to get the most out of an experience without pushing your kids too far. A week gives you time to spend at least one day at each park and then a couple of extra days to go back and redo the things you loved or pick up stuff you missed.
Don’t Do Everything – A huge part of our culture is consumed by Fear of Missing Out. We’re also ruled by scarcity, that feeling that there’s never enough time, money, whatever. If you let yourself be sucked into these mindsets, your Disney trip will suck. Say it with me, “I don’t have to do everything in order to have a good time.” Y’all, it is physically impossible to do everything that the Disney parks and resorts offer in one vacation…unless by “vacation” you mean, “I’m moving to Disney World and living there for five years.” It’s just not doable. So, borrow from Brene Brown and write yourself a permission slip. Yes, physically write a slip that says “I give myself permission to not do everything at Disney.”
On our trip we did not see fireworks once. Not one time. Also, we didn’t meet Mickey Mouse. Or the princesses. Nope. We certainly didn’t. Were those things that we kinda wanted to do? Sure. But doing those things was not worth pushing our children or ourselves to the point of absolute misery. It just didn’t work out and that’s okay.
Before your trip, make a list of your must-do’s, your maybe’s, and your whatever’s. Book your fastpasses for the things that you’re absolutely dying to do and then let. it. go. Some days in the parks just don’t play out the way you think they will. Sometimes attractions are closed, shows get cancelled, kids/parents meltdown, lines are long, lunch takes more time than you anticipated…whatever. Just release yourself from the idea that you have to do everything and be flexible. I promise you’ll have a lot more fun.
Be Kind – On our first full day on vacation we witnessed a woman freak out on her husband and in-laws at the bus stop. Her father-in-law accidentally told the bus driver that they were taking another bus. I’m not going to pass judgement on this girl. I’m sure she had put in months of planning, weeks of packing and organizing, and had dealt with whiny kids and long breakfast lines that morning. Also, we all know it’s hard to travel with a big group. But, guys, it completely broke my heart to see her be so ugly to her family. We’ve all done it, though. We get wound too tight and just snap and lash out at people.
If you find yourself being ugly, feeling indescribably grouchy, or just generally being a hag, you’re probably trying to do too much. Take a step back and chill out. This is your vacation. It seems like it’s high stakes because it’s Disney and you spent a lot of money and you’re tired, but it’s just a vacation. If you’re wound too tight, it’ll suck. Your family wants to remember that time you all got soaked in the rain and then rode Splash Mountain and got soaked again, not the time you wigged out on Grandpa at the bus stop. Give yourself some grace and be nice.
Take Advantage of Playgrounds – Kids implode if they don’t get unstructured playtime. It’s a fact. So take advantage of the awesome playgrounds on Disney property. I promise you won’t be “missing out” on anything by taking some time for free play (see above).
Most resorts have at least one small playground and several pools. The “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” playground at Hollywood Studios is awesome, as is the Boneyard in Dinoland at Animal Kingdom (it was actually closed when we visited, but I do know that it’s been renovated and is amazing). I’ve overheard people in the parks telling their kids that “you can slide at home,” and while that may be true, these playgrounds are way better than the one that’s down the street from your house.
Things to know: These playgrounds are big, y’all. Like, I sort of got nervous that I’d lose a kid in the “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” one because it’s all tunnels and climbing webs and there’s just one of me and four zillion kids, so try to plan this when you’ll have an extra set of hands. Know that children are never allowed to exit the playground area without an adult; there are cast members at the exits to ensure this, so that’s good. My observations were that a 5 or 6 year old would probably be completely fine on their own in these playgrounds. Lily (3) was cool to hang with Maggie, but that was contingent upon Maggie slowing down for her. Vin followed Ev (2) around, and they handled the thing just fine (says the woman who didn’t have to bear crawl through tunnels).
Split Up – If you’re traveling with little guys, odds are you’re not all going to be able or want to do the same things for the entire trip. That’s okay. Really. We ended up splitting up quite a bit of the time. Now, we have a bit of an unfair advantage at Disney because we know the parks like the back of our hands, having worked there. You can just study up on some maps and be cool, I bet. Either way, we had a great time with Vin taking kids to do bigger or scarier rides while I hung onto the guys who either weren’t tall enough or were scared or otherwise uninterested. This basically means that everybody gets to do fun stuff at the same time without feeling like they’re being held back. While Vin and Maggie waited for Tower of Terror, the little guys and I saw Voyage of the Little Mermaid (during which Ev fell asleep and I ended up carrying him out while wearing Remy and herding Lil…I get a Mama Merit Badge for that one!), changed diapers, and saw some characters. While the big guys did Mine Train, we met Merida, rode the Teacups, and did Small World. Split up and everybody wins.
Don’t forget that you can get Rider Switch passes that allow one parent to wait with smaller kids and then go through the fastpass entrance and ride when the other parent returns. Easy peasy.
Breastfeed During Shows – If you’ve got a baby like mine, nursing under a cover is basically like trying to feed a greased squid under a tarp. Also, Florida is hot and humid. So basically, as far as nursing covers go, ain’t nobody got time for that. Here’s my perfect solution for you. Get yourself to Voyage of the Little Mermaid or Country Bear Jamboree or whatever show you’d like and just nurse the baby in there. I’ve gotten really good at nursing modestly without a cover, but the extra privacy of sitting in an actual chair in the relative darkness is pretty great. Obviously, this won’t work every single time your baby needs to eat, but when you can time it right, nursing during a show is gold.
Bring Extra Shoes and Socks – It rains in Florida. A lot. So my advice to you is to take a pair of athletic shoes for everyone (with extra socks) and also to bring along some waterproof shoes. We’re a Croc family. Crocs are especially good in the parks because they won’t fall off as easily as flip flops and they dry a lot faster than most other sandals.
Maybe Skip Epcot – I love Epcot as much as the next guy. I worked there for a while and absolutely adored my time there. However, if you’re traveling with preschoolers, I’d advise you to think about skipping it or maybe just doing a half-day there. Lily’s face in the photo below is basically how we all felt at the end of the day.
There are a few things of interest to the preschool set at Epcot (The Seas, Journey into Imagination, Test Track if they’re tall enough), but there wasn’t enough to hold our kids’ interest for an entire day. We went early for Extra Magic Hours thinking we’d show them around the World Showcase…but that was closed. Sad trombone. There are some cool characters at Epcot (like Baymax and Mary Poppins) but the lines were consistently long and our little guys just didn’t have the patience for it. So, yes I love Epcot, but no I don’t love Epcot with preschoolers and toddlers. Spend another day at Magic Kingdom and be happy that you did.
So, there’s some insight into how we did Disney with the babes. Thoughts? What did I forget?? Hit me up in the comments!