Disney is no joke, people. In my experience, this isn’t a vacation that prides itself on being spontaneous and go-with-the-flow. If you’re going to Disney, you need to be prepared ahead of time. We were there for 5 days in February with our 2 year old and 5 year old. As nervous as I was to take this big vacation with our kids, it turned out great and was worth every bit of money and effort. And believe me, it was a lot of both.
So here are my tips for traveling to Disney World with small children.
1. pack food! Don’t waste time or money in the morning by going out to breakfast. If your kids are like mine, a bowl of cereal or a bagel and a banana is all they really want anyway. We checked one suitcase and it was filled with breakfast foods. Those little boxes of sugary cereals you don’t normally buy? They’re a perfect vacation breakfast treat. Horizon Organic makes milk boxes that don’t require refrigeration before they’re opened, so I packed them in zip-locks and threw them into the suitcase. This way, we were up and out the door early enough without having to stop off for breakfast on the way to the parks. Oh and don’t forget to pack snacks (I mean, really, what mom would?) We actually didn’t go through as many snacks as I thought we would because since it was vacation and all, we let the kids get the Mickey-shaped ice cream bar, popcorn, or whatever they wanted in the parks.
2. Let them nap when and where they can. I had read a bunch of things online about leaving the parks to head back to your hotel in the afternoon to allow for nap time. Great idea in theory, but logistically, I didn’t think it was worth it. We stayed at the Art of Animation, one of the Disney resorts, and for some lucky reason, the bus stop for that resort always seemed to be the farthest away. Not to mention how huge the resort is and that we had to walk what felt like miles to get to our hotel room. We would’ve eaten up the majority of the afternoon if we had gone to the bus stop, waited for our bus, walked to our room, let our girl nap/rest, pack everything back up, walk back to the bus stop, wait for the bus and head back to the parks. No thanks. So what did we do? In Magic Kingdom, there is a real, working steam train that travels the perimeter of the parks. It makes three different stops but you can ride it as long as you like. We rode that baby for about an hour while Charlotte napped in the crook of her daddy’s arm. Riley, our 5 year old, even splayed out on the seat with his head in my lap for some down time of his own. It was a great break for us adults too, since we welcomed a chance to get off our feet for a while. (According to my Fitbit, I walked about 20,000 steps every day we spent at one of the parks!)
She snuggled into the crook of Daddy’s arm and that was it.
3. Don’t think 2 is too young for Disney. How many times have you heard someone asking why you would bring such a young child on a memorable trip that they will not remember? There are lots of reasons to bring your 2 year old to Disney, in my opinion, so listen up. First of all, kids under 3 are free to get into the parks. That’s savings of $93/day. Woohoo! Second of all, kids this age love Disney movies, which means they love seeing their favorite characters. Luckily, my girl was happy enough to see Anna, Elsa and all the others in the Disney parades so we didn’t have to wait 2 hours to meet them in person. Disney is a magical place, especially for 2 year olds. And it’s a little easier financially to bring young ones than older ones. Besides, now that you’ve experienced Disney with your kids, you know they’re going to keep asking you to take them back. So if your little ones don’t remember their first time, they’ll remember their second time. Besides, you’ll have amazing pictures like this:
4. Stock up at the Dollar Store. All the blogs and Pinterest articles will tell you this and they’re not kidding. The most important thing to stock up on in my opinion is ponchos, glow sticks for fireworks and cheapie toys to entertain them on the airplane.
5. Buy souvineers. I admit it, I am a cheapskate. But vacation is different. When my son asked and asked for a talking, $30 Buzz Lightyear at Hollywood Studios, I didn’t hesitate. He hugged it and held it for the rest of the trip. He’ll always remember that we got him that at a kiosk outside Pizza Planet, and I will too. Yes, I probably could’ve bought it at Target for $10 cheaper, but that is not what vacation is about. This is what it’s about:
6. No pressure. Yes, my 5-year old who is obsessed with race cars and outer space was tall enough to ride Test Track and Mission Space. But did he want to? NOPE. Would he have loved it? Probably. But those rides seemed scary to him and, in the spirit of fun, we didn’t make our normally-cautious boy ride anything he didn’t want to. The last thing we wanted was to end our day at a park with someone in tears. Or, you know, scarred for life.
7. Cancel your dining reservations. Three months before our trip I made lunch reservations at one of the sit-down restaurants in Magic Kingdom. I had heard horror stories about having to eat a cold hot dog balancing on a curb because no restaurants will seat you without a reservation. The day before we headed to Magic Kingdom, I looked at a map. Between the times we had reserved for FastPass and this lunch reservation, we would be running like maniacs from the Dumbo ride to the restaurant. No thank you. Vacation is about fun! And while Disney is not the place to be spontaneous, I didn’t want to be a slave to a clock. So I cancelled the (expensive) sit-d0wn restaurant and the kids ate grilled cheese with us at a table we wiped down ourselves. It was fine! Kids this young don’t care what they’re eating. They want to get back to the fun. And actually, so did we!
8. Pass on the Memory Maker photo package. I’m surprised to be saying this one. I went back and forth and talked to everyone I could about whether or not to purchase the $169 photo package ($199 if you purchase on-site). Again, trying to make our time at the parks more spontaneous and less rigid, I didn’t want the pressure of getting to every photographer we could so we would have enough great photos to make the investment worth it. Plus, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Those Disney photographers? They’re more than happy to take the same exact photo with your camera or phone, or both, like ours did. Score!
9. Do a character meal. I know, I said not to make dining reservations, but this is the one caveat. We ALMOST bailed on the 9 a.m. breakfast I had reserved for us with characters at a different resort. Since the Art of Animation doesn’t offer this, I found a character breakfast buffet at a different resort. Which meant getting up early, taking a bus to Hollywood Studios, then taking a boat to the resort. That’s a LOT of effort. We were so close to bailing. Honestly, the main reason we didn’t bail is because they woul’dve charged our family of 4 $40 for cancelling the day of. No way! We woke the kids, left without showering, and met Minnie for breakfast! Looking back, it was one of the most fun, memorable moments of the trip. For all of us. It was work, but it was worth it. I mean, look!
10. Trust. Disney World is not the No. 1 vacation spot in the world for nothing. They know what they’re doing. Trust that you will get to your destination and be well-taken care of. That’s why you’re giving them all that money. And yes, it’s worth every penny. Now to start saving for the next trip…