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I hope everyone enjoyed ALL my many Disney posts! I thought I’d do one entry combining all of the tips I’ve learned so next time I plan a trip to Disney I can just refer back to this one post. I’ll go ahead and warn you, I’m not a “Disney expert.” These are tips that I found helpful. They may ring true for you as well, but they also may not! So don’t hate me if we don’t agree 😉
Age To Go:
- In an ideal world I’d like to take at least one small Disney trip a year. Either Zach and I alone (like we have in the past for Christmas and such) and/or with Kye (or the oldest children once Blitzen is old enough!). Just to Magic Kingdom. Just for a weekend. I want to keep the magic alive and the love of Disney fresh and I think that a trip once a year will do just that 😉
- I asked TONS of parents at the park when Zach and I went alone what they thought was the best age to bring a child to the park for the first time. Zach always wanted to wait until Kye was 5 or 6 and old enough to remember it. It makes logical sense, you spend alllll that money…you want the kid to at least remember going right?!?! When we polled the parents we learned that most people agreed that around 2 1/2 – 3 years old is the best time for the first Disney trip. Why? Because the child BELIEVES in the magic. Sure, they may not remember the trip forever (we’re a month out and Kye still talks about it daily though) but they will LOVE it in a way that a 5 or 6 year old simply won’t.
- That being said, I will NOT take a child who is still in diapers. The bathrooms aren’t all that convenient and I simply can’t imagine dealing with a baby at the park who will not be able to participate in any of the magic of Disney. They won’t “get it” at all and it’d just be a PAIN. So if/when we go again next year…Blitzen will be staying home or we will have someone come with us to keep Blitzen in the hotel room while we are at the park. It may sound mean to leave the baby out, but taking him or her along would be more hassle than enjoyment for everyone!
- I feel that Kye was the PERFECT age. He was 2 1/2. He was fully potty trained. He only has one nap a day. He sleeps in a big boy bed. He has seen majority of the movies and enjoys them as well as all the characters. He is past the “trying twos” phase so we didn’t deal with many discipline issues. He’s able to skip a nap and still function. Depending on things, we’ll probably take Blitzen at the same age or a little older for his or her first trip (and yes, Kye WILL go with us on that trip. Benefit of being first born I guess, he’ll get to go to Disney more than the rest of the kids haha).
- Zach and I felt it was important to invite the grandparents along for the trip. We wanted them to be able to experience those magical first moments and it ended up being awesome to have the extra help! We’ll def be inviting them on each of the future children’s first Disney trips too as I think they enjoyed it just as much as we did!
- Get the free Disney planning DVD and watch it often
- Watch all the movies that have rides or shows based around them (and that you plan to ride or see) with your child
- Buy some Mickey Mouse (and friends) things so your child will know who he is
- Watch You Tube videos of some of the rides (especially any that your child may find scary)
- Every time we watch a Disney movie and the castle comes up on the screen I would tell Kye “we’re going there!”
- Talk about Disney a TON. We talked about who all Kye would get to meet, the fun things we would be doing, etc. on a regular basis for a solid 6 months leading up to our trip.
- Go over the list of rides that may scare and decide what rides you find worthy of riding anyway and try to prepare your child for the elements that are scary (For Pirates, Kye and I would hide in his walk-in closet a lot with the lights off and sing the pirates song. Whenever we’d see skulls or boats we would say they were “pirates” and make pirates out to be super cool and funny. It worked!)
- I know there are lots of books and sites out there but I really liked The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2011 and will probably buy the book again in the future! I also found it worthwhile to join their website, www.touringplans.com.
- Through the use of the book and website I was able to plan what time of the year was the least crowded, which specific day we should visit each park based on the crowd levels for that day, and the order we should ride the rides at each park. I also learned TONS of other stuff from the book as well, but found the itineraries to be especially helpful!
- I typed up an itinerary for each day and we followed that to know what our plans were. Of course you have to allow for flexibility, but overall we stuck to the plan and the plan went GREAT!!!
- I wanted Kye to get to experience Magic Kingdom first. I don’t, however, think you have to do it first and if we ever go where there isn’t enough time to re-visit Magic Kingdom then I probably won’t do it first for Blitzen’s (or other kids) first Disney trips. It took awhile for Kye to get in the groove of the amusement park setting and I don’t think he had as much fun his first day (at least the first few hours of the first day) as he did on the last day.
- You don’t get a discount for ordering your Disney tickets online, but you save a HUGE hassle from having to worry about buying them at the gate.
- If you plan to eat on property or participate in a special event or character meal you MUST call to book 180 days in advance. The longer you wait, the less likely you are to be able to book the thing you’re wanting. You don’t have to keep the reservations and most of them don’t have a penalty if you simply don’t show up so it’s smart to over-book rather than under book!
- I’ve heard MANY wonderful things about staying on property and hopefully someday we’ll be able to afford to do that, but we had no issues staying off property. Everything is within 15 min or so of the parks so it’s really not that big of a deal!
- We did not do any dining packages and rarely ate anything at all at the actual parks.
- I HIGHLY recommend park hopper passes. It doesn’t add too much cost to your tickets and it allows you total freedom to go to any park at anytime during your stay.
- Be sure to get a map AND a Times Guide at each entrance so you’ll know where characters will be and what times shows will be playing
- You can also find out show time information in advance on the Disney website!
- Cast Members know where each character will be throughout the day, and if they don’t then they can radio and find out for you so be sure to ask!
- Characters have to have “breaks” often since they get so hot. Also Disney does not rush people through a character line so when you’re in line assume it’ll be an average wait time of 5-7 min per child in front of you in the line! This is why I HIGHLY recommend at least one character meal. They are costly, but cut down BIG TIME on the waiting in line to meet characters.
- Bring your own stroller. I debated about this and am glad we brought our own. It was wonderful to have walking to and from the park and I can’t imagine dealing with a tired toddler without a stroller (you have to turn in the rental ones before exiting) and I will probably bring a stroller for many years to come with Kye. Even a 6 year old would like a break in the stroller now and then!
- Buy a clip on stroller fan. Ours was a lifesaver and helped keep Kye cool as well as happy!
- Have some way to identify your stroller. I used a luggage tag with our info on it just in case it got lost. If you’ll be there at night get some of those cheap glow stick bracelets and put them on it so you can easily locate it in the dark.
- Make sure you can easily maneuver your stroller. That it folds easily. Has lots of storage space. And is comfortable for your child. Ours has cup holders for the adults and passenger and it made life easier! We debated about which stroller to bring and ended up bringing our travel system stroller and I’m glad we did. It was much better than the umbrella stroller would have been.
- Have plenty of Mommy Hooks to allow extra storage on the stroller
- Outside food and drinks are allowed in the park! Bring TONS of snacks, drinks, meals even! Coolers are even allowed.
- I have rented lockers before (I had to when I pumped breastmilk at the park in order to store it and my pump) but it’s kind of a pain to go back and forth to the locker and can really cut into your park time. It’s easier to keep everything with you, especially the rain gear and snacks b/c you never know when you’ll need them!
- Freeze bottles of water the night before so they will stay nice and cold. Ours never fully melted and we just kept refilling them at water fountains throughout the day
- All snack bars/restaurants/etc on Disney Property will give you free cups of ice water when you request them.
- The cast members will take photos for you on your photopass but will also take pictures using your camera if you ask them too!
- Do all of your souvenir shopping in advance. Toys and such on Disney property (or disney.com) are often cheaper than other retail stores! The best souvenir shop on Disney property is at Downtown Disney Marketplace, World of Disney.
- I recommend buying a little Disney toy for each day for your child as their prize. It cuts down on the time wasted in shops and the money spent on the over-priced junk your child will surely beg for. Plus saying “no” consistently is much easier than saying “yes” once then having to say “no” the rest of the time.
- I typically gave the toy at the end of each day and then Kye could bring it with him the following day. It provided great entertainment while waiting in lines!
- I also packed several other small toys for Kye to play with in line, but we never used any of them. I’ll still pack them again in the future in case we have worse waiting times than we did this time though.
- If you’re celebrating a special occasion then be sure to pick up a button for each person in your party. They are super fun! They have them at any Guest Relations desk and we even saw them in a big wagon on main street sitting out for anyone to take what they wanted.
- Parking cost is $14 per DAY. You can leave one park and use your same parking pass to park at another park all day long.
- Don’t bring a purse! Bring bookbags. They are easier to carry, the weight is more evenly distributed on your back, you can toss them on the ride with you and not worry about stuff falling out, they are easy to cover in the rain, and they fit a TON of stuff in them!
- We packed one book bag with all our essentials/expensive items in it. That was the one we made sure to have with us on each ride, but we’d often leave the other bags with the stroller. Who wants to steal snacks and rain gear?
- Mini-fans are a must. I bought a couple of different brands and the BEST spray fan was one by O2 COOL (the deluxe misting fan), the best mini-personal fan was also by O2 COOL (the pocket carabiner fan). I originally bought all my fans on Amazon but found them cheaper in the clearance rack at Walmart. Be sure to pack extra batteries as well!
- If anyone in your party has any medical issue, bring a letter from a dr to guest services and they will issue you a pass to allow you to get in a special line at (almost) each ride. The person with the pass, plus 5 other people, can use it. Next time if I’m mega pregnant I plan to ask my dr for a note and see if they will give me one…they really should as pregnant women shouldn’t be out in the heat for long or standing/walking too much either!
- Arrive at each park 30-60 min prior to opening so you can be sure you’re one of the first ones in! If its a low crowd day, they may open even earlier
- If you sweat a lot it’s smart to bring along a washcloth/hand towel to wipe yourself off throughout the day (Zach found this to be very helpful!)
- You can easily see the best that each park has to offer (not including Epcot) if you allow 4 days of park days.
- I don’t recommend visiting the parks on arrival day or check out day. I liked that we did Downtown Disney on arrival day and just went straight home on check out day. I think it’s better to be fully rested and ready when you visit the parks!
- We originally planned to leave the parks, nap, then come back. Since we didn’t stay on property it just didn’t seem worth the hassle of leaving and I could see us not wanting to go back after nap time. Instead we worked out our days where Kye only skipped a nap two days. It worked out wonderfully and we never left a park unless we had done and seen everything we had wanted to!
- For your child’s first trip – let it be about your child. Don’t make them wait in the LONG wait lines for the “adult” rides when they can’t even ride them. Either find one of the, many, playgrounds (typically located very close to the adult rides) or use the park hopper pass and let those who want to visit the park at a later time for the rides do that then. Your toddler can rest and the adults can enjoy themselves without worrying about the toddler!
- A happy child makes for a happy overall experience for everyone. You know your child best. If he/she needs to be in bed by a certain time to be happy the next day then don’t stay up for the fireworks. Remember – they don’t know that they are missing anything! We never stayed at a park later than 6ish and have zero regrets about it. We did one parade and that’s it. I think Kye may have enjoyed other parades, but we saw the best one for him and moved on. To me, I felt it was the #1 priority to revolve the trip around KYE and what he would consider fun and what would make him the happiest.
- When you do visit the parks during low-crowd times it’ll typically be “off season” which means some rides may be closed for repair. You can see all of this info on the touringplans site and I think also on disney.com. None of the stuff we cared about was closed so it worked out well for us, but if a ride is very important to you then this may help decide when you visit the park (just an FYI all of toon town in magic kingdom is closed through 2012!)
- Be honest with your child. For Kye, he did best when I prepared him for things in an honest way. I told him that the dark dip was coming on the Pirates ride and that it might be a little scary for a second. I told him that such and such ride was our last ride of the day and then we had to say bye-bye to the park. I told him our last day at Disney was our last day. We talked about it throughout the day and said our goodbyes to Disney World. It may seem like it’s easier to “trick” your kid with stuff but in reality being honest with them helps them cope better when it is time to leave or when they can’t have that toy they want, etc.
- If you’re able to stay at a hotel with a pool it’s nice to plan for a break to just relax and play!
- It’s best to allow for 2 days at Magic Kingdom, 1 day at Animal Kingdom, and 1 day at Hollywood Studios
- There’s a mobile app you can download (“lines”) that will tell you how long a line is for a specific ride while you’re in the park
- Cell phone reception can be spotty in the parks, if you plan to split up it’s always smart to bring walkie-talkies
- Only use the fast-pass option if the wait time for a ride is 30 min or longer
- Children get lost at Disney ALL the time. Use masking tape to mark your child with your info so someone can reach you. Disney recommends putting the tape under their arm pit on the outside of their shirt.
- Apply sunscreen before leaving for the park and reapply at breaks
throughout the day! I also packed sunglasses and hats! If you have an
older child it’s smart to tie a string on the sunglasses so they can
keep them around their necks
- You can NEVER pack too many wipes! Useable for everything…even if you don’t have a kid with you!
- If you arrive at any of the parks in the afternoon then go to the
front of the parking lot. Many people leave at lunch time and there are
often front row parking spaces available
- Some rides have an option to do a “hail mary” which is where one
person can wait in line and the other person can take your child to the
bathroom, to play, etc so they don’t have to wait in the line getting
hot and bored. Then you can bring the child and re-join the other adult
in line. We did this for Country Bear Jamboree as well as when waiting
to meet Buzz and Woody at Hollywood Studios. Just ask a cast member if
- If you’re going with just adults, or with older kids, I totally recommend one of the Magic Kingdom special events. We’ve done Mickey’s Christmas Party and it’s similar to the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. The tickets are way cheaper! They park is open only to those special ticket holders from 8-midnight but every time we go they let us in the park at 4ish with no issues. 4-midnight is plenty of time to do and see everything! The park is less crowded and the event is SO FUN! (thanks Liz for the reminder to add this!)
- Buy all ponchos in advance and bring them with you to the park (you can get them for 88 cents at Walmart in the camping goods section).
- Bring an extra poncho to cover the stroller when you’re riding rides so it doesn’t get soaked. The cast members will often move your stroller so even if it’s under cover when you go to get on a ride, it could be out in the open when you get off.
- We had a separate bookbag just for rain gear. We’d leave it with the stroller while riding rides and it made it easy when the rain did come to have it all in one place.
- Umbrellas are allowed in the park. We never had to use them but I did pack a couple just in case it really started to come down.
- Bring hats/visors to wear over the hood of your poncho to help hold it down and keep the rain out of your face
- If your child doesn’t like to get wet, bring along some rain boots. Kye never wore the ones I bought so I was able to return them
- With rain, it’s smarter to be over-prepared. I have always found if I buy a TON of rain stuff (and lug it around with us all day) then it probably won’t rain
- I brought along a fun beach towel to use to cover Kye up and it came in handy to cover the stroller up when it was wet, sit on when benches and such were wet, etc
- In the camping section of walmart you can find all kinds of rain gear that may be helpful. I bought these neat towels that are like sham-wows where they dry fast on their own. If it’d been really raining during our trip then these would be helpful to wipe of spots to sit and such
- I packed extra clothes each day in a ziplock bag for Kye. The outfit I packed matched the outfit he had on so if just his shirt got wet I wouldn’t have to change the whole outfit, etc. I also packed him a light jacket with a hood as well as a poncho as I knew the poncho thing may not fly with him
Pregnant at Disney:
- Buy VERY comfortable shoes. For me, I bought some sketchers flip flops with thick soles and they worked wonderfully. You just have to find what’s comfortable for YOU. I personally hate wearing tennis shoes and socks so I had to go the flip flop route
- Trust Disney. When they say a pregnant person shouldn’t ride something, they mean it. Next time I will listen better and not ride the safari at Animal Kingdom!
- Wheelchair rentals are $12 a day but you get a discount if you rent for 2 days or more. We also lucked out one day and found a rental wheelchair in the parking lot! So we got that day for free!
- I was anti-wheelchair for the longest time but there is WAY more walking than you are even imagining and in order to keep up my energy and have a good time I’m thankful we got the wheelchair. Even just using it between lands was helpful and allowed me to keep up with everyone as my pregnancy waddle would only slow people down!
- The only rides at Magic Kingdom that you can’t ride when pregnant are:
any of the mountains (Space, Splash and Thunder) as well as Tomorrowland
Overall, the most important thing (in my opinion) is to have realistic expectations. I read that most kids will leave a week at Disney and say their favorite part of the whole trip was playing at the hotel pool. This is common. It can be overwhelming for a young kid and your child may not love it as much as you do or as much as you expect them to. Zach and I tried to just roll with things and with Kye’s mood. We did EVERYTHING in our power to allow all of us to have the best vacation possible, and I think we achieved that goal! But we also kept things in perspective and let Kye kinda take the lead on how the trip would go. I feel that keeping him on as regular of a schedule as possible allowed him to be well rested and better able to handle the craziness of multiple days at a theme park! Each person knows their own child best and this trip really taught me how well I know Kye. Better than I even thought I did! He loved the stuff I thought he’d love, didn’t like the stuff I didn’t think he’d care about, and responded pretty much exactly how I expected in all situations (hated the rain like I thought, ate a TON of snacks like I prepared for, etc). When planning your trip try to think about your child and their specific needs/wants. It really will make for the happiest experience overall for everyone!!!!
Hope these tips can help other people have as MAGICAL of an experience as we did at THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH!!! If you are planning a trip and need any help/have any questions/etc feel free to contact me! I have info on each and every ride but didn’t want to go into that much detail here 🙂 Also my sign-in info for the touringplans site is still good for awhile and I’d be happy to hook people up with it if you’re planning a trip in the near future!