This past week we, along with my sister, her husband, their 3 kids, and my parents; took a vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I’m happy to say the crying was minimal, the smiles were plentiful, and my husband and I even enjoyed ourselves! (That is until we got to the Moline airport on Saturday night and my 2 year-old woke up from her deep sleep screaming—loud enough to make people look and just when she had the perfect-sized crowd she peed all over herself, and me).
I’m writing this post to tell you about our trip. Some of the tips are for traveling with toddler through early elementary-aged kids, and some of the tips are specific to Disney World. I also want to emphasize that the experience we had at Disney was great for our age kids (2 – 7). Please don’t use this as a blueprint for your trip if you’re taking a pre-teenaged child; you’ll probably hate me!
Quick Info about Our Trip:
Length: 4 nights, 3 ½ days
Accommodations: Port Orleans Riverside (a Disney Resort)
Mode of Transportation: Airplane
Parks Visited: Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios
Best Kept Secret for Mom: Starbuck’s in Magic Kingdom and Epcot (coming soon to Downtown Disney)—the lines look long, but max wait for us was 15 min.
Travel Guide Used: Birnbaum Guides 2014: Walt Disney World
OK, now on to the specifics . . .
1 outfit per day per kid; 2 extra outfits for the youngest (2), 1 extra outfit for the 2 older kids (6 & 7)
Don’t forget: swimsuit, pool shoes, RAIN GEAR (I forgot this). We ended up buying ponchos for $8 a piece the first day. I also packed rain boots and took them out of the suitcases before we left; bad decision. Pack the rain boots. They’re bulky, but if you don’t have them you’ll be walking around with wet feet all day. It rains frequently in Florida, don’t take your chances with this. Trust me, just pack them. I’d leave the umbrella at home; there are just too many people around to use one.
- Ziploc bags. I didn’t use them the way Katie did in her post, but they came in handy to store wet things (see pee and rain comments) and to keep things dry while walking around the parks in the rain (ie cell phone, autograph books, cash, etc).
- Autograph books. Anytime you see a character your kids can ask for an autograph. I went to Hobby Lobby and bought books before we left. It’s important to know that before you ask a character for an autograph you must have the paper you want them to sign ready to go and have a working pen. They really don’t like to wait for your camera to wake up either. Don’t get in line or ask for an autograph until you’re ready to go!
- Snack bags. My saving grace! I packed each kid a large snack bag for travel days and a small one for park days. Somewhere in the pages of my travel book the authors made an off-handed comment that it’s hard to find healthy snacks at the parks—they weren’t kidding. Here’s what was in each snack bag on travel days:
- 2 clementines
- 2 boxes of raisins
- 1 string cheese
- 1 bag of snack mix
- 2 suckers
- 1 apple
- 1 banana
- 1 package of cheese filled sandwich crackers
The rule with the snack bags was that each kid had their own, they didn’t have to ask before getting a snack. On the park days I packed 2 snacks from the travel day list in separate Ziploc Bags.
- Activities. Even though the parks open early (more on that later), you will certainly have down time and you’ll want to have something for your kids to do. For us the rainbow loom, Lego guys, and plenty of coloring books with stickers and crayons worked the best.
Each day some parks have “Extra Magic Hours” which just means they open early. Take advantage of the fact that your small children probably wake up earlier than most other humans. Plan your first stop for the day at one of the parks with extra magic hours. We were out of our hotel room by 8am most days.
Transportation to Parks. If you’re staying at a Disney resort there’s a complementary shuttle from your resort to any park, as well as shuttles between parks. From the time you leave your room until the time you get to your destination you should plan on the trip taking anywhere from 30 – 60 min. We were able to get to most parks by 9am. To shake it up a bit you can take a ferry from Hollywood Studios to Epcot or the Monorail from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom. Otherwise, you’ll be on the bus.
Timing. The parks really started to fill up with people about 10:30am. So get to the rides with the longest line potential first. Also, start looking for a place to eat lunch about 45 – 60 minutes before you actually want to eat. We left the parks every day from about 1pm – 3pm to get out of the crowds. The baby slept and the older kids had downtime. It was wonderful! We left each park by 8pm.
- Animal Kingdom. Become a Wilderness Explorer! It’s a free program you join shortly after you enter the park. The kids get a sticker book to keep track of their “badges” they earn during the day and the back two pages can be used for autographs. My kids loved this. The Kilimanjaro Safari will form a long line quickly so we headed there first. You and your kiddos will see all of the “typical” zoo animals. We also rode the Wildlife Express to Rafiki’s Planet Watch (you get 6 badges there and Rafiki is there to sign autographs), the Festival of the Lion King, and Finding Nemo—The Musical. The kids got their faces painted here too. We ran out of time to catch It’s a Bug’s Life.
- Magic Kingdom. We visited the Haunted Mansion (twice!)—the scariest part is the story they tell before you even get on the ride, the story brought the 6 year-old to tears (and one of us waited outside with the 2 year-old). We also saw the Hall of Presidents, Cinderella’s Castle, It’s a Small World, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (beware the noisy games they encourage your kids to play while waiting in line), and Pirates of the Caribbean. Our youngest also got her first haircut at Mickey’s barbershop on Main Street (call 24 hours in advance for a reservation). We didn’t do a parade here. People started lining the streets about 60 min before the parades were scheduled to start. We did, however catch a street party and for younger kids it’s a great substitute for the real thing.
- Epcot. The only thing we did at Epcot (other than eat a meal there) was go to Turtle Talk with Crush, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and the Caribbean Coral Reef—all were great stops (and all housed in the same building).
- Hollywood Studios. We only saw shows here, so after a morning of waiting in lines and having to be quiet in theaters our kids were happy to move on. We saw Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, Disney Junior Live on Stage (our kids’ fave), Voyage of The Little Mermaid, the Studio Backlot Tour, and Muppet 3-D Vision (not my fave).
- Downtown Disney. We went because my son wanted to visit LegoLand. We also rode the carousel there, instead of at the Magic Kingdom . . . the line was much, much shorter and the ride lasted much, much longer. Win-Win. (Bonus: they have Ghirardelli and Wetzel’s Pretzels . . . I got both!)
There are two types of food service at Disney; Quick Service and Table Service. The Quick Service is the least expensive of the two and is pretty much the same at any park. Your choices are an Italian sandwich, a burger, salad, or pasta. This is served with fries, chips, or carrots. The kid’s meals are usually chicken nuggets, burgers, or macaroni and cheese. All served with white milk, carrots, and grapes or apple slices. The exception to this rule is Epcot, eat there as frequently as possible!
Table service usually requires a reservation and includes all character meals. We had 3 table service meals while at Disney. We ate at Chef Mickey’s (a buffet), Cinderella’s Royal Table (known for their beef tenderloin) and the Biergarten (think an Amana Colonies Buffet). Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pluto visit your table at Chef Mickey’s. This dinner had our 2 year-old squealing with excitement! We ate inside Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kindgom and our table was visited by 5 Disney Princesses (reservations can be made 180 days in advance). This meal included a picture with Cinderella, as well as a wand for the girls and a sword for the boys. The Biergarten had a live band and a large dance floor. In the middle of our meal we went down to the dance floor to do the “Chicken Dance,” among other things this was by far my favorite meal!
Final Note: I know a lot of people use Fast Passes at Disney. When I’ve gone before I’ve used them. Because our kids weren’t really tall enough to go on any of the big time rides we never used a Fast Pass, so I can’t give you my experience with them with small kids. The longest line we waited in was 30 minutes for the Haunted Mansion.
Well, there you have it! Our 4-day excursion to Disney in a nutshell. Have you been to Disney before? What other tips do you have? If not, do you think you’ll take the kids sometime soon?