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A couple of months ago my husband and I took my three year old to Disney World for the weekend. We wrote about our experience staying at the nearby Hyatt Grand Cypress (here and here), but the real meat of the trip was the time we spent at the parks. This is actually our third time to take our daughter to a Disney Park, but each trip has been very different. I have a few upcoming posts about our time in the new Fantasyland, how Disney was vastly different with a three year old vs. a two year old, using points/saving money on park tickets, and the Princess Breakfast. But first, here are ten of my favorite tips for taking young kids to Disney!
- Try to not go during the peak dates. MouseSavers is a really good resource for getting Disney advice in general, but that includes advice on when the parks will be their busiest. We went during one of the busier seasons on a weekend in March, but we went on the very first weekend in March which is before the spring break season really gets under way. So, it was busy, but it wasn’t as insane as I have seen it during peak spring break weeks.
- Get to the parks early. I know with young kids it can be hard to get everyone out of the door early, but if you don’t you will seriously regret it. Getting to the parks by the time they open ensures you can almost walk right onto one popular ride while someone in your party
runsquickly walks to another very popular ride to pull fast passes for everyone. You can check the hours on Disney’s website as they can change slightly from day to day. That means you quickly see at least two popular attractions and with virtually no waiting. You can often then get in line at another attraction with only a moderate wait. This is a process that can takes hours and hours later in the day. In fact, getting there even an hour after the park opens virtually negates this advantage. Another benefit of going early is that young kids are often most predictable in the morning. By the afternoon they can get quite tired and grumpy.
- Have a plan. You absolutely need a plan of what attractions you want to see and when. Don’t think that “going with the flow” is a good strategy for Disney. Unless you go on a day the park is very empty, you will end up spending way too much time waiting in line if you take that approach. There are tons of suggested plans online for kids of various ages. We didn’t plan out our whole day, but we absolutely planned what we would do for the first hour or two, and then we started to make decisions based on what times we could get fast passes and how long the waits were at various attractions. Most young kids don’t like waiting in line, so you really have to plan and make strategic decisions. One thing that will help with planning is to download an app that will give the approximate waits for various rides at any given point in time.
- Bring snacks and drinks. There is no shortage of snack food available at Disney, but to save time and money it is best to pack some of your own. This will help with waiting in line and will save you some money.
- Make a lunch reservation somewhere with air conditioning. We have found it to be very helpful to have a lunch reservation so that we could sit down for a while and relax. On this most recent trip we made lunch reservations at The Plaza Restaurant on Main Street USA. It wasn’t the most exciting place, but it was easy to get relatively last minute reservations and the prices were reasonable. We had sandwiches, salads, and shakes all while sitting down and relaxing. On a previous trip to Disney World we had lunch reservations at Liberty Tavern which was also enjoyable.
- Rent or bring a stroller. Even if your child doesn’t normally use a stroller, you will probably want one at Disney World. You may start the day okay without one, but by about lunch time, many children under the age of four or five are going to start getting tired of walking. My three year old passed out in her (uncomfortable) rented stroller as soon as I gave in and rented it at the park right around lunch. Once we bought a blanket to put in with her she was much more comfortable. I’m glad we didn’t haul our own stroller to Orlando, but we absolutely needed to rent one. Be aware if you rent from Disney you can’t take the stroller outside of the park. You can rent higher quality strollers from companies like Magic Strollers if you don’t want the hard plastic shell ones from Disney. You can then use them outside the parks and they even offer free delivery and pick-up.
- Be prepared to head back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. I considered just letting C take her afternoon nap in her stroller (which is a decent option if you have older kids who want to keep going), but in the end we decided to head back for the hotel once she passed out. Thanks to having a plan we got a lot accomplished before lunch, and we were all happy to relax that afternoon at the hotel. This also allows you to take advantage of the great pools and activities that are available at many resort hotels. Obviously this is easiest to accomplish if you are staying at a hotel on Disney property.
- You may not need Park Hopper tickets. There was a 0% chance we were going to more than one park in a day with our three year old, so there was no need to spend extra on a Park Hopper option the way you might if you are taking an all adults trip, or if you have older children. Also, if you are going on a longer trip then schedule some days outside of the Disney Parks as you will likely need a little breather.
- Book a character meal to avoid waiting in character lines at the park. The lines to meet Disney characters can be silly long. We got lucky at Disneyland last year and found the treasure trove of all the characters with no lines, but the safest route is to just book at least one character meal so you can meet many of the characters there without having to wait in line for them at the parks. Those lines can easily be 20-30 minutes long just to take a picture with a character. We have done the Princess Breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table at the Magic Kingdom (book exactly 180 days in advance if possible) and the Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot. At both, princesses come around to your tables and interact with the children (and adults). No lines to wait in at all! These breakfasts are not cheap and need to be booked in advance. The food is actually decent though (full review to come). Here is a link to a post on Babble on the Top Ten Character Meals at Disney World.
- If you have infants, use the Baby Care Centers. The baby care centers offer changing tables, rocking chairs, nursing rooms, and more for the littlest members of the family. If you might need those facilities then locate the Baby Care Centers in the park you are visiting.
What are some of your favorite Disney tips for families?