Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Secrets to Enjoying Disney World with Little Kids

Some Secrets to Enjoying Disney World With Little Kids
I've heard many discussions between Moms, wondering about the perfect age to take your kids to Disney World.  Will they remember it?  Will they do okay without naps?  I've also heard people say that Disney World is the happiest place on earth. We just came back from there, and I have to say that it felt more like a war zone to us.  By lunchtime, I am not exaggerating when I say that about every third child was having absolute melt-down.  Kicking, screaming, running from parents.  Think of a mall experience but on steroids.  In fairness to the kids, I could hardly blame them.  The heat and the long lines made me feel like I was going to have a melt-down too and I'm a grown adult.

Okay, I'm teasing a bit.  The truth is, the kids really did have fun, and we are so glad we made the trip, but it's just plain exhausting to take a two year old and a four year old to Disney World and you really will see a ton of melt-downs.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't go to Disney World and if you have kids over age four, this article really doesn't apply because that is a whole different ball game.  However, if you do have kids under age four, it will really help you to know some secrets.   I scoured guidebooks and blogs before we left and still there were a few things I wish I'd known, so now you can learn from our mistakes!  Lest there is any confusion, I want to make it clear that I am not a travel expert, but I did find out some things that might help you if you have the desire to visit Disney World.  So, in my humble opinion, here is what you need to know to make it a fun day, instead of a war zone experience:
  1. Consider staying at the beach, and just going to Disney for a day.  That may sound crazy, but we thought it was MORE than enough time.  We stayed near Sarasota and it only took us about 1.45 hours so we left our hotel at 7:15 and we there right as the doors opened at 9:00.  Disney World is stressful and who wants seven days of stress on a vacation?  It really does take almost an hour to park, stand in line for the shuttle bus, stand in line to buy tickets, stand in line to get on the train, stand in line to have your backpack checked, and stand in line to give your tickets to get through the door (That's five lines before you even get on a ride in case you weren't counting).  I can't imagine doing this for several days in a row with kids under age four.  They don't exactly wait patiently in line, especially two year olds.  Plus, Disney World is incredibly hot.  Because of all the concrete and the people, it is estimated that it is typically 10 degrees hotter in Disney World than the rest of Orlando.  We were there in early May, and it was staggeringly hot, which simply adds to the stress and reinforces my advice to only visit for a day or two.  Not to mention, I don't know how anyone could afford to stay for seven days!  The cost to get in alone is crazy! 
  2. Before visiting the Magic Kingdom, buy a guide book and read carefully about all the rides so you know what you want to see and do and this will prevent you from making promises you can't keep.  Truthfully, a lot of the stuff they have kids under four isn't relevant to current day movies (Dumbo ride, It's a Small World, etc).  There are no rides with Lightning McQueen or Ariel, so don't get the kids all pumped up to see every Disney movie character they know.  Most of the rides for this age are located in the area called "Fantasyland".  Disney obviously realizes that the rides are slightly outdated because they are currently going through major construction to bring more current rides and themes to "Fantasyland".  You can read more about the future projects here.  These new changes look really fun and I think we will definitely have to come back and stay longer when the new Fantasyland is created.  Keep in mind the guide-books will do a much better job of explaining all your options, and all of this will be changing soon, so try to visit the Disney website for more info before you go.
  3. When you get there, consider not standing in line for the shuttle.  The walk isn't that far, especially if you get there right when the door opens.  By the time you wait in line, break down your stroller, load it on the bus, and find a spot on the bus, you could have practically walked there.  Don't just assume that because there is a bus that you need to get on it.  
  4. When you go, buy your tickets before-hand.  They do have automatic touch-screen kiosks, sort of like they have at movie theaters, but these are only open on certain days for some reason.  We planned on using these machines, but they weren't open the day we visited so it took 30 minutes to get through the line to buy tickets.
  5. They aren't very strict about ages of kids and it's free for kids below 3.  
  6. If you have a little girl, consider getting a Fast Pass right when you walk through the door to visit the princesses.  This will be the highlight of her day but there is limited space and it fills up fast.  It might be tempting to hurry through Main Street, but DON'T!!  Instead, head to the right on Main Street (Or ask someone if you don't see it) and pick up a Fast Pass to visit Mickey and visit the princesses.  Even if you just have boys, they might enjoy meeting Mickey and this is done at the same place as the princesses.  Then, you can come back at your allotted time.  If you don't do this right away, you might miss it.  During the visit, they get to take pictures with the princess, have them sign autograph books, and chat with Belle, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella.  It is definitely worth visiting Disney World just for this alone, assuming your daughter likes the princesses.  If you plan to let her buy a princess dress or wand, make sure you do this before she visits the princesses.  This shop is located in Fantasyland (But be warned: we paid $64 for a Rapunzel dress.  If I had known I would have brought her own, but I didn't think they have the prices so incredibly inflated)                                                             Tips on making Disney World Fun for little kids, especially if they like princesses 
  7. Consider making a reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table. If you don't make a reservation, you won't have a prayer of getting in and it is conveniently located in Cinderella's castle.  Trust me, by lunchtime your kids will be begging you for something to eat inside, and what better place than a restaurant where they get to mingle with the princesses?  It is pricey, but totally worth it.
  8. Make sure you look right when you get there for the times for the Mickey character parade.  The kids will likely enjoy this and it's a nice break but it's only done at certain times of the day.  We found one at 1:15, which was perfect.
  9. If you decide to stay longer, consider visiting Hollywood Studios on your second day.  They have some neat rides and things to do with more current Disney characters.
  10. Before you go, make sure to read carefully through what you will find.  Some of the rides were closed or re-located when we were there, due to reconstruction.  Here is what I mean about the rides for little kids.  Here is a rough list of options:
  • The Dumbo Ride (Very fun, but a super long line and most kids haven't even seen Dumbo)
  • It's a Small World (You get on a boat and it takes you around to see lots of dolls dressed up in costumes from around the world.  This ride was one of the originals from when it was built in the 50s and it shows.  The dolls were a little weird looking and the kids had no idea what they were looking at, but if you need a break from the weather, this ride is nice because it's truly inside and so is the line.)
  • The Carousel (The line is usually pretty short and kids always love a carousel, but again, not a big thrill because there are no Disney characters involved)
  • The Winnie the Pooh ride (Usually a very long line, but you can get a FAST PASS for this).
  • Snow White's Scary Forest Adventure (Title said enough for us.  I didn't even want to try it, for fear of making the kids cry, which sort of defeats the purpose, although I did see people really like this ride.  It will be closed when the new rides are released)
  • A Goofy roller coaster (My kids love Goofy, but weren't old enough for this roller coaster, which again was a disappointment that they didn't have more stuff for young kids)

In conclusion, we really loved Disney World, but are so glad we didn't subject ourselves to a whole week with it.  Please bear in mind that this is only my opinion.  My sole intent behind writing this was to hopefully enhance your ability to enjoy Disney World if you choose to go.  Honestly, it was worth going just to see my daughter's face when she got to meet the princesses!  Plus, it was really cute to see her princess dress and Mickey Ears at the beach.  She was very popular with all the old folks!!

If you enjoyed this post, you will love my book!  It was released in July, 2012 and was co-written by Katie Norris and Susan Case.  In this unique book, which was written by both a Mom and a former Kindergarten Teacher, you will find ways to keep your little kids busy, out of trouble, and motivated to learn.  If you have ever tried to cook dinner while your kid clings to your leg and cries, this is the book for you!  Kids behave better when they are given challenging projects to work on, which will in turn give you more free time to do the things you really need to do, like washing dishes, paying bills, and relaxing so that you can be a better Mom!

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  1. Thanks for the tips. I am not headed to hell with my child until she hits 4 or 5. I do not know how this is supposed to be the happiest place on earth? Is their wine? Lol

  2. I just sent this to my husband. Ha! We are going to Disney in one month, but we are leaving my daughter at home with my mom. I'm a great parent, doncha know! :)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. I see you removed my comment (and the other gal's above, which was also spot on). I'm not trying to be rude or mean-spirited. I stumbled on your blog through Pinterest because we're heading back to Disney this summer. I just caution you to use your words wisely. There's a lot of power in blogs in how they influence people. Fairness, accuracy, and integrity are essential. I also noticed that you revised No. 5. I agree that it is fair to point out that WDW is free to children 2 and under. However, now all your readers know that you lied about your daughter's age during your visit.

    2. Hello Anonymous! Yes, I would have loved to contact you privately before I deleted your comment, but unfortunately you posted as anonymous. Your previous comment went after me pretty ruthlessly and I thought maybe you were a bit confused. I believe your comment stated that my own poor experience was probably due to my lack of planning. I thought I made it pretty clear that we did have a good time and that I did research and plan, so I wasn't sure if you actually read my whole post. The truth is, this is a personal blog where I write about my experiences in the hopes that it will help others. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this post. I just truly wanted to help others and I found several things that I wish I'd known before we arrived. I welcome you to keep reading my blog if you are interested and I think you will find that I simply write about my life with my kids. I have been told that I help others occasionally by sharing my experiences. If this didn't help you, I welcome you to click off my blog and find something else that might be useful. Either way, it is very disheartening to receive negative comments on a personal blog. If you have a blog, I welcome you to write about Disney World and leave the link here!

    3. This is just one mom's opinion, she's just trying to help other moms out there! I lived in Orlando and went to Disney quite often, and she is really correct about a bunch of things. I found it very helpful and again, it's just her opinion!

    4. Thank you so much!! You have made my day!! ;-)

  4. Thank you for letting us know. Of course, everyone expects (and pays for) an exceptional time - but long lines and heat can pay a toll. It's good to know what is appropriate for the little ones. I, too, know of adults who go and leave their kids at home! That seemed strange, but understandable the more you know about it. Thanks for the tips! No matter how much you research, it is a huge place with so much going on that I'm glad you narrowed it down to what works and what doesn't.

  5. Have to say, I'm feeling a little negativity! We go to Disney multiple times a year with our 3 kids - the youngest is 2 1/2 and his first trip was at 14 months. He loves it! There are many more rides that little kids can ride than the ones you mentioned. Honestly, I was surprised the first time we took him that there was SO
    MUCH he could do with us. Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion, Riverboat, Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin, Jungle Cruise, Buzz Lightyear, Peoplemover, & as of our last trip (2 1/2) he was tall enough for Goofy's Barnstormer!

    1. Oh, & the Tomorrowland Speedway! Little guys live that one. I know some of these rides don't seem like rides for little kids but my kids have always loves them all. One of my other kids is 12 but she is handicapped (mentally 2 years old) and she now rides everything!

    2. Lisa, I wish I would have talked to you before we went!! :-) My little girl is way too scared for the Haunted Mansion or the rollercoaster so bravo that your kids are brave enough! The guidebooks list these rides as suitable for older kids so we didn't even try. I appreciate your comments!

  6. Just want to point out that they are usually really strict on the ages for tickets. Kids 2 and under are free, but 3-9 is a child's ticket and 10+ is an adult. Plus, another great feature in the park that you didn't mention, but people may want to know about, is the Baby Care area near Casey's Corner on Main Street. There are changing tables, nursing rooms, and an area for the kiddos to just sit in the ac and relax while coloring or watching a movie. Plus, the potty's in there do not have the auto flush in case your kiddo is afraid of that.

  7. Great post! However, you shouldn't be so quick to down the "dumbo" and "its a small world" rides. Those rides are classic and should forever remain in the park as a credit to Walt himself. Although kids of this generation will not truly understand who Dumbo is, the older generations do and the fact that they are there is a reminder of the grace of that time period! Maybe you could allow your kids to watch Dumbo before going next time? Then the wait in line would be worth it...just a suggestion!

    1. Good point!! Now I'll just have to wait until they release it from the vault lol! I wonder why they do that anyway!! ;-)

  8. Thanks for the post. I would add is that one of the best times to go to Disney is in October. The weather has cooled off and, except for Columbus Day weekend, there are no school vacations or other traditional vacation periods during that time, so the lines are shorter.

  9. I also found your post via Pintrest and felt that it was way more negative then positive. I went to Disney many times as a child/young adult and even once with my husband for my 30th. We are now considering taking our now 28th month old son for him to see "the magic" for himself sometime this coming fall or winter. Because of the financial investment in a trip like this, I have also done a lot of research on taking children at this age. Almost every POSITIVE review or tip that I have read from other moms taking children at this age is that it works best if you stay on site at a disney resort and for a time period of 1-2 weeks. Many great reasons to stay on resort... direct transportation to the entrance, short commute between hotel and park, early and late magic hours (enter parks on certain days a hour early or three hours after closing to the general pubic), charge food and merchandise to your room and have merchandise purchase in the park delivered directly to your room instead of having to haul it with you, you don't have to wait in ticket lines, etc. The biggest advantage to having an extended stay for 1-2 weeks with tots in tow is that you don't have to rush to see everything in one or two days. Make a plan for what you want to see but if there is a pending melt down then you can simply go back to the hotel room, which is only moments away, for a nap or down time at the pool or play ground, then start back up that night or the next day. You can even take a day off from disney parks to enjoy the many fun things the hotel has to offer. Things are more flexible when you have more time and the family can go on their own pace instead of feeling like they have to pack in as much as possible in limited time. Something that you didn't mention was the "rider swap" option where a parent can rider with their older child while the other parent waits with the younger child, if the younger is not big enough or too scared, then the second parent can swap and ride with the older child. Great option! Most of the more negative WDW vacations with toddler that I have read about were where the family would stay off site and/or had a short 1-3 day trip... sadly, you did both so I'm not surprised that while you may have had a good time here and there, I wonder how different it would have been for you and your family if you had stayed on site and/or had more time there. I'm also sorry that you had other people cause you heartache with their comments and hopefully mine didn't do that but one of the big problems with expressing your thoughts about something so beloved as WDW in a simi-public setting is it opens the door for the angry that don't like what you say. Hopefully, you will take another trip with your family in the future and it will be much more magical!

    1. Jordan, I am happy you found my site and I am not at all offended by your comments! The ones I deleted and that I was referring to really were very nasty. I truly wanted other opinions and I hope you'll come back after your experience and share. For us, we really couldn't afford to stay on site for a week or two. Our place at the beach was really cheap (Around $1200 for the entire week) and that's about all we could do for now. I think the Disney resorts are several hundred per night, plus the entry fee per day over $200, but hopefully someday when the kids are bigger we will be able to afford that. I hope you have a wonderful time!! :-) The only thing that I would have to politely disagree with you on, is that I believe I mentioned several times that we did have a good time and were happy we made the trip. I'm curious about how you came to the opinion that I didn't have a good time?

    2. It isn't that I didn't think you didn't have a good time at all, I do think you had times that were extremely enjoyable. You had mentioned the princesses with your daughter and the character meal with the princesses both being very thrilling. I guess it just seemed with the "tone" of your post, that it wasn't a very enjoyable trip to the park overall. Everyone is entitled to their express their thoughts and doing so through text can be extremely difficult so I guess it is the way you wrote your post that lead me, and it seems others, to have the feeling that it wasn't a "magical" adventure but more of a hassle. For example, regarding your comment about the It's a Small World ride you wrote: "This ride was one of the originals from when it was built in the 50s and it shows. The dolls were a little weird looking and the kids had no idea what they were looking at...". Which is fine as it is your thoughts regarding the ride but you could have written it with more of a positive spin like, "This ride was one of the originals from when the park was built in the 50s and could benefit from some updating but it is a neat way to introduce children to cultures around the world. The dolls representing the different countries are a bit unusual looking but the cheery music, costumes and cooler temperatures make it a worth wild ride. Try to explain to children what the ride is about prior to the vacation and/or while waiting in line so they better understand the same ride that many of our parents and grandparents enjoyed as children". I know it is a little longer but I don't think it is as harsh as "if you need a break from the weather..." then this is the best this ride has to offer type thing. As for the cost of a WDW vacation, it is no secret that is can cost some serious $$$($$) and not everyone has the money to do it up in grand scale. I have seen some of the value resorts under $100 per night during certain times of the year. And I believe that they are currently running a special until May 18th (don't hold me to the date) that if you book a disney resort and ticket package for the month of September then you get the family dining plan for free, HUGE savings and the park food is actually good! There are better deals to be had out there, it just takes a little leg work. One blog that you might find interesting is "Couponing to Disney" where this frugal mom saves for her family disney trips via sales and couponing. She also has some really interesting tips for visiting the parks, resorts, dining, ect... totally worth checking it out! Hope you have a good night!

    3. It was pretty funny actually because during its a small world ride the older couple eople behind us said to each other "this is scary". They were kidding about how terrible it was but don't worry I stayed positive with the kids and kept saying "how cool! Look at those dolls dancing!" :-)

  10. We just got back from Disney last week and took our two girls 3 and 18 months and we had a great time! We stayed 8 days and spent everyday at the parks, but also took time to go back to our hotel to swim and take naps. By the way- our hotel was a little over $100 a night. Next time use a Disney vacation specialist. They don't charge fees for planning your vacation and can get you some great deals! I also shopped around for best deals and found that had some great rates too! I do have a Disney blog and will be blogging very soon about our trip with toddlers. Hopefully next time you will be able to experience more of the magic that Disney has to offer! It truly is a magical place that both my girls loved. Not to say we didn't have our low points, but they didn't outweigh all the high points!

    1. Hi Trout Family! I would love to know what your bog is so I can check it out. Looking to take my 28 month old son in the fall or winter and I am always looking for tips and tales of their tot adventure. Thanks!

  11. Great tips! The first time we went to Disney we stayed in Orlando, but DIDN'T do Disney everyday. I think we actually only made it to the park once. Part of it was to to save money and part of it was to save our sanity.

    I also think sometime parents hype the Disney Experience in their own brains - some of the worst parenting (adult behavior) I've ever seen was in Disney World!

    One Disney tip for little ones - Kids under the age of 3/4 think Downtown Disney is quite magical!