My family recently got back from our first trip to Disney with kids. My oldest was 4.5 years old and my younger was 1.5 years old at the time of our visit. Based on our trip I have some tips to share. We had such a great time! I think there are a lot of factors that contributed to our good time.
- Visit in the off season.
You will see this on every site about Disney and it’s true. If you can avoid the crowds do it. I know it means taking time off work but it is a much better use of your money to miss a day of work or two then to go when the lines are going to be so long your kids won’t be able to wait. The off season also means you might have days that are not as hot as well. Sounds like a win win to me- who wants to wait in line for hours while it’s hot?
- Wait until your kid is older, taller, or less of a ride wimp.
If you want to go to ride rides you need to wait until your kids are older. At least 6 or 7. Maybe older if they are on the shorter side. If you don’t mind missing out on the “big kid” rides I still suggest waiting until your child is at least 4 for their first visit. So that they can truly enjoy and process the magic of Disney. My baby (1.5 years) didn’t really enjoy anything other than the carousel (not worth the hotel, drive, and cost of admission if you ask me). My oldest was 42” when we visited so he was able to go on everything that he wanted to go on. He had a fantastic time. If you want to see a list of rides he recommends see HERE.
- Stay on site.
It’s more expensive. Yep. It’s true. But when you weigh the pros and cons I think staying on site is worth it for the first time visit or a visit with young kids. You get magic hour (an extra hour in the AM with smaller crowds- perfect when you are going to be up at 5am with the kids anyways). You get to walk back to your hotel for lunch and nap instead of trying to get a shuttle (which I recommend see below) and you could walk back to the hotel after a night time show if you went. If you forget anything or get wet it’s not a big deal to go back and get it. The pools in themselves are an “attraction” for the kiddos. My older said that besides the Racers ride, the hotel pool slide was his “favorite ride”.
- Bring your own food.
When we went we brought our own breakfast, lunches, and snacks. It was so worth it! The kids were up early anyways and we were able to feed them things right in the hotel room that we knew their tummies were used to. Disney allows you to bring food into the park, so we brought our own AM and PM snacks into the park. I ended up packing 1 large freezer bag for each day we were in the park to make it even easier. I just grabbed a bag each day and didn’t worry about eating it all since I knew I had more put aside for the next day. We went back to the hotel room each day for lunch. If you want to see what I brought for food you can see it HERE.
- Don’t take the kids out late at night (unless that’s normal for your kids).
Our kids are normally getting ready for bed around 7pm. If we want to have any ability to predict their needs the next day they need to go to bed at or near their normal bed time. Which means missing the night time shows. I was fine with this and the kids have no idea what they are missing anyways. We took the big boy out for one of the earlier shows one night but left the baby sleeping with his grandparents. If you don’t have help like we did and you do want to take an older kid out at night I suggest splitting up (one parent stay with the baby(ies) and one parent go out with the older kid(s).
- Sleep and eat when the kids sleep and eat.
When the kids had a snack, we had a snack. When the kids tool a nap we took a nap. That way we were fed and refreshed when the kids were so we could have the energy and patience to run after them in the park. On the flip side we also gave them fluids every time we had fluids since kids to forget to drink until it’s too late. It’s a system that seemed to work really well.
- Don’t rush. Don’t stress (specifically about rides).
The kids have no idea what they are missing. So don’t worry about doing everything. Just take your time and let your kid set the pace. They might want to go on the same ride 3 or 4 times while you look longingly at the map and want to get to the next thing. Don’t worry, if they are having fun that’s all that matters.
- Bring Disney clothes from home.
Everyone. Literally everyone will be in Disney gear. And you are going to want to be in Disney gear too. And when you see the prices you might die. Instead buy cheap stuff from Target or amazon.com before you go. That way you feel like you are dressed for the occasion without paying a month’s salary to “fit in”.
- Bring a stroller. If you are going with two kids get the double stroller.
I really didn’t want to invest in a double. My older son hadn’t sat in a stroller for over a year. But everyone said he would use it. They were right. Every time we walked anywhere (which is all the time at Disney) he sat and saved his energy. It was so worth it! He used the stroller to get out of the sun, to have snack, to wait, and avoid walking. The baby did all the same but he also enjoyed a nap or two in the stroller and he enjoyed pushing it around when his brother was on rides.
- Bring a water filter. And refillable water bottles.
At home we use a Pur water filter. I had a mini version for my work place and I had the genius idea to bring it with us to Disney. We saved so much money on water! We are a big water drinking family, and would have gone through over a gallon a day of bottled water. And since the waters were running $5 a pop in the park I was so happy to have my water filter and reusable bottles. We filled them up in the AM and at lunch time and were good to go.
- Stick to the kids normal eating and sleeping routine.
Our kids are both in daycare and have pretty typical schedules that they follow during the week and on the weekend. We made an effort to stick to that on the trip to keep the kids comfortable and predictable. If you have a late snack you have a late lunch and then a late nap… and then bedtime is hard. We didn’t want to bother with that so we just did our normal stuff when it came to snack time, meal time, nap time, and bed time.
- Use fastpass and rider swap passes strategically but not obsessively.
If you want to go on the rides with long lines just pull a fastpass. Even in the off season the Racers ride had a wait of over an hour. That’s just not possible with a 4 year old. So we pulled fastpasses for rides like that. If you have stroller with you (and someone in the party has to wait with the stroller) you can ask for a rider swap when you go on a ride. This allows you to go back on the ride again (the intention is that the person waiting with the stroller gets to go). One great part about this is that your kids who are able to go on the ride can go twice! Once when they waited in line with the first adult and a second time when they switch and go with the second adult who was waiting with the stroller. Great news! You can get a rider sawp when you use a fastpass! Which means if you played your cards right (or in this case your fastpasses) your older kids could go three times for the price of 1 fastpass. On the flip side it’s really not worth the stress to trying to play the fastpass game- especially when you have little kids with you. I saw people running… running and dodging the crowds to get a fastpass. In the off season. So not worth it. So only worry about it for rides that your kid really wants to go on. For the ride without fastpass and long lines I would advise just redirecting your kid to rides with less wait time.
- If possible go with family that can help you.
If you are going to Disney with more than 1 kid, especially if they are different ages, I recommend going with helpers. We were so lucky that the kids’ grandparents could go with us to help with the kids. If you can go with parents, aunties, uncles, heck even a sitter, I strongly recommend it. We bumped into a family that had girls the exact age of our boys except that they were there without help. The kids looked like ours- like they were having the time of their lives. The parents did not seem to be having as good of a time- they look exhausted!
- Bring glow sticks from home.
If you swing by Target beforehand you can get 15 glow sticks for $1. In the park anything that glows in the dark is going to set you back $15 minimum. If only you could bring your own helium tank too- because those balloons are hard to pass up!
- Use your iPhone for a camera.
I was thinking about bringing a better camera to preserve the memories. But really, the iPhone did a great job of catching all the candid’s and the picturesque shots. There are photographers all over the place too who will take your picture with a professional camera. You can look at your pictures from them later and buy them if you like them. You can also ask them to use your iPhone to take the picture for free.