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We recently returned from an amazing trip to Disney World and I’m so excited to share some of my favorite things about the whole experience! My husband and I decided to take our two sons, Oliver (almost four!) and Jack (ten months), to “The Most Magical Place on Earth.” Since the boys are a little young, a long weekend was just enough time for all of us to see the sights, enjoy our family vacation, but not stay too long to the point of exhaustion (we flew down Thursday morning and flew back Monday morning). We think we did just that! Here are some of the things we found were most essential in making our trip a success:
Rent or bring? Obviously there are pros and cons to both options. I was on the fence about whether or not we should bring one of our own but I decided to rent one there. At the entrance of each park, there are places you can rent them, however, this option is only for the day and you can’t take them out of the park. We were looking to have one for our entire stay, so we opted to rent one from here. We rented a double Bob so that we’d have enough room for both kids in case they needed naps (definitely a must for Jack, and since there’s so much walking we figured Oliver would need a place to rest as well). They delivered the stroller right to our hotel and it was ready and waiting for us as soon as we arrived. This is definitely a personal preference thing. I was feeling angst about not having a stroller with us while we were at the airport as one of us was constantly holding Jack. It was a little difficult to juggle him, our carry-ons, and Oliver through security, but we were able to avoid the awkward moments of folding up the stroller in the midst of chaos, not to mention waiting to get it back after we landed. While the double Bob did have enough room for both kids and our stuff, I think it might have proven difficult to maneuver through the parks if we were visiting at a more busy time of year. Perhaps one of those double strollers with one child in the front and one in the back would be better? Either way, it worked out really well for us and we dropped it off with the bellhop on our way back to the airport.
2. Mail Yourself a Box of Stuff
When I started packing, I imagined opening a checked bag full of exploded baby food and ruined clothing and thought there had to be a better way. So we mailed ourselves a box in advance to not only reduce the amount of things in our luggage, but also to avoid the consequences of baby food all over everything. When I called the hotel to give them a heads up, they told me it wasn’t a problem and that many people do the same thing, especially when traveling with small children. The box was waiting for us at check-in and the nice people at the hotel even brought it to our room for us. It worked out perfectly because we mailed it back to ourselves directly from the hotel the day before we checked out so we wouldn’t have to worry about packing the extra swag we accumulated during our stay. Don’t forget to include packing tape and scissors so you can do the same!
3. Air travel
There are so many articles out there about flying with young kids – so I won’t bore you with any of that. I’ll just highlight quickly what we did: Bring snacks: make sure you have some candy or something for your kids to suck on during take off and landing. This is one of the only times I actually let Oliver have candy. Jack was good sucking on his binky – but I could have nursed him then I suppose. Sometimes the gummy fruit snacks work as well – but Ollie tends to eat and swallow those too quickly. Movies: Oliver is old enough to sit and watch a movie on our laptop and did just that. I had to remind him multiple times though that we couldn’t watch during take off and landing. Jack was good sitting on my husband’s lap (he’s so young still) and just sat and took it all in. The boys behaved SO well. I was worried we were going to be “those” people with the screaming children. There was, however, an episode that required me to think on my feet while changing Jack on the plane (how do you do this??). We ended up balancing in the bathroom. He hated it, but I’m sure all the people around us were thankful for it.
4. Book a hotel close to the park (on the monorail if you can)
We didn’t want to spend our time worrying about transporting our stuff for the day and both kids from our hotel and to the park(s) and back so we opted to stay right on the monorail. We were able to bring the double stroller right on without folding it up so it proved to be a good decision. After a long day at the park, it also made the trip back to the hotel a breeze. Holding a sleeping/exhausted child while trying to fold up a stroller and holding all of our stuff while getting on a bus didn’t seem like fun to either of us! We stayed at the Polynesian, which was very nice, but there are other options as well. The Contemporary Village, or the Grand Floridian are also both on the monorail. This probably isn’t as much of a priority if your children are older, but since our main destination was the Magic Kingdom, it worked really well. We also told the hotel we needed a Pack-n-Play for Jack and it was set up and waiting for us in our room at no extra charge! Disney sure makes it easy! (And magical! Don’t forget magical!) 🙂
5. The Magical Express
Since we only stayed for a long weekend, we didn’t want to worry about renting a car and getting to and from the airport. Plus, staying right on the monorail, we wouldn’t need a car to get anywhere. One of the other completely magical experiences was the Magical Express. We booked our whole vacation through Disney and one of the options was to use the Magical Express, a coach bus, that transported us to and from the airport. They are evil geniuses. We walked directly from our arriving flight to the Magical Express and Disney retrieved our luggage for us and delivered it right to our room! (It can take up to 3 hours to arrive so if you’re heading right to a park, make sure you have supplies for the first day in your carry-ons). They don’t allow infant seats on the bus so we held Jack on our laps, which was great. We didn’t know if we would need his infant seat at all and we didn’t. 🙂 We also took the Magical Express from our hotel back to the airport for our departure, which was also, dare I say, “Magical” for parents traveling with two small children. We brought our luggage down to the check-in station by the bellhop in the lobby and they not only tagged and took our luggage, but they also checked us in to our airline!! They handed us our boarding passes and we didn’t have to see our checked bags until we arrived at our destination. Genius. And highly recommended. Here’s some more information.
6. Your Kids May Surprise You
When we got to the Magic Kingdom on the first day, Ollie wanted to see Mickey right away and tell him “hi.” We headed right into the place where we could see Mickey behind the scenes in Magic Kingdom, and he froze. He said he wanted to leave. “That’s not Mickey – he’s too big! I want to meet the real Mickey! He’s small!” Well, of course, in the cartoons, Mickey is like 2 ft tall. Seeing Mickey in all his grandeur is sometimes a little scary! So instead of the highly anticipated meeting, Ollie and I ran past Mickey with a quick wave. Ollie seemed okay, but I was really worried that he was too young for the whole experience. Jack wasn’t afraid at all, so when Jason and Jack tried to come and find us, he met Mickey (see the hilarious picture above). I bought Ollie a really great balloon to put a smile on his face, but apparently I didn’t really think this through completely. It was a breezy day, so the “really great” balloon repeatedly hit Jason and I (and sometimes innocent passers-by) in the face all day (ha!). So here’s another tip: buy a balloon on the way out of the park – NOT on the way in! It did put a smile on Ollie’s face though.
7. Dining plan
We opted to include a dining plan for our vacation. It made dining easy and we didn’t have to worry about the extra money each meal was costing. Our plan included one eat-in meal per day, one “quick-serve” meal per day and one snack for each of us (not Jack – he’s too young and is still eating baby food/milk). All of the restaurants in the parks accept the dining plan and have relatively healthy options. Some were better than others, but all in all it made our trip easy. We even ventured to Downtown Disney for dinner one night, and the restaurants there take the dining plan too! Most days we had a sit-down Character(!) breakfast which was also included in the dining plan at no extra charge – a really great way to start off the day!
8. Character Dining
Even if you don’t opt for the dining plan, if you’re interested in Character Dining at all (which I highly recommend) then you need to make reservations well in advance. I made reservations two or three months before our trip, and even then my choices were a little limited. But this really was an amazing thing for Oliver. However, after our first Micky encounter I was a little nervous that it was going to backfire. The first night we were there, Ollie and I had a “date” to have a late dinner at Chef Mickey’s. Fortunately, when you go to character dining it’s much easier for the characters to judge how each child will react. They were all GREAT and read that Ollie was a little scared. By the end of the meal, he was fast friends with them all!
Another random aside: if you’re looking to have any character dining experiences, make sure you bring or buy an autograph book! All of the characters that come and say hi are accustomed to signing them and they’ll usually stay at your table a bit longer. We bought one at Disney with a place for a picture to go next to the signature. Great takeaway! Ollie already loves looking through it and reliving our experience. Starting off the morning like this was great for our travels through the parks later too. Since we’d already had personal interactions with characters, when there were lines of kids getting pictures with them throughout the park, Ollie wasn’t interested because we’d already done it! He just waved at them like they were pals.
Also: if you book breakfast at one of the parks you plan on visiting for the day, book it for 8:30am or earlier. You’ll get into the park early (most days they don’t open until 9am) and get in line for the popular rides first! We ate at The Tusker House at the Animal Kingdom one morning and walked right onto the Safari ride. Later in the day the wait was over two hours and there were no more fast passes available.
9. Plan for Naps
Although it can be tempting to try to fit as much into a day as you can, make sure you allow for some down time (even for your older kids). Jack usually fell asleep in the stroller for his morning nap. We just avoided getting him out for a bit until he had rested enough and we took Ollie on some rides with just him. In the afternoons, we made sure to go back to the hotel for a little down time before venturing to dinner. Ollie was really key-up and didn’t actually sleep, but he got to watch some Mickey cartoons and take a break from the enormous amount of input he was getting. Even with down time, we found that the kids were definitely worn out (so were we!). Oliver never ever falls asleep when we’re out, but one night we went to Downtown Disney for dinner and this is what happened!
10. Enjoy the Parks
The more prepared you are, the easier it will be for you to relax and have fun on your vacation! Here are a few more tips that helped us (or we wish we had thought of!) sail through our experience:
If you’re traveling with kids who are still in diapers, I highly recommend not only packing your diaper bag full of supplies, but make sure you bring one of those folding changer travel things like this one. Even though we have one, I totally forgot to bring it! So I had to lug in a handful of supplies, or the entire diaper bag (not ideal).
Make sure to pack/bring some healthy snacks (bars/nuts, etc). We packed some in the box we mailed, so we always had something to munch on. There are also plenty of places to buy snacks, but some have a better variety than others. We also purchased a case of bottled water from the people we rented the stroller from, so everyday we had waters for us (they’re pretty expensive in the parks).
Make sure you take a look at the maps (online) and figure out where you want to go in each park and what rides are a must. The Fast Pass is definitely the way to go. First thing: go and get a fast pass for the ride you want to go on (this will allow you to avoid standing in line for 45 minutes or longer). Sometimes there’s also not a huge standing time, so you can also go and ride it right then and then come back later and use your Fast Pass for a second ride. Then, go and find another (less popular) ride or attraction that has a shorter wait. Make sure you take full advantage of the Fast Passes – go and get another one AS SOON as you are allowed to (it says at the bottom of your current Fast Pass when you can go and get another). Having little kids and standing in line for a long time is NEVER fun. There were times when we returned with our Fast Passes and walked right on the ride when there was a two hour wait otherwise! Speaking of Fast Passes – make sure if the ride you want to go on is VERY popular to get your Fast Passes for it earlier in the day. They sometimes run out of Fast Passes and you either have to forego the ride all together or stand in the regular line.
This is definitely not the only information out there for traveling to Disney with young kids – there are numerous blog posts about it, as well as information from Disney, travel agents, etc. But hopefully you picked up a couple of quick tips that might come in handy. It’s always nice to hear it from someone that’s done it. We can’t wait to go back! Disney definitely proved to be one of the “Most Magical Places on Earth” not only because the kids (well, Ollie) loved it (who knows what in the world Jack thought about it!) but my husband and I enjoyed it as well. It was so incredibly easy to travel there with children (everything was clean, easy, fun, and friendly!). We may even look into the Disney Vacation Club so we can enjoy it for years to come. The water parks look like they would be REALLY fun once the kids are older.
Thanks, Disney, for a wonderful (and magical!) family adventure!