Whether you have a new born and you are venturing out on your first vacation with the little one, or you have several kiddos and just want to make sure you are prepared, there are plenty of things to consider before heading into one of Disney Worlds 4 theme parks. I have been going to Disney World since I was really little, my family would go a few times a year, that is one of the many advantages growing up in Florida. We still did everything that we could to save money, camped in tents… but not having to travel long distances took away a significant part of the expense for my family. As a “grown up” and having my own little 18 month old munchkin, there are a few things that I have learned taken him 3 times already, including his first visit at 8 day old!! (Yes, we are a little crazy)
All 4 of Disney Worlds parks have a “Baby Center,” they offer multiple large changing tables, a quiet (cool and dark) nursing room complete with rocking chairs. Inside the baby centers they also sell emergency items such as small packs of diapers and wipes (at a premium of course), bottles, sippy cups and cheap (non disney onsies). This place was a God-send when we had Aiden there and he was only 8 days old. I could go take him and nurse in private (first time mom still trying to figure the whole nursing thing out) change him and we could both cool off since it was pretty warm outside. Also, I was told when I was there that if you label your pumped milk, the first aide center will store your milk in their refrigerator. Some people just bring it into the park with them in coolers (you CAN bring coolers in, more on that below) but if you are traveling light, storing it in a fridge might be a lot easier. There is usually a registered nurse at the baby center or at the first aid station. You can ask questions and they can even have over the counter items brought into the park for you (you pay for them) so that you don’t have to leave.
Large cadillac style stroller vs small umbrella style stroller. I am a little biased here but I feel that it is for good reason. I prefer the large-do-it-all stroller. I started off with a Graco travel system stroller and recently upgraded to a BOB jogger, although I have used an umbrella stroller a handful of times, I’m not sure that there is a situation where I would ever really prefer to take the smaller stroller with me, especially at Disney World. Some people argue about the size and having problems maneuvering in the crowds, but we have never had an issue with that. We did have plenty of cup holders, snack and cooler storage, fully reclining seats for naps and tons of space for all the camera, cell phones and diaper bags. For those reasons alone, I will stick with the big stroller. And since my husband and I currently live in Puerto Rico, we fly with our BOB, and never have any problems, you check it for free at the plane boarding door.
There are tons of rides that you can take small infants on with you. For obvious reasons, they are not the most thrilling rides, but when it is hot outside and you want to get in the air-conditioning and sit down, there’s nothing better. It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, The people mover, The Carousel of Progress, are a few good “rest rides”… This picture was of Aiden’s first time on Pirates of the Caribbean, he slept through the whole thing…
Pack several small bags rather than one large backpack/tote. There are several reasons for this; we found that it was somewhat of a pain to pull a large (always overstuffed) diaper bag out from under the stroller when we went for a diaper change. Packing for our day in several smaller bags allows us to carry exactly what we need and not all the extras that we don’t. We have a small camera case that we stick our wallets in and take on rides, this keeps all our valuables in one place. We also have a small bag that has diapers and a few wipes for the diaper change runs (we keep an extra stash under the stroller incase we needed to refill our small bag). One thing that I might consider adding to our bag in the future is sunscreen, last trip I noticed people re-applying while waiting in line and thought that was a great idea! This tip might not work out well for those of you without strollers, it might be better to bring a backpack that is easy to carry everywhere.
You can bring coolers into the parks. When you enter Disney World, all bags and cooler are searched for weapons and other items that you are not allowed to bring into the park, such as alcohol. We bring a soft sided cooler with sandwiches, lots of bottles of water/soda, snacks, fresh fruit and any baby items that might need to stay cool. We like the soft sided cooler/lunch box, because as you consume food and drinks, you can collapse the cooler. They are also easier to hook onto that nice big stroller that you decided to bring with you. Take note that you can get a free cup of ice water at any counter service location that offers fountain drinks. This is nice and helps keep the contents of your cooler to a minimum. Keep in mind that Disney World Restricts the size of the cooler (and other bags) that you can bring into the parks. A complete list of items that you are not allowed to bring into the parks can be found here.
If at all possible… Stay at a hotel on property!!! This is a bigger deal than you think, and you won’t realize it until you have stayed both on and off property. And to be perfectly clear… it is NOT Disney property if you cannot book the hotel directly from the Disney website. There are tons of hotels that are close and offer a bus to the parks, but once you stay on property you will never want to go back.
- You get admission to the parks early and stay late with Extra Magic Hours (you still have to purchase your tickets). This fun little calendar shows you what park is open early or late each day of your stay, it is usually one park opens early and a different one stays open late with the extra hours.
- You get magic bands when you stay on property and you can reserve fastPasses 60 days out. People who are not staying on Disney property get 30 days. More details on the magic bands and fast passes below.
- Disney resorts have free transportation to all the parks. Every resort has nice new busses that are Disney clean (cleaner than clean, clean) with quick efficient routes that take you to the best drop off locations (other hotel shuttles are not allowed to these spots). Some hotels also have boats that take you from your hotel to the parks. If you are at a resort in the EPCOT resort area, the boats take you to the International gate that is half way back into the park, it drops you off in the middle of the action! Some of the resorts also offer monorails to the parks, my personal favorite!
- Free parking. If you choose to drive your own car to the park for whatever reason (maybe it is your last day and you have checked out of your hotel room) you get a parking pass that allows you to park for free. Last time I checked, parking for 1 day was about $15.
- All the resort have AMAZING pools! Some of the resorts, at the moderate level and above, have slide and small water parks at them for no additional cost! Most of the pools have Cast-members (Disney employees) that organize games and have dance parties at set times each day for the kids. So make sure and plan a full day at the pool. After all, you are on vacation and everyone needs a day relaxing poolside and not walking all day. Couponing to Disney has a great pool review and they list their top 5 resorts based on their pools. My favorite, the Meadows Pool at Fort Wilderness didn’t make their list but no hard feelings, it is a campground after all. 😉
- If you are staying on property and purchase something at the park that you do not want to carry around with you all day (lets say it is a ceramic Mickey figurine, or a cool beer stein…) Disney will deliver it to your hotel room by the next afternoon at no additional charge! Since it is next day delivery, it is not available the day before you check out. Get more information on this service here.
- There are always great restaurants and bars at the Disney hotels. If you are going to be spending considerable time at the hotel, you might want to invest in a bottomless reusable mug, you can pick on up and you get free refills of soda, tea, coffee and such the entire time of your stay. Run the numbers and how long you will be staying because it might be worth it for your family and help you save a few bucks.
- If you opt for the Disney Dining Plan, it can be used at the resort restaurants. I personally have never purchased a dining plan because we stay at Disney’s Fort Wilderness campground in our Airstream travel trailer. Since we have a full kitchen with us, it usually doesn’t make sense to pay for the plan, but I have had many people tell me they saved a considerable amount of money. (In my opinion… there ain’t nothin’ better than a big breakfast cooked while camping!)
Pick your restaurants with care. Many people go to Disney World with the mindset to get as many rides in as possible and to eat on the run. I highly recommend that you pick at least one meal a day (lunch or dinner) and take a break from the chaos, sit in an air-conditioned spot and enjoy the down time. If you plan it right, you can reserve a spot that has character dining. There are several to choose from and depending on the age and gender of your kids, you can taylor the experience. The top photo on this post was taken at the Crystal Palace at lunch. It is located inside the Magic Kingdom and they feature Winnie the Pooh and his pals. The character dining is a great way to meet the characters because you sit and eat, they make their rounds to the tables for picture and autographs. No waiting in lines, no fussy kids in the heat and they are entertained during the meal… it gives you a few more minutes to linger over a cool drink and enjoy the air conditioning. There is character dining at many of the resorts as well as the parks. You can choose from breakfast at Chef Mickey’s at the the Contemporary resort, or Breakfast at ‘Ohanas with Lilo and stitch or dinner inside Cinderella’s Palace with the princesses. The Disney Food Blog has some great tips for character dining that are well worth the read. Many of the restaurants are so popular that it helps to have reservations, you can make them here, make sure not too wait until the last minute.
Fast Passes. Disney has been using fast passes for years now, but recently they have changed things up a bit and they are now calling it Fast Pass Plus (FPP). FPP is linked to your Magic Band (see below) or your credit-card-looking park ticket, and it allows you to schedule and have up to 4 rides in your ride queue at any given time. Like I said earlier, when you are staying on Disney property, you can start making those FPP “ride reservations” 60 days before your trip. When you are not staying on property you can make FPP reservations 30 days before your trip. In both scenarios, you must purchase your ticket in advance before your can make the reservations. When you are at the park you can add a ride to your queue as soon as you complete a ride so that there are no more than 4 on your list at a time. There can be a lot of strategy into what rides to pick and what time to schedule them, but the main point is that you are drastically cutting the time that you are waiting in lines (often no wait at all). As anyone with kids knows, the shorter the wait the better! You can schedule FPP several ways, you can use the My Disney Experience website, you can download the My Disney Experience app for your smart phone, you can schedule FPP when you arrive at your hotel, or you can do it in the parks at one of the numerous kiosks (FYI – last time I was there the kiosks had about a 15 minute wait time). I highly recommend one of the first two options since they allow you to take advantage of scheduling it 30 or 60 days in advance to get the times you want for rides. The great thing about having the app on your phone is that as soon as you get off one ride you can add another on your way to the next ride. Or if Jr. melts down and you need to go sit down for lunch and take a break, you can rearrange your FPP schedule without having to go to a kiosk. Disney is brilliant!!
MagicBands are the bracelets that are your key to EVERYTHING. You get one if you are staying on property or if you are a Walt Disney World Pass Holder. It can customized in different colors and they print the name on the inside of the bracelet. They are mailed to you before your vacation so that you can link them to your tickets and start making FPP reservations. MagicBand is your hotel room key, and you can charge to your hotel account anywhere in the park (if you put a credit card on file at the hotel). If you are not staying on Disney property you will receive a plastic card when you purchase your park ticket (it looks like a credit card) and you can also load FFP reservations on it but only starting 30 days before your visit rather than 60 days. MagicBands can be purchased at the parks or in DownTown Disney.
Rider Switch pass. Even if you use FPP you might still want to take advantage of Disney’s Rider Switch passes. Select rides at each of the four parks allow rider switch so that your entire party can ride on a ride with out having to wait in the long line twice when you have a young child or baby that cannot go on the ride. Let’s say that your family wants to go on Space Mountain but your youngest child does not meet the hight requirement for the ride. All of you enter the line and ask the cast member for a rider switch pass. You or your spouse then waits outside with the child that cannot ride, once you are done, the spouse that didn’t get to ride takes the rider swap pass (and usually up to 3 other people even if they just went on the ride) and goes to the Fast Pass entrance. The line is much shorter and every one gets to ride. It even allows both parents to ride the ride with the older child and not miss out on the fun of getting to ride together!
Have realistic expectations. Don’t set your vacation up for failure by expecting too much, from your kids, yourself, or what you can cram into one day. With Aiden, all 3 trips have been pretty easy because when he gets tired he easily falls asleep in his stroller. We then just walk around, grab a snack or alternate going on rides. If Aiden was getting tired of sitting in the stroller, we usually head to a playground or a spot he can run around. The last time we were there, we had over 20 extended family members with us with a wide range of kids ages. Kids were getting worn out at different times, and it it was nice to break from the group and just walk around and find a quite cool place to sit for a while. We don’t have a minute by minute agenda.
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