Today I’m sharing my top recommendations on how to do Disney with young kids. I’ve been asked by several friends what tips I have for them before they leave on their own vacations. If I’m given specific questions, I can definitely give answers, but when put on the spot with general tips my mind instantly goes blank. In the moment, I can tell when things definitely make a positive difference in our time at Disney, but once the trip is over and we are back in the real world, it all feels like it was such a blur. However, having relived our trip during my last two Disney Recap posts, I was able to compile a list of my top travel tips. But first I’m going to have some mommy nostalgia.
One year ago today, I found out we were pregnant with Baby #2. We weren’t preventing but weren’t completely trying either, though we had always said we would try for #2 around the time Laney turned 1. It took us longer than we thought it would to conceive Laney, so not wanting to stress about it each month, we just assumed this would probably be the case this time around too. Wrong. So on this day, one year ago, I took a second pregnancy test. I had already taken one test 3 days earlier, which was negative. Or so I thought. I’ll never truly know. When I took a test to confirm Laney’s pregnancy, it turned positive immediately. So I gave this first test no more than a minute or so; the second line didn’t appear right away, so I threw it in the trash. When I took the second test several days later, I let it sit longer on the counter just in case. Several minutes later, that second line appeared. My heart jumped to my throat and I literally paced circles around my bedroom. After the initial shock wore off, the worry set in. I started to worry … were my hormones not increasing fast enough to support this pregnancy since the test didn’t change as quickly as Laney’s? I began to fall down into the deep, dark rabbit hole. Fast forward a few weeks later to our first doctor’s appointment. When the nurse took my blood pressure she asked if I was nervous. Duh. She said it was through the roof but apparently nothing to be worried about since it was nerves-driven. As you have already seen, this pregnancy has a cute and happy ending. Our Morgan Grace is healthy and perfect. 🙂
Months earlier I had seen a cute iron-on letters set that spelled out Big Sister at Hobby Lobby on the clearance rack. I grabbed it with hopes that one day in the future Laney would be able to wear it on a shirt. When Laney woke up that morning, we went to Monday’s Story Time at the library and then to Hobby Lobby to get a onesie. Once back home and down for a nap, I ironed the letters on to the shirt. Later that evening when she went down for her second nap, I put her in the onesie and captioned our letter board: Surprise! Michie Party of Four Coming October 2018. When Brad got home from work, I told him that Laney needed to get up from her nap and that he could go get her. I anxiously waited in the kitchen for him to walk around the corner expecting him to have surprise all over his face. He nonchalantly walked back into the kitchen and just looked at me while holding Laney. I was thinking to myself, “Did he not even see her shirt?”. So I said, “Laney, did you show Daddy your shirt?” He said, “Yeah, Big Sister. That’s weird–did you just get it off of the clearance rack because it was cute?” (I’m a bargain shopper.) I gave him a look. Then the lightbulb clicked. His eyes widened as he looked from me to Laney and back to me. Then finally he asked, “You’re pregnant?!” My nervous laugh came out as I said yes. The three of us then had a mini celebration in the kitchen with sparkling grape juice before dinner and took a couple of selfies (We changed Laney so that we could post these pictures but not give away the surprise quite yet). I’ll never forget that day.
Toddler Travel Tips: Disney Edition
Fast forward to December 2018 — Morgan was 2 months old, Laney was a month away from turning 2 and we were finalizing the details of our vacation to Disney World as a family for four. We have now gone to Disney World with an 11 month old and most recently, an almost 2 year old and a 2 month old. Here are my travel tips when vacationing at Disney with little ones:
Stay on Property
One word. Convenience. Staying on property is such a game changer. My parents realized this back when I was a tween (and my brother was a baby) during a stay at Disney’s Contemporary Resort when my Dad’s company hosted a business conference there. Families were allowed to tag along on this trip and we learned firsthand how much easier it makes things to be right there in the middle of the action. The Contemporary is walking distance to Magic Kingdom and is on the monorail which can take you to the Transportation & Ticket Office to get to Epcot by another monorail. You can also grab a bus to the other parks from the hotel directly. This convenience does come at a cost, with a resort like this being at their top tier of hotel classifications. Good news is, Disney offers various tiers to accommodate most budgets. They have what they call their value resorts including Pop Century and the All-Star Resorts. The only downside to these is that they are a little out of the way from the parks and travel time is a little longer around property. Their mid-range hotels, or moderate resorts, are like your happy medium between value and deluxe (Contemporary). I personally have stayed in each of these categories, but since Brad and I have been married, we have stayed in one moderate, Caribbean Beach Resort, for our 2 year anniversary and one deluxe, The Beach Club Resort, on our honeymoon. We had a great experience at both. Since then we have traveled with my family and stayed deluxe through Disney Vacation Club (DVC) at resorts including Wilderness Lodge, The Polynesian and Saratoga Springs. Find the price range that works for you and then select which option best fits your family. The transportation is key. It eliminates driving in yourself and paying for parking at each theme park and even if you stay somewhere that has a shuttle, it will probably just take you to Disney Springs, which means you will have load and unload from the shuttle just to do the same thing on the bus. Less is more, especially when lugging all of the gear you need with kids. Also, always check for deals. Disney is almost always running some sort of promotion that you can take advantage of. Another perk of staying on property is early access to making dining reservations, FastPasses and other things like Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique, Pirate’s League and Harmony Barber Shop. Totally worth it.
Use the Disney Experience App
Several years ago, Disney released their Disney Experience App. With each trip we have been on in the last couple of years, they continue to improve it and add new features. From the app you can do online check-in a couple of weeks prior to your trip. It links your magic bands and asks what time you plan to arrive into town. Even though check-in time isn’t until 4:00pm, sometimes you can get in your room several hours earlier because of this. And the best part? You don’t have to stop by the lobby. The app will send you a text and an email when your room is ready with the room number. Then you can simply go straight to your room, swipe your magic band on the door and you’re in! You can also purchase tickets, make dining reservations, book ride FastPasses, check ride wait times as well as show times and view maps of each park. It’s amazing! It also syncs any pictures a Disney photographer takes of you with characters, etc. or any that may be taken of you while on a ride. The newest feature I noticed this last trip was bus arrival times. For awhile now, Disney has had big screens at the bus stops showing arrival times, but this time we were able to see what time each park’s bus was scheduled to arrive at our stop through the app. No need to rush to the bus stop just to wait for 20 minutes. You can keep an eye on it while getting ready and wait in the comfort of your room before heading down to the bus stop. And while we are talking about transportation I will also say to give yourself a 1 hour grace period when traveling around the resort, an hour and a half if it’s busy time of year. If you factor in a 10-15 minute wait for a bus, a 20 minute ride to the park and then 20 minutes to unload, get through security, get through the entrance gates and then to wherever you are headed whether for a reservation or a ride’s FastPass, you should have enough time.
Don’t Opt for the Dining Plan
If I can give you one money saving tip, it’s this: don’t do the dining plan. It may sound appealing, especially if they are trying to bundle it into your reservation but don’t do it. I repeat, don’t do it. When I was younger, my family chose this option for a couple of our vacations back when it was a new concept. Our takeaway was that it was just too much food. So. Much. Food. The package gives you an appetizer, entree and dessert at each meal. So yes, they literally give you the option of which dessert you want with breakfast. We felt like we were eating all the time and it cut into a lot of our park time because we had spent the money on the food already and didn’t want to waste it, but a couple days into the trip, we were so sick of eating. The package also has snacks built in that you can purchase from the restaurants or gift shops. We would come home with a bag full of rice krispie treats and other snacks; even some of the leftover desserts we were too full to each after the meals. Sometimes the meals at the quick service locations are big enough to split so you can definitely save yourself some money by forgoing the dining plan.
These days, Disney seems to be crowded year round. To prevent yourself from spending more time waiting in lines than on actual rides, book FastPasses prior to your trip! If you are staying on property, you can make them 60 days in advance; if you are staying off property, you can make them 30 days in advance. Recently, they changed how you can book them. Each day, you can book 3 FastPasses at one park. Once those 3 are used you can book an additional FastPass one at a time. So if you are going to Magic Kingdom and Epcot in one day, you have to book 3 at Magic Kingdom or 3 at Epcot. You can’t mix them up between multiple parks. Then once these 3 are used you can book another, so if you book your 4th one of the day during a window from 4:00-5:00pm, you can’t book another FastPass until after your magic band has been scanned for this ride. The later in the day it gets, the slimmer your chances are of getting additional FastPasses. After this 4:00pm ride, there may only be a couple of rides remaining in the FastPass system with availability only at 9:00pm or later. Some rides jump to over a 90 minute wait within 30 minutes of the park opening and never drop lower than that. Pandora, located at Animal Kingdom, is home to a couple of new rides, one of which had a 3+ hour wait by 9:20am when we were there, just 20 minutes after the park had opened. Sometimes you can get lucky during meal times. We typically eat dinner at an off time in hopes of getting on a ride that may have a shorter wait due to many people looking for something to eat. Long story short, make FastPasses for the rides/shows on your must do list. Depending on how crowded the parks are, they may be the only things you are able to do.
Take a Carrier
With how little Morgan still was at the time of our trip, I knew I wanted to wear her each day at the parks to keep her close. She would have still been too small for a double umbrella stroller and if we had wanted to put her in a stroller, we would have had to use our City Select, which means we would have had to lug around her carseat. Talk about a transportation nightmare. Between me and Brad, we would have to have held Morgan, Laney, a car seat, a stroller and a backpack each time we got on and off of a bus. No thanks. The carrier kept me hands free and Morgan covered from outside exposure unless I pulled down her shade flap.
An Umbrella Stroller Gets the Job Done
No need for a fancy jogging stroller, an umbrella stroller is all you need. If you don’t have one and prefer to take what you already have, that’s fine too, but when navigating through crowds and tight spaces, umbrella strollers are the way to go. Not to mention they are easy to fold up and lightweight when traveling on the monorails and buses. I definitely plan to purchase a double umbrella stroller for our trip later this year. Regardless of what stroller you use, it’s also beneficial to tie a ribbon or something noticeable to your stroller to make it stand out amongst the others. Sometimes when you park it for a ride, cast members will come by and move them either to consolidate space or to a different nearby location. These markers help locate your stroller quicker so that you are on your way to the next destination in the park and not aimlessly wandering around trying to decipher your stroller amongst a sea of strollers that are all basically the same color and style.
Get a Rain Cover & Pack Ponchos
You want to know a quick way to ruin your day? Getting soaking wet. Especially when you weren’t expecting it. Now if you’re riding Kali River Rapids, that’s one thing, but if you’re caught in the typical Florida pop up shower totally unprepared that’s another. The Dollar Store sells a two pack of plastic ponchos for, you guessed it, $1. We have used these on many trips. They are thin but definitely keep you dry. And because of their size, packaging is limited and these are easy to fit into a diaper bag or backpack. Also, invest in a stroller cover. BuyBuyBaby sells them and you can get them online pretty inexpensively. Some are stroller specific but most are universal to the type of stroller (umbrella, jogger, etc). We bought one for our umbrella stroller two trips ago when it looked like there was going to be a significant amount of rain during our time at Disney. Since we typically carried our backpack diaper bag or hung it on the stroller handles, we had room to shove the cover in the basket under the stroller. Their flexibility also allowed us to keep it under there even when we folded the stroller up. Luckily, the initial trip we purchased the cover for didn’t have as much rain as originally forecasted. Do you feel a but coming on? … But … the one time I didn’t think I needed to cover the stroller while we went and had lunch … you guessed it … pop up shower. Our stroller got soaked along with almost everyone else’s around us except for like 3 smart people who had put their covers on. Laney had to sit on a poncho the rest of the day so that her clothes didn’t get wet from sitting in the stroller. I definitely learned my lesson. When we went this past December, I put that puppy on during every ride and every meal. And it definitely paid off several times. I look liked the smart one this past trip amongst many wet strollers. Mom win!
Make a Reservation for Harmony Barber Shop
If you have a little one who is ready for their first hair cut, I highly recommend booking the ‘My First Haircut Experience’ at Harmony Barber Shop. This cute little shop is located on MainStreet USA in Magic Kingdom. It is very small with only 3 seats so their appointments fill up quickly! With a Disney resort reservation number, you can book 6 months in advance. I’m not sure what the window is if you aren’t staying on property. When Laney got hers, I had actually forgotten all about this but totally lucked out. After several phone calls of checking availability, we were able to snag a cancellation. The ‘My First Haircut Experience’ is actually super reasonable compared to other Disney expenses! It’s only $25! And you receive all of the cut locks in a cute little bag with Mickey stickers, a certificate commemorating the day and Mickey ears embroidered with ‘My First Haircut’ on the back. They also offer regular haircuts as well. I think they are a little more expensive, but not sure of the exact cost. When we checked in for Laney’s appointment (they ask that you check in once at the park to confirm and then show back up a little earlier than your actual appointment time) there was a Dad getting his hair cut and then during Laney’s appointment, another little girl was getting her first haircut too. We traveled with my parents on this trip as well (they came and watched Laney get her haircut on the window seat inside of the barber shop) and we agree that this was hands down our favorite part of the whole trip! Laney loved it too as you can see in the pictures! 🙂
Utilize the Baby Stations
Let me first say that I have no shame feeding my baby anywhere with my cover and I also don’t have a problem with changing diapers in the bathroom changing areas (Disney does a good job keeping them clean), but if you need a break or are trying to escape the winter breeze or summer heat, I definitely recommend utilizing the baby stations. There is one located in each park. All of them include changing tables, nursing rooms, a bathroom and any necessities you may need (at an additional cost). I remember going in with my mom to change my brothers diapers 20 years ago. Wow that felt weird to say. It doesn’t feel that long ago. This last trip we spent a lot of time in the Animal Kingdom Baby Station. This is the only one you can wheel your stroller into. The others aren’t large enough to accommodate this. I can vaguely remember the size and set up from the other parks’ baby stations, but Animal Kingdom definitely has the largest. I’m sure that’s because it’s the newest of all of the parks. It is also conveniently located behind the Starbucks. It was a great place to change the girls, sip on a coffee while Laney enjoyed watching a movie in their play room area and get off of our feet while waiting for our next ride’s FastPass. If you need a break, definitely check them out!
I hope these tips will help you next time you plan a trip to Disney World! Do you have anything you would add to this list? I’d love to know!
Have a magical day!