15 TIPS FOR YOUR DISNEY TRIP (WITH SMALL KIDS!
By Erin McPherson
Taking small kids on a Walt Disney World trip is magical! Seeing the look on your son’s face the first time he hugs Mickey Mouse, or seeing the sheer joy when your daughter meets Cinderella are memories that you will cherish for a lifetime. Whether you are returning to Disney or going for the first time, here are 15 tips to make your trip a little easier so that everyone can truly have a Magical Vacation!
1. Strollers. This one is long but important! The general rule of thumb is to rent a stroller if your kid is under 10 years old. Now, obviously that depends on your kid – but keep in mind that you generally will be walking more than you normally do on most vacations-there is a lot to see!! If your 7 year old tends to become a little cranky when walking about during trips to the mall or grocery store, it may be a good idea to go ahead and rent a stroller. You can rent strollers inside Disney parks. However, these tend to be bulky and made of hard plastic with little to no padding. There are companies in Orlando that rent strollers that will drop them off at your hotel prior to your arrival and pick them back up from your hotel at the end of your stay. The strollers are of fantastic quality, easy to steer, easy to fold, and usually come with a complementary rain cover (that doubles as a wind cover!). Since it is yours for the length of your stay, you have it at all times and can use it throughout the hotels, parks, Disney Springs, etc. without having to worry about spending valuable vacation time renting strollers and turning them back in each day. Three bonus tips– first, if your child is over 40 pounds, opt for the XL stroller. The stroller is the average size, but it is designed to hold kids that are over 40 pounds, so it is easier to steer. Second, if you will have more than one child needing a stroller on your trip, opt for a double (twin) XL stroller. It may be slightly more challenging to get through tight doorways, but it makes life much easier since you are able to give one parent a break while the other pushes. Also using a double stroller eliminates trying to keep up with two separate strollers (strollers are moved around while you are on a ride so that Disney cast members can make room for more strollers). The third bonus tip is this: tie a brightly colored scarf to the stroller. This helps you spot your stroller easily when you are trying to find it in the sea of stroller parking! If you opt to rent a stroller, you will need to reserve it in advance of your trip. There are several companies in Orlando that are reputable, but I personally love magicstrollers.com[magicstrollers.com]. And no, I am not getting a kickback for recommending them (although that’d be nice!) – I found them via a Google search before our first trip and we have used them each time we’ve visited WDW. They have been wonderful even when we turned in strollers that were COVERED with glitter!
2. Packing – A packing list is very important – it is stressful to arrive at your hotel, only to realize you forgot something! I make a packing list and cross things off as I place them in my suitcase. My packing list is split into categories: Packing for me, each kid, the car, the parks, and a “general” list. While packing, I take large Ziploc bags and place our clothes in them for each day of our trip.
If we are going to Magic Kingdom on the first day of our trip, I pack all of our clothes for that day in a Ziploc, and I label it “Monday – Magic Kingdom”. This helps keep our suitcase organized and helps me keep up with coordinating clothes! When we arrive at our hotel, I place all of the Ziplocs into drawers except whichever one I need for the next day. After I have completely unpacked the suitcase, I stand it up in the closet, hang a drawstring trash bag on it, and that becomes our dirty clothes hamper for the week! When it’s time to go home, I tie up the bag and throw the entire bag in the suitcase. When I get home, the bag of dirty clothes goes straight to the laundry room!
3. Park bags – There are lots of blogs that give advice about the “essentials” to pack in your park bags. At some point during the middle of our second trip to Disney, we realized we were carrying around a huge 40 pound backpack for no reason! All it did was weigh us down and cause bag check to take a lot longer! Now, our “park bag” consists of three clear Ziploc bags. The first is for a few miscellaneous essentials. The second consists of a thin towel and an extra set of clothes (including undies!) for each kid. The third contains a poncho for each member of the family (Disney ponchos are expensive, so we usually buy some at Amazon or Walmart). If you have a kid in diapers at the time of your trip, I also recommend having a fourth Ziploc with diapers/wipes and powder/cream so that you can do fast diaper changes. We keep all of these bags in the basket of the stroller. It may seem like a lot to have three or four separate bags instead of one consolidated bag – but unless that bag is clear and doesn’t have any pockets, Ziplocs are the way to go to make bag check faster and easier!
4. Stay organized- Take a few minutes of each morning to set out night clothes or anything you’ll need to lay your hands on when you get back from the parks. Take a few minutes of each night to devote to preparing for the next day of your trip: replenish any items you have used from your park bag/diaper bag and make sure your magic band is accounted for. While it’s tempting to collapse into bed after a long, busy day in the parks, staying organized will help mom keep her sanity. When Mom’s happy, everyone is happy.
5. Ponchos- I mentioned this in #3 above…. But let me reiterate: buy ponchos in advance and keep them nearby!! It rains often at Disney. You can almost guarantee it will rain at some point during your trip. While you won’t actually melt, you don’t want to end up miserably wet or running for cover – especially when you have small kiddos with you.
6. Souvenirs – Go to the Disney store, JCPenneys, or anywhere that sells Disney merchandise, and buy any souvenirs there rather than in the parks. I had read this tip before our first trip, and I am so glad I did because once we arrived at Disney, the identical items were SO much more expensive.
7. Tip envelopes! – We tip our mousekeepers and we tip for character meals, so to save time we go ahead and place tip money in individual envelopes. We label the envelopes by date so that we can easily keep up with what it’s for. Each morning, I place the mousekeeper envelope in plain sight in the hotel room, and I take the tip envelope for our character meal with us. For more information on tipping, message us or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. Take breaks – Take a few minutes to break from rides and lines… and grab a snack! Full bellies keep the whole family happy. Plus, you can’t beat a cool treat on a hot day! (We’ll do another blog on favorite snacks!)
9. Rider Swap – If you are taking kids under the age of five, the Rider Swap pass can be your best friend. It works like this: Your 3 year old JUST fell asleep after hours of fighting a nap, but it’s time to use your Fastpass for Peter Pan’s Flight. Let Dad keep the 3 year old while you and your 5 year old ride! Just ask a ride attendant for a Rider Swap pass. Later, when your 3 year old wakes up, Dad can ride and take BOTH kids with him (in the Fastpass! line)! It’s a win/win. This also works great when one child is not quite tall enough for a ride. Last year, my youngest did not meet the height requirements for Splash Mountain. My husband and I switched out using the Rider Swap pass, so my oldest daughter was able to ride it twice in a row – once with me, and once with him.
10. Play areas – even with Fastpasses, it is inevitable that you will wait in lines at Disney. Between all of the riding in strollers and waiting in lines, kids may get a little antsy and uncooperative. Make sure to take advantage of play areas at the parks to let them just run and get some energy out. Sometimes it is just what they need to be rejuvenated and ready to go onto the next attraction!
11. Resting places – some people strongly believe in leaving the park in the middle of the day to let the kids nap. We have, however, had success with just finding a quiet place in the park to let them nap in the stroller! We prefer to do that so that we don’t waste valuable time (and energy!) leaving the park. Sometimes parents benefit from a little rest just as much as the kids!
12. Parades – we love catching the 3:00 Parade! After learning our lesson the hard way, we were happy to come across a tip: head over to Frontierland about 2:30. Grab some popcorn and a dole whip and get a front seat for the Parade. The Parade starts there, and so once it has passed you, just head to the next attraction (possibly with little to no lines if you go to a nearby attraction!) while the rest of Magic Kingdom is still waiting on the Parade to come by!
13. Driving vs. riding buses – Both have advantages and disadvantages. Personally, with small kids, we feel it’s better for us to drive! After a long, tiring (albeit wonderful!) day in the parks, we love to be able to go to our car and proceed directly back to our hotel without waiting on a bus (not to mention trying to squeeze strollers on the bus with us…).
14. Fastpasses – Disney is not one of those vacations where you can just “wing it.” At least, not with small kids. We very much recommend utilizing Fastpasses as much as possible, and arranging them in sections in the park so that you aren’t running from land to land. We usually take on the park in sections – Tomorrowland and Fantasyland in one day, and then Adventureland and Frontierland on another day. Accordingly, for day one, I schedule all my Fastpasses for Tomorrowland and Fantasyland and for day two, I schedule all our Fastpasses for Adventureland and Frontierland.
15. Baby care centers – There is a Baby Care Center in each park. Changing the baby in one of the many park bathrooms will probably suffice, but if you are taking a small baby and you have forgotten or depleted your supply of baby food, diapers, or other baby essentials – they have you covered!
Every family is different, but we hope that these tips help to make for a more enjoyable vacation.
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