Tips for Taking Kids to Disney World

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Parents planning their child’s first trip to Walt Disney World often have a lot of questions, as visiting Walt Disney World with kids is uncharted territory that can be intimidating. This guide answers some of those questions. It may seem odd for such a guide to be written by people who don’t have kids, but bear with us and we think you’ll agree that there’s a lot of helpful advice here.

Why would you want to read a guide by people with no first hand knowledge of something? It might seem like the equivalent of learning to ride a bicycle from a teacher who has watched a bicycling video on YouTube, but has never actually ridden one. But, perhaps it’s the equivalent of having a fresh set of eyes offer logical insights based upon years of observations, but no direct experience (sort of like those “Washington Outsiders” constantly campaigning for political office…except in this case, we actually ARE outsiders!).

If you’re planning your first trip with kids to Walt Disney World, chances are that you won’t be reading only one planning article or guide–or at least you shouldn’t. So while we think we offer some potentially fresh advice here, we also aren’t definitive experts on this topic. Make sure to read a few other online guides and buy or check out a couple of books from the library (we recommend The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World).

Normally, we don’t cover topics about which we’re so blatantly uninformed. But we do have a bit to say on this topic, and people keep finding this blog via Google (not knowing we don’t have kids) and emailing us questions about traveling with kids. So here’s a guide for those folks. Since there are some serious gaps in our knowledge concerning visiting Walt Disney World with kids, we’ve enlisted the help of our brilliant (and did we mention good looking?) Facebook fans, who provided us over 100 tips for traveling to Walt Disney World with kids. You can find their quotes scattered throughout the article. The great thing about these quotes is that they often provide a sharp contrast to our opinions (and even actual parents can’t seem to agree on things), so they provide multiple perspectives from which you can determine what will work best for you.

This guide is meant to supplement other guides (including our own Walt Disney World 2014 Trip Planning Guide) and provide a reasonably informed (hopefully) perspective parents might not otherwise hear. All in all, we think this is a pretty decent resource to read as you plan that trip with the kids to Walt Disney World!



Attitude

The biggest piece of advice we can offer as outsiders is to know your limitations. We’ve seen this scenario time and time again, in a variety of forms: parent pushes child’s limits in one way or another, and everyone has a bad time. We understand that for many families, Walt Disney World trips with kids at that “right age” are a once in a lifetime thing, and a rite of passage. We understand that these trips are really expensive, and that there’s a natural desire to want to “make as much magic” for the kid as possible.

However, even without having kids, we know that both kids and parents get cranky after too much stimulation. We also believe that the crankiness does not occur in that order–parents are usually the cause, not the kids. Parental crankiness manifests itself in a variety of ways, but the unseen way is the most common: in the stubbornness of wanting to keep pushing when they normally would not in “normal” parent mode. This in turn causes crankiness in the child who is beyond their breaking point, which in turns causes more crankiness in the parent, who keeps thinking about how much the trip cost, and how much fun they “need” to “make” their kids have.

As a parent, attitude is everything. (This will be a pervasive theme of this article.) Don’t go into the trip with the attitude that you need to do 17 attractions per day and must have X, Y, and Z done before 11:30 am. Remember that 4 hours per day of quality time in the parks is better than 8 hours consisting of 2 hours of quality time and 6 hours of miserable time. Yes, trips cost a lot of money, but the only priceless memories are good memories. If your memories are mostly of being at each others’ throats, what is the value of those memories? Very little. Brooke W. hits the nail on the head: “Make time for rest! Do not be warriors. Nothing is fun if the kids are crying and the parents are cranky.”

If you’ve been to Walt Disney World before having kids, don’t expect to go at your old pace or to do the same things you once did. The trade-off for seeing the magic through your children’s eyes as they light up with joy upon meeting Mickey Mouse for the first time is that you can’t do marathon hours in the park like we can (unless you bring grandparents! ;)). For what it’s worth, we’re probably more jealous of your experience than you are of ours.

Approaching the trip with realistic expectations and a positive attitude is the most important element of planning a trip to Walt Disney World with kids. A plan of attack for hitting rides in the most efficient order is a great thing to have (as you’ll read below), but parents should be prepared to abandon those plans immediately once the kids on the trip are beginning to approach that wall.

Don’t let parental stubbornness cause child crankiness.

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What Age is Right

With a realistic and positive attitude set, it’s time to plan that first trip! By far, the most common question we get is, “what age is right?” This is a controversial question, and we’re going to plead ignorance. Not just to avoid offending people who disagree (don’t worry, we’ll likely do that in some manner before the conclusion of this post), but because that’s a loaded question that really depends on your circumstances. Plus, our answer might very well change once we have kids of our own.

It’s a loaded question because what everyone wants out of a trip to Walt Disney World with their kids differs. For many adults who take their really young children, the experience is not about the memories of the kids, but for the parents. It’s about watching their kid’s face light up as they touch Eeyore for the first time, or it’s about getting that first photo in front of Cinderella Castle. We can say now that we probably wouldn’t want to hassle with taking a 1 year old to Walt Disney World now, but our opinion might very well change once we have a 1 year old of our own, and want those memories of our own.

Our advice here would be not to let other people talk you out of the decision you’ve already made concerning when is right for that first trip. It seems like a lot of parents find themselves thinking that they want to take a trip with their toddler for whatever reason, and then turn to other people, almost as if they want to be talked out of the crazy idea.

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In this area of planning, your individual instincts and gut feeling should trump all else. If you want to wait until the kids are old enough to walk, wait. If you want to take them as soon as it’s safe (experts advise that you limit a newborn’s exposure to large groups of people so that they don’t get sick, so they’re the only group we’d rule out definitively as being “not” the right age), more power to you. You know what you want more than I know what you want.

Regardless of when that first trip is, prepare them for it. Build the excitement and help them understand as much about what they’ll see as possible. Jill M. explains this well: “Prep them! As soon you book, start reading Disney stories, watching movies, etc. The Dumbo ride is far cooler after you’ve seen the movie. Meeting Baloo is far more interesting if you’ve seen “The Jungle Book.” Build the anticipation.”

Since this section is more or less, “when to go to Disney World with kids,” we’ll lump time of year in here too. If possible, don’t go when school is out of session (especially if your kids aren’t yet in school). We’re not suggesting that you should pull them out of school, but keep in mind that school holidays are the busiest times to go. David H. offers a glimpse into the madness: “If you have kids that are, let’s say 10 and under, avoid going at peak crowd times if you can. I was there for Christmas Eve last time and the crowd on Main Street/Hub to see the fireworks was insane. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we were afraid that we would get separated from our kids by the crowd and not be able to get to them again right away. It didn’t happen, but just holding hands wasn’t enough. In commercials, there’s plenty of elbow room and you can happen upon Mickey Mouse standing there with few others around, in reality, it’s a nearly solid snowplow of humanity blindly pressing towards the exits and you will be but a snowflake if you’re not careful.”

Our “When to Visit Walt Disney World” page offers some good tips on what times of year are good and bad times to visit.

Sorcerer Mickey Mouse directs a symphony of water in the pool at Disney's All Star Movies Resort.

Where to Stay

Stay a hotel that’s not spread out. The cheapest compact hotel is Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter, but even the Values aren’t terrible options here if your budget doesn’t allow for one of the really compact Deluxe Resorts like the Contemporary or BoardWalk. Basically, stay in the most compact hotel in your price tier. This means French Quarter out of the Moderates, Contemporary out of the Deluxes, and All Star Music out of the Values. The advantages are more pronounced at French Quarter and the compact Deluxes than they are at All Star Music–pretty much all of the Values are equal in size.

Ultimately, this is “best case” advice assuming you don’t have a favorite hotel, and also assuming this really matters. If you despise the theme of the Contemporary and love the Grand Floridian, you’re not going to be substantially inconvenienced by the short walks there. Now, if Old Key West is more up your alley, there might be cause for concern. Old Key West has an internal bus route, which means more bus time with the kids every time you want to grab a meal or do anything within the resort. But it also means that you don’t have to walk incredibly long distances, because there’s that internal bus system.

We’ve found that despite the sentiments of adults, a lot of kids love the over-the-top theming of the Value Resorts. Stacey G. echoes this: “My kids LOVED Pop Century! There is a ping pong table, Twister game and a nightly Disney Movie by the main pool.” Jarrett G. agrees: “Port Orleans was amazing, but I think the kids enjoyed POP the most due to over the top theming. The Disney theming is more subtle in moderate and deluxe. Little kids like to see their comforter covered in Disney Characters.”

Another resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge, that may be inconvenient for people with kids is often popular with families. Megan A. shares: “We took our son to WDW at age 1 and age 2. We stayed at Animal Kingdom Villas, He loved pointing out the animals. We try to do 2 park days, then a rest day, and then 2 park days and a rest day, so that we’re not going, going, going. We took time to watch animals, do the marshmallow roasting and play in the pool. He now calls it ‘our lodge.'”

Stormalong Bay is basically a small water park, and we think it's the best hotel pool at Walt Disney World. Which hotel pool is your favorite?

Resort pools should also be a consideration, as midday breaks at the pool seem to be popular and well-remembered by kids. See what pool theme appeals most (the best pool by far is Storm-Along Bay at the Yacht and Beach Club) to your kids, and factor that in the decision.

Picking the “right” hotel seems to be one of those “YMMV” things. Different themes will appeal to different families. We receive enough feedback from parents who think the spread out resorts are awful because of how inconvenient they are to navigate with kids, but plenty of others don’t mind the internal buses. If you’re not sure whether it will matter to you and you’re traveling with young kids, you might consider hedging your bets and going for one of the more compact resorts. Along these same planning lines, many readers recommended not going to the park everyday, but instead spending a day or two to rest and enjoy the hotel. To that end, make sure you read in advance which Disney tickets are the best to purchase.

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Where to Eat

Certain restaurants are more fun for kids. Namely, restaurants with cool and kid-friendly themes. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater ranks at the top of this list. I still remember eating here as a kid, although I don’t really remember any other restaurant (besides Hoop De Doo Revue, and that’s only because we went there every year, so something was bound to stick to my memory). Our list of the Best Themed Restaurants at Walt Disney World is a great resource for making Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs).

There are some places we don’t recommend dining with kids. We’d try to avoid restaurants that charges a $10/person no-show fee to guarantee an ADR, especially at dinner. This is only charged if you don’t cancel the ADR at least 48 hours in advance. The reason we don’t recommend these restaurants is because you won’t know until the day of if the kids will be good to go for dinner after a long day in the park, and by the time you do know, you either have to cancel and pay the fee, or suck it up and take some potentially cranky kids to dinner to avoid the fee.

In some cases, booking restaurants that charge this fee may seem unavoidable. Popular character restaurants like Chef Mickey’s and Crystal Palace charge this fee, but fortunately, both of these restaurants are open for breakfast, when things are much more predictable with the kids. Doing a character breakfast at Crystal Palace also means getting to enter the Magic Kingdom before guests (if you book a slot in the first hour it’s open–these ADRs are difficult to score), which can be a really special experience for the kids!

Our other recommendation for places that many families should avoid is Signature Restaurants. (There’s a lot of overlap between these restaurants and the $10 fee restaurants, as Signature Restaurants charge the $10 fee.) These restaurants do allow children, and a lot of parents bring their kids to the restaurants. However, they’re upscale restaurants that definitely skew towards adults, with adult ambiance, adult cuisine, and adult prices. If your kids are often loud or unruly during dinner (or need to be entertained with an iPad or coloring book to behave), it’s probably not the best of ideas to bring them to these restaurants. We mention this because a lot of “for kids” guides written by actual parents try to justify taking any children to these restaurants with the mentality that “it’s Disney World, the place was made for kids, they are okay ANYWHERE.”

Speaking for the adults without kids who form the main clientele of Signature Restaurants: this isn’t true at all. Not only was Walt Disney World not built solely “for kids” (look at old “Vacation Kingdom of the World” advertising showcasing golf, formal dining, and water-skiing), but other restaurant patrons will be irritated by the presence of unruly children during their nice, expensive meal. Parents with kids might disagree with this, but we feel it’s one of those trade-offs mentioned at the outset. Adults without kids get to enjoy fine dining, parents get to enjoy the glimmer in their child’s eye when they first meet Pluto…parents, you’re still getting the better end of the deal!

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Neil B. offers a suggestion for the best of both worlds: “Make certain to get a parents only ADR at a signature restaurant located in a resort that has a child care center.” These child care centers are pretty common in the Deluxe Resorts, and an adult’s date night can be fun for the adults AND the kids. Some of the most fun I had at Walt Disney World as a kid was playing at the Neverland Club at Disney’s Polynesian Resort while my parents went to Pleasure Island.

If your kids are well behaved, by all means take them to any restaurant (besides Victoria & Albert’s, where they flat out are prohibited). It might be an expensive way to feed kids, but there’s not necessarily a problem with taking them.

As for counter service restaurants, most places in Walt Disney World have pretty tame options that will appeal to children. World Showcase in Epcot is a notable exception to this, as is Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. World Showcase should come as no surprise, and parents with picky eaters might want to have lunch at Sunshine Seasons before heading to the World Showcase, but Be Our Guest Restaurant is located in New Fantasyland, so this one catches more people by surprise. Be Our Guest Restaurant is really cool and the kids will love the experience, so if you can convince them to try things slightly outside their comfort zones, here would be the place to try that.

Our final recommendation with dining is to go early to avoid the crowds. We recommend everyone do this, but it’s especially important with kids. Some restaurants get really busy around noon, to the point where it can be difficult to find a table. Juggling the kids and trays of food during these times can be difficult (we’ve seen plenty of families struggle with it), and it’s just much easier when things aren’t so busy. The opening times for restaurants varies, but most start serving lunch at 10:30 am or 11 am.

Check out our Walt Disney World restaurant reviews to read more about particular restaurants.

Attractions

The salient recommendation here is to not take kids on rides that they’re not ready to experience. How can you know whether they’re ready? Well, the best way is to gauge their reactions or what they say when they approach an attraction. Lots of kids are scared at the prospect of the Haunted Mansion, and just because a Cast Member tells you that it’s mostly comical ghosts doesn’t mean your kids will pick up on that nuance of the attraction. To them it might be the case that a ghost is a ghost is a ghost, and all are equally scary. You may also find they’re scared of things that seem innocuous. If they are reluctant to go on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, don’t force them. Kids won’t even be able to ride some attractions due to height, something Tonya J. reminds us of: “With small children, they can not ride most of the rides until they are 40-44″ tall.” However, it’s important to remember that height is no guarantee that a child will enjoy an attraction.

It seems like everyday we’re in Walt Disney World, we see parents trying to coax their kids to “be brave” and go on a particular attraction. This probably stems from the mentality that the vacation was expensive, and parents want to get their money’s worth. If the attraction is going to traumatize the child and make them nervous about experiencing subsequent attractions with which they otherwise wouldn’t have had an issue, what is gained by forcing them to “be brave”? Nothing. Their memories of the trip will form around those negative experiences, and there will be issues for the rest of the day or rest of the trip. So why force it?

The rationale kids have for wanting to do or not wanting to do things perplexes even astronauts (who are supposed to know everything), so there’s no sense trying to rationalize or reason with them about experiencing an attraction. Karin J. offers solid advice in this regard: “Do not take young children on attractions they aren’t ready for. I’ve heard many stories from others who did that and it can ruin the trip, because the child is miserable and then can be fearful of everything afterward. Test them with tamer rides first if young and see what they like and can handle.”

Of course, you know your kids better than a guide written by some stranger who doesn’t know your kids, and there’s always the chance that your kids have initial hesitation but are typically fine once they actually engage in the experience. If you know this to be the case with your kids, disregard the above advice, and encourage them to go on attractions about which they’re nervous. But if you don’t know, and find yourself just pushing them because you want to do as much as possible, rethink the strategy.

As for what attractions are best for kids, that depends on the kid. We’ve seen kids like and dislike just about every attraction at Walt Disney World, and any list you see elsewhere is going to be based on what the list writer’s kids enjoy. Their kids aren’t your kids. I absolutely loved Country Bear Jamboree as a child (and still love it), but I read parents all the time who call it a snoozer that puts their kids to sleep. While I assume these kids are communists ;), the point stands that what different people and kids enjoy may be shocking. Erin S. illustrates this point with her daughter: “You can’t plan for everything, so be prepared to go with the flow. Who knew my daughter’s fave ride would be the transportation bus?”

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To get an idea of what your kids will like in advance, we recommend watching YouTube attraction ride through videos; just search for the attraction name plus “ride through” and you should find plenty of results. You might even watch these with your kids so you can see their reaction to specific attractions (like we said above, they may be scared by things that surprise you and they may like things that you thought would’ve scared them). You should also order a Free Vacation Planning DVD from Disney to watch with your kids. Not only will it get them excited for the trip, but it will give them an idea of what to expect (of course, it might create expectations that you’ll then have to fulfill, too…).

It’s also important to remember that, for kids, character meet & greets are an important part of the experience. Doing a character meal can be a great way to see several characters without waiting in line, and while eating in the air conditioning. We highly recommend character meals. If you don’t want to do character meals, indoor meet & greets are typically better options. Megan R. shares: “Waiting in line for the Epcot Character Spot is better than waiting in separate lines (usually in the heat outside) for the main characters, if that’s something your kiddos want.” Multiple “Fab Five” characters are in the Character Spot, and although the line can get long for this meet & greet, it’s still usually shorter than waiting in separate lines elsewhere. Chris T. has a recommendation for meet and greets with which we strongly agree: “Skip the stupid autograph books. If you have an outgoing child who’s not afraid to talk, get them to interact with the characters. They’ll have a lot more fun.”

No matter how much you prep yourself and them, there’s always the possibility (nay, probability) that they’ll surprise you once you visit. To this day I remember being scared senseless by the Universe of Energy as a child and hiding on the floor of the ride vehicle when I saw the dinosaurs…and I loved dinosaurs as a child. This was no fault of my parents, but it made for a bad experience that I still remember. Unpredictable things like this happen, and the best you can do is damage control once they do happen.

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Plan of Attack

If you’re like my dad, you teach your children life lessons through maxims and colloquialisms. A popular one is always “the early bird gets the worm.” A trip to Walt Disney World is a great time to really hammer this one home. (Okay, maybe not in the sense that the trip is really the time for teaching them life lessons, but you should follow it on the trip.)

Tackling Walt Disney World with kids is so much easier if you’re up early and to the parks before they open. Ideally, you want to arrive 15-30 minutes before official opening time, and you want to have a plan of attack for at least your early morning. Usually this will involve experiencing several attractions in Fantasyland and New Fantasyland, most of which are quickly experienced and can get long lines later in the day. In these cases, the difference between being to the park at 8:30 am versus 10:30 am can be a 5 minute wait for Peter Pan’s Flight versus a 60 minute wait for Peter Pan’s Flight. The importance of arriving early cannot be understated.

As for specific plans of attack, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney Worldwhich we recommend above, has great pre-made plans. TouringPlans.com is the online home of this book and offers these same plans, plus an app that shows the time you’ll actually wait for an attraction at a certain time of day (often radically different than Disney’s inflated posted wait times) and touring plans that you can personalize and optimize. You can also find “attack plans” at a number of Disney fan sites for free via Google.

There are few more beautiful sights in the world than Cinderella Castle. Just seeing that makes all of the

Don’t expect to stick to these plans if you have small children. They may become tired, irritated, or they may spontaneously see something they really, really want to do. We’re not suggesting that you should always let kids call the shots, but at Walt Disney World…there are a lot of circumstances where you should let kids call the shots. If your rabbit-loving kid see White Rabbit and Alice over by the Mad Tea Party, but your plans call for doing Barnstormer, it’s going to be difficult to explain the importance of “efficiency” and skipping Alice and White Rabbit. When you’re with kids, these plans should be a rough outline of the day, not rigid plans of attack.

This was advice multiple parents shared with us, and the recurring theme of this advice was that it’s important to slow down and not over-plan. Jennifer D. puts it rather succinctly: “Be patient and don’t over plan. Younger kids will go at their own pace.” Sharlene M. expands upon this a bit, advising: “The youngest member of your group is always going to determine your touring style. Slow down, take a nap, and keep them on as close to their normal schedule as possible, especially for meals. You will have a better trip and everyone else will too. A melt down is no fun for anyone.”

Beyond arriving early and having a loose plan, you should also utilize Disney’s free FastPass system, which allows you to get a ticket to return to an attraction at a later time and bypass most of the line at select attractions. Again, be prepared not to use these if your plans change. There’s no crime in letting a FastPass go to waste. Another similar time-saving option is the Rider Switch Pass (more commonly known as a “Child Swap”), which can be obtained from Cast Members outside attractions with height limits. This pass allows one parent to stay with the kids who don’t meet the height requirement for an attraction while the other parent (or group of above-height people) waits with the kids. When the riding parent/group is done, the waiting parent/group (up to 3 per pass) can use the pass as a FastPass. Since three people can use the pass, your kids who are tall enough to ride the attraction can conceivably go twice: once in line with the first parent, and the second time by using the pass with the parent who did the watching the first time!

Midday breaks are another popular recommendation, and these are something we advise taking advantage of for both parents and non-parents. The middle of the day is not only the busiest time at the parks, but it’s the hottest, too! A midday break allows you to return for nighttime fun, so definitely leave the park during the middle of the day.

When it comes to a “plan” for preserving memories, Karin J. reminds families that photo time should be early in the day on the plan: “Take pictures early in the day when the kids are happy and not worn out…have a current photo that shows exactly what they’re wearing if you get separated during the day.”

Strollers

Strollers receive their own section here since so many parents shared advice concerning strollers. We figure if this many people are sharing advice about them, stroller tips must be pretty important. The advice over strollers was pretty divided in some regards, with conflicting opinions even from parents. We are of the opinion that strollers are often a necessity. The parks are huge and small children simply cannot be expected to traverse World Showcase or Animal Kingdom without some assistance. However, for larger children, strollers might be overused. If these children have otherwise hit their limit, should they really be forced to kept going with strollers? Especially when they never use strollers are home?

When you look back at photos of Walt Disney World in the 1970s, 1980s, or even early 1990s as we often do, you notice far (FAR!) fewer strollers scattered all around the parks. This isn’t because more children are visiting now, it’s because a greater segment of children are using strollers. Heck, we visited Disneyland Paris recently, and the comparative use of strollers between guests at US Disney parks and the Paris park was shocking. There were still strollers, but not nearly as many. I assume a big part of this has to do with the active lifestyles of Europeans as compared to Americans, but that’s just a guess. Anyway, our first piece of advice when advance planning would not be to plan on renting a stroller for older kids, but would instead be to work on increasing their stamina before the trip. Strollers are just as much a hassle as they are a convenience, so why take one if you really don’t need it? Of course, this won’t be practical advice for everyone, and we recognize that.

Reader Rhonda B. agrees: “Have your child walk. We took our children to Disney back in the days when children were not obese, went outside to play, and exercised. They were 2 and 4 years old….now 22 and 24 (currently a cast member). My youngest, age 2, did just fine.”

However, not everyone agrees. “Rent a stroller! Even for your kids that have outgrown them…Something that’s comfortable for the kids, we had an lightweight break and had to call Orlando Stroller Rentals they got us one that day. Amazing. It cost the same as our stroller we bought and it was a double, had lots of room for bag and a big sun shade,” says Jill M.

It’s about a 50/50 split as to whether you should bring a stroller or rent one at Walt Disney World. Megan R. shared this: “TAKE your own stroller! Totally not a hassle in the airport (can be gate checked for free) and so much nicer and cheaper than renting the plastic ones from Disney.” On the other side, some parents recommend renting a stroller because what you’ll want at Walt Disney World might differ from what you’d normally use at home. Again, a YMMV situation.

Regardless of whether you rent or bring your own, the overwhelming recommendation parents shared with us was to use an umbrella stroller. Dawn B. said this: “When my boys were younger, we always brought umbrella strollers (if it reclines for naps, that’s a bonus–not all umbrella’s recline). The umbrella stroller was nice because it folds easily for bus rides to parks and helps save grown ups from carrying little ones from the parking lot into the park.”

Kayla E. shared a few additional tips: “Bring a poncho or rain cover for your stroller…if you’re in a ride or eating when an afternoon rainstorm breaks out, that will help. Tie a scarf, balloon, something identifying on stroller. It will probably be moved from the time you park it to picking it up.” She further added, “think in advance how you’ll ride the bus. If you have two or more kids, a stroller, and a few bags, boarding the bus can be a mess. Know how to fold the stroller, and if you can, fold it before the bus arrives, not as you’re stepping aboard.” The bus advice is something to consider when deciding which stroller to use in the parks. On the one hand, a Cadillac-sized stroller can be nice to use, but the drawback is transporting it when there aren’t kids in it, which can really be a pain. Weigh the pros and the cons before settling on one stroller.

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Enhancing the Fun!

A lot of people look for little ways to make the trip more “magical” for their kids. We’d advise parents not to fret too much about adding more “magic” for the kids, as it seems more likely to put pressure on the adults than to really result in that much of an enhanced experience for the kids. Really, if you’re a kid at Walt Disney World, that’s already about as magical as it gets.

There are ways to make the trip more “interactive” for the kids. Ben H. summarizes some of our favorites: “Hidden Mickey books go over well, too. And prizes to daily winners, if you can afford. The books have different Mickeys at different point values, as do the apps! Disposable cameras are an inexpensive way to let a kid be a photographer without risking their iPod Touch or your iPhone to damage. Zip-top bags are a must for electronics… they’ve saved my butt more than once in a surprise rain storm!” Buying Disney pins in advance of the trip to trade with Cast Members was another piece of popular advice. Here’s what Bernadette G. had to say: “Pin trading was a huge hit for our three kids (teen through six year old) on our first trip to WDW last year – great for helping shy ones muster up the courage to interact with cast members, etc. I second (third?) buying them in advance on ebay – we doled them out a bit at a time over the vacation to spread out the fun.”

The over-arching advice regarding souvenirs is to always buy before leaving home, as things are much more expensive in the parks. Rosalie gives another example: “Bring your own costumes, never buy them at the parks. Buy your Princess dresses right on or immediately after halloween from Disney.com, they will be on sale, or wait for any of the numerous sales Disney.com has. Never pay full price, if you like it, wait and it will go on sale.”

A recommendation of something that might make the trip a little more special for parents is shared by Darleen L., who writes: “Many people don’t know about the Main Street Barber Shop. It is NOT just there for looks/atmosphere. They do an AMAZING “baby’s first haircut” there! By amazing, I mean, take your tissue and camera!”

Another miscellaneous tip comes from Sara S., who recommends taking a lot of photos (we agree!): “Another tip that was great for our family is take pictures of everything. My husband loves photography and snaps pictures constantly. It’s not uncommon for him to take over 6,000 in a 10 day trip…. He took tons of shots of our kids, but also took lots and lots of pictures of the parks themselves. There are so many details that I missed because I was so busy looking down at our youngest. I was so grateful to have to pictures when I came home, even the ones that were a little out of focus!”

We could keep going and going with tips, as lots of great ones were shared, but we fear this article is already bordering on information overload. If you still have unanswered questions, feel free to post them below! If you want perspective from actual parents, consider visiting the Walt Disney World Mom’s Panel. If you want to read all of the tips parents provided to us in their original context, check out this Facebook post with all tips that were shared with us.

We’ll close out this article with perhaps the best piece of advice and something that’s always worth remembering from reader Anthony G., who writes, “BE A KID TOO! All the prep tips are awesome. But enjoying Disney with your kids as a kid is the best part of going to Disney with Kids!”

We agree. A trip to Walt Disney World with kids can seem overwhelming and it might sound like a lot can go wrong…but way more can go right than can go wrong. Roll with the punches and remember to lighten up and have fun!

Looking for Disney trip planning tips? Make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and Disneyland Trip Planning Guide.

For updates on Walt Disney World, the latest news, discount information, and tips, sign up for our free monthly newsletter!

Your Thoughts…

Now that you’ve heard from two people without kids, let’s hear from people who actually have kids. What tips do you parents think are most important? Which advice we shared do you agree with? Where do you disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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102 Responses to “Tips for Taking Kids to Disney World”

  1. Anthony G says:

    GREAT POST TOM!

    You did a great job piecing all the advice together. I especially loved the closing quote…I am a bit biased however…..

    I LOVE reading your and looking at your blog. Keep up the good work. I am going to Disney with my four kids(ages 3-6) from April 23-30 this year. I will be utilizing the great photography advice you offer…as well as the advice from this post!

    Have a magical Day!

  2. Lisa says:

    Very good tips, though I’m a bit surprised you didn’t mention the Child Swap option for some attractions. Definitely a life-saver for families with multiple-age kids when one is too young to ride.

    I also agree with your sentiments on the strollers. It wasn’t long ago I read a question posted to the Disney Parks Mom’s Panel of a mother inquiring about where she could get a stroller for her 13 year old son. That’s when a stroller isn’t the best solution, a mid-day break is (or maybe an exercise regimen).

    Great article! I always enjoy reading your and Sarah’s ideas and tips!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Oh wow, I can’t believe I glossed over Child Swap. I guess that’s what happens when you write a 5,000+ word article and bounce around from section to section when writing it. Hopefully I don’t have any unfinished sentences anywhere! Going back to add that now…

      If anyone sees anything else that I missed that’s really obvious, please post it!

      As for the 13 year old thing…wow.

  3. Rachel says:

    Awesome article!! I just got back from WDW on Monday night and I can not tell you how many burnt out miserable children were having meltdowns through out the park. The Magic Kingdom’s magical hours were til 3am on Sunday and parents still had their toddlers out and about then and none looked happy to be there. I’m not a parent yet but I can’t imagine that forcing your young child to be out til 3am is ever a good idea.

    • Bernadette says:

      One of my kids’ most-mentioned memories from our trip to WDW last year is of seeing a little girl in a princess gown who had clearly just had her hair done at Bippity Boppity Boutique rolling on the ground during a full-blown temper tantrum. The parents looked as overwhelmed as the child – hopefully they all went back to their room for a nice long nap after that!

  4. Kevin C. says:

    Tom, great article. Is this a method of collecting your thoughts before taking the plunge??? lol

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Haha! We definitely plan on having kids, but we’re probably 5 years away from that. We still have a lot of adventures planned, many of which would be really difficult with young kids in tow. We know kids offer a great new perspective, but for now we are enjoying the perspective we currently have.

      I’m sure I’ll look back at some of these tips a few years after becoming a parent and laugh, realizing how little I knew about visiting with kids. From the outside, most seem solid, though!

      • Rosalie says:

        On my Disneymoon in 2005 my husband and I looked at each other after watching a 3 year old melt down in front of us, and we both said that we would NEVER take a child that wasn’t at least 6 to disney (why we chose 6, I don’t know). Last year we took our 5,3,&1 year olds for their first trip. And it was amazing, so glad we didn’t wait. But yes, you will laugh at some of the things you ‘thought’ you knew.

      • Lisa says:

        Tom, I think so much of this is perspective. I am a single mom with a boy who just turned 5. I take that kid everywhere! We have been to Disney every year since he turned 3. I’ve taken him to Civil War reinactments, NYC, Philidelphia, DC (a lot), Alexandria, Annapolis, St. Augustine, and a crap ton of 80s rock concerts (Heart, Rush, Def Leppard just to name a very few). Kids are as hard or easy to travel with as you make them. My son travels great! We drive everywhere (15 hours from where we live to Disney) and he has no problems. He is adventurous, will try lots of foods, is not at all shy. He wants to go to the Grand Canyon next summer as opposed to Disney and we are going to Paris the year after that. No reason your little one couldn’t be just as great of a traveler! :o)

      • Jessica says:

        Hi Tom
        I would really appreciate it, if you could private message me. I am so confused for my trip with my soon to be 6 yr old -.-

      • Tammi says:

        Excellent advice. I agree with pretty much all of it. My first trip to any place Disney was my honeymoon to Disney World. I remember my husband and I seeing a lot of unhappy children and we said we would never take a child before the age of 12 (we chose this age because of a particularly well behaved boy waiting in line with us for Big Thunder Mountain.)

        Fast forward to actually having a child. Her first trip was at 1 (almost 2). We are now looking forward to our 7th trip in Sept./Oct. She is now 7 and we go every year. In 6 trips she has only had one meltdown. That was during her first trip and we had waited FOREVER to eat at the Boardwalk. We had just finally been seated and she lost it. We walked out, went back to our hotel and put her to bed. We learned to make reservations!

        I also thinks it helps that we had been to Disney World several times before having a child and had ridden all of the thrill rides so it wasn’t something WE had to do when taking her.

        I am a teacher and this will be the 2nd time I will be taking my child out of school to go to WDW. I love being a teacher, but I hate that I can only take trips when everything is the most crowded and most expensive. I really never take time off work and have hundreds of sick leave hours, so I don’t feel too bad taking off a week to enjoy something fun with my child (who is a good student so far so not a worry).

        As for strollers: I have taken my own–total pain on the buses. For the last few years I have rented the ones at WDW. They are kind of expensive, but totally worth it. My daughter will be 7 this trip and I asked if she needed a stroller and she said, “YES!” She is not even close to obese and very active. She usually spends at least an hour or more playing in any of the playgrounds she can find in the parks (which are some of her favorite attractions). The stroller is a nice resting place for her between attractions, a great place to store all the stuff you need when you have a child, and for me, I get a LOT more exercise with the stroller. I can speed walk around the park pushing the stroller and I would have to walk MUCH slower if she were walking herself.

        My child also is a very good traveler. We are driving 15 hours to her grandparents tomorrow and she can’t wait. We did a 45 day road trip when she was 3 travelling through 11 states visiting 10 national parks– not one complaint the entire time. We love adventuring together and are hoping to move to Europe next year for a couple of years for a new adventure.

  5. Bradford Griffin says:

    Hey Tom,
    Great Article. Something that my wife and I did with two kids (ages 4 and 1 1/2) was to get the deluxe dining plan. I know that it is expensive and not for everyone, but what it did do was create sit down diversions during the day in air conditioning. My youngest would eat and nap all while we were dining. It allowed us to dine for 1 to 1 1/2 hours during the busiest parts of the day. It seemed to work for us and we plan on doing this again next May when we will have three children (now 6, 4 and 1).
    I really enjoy your blog and look forward to your next stories>
    Thanks,
    Brad

    • Tom Bricker says:

      That’s great that it works for you, it sounds like a good strategy to keep good pace. We also enjoy the Deluxe Dining Plan. I will caution anyone reading that it’s A LOT of food. I couldn’t do the DxDDP for a week long trip, but more power to those who can!

  6. Bernadette says:

    Great post – even without kiddos, you’ve certainly experienced WDW enough to make some really helpful suggestions regarding bringing children to WDW. Thanks for taking a YMMV approach towards some of the more ‘controversial’ topics. I think sometimes people don’t stop to think that (as is our case) that six year old who is ‘too old to be in a stroller’ might be using one for medical reasons that are not immediately apparent to the casual observer. Different strokes for different folks – as long as everyone does their best to be courteous and respectful towards other guests in the parks, different approaches to bringing kids to WDW can coexist and we can all still have a magical time! :)

    • Lisa says:

      I completely agree! Everyone is different and people really shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

      My son just turned 5, and we will be bringing a stroller for him. On days when the park is open 0900-1700 (that’s 5pm for the civies) he will hoof it just like us. For those days when we plan to be in the park from early until 10pm or later, he’ll have the stroller to make things easier on everyone. He is a night owl and loves to stay up late. But, he’s still pretty little and over 12 hours in the parks is a lot of walking, even for a highly active child like mine.

  7. Laura says:

    Thanks, Tom! I really appreciate this article! While I’ve been around children for all of my life (including time as a nanny), I have no kids of my own. In September, I will have the privilege of taking my cousins and their two children (ages 2 and 4) on their first trips to WDW. I’m having a hard time tempering my exciting about FINALLY getting to take someone on their first visit with the realization that the kids will most likely not have the stamina to do what I’m used to. I now have some new ideas on how to approach the trip and help the parents prepare, as well.

  8. Regina says:

    I may be reading this wrong, but the bit about umbrella strollers (saying they keep kids cooler during naps)–are you confusing strollers with sun shades with “umbrella-type” strollers? I don’t have kids either, but I thought umbrella strollers were the very lightweight, sling type ones with the curved handles like an umbrella grip. Many of those don’t have shades, but are less bulky to manage than regular strollers. Just the way the paragraph ended made me go, “huh?”

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I absolutely am confusing them. I honestly had no idea that there was a difference. I thought everyone was recommending the ones with shades!

      • Rosalie says:

        Too funny! I have three kids and have worked at a daycare for 11 years and I thought to myself, “wow, they make umbrella strollers that allow the child to lay down now?” It never occurred to me that you might be wrong, you should start a cult…

      • Sara S. says:

        Umbrella Strollers can have sun shades and some recline. I have a 3 year old and an 11 year old. The changes in the variety and technology that they offer with strollers was a little overwhelming when we have our littlest one. (So were the prices!!!!). So Tom, you were correct in you original post.

      • Lisa says:

        Ha! Tom, there is a slight difference. Many very cheap and lightweight umbrella (read short but eaily foldable strollers as in this one here ) don’t have much in the way of comfort at all. However, newer “umbrella” stollers are still foldable, lightweight but not feature shades and a recline ability like this one here .
        They so didn’t have those when I was a kid!

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Thanks for the info!

  9. Kevin says:

    Nice article. Bradford has a good point – we’ve going during “free” dining, which forces us to sit down for ~1 hour for a table service. It’s a good downtime. Although I tend to agree with you about kids in signature restaurants I must say that the commonly espoused fear of unruly kids in sit-down restaurants at Disney is something I’ve rarely if ever seen. Perhaps we’ve been lucky.

    “The rationale kids have for wanting to do or not wanting to do things perplexes even astronauts” is a great quote. Case in point: my 4-yr-old would not ride the Jungle Cruise because she remembered the animatronic hippos from a previous trip. She was perfectly fine with the Safari with real hippos, however…

  10. Kevin says:

    One more comment about park hours. As you say, early mornings are great for park touring with short lines, but so are late evenings. We’ve done both, but found for our night-owl daughter that staying in the park until later worked better than trying for early mornings. (Some kids need to be on a regular schedule, but ours happily stays up later/sleeps later.)

    My favorite Disney memories are running around the MK at midnight, walking on any ride we wanted.

    • Tammi says:

      My daughter is also a night-owl. So, we usually stay at the parks pretty late and there’s really no way we will ever get there at rope drop. I never even bother to look for Extra Magic morning hours because I know we will never get moving that early. If I tried to get her up and rush her to the parks early in the morning she would be miserable.

  11. Stephanie says:

    Wow this was pretty great for a kidless couple… and this is coming from a fellow kidless couple! (Do fur-babies count? I would LOVE to see my puppy take pictures with Pluto!)

  12. Shannon says:

    Well, being a happily childless couple, I thought this article was going to be very different, lol. That being said, it’s exceptionally well-written and I can’t imagine anyone being offended.

    I work in one of the largest children’s museums in the country. On the floor. With the public. EVERY day. The biggest thing I see is the first you mentioned. Don’t force your kids to do something they may not be comfortable doing. You may be able to force them to do it, but they are going to make you pay one way or another, lol.

    Another HUGE problem? HANG UP YOUR PHONE!!!! (Or tablet, whatever) You are NOT spending time with your children if you are staring at a screen. The years that your kids actually want to spend time with you are very short and very fast. It won’t be long before they really don’t want you watching them. And it doesn’t take them long to realize that screen is more important than they are. Keep that in mind. Hang it up, turn it off. Whatever it is can wait.

    Now – how about an article letting families with kids know how to behave with families with no children, lol?!? Disney was NOT built for kids, it was built for families and we all know families come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. If I’ve been waiting in my spot for the parade for 45 mins and you come up at the last minute, NO your child can NOT stand in front of me. At the other end, if I go to a character dinner, I EXPECT kids to be running around screaming, lol. (I know the article won’t happen, but that’s totally what I thought I was coming to read! *face palm*)

    • Amanda says:

      I have totally had that happen with the parades. Just becasue I don’t have kids with me doesn’t mean I’m not as important. I’ve gotten looks while standing in line for characters as well. We all pay the same to be in the parks so one person isn’t more importnat just because they have kids.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        I totally agree with this and thought about including it, but I didn’t want this post to come across as finger wagging under the guise of “tips.”

        Perhaps a future post on etiquette is in order…but again, that borders on finger wagging.

    • Lisa says:

      Let’s be a little realisic here though. My 3 foot tall kid can’t see over you and you wouldn’t even notice him there if you stepped on him. Why does it hurt to let a kid who doesn’t come up to your hips stand in front of you so they can see something they’d entirely miss otherwise?

      I am a big fan of keeping kids in line. My son is exceptionally well behaved (most of the time) in restaurants and frequently gets a lot of attention from servers for being so. He says “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” when he is talking to people. I don’t expect anyone to let him see Mickey first just because he is a kid. He knows that he has to wait his turn just like everyone else.

      However, there is room for common courtesy as well. It doesn’t change your viewing of the parade to let someone much much smaller than you sit on the curb in front of you (unless of course you are sitting which is entirely different and completely understandable). But they can’t see ANYTHING over adults at all.

      I am not at all saying you “have to” let the kids in because they are “entitled” to a better spot. But really? It doesn’t change your experience or obstruct your view. I always let little kids go in front of me because, well, I am a pretty short person (5 feet tall) and I remember being totally bummed out as a kid because my tiny baldder and single mom couldn’t do the 45 minute pre-sit required to get a good spot. It’s pretty sad when a 5 foot 6 inch person stands directly in front of a kid (especially those who actively work to keep the kid from being able to see) and the kid misses the whole thing only because at 4 years old they had to pee 10 minutes before the parade.

      • Lauren V says:

        Totally agree, Lisa. I’ve found some adults can be very rude to small children , there is just no need!
        I’ve always instilled manners into my kids and they are always very polite and don’t push in front of people so don’t see the harm in letting them stand infront of you if they’re well behaved and don’t obstruct your view

      • Erica says:

        As an adult I wouldn’t mind letting a child or two in front of me, however I have heard horror stories of one child becoming a party of ten.

        This past year I had a very rude woman try to push her way between my nine year old daughter and I. She about pushed her into the road, so finally I offered to physically move her if she didn’t step away from my daughter. She moved. Disney is for all ages, but I think the adults need to think like adults and not four year old children. Ugh.

  13. Laura says:

    I’ve been looking forward to reading this post because eight months ago my husband and I were just like you– a childless couple who visited Disney World frequently. Fast forward to the present, and we are planning our son’s first visit in May when he will be ten months old. Having read a great deal about this topic lately from many different resources, I found your blog thorough. Writing about travel anywhere with children before having children is not a challenge I would have taken on– quite gutsy. As a teacher, however, I disagree with the advice about avoiding school holidays with children up to age 10. Parks are crowded because these holidays exist for a reason. It is not a good plan to take kids out of school at any age for extended vacations. Plan your October vacations before your oldest hits kindergarten.

    You have mentioned in blogs that you do plan to have kids someday. Don’t rush, but when you are expecting,I have lots of advice about your last child-free trip. We did that one right.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The age 10 thing was a reader comment–don’t shoot the messenger. I will not weigh in with my own opinion on that controversial subject…

      As for the last child-free trip, I’m envisioning “The Hangover 3: Walt Disney World.” Am I right?!? ;)

    • Lisa says:

      I’m not sure when government enforced schooling became a priority over family. My kid goes where I go when I go. We travel in the fall and so does my child. Good parenting will ensure he doesn’t fall behind in school. The busy work and teacher yelling at little Johnnie to sit down and Suzie to spit out her gum really isn’t as important as family time. American schools are WAY behind other nations and a lot of this has to do with bad parenting but it doens’t change the fact that kids aren’t learning as much as they could in these institutions.

      Take your kid to Disney when it works for you. If you are an active parent who is engaged with your child’s education and teachers, it won’t be a problem. If you have no idea what your kid is studying, then don’t be surprised when this doesn’t work out well for your kid.

      Again, YMMV. To each his own and don’t let someone who doesn’t know your kid or your family tell you when it is okay to take your kid on vacation.

  14. Robin S says:

    We’ve done 2 trips with kids… One when our girls were 1 & 4, the next a year later at 2 & 5… I think our top advice for our friends with toddlers/ younger kids (besides making ADRs) is to make a list of 5 “must-dos” for each day. If we got all 5 done, I was satisfied! May not seem like a lot, but we try to keep our goal achievable so we don’t push the kids too much & wind up with sobbing puddles of “un-Disney” crazies. We also like to have a pool day in the middle of our trip just so we have time to chill out and have a totally unplanned day. I actually loved going with younger kids– they totally believe in all of tge Disney Magic! I told my then 5 y/o that we were going to shrink when we walked through the door to meet Tink in the pixie hollow m&g area of adventureland last year… She still talks anout how we shrunk & got big so easily! ;)

  15. Brendan says:

    The biggest tip I came away with after taking my 5 year old son to WDW: on the day you visit the studios, be there at rope drop and book it to Star Tours in order to get on the list for Jedi Academy. Also, let them get the Darth Maul face paint if they ask. They’ll never forget that day and the pictures will be treasures.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      That’s a great one! I’ve heard that the demand for Jedi Training Academy is INSANE now. They need a more permanent home for this show, I think.

  16. Ben says:

    Gosh! I forgot one more! One way to help avoid your child buying everything in sight, but is also fun for the kids, would be to give every child Disney Dollars! Looking like real money, but having Disney characters, Disney Dollars are a fun way to allow kids to pick what they want on their own for their souvenirs, but they’ll be quite sure they want it! Having physical money will make them think twice about wanting a generic plastic sword on your first day in the Magic Kingdom, but they’ll be sure of it when they see that Figment doll they cannot live without in Mouse Gear! Alternatively, Disney Gift Cards are also just as useful, however, I think having physical paper money is much more fun!

    Also, don’t be scared to hand your camera to a PhotoPass photographer. They’ll be very happy to get a picture with everybody in the frame, without you having to spend $10 on a Disney-print later in your vacation.

    • Brett says:

      I agree completely with Ben on this one. Whenever we go to Disneyland, my daughter brings her own money (which I’ve stuff into her piggy banks over the previous months ;) )and she defintitely slows down on the spending. She’ll look things over, check prices to see how much she’d have left, etc. A MUCH better solution than using mom and dad’s money! Especially when it’s a $45 pink wizard hat she wants! lol

      Also, I wanted to mention that my daughters first trip to Disney was at age 4. We never considered using a stroller and never have at the parks. I think that you tuned in on it at the beginning, don’t force your kids to do something and if they’re tired enough that they you have to put them in a stroller to keep going, it’s break time. As a kid when I went to DL and WDW, my parents never used strollers with my sister and I. We walked and rested when needed. When we go to the Disneyland, we’ll head out early, then take a mid day break and head back to the Grand Californian’s pool and relax for a few hours to recharge. It’s great for all of us, kids and parents alike and helps reduce the stress of walking all over the parks. Sometimes, there’s a nap, then we head back out and get some late lunch/early dinner and have more fun in the parks!

      Anyway, hopefully that makes some sense. Another great article, thanks for writing it! (I’m looking forward to part 2 of Disneyland Paris.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Excellent tips! Teaching children the value of money is important, and something that I feel a lot of parents neglect to do.

    • Lisa says:

      Great Tip! My son has a chore chart and is saving up money for our September trip. He is learning about the value of a dollar through homeschool. I think this is invaluable for teaching kids to be responsible and only buy what they really want.

    • Jeff says:

      Great point. We have a similar strategy with our three kids when we go limit the endless requests for toys. We tell them they get one toy or souvenir for the whole trip, and they get to choose that the last day. They can spend time in each gift shop researching and deciding which thing they ultimately want during the week, but they know they don’t actually get the item until the end. It has worked wonderfully to cut down the begging after each attraction/gift shop.

      Of course, I reserve the right to purchase something additional for them on the fly. One year they all fell in love with Figment but had used their choice already, so I bent the rules and bought them all a Figment stuffy.

  17. Chelsea says:

    Great article! One of my favorite things we do each trip – and I would encourage others to do too – is to pick a favorite spot, fun spot or special area and take a picture of your child(ren) in that same place each trip. We have a picture of our son at 8 months sitting with the sword in the stone ( well not as much sitting as mom ducking down and holding him up from behind:). We have another one at 1.5 yrs and can’t wait to take one there each trip to show how he’s grown and changed.

    Thinking of his hands on the touched-a-million-times-a-day sword brings me to another tip: wet-ones or anti-bacterial wipes are great for quick clean ups for little ones :).

    Thank you for sharing the terrific info.

    • Rosalie says:

      oh, hand sanitizer is a great and important tip at Disney! The trip to the bathroom to wash hands before a snack is not possible if the snack is being given in the middle of a line to an attraction…

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The Cigar Store Indian on Main Street is where I’d recommend to take this photo while your kids are still growing. Excellent barometer of their growth.

  18. Rosalie says:

    So I immediately read your title and involuntarily rolled my eyes… But you did a great job. I was looking for something to ‘help’ you with, but honestly, nothing you said was wrong. The only thing that annoyed me was the connection to pushing your TWO YEAR OLD in a stroller and obesity, but that was just the opinion of someone who hasn’t had a small child in over 20 years, and it’s easy to forget things as our kids get older…

    The youtube videos was one of the greatest tips I used last year when my kids were 5,3,&1 (not so much the 1 yr old). My girls get nervous of the ‘unknown’, but then after it’s over, they’ll talk about how much they loved it. So watching the youtube rides was awesome. How do I know that this actually worked and wasn’t just Disney’s charm??? The ONLY two attractions I didn’t have the girls watch first were Monsters Inc Laugh Floor and the Little Mermaid show in HS. My girls both LOVE these two movies, so I thought since the seats didn’t move it would be no problem. I was wrong. Both of these shows included tears, heads buried into my shirt, and many “I-wanna-go-I-wanna-go!”s. I feel that this is scientific proof that watching the youtube videos first allowed my kids to fondly enjoy Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Malstrom, etc. They knew what was coming, and all was well.

    One thing I think you missed was souvenirs. Here are my merchandising tips: 1. Bring your own costumes, never buy them at the parks. Buy your Princess dresses right on or immediately after halloween from disney.com, they will be on sale, or wait for any of the numerous sales Disney.com has. Never pay full price, if you like it, wait and it will go on sale. 2. Pack Disney goodie-bags. Fill goodie bags with dollar store Disney items, and maybe one or two days have a nicer item included, like the 2 for $20 Disney movie figurine sets. We told our children first thing in the morning that they will get their goodie-bag at whatever TS restaurant we have planned that day, and this excites them all day. If they even glanced sideways at Park merchandise, I would excitedly remind them of the treasures awaiting them, and on our last trip our kids didn’t ask us for one thing. Like you said, attitude is everything :) AND our kids were happily occupied with their little trinkets throughout the entire meal making Coral Reef the surprise favorite meal for my husband and I last trip when we thought for sure it would be a character meal. (because we had assumed that the kids would be more happily occupied during a character meal, but we found that we were ALSO occupied taking pictures and video of the kids being ‘occupied’).

    Okay, I know I’ve put a lot, but last tip, ziplock bags. – Oh you’re done with that $3.50 sucker after 5 licks? Put it in a ziplock. – You have 3 tiny mouths but one bag of popcorn? Now you have 3 ziplock bags. – Oh it’s raining? Camera and phone in a ziplock back. Seriously, I could do this all day…

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Excellent anecdote about the YouTube videos. I hope others take that advice to heart.

      Also great tips about merchandise (there are some tips in the article along these lines near the end). Buying souvenirs in advance seems to be the best way to go, regardless of what you’re buying.

    • Lauren V says:

      My daughter will be 3 when we go to WDW and even though she’s been on Pirates 3 times at Disneyland Paris and was just a little nervous every time but ended up enjoying it ..she’s already started the “no pirates,mummy”! I just don’t get my kids sometimes!

  19. Chronic Gin Deficiency says:

    I’m curious if the comparative number of strollers in Europe versus the U.S. has less to do with activity than it does with European families waiting to take their children. I’d argue (full disclosure: I’m single, very happily without children, and fiercely desirous of remaining same) that unless your child is verbally fluent, they’re probably too young to get much from the WDW experience. I think it’s droll to see the wailing and gnashing of teeth attendant to parents’ (well, mothers’, really) planning for their special snowflake’s first trip. Aside from impressions of bright colors and noise, what is a one-year-old going to get out of it? My mother tells me I wasn’t a difficult child, and yet my parents took their first two WDW trips without me, and waited until I was five before taking me. I certainly don’t feel denied, and it probably made them happier.

    Where I go full jack@ss is the issue of children in restaurants and lounges. I don’t give a French flying one if it is WDW, there are some places children just don’t belong. Signature restaurants are one, and lounges without specifically family-friendly entertainment (I can think of only River Roost with Yeehaa Bob) are the other. I’d love to see them all adopt Victoria & Albert’s no-child policy (and a real dress code, but that’s another land mine). I’m certain to lose this argument ten out of ten times. It truly chaps my personal buttox when my friends and I go into some place like Top of the World with the intent of running up a truly admirable bar tab, only to see all the tables taken by the sippy cup mafia, where maybe one person in the party has an actual purchased drink.

    Once again, get off my lawn.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I always enjoy the rich language and turn of phrases you use. A “truly admirable bar tab” …priceless!

      I agree completely with the lounges. Sadly, I think it’s a battle/policy we’re not soon to see.

    • Jenny Wear says:

      Yes, I’m a mom of three boys (18, 16 and…4- on purpose), but I LOVE your comment! I so agree that there is a time and place for kids, and a separate and fiercely protected time and place for “grownups”. If I didn’t have my mommy alone time, I would be a horribly miserable parent. Going to Disney with my youngest strikes fear in my heart, but I’m doing the research and plan to use as much help as possible, including a grandparent and the Child Care services I feel I can trust. The hubs and I can handle this and will make many special memories, both for the Little Man and for our marriage!

    • Sintoc says:

      Being one of those mom’s planning for my “snowflake’s” first trip, I wonder if you were an only child? I ask because I have a soon to be 5 daughter that I am bringing. She will believe all of the magic for now, though she’s super skeptical and probably won’t believe for long. We will also have her younger sister in tow. She will be a 2 year old who might not remember anything. Does that mean my older child should miss out so we can wait until the other is 5? If you had a 2 year old sibling would your folks have left them at home?

      I fully agree about lounges. There is a right time and place for kiddos, and any place that exists mainly for drinking is not it. MK, however, is.

      It says so much about your blog, Tom, that even non-parents would read and comment on this article.

  20. Aaron says:

    Great article and excellent tips from a couple without kids. Our family has gone to WDW the past two years. Our son has been 2 (almost 3) and 3 (almost 4) on our trips. I will offer one tip. Assuming you are okay riding an attraction by yourself, don’t be afraid to stay at a park late, or if you don’t want to rest with your child (and in my case wife), head out to a park and do some of the things your little can’t or doesn’t want to do. I thoroughly enjoyed heading over to DHS and EPCOT while my son and wife took naps at the Beach Club resort. I was able to ride Star Tours multiple times (I’m a bit of a nerd) and take a leisurely stoll through the World Showcase (grab a beer or snack). Staying late at Magic Kingdom was also great. Once our son fell asleep in his stroller, my wife and I took turns doing things we liked, while the other one stayed with our son. For example, while my wife was riding Space Mountain six times in a row, or something crazy like that (it wasn’t busy while we were there), I sat on a bench, texted friends, checked my email, checked the football scores, tweeted about my trip, etc. It was a great way to catch up on the outside world while waiting, and then doing something I wanted to do while my wife stayed with our son.

    • SteRobots says:

      Great Comment Aaron, my wife and my son (2 1/2) will be travelling two weeks today, alhtough I have been 11 times before to WDW, it will be my wife and sons firt time, although I know my wife will love seeing our little boy having so much fun, in the back of my mind I also want to show her how much fun the adults can also have, therefore utlising the ‘nap’ times will be my method. This is why I will be taking a reclining stroller!! While the kids asleep, the adults will play :)

  21. Andrea says:

    I felt the article was well informed and really appreciated this. We have done several trips with our daughter and all I can say is know your child first. We had a great plan but found the heat and stimulation tired our very energetic child out so we went back to the room for a nap and swim everyday with one day off. Also make the most important plans for the first few days before your child is overly exhusted we always do favorite characters and meals first then leave the rest of the trip for things we missed.I also think parents need to remember there child is not perfect and watch them. My MIL had a child step all over her during a parade and the mother said nothing she had bruises from this child it made me really angry that she just thought my MIL should endure this. Our view is WDW is a vacation for the whole family not just our child my husband and I love eating at nice restaurants and my daughter knows she has to be good when we are there or she wont get to do what she wants to do.We allow each member of the family to pick what is important to them and we each take turns. We feel if everyone in the family is having fun its a great vacation.As a parent I know its hard but parents really need to know others have paid as much money as they have and need to enjoy there vacation too and respect that disney is not just for families with children and not allow their children to get away with things because it is family friendly.I would not recommend waiting till the right age every age is fun and magical just make your expectations fit your child.

  22. jennifer says:

    love your blog and usually agree with most everything which makes reading so fun.But I really disagree with no kids at signature restaurants! The best thing about Disneyworld is the great upscale themed restaurants which all have kid menus and crayons a sign that they are most welcome. Once you have children you will find out dining with children in nice places will be a thing of the past until you go to Disneyworld,Walt Disney created it all to be enjoyed with your children. There is only one restaurant Victoria and Albert that ask you only bring children 10 years or older. When you are childless remember Walts original plan, Disney is for the young or the young at heart. Children miss behaving can ruin your Disney moment anywhere Hotel,line wait,bus etc that’s a parenting issue. My kids have never misbehaved in a signature restaurant and we are often given nice comments at the end of our meal and they have learned how to behave by having had so many signature restaurant meal experiences. The places are always quiet and peaceful and gives the kids a much needed break. Other restaurants are noisy and more stimulation which does not help to wind down. So when you have children don’t be afraid to try a signature meal youll know when their ready and you will be happy you can enjoy some of your favorites with them.

    • Sintoc says:

      I agree. My children know how to behave in a nice restaurant because they have had practice. My husband and I are foodies, and that certainly didn’t change because we had children.

      • Kerry says:

        I’m so with you guys (Tom…and Sarah… I love this site – the photos, Sarah’s outfits ;) – everything, so no offence meant). Our daughter first visted last year, aged 10. She’s a chilled chick and an ‘old soul’ (so different to the manic, loud, 100 mph 3 year old that she was…she’d have been a nightmare!). We dined, often, in signature restaurants and she was a delight to be with (and I tell you, we’re strict – in what we expect – , but chilled parents). We were complemented on her and she was complemented on her behaviour so many times…Walt said that he wanted to create a place where children could have fun with their parents. You’ll always get the parents who don’t get it (the ones that you offer up a quick ‘thanks’ that you’re not), but if you’re in a Disney place it comes with the territory. This year we’ve booked into signature restaurants almost every night (we tend to go for brunch, a snack later and then a nice meal in the evening). Some of our best memories of last year are having these (signature) meals together. So, Tom’s overarching theme comes in here……go with your child, each one’s an individual (and I’ve worked with them for 22 years…)

      • Tom Bricker says:

        I get what you’re saying and don’t necessarily disagree (as it says in the article, each child is different and some might do fine in Signature Restaurants), but the “Walt said…” as justification doesn’t make sense. Walt Disney also built the Matterhorn in Disneyland, which kids could not enjoy with their parents. When he died, he was building Club 33, which would *not* have been a place for kids.

        I think it’s pretty difficult to extrapolate from Walt Disney’s quotes and actions what he would have wanted for something he didn’t even envision, decades after his death.

  23. PattiRp says:

    Great article. It was filled with many tips we have already employed and some that we will the next time we go. We took our kids for the first time when my some was turning 5 and my daughter turning 2 …. our family thought my daughter was too young, but that simply was not true. She was completely engaged in the fantasy and loved the Princesses (although she was not having anything to do with Pooh and friends …). But by the end of the trip, she was dancing with Mickey at Chef Mickey’s. Totally priceless. As for her, or even my son. not remembering anything, that’s what pictures and video are for and those memory conversations are some of the most fulfilling. Other priceless memories include the look on my son’s face when traveling through the parks. Kids that age really do see the magic everywhere and it helped us to keep a nice slow pace and see some for ourselves.

    My favorite tip you mentioned was taking a break midday. When we went the first time, we broke the budget for a “family vacation of a lifetime” and stayed at the Wilderness Lodge which made it sooooo easy to take a boat back to the hotel for a midday nap and detox. This was so successful that we have done it on our following 2 trips notwithstanding that our kids are past the napping age. Some nice quiet time and a dip in the pool are still great ways to break up the stimulation — for both them and us. I will even admit that the 1 day we did not take a midday break during our last trip, yours truly was the one who had the meltdown at approximately 10:00 pm …. I cannot stress enough how helpful a break is.

    Lastly, when traveling with really young kids as we did the first year we went, someone told me to make a really short (maybe 3 or 4) list of “must-do’s.” I was somewhat skeptical about this as the $$ spent meant that we had to squeeze as fun as possible out of the trip … but their point was, which I found to be completely true, that we would always successfully meet our “must-do” list often by lunchtime and our midday break, so everything else we ended up doing — of which there was plenty — always felt like gravy. You certainly cannot do everything with young children at WDW, and a shorter list helps you be a lot more flexible.

  24. jennifer says:

    I forgot to mention my stroller thoughts. When investing a lot of money on the perfect memorable Disney trip having a great umbrella stroller will really make all the difference. Please invest in a mcClaren volo stroller,Its their cheapest and most lightweight with a strap to sling it over your shoulder for carrying. This is a must for toddlers and even kids 4 or 5. This stroller is one of the few umbrella stroller with long handles so your back is comfortable when pushing for hours and the kids spend plenty of time walking inline they don’t need to walk all over the park. We have never had a melt down on any Disney trip with 4 kids over the years even with being passholders due to not pushing their physical limits and I keep my kids in strollers till they are 5. We have them get plenty of exercise during other activities and make their time in the park less strenuous. Everyone is happier this way.

  25. Mike says:

    Love the columns as always.

    I thought this was an interesting article to write for you as not being a parent. You did a pretty good job about looking at it throught objective eyes.

    In my opinion, it all comes down to the demeanor of each child. One of hte greatest moments I have ever had as a parent was taking my then 2 year old to Disneyland while I had a conference across the street. Far from being a Disney fan at the time, it produced memories that rank #2, right behind him being born. When we took his younger brother a few years later, it produced equally positive moments.

    However, for my kids, the luster wore off pretty quick as evidenced by a return trip a couple of months later. Gone were the wide eyes taking in everything and enjoying almost all of it. Replacing it were stark fears about any ride in the dark, lots of crying and an overall decidedly not as pleasant trip. For them, now being able process what they saw the first time made them quite uncomfortable.

    Being Disneyland vets, we are still going through park growing pains with my youngest, 3, still pretty much refusing to go on any dark rides. This results in either missed opportunities for all of us or one party having to sit and wait for the other two to enjoy a ride.

    Many of the things you talked about in terms of getting there early, having fun tchochkes and other things do really help. For the most part, my kids will keep up with me from the 8am-10pm park days and they are troopers for it.

    We try to do a new experience for each of our trips as a way of further enhancing it.

    As a family, we are off to our first WDW visit next year and I am eagerly/nervously looking forward to it. Yes, this will be one of those “once in a lifetime” trips. My goals are set but more than likely will be reduced in terms of whta we can accomplish. Knowing that we will not be back for some time, I am hoping to pump the kids up to enjoy it once as they won’t have a chance to do it again once we fly home.

    I have used the youtube videos a lot to prep my kids and show them that there isn’t anything scary about X ride. This holds true until the moment they are to pass through the archway onto the ride.

    Even though I fail at my own advice to set your expectations low and not hope to do it all, traveling with kids does require that. Don’t expect much and just enjoy it. Maybe one day I will follow my own advice. :)

  26. Dee says:

    Great tips! As far as the stroller thing…once they start walking they are too old for strollers. Our little guy walked over 2 miles before wearing down when he was just over a year old (he was a very early walker). A healthy, fit kid should be able to walk on their own. If they get tired then let them rest in a cool hotel room or take a swim in the pool, but past infancy strollers are not necessary.

    My best advice is to go at your child’s pace. I notice that at many different places parents are always rushing their kids and yelling at them to hurry. I say let them be kids and enjoy the moment, as frustrating as that may be on the parents.

    • Lisa says:

      Dee, that is great about your kid walking 2 miles at a year old. My son is also very fit, 5 years old and we always take a stroller to Disney. Every kid is different. But let me tell ya what isn’t different: a 5 foot nothing woman trying to carry a 42 inch 40 pound child who has worn himself to the point of exahustion from Fantasyland to the bus. Have you ever tried that? It’s no fun, let me be the first to tell you. My son’s stroller has not left the closet in a year (last time we went to Disney) and we will be dusting it off for this trip in September. He won’t touch the stroller for the first half of the day and not again for a couple of hours after our sit down lunches (table service, character meals always get his energy going). But, as the night gets later, he will get tired. And he is the kind of kid who is either 1000mph or asleep. There will be little to no notice between over the moon excited and full melt down. I am a very attentive mother (we homeschool, so I get him all the time and know his moods very well) so it isn’t that I’m not paying attention. It really is that he just wants to fit so much fun into his day that he goes until he can’t go anymore. I find that having the stroller helps us extend our time in the parks. He gets to have more fun, we can relax more overall and no meltdown. We are big fans of some of the secret spots (Tom Sawyer Island, Dino playland in AK, etc) where he can just play and we can let him enjoy the moment (and chase lizzards, because that is his big thing). The average person walks 6-12 miles a DAY at WDW. Our trip is for 9 days. I don’t want him to be miserable for over half of the trip because he wore himself out too early.

      My only point here is don’t judge. Every family is different, every kid is different. You don’t know those other kids and families and they may have very valid reasons for doing what they do. Once “they” start walking they are too old for strollers is subjective and may be perfect for your kid, but not every kid.

    • Rebecca says:

      I agree with Lisa. I recently visited with my 14, 6 and 1 year old, and would have not made it without my stroller. Number one, I couldn’t carry everything, diaper bag, water, etc. Also we were getting up super early. 6:30 Florida time is really 4:30 wyoming time. So by 8:00 my 6 year old would fall asleep on the bus ride home. (we had a sit n stand stroller) If we didn’t have our stroller it would have been MISERABLE. Not only was it convenient using it at the airport, ( you just check it at the gate)but I would have been lost without it at Disney. We spent 9 days at disney, and on the 2nd night before we finished the day, I could barely walk. There were several times I told my husband I didn’t think I could walk anymore, then we would break for lunch, or go on a ride that lasted a while. This is sitting plenty of times because I had to wait with my 1 year old while the others rode. I would recommend a stroller for those who have multiple kids and who are going for more then a day.

  27. Amanda says:

    Great tidbits that I hadn’t found elsewhere!
    Going back to the teachers comments: “don’t let kids miss school”. Oh my…
    A lesson I love watching over and over again on the episode of “Boy Meets World”, Mr. Feenie is mad that Corey stayed up late to watch a baseball game with his dad. However, Me. Feenie is the one who learns a lesson this time. He recalls when he was younger and wanted to stay up late to hear the president on the radio. His parents refuse, bedtime is bedtime and he had school in the morning. He doesn’t know what he learned in school the next day.
    The point he was making, “school will be there the next day. But taking that time to experience life is what we truly remember forever.”
    They can make up school work, but that child will always remember being “sneaky” and missing school just to have a fun time with his family.
    It’s okay to have a little fun in life.

  28. Sara says:

    Good tips in here! I’ve been going to WDW my whole life but now I have a 2YO and I’m plotting and scheming for that first trip – probably around 3 1/2-4 years old I think. Definitely things in here I wouldn’t have thought of even though I consider myself a Disney pro.

    • Lisa says:

      Sara,

      So true. Everything changes when you have little ones. We took my little guy when he was 3. He had a blast. We took things slow and easy but we still did quite a bit. For us, we don’t like to go back to the hotel for a midday break (we go in September/October when the hours are often too short to get much from this and we are not early birds). Our solution to the midday break was to do a sit down, character lunch daily in order to give the break without the commute. :o)

  29. Laura C. says:

    Lots of great info! We went with our 4yo, 2 yo, and 4 mo in 2009 and had a great time mostly because we employed many of these tips! We’re headed back with the same three plus the twins we had since then (they’ll be 8, 6, 5, 3, & 3) later this year and I’m glad I read this to remember that’s its not just about what ‘I’ want to see and do. The only thing I can add is if you feel like leaving the park in the middle of the day isn’t feasible there are some other ways to get a bit of ‘downtime’ within the parks. Some have been mentioned like doing table service (or even find an out of the way spot to eat counter service) in the middle of the day when meltdowns and overloads are likely. Another place to find are the ‘play areas’ that are in each park (Swiss family treehouse and Tom Sawyer island in MK, there are some little play spots near UK and Germany as we’ll as a playground between the land and imagination in Epcot, Honey I Shrunk area in HS, and the Boneyard in AK) and just let the kids be free for a while can take a child from manic to magic in about 15 minutes. If those things don’t work there are TONS of little private-ish nooks that you can find to take yourself and your munchkin out if the ‘world’ and decompress till you’re ready to get back out there. Just having some one on one (or five on two in our case) time can make huge difference in a great day a day where you want to bang your face against a wall.

  30. Not The Momma says:

    Currently at WDW. Girl-8, boy-4 and wife-? in tow. Third day in with three to go. Glanced at your blog before the trip, but figured we’d blaze our own path. Now actually reading and taking notes after a melt down on space mountain. When told he couldn’t stay on the ride for a second spin, Boy-4 flipped at a cast member who told him he had to go because the space ship had to be refuelled before its next flight. “NO IT DOESN’T! IT’S ELECTRIC! DAAAAAD, HE’S LYING! I WANT TO GO AGAIN! WAAAA…AAAA…AAAA…etc.” Even in the dark you could see the cast member blush … mortifying me (like I wasn’t sweating enough).

    Question: is there a private place to give your child a reason to scream cry on Disney property? He is never like this and it’s like he knows I can’t do more than quietly idol threat his @ss.

    (no, not really).

    All pending schedules have been edited to include a hotel return for forced naps/ pools.

    I think our prekid WDW pace eeked into our preforced nap schedule more than I thought it would. Maybe it’s the 30+ C heat. In any case, it’s the difference between knowledge and applied knowledge.

    Thanks for the tips I’m actually taking to heart now.

  31. ann says:

    Just wanted to add time of year “night-time hours” as a consideration for younger kids. Mine are young, and we’ve gone a couple times a year the past few years. During winter/spring months when “dark” was earlier in the night and the evening shows were earlier in the night they were able to hang in there for the fireworks, etc, every night. When we went and the sunlight hours were longer and the evening fireworks were later they only made it to see one fireworks show, which was disappointing.

  32. Carrie says:

    Great post as always! I have a little tip for the day of traveling to disney. These days are often long and stressful for parents and kids. My mom used to buy us little, cheap gifts (trivia cards, travel games, books, small crafts, etc) that she would wrap up and place a time on it (“10:00am”). Every two hours we could open our present. We would drive 20 hours and we would typically get to open a package at 10:00, 12:00, 2:00, and 4:00. Of course we were told that bad behavior meant we would get nothing. Let me tell you though we were all angels. My siblings and I are all grown and married but we still talk about those dumb little gifts. To this day I’ll never forget the tiny, magnetic checker set I got and LOVED. We drove down to WDW many times and I remember every traveling gift I received but only one or two souvenirs from the parks. (Sorry, mom!)

    • Amanda says:

      I love this idea! We will be going to WDW in August and are traveling from Michigan – over 20 miles. It’s going to be a long drive and this will definitely give my kids something to look forward to and keep them occupied during the trip. Thanks for the tip!

  33. Robin says:

    Just a note that Disney is now charging a $10/person no-show fee on all restaurants that accept reservations. This is definitely a disappointment for many parents I imagine (not being one myself). I’d advise parents to really think out what their kids can handle and not try to pack every possible ADR into one vacation (max one a day!). Even myself and my significant other are limiting the ADRs for our next trip to the ones that are super hard to get the day before (Crystal Palace, Candlelight Processional Dinner Packages or popular World Showcase eateries, & HDDR (for us) and and Character meals. All my other choices I’ve been doing my homework and continually checking the day before and they always seem to have some openings. I also cruise message boards about many places that have room to accept walk-ins (Sanaa!)… Anyway, something to consider as an edit to the original post.

  34. MrsM says:

    We took our first kid trip with 5 kids this past summer. Our youngest was 14mo old. I had seen so much discussion about what type of stroller was the best one for Disney. It didn’t occur to me to not use a stroller but if I had to do it over I would have left the stroller at home. We have a very nice baby carrier and I should have just used that.

    Strollers can’t go into many pavilions, restaurants, shops, and can’t go in any lines for rides. For most of the trip our stroller was parked somewhere. We also spent a decent amount of time looking for stroller parking, covering the stroller, and then hunting for it when we got done with whatever it was we were doing.

    Our son wasn’t too crazy about the characters, all the strange people, and needed to be held a lot more than usual.

    We did use the stroller a little bit but not enough that I could personally justify dealing with the hassle again.

  35. Michelle K. says:

    My daughter and I are planning a girls only week trip to Disney this spring. My advice for parents is follow your kid’s lead. I know even with advanced planning its never an inexpensive trip and us adults want to get our money’s worth. Take along a trusted adult or take advantage of the child care offered and do an adult only day in the park. Open to close and the rest of the days follow your little ones lead. A happy child makes the trip more enjoyable.

  36. Rocio H. says:

    I need some help…I’m planning to go next year 2014 to WDW for a week my daughter, husband, and I to have my daughter 3 rd birthday. I want her have dinner with the main charters of Disney so I can take pictures so show her with she gets older. I don’t now how to do that ?…Also which parks to go since she won’t be able to ride all of them. One more thing if we were to stay in one of disney hotel would it be cheaper since they pick us pick from the airport and provide transportation to the parks.

  37. UNC Melisa says:

    Hi, this was a great read! Hubby and I are planning our first trip with the kids for the the first week of May (I’ve been to DisneyWorld three times pre-kids and DisneyLand once). I did want to take issue with the poster who said it was “not a good plan to take kids out of school at any age for extended vacations. Plan your October vacations before your oldest hits kindergarten.” Foolishness. My son is 6 and my daughter is 4. My son is in public first grade and is miles ahead of his classmates academically. He could miss 6 months of school and still be ahead. And there are tens of thousands of other kids out there who are either ahead of their grade level or learn so quickly, they can make up a week’s work in a day. I’d rather him miss a month of school than make the poor kid stand in a 2-hour line during July in Florida! You never hear an adult saying, “Gosh, I know I’d have gotten in to Harvard… if only I hadn’t missed that week of first grade!” Making a great (and much less stressful) family memory by hitting Disney during a low-attendance week is by far the better choice, at least for my family. But ask me again when my kids are in high school ;)

  38. Kendra says:

    Hi – since no one’s mentioned toilets yet, LOL, I will be the first. Last year our then-4-year-old experienced an accidental flushing from an automatic toilet at EPCOT after the fireworks. From that point on we had potty issues at Disney, and she even would respond after we got home, when people asked if she liked WDW, No, because of the toilets. SMH. Anyway, we found non-auto toilets only at Akershus in Norway and Sci-Fi Dine In/ABC Commissary at Hollywood Studios. Does anyone know of any others? It would be great to have at least one handle-flusher stall for each restroom, not just at Disney, but everywhere, for kids with sensory issues or just us short people ;)

    • Prtlndblnd says:

      While we have not had this issue with our son, I have heard of others who carry post-it notes, using them to cover the toilet sensors. Apparently when covered they will not flush.

    • Tammy says:

      We had this issue just this year with a little one. She just needed to watch us drape a piece of toilet paper over the electric eye on the toilet and all was well.

    • Shelli Shepherd says:

      Did you have any luck finding manual toilets? Our 4 yo is the same way and I had totally forgotten about that! Maybe I can start calling to ask if any cast members know – hopefully not the oddest question they have ever heard! Thanks!!

  39. Cindy says:

    I also wanted to add that they have fantastic baby care stations at each park, if you have a baby with you. There are private rooms with rockers for nursing. There is a room full of very nice changing tables as well, they are a lot nicer than restroom changing tables. There is a room with Disney movies playing and toys for the older sibling while you are freshening up the baby. They also sell different little baby necessities as well.
    Child swap is an awesome option as well as the single rider line if there is just one person wanting to ride a ride.

  40. Tammy says:

    We have a little different view on strollers. We just got back from 8 days at WDW with 3 adults & 5 kids ages 5-13. The 5 year old spent more time out of the stroller than in the stroller. But the stroller made a great storage spot for stuff. It was just a small umbrella stroller, but it had a large enough under area for water for 8 for all day, snacks for 8 for all day, rain ponchos for all, & food for the 2 youngest for 2 meals a day. No one in their right mind would want to carry that much stuff without a stroller. Saved tons of money on food & drinks.

  41. Jennie says:

    My son is turning 3 in a couple months and has about 40 Disney Days of experience already (we lived close to DL Park for the first 2 yrs of his life). There were several half day trips we took when I would leave his stroller behind because he’s able to walk 2-3 miles, no problem.
    HOWEVER – I cannot stress this enough – if you are planning on being in the park all day or park hopping, please bring a stroller for your child. You can easily walk 8-10 miles in a full day at WDW, and there is no way that a child will do that without having a meltdown. Often, I’ll bring our umbrella stroller and use it for getting in between lands, parking it along the way. That brings up another point that I haven’t seen mentioned yet – don’t leave anything in your stroller that you can’t live without, and if possible, use the cheapest stroller you can afford to “lose”. Theft happens way too frequently at Disney. Yes, even at the happiest place on earth, your personal belongings can go missing and security won’t/can’t do much about it.

  42. Kerry says:

    My two cents is a personal story! My parents took my younger brother to WDW in 1988. I was almost 10 and my brother 8. This was before MGM (whoops, I mean Hollywood Studios!)even existed! I remember many things about that trip, from being bored in Epcot and loving the Hoop-dee-do revue. What I remember most and the story that is always told is how I sobbed into my dad’s chest during our ride in through the Haunted Mansion. I still remember the feeling of being petrified. I wasn’t able to ride it again till I was 22 and while I have been on quite a few times since, at 35 years old it still takes a little coaxing and still scares the heck out of me! Don’t force your kids into doing anything they aren’t comfortable with! For the record, I do not hold it against my parents even though I’ll bust their chops for it.

  43. Dear Tom,

    I just wanted to thank you for the thorough, intelligent, and generous advice you have given people traveling to Disney World. We just took our kids, ages 12, 10, 6, 3, and 8 months, and we had an awesome time, thanks in great part to the wealth of knowledge you published on your site.

    I wrote my own little post about visiting the Magic Kingdom with kids of varying ages, called 11 Tips for a Short & Sweet Disney World Trip: http://www.frugal-mama.com/2014/05/11-tips-for-a-short-sweet-disney-world-trip/

    Thank you again for sharing your insights and experience.

    All the best,
    Amy

  44. Claudia says:

    Hi, loved your blog! We are planning our trip to disney, and im looking forward to see my 3 year old living the magic for the first time! You gave exellent tips!
    I believe we really have to know our children, and remember that what is scary for some might be silly for others. My child for example, would preffer a ride in the haunted mansion than meeting the living characters. They really really scare her… Altough I know she will miss out a very fun part of the disney experience, I cant force her to meet them… But I know she will love the rides, hope she grows a bit more untill the trip, so she can go in most of them!!!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      “We really have to know our children…” <- Truer words were never spoken (or written). Great advice!

  45. senobio aguilera says:

    children can be very different even within the family. our oldest son rode Toads wild ride at 5-was scared of it. Our second son rode the same ride at 2 and loved it. At 3 his favorite ride is the haunted mansion (because he can be like Scooby doo exploring-which he likes). You do want to prepare your children for what they will see. we watch Disney movies before the trip-so that they can re-associate with the different movies and rides based on the movie. It makes them want to experience the ride for themselves.
    when we went into the haunted mansion with our 3 year old-I offered him some Scooby snacks before we went in. While in the ride he kept saying, “there just people trying to scare us”. he is not afraid on any of the rides at the park.

  46. Chickflix says:

    Just a tip from our trips with kids. Give yourself plenty of time. I know it’s expensive but if you’ve only got a couple of days the time constraints put pressure on you to do too much. That’s when it goes wrong. Accept that you’re not going to be able to do everything and leave some things for next time. A more leisurely pace will be much more enjoyable and allow you to really explore the Disney details that actually create those magical memories.

    Feed and water your kids. At the parks it’s really easy to become distracted running here, there and everywhere and forget to eat regularly to keep your energy levels up. Take some snacks in your bag and eat them in lines, while watching shows etc. the Florida heat dehydrates so quickly too so make sure there are plenty of water bottles around.

  47. Rune says:

    Unless you’re lucky enough to be there for a couple of weeks, don’t try to pack everything you want to do (or you want them to experience) into that one first trip. It’s tempting because it is that ‘trip of a lifetime’ vibe, but exhausted, burned out kids do not happy memories make. Ours were 9 and 8 when we first went and they were wiped out after several intense days, so remember to make room for downtime too, be it naps, pool time, or enjoying one of the resorts beach facilities.

    Don’t feel downheartened if their favourite ride is the monorail, and don’t guilt trip a child into going on a ride he’s not sure about (meaning don’t point out a younger kid and say ‘ see? she’s not scared to ride’. Even tamer things like the PeopleMover can throw kids that don’t like the dark for a loop when it runs through Space Mountain.

    As the comment above mentions, hydration is absolutely key. If your kids aren’t keen on plain water then bring along some of those flavoring sachets to mix in, at the very least then you have a ready alternative handy to the ever present sodas that they will no doubt clamour for otherwise.

    If your child has a meltdown and is too tired / exhausted / crabby to make staying in the Magic Kingdom a pleasure yet you don’t want to stray too far away, a few loops on the Monorail can work wonders, or a boat ride across to Fort Wilderness, perhaps to see the horses and animals there makes a relaxing break.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Great tips all around, but I especially like the one about a few loops on the monorail. Sort of like the idea of driving around a sleeping child! :)

  48. Diane says:

    With all the early solid planning I’ve done for our trips, there have been so many changes to our schedule; too many to name lol.

    Some of our fondest memories: my son’s first of many visits began at 4. I have so many pictures of him laughing and playing with cast members. One late night waiting for a parade, cast members brought out jump ropes, chalk, and other games. He had a blast while they played with the kiddos while we waited. During special events the cast members often have stations set up with activities and would play with him. He enjoys playing spooky hopscotch with others more than going on a ride another time just because there are little to no lines. At 4 he already knew he liked Japanese, French, and British fares. He understood the process of making paper as well as the importance of recycling and living green. Over the years we have been collecting books with fairy tales from all over the world. Just looking at child development, the exposure has been a significant advantage for him. Cultural knowledge, tolerance, empathy, manners, and curiosity brought to him through WDW is priceless.

    One more…having a stroller when he was even 8 was so wonderful when at the food and wine festival, he conked out early. I was able to have me time walking around sampling amazing foods and have a glass of wine all the while knowing my son was safely with me.

  49. Very good post. I will be dealing with some of these issues as well..

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