Tim and I are acknowledged DINKs (dual income, no kids), but that doesn’t mean that we don’t like kids or enjoy spending time with them. We’re big kids at heart, nowhere more plainly seen than in our love for and frequent visits to Disney World. And while we don’t have kids of our own, we’ve enjoyed the Disney experience with kids on more than one occasion, including our most recent trip as “cruise directors” for our good friends and their girls. We’ve probably been to Disney with kids under the age of 8 more times than the average household with 2.5 kids, and we’ve learned a thing or two (or three or four) about making Disney a little more magical and a little less manic (as it can quickly become with little ones!). Here’s a hint before we begin: Strategy is at the heart of it all!
- Take a stroller.
It may seem like a no-brainer to take or rent a stroller when your kids are toddlers, but you may be one of those people rolling their eyes at the laziness of older kids being pushed around in a stroller—I was one of those people at one time. But our trip to Disneyland with our niece taught me an important lesson: Just because kids are a little older doesn’t mean their legs are suddenly capable of covering 10 miles in a day. (Side note: 10 miles is the AVERAGE number of miles a person walks in a single day at Disney! Better bring good shoes!). I firmly believe that what could have been magical turned into a meltdown thanks to fatigue from a day of ground-pounding. A stroller could have given little legs a much-needed rest and kept us merrily rolling along.
Stroller = happier days.
And I don’t recommend just any stroller—a stroller that can recline is king. If you are like us and you get to the park when it opens for Magic Hours and want to stay until the park closes, the stroller can not only save little legs, but also serve as a quick nap spot to help a kid power through a long day. (We’ve also scoped out good nap places in all the parks—Hall of Presidents in Magic Kingdom? Many a nap has gone down in this cool, quiet attraction.) Our trip with a four-year-old saw naps happen every day in that reclining seat. On our most recent trip, our friends brought a sit-and-stand stroller that gave their almost three-year-old a chance to recline when needed and their seven-year-old a chance to rest her legs at the same time. No huge stroller required. (An added bonus was the storage under the stroller where we could put jackets, umbrellas, and other items for the day.
I say all this fully recognizing what a pain a stroller is in Disney. I pushed one for an entire day on one of the busiest days I’ve seen in years, and I thought I would lose my mind. I was so busy watching the feet and legs in front of me that I’m not sure I looked up more than half a dozen times the whole day! But I firmly believe it’s worth it in the long-run.
- Plan your day around the kids.
This also seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve observed a lot of parents who want to suck the marrow out of the Disney experience, and so they rush their kids from one ride to the other, sometimes to rides that the parents just KNOW their kids will love, only to be walking out of the line with a crying, terrified child. I get it. Disney is expensive, so you feel like you need to experience everything. But, if everyone is crying and unhappy, is it worth the extra ride or two you got in? I don’t think so. We’ve always allowed for a return to the hotel in the middle of the day for naps if anyone is nearing melt-down status. Staying at a Disney property makes this easy and less time-consuming. Just hop the bus or monorail from the park and be back in your hotel room in thirty minutes or fewer, tucking tired little ones in and resting your own eyes and tootsies. Once you’re all feeling refreshed, hop back on the bus or monorail and be back in the park for more action!
And when it comes to planning the day, we’re considering what rides the kids would like, not what rides are our favorites. Really try to think about what your kids will love and try to get FastPasses for those rides, especially if you know the lines are infamously long. (Peter Pan’s Magical Flight, I’m looking at you!) I’ve stood in line a time or two for Aladdin’s Magic Carpets, and have cursed myself for prioritizing a ride I liked for a FastPass over a short ride that I had no interest in, but the kid with me LOVED (and they do, by the way, love Aladdin’s Magic Carpets). Keep your kid in mind, and forget your own priorities. You’re going on this trip for them, right? 😉
Staying at a Disney property means you’re able to book FastPasses first, so you can hopefully get those prime passes early, and save yourself a lot of line-waiting. And while it may be tempting to go for a Soarin’ FastPass because you LOVE that ride, your four-year-old will probably enjoy Frozen Ever After a lot more. (And because of the new limitations within the FastPass system, you unfortunately have to choose between these two rides—you can’t get a FastPass for both.) Take it from me, you’d rather either hit up Soarin’ during Magic Hours or stand in that line than stand in the Frozen line, which can stretch on for well over an hour during peak times.
And speaking of FastPasses: we discovered a fabulous way to maximize FastPasses on our last trip. We had four adults and two children (one under the age of three) on this last trip. Because the trip was about the kids, we purposely split our FastPass assignments so that two people were always signed up for one ride around the same time the other three who needed FastPasses (children under three don’t need a FastPass) were signed up for something else. So, for example, one adult and a child had a FastPass for Dumbo from 2:40-3:40 and the other three adults had a FastPass for Tomorrowland Speedway from 2:50-3:50. At 2:40, one adult and the two kids went to ride Dumbo. Immediately after the Dumbo ride ended, one adult with a FastPass for the Speedway passed their MagicBand to the child and two adults and the two kids rode the Speedway. That way, at least one adult always sat out (we took turns), but the seven-year-old and two-year-old got to ride everything. I can’t even tell you how perfectly that worked out. We stood in far fewer lines, and the kids got to ride so many more rides this way. This plan may not work out perfectly for everyone, but it worked for us!
- Come prepared.
Anticipate what your kids are going to want in the park, and you could save some serious dough. From snacks to princess dresses to light-up toys for the fireworks (stored in the bottom of your stroller), anything you can bring from home will be far cheaper purchased ahead than in the park. Princess dresses are a fraction of the price at the Disney Store versus inside the parks, and they’re even cheaper if purchased slightly used from eBay or borrowed from a friend.
The same goes for the light-up toys that kids clamor for at night. You’ll sometimes find the flashing toys or princesses with spinning light-up dresses on clearance at the Disney Store, at yard sales, or in a friend’s playroom. In our case, my mom has a collection we borrowed. My friend also ordered glow sticks for her kids that were just as much winners as those expensive toys.
I think the most important thing I’ve learned about taking kids under the age of 8 to Disney is that focusing on all the details is a mistake. It’s good to plan ahead, but once you’re there, you have to slow down and just enjoy the moments as they happen. Don’t stress about seeing everything and doing everything—the focus should be on the joy and magic in the eyes of the children around you. Don’t be too busy looking for the next ride or the next character meet-and-greet that you miss it!