Many of us in the "Disney Diehard" category have gone through this... we have gone to The World so many times as adults without kids that when the little guys come along, we don't know what to do. I sure felt clueless. Children add a whole new factor to a trip, and honestly, a trip to Disney with older kids, teens, and/or adults is a totally different ballgame from one with the younger set.
The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (online at touringplans.com) is my favorite prep material for taking young children to Disney. You can either read the chapter in the "big" full guide, or you can get the "with Kids" edition, which contains much of the same material. Read the whole section about taking kids. Then extract one major thing from it that should become your mantra:
The younger your kids are, the more likely this trip is for you, and NOT for them.
Learn it. Understand it. Live it.
And take a deep, cleansing breath...
Now, the people I see at the World who are most miserable are the ones who have high, well-planned expectations about how everyone will LOVE the parks and will instantly be transformed into good fairies from the moment they step in the gates. It ain't gonna happen. Disney is good, but not THAT good. A phrase I have heard uttered so many times that now I use it myself: "This is the Happiest Place on Earth for heaven's sake. What do you have to cry about?!" (Sometimes there are harsher words than that, of course... but this is a family show).
If the child could talk (and sometimes they can) their reply would include quite a laundry list: heat, lack of sleep, foot pain, back pain, hair pain, sticky fingers, hunger, loud noise, crowds... the list goes on and on. Does this mean you shouldn't take them? Not at all. On the contrary, Disney is all about kids, and it's hard to find a vacation with so much variety aimed directly at them. It's instant entertainment with little effort on your part. Do it!
But remember that this trip is for you, not for them, and you have to respect their needs while you are enjoying your vacation. Sure, they have fun and they laugh, but the great part for you is you get to witness it. Here are some things you need to consider when planning to take the younger generation (up to about age six):
Prepare to take naps (yes, even you) - If your gut reaction is, "My kids don't TAKE naps anymore," consider this... they will be emotionally and physically charged in a more extreme manner than they are used to at home. They may surprise you. Regardless, plan to get to the park before it opens, hit it hard until 11 or 11:30 (we would sometimes need to stop for lunch as early as 10:30 because of the energy we burn), go back to the room and nap, rest, or swim if they really won't nap or rest. Then you can return to a park between 3 and 5, depending on your proximity and your rest quality, and stay as late as the tyke(s) can handle it. Which brings us to...
Prepare to turn in early - The 8pm bedtime works fine for you at home... you get some quiet time to yourself and can do fun things like dishes, blogging, video games, etc. But at Disney, who wants to go to sleep at 8pm?! Your kids do, that's who. Very young children do not care at all about fireworks. Many kids are scared of them at this age. They need sleep. Sure, they may sleep in the stroller, but letting them get quality rest will make them quality kids the next day. Don't sacrifice your tomorrow for today. Bring things on the trip with you that are quiet and easy to do in a darkened hotel room (or in a deluxe room, you will have a balcony to enjoy). My husband and I read with little book lights, play or watch movies on our laptops, or even play cards by flashlight. On one trip, I was able to use our post-bedtime quiet time to make movies of each day's memories right there, music and all, with a laptop and a pair of earbuds.
Prepare to get up early... or sleep late, as your child(ren) may dictate - My kids are early risers, especially when they get a good night's sleep. This is especially true when we're somewhere other than home. I use this as a huge advantage, giving them something to eat and heading out before the parks open so we can be there for "rope drop" (the opening show). Getting to a park early allows you to get a lot done very quickly, with short lines... something you really appreciate when you have preschoolers who haven't quite grasped that sometimes you have to wait for a good thing. If your children really must sleep late, let them. But try to let their internal clocks drive your vacation, so they will stay in better moods. The happier the kids are, the happier you will be, and you will be energized by seeing them enjoy themselves.
Photo by Jeff Smith
Prepare to miss attractions--especially thrill rides. - The bigger, faster rides come with height requirements. Sure, there are kid swaps and ways to enjoy the attractions you REALLY want to ride. But I'd recommend choosing only a few that are really important to you. Otherwise, your child will remember the parks as a place he or she stood in lots of lines so that Mommy and/or Daddy could do something he or she could not. In our experience, having one parent ride while the other parent takes the kids for ice cream or to play in a play area is the most successful choice. Trade this off through the trip. One person rides Space Mountain, the other rides Splash Mountain. If the thrill rides are very important to both of you and you really only intend to visit Walt Disney World once or twice in your lives, consider waiting until the kids are a bit older and can ride those rides with you.
Plan to eat casually and plan to snack often - Don't bog yourself down with lots of full service meals. Kids can do sit-down restaurants, but after a week, they will be very grouchy about all the sitting and behaving. Don't plan on more than one of these Table Service meals a day, and if your trip is a week or more, maybe go for every other day. Character meals count for these, by the way. Those can be some of your longest dining experiences while you wait for characters to come to your table. Better yet, save them for Parents' Nights Out, which will be covered in a future post. (At length. We love Parents' Night Out.) Oh... and bring snacks into the park with you to save a little money and some sanity. Small zipper bags of Goldfish crackers, nuts, dried fruit... anything to keep their little tummies from rumbling and forcing you to buy a huge portion of popcorn for their little bellies.
But most of all... plan to experience magic. Because children at Disney, especially when you have been so many times without them, is the most amazing, refreshing experience. The kid inside you... the one that's been running the place all these years, gives way to the child you nurture and love.
And it's way cooler, trust me.
Photo by Jeff Smith
So there's some of what I've learned as a new mom taking kids to Disney. What about you? Any other tips to share? Please leave a comment!