Disney Vacations with KIDS!

Posted by  | Friday, July 30, 2010  at 3:41 PM  

We are Disney fans. I really can't remember how many times I've been to Disney World - whether with my family, high school chorus, college friends for a bowl game, my hubby or now my kids! We just took our second trip with the kids. My parents have blessed us with tickets and condo using their timeshare - so without them, neither trip would have taken place. I thought I'd share my thoughts on Disney with kids.

Our first trip was with a 2.5 year old Will and 9 month old Adeline. We went the week after Christmas and spent four days - one in each park at Disney World. (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios - formerly MGM and Animal Kingdom)

This trip, Will was 4 and Adeline was 2. We spent 3 days in the parks - skipping Epcot.

There are lots of guidebooks with tips for Disney and I've read a few of them. Honestly, you can find all of the info you need at MouseSavers.com or AllEars.net. I used Mouse Savers a LOT before this trip and highly recommend it. So, feel free to stop reading now and head over there. :)

Here are a few of the specific things I'll be remembering for future trips:

1. When to go?

NOT the week after Christmas. I've never seen Disney World so crowded as it was the week after Christmas. The weather was great - we even had to go buy a few short sleeve shirts for my kids because I did not anticipate it to be so warm.

This trip at the end of June was much better as far as crowds. The longest line we waited in was about 30 minutes and that was because the ride got shut down for a bit. Otherwise, we rarely waited for very long (with some planning of course!). However, the heat was a bit of a downer. We made do with fans, cool treats and lots of water.

MouseSavers has some thoughts on the best time of year, but my opinion is October! Jacob and I went in October for our first anniversary and it was the best I've ever seen. Warm enough that we could swim in the pool, but hardly sweat at the parks. The crowds were so little we were able to visit all FOUR parks in TWO days. (Of course, we stayed from open to close....but you can do that when you don't have kids! :)

2. Cheapest Tickets?

Disney recently redid the way tickets are sold. You now have base tickets and you add options such as "park hopper" (visit more than one park per day) or "no expiration" (meaning unused days never expire). You can also buy tickets at a SLIGHT discount from AAA offices. MouseSavers has more info here. The bottom line is that the more ticket you buys - the cheaper it is per day visited. I would recommend saving up and buying a 8-10 day ticket to use over multiple trips.

3. Naps and a schedule?

The last trip (with a 2.5yo and 9mo) was a little different than this one in that we came back everyday for lunch and naps. We would be at the parks from open until about 12. Then return from about 4-7. One night we stayed late for a night parade and fireworks.

This time our kids were a little older and we tested the waters the first day. We stayed from park opening until about 3pm. Adeline napped in the stroller and Will did fine. That was our plan for the rest of the park days. However, this schedule did not allow us to keep the kids up late for fireworks in a park any night though.

4. Food?

Disney recently began allowing you to bring soft coolers in to the parks. You still cannot bring hard coolers, but I did see many soft coolers while we were there. This is a HUGE help because park food is pretty expensive - although not as much as you would think. We simply planned ahead the days we would eat out or bring our food. Having a plan is half the battle so you aren't caught with hungry, grumpy children (and parents)!

We usually purchased either lunch or dinner in the park and ate the other back at the condo. We spent about $30-40 per meal in the parks. I was pleasantly surprised to see the (relatively) healthy options on many of the menus. The kids' meals came with fruit or veggie sides and milk.

MouseSavers.com has coupons for dining in the Orlando area. We were able to find coupons for the Rainforest Cafe (in downtown Disney AND Animal Kingdom) to made kid's meals .99! That saved us $10 on that meal!

In addition, you can visit Restaurant.com to find other Orlando area restaurants. I found a Disney Character Dining restaurant there and bought a $25 gift certificate for $2! We ended up not doing the character dining because all of the character dining is done on a buffet/flat rate cost (no a la carte dining). It would have cost us almost $60 after the gift certificate to dine with Pluto and someone else we'd already met (can't remember who).

5. Where to stay?

This one is a little more tricky for me. My parents have a timeshare and we have stayed in a condo through the timeshare almost every time we've gone. I've stayed on Disney property twice (only a total of 3 nights!) and do see the value in doing that. There are certain deals that Disney offers twice a year (October and February, I think) where you can get free dining plans by staying on Disney property. There are "value" resorts (basically hotel rooms) that are still very nice and well themed. Staying on Disney property allows you to use Disney transportation (nice if you fly instead of drive!), get free parking at the parks (saves $14 per day!) and allows you extra hours in the parks on some days - called "Extra Magic Hours."

This past trip we spent two nights camping at the Disney Campground, Fort Wilderness. We loved it! The best part was that it only cost us $60 per night! I wrote about our camping experience here. The only downside to Disney property that I've found is the horribly high priced dining options. This is why the "free dining" with a stay on Disney property would be a HUGE plus! But once we got over the shock and made a new plan, we were set!

6. Other Kid-specific Tips

Strollers - We obviously knew we needed a stroller for our first trip. I actually bought a used one on Craigslist to use just for our trip. (The only double we had at the time was a double jogger and I knew it would have been horrible in the crowds!) When we returned home, I sold it for the same price! Much cheaper than renting one and I didn't worry when it got rained on or lost. Renting one costs about $15 per day and usually involves extra lines. Plus your stroller now looks just like everyone elses!

This trip, we were unsure about having a stroller for 4 year old Will who almost never uses one at home. We finally decided to bring our double jogger and I'm SO GLAD that we did. Will absolutely needed to ride at least 75% of the time and would have been so much more tired if he'd walked.

Waits - We brought a few small items in our bag for the kids to have during waits. Usually there was plenty to keep them entertained, but a few times we needed to get out the pens and paper. I also had some stickers and a few small toys.

Fast Passes and Baby Swap - If you don't know about the Fast Pass system at the parks - it is the only way you can do the majority of large attractions in one day. Basically, its a ticketing system where you use your park ticket to obtain a ticket with a specific return time for that ride. When you return - you enter the "fast pass" line that is very short. The trick that we recently learned (on our first with kids trip) is that the fast pass is actually good for the rest of the day! Even though it has an hour block of time to return, its good for the rest of the day.

Each day when we'd enter the park, the FIRST thing we did is send Jacob to a big ride for the fast pass. He would then meet me and the kids at the line for another big attraction so we could get right in line first thing when the waits are still very short (or non-existent!) When you look at your map, it will show you which rides have fast passes and those are the ones you might want to hit first. We usually would do at least 2 BIG attractions within the first 30 minutes of entering the park.

In addition, Disney will issue "baby swap" passes (essentially fast passes) good for up to three members of your party in situations where kids in your group cannot ride the ride. Basically, Will and Jacob would ride while I waited with Adeline. We're given a "baby swap"/fast pass when they get off so that I can enter the fast pass line while Jacob waits with Adeline. This prevents you from waiting in line twice and allows the entire party to enjoy the ride.

Souvenirs - I purchased a few small souvenirs ahead of time to give to our kids at Disney. (You can do this at a Disney Store or online!) This wasn't a big deal the first trip because Will was much younger. This time around, I knew he'd understand how much "stuff" he'd continually see that he wanted to buy. So in addition to the little fun things I purchased ahead of time, we told him we'd go to the big Disney Store (at Downtown Disney) and pick out one special treat. We did and he got a Bullseye (from Toy Story) to go with Woody and Buzz. He was thrilled and really didn't bug us anymore.

One thing I'd like to add about this is to be sure to purchase your souvenirs early in your trip. We had several toys (Adeline's Aurora doll that she picked and Jessie/Bullseye set my Mom got her) that broke while we were there. Disney was great about exchanging, but had we waited until the end of the trip that wouldn't have been possible! Plus, it gave the kids something new and fun to play with while at the condo.

Young Nurslings - If you have a nursing baby or even a diapered toddler, be sure to find and use the Baby Care Stations. When Adeline was 9 months, I nursed and fed her baby food in those at each park. They were super great (and air conditioned!) with microwaves, nursing areas, changing tables and entertainment for older siblings. There is only one per park.

That is all I can think of for now - but be sure to MouseSavers for LOTS more info! Especially for dining coupons like I mentioned! Please leave a comment with any tips or questions you have. (Leah P. is a Disney EXPERT and she may even chime in to answer them! :)

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Amy said...

Hi Ladies,

I have been reading your blog since you started back in 2007 and at that time, we lived in Louisville (my husband was at Southern). We have since moved to Orlando and LOVE it. My husband is from here, and knows tons of people who work at Disney. If you need anything while you are in Orlando, please let me know. I am a RN and work at a pediatric urgent care center, open until 11 pm each night. We often get taxis from Disney/Universal tourists. So, if you need to know anything "locally" during your Orlando trips, please contact me. I would be happy to help! My email is amy.g.gabriel AT gmail DOT com

Amy said...


Leah said...

Like Christina, I grew up going to Disney and will be passing the tradition on to my children. My parents moved to FL (about an hour from Disney) last year and have annual passes! They go once a week to the parks! My first adult trip to Disney was during my teaching career, before I had kids. My mom and I went for a full week during my fall break. It was the first week of October and my FAVORITE Disney trip ever! We stayed at Pop Century, went to the park in the morning, back to the hotel to swim at the pool in the afternoon, then got cleaned up and went to dinner at the parks in the evening. No waits on anything! And beautiful weather! I went back the next year with my infant son. We traded him in and out of the parks to my dad (who didn't go in the parks). It was stressful and kinda a silly idea. I stopped in for just a day last summer because we flew in to Orlando on my birthday and you could get in free on your birthday last year. The boys were still young enough to be free so we thought we'd go for the day. It was June 10 and it was HOT and CROWDED! We had to wait quite awhile for some rides and we got super overheated. We are now planning a trip for October this year. My mom, my boys, and I will all be going to Disney for three days, two nights at the beginning of our visit to FL. (My husband refuses to go to Disney). We'll stay at a value resort and go to the park for two of the days. My mom has her annual pass, I have 4 days left on my 10 day non-expiring pass, and my mom will be buying Samuel a 10 day non-expiring pass to be used over the next few years. I can't wait! And I will be stealing most of Christina's ideas and advice from her most recent trip!

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