After a recent trip to Disney World Florida my husband decided to put some tips and tricks together to help a family trip run more smoothly….
Recently my wife and I took a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida with our two young daughters, the eldest is almost 3 years old, our youngest turned 5 months whilst we were away. Whilst I was out there I noted in my head a lot of things I would do differently when we go again (I can’t tell our youngest “well you went to Disney when you were a baby…” when she asks us if she can go, I used to hate hearing that when I was a child!) I thought I’d share the tips with other travellers, particularly parents, so that you have a smoother ride when you visit.
1. The plane journey
Okay so we’re quite lucky in that both girls are fairly easy travellers, including on flights. I always worry that they will kick up for the whole flight and my child will be the one showing up in a blurry video on This Morning whilst they discuss whether or not children should be allowed on planes. So far, so good. Oh and for the record, I consider planes as a mode of public transport just like a plane or a bus, so if you can’t handle listening to other people whilst you fly then I suggest you save up for a private jet.
Tips for flying with toddlers include (probably obviously) an iPad. Yes old people may tut and say “oh we didn’t have those in my day” but you know what, they also didn’t have commercial trans-Atlantic flights on their day but you can bet your arse they’ll fly on one. It’s unlikely that the iPad will keep them entertained for the whole flight, it certainly doesn’t for my two year old, so I suggest pulling that one out of the bag when you can see a tantrum about to happen.
Let the children choose a toy at the airport. What better to keep a child entertained than a new toy? Yes I may have spent half the flight retrieving Olaf and Sven from underneath the chairs but her new Frozen Busy Book kept our toddler quiet for hours.
Stack up on snacks – because who doesn’t like snacks? Another way to quickly pacify a stroppy child.
See if you can order food in advance of the flight for your child, or look up the on board menu. This way you know whether your little one will like the food, if not then you can pack something you know they’ll like.
If all else fails, take them to the bathroom! May sound strange but it takes them out of the situation where they’re unhappy, provides an distraction, keeps you away from everyone else and muffles the sound!!
2. Getting to the parks
My top tip here is to arrive early. On our first day we aimed to be in the park for 10am. We arrived around 9.30am and eventually got into the park after queuing for over an hour at various places. Getting into the park early has many perks:
- your car is parked closer to the park – occasionally we managed to get within walking distance to the park.
- the queue time for popular attractions is much less (although be warned, at 9am at Hollywood Studios we still queued for an hour to meet Buzz and Woody and the wait for the Toy Story ride was over an hour. The introduction of Toy Story land in Summer 2018 should hopefully reduce these wait times though).
- the temperature is more bearable for those of us who aren’t used to 30 degree heat!
- by lunch time you can head back to the hotel of the children are tired as it’s likely you’ve had a productive morning. Then you can spend the afternoon relaxing.
Most of the cafes and restaurants at Disney don’t open until 11am. If you have a hungry child on your hands as we do then waiting until 11am for an appropriate morning snack is not an option. My advice here is to pack snacks for the morning!
Lunch time gets hectic and there’s usually a long wait on food or to even sit down at a restaurant. Again, a packed lunch can help to avoid this issue. Alternatively, you can book tables at restaurants on the Disney app up to 30 days in advance. We didn’t do this and regretted it.
Look at the menus in advance. The selection for children is fairly limited. Our eldest isn’t keen on fast food so the options of burgers, chicken nuggets and chips didn’t appeal to her. She was happy with macaroni and cheese every day but we weren’t keen on her having it too often! This was another reason we brought a packed lunch with us. If you look in advance you can anticipate what your child will or won’t eat rather than walking to restaurants one by one in the heat of the day to make sure they like something on the menu.
Epcot is the best park for food, it has a much larger variety due to the nature of the park. Make the most of it and look up the restaurants before you go as the choice is great.
Another great reason to pack snacks is that snacks in the park are expensive! We paid over $2 for a banana in Hollywood Studios!
4. Take a pram
Or rent one! Even if your child doesn’t usually use one it’s worth it purely to get to places faster. When you enter the park and need to head to a certain ride/character meeting but your little one won’t pick up their feet it’s frustrating. A slow walk to where you want to go can be a difference between a 15 minute wait and a 30 minute wait.
There’s a lot of walking involved in the day. Our eldest doesn’t usually nap but every day she had a sleep in the pram around lunchtime to recharge her batteries. Without it she wouldn’t have lasted the day. Even if your child won’t nap it’s worth them being able to rest their legs rather than giving out free shoulder rides!
Oh and where else would you put all your shopping without a pram to over-fill?!
5. Meet and greet
Okay so there are LOTS of Disney characters to meet and most of them have a fair wait to get a photo and an autograph. My tip here is to have a look in advance at what characters are in each park and prioritise the ones you want to meet. Then use a fast pass to get in and see them. Popular characters like Mickey and Minnie usually have an hour wait or more, so using a fast pass drops your wait to anything between 5-20 minutes (from experience, not guaranteed).
The photographers will take photos for you but if you give them your phone they’re happy to take one on that too. This helps if you don’t have the photopass and you don’t want to pay for the professional pics.
I’ve read advice online about meeting “face” characters first, i.e. not the ones wearing big heads! This is to ease your little one into the process. Well we didn’t get the chance as our first character meeting was accidental and was in a big costume. Luckily our 2.5 year old was so excited to meet her that she wasn’t at all fussed by the fact that she was 6 foot tall! All children are different and all I can say is that you should enjoy yourself. If your little one doesn’t like the meet and greets then there’s still plenty of magic in the form of rides, parades and fireworks!
6. The rides
If you’re going to Disney World you’re probably a big kid too, right? Well plenty of the rides at Disney are great for adults but not so great for little children. Most of the big ones have height restrictions, so if your little one can’t ride and you have two adults with you then one can ride and get a fast track pass for the other. This pass means the other adult won’t have to queue up again, instead they can go straight to the fast pass queue to get on the ride. This means your little one won’t get as bored having to wait around for you both to ride. What’s even better is that the fast track pass is for whoever had to stay with the child AND up to 2 other rides. If you go with a group then you can pick your two favourite people to fast track the ride with you.
It’s also worth looking up the wait times in advance and booking your fast passes for the most high demand rides. In magic kingdom for example these are the “Mountains” (splash, thunder and space), the seven dwarf mine train, and it’s a small world. There are others too but these had the longest waits when we visited. The further in advance you book your passes in the more likely you are to get availability on the rides you want. But plan it well – you don’t want back to back fast passes on rides that are the opposite sides of the park to each other, so check a map when you’re organising it.
7. Download the app
The app is great. It gives you directions from your phone to attractions you want to visit, up to date wait times for everything and the locations of all the characters. It also allows you to order your food from your phone which allows an element of time saving, you can book restaurants on there and check out daily show times.
There are probably way more things that would give you a smoother ride at Disney but you’d be reading all day if I went into much more detail! The above are my top ones, so I hope it helps!
And most importantly…. have a magical day!