::: beware: short novel ahead :::
Tim and I have been to Disney several times on our own. We were fans — big fans even — and eager to introduce the kids to the wonderful world of the mouse. I heard all the warnings in planning the trip, “it won’t be the same,” “it’s not going to feel like a vacation,” and many, many “you guys are crazy” comments.
And while there were many times during the trip that I felt a bit crazy, it was still a magical Disney experience, especially for Lucas. At almost 4 years old, the magic is alive. He believed that he was meeting the characters. Heck, even the bus rides were exciting to him at this age. At 15 months, Ben probably would have passed on most of the trip. He did incredibly well on the rides, taking them in with wide eyed wonder, and was a total trooper during our long days and much confinement (stroller and our arms). I do have to wonder what was going through his little brain as we pulled him from his stroller and dove onto rides. I can’t imagine how he processed the strange changes in scenery and experiences!
That being said, I have tips. Lots of them. Many of which I’ll memorialize below so that I can reference what worked (and what didn’t) for future trips (in a few years… when we all recover).
Planning and Scheduling
There is no spontaneity left in a Disney trip — no “let’s just wing it.” Traveling to Disney Parks is all about the planning.
This was our first trip “renting” DVC points instead of staying in a traditional Disney hotel room. I’ll never do Disney without renting again — and would strongly urge anyone traveling with toddlers or children to consider it. Why? We paid approximately the same price for our room as a standard hotel room (in a Moderate/Deluxe Disney hotel) and had a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom and washer/dryer. There was plenty of space for Tim and I to have our own room, Lucas to sleep on the pull out sofa in the living room and Benjamin’s crib fit snugly in one of the bathroom areas. Privacy for all at the price of a room with two double beds and no extras!
If we were to rent again however, I’d do it earlier than we did this time. Renting within six months of your trip date limits your options for where to stay. Our hotel (Saratoga Springs) was lovely and worked out great for us — thanks in big part to lucky room location (close to the pool and bus stop). But, if I could do it again, I’d book the trip 6-7 months out and I’d stay on the monorail line. Other than the convenience and ease that it offers in getting to/from the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, traveling via the monorail has the awesome advantage of wheeling your stroller right on board. No waking up sleeping kids and pulling them out of the stroller only to struggle to keep them and a big stroller safely on board a crowded bus. When it comes to toddler travel, I vote monorail.
Dining reservations can be booked six months in advance — well really six months + 10 days. Take advantage of this. Most reservations require a CC to hold your spot, but can be cancelled within a 24 hour window of your booked dining time. Even if you aren’t booked at your hotel, you can book dining reservations. When it comes to toting toddlers to dining reservations, make it easy for yourself and try and eat where you are already. While park hopping is terrific (especially as adults), running from the Magic Kingdom to Animal Kingdom just to have lunch is a royal PITA with kids. Plan on a solid hour to transfer from your hotel (or park) to your final destination. That’s an hour of frustrating travel time for your kids as they eagerly await rides, treats and characters. Save yourself the hassle (trust me) and eat in the park/hotel that you are already planning to spend time in.
FastPass+ reservations can be booked 60 days out if you are staying in a Disney hotel (30 days out if you are staying offsite). Essentially reservations for your rides – you get to choose three FastPass+ reservations per day, all in one park. I booked all the FastPass’ early in the mornings. Once you’ve used them up, you can reserve additional FastPass spots while you are in the park (one at a time, and only reserved from the kiosks in the parks). Two strategies helped to maximize our use of these magical tickets: 1) Since I booked our FastPass’ first thing in the morning, if we could walk onto a ride or only experience a short wait. We didn’t use them. Instead, I used the MyDisney Experience app to reschedule the FastPass’ for a different ride (same time or later in the day). This helped ensure we basically walked onto all the hot ticket rides without waiting more than fifteen minutes per. 2) After using up our three FastPass’ for the day, we definitely swung by the kiosks to reserve more. The thrill rides or consistently crowded attractions won’t be available, but you can definitely grab reservations for more mid-tier rides. Saving even ten minutes of waiting in line can be invaluable with children.
Pre-Trip Preparations and Packing
We didn’t tell the kids we were going to Disney until two weeks prior to leaving. Regardless, the “are we going now” started right away. To help combat that, build excitement and get them involved in the process, Lucas and I made a paper chain countdown full of Disney stickers. He got to remove one link each night and once he got to the end of the chain, it would be time to go!
Things you may not think to pack, but are worth the room in your suitcase/carry on:
- Lots of Clorox wipes! Disney germs are brutal, pervasive and they start on the airplane. Clorox makes awesome “to go” packs of wipes perfect for attacking the surfaces of the airplane, your hotel room (think door knobs/light switches/remote controls).
- Foaming antibacterial soap fits easily in a plastic baggie and makes handwashing in your hotel room a bit easier for little ones. Lucas has trouble soaping up his hands properly with bar soap and Ben doesn’t stand a chance. This takes up a small portion of your suitcase but can give you big peace of mind that germs will be at bay.
- Glow sticks — available for $1 at Target’s Dollar Spot and comes with 10 glow sticks that can be turned into bracelets or necklaces. These saved us while teetering on the brink of many meltdowns during the evenings, particularly.
- Familiar sippy cups – if you have young toddlers who are used to drinking out of the same kinds of sippy cups, bring them along. The restaurants provide cups of water/milk for them, but they tended to be paper or plastic and were easily crushed by careless toddler hands creating quite a mess at the table and on clothes. You can also fill them with water at the airport water fountains and use them to help offset ear pain at take off.
- Speaking of ear pain, lollipops are great relievers of ear pressure for children old enough to enjoy them. We offered lollipops at take off and they were terrific distractions from the “scariness” of takeoff while ensuring we didn’t have any ear popping crises.
And perhaps even more importantly, not everything needs to be packed or carried onto the plane. Instead of packing everything and lugging it all to Orlando, we ordered grocery delivery straight to our villa. For a nominal delivery fee, we had bottles of water, Uncrustable PBJ sandwiches, cereal, fruit, milk and snacks delivered directly to our room. This eliminated the need for going out to breakfast entirely and saved some of the Disney “go, go, go” hassle. A few tips:
- Order your diapers and wipes to be delivered to your room. This will save tons of room in your suitcase and doesn’t cost you anymore. They can be ordered through grocery delivery (we used Garden Grocer with great luck) or Amazon Prime/Amazon Prime Pantry.
- Order disposable bibs that you can use at meals. This is especially important for younger toddlers who haven’t perfected their eating habits. Benjamin can make quite a mess and I didn’t want to lug a sloppy, mess of a bib around in our backpacks. Instead, we got a box of disposable bibs and were able to leave them at the table after the meals. No muss, no fuss.
- Consider renting a stroller. Two toddlers under the age of four and all the walking at Disney Parks is not a great mix. We have a double stroller at home, but it was too much for Tim to navigate on the plane by himself. Instead, we rented using Kingdom Strollers with great success. They drop the stroller off to the bell desk of your hotel who brings it straight to your room. When you leave, you drop it back at the bell desk and they handle getting it back to the company. The stroller we rented (City Mini GT Deluxe) was amazing. Easy to fold and unfold. Super simple to push. Comfortable for both boys. Excellent sunshade and recline (almost flat, perfect for stroller napping). Only downside (which wouldn’t be any different for any double stroller) is the size and particularly the size while folded up. You have to drag that puppy on and off the bus many times during the week and you will definitely get frustrated. Just remind yourself of how easy it is while in the park and you’ll quickly get over the annoyance!
And, as if that wasn’t enough narration of my various tips and tricks for a successful Disney jaunt with the toddler crowd — more coming tomorrow on the Disney Dining Plan, Memory Maker and making the most of your park time! In reward for bearing with my lengthy Disney details, here’s a sweet picture of Lucas, Benjamin and Pascal (from Tangled!)