So, if you’re a follower over on my Facebook page (and if you’re not, head over there now and slap a like on it!) you will have seen that I am putting out posts (I am aiming for one a week) based on reader requests.
The first request came from Katherine in the UK, who wanted a beginners guide for families with young(ish) children. Her kids will be 6 and 7 when they go on their trip to Walt Disney World.
Now, my son was 12 when we went on our first holiday to Orlando, so quite a bit older than Katherine’s kids, but I called upon my good friend Sam, from Memories & Mayhem, who does have experience of taking young children to Walt Disney World. She’s my go-to Disney girl for when I need gaps in my knowledge filled! She took her daughter to Orlando, when she was just 6 months old! Her top tip for babies is to make use of the Baby Care Centres, because they are amazeballs!!
I asked Sam if she could give me her 3 top tips for visiting Walt Disney World with kids, and this is what she had to say…
1. Be flexible with your plans – kids get tired quicker than you expect, especially if it’s hot, so you may have to go back to your room so they can nap, or miss a ride because they can’t cope with the length of the queue.
2. Book character meals – it’s a great way to meet the characters without having to waste FastPass+ or queue for hours. (A full list of the dining locations where you can meet characters can be found on The Purple Pumpkin Blog here.)
3. Look out for the extra activities that Cast Members may have put on – we’ve done hula hooping in America in Epcot World Showcase, hopscotch in the Magic Kingdom at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, learnt how to draw Goofy with water, and played games in the lobbies of several of the resorts!
Sam also gave me a bit of a run down of what sort of things her kids enjoyed (and didn’t!) at different ages…
At aged 9 and 7, they were a lovely age to go as they loved meeting the characters. Also great because both were still classed as kids so cheaper tickets! Not such a great age if they don’t like the faster rollercoasters though… so no Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Expedition Everest… A bit too young for closing down a park, so we would leave after Wishes as they were too tired for more. Great age for things like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party as they were still into dressing up.
At aged 11 and 9, they loved Pirates League. Still into the character meet and greets, but a bit more picky about who they met! Still quite happy to dance in the street with me!! They were able to handle longer hours in the parks. At the hotel they were a great age for swimming while we lounged as they are both strong swimmers and old enough to go on the slide and in pool without us! What’s not great is the cost, as one is now classed as an adult, so tickets more expensive plus adult Disney Dining Plan and sometimes they would have preferred kids menu.
Now it’s my turn for some tips! My own son may have been a tween, and teen when we went, but I’ve seen many stressed out parents, and cranky kids on our visits to Disney. We also visited Disneyland Paris with my 3 year old, and I certainly learned a few things then too.
I’ll never forget the first night that we watched Wishes. We were sat on the kerb, waiting for them to start. It was packed to the rafters, and a mother was sitting near by with her children, who were clearly very tired, and just wanted to go home. She and her partner argued, and I remember her saying that she just wanted everything to be awesome. He walked off, and I didn’t see him for the rest of the night. I really felt for her, as I know what a build up to a Disney holiday is like, and how we all want it to be magical – we put all these expectations on the place, and it doesn’t always turn out that way. So I hope these tips will help you avoid a situation like that…
Tips For Visiting Walt Disney World With Kids
4. Buy a guide book before you go – this tip is for everyone, not just those with kids. Until you visit Walt Disney World, you can’t imagine how big the place is, nor factor in how you are going to navigate the parks, resorts, transportation and more. I highly recommend two books, that have been my Disney bibles over the years, as well as additional book dedicated to doing Walt Disney World with kids, by the same author as book number 2.
- Brit Guide to Orlando
- Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World
- Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids
5. Be aware of height restrictions – the books above will provide that info, but you can also print off this handy dandy height chart from the Disney website here. You don’t want to line up for something and then find out your kids aren’t allowed to ride it. And please, please, don’t try to use tricks to increase your kids height so that they get on the ride. Restrictions are there for your children’s safety. There is also the Rider Switch Service, where an adult can wait with the rider(s) who can’t/don’t want to ride, while the other adult goes on the ride, and they can then switch without having to line up again.
6. Make a plan – there are people that plan, and there are people that don’t. Both ways are fine… for me, when visiting a Disney park, I need a plan. Especially so on our first couple of visits, these days, not so much. You can use my free printable Walt Disney World + Orlando Vacation Planner to plan out your days.
I have always made a list of the things that each of us would LOVE to do, and we always make sure that those things get done, that way, even if we don’t get a chance to do anything else, we’ve done the things we really want to, and the rest is bonus.
7. Make your FastPass+ selections as soon as you can – this is 60 days in advance if you are staying onsite at a Disney Resort Hotel, or 30 days in advance if staying offsite. I’ve got an in-depth guide to this here. Make sure you download the My Disney Experience app to your smart phone, so that you can make changes on the go.
8. Make Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) as soon as you can – especially for character meals at the popular restaurants – like Cinderella’s Royal Table, and Chef Mickey’s. Again, I’ve got an in-depth guide to ADRs, here. You can make ADRs 180 days in advance if you are staying offsite. If you are onsite, it is 180 days + 10, so you can book the first ten days of your Disney dining, rather than waiting each day for 180 days to catch up again!
9. Eat during off-hours – if you are not planning a table service restaurant while at the parks, but want to go to the counter service instead, try going an hour or two, before or after usual meal times. Everyone is going to be clamouring for lunch around 12/1pm, so maybe fit in lunch at 11am or 2/3pm instead.
10. Bring drinks and snacks – food and drink in theme parks is expensive, and if you’ve got a couple of kids that are getting hungry or thirsty, and need to be tied over until meal time, it can be costly to keep buying popcorn and drinks! You can get a free cup of iced water at any counter service restaurant at Walt Disney World, just go up and ask, and there are water fountains around that you can refill from. A cautionary tale though, Florida water tastes, what can I say, weird, so one of those mini squeeze bottles of fruit squash will help take that taste away! For snacks, bring things that are easy to transport, don’t melt, and don’t make too much mess – popcorn, crisps, trail mix, that sort of thing.
Bonus tip! Allow a pocket money budget for the trip – they can spend a certain amount each day on merchandise, or save it up for a larger purchase. This sets a clear boundary that you are not going to spend ALL your money!! And believe me, temptation is everywhere!
11. Come prepared for crowds and lines – explain to your kids in advance that it will be busy, and that they will have to wait in line for some things – like rides, character meet and greets, even the rest room. But you can make it fun for them to wait in line by having an arsenal of games and activities to pass the time. Things like a book to read, or stickers to decorate your autograph book are fun things to do – even your smartphone if your child has a favourite game they like to play on that. You could also play games like I-Spy, or the Alphabet Game.
Bonus Tip! Make sure the children know what to do should they become separated from you – point out to them what Cast Members look like (they are in uniform, and wear badges), so that they know they can approach them. Show them a place to meet up should they become lost. You could buy a band with your contact details on for them to wear around their wrist.
12. Know where characters are – these are found in the time guide leaflet that you can pick up at the entrance to any of the parks. Some will need a FastPass+ selection (see tip #7!) and some are more impromptu, and you just join the line. See Sam’s tip #2, for booking character meals as a way to meet characters without the long lines.
13. Make autograph collecting simple – buy (or make) an autograph book, and have it open on the page that you want the character to sign. Be ready with a big marker pen, lid off, as it’s easier for the character to hold.
14. Know where the rest rooms, Baby Care Centers, and First Aid Centers are – familiarise yourself with their locations on the park map before you start touring the park. The Baby Care Centers have private nursing areas; changing rooms; feeding area with high chairs; kitchen with microwave, oven, and sink; onsite shop selling formula, nappies amongst other things. The centers are complimentary. In the First Aid Centers, nurses are available during normal park operating hours, and offer over-the-counter medications, bandages etc.
15. Bring all the essentials – don’t get caught short! Bring along plasters, wet wipes, sun cream, ponchos, change of clothes, a towel, etc. I’ve done a day-pack post with a free printable on my other blog, definitely worth checking out.
16. Be prepared to recharge and plan for a nap – Disney days can be exhausting – for both kids and adults! The weather can be very hot, and humid, and tires you out more than you realise. Get out of the sun by walking through the stores (all air conditioned), going on an attraction where you can just sit back and recharge for a bit are also good. Consider breaking up your day, by touring the park in the morning, heading back to your accommodation for an afternoon nap, or to chill out, before going back for fireworks, or out for dinner.
17. Use the Disney website – it has got so much information on it, and stuff that I didn’t even realise! A whole section is dedicated to planning your vacation with small children, and can be found here.
18. Utilize the play areas and splash zones – you’ll find them at resorts, and in the parks. There is The Boneyard at Animal Kingdom, and Casey Jr. Splash ‘n’ Soak Station at Magic Kingdom to name a couple.
19. Visit the resorts – you won’t be able to do a park every day, and probably not back-to-back, so a few hours spent at a resort is a great way to get some Disney Magic without stepping foot into a theme park! Art of Animation is an amazing resort, and almost like a mini theme park in itself with wonderful giant models of the characters from Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Cars. You can read my resort tour of Art of Animation here. You can [currently] park for up to 3 hours for free at a resort – but this may be changing. If you visit a resort by Disney transportation, then stay as long as you like!
20. Have fun – I know this is an obvious tip, but honestly, make sure you do! A holiday to Walt Disney World is often a trip of a lifetime for many – don’t waste it by letting your kids get cranky, when they could have had a nap, or crying, when they could have been occupied in a line with a simple game to play. Don’t forget about the adults – they need to relax and recharge just as much as the kids, so plan in some downtime for the grown-ups, as well as the kids.
And if it all becomes too much, step back, and remember that there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day…
I hope that you’ve found my tips, and the tips from Sam helpful if you’re visiting Walt Disney World with kids, for the first time, or the next time! I think, between us we’ve covered all bases, but if you think something is missing, let me know in the comments below!