Ten Tips for Taking Young Kids to Disney

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A couple of months ago my husband and I took my three year old to Disney World for the weekend.  We wrote about our experience staying at the nearby Hyatt Grand Cypress (here and here), but the real meat of the trip was the time we spent at the parks.  This is actually our third time to take our daughter to a Disney Park, but each trip has been very different.  I have a few upcoming posts about our time in the new Fantasyland, how Disney was vastly different with a three year old vs. a two year old, using points/saving money on park tickets, and the Princess Breakfast.  But first, here are ten of my favorite tips for taking young kids to Disney!

Little C and her dad anxiously approach Cinderella's Castle!

  • Try to not go during the peak dates.  MouseSavers is a really good resource for getting Disney advice in general, but that includes advice on when the parks will be their busiest.  We went during one of the busier seasons on a weekend in March, but we went on the very first weekend in March which is before the spring break season really gets under way.  So, it was busy, but it wasn’t as insane as I have seen it during peak spring break weeks.
  • Get to the parks early.  I know with young kids it can be hard to get everyone out of the door early, but if you don’t you will seriously regret it.  Getting to the parks by the time they open ensures you can almost walk right onto one popular ride while someone in your party runs quickly walks to another very popular ride to pull fast passes for everyone.  You can check the hours on Disney’s website as they can change slightly from day to day.  That means you quickly see at least two popular attractions and with virtually no waiting.  You can often then get in line at another attraction with only a moderate wait.  This is a process that can takes hours and hours later in the day.  In fact, getting there even an hour after the park opens virtually negates this advantage.  Another benefit of going early is that young kids are often most predictable in the morning.  By the afternoon they can get quite tired and grumpy.
  • Have a plan.  You absolutely need a plan of what attractions you want to see and when.  Don’t think that “going with the flow” is a good strategy for Disney.  Unless you go on a day the park is very empty, you will end up spending way too much time waiting in line if you take that approach.  There are tons of suggested plans online for kids of various ages.  We didn’t plan out our whole day, but we absolutely planned what we would do for the first hour or two, and then we started to make decisions based on what times we could get fast passes and how long the waits were at various attractions.  Most young kids don’t like waiting in line, so you really have to plan and make strategic decisions.  One thing that will help with planning is to download an app that will give the approximate waits for various rides at any given point in time.
  • Bring snacks and drinks.  There is no shortage of snack food available at Disney, but to save time and money it is best to pack some of your own.  This will help with waiting in line and will save you some money.
  • Make a lunch reservation somewhere with air conditioning.  We have found it to be very helpful to have a lunch reservation so that we could sit down for a while and relax.  On this most recent trip we made lunch reservations at The Plaza Restaurant on Main Street USA.  It wasn’t the most exciting place, but it was easy to get relatively last minute reservations and the prices were reasonable.  We had sandwiches, salads, and shakes all while sitting down and relaxing.  On a previous trip to Disney World we had lunch reservations at Liberty Tavern which was also enjoyable.
  • Rent or bring a stroller.  Even if your child doesn’t normally use a stroller, you will probably want one at Disney World.  You may start the day okay without one, but by about lunch time, many children under the age of four or five are going to start getting tired of walking.  My three year old passed out in her (uncomfortable) rented stroller as soon as I gave in and rented it at the park right around lunch.  Once we bought a blanket to put in with her she was much more comfortable.  I’m glad we didn’t haul our own stroller to Orlando, but we absolutely needed to rent one.  Be aware if you rent from Disney you can’t take the stroller outside of the park.  You can rent higher quality strollers from companies like Magic Strollers if you don’t want the hard plastic shell ones from Disney.  You can then use them outside the parks and they even offer free delivery and pick-up.

  • Be prepared to head back to the hotel for an afternoon nap.  I considered just letting C take her afternoon nap in her stroller (which is a decent option if you have older kids who want to keep going), but in the end we decided to head back for the hotel once she passed out.  Thanks to having a plan we got a lot accomplished before lunch, and we were all happy to relax that afternoon at the hotel.  This also allows you to take advantage of the great pools and activities that are available at many resort hotels.  Obviously this is easiest to accomplish if you are staying at a hotel on Disney property.
  • You may not need Park Hopper tickets.  There was a 0% chance we were going to more than one park in a day with our three year old, so there was no need to spend extra on a Park Hopper option the way you might if you are taking an all adults trip, or if you have older children.  Also, if you are going on a longer trip then schedule some days outside of the Disney Parks as you will likely need a little breather.
  • Book a character meal to avoid waiting in character lines at the park. The lines to meet Disney characters can be silly long.  We got lucky at Disneyland last year and found the treasure trove of all the characters with no lines, but the safest route is to just book at least one character meal so you can meet many of the characters there without having to wait in line for them at the parks.  Those lines can easily be 20-30 minutes long just to take a picture with a character.  We have done the Princess Breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table at the Magic Kingdom (book exactly 180 days in advance if possible) and the Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot.  At both, princesses come around to your tables and interact with the children (and adults).  No lines to wait in at all!  These breakfasts are not cheap and need to be booked in advance.  The food is actually decent though (full review to come).  Here is a link to a post on Babble on the Top Ten Character Meals at Disney World.

  • If you have infants, use the Baby Care Centers The baby care centers offer changing tables, rocking chairs, nursing rooms, and more for the littlest members of the family.  If you might need those facilities then locate the Baby Care Centers in the park you are visiting.

What are some of your favorite Disney tips for families?

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  1. That Snow White picture is adorable. It sounds like parents with school age kids can only go when it’s superbusy. I recently talked to someone who took their kids out of school to avoid the crowds… but I bet most families aren’t willing to do that. Are there better and worse times to go during school breaks?

  2. Kay, I’m a big fan of long weekend trips to Disney. Maybe look for a Monday or Friday that your school district has a teacher in-service day and go then?
    Mike, there are legitimate Disney VIP tours that are amazing I’m sure…but they are also amazingly priced!
    Rachel, yes very true. We were going to do that on this trip before we pooped out and cut a day off. Great suggestion!

  3. After being at Disney Christmas week, I would definitely take my kids out of school to miss the lines! lol but MP, that’s a great idea to incorporate teacher planning days, so you minimize your kid’s days off school, but still avoid the breaks where everyone is off school and at the parks.

  4. I will have to agree with Jamie. I have been to Disney World twice now during Christmas/New year’s break, without a doubt it is the busiest time with the longest line you can get. The parks were at full capacity by 9am!!! After the 2nd try, I swear I would never go there again during Christmas, no matter how cute or fun it could be! Unfortunately I can’t take my kids out of school any more as they are in upper grades, very difficult to make up work after missing a day or two of school. On the bright side, no Disney means more money saved! So for those with young kids, enjoy your flexibility while you can! 😉

  5. Kay- as an Orlando native, I’ve been to the parks all year round and school break times are just slammed, especially around holidays. If I had to pick a break time, Sprink Break would be my choice as the weather is nicer. But I would consider pulling kids out to go to the parks- some parks like Epcot do offer some good educational moments.

    Gomike- Unfortunately, good discounts on one-day tickets are rare. Discounts really show up when you look for multiday passes.

  6. Don’t forget about the child swap for rides. At most rides which young children cannot ride due to height restrictions, you can see the cast member at the front of the line to get a pass so that after the first parent goes through the line with the other parent waiting with the child, the second parent can go into the fast pass line to skip most of it (and if you have older children, that pass is good for up to 3 people so the older child can ride again with the other parent!) You can usually use child swap with fast passes to really cut down on line time!

  7. One other tip (especially for those that use double stroller – we have twins!). Get the AAA parking pass if you’re a member. Doesn’t give you free parking but gets you to a spot closer to the front. It’s still a little walk at most parks but avoids needing to take the tram. I find with a double stroller, I much prefer to drive and park than keep having to fold and unfold a double stroller on Disney trams and buses.

  8. Awww – nice princess picture.

    An additional trick is the Disney credit card which can get some discounts.

  9. At Disney World, it quite a bit harder to park hop, but I would recommend that you absolutely get park hopper tickets for Disneyland — the parks are directly across from each other! We hop pretty much every day we go to Disneyland with our 4 year old. Since the Fastpass systems are disconnected from each other, it is perfect for grabbing one last Fastpass on the way back to the hotel for an afternoon nap that you can use afterwards.

  10. A couple of additional Disney tips…

    For character dining, consider 1900 Park Fare at the Grande Floridian. The meal is buffet style, dining plan cost is only a single dining credit and the characters are fun & entertaining, even for the adults. They include Cinderella, Price Charming,Fairy Godmother and the step sisters.

    For ticket discounts, Undercover Tourist offers discounts, The best are for multiple day visits. Also, ticket prices just increased over the weekend.

    Lastly..we have found the best time of year to travel to Disneyworld is in September. The weather is warm, but all the kids have returned to school so the parks are really empty. For the holiday season, the days immediately before..and including Xmas Day have always been good. However starting a day or two after the holiday, the parks becoming amazingly full and the wait times become terrible.

  11. Just got back from an awesome trip with my 3 1/2 year old son 2 weeks ago. This was our first time staying on site and used SPG points for the Swan and were very satisfied. About a 30 minute for wait, shuttle ride + walk, but great water park for some R&R after a long day.

    The best part was going back to Magic Kingdom after dinner and beating the heat and crowds. My son took a late nap, so lasted until 11:30pm when the park closed.

  12. We have two girls ages 3 and 5. We plan to do Disney when the youngest one is a little taller so she can ride more things (no fun if big sis can ride stuff and little one has to watch). Just a comment on a stroller: we bought a Chicco Capri umbrella-style for travel about 4 years ago. I think we paid about $60 at Babies ‘R Us due to a sale/coupon. We have gotten our money’s worth: this stroller has been to London, NYC, Paris, southern France, Spain’s Costa del Sol, Hawaii, California, and numerous other places. It still rolls and folds just fine. It comes with a carrying bag which is great for the plane. See http://www.chiccousa.com/gear/strollers/ct06-capri/ct06-capri-cilantro.aspx

  13. Great! Thanks for this, we’re taking our two kids later this year, so I look forward to the rest of your posts on this.

  14. Take a family member that is a disable veteran and they get a pass (basically a fast pass) that is good for all Disney parks and rides They get the pass at the customer relations office and he has to show his disabled military id. They will ask how many in his/her party and they will give him the pass for the maximum of up to six people. Then you can get fast passes along with riding with your veteran family member. I took my brother who is a disabled vet and was totally worth it. I would have still taken him but read something like this elsewhere and couldn’t believe it was true when we bypassed all the long lines. I told my brother I’m taking him on all my park visits from now on.

  15. I took my 7 and 5 year old back in February and pulled them out of school for 3 days. During the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we were there, the parks were pretty easy to navigate and get on rides, most being a hour wait for the busiest ones even without a fastpass. On Saturday, it was hard to navigate with a child and we ended up leaving the MK park early. I would definitely suggest going during the week if possible during normal school days.

    Then there are those that push the ehtical line…http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/05/well-this-is-just-awful-renting-disabled-people-to-skip-lines-at-disney-world/275840/

  16. We are going the weekend of Oct 10-14. I was thinking this was a good time to go. School has started back, and while my husband and I are teachers, we are taking our 6 year old out a few days to enjoy the experience.

  17. We went to Disneyland during Spring Break this year. It was crazy busy, but i spent $15 for the RideMax program and it was worth it. It wasn’t 100% accurate (30 min wait time for Radiator Springs at park opening was more like 2.5 hours) (we found a way to not wait that long though)BUT it did give us a good walking plan for the day and listed pretty accurate fast pass return times.

    Disney World strollers are horrible! Disneyland strollers are a bit better, but not much. When we went to disneyworld a couple years ago we found a nice stroller on Orlando craigslist that cost about the same as a rental at Disney and before we left, we donated it to Goodwill. Yes that involved some driving around but it wasn’t that bad. It was worth it for my son to have a comfortable ride and be able to sleep in the stroller.

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