So when I was in college, I went to Disney World. We traveled down one day…then did Magic Kingdom the next day…then we had a calm and restful Pool Day…then we did a day in Epcot…then we traveled home the next morning.
Now almost fifteen years later, I went to Disney World again. My hubby and I decided to take our three kids – a five-year old, a three-year old, and a one-year old – on a week-long trip to Disney World where we hit Disney Springs and all four theme parks. hahahahahahahahahahahahaha
Guess what? We actually survived, and in this post, I’m going to tell you How You Can Survive Disney World Without Losing Your EVER-LOVING Mind. I’m going to pass along my best tips for tackling this trip with little ones in tow.
How You Can Survive Disney World with Your Kids
Leading up to our adventure, I did a good bit of reading, and the best advice for how to survive Disney World came from other parents who had set off on this adventure and survived! So here we go! I’m going to break my survival tips up in to categories that I think parents with young kids are going to care about most!
First off, we chose our travel week very carefully. We decided to visit Disney during one of their calmest weeks of the year – the week JUST before Thanksgiving…which also happens to be the week of our wedding anniversary. Yes, we spent our 7th wedding anniversary at Disney World…with three kids! haha! #pureromance Anyway, the Christmas decorations were up, and that was definitely one of the highlights!
Next, we timed the first part of our drive during nap time with hopes that the kids would sleep for a bit as we got started. That kind of/sort of worked – You know the game. In addition, I had prepped each of them a little travel bag filled with things they could enjoy during the next part of the trip. Each of their bags had a Disney-themed chunky notepad, crayons, Disney stickers, a couple of Disney character books, a calculator (My kids love playing with calculators – ha!), a few Disney character figures, etc. in it. Looking for inexpensive goodies? Check your local dollar store AND Hollar! Hollar helped me lots as I was prepping for our trip!
We traveled down ahead of schedule and spent a couple of nights in an off-site hotel. It was designed kind of like a Residence Inn – a suite-type setup with a separate bedroom, a full kitchen, breakfast served in the mornings, etc. Super inexpensive and super close to the parks! This provided us with what we called a “Buffer Day” – a relaxed day where we could recover a bit from traveling, swim, hang out in the room and watch movies, and prep for a crazy week. It was hands-down THE BEST decision! On our first official day in the parks, we transitioned to our Disney resort and hit the ground running – feeling so, so thankful for our Buffer Day!
Disney Resort Accommodations:
When we first started chatting with our travel agent about this trip, we told him we wanted to stay in a resort that offered rooms with a full kitchen. There really isn’t much available that is set up this way, but we looked closely at Coronado Springs and Fort Wilderness. What Coronado Springs offered wasn’t really a full kitchen, but the Fort Wilderness Cabins? Now that was a different story! We quickly pounced on the cabins, and we are so glad we did! The set up was absolutely perfect for taking small kids to Disney! There were more resort activities than were possible for us to do, and Mouse Keeping did a fantastic job of cleaning our cabin (washing dishes and all!) every single day. Depending on your situation, the ages of your kids, this may be a great option for you, too! We ate breakfast in the cabin, made our morning coffee, prepped other things I needed for the baby throughout the day, etc. and one of the most awesome things about it was that our parking space was RIGHT by the door – music to any parents’ ears!
Check out this fantastic [interactive] Fort Wilderness Facebook Group!
Disney offers Value, Moderate, and Deluxe accommodations, and the cabins are in the moderately priced category. We found the whole set up to be worth every penny for our family of five!
We are HUGE fans of Joovy products. We have been especially happy with their strollers! The Groove (an umbrella stroller on steroids – especially love the large basket) and the Caboose Ultralight (awesome for older kids who still need to rest their legs here and there) accompanied us on this trip and were the perfect modes of transportation for our little ones. We attached a couple of festive-looking curly-ribbon party bows to each of our strollers which made them super easy to locate in the gigantic sea of strollers that consistently fill the stroller parking areas throughout the park.
I was quite surprised that in a whole week’s time, I only spotted two man buns. Are man buns becoming a thing of the past? Please say yes. Anyway, while there weren’t many man bun sightings, leggings were everywhere. Ev.er.y.where. If you know me, you know my thoughts on these, and as a public service announcement, I would just like to encourage a few things here. If you are interested in packing leggings for your trip to Disney World, please also consider packing shirts of a certain length, appropriate undergarments, as well as a full-length mirror. While comfortable clothing is a must, your fellow theme-park goers will appreciate your time and consideration to a few key details. You see, I saw things that can not be unseen.
While we’re chatting about wardrobe, I have GOT to tell you about the shoes I wore to Disney. I packed my Merrell tennis shoes – which I am crazy about – but I also packed my Yellow Box flip flops, and they were perfect. I know many people will strongly encourage you not to wear flip flops in the parks, but these sandals felt amazing all day long. I realize not all feet are created equal, but my dogs were happy in these comfy gems all day long – for several days in a row! *Hubby stuck with tennis shoes, and our kids alternated their tennis shoes with Crocs.*
I carried one bag in to the park. Yes, one bag! It was a super cute waterproof cross-body bag from TippyThai that I found at a yard sale for $1. It was perfect for carrying diapers, wipes, snacks, chapstick, etc. I limited myself to this one Mommy Bag so I could quickly grab it from the stroller and throw it on me anytime we hopped on a ride or entered an attraction where strollers are not allowed – which is pretty much a constant transition that I’m glad I planned for in advance!
So if I were to recommend anything to Disney, it would be set up coffee stations all throughout the park – set-ups that look similar to the water that is made available to runners in a marathon. This would allow parents who are literally running through the park with their strollers to simply reach over, down a shot of coffee, and keep going until they come to the next station. I am not kidding.
There were a few Starbucks here and there, but the lines were consistently atrocious, so we NEVER left our resort in the mornings without to-go cups full of coffee that we had made in our cabin. When it was time for a pick-me-up at the park, our favorite park coffee was from Joffreys, and this is what I recommend you order: Frozen Cappuccino with Mocha. Hallelujah.
Rides & Attractions: If the ride said “Any Height”, we took everyone on it – yes, even the baby.
For the other rides, we used the Rider Switch option. Sometimes David would ride with one of our boys and then I would hop on with the other, and then other times, he would take each of them separately – like on some of the two-seater rides like Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train.
Food and Snacks:
Each day, we carried in refillable water bottles and a few healthier snack options, but we also did one of the dining plans, and it worked great for us this time. Our only complaint? (I can’t believe I’m about to say this.) Honestly, it was way too much food. In my entire life, I have never spoken those words, but seriously. Next time, we are definitely going to think through whether or not we really want to do this again. When it came to our sit-down meals, we loved having the dining plan. It was definitely helpful when it came to covering those pricey character meals. However, when it came to needing to use snack credits when we weren’t at all hungry or had already given our kids something else to eat, it made us reconsider. We literally came home with a bag full of pastries that we grabbed on our last day simply because we didn’t want our snack credits to go to waste. We’re already thinking through this for next time.
I did not want us to miss out on the fireworks at Epcot or a few of the evening events at the Magic Kingdom. So on the days when I knew we would be out late, we made sure we built a nap time/rest time in to that day and then allowed for a smidge of sleeping in the next day. There were days we took advantage of Magic Hours (extra park hours only available to resort guests), and there were days we didn’t, but the extra sleep typically resulted in fewer meltdowns, so missing those Magic Hours was totally worth it!
Did we do the Park-Hopper Option? YES, and we loved the flexibility that it gave us!
Souvenirs & Must-Have for Your Kids:
If I were to recommend any budget-friendly tip, it would be for you to purchase ALL of your souvenirs ahead of time. Yes, before you leave the driveway of your home, make sure you already have all the t-shirts, mouse ears, figurines, and plush toys your family is going to want for this adventure. Whatever your kids love, buy it ahead of time – yes, before you leave on your vacation, and then while you’re in the parks, you an completely skip out on all the shops! Once again, Hollar was a great shopping option for us, and I would definitely recommend checking out their current Disney selection.
Other must-haves we purchased for our trip:
These Sunglasses for the Kids – Their durability is crazy strong!
These Croakies for the Sunglasses – The glasses actually stayed in them!
These Binoculars for the Kids to Wear in Animal Kingdom – These were especially fun for the kids to wear on Safari! *They were on sale for under $15, but it looks like something crazy has happened with their availability/pricing, so you may want to check out another similar pair.
I didn’t want to feel glued to my camera, and I didn’t want to tote my DSLR around the parks, so for pictures, we mostly relied on Disney’s Memory Maker package! It was nice to experience special moments with my kids without feeling stuck behind the camera for everything. We used our phones (The camera in our LG G5s is incredible!), and we also took a few pics and videos with a little Sony Cybershot that we’ve had forever (It takes fantastic pictures, too.), but Memory Maker was our main go-to for photos – and it was worth every penny to us! I think this one will always be a family favorite for us. haha!
On our first morning in the Magic Kingdom, we went DIRECTLY to meet Mickey Mouse right inside the park.
It was a fairly short wait, and then we met Buzz and Woody at Hollywood Studios another day. Meeting Buzz and Woody was a MUST, so we got a Fast Pass for that, and then everything else was just icing on the cake.
Okay, you might decide that we are totally weird, but we completely skipped the whole autograph book thing. We never mentioned that it was a thing, so our kids knew nothing about it. This saved us a lot of drama! The kids were thrilled to meet the different characters and get their picture taken, and I’m so glad we left it at that!
A Few Extra Ideas
In the months and weeks leading up to your vacation, I would encourage the following conditioning exercises:
#1 – Start small by engaging the entire family in 3-5 straight rounds of Candy Land – all babies and toddlers must be included, and you will want this activity to take place during that time right just before dinner when everyone is especially hungry and cranky.
#2 – Focus on endurance by spending 5-7 hours at your closest shopping mall. Make sure all of your children are utterly exhausted BEFORE heading out on this adventure.
#3 – As vacation time draws closer and closer, load up your strollers with the children, strap heavy backpacks on Mom and Dad, attach walking weights to Mom to Dad’s ankles, and then walk barefoot [preferably on hot pavement] throughout your neighborhood – making sure to walk NO LESS than 12 miles at a time.
Just kidding about these exercises…kind of.
Okay, one more thing I want to mention:
Navigating through the parks provides you with a big-fat opportunity to teach your kids about OTHERS and to remind them that they are not the only kids in the universe…or in this case, at Disney World.
Child Question: Mommy, why is this line so slow?
Parent Answer: We’re taking turns with other people, and this way, everyone gets a chance to ride.
*The time of year we went gifted us with wait times of 10-20 minutes max on rides/attractions for which we didn’t have a Fast Pass! Yes, please! We were AMAZED at how much we were able to do!*
Unfortunately, it won’t be just the kids who feel impatient at times. Yes, even with shorter wait times, you may find yourself getting that way a little bit, too! #guilty The second you arrive, you will see that the mom and dad game is STRONG, and I get it. You have paid 9.5 million dollars for your kids to have a magical vacation, and you are determined to squeeze every once of pixie dust out of the whole experience, but frankly, the intensity level is ridiculous at times. While you will meet all kinds of sweet people (like the fun women we met from Tulsa, OK), you will also encounter some really rude and selfish mamas and papas who are raising their little terrors to become just like them. Your family is more than likely going to get snipped off, cut off, and shoved around – all perfect opportunities to show your kiddos what it looks like to let others go first…even when they SERIOUSLY don’t deserve it.
Last of all, don’t forget to take a minute here and there to help your kids notice some of the people who are helping make their time with the mouse so much fun. Encourage them to say Thank you! to the people driving the transportation, running the rides, serving the food, and on and on and on. While we were at Disney Springs, I walked over to a trash can to throw my coffee cup away, and I simply said, “Hi! How are you?” to the lady servicing the trash can. She literally gasped and said, “Wow! Thank you for asking! No one ever asks me that.” I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Does this woman work here day in and day out without anyone ever speaking to her? I went on to tell her that I think she has one of the most important jobs in the resort. Can you imagine if no one ever took care of the trash situation? Without hard-working folks like her, I’m not so sure Disney would continue to be such a magical place. I can not tell you what an impact this conversation had on me. So much so that in another instance, I walked my boys over to a lady who was cleaning one of the bathrooms in Epcot, and we all said thank you to her for what she was doing. She LIT UP! The smile of someone who feels like they’ve been noticed and appreciated is a beautiful one!
Alright folks, there you have it! My best tips from our first trip to Disney World WITH KIDS! How do YOU survive Disney without losing your mind? I would love to hear your best tips! Share in the comments as I will definitely use them to help prep for your next trip. Yes, we actually had so much fun that we will definitely be going back.