I know I won’t make any friends by saying this, but I’m no Disney mom. I think there are better role models out there for my young daughter than Anna and Elsa, and there’s lots of other stuff I’d prefer to spend my money on. I can’t deny, however, that a day in Disney was something I knew my kids would enjoy when we planned a family vacation to Florida – and so we went. Some of my family was good enough to come along and bring their little ones as well. This is what I now know about visiting Disney World with young children.
1. People are idiots at the “happiest place on earth”
Silly me thinking that doing Disney on a weekday in the “off season” was going to make things slightly less hectic. My group of 11 family members – including young children – had to fight to stay together because smaller groups apparently couldn’t bear to be next in line. The mad rush of adults trying to push past often had me scrambling to get within arms reach of my very responsible 6-year-old. Everyone was excited to get in and start enjoying their day, but really, there’s no reason to take out toddlers so you can get on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride 10 seconds before you would have if you just slowed down. When you do to a Disney park, do more than just try to keep your kids close. Secure the tiniest ones in a carrier or in a stroller; for older nuggets, make sure they understand that it’s their responsibility to stay near you no matter what.
2. It pays to think ahead when it comes to food
Disney is actually really lenient when it comes to bringing food into the park, so take advantage of that. Pack sandwiches, snacks, and lots of water – not to mention other clear, adult-like substances that can make it through security in a water bottle. (Alcohol isn’t served until dinner time, and making it through with your sanity intact may require some day drinking.)
Also, it may be in your best interest to make a reservation for lunch at one of Disney’s sit down restaurants. You’ll still have to order from a screen and grab your drink from a fountain, but the food is surprisingly yummy and 30 or 40 minutes to sit indoors, in an air-conditioned space may be exactly what every member of the family needs to keep keepin’ on. (Plus, eating in Belle’s castle was seriously the highlight of my day.)
3. There really is something for everyone at the Magic Kingdom
I’m not going to lie, I was kind of dreading our day at Disney because my 18-month-old has little to no attention span and the energy level of a Cocker Spaniel. (She will also pee on your leg if you aren’t careful.) That being said, there was something to keep her occupied every moment of the entire day. There were way, way more rides that she could go on than I expected, and with a little divide and conquer action, hubby and I were able to ensure that she and the 6-year-old got to do the things they were excited about. Not surprisingly, she was most excited about the dance party with the Incredibles in Tomorrowland because she’s a dancing machine.
4. The two most important things you can bring into the park are….
Sunscreen and shoes. It might be “winter time”, but please remember that you’re still in Florida and the sun can be brutal. Chances are you won’t feel the affects of a long day in the sun until the next day, but why waste a perfectly good day in Florida feeling worn out? Next on the list is shoes. I don’t begrudge anyone a chance to dress like a princess for the day, but remember that while Magic Kingdom doesn’t feel that huge to you, it’s enormous for someone with little legs. Pack a solid pair of sneakers for your nuggets.
5. You can escape without breaking the bank
Being prepared when it comes to food is key, but the other big part of leaving a Disney park with your life’s savings intact is setting some rules/limits when it comes to souvenirs. There are shops on every corner in every “land”, and the stuff in there is fabulous. (I almost left with a Lumiere that actually lights up – not for the kids, but for me. Price tag: $49.95) Set some limits to what you’ll spend or what the kids will get when they go. For example, “Everyone gets to pick one t-shirt to take home while we’re at Disney” or better yet, “Everyone gets $25 to spend on something they’d like to buy.” My 6-year-old saved up $35 of allowance money for the trip and my husband and I matched it as a happy surprise once we got there. After all that saving, he didn’t actually spend it all and was very cautious about how he spent his money. It’s important to remember, also, that almost everything you see on the shelves in the park can be purchased on Amazon via your smartphone for nearly half the price, so it’s ok not to go crazy on souvenirs. My little guy’s favorite thing from Disney were the 12 pennies he crushed. He was on the lookout for the machines everywhere we went, and he was never disappointed. I think I spent about $8 in quarters to crush those pennies, but it’s the best way I could’ve contributed to his souvenir collection – those are something he will truly keep forever.
I went to Disney expecting the worst, and don’t get me wrong, it was a tough day – but the kids loved every single moment, and that’s what it should be about.