10 of the world’s most simple tips for enjoying a Disney vacation with kids

I just got back from a four days at Disney, all expenses paid…by me. Phew. All I can say is, if you’re going to shell out the small fortune to take your children on the vacation of their dreams, you’d best enjoy it ourselves with the help of these simple tips for a Disney vacation with kids.

There are plenty of great resources and websites that offer money-saving tips, Fast Pass tips, trip planning advice and more–including Kristen’s great tips about Disneyland. So I thought I’d put together just a few really simple common sense tips, one parent to another, to help you make sure the Happiest Place on Earth lives up to its name.

1. You don’t have to do it all.
The best advice I got from friends and readers is that when traveling with kids, don’t expect to start with an early breakfast and end with a nighttime parade. Take your time, do the things your kids want to do–even playgrounds–and don’t feel like you have to squeeze everything in to get your money’s worth.

What makes a vacation memorable is being with your kids, and seeing them laughing and smiling all day long; not the fact that you waited til 9PM to use your Fast Pass for the Toy Story ride.

 

Tips for Disney Vacation with kids - Magic Castle © Liz Gumbinner for Cool Mom Picks

2. Get an early start.
Even on President’s Weekend, one of Disney’s busiest times of the year, we really didn’t feel the crush. We arrived at the parks first thing (be good about waking up early!), did all of our must-do rides by 10, then had a really enjoyable, leisurely “so..what do you want to do now?” kind of a day until we were tired. We even got in that requisite kids in front of the castle shot–without a balloon hawker or throngs of families in sight. I think that alone was worth it.

3. Schedule in downtime
If you’re staying on property, afternoons at the hotel are a great way to recharge, especially if you’ve got good pool weather. Orlando can be chilly in the winter so check the weather forecast–although there’s a lot to be said for Disney when it’s not too hot.

In any case, downtime can mean time in an arcade, sitting on a bench, watching the jumping fountains for an hour, or taking a leisurely lunch at a sit-down restaurant. Or hey, even napping back at your hotel. Then you can always head back to the parks at night for fireworks or an evening parade with renewed energy.

3.  Four years old is a great age to start.
I know some people will disagree with me on this; if you’re a local or the grandparents live nearby and the trip isn’t a big deal, I can understand wanting that photo opp with your 2 year-old and Eeyore, even if she’ll never remember it. I also understand if you have older kids, and the younger ones are part of the package. But the reality is, once your child hits about four, he or she can truly enjoy it. As can you!

It’s delightful doing the park without strollers, without diapers or sippies, and with a child who can actually go on more rides than It’s a Small World. My kids are nearly five and seven, and I’m so glad we waited until now. They’re old enough for all the energy they need to power through the long days, and young enough to still believe in that Disney magic.

4. Download the Undercover Tourist App! Now!
I reviewed this app on Cool Mom Tech and it’s a lifesaver. Also, free. It’s great for knowing wait times in real time, parade times, and helping you find the best, closest restaurants when your kid is having a blood sugar meltdown. You can download the free Disney Mobile Magic app if you’re a Verizon customer–which I’m not. It may have more features (like helping you find the characters) but I prefer the idea of an app that’s got independent reviews and rating on it.

Tips for Disney Vacation with kids - Mulan © Liz Gumbinner for Cool Mom Picks

5. Give in to the Disney princess thing.
There are princesses there. There are cast members who call your daughters Princess. There are princess stickers and princess photo ops and people who want to sell you princess tiaras and gowns (which you are under no obligation to buy). Heck, there is a GIANT PRINCESS CASTLE which is the center of the entire resort, which happens to be in a place with KINGDOM you can just take a picture of Goofy or Jasmine without your kid in it. In fact, let your kid take the picture himself. He’ll be so proud.

6. Don’t wait on line for every single character photo op
Sometimes you can just take a picture of Goofy or Jasmine without your kid in it. In fact, let your kid take the picture himself. He’ll be so proud.

You can also find characters lurking around Epcot, or doing the Electric Slide with guests at the Tomorrowland stage in the Magic Kingdom. And then, there’s always those character meals which I think are worth the extra money.

7. Save the fireworks until your last night
See also: tip #1. Fireworks start in the 9-10PM range which is probably later than your young kids are generally awake. It will break them for the next day. Consider waiting until the very last night of your trip to stay up late. It makes a great finale, and heck, they can catch up on sleep on the airplane or the car ride home. (Better for you anyway!)

Tips for Disney Vacation with kids - Animal Kingdom © Liz Gumbinner for Cool Mom Picks

8. It’s okay to say no.
If you set rules in the beginning with your kids, expectations are clear and hopefully you won’t be That Mom with Those Kids whining for a cotton candy at 9 AM. For example, we told our girls that they couldn’t have something from every gift shop so not to ask. (They were awesome about that.) You can also say no at the park, by the way–we often turned down the desserts that came with our meals, much to the surprise of the wait staff. I am okay with my suitcase coming home 10 pounds heavier, but not my body.

9. It’s okay to say yes.
Ice cream twice a day on a vacation has never killed a child. Enough said.

10. Have fun!
This may sound obvious, but wow, there are a lot of stressed out parents at the parks. Just relax and enjoy yourself, even if you’re on a line. Even if your feet hurt. Even if it’s not the most relaxing vacation in the world. Next time, you’ll do Club Med.

[all photos © liz gumbinner for cool mom picks]

Want more advice? See our posts on:
Money saving tips in Orlando
How to have a cooler Orlando vacation with kids under 5
Tips on doing Disneyland

You can also find a nice post on common sense Disney tips from the Manic Mommies.

Any more Disney vacation tips you’d like to add to help out our readers?

Liz

Liz Gumbinner is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech. This makes her very happy.

7 Comments

  • Reply February 28, 2012

    Heather

    Just FYI, Disney’s Mobile Magic App is now available for iPhones. Got it this weekend!

  • Reply February 28, 2012

    meccablong

    Great tips!! BUT I have 1 exception. My mom (gotta LOVE Granny)bought into the DVC (Disney Vacation Club) when my daughter was in the womb basically :)
    We have been to WDW more times that I can remember- at least 1-2 times a year since my daughter’s birth- plus we were Disney freaks before- I even spent my honeymoon there.

    That being said- I have seen how my daughter has “handled” WDW at various ages. And you are absolutely right about 2 and possibly 3 year olds being kinda a pain (3 wasn’t as bad).
    BUT to this day- I will still say- even after all these trips – that the time we went for our daughter’s 1st birthday (she spent her actual birthday in Animal Kingdom) was my absolute favorite.
    WHY? You may ask? There are many reasons- I will pick a few:
    1. She was perfectly happy in her stroller (wasn’t walking yet)- so if she wanted a nap- DONE- stick a blacket over the sun shade- happy baby/happy family.
    2. Disney has FABULOUS baby-care centers in ALL of their parks. There are high chairs, changing tables, dark rooms with rocking chairs, a little room with disney shows on a TV, baby food/diapers/emergency onsies/bibs/ bottles/ formula/ etc. for sale, and sweet, helpful staff who are there to support you. We spent a lot of time in each of these centers- I was nursing and it was the perfect PITSTOP to do so privately. TAKE ADVANTAGE of these GEMS!!
    3. She had no point of reference to be frightened of anything. She didn’t know she was supposed to be scared of pirates or ghosts. We rode the Jungle Cruise, the Pirates of the Carribean, Aladin’s Magic Carpets,all the rides that accepted babies. She laughed the whole time.
    4. CHARACTERS!! She fell in love with the characters! At Chef Mickey’s I thought Minnie was going to kidnap her. My Vivian was freaking out- standing up in her high chair and when Minnie came near her she hugged and kissed her like there was no tomorrow. Minnie LOVED it and her! She was equally impressed with the princesses- at the Castle Brunch- the princesses and Vivian couldn’t get enough of each other!
    5. The Parades! I have some pictures that I will forever cherish of Vivian on her daddy’s shoulders, mouth wide open, in absolute ectasy watching the parades at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. Actually she was kind of like that the entire time she was in the Magic Kingdom.
    6. Disney caters to families with babies and small children. If you need something- chances are they have it. Or can get it. While strollers can be a pain- they are also a portable nap mat, an umbrella if need be, and most important- A PLACE TO PUT ALL THE CRAP YOU BUY!!

    So I totally recommend a Disney trip for a family with a 1 year old. Will they remember it? NO. Will you remember it? Absolutely!
    Now 2 years old – that’s another story entirely :)

  • Reply February 28, 2012

    Ming Garbett

    I have to say that for the last few of hours i have been hooked by the impressive articles on this blog. Keep up the great work.

  • Reply February 28, 2012

    mike

    Ice cream four times an HOUR never killed anyone either, FYI. Well, potentially. But being a kingdom and all, I decree it healthy…

    Great tips! We are heading there in May and it was so great to get a glimpse of it — thanks so much. Sounds like you guys had a blast.

  • Cool Mom Picks
    Reply February 28, 2012

    Cool Mom Picks

    Thanks for all the input meccablong. We can tell you’re a devotee! Appreciate the expert tips.

  • Reply February 28, 2012

    meccablong

    Thanks- I either fortunately or unfortunately have been on no other vacations for the last 7 years :) you inspired me to write a post on my little blog http://www.whatsnextmommy.blogspot.com about taking a 1 year old to WDW. I posted basically my comment to you and a few adorable pics:). I am an aspiring blogger and find your blog very informative! How did you get so popular? How can I get the word out about my blog?
    I admire you and your site and thank you for commenting on my comment :) if you have a second check out my blog and let me know what you think and any pointers are welcomed!! I am VERY new to this! I will follow you as always.

  • Reply February 29, 2012

    Derek Hoffman

    Great tips! I can’t agree more with having plans for down time and setting reasonable expectations.

    I tell people that vacations at Walt Disney World or Disneyland are like chocolate chip cookies – there’s really no right or wrong way to enjoy one. After some trial and error, you’ll eventually figure out what works best for you.

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