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 yourselves.
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.
2. Get an early start.
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
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.
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!
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
4. Download the Undercover Tourist App! Now!
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.
5. Give in to the Disney princess thing.
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
in its name.
If you have an issue with any of these things,
take a deep breath and accept that you are going to ground zero of the
princess industrial complex. Also, your daughters will love it. And
Mulan will teach them bad-guy fighting moves, which is pretty cool.
6. Don’t wait on line for every single character photo op
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
7. Save the fireworks until your last night
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!)
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!
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 copyright liz gumbinner]
Want more advice? See our posts on:
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.