I’m often asked how old kids should be before you take them to Disney World. My standard reply is “under 3 is free.” I’m usually met with the response, “yeah….but…isn’t that a pain and they won’t even remember it.” It’s true that they probably won’t remember it, but you will. With a little prep work, it won’t be a pain. It will be memories and photographs that you cherish for a lifetime.
There are many schools of thought on the subject but I stand with the camp that believes you are never too young and you are certainly never too old to go to Disney. My kids are now 16, 14, and 9. The older two were 3 and 1 on their first Disney vacation. Do they remember that trip? They think they do. I’m sure they don’t have real memories but we’ve talked about it so much over the years that they think they remember it. My son who was 1 at the time “remembers” getting his first hair cut at the Magic Kingdom Barber Shop. He also remembers climbing up into the stroller in the mornings because he was ready to go! My daughter remembers poking Eeyore to see if he was real. She also remembers falling out of the bed in the middle of the night and busting her lip. Oops. That might not be one of the magical memories we strive for. The point is, even though they have been to Disney multiple times since then, their first trip was at that beautiful age where they truly “believed.” Not to mention that the pictures we have are undeniably fabulous.
If you are thinking of a Disney vacation with your little one, here are some tips to help you create magical memories while keeping your sanity and blood pressure under control.
*Plan your “photo opps” for the time of day when your child is the happiest. If they generally aren’t morning kids, don’t plan an 8:00am breakfast with Mickey. Opt for dinner instead. If they melt down at 4:30pm, don’t schedule a 5:00pm reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table.
*Speaking of meal times…don’t assume dinner is best for your table service meals. If you are on the Disney Dining Plan, you can use the table service credits for any meal of the day. Many restaurants have the same menu all day so lunch is often a better choice for families with young kiddos. That allows for maximum flexibility in your evening hours.
*Take breaks. I’m so not good at this. But it is a great idea. Leave the park after lunch and go back to your resort room for a rest and/or swim. Then re- enter the parks that evening recharged and ready to enjoy the evening festivities with a fresh battery life- for yourself AND your phone.
*Learn from my mistake and ask for a pack and play or bed rails for your resort room. See my story about the busted lip above.
*Fully evaluate the stroller situation and choose the best option for your needs. You can take a stroller from home, rent one from the parks, rent one from an outside company that is delivered to your resort. Think about if you want the stroller for the entire day or just for the time in the parks. Think about how comfortable you are folding it up to get on the buses and monorail. If your child will be sleeping in the stroller, keep in mind that Disney’s are hard plastic. If you are looking for an outside company, I have had good client experiences with Orlando Stroller Rental but there are other good companies out there as well.
*Bring in snacks and bottled water. You can absolutely bring snacks and bottled water etc. to the parks. You can’t wheel in a big cooler and you can’t bring glass bottles or alcohol, but a baggy of gold fish is A-ok. Keep in mind that juice boxes aren’t allowed at Animal Kingdom because of the straws. Straws and balloons are a big no-no in that park.
*Scout the park maps for areas to run and play. Every park has a great “run and play” area. Find it. Circle it. Use this as your secret weapon when you need to sit and the kids need to run. Tom Sawyer Island and Casey Junior’s Splash and Soak Station are the two spots that come to mind for Magic Kingdom. Oh, and they aren’t kidding about the “soak” part so you might want to toss a change of clothes in the bag. There is also that great little area between Cinderella’s castle and Tomorrow land in the rose garden area. There are not toys but it is shady and rarely crowded, making it a great chill spot.
*Let someone else do the “heavy lifting” for you. Ok, this is where I plug myself a little. Travel planners that specialize in Disney vacations can offer a wealth of information to you. You let us know what you want and we make it happen. We take care of the details, the coordinating of park hours and parade times with your dining reservations, and we never cost you a single penny. Travel agents like myself are paid by Disney. Your package price is not any higher and you don’t pay any fees for our services. That my friends is what we call, “Winner winner chicken dinner!”
Mindy is a wife, mother of 3, and the owner of Once Upon a Vacation where they specialize in planning Disney vacations. She is also one of the hosts of 3 Moms and the Mouse, a weekly podcast all about Disney- from a mom’s point of view. Feel free to contact Mindy with your Disney questions at Mindy@OnceUponaVacation.com.