When should I take my child on our first Disney vacation?

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So you want to go to a Disney World with a toddler or baby but they think are too young? I thought the same thing, but when we took our daughter for the first time at 19 months in December of 2014, it ended up being one of the most amazing experiences and something could have never imagined! We had an absolutely amazing time! First, this is not the vacation you’ve done in the past if you’ve been to Disney without kids. The pace is slower, your list of attractions is different, and you’ll be more mentally exhausted than you’ll imagine. That being said, it will likely be your most memorable vacation ever. I talked earlier this week about memories being the best souvenirs and this first trip with my little girl really, taught me that it’s the truth! Since her first trip, we’ve been two more times and it gets a little easier each time but it’s still a little exhausting.

Here’s a survival guide for moms, dads, and grandparents!

STEP ONE: PLANNING

Know the limitations of your little one. Don’t assume a stroller nap, don’t assume they’ll handle things as if it’s daily life or

My girl with her main man...I mean mouse!

My girl with her main man…I mean mouse!

that they will stay at their regular routine. It likely won’t happen! Yes there will likley still be a nap, but it might be earlier, it might be later, it might be for 20 minutes while you wait for the bus and that’s IT (those lucky parents need a hug).

Resort choice. We picked Art of Animation for extra space which proved to be helpful. Going back in time, I might have chosen something closer to Magic Kingdom since it’s where we spent the most time. It would have been a convenient break to get back there faster when it was nap time and to return after the nap. Our daughter loved the splash pad at the resort. It was the perfect place for her to play in the water and run. Of course, the strong Disney theme was well loved by everyone in our party! Not something you’ll get at a deluxe resort.

Our second time around, we went for convenience – Wilderness Lodge. It gave us a quick escape from Magic Kingdom (which we spent 3 days in) so we had a solid nap/break each day! We didn’t have a suite here but it was a great place, kid friendly and had some amazing cast members. It’s my favorite resort and we’ll most definitely return back there because of our wonderful experience! It’s in the Magic Kingdom area but it’s a bit off the beaten path so the resort it’s fairly quiet which makes nap time easier (a note that there is construction on the resort through 2017).

When to go. If you don’t have older kids to worry about school breaks, go during lower crowd times: times in January, February, end of April or early May, September, and parts of October (this one is a little iffy!), November, and December. Check crowd calendars first! If you can stay away the hottest summer temps and the rainy season, you will all have a better time.

PhotoPass_Visiting_Magic_Kingdom_Park_7123356048To dine or not to dine? Dining plan with a kid? We did it. Would do it again! We were pretty full with our meals and had enough to share. We got a nice surprise at Via Napoli and our princess received a free meal off the menu! The other locations, she shared off our plates. Most of our snack credits went right to her. Yogurt, milk, and more. While it’s not the best use of our credits dollar for dollar, it was free dining, so no big deal in my book and she was happy!

Our most recent trip we opted to pay for a dining plan. With our daughter still under 3, it was worth the $$$ for us, as we chose mostly character dining (buffet style) and family style meals like Ohana. Snack credits were used more for pretzels, popcorn, LeFou’s Brew, and coffee for mom and dad. We had a grocery delivery of milk, juice, yogurt, bread, peanut butter, etc so the picky princess had food to eat without us paying for something she might eat. Being outside the home makes for a struggle to keep routine (as my girl is all about her routine so mealtime was difficult!)

Kids splash area at Wilderness Lodge. A nice little afternoon break from the action!

Kids splash area at Wilderness Lodge. A nice little afternoon break from the action!

Day off? If your trip is more than 5 nights, YES take a full day off. If you’re staying 5 nights or less, a half day off would be welcomed. We went to breakfast and went shopping and splashed around in the pool. It was great! We didn’t have to worry about sticking to a schedule. I’d argue to potentially make the first full day an off day and NOT go to the parks while you get used to your new surroundings. If you have a creature of habit, it makes for a less intense shock of jumping right into the theme park experience. I wouldn’t have said this until our most recent trip (which was our third with her). The first time, we jumped right now, the second we took 2 days to get used to the time change, being in a new location, and just hung by the pool and had dinner, and then hit the parks on the 3rd day of a 10 day vacation. I know that length of time is not available to everyone, but it made for a bigger success story!

STEP TWO: DINING RESERVATIONS

If you’re planning any dining, make sure it’s not within an hour of when they normally go down or wake up from a nap at home. That gives you some flexibility. Don’t plan a dinner too late in the evening when they are ready for bed.

Character meals?Make it at least your 2nd day in to give your child an opportunity to meet a character in the parks to ensure that up close experience with a character isn’t terrifying!That gives you a chance to cancel without penalty. Try out a character or two early in your stay to see how your kid does. If they are terrified, don’t force them into an experience and be mindful of other families around!

Think about places with larger portion sizes so you can share (or something your kiddo would enjoy sharing). If you choose a family style or buffet location, toddlers get their own plate of food. We enjoyed Boma for breakfast. Our pumpkin got a whole plate of food – pancakes, eggs, fruit, yogurt, and more! It was the perfect way to start our day.

If your little one falls asleep in a stroller before a dining experience, you can absolutely take your stroller into the restaurant. If he or she is awake, you’ll have to bring them without the stroller.

STEP THREE: FASTPASS SELECTION

60 days prior to arrival, you choose FastPasses. An exciting milestone for your trip! This is a great way to meet characters MK_PFTHBLUEC1CHAR_7258351032if it’s on the to do list! You can meet Mickey, Anna & Elsa, Tinkerbell, and Cinderella & Rapunzel in Magic Kingdom; Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy in Epcot; Mickey and Minnie in Animal Kingdom. Previous to traveling, I would have said seeing a character more than once would be overkill, but after coming back, we couldn’t get enough characters! We looked for Goofy and Mickey again and again and the less times we had to stand in the line, the better! Our favorite new home is Pete’s Silly Sideshow in Magic Kingdom. We got to see most of our favorite friends: Minnie, Daisy, Goofy, and Donald. They are not dressed in their traditional attire, but it was still a great experience with lower lines. It’s indoor and air conditioned and lines are really low the first couple hours the park is open.

If characters are scary, find all of the family friendly rides and things without height requirements. Know which attractions are dark rides. My daredevil loved everything from Haunted Mansion to Pirates of the Caribbean but they can be scary for toddlers. She just yelled “DARK” every time we went to a dark ride.

The second time around, the rides were not top billing and we found ourselves meeting more characters and the third time it was ALL about the rides. She even braved Barnstormer – a mini-coaster in Magic Kingdom, something I never would have believed would happen!

STEP FOUR: PREPPING FOR TRAVEL

Bring snacks so your toddler can eat on demand. Pack lots of extra clothes for varying temperatures. Bring a backpack or comfortable bag to bring to the park to store all of your stuff. Think about the stuff you use all the time at home – sippy cups, toddler silverware, place mats, and bibs.

You may want to purchase things for delivery to keep in your resort’s mini fridge: milk, fruit, yogurt, etc. This is expensive stuff from Disney’s little “markets”. We were fine without it!

How about diapers? Thanks to Southwest, we brought an entire suitcase of diapers, wipes, and snacks! If we had to pay for baggage, we wouldn’t have as much flexibility.

Stroller? Do you want to bring one or rent one? We rented one and it was great! It folded easily and quickly and was delivered right to our resort. It was less expensive than renting it daily from Disney as well and more comfortable for our daughter to sit in! After our first trip, we purchased the same style stroller for future use as we are frequent travelers and brought it with us on future vacations. It’s nice to have a stroller in the airport and you just gate check it. I thought it would be a nuisance but it’s actually quite helpful to have navigating the airport!

STEP FIVE: TIME FOR TRAVEL!

Be flexible! Things don’t always go as planned. Know how to change your FastPass reservations through your My Disney PhotoPass_Visiting_Disneys_Hollywood_Studios_7126418491Experience account. Get to the parks early! Don’t try and stretch your kid too far for late fireworks if they are tired. Don’t try and do too much and enjoy the moments! Don’t stand in really long lines where your toddler will get bored and frustrated! While we didn’t do much “big kid” stuff, it was still a great time! We didn’t see much late night activity, but it was a totaly different pace which I really enjoyed. My feet were less tired.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! We’ve done it a total of 3 times and we’ll go back again and again as long as she enjoys it!

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Ready to get started planning your 2016 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free vacation opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

Disney World FAQ: Do I need a mid-day break from the parks?

 

If you’ve been a long time follower of my blog, I’ve always been a supporter of a break in the action during your park days. This stems from a few things – the fact that we most often travel when park hours are more extended in the spring or fall and the fact that we travel fairly often.

Taking a step back from all of this has made me realize that the break is not for everyone. You can have a very functional Disney trip without a mid-day break (especially in the early portion of your trip when you are energized and excited about your experience). Most people do not travel as much as we do, so you want to maximize your time instead of waiting for a bus or other form of transportation to get you back “home” for a break to turn around and come back a few hours later. If you are staying at a deluxe resort with a park right in your backyard, it may be worth taking a break when you are in close proximity to that park (or in the Epcot/Hollywood Studios 2 parks) to keep your legs and family fresh.

So the short answer is NO, you do not NEED a mid-day break from the parks. Is it a nice luxury? Most definitely! it helps avoid that mid-week meltdown when mom and dad are in an evil death stare and you are wondering why you even planned this trip in the first place while someone stomps away in frustration (true story)!

But Melissa, we have a toddler who always naps at home. Won’t he/she be a disaster without a nap? MAYBE! We found out 5 things for toddlers to do in Animal Kingdomthe  hard way when we tried to continue our regular nap routine (which worked well for the previous two trips) that naps can become optional. Go with the flow. If your little Mouseketeer is going strong when you were planning for nap time, ride the wave! Our not yet 3 year old went almost a full 12 hour day in Magic Kingdom (plus pouring rain). Were we running from attraction to attraction every single day? Absolutely not! We spent some down time to get a little bit of relaxation for our tired and wet feet as well as curb her energy on things like TTA Peoplemover and Carousel of Progress (also a nice way to get out of the rain).

So if you want to TRY a full day in the parks, have a mental list of what you can do to rest your feet or your mind for a little bit. This is coming from a little family who shut down the parks 4 out of 5 days (and the 5th we didn’t because we had a dinner reservation outside of the park). Here’s my short list or to remove yourself from the theme parks a little bit.

Magic Kingdom:

  • TTA Peoplemover
  • Carousel of Progress
  • Hall of Presidents
  • Ride a full loop (or 2 or 3 on the Walt Disney World Railroad)
  • Mickey’s Philharmagic
  • Country Bear Jamboree
  • Relax in the hub grass in front of Cinderella’s Castle
  • Scope out the perfect spot for a parade an hour ahead of time (bring a blanket and take turns sitting on the curb – your behind and your knees will thank you)
  • Find a shady spot on Tom Sawyer’s Island and relax with a book or a snack
  • Monorail tour (Contemporary is always noisy so not a great quiet spot), Polynesian’s 1st floor has some comfortable chairs and couches and Grand Floridian has ample space to relax.
  • Hop the boat and relax in the rocking chairs in Wilderness Lodge

Epcot:

  • Epcot ballEnjoy the Fountain of the Nations
  • Spaceship Earth
  • Friendship boats across the water in Epcot (a relaxing ride through World Showcase)
  • Ellen’s Energy Adventure (not the most exciting ride but it’s long!!)
  • The American Adventure – and catch Voices of Liberty before the show! (one of the few shows in World Showcase that is in a theater with seats)
  • Impressions de France (it’s got a more relaxing background than the American Adventure and also has seating!)

Hollywood Studios:

  • Sunset Ranch Market – an area that is being enhanced now!
  • Indiana Jones Stunt Show (outdoor and not the most comfortable seating but it’s a great place to rest your tired feet)
  • Starring Rolls – a great little snack or lunch place (it’s only open until 4 daily) and has a mostly shaded seating area for a little rest
  • The Great Movie Ride (not a quiet experience but a leisurely one with fairly comfortable chairs)
  • Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage (again, not quiet, but benches with backs on them)
  • Muppet Vision 3D
  • Hop a boat to Boardwalk or Yacht Club for a little break!

Animal Kingdom:

  • Finding Nemo: The Musical
  • Wildlife Express Train
  • Jungle Trek or Exploration Trails (a great way to get the kids out of the hustle and bustle of things and perhaps get them to nap)
  • Conservation Station
  • Hop a quick bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge and relax in their comfy chairs in the lobby for an hour!

What are your favorite places to relax or find some peace and quiet while you motor through long days in the theme parks?

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Interested in experiencing your own Disney World vacation in 2016?  Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free vacation opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

Why Magic Kingdom shouldn’t be your first day in Disney World theme parks

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This is probably going to be a bit of a taboo topic, but it’s an important concept…why Magic Kingdom should NOT be your first day in the theme parks in Disney World. Let’s walk through a few different arrival scenarios and when this rule could be broken…

The Smith family from North Carolina drives themselves from their home to Disney World. They leave early in the morning and arrive late afternoon/early evening but still get the kids to bed “on time”.

The Fox family flies from their home in Wisconsin and arrives at the airport around 8:15 pm. By the time they get to the resort it’s late and everyone is hungry. They get some things unpacked (enough to get ready in the morning) and grabbing a quick bite to eat. By the time they get to kids to bed, it’s way later than they have hoped. It may be tough getting everyone up and out the door to see Magic Kingdom’s welcome show!

The Jones family is flying from their home in New York and scheduled an early morning flight. Their flight arrives into Orlando around 10 am. They are planning on hitting a park their arrival day after check in (by the way, they had to get up at 4 am to get to the airport to catch their flight!)

The Williams family is also flying from their home in New York and scheduled an early morning flight. Their flight also arrives into Orlando around 10 am. They are NOT planning on doing any park time their arrival day. They are going to DSC_1454unpack their bags, have dinner, and then get to bed early to get started!

In the first 3 of these 4 scenarios, I would recommend that these families start their day in another park besides Magic Kingdom. Why? SO many reasons (some of which I learned for myself fairly recently – yes, even me who has been traveling to Disney World for years and almost ALWAYS starts a trip in Magic Kingdom, I’ve changed my theory even for my own trips).

  1. If you are traveling with kids, it may take them a day or two to get acclimated with their new surroundings. If you have older kids, it may be a bit of a different story. The first night’s sleep may be difficult because you’re in a different place!
  2. Magic Kingdom can be a long day. Whether you’re planning a mid-day break or not, your kiddo(s) may dictate whether any sort of sleep will happen during that time. In past trips for us, naptime has been super successful but this time around, our kiddo created her own set of rules and we had to adapt (and even skipped nap a few times which is unheard of in our family). It also made for more difficult days and difficulty getting to sleep at night. If you start your day in Magic Kingdom, it may create a bit of a spiral throughout the rest of the week to lead to a whole family meltdown!
  3. It sets HIGH expectations for the rest of the trip. Magic Kingdom is seen by many as the best park there is. There is truly something for everyone whether it’s family attractions, character meet and greets, thrill rides, or just seeing the castle for the first time (or remembering the feeling from when you saw the castle the firs time), it’s hard to recreate that special moment or fill in a day with as much fun as Magic Kingdom provides most families (including ours).  We started our last 2 trips with Animal Kingdom. It’s a more familiar surrounding  for my animal loving daughter (who spends a lot of time with me at the zoo) so we can ease our way into the trip and if she didn’t sleep well the night before and we need to start late or leave early, we don’t feel like we miss as much as we would in a park like Magic Kingdom – no parades or fireworks to worry about (at this point in time).

I mentioned exceptions to the rule which makes the most sense for family #4 who arrives early in the day and doesn’t plan any park time for their arrival day as they can get acclimated with their surroundings and get a good rest before getting up early the next morning. The other exception to this new “rule” of mine would be for those planning more than 2 days in Magic Kingdom. If you have 3 days in Magic Kingdom (which also likely means you have a longer than average trip), you can have a Magic Kingdom start (as it also helps space out your MK days over the course of your trip instead of going back to back).

What do you think? Would you be willing to try a new theory and skip Magic Kingdom and head to a different park your first day? Will it feel any less magical to you?

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Interested in experiencing your own Disney World vacation in 2016?  Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free vacation opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!