5 Tips for Visiting Walt Disney World with Kids
Magical Memories or Nightmares?
Walt Disney World is billed as 'the happiest place on earth'. It also has the potential to be the most miserable place on earth, depending on how you choose to spend your time. Your kids could come home with fantastic memories and great souvenirs, or they could come home hoping that you will never take another vacation ever again.
In this article I give you some tips, from my family's own personal experiences, to help your family make magical memories, not nightmares! (NOTE: Disney is not paying me anything to write this. I wish they were!)
Our first day at WDW, we did the Magic Kingdom which consisted of us doing as much as we could between the park’s opening and closing. At the end of our very long day, we were all extremely exhausted, especially our kids.
Getting out of bed as slowly as we all did the next morning made us realize that there had to be a better way. So we regrouped and planned out next four days a bit more strategically based on these three lesson: Arrive early, take breaks, and stay late.
On days 2 through 5, we were at the parks when the gates opened. After lunch, we went back to our hotel to swim at the pool and rest. Then we went back and stayed until the parks closed. If we hadn't done this, we might have all died.
2. Meeting Characters
In spite of what all the Disney ads show, you won’t find Mickey and Minnie walking down through the park waiting for kids to run up and hug them. Almost any character you see on the streets are guarded by 'handlers'; you can't talk to them or take photos with them.
If you want to meet Mickey, Minnie, Cinderella, or even Buzz Lightyear, you have to stand in line. Some of the lines allow you to get Fast Passes, but a lot of them don’t. And just like having a plan for rides, planning these character meet and greets well let you minimize wait times.
There are also dining options which allow your kids to meet characters as well. If you're not on the Disney dining plan and want to splurge on a nice meal, these are great for the kids. My girls loved 2 in particular - 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian resort where they met Cinderella, Prince Charming, the stepsisters and stepmother and Akerhus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot where they met Belle, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and another Cinderalla.
3. Free Water!
It is common knowledge that Disney charges an arm and leg for everything, but the water is FREE!! I know what you’re thinking: ‘Aren’t there water fountains in the parks?’ You are 100% correct, but when your kids swear they will die within the next 10 steps without a drink, you need water NOW!!
It is usually easier to find a place that serves food or snacks (restaurants or snack shops) and ask for water. This way you don't have to even carry everybody's water bottles around all day, just ask for free cups of water if you can't find a water fountain.
4. Disney Resorts
The greatest advantage to staying at a Disney resort is proximity. Walt Disney World has several resorts which are all a short bus ride from the attractions. These resorts cover a range of budgets. We stayed at a modestly priced resort, the Art of Animation, and it was more than enough for our needs.
We paid a little more for a 2 room suite (one queen bed, a sofa bed, and a table that folds down into a bed) so our kids could go to sleep early while the grownups could unwind in the other room. Also, staying at a Disney resort means no driving, which leads me to the next tip for doing WDW with kids...
if you stay on site and have your own car, parking is free at the resorts AND you benefit from FREE parking at the parks with valid Disney Resort hotel identification. This can be a good option if you are in a hurry or don't feel like waiting for buses.
I personally recommend leaving your car at the resort and saving your yourself the mental energy that you would spend navigating around the Disney Empire.
5. Disney Buses
Staying off site (not at a Disney resort) means that if you will have to drive or use a car service to get to the parks each day. If drive yourself to the parks, you will pay through the nose to park your car everyday ($17); then you have to find it at the end of the day.
However if you stay on site, Disney’s extensive and frequent bus service will take you anywhere in the Disney Empire. The buses even load and unload near the entrance to each park.
We used the buses and enjoyed not having to drag our kids all over every parking lot in Walt Disney World. Also, if you're flying into Orlando and stay at a Disney resort, you get a free ride to and from the airport.
Bonus Tip; BIRTHDAYS!!
If you visit Walt Disney World on or near your child's birthday, they will be given a birthday button to wear. Everywhere they go, Cast Members (Disney staff) will tell them 'Happy Birthday!'
And if you eat at a Disney restaurant, your kid (or kids) will get free birthday treats! We were there in April for 5 days total. Both of our girls have April birthdays so they got so many birthday treats (at least 2 each day), they couldn't even eat them all!