Travel

Surviving (and enjoying!) Disney World with Little Ones

I just finished a trip to Disney World.

Yep, I went to Disney with three kids ages 3 & under, my husband, and my in-laws. I am tired. But it’s the good kind of tired!

My in-laws are wonderful people who have a touch of wanderlust just like we do, and occasionally they invite us to join them on a trip. This one was planned kind of quickly; sometime in early January they felt Mickey Mouse calling their names and… here we are. I’ve only been to Disney once before, with them & my husband in 2012 BC (Before Children). Doing Disney with three super young children is a whole different animal. I am far from a Disney aficionado, but on this trip I’ve picked up on a few key things to remember for next time… a few key things that I will share with you!

Wear good shoes. This feels like a “duh” moment, but srsly. (for some reason, leaving the vowels out of that word conveys an extra level of urgency. Seriously. Wear good shoes.) If you buy new shoes, make sure you break them in before coming. I, personally, am loving my Keen Dauntless Posted sandals. I bought them last summer before embarking on a different trip with my family where I knew we’d be doing a lot of walking. I was pregnant and wanted good support, but sandals that let my feet breathe and that looked feminine… not Chacos, which I feel is the Official Summer Camp Counselor Shoe. I searched the world over and these Keens are winners. (No offense if you’re a Chaco person. Srsly.)

Also, bring a pedometer or something. Girl, if you’re gonna walk that many steps in a day, you better get credit for it. I have a Fitbit and I logged a total of 70,786 steps over four days… It’s so satisfying. By the way… if you have a Fitbit or similar device, it’s not going to register your steps if you’re pushing a stroller. Put it in your pocket – as deep as it’ll go so it’s sure to detect your leg movement – or clip it to your shoe. You need proof that you’ve earned that Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream sandwich. I’ve got your back.

Another good reason to put your Fitbit in your pocket… if your kids try to make you wear ALL their Magic Bands, don’t. Your arm WILL overheat and fall off.

Speaking of strollers… did you know there’s a rule about how big your stroller can be in any Disney park? We didn’t either. Turns out that nothing larger than 36″x52″ is allowed in any of the theme parks. We have a triple stroller, which we brought, then the night we arrived we haphazardly decided to Google whether or not there was a rule about that. Yep, there is. And nope, our triple stroller did NOT meet the criteria.

So you can rent strollers in the park, but they are very hard plastic, not adjustable, and just have to be flat out uncomfortable for a kid who’ll be in there all day. Fortunately there are a myriad of other rental companies around. The one we used was Kingdom Strollers. They are awesome. We got two strollers – a double and single – both Bob jogging strollers. We have a Bob jogging stroller at home and love it, so we knew it would be a good choice. There’s a ton of pockets, cup holders, and hooks on them to hold everything you could possibly need, and they fold up relatively easily and small enough to get on and off the various buses, trains, and ferries around there. Kingdom Strollers not only delivered our strollers to us extra early the next morning (we didn’t even call them until after 6:00pm, so I was very impressed by that), but they threw in two cooler bags and rain covers and gave us a discount after my husband told them our whole story. I guess they felt sorry for us and our lack of Boy Scoutness (prepared we were not).

By the way, if you think you could just slip in with a massive stroller and no one would be the wiser, that would also be a nope. I suggested it, but it didn’t take more than ten minutes in the park to realize that it would be a bad idea. Getting in and out of many areas would be hard, and even impossible in some spots. Disney is very stroller friendly (filled with “stroller parking” spots everywhere) but only if you don’t have the stroller equivalent of an 18-wheeler.

Another tip: go to shows in the afternoon, when the sun is hottest and brightest (examples are Mickey’s Philharmagic in the Magic Kingdom or Finding Nemo at Animal Kingdom). Time sitting in a dark, air conditioned room is a good break for you and your kids. As a bonus, it’s a good time to discreetly breastfeed your baby if you are comfortable doing so.

Something that amazes me is that Disney bathrooms are ALWAYS so CLEAN. I don’t know how many thousands of people go through there a day, but every bathroom I went into was fabulous… a big deal when you are hauling toddlers in and out all day. Even better, every single bathroom except two that I went into had a baby changing table.

Each park also had an amazing Baby Care Room. There was a sign for them above each changing station. I poked around a bit at the one in Epcot and it was awesome. There were several small private rooms for breastfeeding, a room with a TV and a little couch for small kids who may need a break, a kitchen stocked with snacks, drinks, extra sippy cups, bibs, outfits… anything you could need. There was also a room filled with nothing but huge, cushy changing tables that I imagine any baby would be pleased to lay on.

Eat lunch early. The crowds in restaurants get NUTS around noon, so if you can eat by 11:00-11:30, do it. It will be a much faster process, and you’ll be freed up to go to those afternoon shows! Stuff your backpack full of your crew’s favorite snacks to hold them through the afternoon. Jerky and oranges were our top picks. Disney allows you to bring in any food or drinks – just be prepared to let them search your bag. Also, you can ask for a cup of water at any quick serve restaurant and they’ll give it to you free of charge.

And while we’re talking about eating, let me share that Disney handles food allergies very well. I am unable to eat dairy because my little nursling cannot digest it properly, and I have to be super careful about it. At every restaurant I was able to get an allergy menu that was simple, concise, and easy. The top allergies were listed and a small menu of exactly what foods were safe for each one. It was wonderful to not have to stress about food.

If you’re planning a trip to Disney… do it. Don’t let your small children scare you out of it. Trust me, around 4:00 pm the park is full of toddlers and babies who are melting down, so you will not be alone. If it feels overwhelming, I have a cousin who helped us plan our trip and would love to help you plan yours! Figuring out your lodging, meals, how and when to meet different characters, and the FastPass+ system can be a little overwhelming, and it’s nice to have someone who has been there and done that and can help your trip go smoothly. You can find her on her Facebook page – Lila Snurkowski at the Pixie Planners.

Here are the top attractions we loved for our kids, and ones we didn’t love so much. (Note: we didn’t go to Hollywood Studios on this trip… maybe next time! Also, we obviously didn’t do everything in either park, so this isn’t a comprehensive list. And this doesn’t include all that we did do. Just the major highs or lows and a few “mediums”.)

Animal Kingdom
Kilimanjaro Safari – LOVE. It was a fairly slow-moving ride through the “jungle” where we got super up-close and personal with some amazing animals. My kids adored it.
Festival of the Lion King – LOVE. This is a show with more sound, color, and movement than anyone could ever hope for. Even my five-month-old was fascinated. We probably could have done it a few times without the kids complaining.
Finding Nemo – medium. It would be good if your kids have seen the movie and love it, but a little hard to follow otherwise. My three-year-old enjoyed it but the two-year-old didn’t so much.
It’s Tough to be a Bug – didn’t enjoy it. It would be great for elementary-age kids, but far too scary for mine. Avoid if you have preschoolers.
Must-do for adults: Flight of Passage in Pandora, Expedition Everest

Epcot
Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival – LOVE. This was three different Pixar shorts in 4D; I’m sure they change the three movies up occasionally, but the kids (and adults!) really enjoyed this.
Journey into Imagination with Figment – LOVE. This was super fun, especially since my three-year-old has recently been learning about the five senses. The ride ends in what is essentially a playroom dedicated to imaginative play and learning more about sight, sound, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
Must-do for adults: Soarin’

Magic Kingdom
Mickey’s PhilharmagicLOVE. A great 3D show that fascinated my kids.
Barnstormer – LOVE. This is a roller coaster that allows riders as short as 35″. My three-year-old was able to get on it, and he thought it was the greatest thing ever.
Tomorrowland Speedway – LOVE. Again, my speed-loving three-year-old son was in Heaven. It’s basically an opportunity for kids to drive their own car and give their parents whiplash. Neck braces recommended. 😉
Walt Disney Railroad – LOVE. A pretty slow-moving train that goes in a big circle around the park. It’s not a thrilling ride, but it’s perfect for late afternoon when you are hot, tired, and need a break. You can choose to ride it from one stop to another to actually navigate around the park, or you can just ride around in circles until you’re ready to re-enter the rat race.
Must-do for adults: Space Mountain

Happy travels!

-Lacey

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