Tips for traveling to Disney World with Young Children

Disney World tips on our green living blog?  “That’s not green!”   you might say.  Well, sure, it would be greener to go camping (which we do every year) or go on an eco-vacation to an educational eco-resort like some of our friends.  However, sometimes you just want a traditional vacation with nice hotels, exciting rides and good service. If you’re going to go somewhere traditional, Disney World is actually a pretty green choice, especially if you take the train – which we didn’t.

Alicia with her solar shirt, Jon with his wind turbine shirt at Epcot.

Alicia with her solar shirt, Jon with his wind turbine shirt at Epcot.

Disney has healthy and delicious food choices throughout the parks.  Gone are the days of eating fries and chicken nuggets for every meal. We could count on finding apple slices, applesauce, carrots, grapes and 1% milk at just about every food location.  It was also easy to find carts with whole fruits around everywhere – ice cream carts and popcorn stands both had bowls of delicious looking whole fruits sitting prominently on top.  It is SO easy to say “yes” when your kid asks for a banana when looking at an ice cream cart!  They now have a “Mickey Check” that they put next to menu items that meet their nutritional guidelines.

We love Disney World for the amazing service.  One night on this trip our 3 year-old woke up screaming with a fever and very sore throat at 3AM.  He was inconsolable and we didn’t have any children’s’ medicine (OK, so that was not so smart).  Jon called the concierge desk to see if they could help us get some children’s ibuprofen.  They had a manager meet him at the front desk, and the manager went into the store and got him a bottle of ibuprofen.  The next day we thought he was better, but then he got feverish again in the Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  A helpful ride attendant told me that they had a 1st aide station that could probably help out.  Who knew? They took Timmy’s temperature (102), gave me tylenol to give him and told me about a clinic that provides free transportation from your hotel.  We didn’t end up going to the clinic, but it really helped to have some professional assistance right there in the park.

So, now that I’ve convinced you to go to Walt Disney World for your next vacation, here are some tips to make it a great trip!

1. Start taking long walks with your whole family to get in shape.  I can’t stress this enough.  We were all sore and cranky from the walking by the 3rd day.

Children Playing with the jumping water in Epcot

Playing with the jumping water in Epcot

2. Take afternoon breaks – preferably long ones back at the hotel. Everyone should nap, rest or swim.  I found that this helped reduce the over-stimulation.  We only took an afternoon break one day, but it was definitely the best day. If you don’t take time at the hotel, at least take time to just relax and play a little.

3. Make reservations at sit-down restaurants.  The food is great.  It is not much more expensive than the counter service meals (except for breakfast) and it gives your group another break from overstimulation.  All the table service restaurants are air-conditioned and if you want more water, or another plate of fries, they just bring it.

If you know your schedule in advance, consider advance reservations – you need to make them 6 months in advance for the most popular restaurants.

Make reservations the day of or the night before if you are planning last minute.  I went on disneyworld.disney.go.com/reservations/dining/ and put in the park we were going to be at and “dinner” and it showed me when and where I could still make reservations.  One night I made dinner reservations about an hour and a half before we ate.  We were perfectly happy with the food and entertained by the belly dancing!

4. Ask for what you want.  One day Timmy wanted a plain hot dog in the worst way.  I found out what places served hot dogs.  In this case the American Pavilion in Epcot served chili cheese dogs.  They were more than happy to sell me a plain hot dog. Another day we were at Sanaa, a new fancy Indian restaurant.  Timmy just wanted plain bread and soy milk.   I noticed they had hamburgers on the children’s menu, so I asked for a hamburger bun and soy milk (not on the menu) and they were happy to get him a box of soy milk from the store upstairs to go with his bun.  When we went to the Moroccan restaurant they had “Moroccan pasta with meatballs” on the kids menu.  When I asked I was assured that plain spaghetti with parmesan cheese was available for them instead.

5. Pay for an account on touringplans.com. This is about to sound like a commercial – sorry – I have no affiliation with them.  They have been doing research for years and have sophisticated algorithms to predict crowds in advance and to predict actual wait times at individual rides for every day of the year.  First, look at their predictions of crowd levels per-park for each day you will be there.  This helps to decide which park to go to which day.

Then pick one of their plans that sounds like it would fit your family, add in any rides you might want and take out what doesn’t interest you.  Then have their software optimize it for the day you are going.  Make sure you tell it what time you expect to arrive and what time you’ll leave the park.  This saved us TONS of walking and lots of time standing in line.  It would never have occurred to me to go to the Haunted Mansion right after Peter Pan, but it turns out, they’re right around the corner from each other.  It also helped us maximize our use of FastPass, getting them for the rides where we would most benefit from them.  All their plans for families with small children build in an afternoon back at your hotel.

I found their plans invaluable for the Magic Kingdom and helpful in Animal Kingdom.   At Epcot we really knew what we wanted to do and what order made sense.  Hollywood Studios is just frustrating because there are so many long shows that start at certain times. You can also use their app “lines” on your smartphone.  Then you can mark off what you have done, and click “optimize” and it will recalculate based on your actual time and location. This way you can go off plan and it is still totally helpful.

We found that on days we had a plan we had less fighting and less dithering, we just went from attraction to attraction.  Other days we found ourselves spending as much as 20 minutes at a time trying to decide where to go next.  When you’re hot and tired, it’s nice to just have a plan to follow, especially one that takes you into nice cool places to sit down.

Lines (the app) also tells you how long current lines are at various attractions and what time they are giving out Fast Passes for.  You can look at what time they think FastPasses are being distributed for, and then decide whether or not to send a runner over to get them for you.  I enjoyed submitting current wait times and using the app to time our waits in various lines and submit them.  This helps them improve the database.  There was also a chat functionality that gave me access to the knowledge of many, many seasoned Disney travelers.

6. Use FastPasses and a FastPass runner.

This is the system that Disney created to allow you to reserve a spot in line.  You can get them for one attraction at a time, and then you can use the “FastPass Entrance” to ride the attraction at a pre-designated time, by standing in only a short line.  This system is available for the most popular rides and really lets you cut back on the line-waiting time.  It’s available to everyone, and makes things much easier for families with small children.  I recommend (as does Disney) giving all your park tickets to one person and have them get your fast passes for you.  This cuts down on the walking for everyone and the crowds at the machines.

7. Consider a stroller plan.

If you have a child, or children, under 6 think about whether you want to rent a stroller or bring one from home.  Last time we brought 2 strollers for our twins with us.  This really helped getting them from the hotel to the bus and from the park to the bus – which can be a long walk.  They were 4 but they could not manage all the walking at Disney.  There were lots of times we had to park our strollers and hoped that no one took them.  While this isn’t common at Disney, it’s totally possible so it added a level of stress.

8 year old sitting in Disney stroller

This time we rented in the park.  It was really nice to know that if someone did walk off with our stroller Disney would just hand us another one to use.  On the other hand, someone had to carry Timmy from the park to either the boat, monorail or bus almost every time and then at least part way to the room. I particularly wished I had my own stroller when he was sick and I had to carry a sleeping, feverish 3-year-old to the bus and then to our room by myself.  The rentals are *very* easy to navigate and to push.  We could push either of the 8 year-olds in it as well.  I almost wished I’d rented a double stroller by the last day so that I could push Christor around too, he was so tired!

8. Pre-purchase a Photopass CD.

Hunt family holding picture frame at Epcot

One of the amusing props available from some Disney PhotoPass Photographers

Disney has photographers stationed all over the parks.  They take amazing photos.  They will take amazing photos with your camera if you ask them to. They do not work on commission and sometimes they have a line of people waiting, and sometimes they do not.  Think about Photopass in advance, and if this is a once-in-a-long-time trip for you, purchase a Photopass CD before you go.  The price (right now) is about $170 for the CD, but $120 if you order it before you go.  Then you can put cute Disney things on the photos and have lots of great photos after your trip.

We love visiting Disney and we’ll start saving frequent flyer miles and money so we can go again in a few years.  It’s a great place to vacation and we can’t wait to go back!

Happy Greening!

Alicia



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