Navigating Disney World (or Land) with kids can be a challenge, so why depend on one single mother to guide the way? Below, find a list of tips for surviving Disney from a variety of Scary Mommies with kids at all ages and stages. Got a tip of your own? Add it in the comments!
Don’t break the bank…
• Buy a Disney lanyard at Party City for $1.00 and trading pins on Ebay before you go. You can get a “lot” of 25 pins for about $12-$15, instead of paying $7-$15 for EACH pin at the park for pins you are going to trade anyway. Your kids will trade, anyway, so who cares what they start with?
• Instead of buying the ears and souvenirs at Disney, pick them up at a party store before you go. You can save hundreds of bucks by tucking a few special things in our luggage before we left, rather than buying them there and the kids never missed the pricier souvenirs!
• If you plan on being in the parks after dark, consider picking up glow sticks at the dollar or craft store before you go. Michael’s often sells containers of them for just a dollar near the check out. We slide the cylinder into the backpack that we take into the parks and break them out when the sun goes down. The kids love them and it saves us money when they ask for the light-up toys on vendor carts that appear as soon as it’s dark. And because they are so inexpensive, we get to hand them out to other kids around us – on the bus, in line for a ride, or sitting waiting for a parade to start.
• Bring your own autograph books. The kids adore having autograph books; they are especially great for really little kids, who flip through the books for WEEKS before they go and learn all about the characters. It also helps them to not be scared, but excited when they meet the characters.
• Allow each child a set amount if spending money. Decide on first day, showing them the different items they could spend it on then letting them go nuts. With each purchase, stress to them this would use X amount of their money, but let them decide. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
• Prepare the kids. Talk about the day in advance, several times, so they know what to expect (even if they’ve been before). Talk to them about waiting in lines and the walking around, reminding them its all part of the fun and the experience.
• Stay on property. There’s nothing like staying on property and being able to take the little ones back to nap so the bigger kids could swim in the resort pool for a bit. Downtime is CRUCIAL to avoiding meltdowns for everyone. Disney is a whole lot of walking, a lot of stimulation, and everyone needs a mid-day break of some sort.
• If you stay on property, you can now make Fast Pass+ selections 60 days ahead of arriving to the park. That alone makes onsite hotel worth it!
• Avoid lines with apps. There are apps that let you know how long the lines are at specific rides/locations/shows throughout the park. It beats walking across the park to wait for two hours!
• Get a PhotoPass. There are professional photographers around each park in the best locations for family photos. It ensures amazing pictures of your trip with everyone in the picture, and that’s worth a lot. Better yet? Ask the professionals to use your own camera!
• Bring a cheap stroller, even if your kids don’t typically use one. It’s a lot of walking even for grown-ups and unless you want to carry your 40 pound kid, give them a place to rest. It also gives you a nice place to put all your crap, and there is plenty of stroller parking throughout all the parks. If your kid will sleep in the stroller, plan for some downtime if they choose to take a nap. And then get a funnel cake all to yourself.
• Or… rent a stroller. All four theme parks offer single and double stroller rentals ($15/day for a single passenger, $31/day for a double passenger, multi-day discount is available). Unless you plan on visiting other areas outside the Disney parks, why struggle with getting the kids AND stroller on the Disney internal transportation buses?
• Find a spot. As soon as we enter the park, point to a high, obvious piece of architecture and say, “If we get separated and can’t reach each other by phone, we meet there.” (the globe in Epcot, the hat in Hollywood Studios, the tree in the Animal Kingdom, the castle in the Magic Kingdom).
• Keep the important stuff accessible. Teens and adults can wear lanyards with IDs, park tickets, room keys etc. in them. All of the important stuff stays safe, and nobody has to dig for their ticket or room key.
• Watch the nightly fireworks by Space Mountain. You have a great view, seating and do not have to deal with a crowd. When it’s all over, race onto the roller coaster line before the rest of the park gets off of Main Street.
• Don’t try to do it ALL, every single day.
• Bring your own food. People don’t always know food and water can be brought in to the park. Stock up on granola bars, chips, and fruit cups and just stick them in the stroller or bag. Bring healthy stuff, too, and save treats for all the yummy stuff in the park.
• Take advantage of the a la carte option. Sit down a la carte restaurant dining is not that much more than quick service and if you are smart about it you can power up while you eat! It is the most relaxed way to dine at Disney, no characters, no buffets, a reserved table just for you and a much calmer atmosphere all around!
• Table service restaurants at the Magic Kingdom book quickly with the hottest reservations being filled within days of release, 180 days in advance of the reservations. A credit card number is required to make reservations, and cancellations do happen, but they are snagged quickly. (If you are staying at a Disney resort, you can book an additional 10 days earlier.) For a truly unique experience (that doesn’t require a reservation) don’t miss waffle sandwiches at Sleepy Hollow, Dole Whip at Aloha Café, Lefou’s Brew at Gaston’s Tavern and quick service lunch at Be Our Guest Restaurant.
• Assess the dining plan. For some families, it’s a great deal, for others it’s a waste. If you got big eaters on your hands, it’s definitely an option to consider.
Disney with a baby…
• Use the Baby Care Center. Each park has a Baby Care Center that is cool and quiet for when you need to get away with the little one to decompress. You’ll find changing tables, rocking chairs in the private nursing area, high chairs… even a full kitchen where you can prepare food or warm milk. They also have a store with all kinds of baby items like jars of food, extra formula, diapers, wipes, and sunscreen. You know, the stuff you inevitably forget to pack.
• Always bring two changes of clothes for anyone in diapers because your kid will definitely have a diaper blowout while waiting in line for Winnie the Pooh.
Disney with a special needs child…
• ID tags and wristbands. Each resort or the guest assistance counters in the parks will have plain paper wristbands available for you to write your child’s name, if s/he is non-verbal or highly allergic to something and your name and phone number.
• Prepare for breaks, lots of them. Either schedule for a long day at the parks, finding places to rest in shady/calm areas, or better yet, map out the parks ahead of time and schedule time to go back to the hotel/resort for a rest in between. Each park and resort will have cast members ready to help you plan your day, find show times, even book reservations for dinner for you. This is all included in your resort cost, so don’t be shy to ask them for assistance.
Need more travel tips? Check out the Scary Mommy Travel Guide!