In the first post in this series, I talked about some of the things we’ve learned when planning travel to a Disney park with toddlers. In this post, I’ll continue with our lessons learned during our time IN the parks.
Get there early, on at least one day – This is harder for us to do at Walt Disney World, since we’re used to Mountain time, but it definitely pays to get to the parks early. First, the crowds are usually pretty light when the parks first open, so you can ride some of your “must-dos” without too much of a line. Second, several of the parks do a special opening show, like the one pictured here at the Magic Kingdom, which is a lot of fun for the kids to watch. Makes it that much more special for them!
Take a break during the day – I’ve heard some parents say this just doesn’t work for them, but for us, this is probably our biggest lifesaver. And, it’s not just for families traveling with young kids, it worked very well when we traveled with our parents back in May as well! It works best for us to completely leave the parks and go back to the hotel for a few hours, which is why we like to stay on property, but even if you’re not staying on property (or just don’t want to leave), you can find a quiet spot in the park and just sit and relax, perhaps while enjoying a cool drink or Mickey ice cream bar.
Know where the bathrooms are, and use them…often – ESPECIALLY before you get into a line that looks deceptively short but is actually 45 mintues long. We made this mistake with my son during his first trip. The line for Mickey was 45 minutes but Colorado Boy REALLY wanted to meet him, so we waited. He was really, really good during the whole wait but literally right as we got to the door that led to Mickey, my son said “I have to go potty”. Normally that meant we had about 5 minutes before he had to go, so we figured we’d be able to hustle through the visit and get him to the bathroom. And anyway, we had waited 45 minutes, so we weren’t going to give up at that point Unfortunately, this time, we didn’t QUITE have 5 minutes so we now have a wonderful souvenir of our first visit with Mickey, with all of us smiling…and Colorado Boy with a mysterious dark area on his jeans…Such a bad parent moment for me, but it taught us a valuable lesson!
Let the kids run some energy off - While having a stroller makes park touring MUCH easier, it can make for an antsy kid by the end of the day, so we always try to find a place in the park where the kiddos can run around and stretch their legs. There’s lots of good places for this – at Disneyland, we LOVE Tom Sawyer’s Island, er…I mean, The Pirate’s Lair. California Adventure has Redwood Creek Challenge Trail and at Walt Disney World, there are several places, like The Boneyard and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” movie set to name a few.
Don’t Park Hop - This is another tip that some people may not agree with, but after trying it both ways, we’ve learned that it makes for a much more pleasant day if we just stay in one park for the day (both before and after our mid-day break). I think, for my kids, the parks are a bit overwhelming because there’s SO much to see. Keeping the day focused on a single park makes it easier for them to adjust and leads to fewer meltdowns.
Don’t force Character interactions – For the most part, we haven’t had problems meeting the characters – my kids were pretty much ready to give Mickey a hug from a very early age. But, I think this is relatively unusual based on the number of unhappy kids I’ve seen meeting a character for the first time. From a young child’s perspective, characters are HUGE – way bigger than they appear on the TV at home, so let your kids dictate the level of interaction they want to have with the characters. Some kids love ‘em, some kids take awhile to warm up to ‘em!
Don’t stay late every night – While the fireworks at Disney are some of the best you’ll probably ever see, I don’t recommend staying late to see them every night of your stay. Depending on the time of year you go, the fireworks may not start until 8:30 or 9pm, sometimes later, which, if your kids are like mine, is WAY past their normal bedtime. So, pick one night, maybe two if you’re there for a week, to see the fireworks. Oh, and if you stay late one night, don’t make the next morning your early day in the parks…that may sound obvious, but we did it without thinking one year and it wasn’t particularly fun
Don’t try to see EVERYTHING – There is A LOT to see and do at the Disney Parks, especially if you’re visiting Walt Disney World, and it’s important to understand that it’s virtually impossible to see EVERYTHING in one visit (even without kids). So, plan ahead, come up with a few things that are “must-dos” for your visit, but don’t try to do it all. The kids will be happier and it will give you a good excuse to plan another trip!
Although every toddler is different and some of these tips may not work for you, I hope there have been a few things here that will help you plan your next visit to the Disney parks! And don’t forget – take tons of pictures and as always, HAVE FUN!