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Monday, June 6, 2011

Its a Small World After All { tips on disney with kids }


I grew up very close to Disney World. Visits punctuated my childhood like sledding or apple picking may have in other regions. When I was a kid, it was magical. When I was a preteen, my visits were a chance to be free from chaperones and maybe even to get into a little mischief with my friends. In college, I was completely disdainful. I ruthlessly picked apart the themes of each ride. The sexism and overly sanitized views of history destroyed any fun I might have had during that very cynical time. I even considered writing my thesis on the Carousel of Progress. As a young parent, I was Disney-shy and had big questions about the consumeristic messages, princess culture and general bombardment of the senses.
Now, as a somewhat seasoned parent, we simply go to Disney World and have a fun time. My kids like it alright, but are not huge fans. What I have done recently to occupy myself while riding the monorail or more likely, waiting in line, is to watch the other visitors trying desperately to have a good time. The money a family must spend for a week at Disney is outrageous. The expectations for intense memory making and magic slam right against the sliding glass door of reality. High prices, long lines, hot weather, and whiny kids make this place a real challenge for many families.


So, I offer my unsolicited advice for visiting The Magic Kingdom. There are entire books of strategies   for doing Disney with kids. My simple suggestions are for the situations I have witnessed countless times each visit.


1. Be well rested and arrive early. That is pretty good advice for most of life, actually. Fastpass tickets for the most popular rides can go quickly, depending on the season, so an early arrival ensures you can get tickets to the rides on your family's must do list. Also, the weather is a bit cooler.  And if you are going to Animal Kingdom, the animals will be more lively. The parks seem to get really crowded a few hours after they open; an early arrival is your best bet for some good times before the meltdowns begin.


2. Bring your own food. Disney lets you bring in your own food! This one is huge for us. The food at Disney is over priced and highly processed. There are a few better restaurants but many require reservations and the prices are exorbitant. By bringing your own food and snacks, you can save a ton of money (and then maybe splurge on a Mickey Mouse ice cream bar).  It is really hard to fuel kids on hot dogs and pop and then expect them to walk in 95 degree humidity and not be cranky! A bag of sandwiches, hummus, fruit, nuts, and other healthy snacks will make everyone happier.


3. Dress appropriately. As fun as it seems, dressing your 4 year old in a synthetic, scratchy dress, with plastic high heels and long nylon hair extensions is not going to play out very well. I get it - kids want to dress up, but maybe something more comfortable, or at least a change of clothes would be more manageable. Oddly, this goes for adults too. It is amazing how many women come to Disney in high heels and miniskirts. Getting into a ride while wearing a miniskirt is pretty revealing for the rest of the queue. Also, it rains in Florida alot. It makes sense to stop at the dollar store and pick up some cheap ponchos in case you get caught in a downpour. Of course, if you forget, Disney will be more than happy to sell you one for ten times the price.



4. Do not forget the less popular rides. When we need a break from the cacophony and visual overload, we head to the People Mover, which just rides you around Tommorrowland. You can stay on it as long as you like and there are a few quick turns, so younger kids might even think it is a real ride. Other favorites are Carousel of Progress, The Hall of Presidents (30 minutes in a dark air conditioned theatre),  the Swiss Family Tree House and Tom Sawyer's Island.


5. Do not try to do it all. There is no way you can do all the rides, or really even most of them. I can not tell you how many times I have seen parents take a screaming child on a ride simply because they want to do as much as possible. Everyone is red faced and snappy - not the kind of memories you were trying to make. Remember, you are there to have fun, and part of that might be just sitting and watching people for a while, or riding the train around the park three times in a row.


Here are a few more tips:

Consider a bringing a stroller, even for older kids - it gives them a safe place to rest and decompress, you can stash all your stuff on it, and even use it as a battering ram if you need to (was that out loud)?

Get a haircut on Main Street. The barbershop is reasonable and pretty fun. You can even get a sprinkling of glitter in your hair for free (at least last time I was there).

Bring one of these water bottle spray fans. You can pick them up at Target or WalMart for about $5. They sell them in the park for $20. And as goofy as they seem, you will want one when you are dripping hot. 

If you are not into the parade scene - it is a great time to do rides. The lines are much more manageable. 

Consider staying in a resort. That sounds luxurious and against my earlier budget-y tips, but it might be worth it. If you stay at a resort, you can enter the park an hour before it is open to the public. Also, you can leave during the heat of the day to swim or relax in your air conditioned room and then return in the evening. And the resorts host other fun activities, like story times and entertainment. I recommend the Wilderness Lodge, which has a boat that takes you directly to The Magic Kingdom. 


I would love to hear your theme park tips! Please leave a comment with your best idea!


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26 comments:

  1. When Jayn was younger we would buy her a small treat toy such as a 4 pack of small princess figures or a soft doll. Then she (sometimes alone, sometimes with me) would happily play with the new toy while standing in the lines.
    When it is a birthday, get one of the "Birthday" stickers to wear. At Disneyland they are available from the "police/town hall" station to the left of the main gates. All day long the cast members make much of the child.
    I always made Jayn her princess costumes. Our favorite was a reversible Aurora ballgown - pink and blue. Jayn changed it around a couple of times, and was so thrilled to show Aurora when we met her.

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  2. Go to fast pass for the most popular rides as early as possible. If you want to ride Space Mountain or another roller coaster go there FIRST. They go fast. Especially if you want to go to Epcot to ride Soarin or Test Track. They are usually out of fast pass by ten or eleven in the morning. If you have a boo boo go to the first aid station. They are staffed by nurses and paramedics, and they are super friendly. The best time to ride a lot of volume rides is during parade times. If you don't care about the parade, now is your chance to get on rides fast because everybody else is on Main Street USA. There is a button station by guest services that announce you are there for your first time, anniversary, birthday....lots of occasions. Stop by and get your button because it just feels nice to have cast members acknowledge you all day. Freeze water the night before and carry it with you. Water there is super expensive, and freezing keeps your snacks you take cool all day, and it melts slowly providing you with cold water all day long. And mostly, have fun. It isn't a competition. You are there to have fun as a family. I don't know how many times I see parents screaming at kids to hurry hurry....You are most likely there for the kids, let them enjoy themselves. And if they don't want to ride that roller coaster....don't chastise them or call them a big baby. And if they are not tall enough to ride, don't give the cast member a hard time. They are doing their job and keeping your child safe.

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  3. Bring a band-aid or two for a skinned knee. First Aid stations can be quite a walk away from where you are should your child trip and fall. As dorky as it may be, I always wear a fannie pouch. That way, it is so easy to park the stroller and then quickly get in line....no fussing with items in the stroller basket that may or may not be able to stay in the basket while we are on the ride. Also, if you are flying home, don't buy any of the plastic guns at Pirates of the Carribean. You obviously can't take that pricey Mickey Mouse balloon on the plane either. Lastly, a nice quiet place to see the evening fireworks is back by the Winnie the Pooh ride. This is especially nice if you have young ones and don't want to get into the Main Street craziness during the show.

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    1. great tips! thanks for sharing!

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  4. Get there first thing in the morning! Start with the rides or sites at the back of the park first, then work your way forward. People tend to go on the first rides they see as they walk in, so if you start in the back and work your way forward, the lines wont be as long or as busy.

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    1. yes! sometimes we just hop on the train to get to the back.

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  5. If you can go in the off season. We went thanksgiving weekend and it was virtually empty. We arrived the Saturday after Thanksgiving and it was a little busy but most of the thanksgiving rush were leaving sat and it was a virtual ghost town Sunday. And to our surprise and excitement when we woke up Monday morning all of the parks were decorated for Christmas!!! We left Disney world on the Thursday and the longest we waited in any line (if there was one) was only 5 minutes. I spoke to a staffer and it's really slow that week and the couple of weeks after new years and the three weeks after Valentines day. Going during those times are great and the humidity is not around in the winter so you don't sweat all day... unless your running through the Pirates of the Carribean line to go on it again, and again, and again! :)

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    1. good to remember those dates. there is a week in september that is really good too. it is right after most everyone has gone back to school. we had some amazing times at disney when the crowds are light. not so much in the crazy crowds.

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    2. Yes! We always go the week before Thanksgiving and the park is really manageable. (BTW, the last two times we went the week before, the parks were already decorated for Christmas) Also, we have two small children and a full day at any of the parks can be alot for the littles. My hubby and I are not morning people. SO we relax in the morning, swim a bit, eat an early lunch and take a short nap before heading to the parks. We'll then spend the entire afternoon until closing there. We also tend to go with a big group and rent a house. This coming November, we've rented a 7 bedroom house and there will be 9 adults and 8 children!! I didn't know we could bring our own food (other than snacks) so THANK YOU for that tip :D

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  6. When you are in the queues, see if you can find all the hidden mickeys and joke that are all over the magic kingdom. Makes the time go faster :)
    When our children were little they also loved "talking" to Goofy or other characters on the telephone in the gift shops. The cast member at the till would ring the number on their phone and a recorded message would play to a stunned young child :)

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    1. wow! i never heard that phone trick! i will have to try that.

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  7. Thank you so much for these tips.I went to DW a couple of years ago with my daughter (she was 12 at the time) We had a Ball!the people we went with were. Dw Pros.they have been there many times so w did so much in a short time. like you said take your own food into the park!!!!!! that is what we did and saved tons of money.A lot of people don't think you can do that,I want to share with you that when we both went i only spent about $300.00 for a week and half. I thought that was good and that is on gifts too. I loved Disney so much I took a group down last year, we rented a house out side of Disney.so much cheaper. and for 5 of us for the week we spent $700. for the week. here is a tip if you just "HAVE TO HAVE THAT GIFT" FOR SOMEONE go outside the park and get it.They sell the same thing 75% cheaper!! think before you buy.and have fun

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    1. renting a house is a great idea! especially if you can get one with a pool and cookout area.

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    2. I agree - I went recently, and we bought our souvenirs for kids of friends back at home at Walmart! Same junk, 25% of the price!

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  8. Being a huge Disney fan myself (from Michigan!) I appreciated your comments. I do Disney Vacation planning for people as a hobby and your tips were practical and true! Although I don't think the rain ponchos are very expensive...

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    1. they are about 7 bucks - but that adds up for a family of 5! everything adds up for a family of 5 :)

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  9. You know what, as a person who is pregnant and considering our first trip to Disney next year with a 1 year old, I really appreciated everything up until the comment about using a stroller as a battering ram. As a person who has been on the receiving end of said battering ram, I can tell you that's total bs. Just because you have a kid does not make you entitled to abuse other people like that. I was actually shoved off one of the parking lot trolleys because some asshole with a stroller thought he was entitled to be on there because he had a child and I wasn't, so I got to watch as my entire family went off to the park and I sat until the next trolley came. NOT FUN. This isn't just your vacation. Please be considerate of others. Thanks.

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    1. @shannon - oh my gosh! I was so kidding! Yes, do not hit people with your stroller! I was basing my sarcastic remark on the rude behavior seen by stroller wielding crazies.

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    2. Geez........sensitive much- hopefully it's the pregnancy hormones. Totally didn't think you were encouraging knocking down people with strollers. Thanks for all the info- it was some new ideas I haven't read yet!
      Melanie

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  11. Our family has been to Disneyworld 3 times over the past 7 years. Every season has something special to offer. Make sure to check out the special events that Disney offers like: The Mickey's not so Scary Halloween Party and The Very Merry Mickey's Christmas Party. There is special ticketing required, but well worth it to get the extra time in the parks and to experience the special parades and fireworks shows for these events. Also think staying off the park has it's advantages (more space for the price) especially if you have a large family. We paid $900 for 8 nights and had 4 bedrooms and a pool! Definately agree about bringing the food in with you. Eat a hearty breakfast before getting to the park, pack a light lunch and bring snacks-then splurge on a Character meal or 2-Cinderella's Royal Table and Mickey's Backyard BBQ are our favorites. I hear they are adding a Beauty and the Beast Character meal experience in 2013!

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  12. I have a annual pass for Disneyland, I have learned to avoid the parks during spring break, Mid summer, Holidays and such. Also for Disneyland a Light jacket is a must! as soon as it hits 6ish. I agree with the bring your own food, I always make sure I have a backpack supplied with a waterbottle and a small snack. my personal goal anytime i go is to not spend a penny. when Getting there I avoid walking through main street and just go straight to the train station and get to the desired land. (saves time) I only do lines that are 30 min if it's too busy we usually go to the autopia ride and race a couple of rounds. I guess I just have the convienence of living and working close enough to be able to just hang out a littlebit then coming home whenever :0)

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  13. Paultons

    There's plenty of parking and a car guard on duty. its so amazing.

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  14. I just got back and here are my additions: Go to the 99 Cent Store and buy glow sticks for the kiddos. I forgot them at home and had to buy my kid a $10 one - ouch. Pick up an autograph book and Disney Travel Photobook - hey it is only 99 Cents! Buy Disney Swag before you leave (shirts, stuffed animals, autograph book, and laynards). Walmart was selling Disney brand shirts. I stocked up at $7 a pop versus $28+ at Disney. For smaller kids, bring your own forks/spoons. For some reason Disney restaraunts only had huge forks and spoons and my poor babe could not get food in her mouth. If you have a GoPro Camera bring it and ditch the digital video camera - compact and fits easily in your backpack. If you bring a DSLR bring a small to large focal length (18-200mm would be ideal). I brought a 24-75mm and I was extremely limited oh well! Bring your own water and snacks. I opted for cereal bars and trail mix and steered clear of churros and buttered popcorn.

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  15. Great tips! I know when I've been in the parks before usually at least one person in the group turns into grumpy at some point lol. I love the tip about bringing a spray fan. Those things are amazing. I used to be a cast member at animal kingdom and I used tell kids with those things to spray me in the face with those things on hot days lol they thought it was hilarious and it cooled me down nicely.

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  16. I might not be a pro but living within an hour I have some tips. 1. Don't bring water bring a refillable water bottle and ask for ice water in any restaurant or stand then put it in you refillable bottle. You can even bring flavor packages to put in. 2. Look into renting a locker in the front. Pack a lunch & then restock snacks for later. Gummie candies, hard candies, cookies, non salty items or less salty pretzles are great. 3. Plastic bags to prevent things from getting wet. Keep them handy as it can rain w/o notice.

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