Travelling with kids is always a stressful venture, and when you come home in one piece, it can feel like a monumental achievement. A definite #FTW moment.
I’m enjoying a much needed recovery week after a very busy week in Orlando. It’s the first real family holiday we’ve taken in a while where we weren’t going to visit family, but just going to truly enjoy time away. It was also a celebration of Girly’s 10th birthday, so it was extra special.
Girly herself has always been a great traveler. We’ve done a few long-haul flights to and from England since she’s been born, once when she was 5 months, once when she was 3, and again when she was 7. She has never been a fussy flyer, so I’ve never been stressed.
She’s got her chips. She’s all set.
Wee Bear is an unknown entity. On our trip to Toronto earlier this summer she was actually pretty good. She didn’t cry (much) and didn’t appear to have any ear trouble. She nursed a few times and then fell asleep, but shouted at everyone for the last 20 mins of the flight. Thankfully she didn’t do that this time, barring very early in the flight and again nearing landing.
She’s also at that stage where she’s independently mobile so squirmy AF. It’s hard to keep her in arms as we wander about, and she isn’t happy in her stroller long term (or an airplane seat). So that was a challenge I learned to navigate last week as well.
The Flight to Orlando
The cab ride was uneventful. The “eventful” started when we checked in. Without fail we get flagged. WITHOUT. FAIL. It’s been happening regularly since 9/11 so we always show up EXTRA early because we know we’ll get “randomly selected” for secondary screening.
Well, this time we didn’t even make it to security. Guess who forgot daddy needed an ESTA? (face palm) He still travels on his British passport. The rest of us don’t.
So we applied for one there at the check-in desk on my phone. The agent said it wouldn’t take more than a few moments, but the message came back as 4-72 hours before we’d get an answer.
So already I was faced with the prospect of travelling with two kids on my own.
As I navigated security with the kids, hubby tried again back at WestJet check-in, this time using the kiosk in the airport and almost immediately got his ESTA approval. Phew.
After some intense screening in security (eye roll) he joined us just as we’d boarded.
The flight went well. Girly had her iPad. Baby had my boob. Daddy had a window seat.
TOP TIP: If you’re travelling WestJet, make sure you download their app ahead of time.
This will allow you access to movies and TV shows if you haven’t brought any other means of entertainment.
Because there are no screens in the headrests, this is virtually all they offer for you to be able to pass the time.
Also, just a point of note: DO NOT open the sippy cup if it’s filled with water and becomes pressurized after take off…especially in the general direction of another human being. (My apologies to the man in the seat in front of us.)
We arrived, collected our luggage, got our rental car (which they upgraded to a minivan!) and off we went.
We met my sister and her family at the resort, and settled into our room for a nice short rest before a busy, busy week.
We Made It!
We had a pretty packed week planned, so let’s get to down to business and talk about what you’re really here for: top tips for visiting DisneyWorld.
We decided to spend two days at Universal Studios, simply because of the Harry Potter parks.
We would spend one day at Magic Kingdom. Throw a couple of rest days in, and you have the perfect family adventure in Orlando, Florida. (I’ll talk about Universal next week…it needs its own post.)
DisneyWorld is Still as Magical as Ever
The last time I was in DisneyWorld, it cost us $50 for a family of 5. No, seriously.
So once you get past the sticker shock of it costing nearly 3 times that PER PERSON now, you can start to enjoy your day.
We only did Magic Kingdom, although next time we will probably do some of the other parks. With 4 kids, we didn’t want to overdo it because one full day at a park is tiring enough.
And even the Happiest Place on Earth isn’t so happy when you’re tired, hot, and hungry.
My husband noted that it feels slightly dated, and I suppose it does. But it IS the more traditional park.
With classic rides like the Dumbo ride, Splash Mountain, and the 7 Dwarves Ride, it really is for the kid at heart, and the true Disney lover.
Disney will always hold a special place in my heart. Disney, DisneyWorld and the Disney Channel were a big part of my childhood and teen years (and even my adult years) as they helped me through some really tough times when my mother was ill. I got pretty emotional a few times this trip.
I could wax poetic for screens and screens, so let’s just cut to the chase. In no particular order, here are my top tips for visiting DisneyWorld with young kids and keeping your sanity.
DisneyWorld Travel Tips
Whether you’re staying at the many resorts onsite, or at the many hotels and resorts nearby, you all have to start in the parking lot.
Parking is thankfully a very organized affair and you’ll be clearly directed to where you need to go.
Get everything together in a bag or stroller, but don’t strap baby in and get too comfortable. Your first ride is on the trams that will take you to the Monorail. That’s the first line you’ll stand in.
TOP TIP: Arrive early. If you can make it to the opening of the park, even better. It makes for an early day, but it’s worth it because the lines aren’t nearly as long early on.
Oh, and wear COMFORTABLE shoes. It’s going to be a long day of standing around and walking around.
The trams aren’t very roomy, so if you have a stroller you will be required to fold it up to take it on.
Keep baby in arms while you’re in line, as once the trams arrive the lines move quickly and it can be a free-for-all (not so much in the morning, but at the end of the day when the park closes and everyone is rushing to get home, people turn into assholes.
People cut us in line and shoved past us when the trams arrived so we had to wait because we couldn’t fit in the last row with our stroller.)
The trams drop you off at the Monorail, which is another line. This takes you to the park itself, and you can drive your stroller straight on, so this is when you should settle baby in.
Once you’re on board, keep an eye out for Cinderella’s castle! It’s so wonderful to catch that first glimpse of it.
TOP TIP: Bring a hat, sunscreen, and if you can a little portable fan for everyone. It gets hot waiting in line, and even on an early November morning that sun is hot-hot-hot.
Arrival at the Park:
The Monorail brings you to the park entrance! Yay! Keep your bags handy, as you’ll be required to submit them for security check at the gate. They ask you to open all pockets in your bags, so do that ahead of time.
TOP TIP: Celebrating a birthday or first visit? Immediately to the left of the gate once you enter is a little news stand with things for sale, including little things you may have forgotten like hats, ears, sunscreen, Advil… They even have deodorant!
You can also get your complimentary “birthday” or “first visit” pin here. Girly got high-fived by cast members all over the park for wearing hers.
It’s a nice, personal experience. Wee Bear got hers, too. They make great keepsakes, too.
Visiting with Mickey Mouse:
When you walk through that big gate, you arrive onto Main Street. There is SO much to take in right away, so keep your head on.
This next tip is my sister’s (she’s been before so she knew the score.) There’s a theatre to the right hand side of Main Street’s entrance where some of the characters will appear periodically throughout the day.
Mickey Mouse himself only appears here and at one other location at the park so if you want to see him, do this lineup first. He doesn’t walk around the park.
Early on it’s not so bad (we only waited about 20 mins, whereas later in the day the wait was over 1.5 hours). C’mon, he’s the icon. The main mouse. You HAVE to get a picture with Mickey.
TOP TIP: Excited about seeing characters? Do those visits early on before the lines get crazy. I wouldn’t recommend wasting your Fast-Passes on character visits.
Characters are supposed to be walking around the park at random, but to be honest I only remember seeing Cinderella’s wicked step sisters out and about.
Every other character was in a predetermined location where you have to line up for a picture (including Pluto and Chip & Dale, who we saw outside Mickey’s theatre). So figure out where they are, and maybe go see them first.
Fast-Passes and Riding the Rides:
Every guest ticket entitles you to 3 Fast-Passes per day. A Fast-Pass enables you to “cut the line”, so to speak.
`For example, we booked a Fast-Pass for the Jungle Cruise ride, so we were given a pre-determined time frame (735pm to 835pm) for arrival. We show up at the ride during that time and we can skip the longer line, instead waiting in the Fast-Pass line which is considerably shorter.
When we went on the Jungle Cruise, the wait was around 80 mins. We only waited about 15 in the Fast-Pass line.
TOP TIP: Book Fast-Passes for the rides you REALLY want to go on but know the lines will be crazy-long for.
The really popular rides like Jungle Cruise, Splash Mountain, etc, where line up wait times can quickly go to 75 mins or more pretty early on, are worth Fast-Passing.
Average waits for pretty much everything can run from 20 mins to 50 mins depending on the time of day, so be prepared to wait. This includes rides, attractions, character visits, etc.
TOP TIP: Get the My Disney Experience app for your phone.
This allows you to not only see wait times for attractions around the park, including parades and shows, but it also allows you to check on Fast-Pass time options for different rides which change throughout the day, and change frequently.
We changed our Fast-Passes a couple of times when we noticed the ride we had a Fast-Pass for had a short line earlier in the day. It’s SO handy.
Carrying Your Stuff:
If you have a baby, bring your regular stroller. Seriously. Forget the shitty umbrella stroller. Bring your travel system or your big stroller if you have one. It’s a long day.
You’ll be waiting around a lot. You want to be able to put the baby down, and you want her to be comfortable. You also NEED that basket under the stroller. Trust me.
The wonderful thing about Disney is that they have stroller parking at virtually every attraction, and people watching the strollers. You can leave your stroller (bags and all) in the stroller parking area, and go stand in line.
Some rides (where you can’t take baby) even offer ride swap options where one parent can ride while the other parent waits with baby. Then you swap spots and the other parent can ride without having to wait in line all over again.
TOP TIP: Invest in a small cross-body bag that you can put your valuables in and take with you on rides. DO NOT leave these in your stroller.
DO NOT bring a giant backpack for your valuables as they aren’t allowed on every ride.
There are baby change areas in pretty much every rest room. These are usually at the front of the rest room and aren’t much more than a shelf, but hey, there’s a spot. Bring your change mat as you’ll need it.
If you run out of supplies or forget to bring stuff, on Main Street you will find the Baby Care Centre. This place is amazing.
They have comfy chairs for nursing, bottle and food warming stations, changing areas that are fully equipped, and even a play area for older kids while they wait.
If you need wipes, bottles, baby food, or any other essential for baby, you will find them for sale here, and they’re actually pretty reasonably priced. So keep that in mind as you travel the park.
TOP TIP: Apparently there is a Baby Care Centre in every park, so note it’s location on the map early on, and head there if you (or baby) need a break.
Also, Florida is breastfeeding friendly (by law), so no worries on that count.
Eating and Drinking at the Park:
To be honest, there’s a LOT of crap to eat at the park. Sit down meals apparently require booking MONTHS in advance (especially if you want to do a character meal), and we didn’t take that option because the kids weren’t interested.
So it was a day of getting snacks whenever the kids (or parents) got hungry.
My sister would highly recommend the hot dog with ribs (IN THE HOT DOG BUN) from Adventureland.
The chocolate croissants from Gaston’s Tavern are great.
The giant turkey leg is disgusting. That’s a hard pass from us.
The hot dog and chips from Tomorrowland are pretty basic but fill your belly. So are the burgers and fries.
GET A CHURRO. For real.
TOP TIP: If one of your bucket list items is to try Dole Whip, get to Adventureland early on. That line is as long as any other major attraction line, and unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to taste it (cue disappointment).
There are also water refill stations throughout the park, but I can’t stand the taste of Florida tap water, so we bought a LOT of water bottles.
TIP TIP: I highly recommend investing in stainless steel water bottles.
We filled up at the resort before we left the park (we each had a 500ml bottle plus a 2L stainless thermos) and that lasted us most of the day.
Eventually we had to buy water, but the stainless bottles kept the water cold and refreshing all day long. A definite must-have (and another reason to utilize your stroller basket).
Also there is precisely ONE Starbucks at the park (that I was able to find) and it is hidden on Main Street… so if you need your hit, hit it.
Other Random Pointers:
Because we were only visiting one park (Magic Kingdom) at Disney, we felt like one day would be enough. But when you’re travelling with a big party it can get busy because everyone has things they want to see, and so not everyone gets a chance to do what they want.
Girly had a wonderful time, but missed out on a lot of things she had been wanting to do. Because we hadn’t gone before, getting our bearings took some time.
Plus, it can be incredibly overwhelming with everything that is going on to know where you want to go next. Because even with a modest plan, things will change when you see things in “real time”.
She had her heart set on things like Splash Mountain, Dole Whip, and a few other attractions. But between hot and hungry and tired kids, (including her), and waiting in line for virtually everything, we just didn’t get a chance.
If you CAN, I’d say do the park over 2 days and take your time. Next time, I think we’ll try to stay onsite at one of the resorts. That way we can go when the park opens, spend a few hours doing stuff, and then retire to the room for a rest before heading back out in the late afternoon / early evening, refreshed and ready to hit it again.
At the time of publication, Disney is offering Canadians a great deal on a 4-day park pass ($79 per day, per person) so it’s worth looking into.
We were going to explore the Main Street shops in the last hour before the 9pm fireworks, but when we arrived in front of Cinderella’s castle and saw the ENORMOUS crowd starting to gather, we ended up finding a place to squat and waiting with everyone else.
If you’re staying for the fireworks, the “front of the castle” vantage point is critical to enjoy the show properly as they project onto the castle as well.
The castle is so beautiful at night.
So we had hungry, tired, hot, and sleepy kids, and a baby who hated the fireworks right throughout. But we made it and it was worth it. And the fireworks WILL make you emotional, if you’re a Disney fan. So bring tissue.
All in all, everyone had a great time. And we made some wonderful memories. I’m really looking forward to doing it again…in 5 years or so.
Do you have any top tips for moms visiting DisneyWorld with kids? Please share them below!