The magic has consumed me since I was a kid. It was always a dream of mine to visit the Magic Kingdom. Last spring I was invited to speak at a conference at Walt Disney World in Florida and jumped at the chance to bring my family. We only had one free day to pack a lifetime of wishes into, but with a little bit of luck, a lot of planning and forcing myself to relax – it was a perfect trip.
We found out in October that we would be taking the trip in March, so we had a lot of time to plan.
If you’re planning or thinking about a trip to Disney World it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I don’t expect your trip to be perfect, but I do think it can be magical.
Here are my tips for a trip to Disney World with kids
Stay at a Disney resort
The conference was at a resort so that part was decided for us, but there are so many benefits to staying at a resort that we will stay again when we return.
The biggest perk is that there are free shuttles to and from anywhere in Disney World. Staying at a resort also gets you a Fast Pass, which allows you to reserve a time slot on three rides for the day. It turned out this was all we needed to really see and to be an outline of our day.
Finally, a stay at a resort also means free shuttle to and from the Orlando airport. It was MUCH cheaper for us to fly from Des Moines to the Sanford airport and rent a car. Note: The Sanford airport is about an hour from Orlando. Even WITH the car rental it saved us $300, so consider that option and compare prices. The Sanford airport has a huge car rental section just for this purpose, and they have plenty of car seats.
Pick 2-3 “Must do” things to outline your day
I scoured a few blogs for reviews of the best places to eat, the best rides, and what secret opportunities we could find (like buying a coconut that you can mail to a friend). My favorite blog was WDW Prep School, but there was also a lot at the Disney Tourist Blog. Since we booked our resort so far in advance, we were able to book the hard-to-get opportunities of eating lunch at Cinderella’s Castle and breakfast at the Be Our Guest restaurant.
You don’t need to do this extensive research as Disney filters experiences and attractions by age, character, thrill level, and even height. I also asked a few of my friends who had been to Disney World what they recommend.
We were worried our daughter, age 2 ½ at the time, was too young, but one parent told us that’s the perfect age. To her, it was all real – it was true magic.
The attractions we rode with our Fast Pass were the Winnie the Pooh ride, the Little Mermaid ride, and Enchanted Tales with Belle. We all loved every second of each attraction, and the rest of the day we roamed the park and made sure to catch a show at the castle, the 3 p.m. parade, and we returned after a late nap for fireworks! Those shows are free and a great way to see many characters in one place, so try to squeeze them into your schedule.
Bring a stroller. Yes, you can rent them for a nominal fee in the park (which we did), but we forgot about lugging our daughter back and forth from the busses and hotel, etc. Buy a cheap umbrella stroller and check it on the plane. Trust me.
Also, I know you’re always prepared, but it’s going to be essential for this visit. The weather in Florida might change even faster than it does in Iowa. Every blog I read suggested you bring ponchos, umbrellas, sunscreen, etc. We didn’t want to lug around that extra stuff so we watched the weather closely that day and only needed a giant tube of sunscreen.
Finally – pack snacks and water. Yes, you can do this. I always have applesauce and cereal bars somewhere in my purse, but I made sure to have tons of non-perishables stashed away. Not only are the options in the park expensive, but they aren’t exactly healthy or appealing to little ones.
I know this is easier said than done. The most memorable part of our trip was an epic tantrum in the middle of the day – which I honestly planned on happening. Usually, my little one is pretty good about us saying no to a toy and I’m the one who caves. But, this need for a Belle dress was fueled by being tired close to nap time. I captured the whole thing and made a work of art – a tantrum at Disney World, followed by the crash. It’s one of our favorite memories from the trip, and we had plenty of happy moments to counter it.
I’m sure some of you Disney veterans have tips of your own. There are enough tips for an entire series, and our experience was only at one park.