Taking Young Children to Disneyworld: It’s All in the Planning
By Steven Jeffries
My wife Lisa told me a story about the last time she had been to Disney World as a young adult in the early nineties.
She told her father at the time, “The next time I come back here, I’m coming here with my kids.” Little did she know, it would be with nearly four year old twins. As for me, I had not been to Orlando’s Disney World since I was a teenager in 1982. Epcot had just opened, and there were was no Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios at the time. But both my wife and I wanted to take our twins, Joshua and Abigail, about to turn four at the time, at a young age but not too young as to not remember anything or appreciate it.
There were a number of questions to be answered before we left, in order to make the trip a success. Hopefully, my research, discussions, decisions, and experiences will help answer some of your questions and assist you in better planning your trip, whether you have a young child or children, should you decide to go. One thing is for certain, you do need to plan for Disney World, especially with little ones. Just showing up and hoping to enjoy one’s self fully doesn’t really work, with so many options, and limited time and resources.
Guidebooks and Websites
There are many invaluable guidebooks and much of the information was garnered from the ones that I read. I started by checking out a few from the library to see which ones were the most helpful. You won’t usually find one for the current year, but try to find one as recent as possible. Most of the information will not change, and you can choose to purchase any that you find will be useful, both in your planning, and to take to the parks. The guidebooks explain all the attractions in detail, including what rides might scare young ones; suggestions for renting or bringing strollers; hotel information and recommendations for both inside and outside Disneyworld; and restaurant information, including character meals.
In my opinion, the one guide that is the best for pre-planning is The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa. It has over 800 pages of information on everything related to Disney World (and even a chapter on Universal Studios as well). The best thing about this book is that they include quotes from actual families so you get an idea of what people like yourself experienced. The best book for the parks is The Passporter’s Guide to Walt Disney World by Jennifer, Dave, and Allison C. Marx . It includes fold out maps, planning sheets, and pockets to hold information, tickets, etc.
There are also many great websites with information including allears.com. Websites such as this give important information such as restaurant menus so you know whether or not there is a kids menu, and what the choices are. My son does not like pizza with sauce on it, and usually wants a grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwich. Allears.com gave us great information including the prices. The last website I want to mention is tripadvisor.com. This website provides user’s reviews on hotels, restaurants and attractions, and ranks them based on how people rated them. We chose the Holiday Inn in Walt Disney World in large part due to the reviews on tripadvisor.com. Everything they said in the reviews was correct including how nice the rooms and pool were, the high level of service, and the frequency and punctuality of the shuttle to the parks.
Transportation issues and Questions
As we got closer to the actual trip we had a few burning questions regarding our twins. This would be their first trip on a plane and we wanted to make sure their time was occupied. At the same time we wondered whether car seats were feasible or necessary for the plane trip. In our case, because we were staying in WDW and were not renting a car, we did not have need for them. We also had had our seats professionally installed and did not really want to take them out. We solved the first question through buying a couple of “travel” games and a portable DVD player with two headphones so they could watch together. On the plane, our children watched the seatback TV, but in the airport they were able to watch the DVDs we brought to amuse them. This was also useful for some quiet time after a long day in the park back in the hotel room.
Two huge questions are how are you getting to Orlando and where are you staying? We were flying and since our focus was entirely on Disney World, and we were staying at a hotel on the grounds, we did not need a car. However, we did need to get to and from Orlando International Airport. Through my research I discovered town car service. It works like a limousine, except that they meet you at the baggage area, help bring your bags to the car and even provide car seats. However, I did not know that I had to install the car seats, myself and they were not very good ones at that. One of the best aspects was the fact that we could stop at a grocery store on the way to the hotel and buy drinks and snacks for the week, such as bottled water (which is expensive in WDW). My wife had already packed some snacks because, while security does check all bags entering the parks, they turn a blind eye to food and drinks. So there is me at the grocery store, dressed in my Canadian winter jeans and sweatshirt in the Florida heat.
If you actually stay at a Disney Resort, you can use their Magic Express bus service for free. But keep in mind that it has mixed reviews and many reviewers said they waited hours to get their luggage at the hotel. On the way back to the airport, we decided to use a Mears shuttle, which was less expensiveand quicker, and we didn’t need the car seats. Another option, of course, is to stay off the grounds in either a suite hotel or a rental condominium. With multiples, having extra room is always great, but you would definitely need a car, as most of the outside hotel shuttles to WDW are very infrequent. Also, you might want a kitchen or kitchenette to be able to save some money on meals, which are expensive in the parks.
Stroller or Not?
The question on whether to use a stroller for a child or children in Disney World is really based on a number of factors. But for us, it came down to the fact that our nearly four year old twins did not like being in a stroller anymore. We had an amazing double stroller, the Mountain Buggy Urban, and we put it to great use until they were about three. We also had a couple of umbrella strollers for convenience sake. However, Joshua and Abigail like to walk everywhere, including a nearly two kilometre long hike in Algonquin Park the previous summer. We knew they wouldn’t get in the umbrella strollers and we weren’t planning on schlepping the Mountain Buggy on the plane, although this is an option that some people choose.
We also knew that the shuttle bus came right to the front door of our hotel and it is hard to get strollers on these buses. In some very large Disney resorts, they recommend a stroller just to get to and from the bus stop. We decided that we would take our chances on day one and rent a double stroller from WDW if we needed it. We didn’t. The kids did just fine! Single strollers rent for $15 US a day, and double strollers are $31 US a day (slightly less if you buy multiple days) and they all look the same. Also, some areas can’t be accessed with them and Disney cast members move them all the time. You have to mark your stroller with something easily identifiable such as a handkerchief or risk losing it. There are also companies that rent strollers and deliver then directly to your off-site hotel, and these are a little cheaper.
At the Parks
After the stroller, our two other concerns were with Josh and the washroom and planning for the rides. Joshua was in the later stages of toilet training and had just become consistent at being accident free without pull up diapers and letting us know when he had to go to the washroom. However, at Disney World we were concerned that there might not always be a washroom available, especially during a wait in line. We debated having him wear pull-ups at the parks but decided against it because we thought it might be a big step backwards. Our decision turned out fine! Josh was great about going to the washroom during breaks and before getting on to the monorail.
The guides were great help in planning for the rides, both suggesting which ones to focus on, which ones have Fast Passes, and which might have a scare factor. The Fast Pass system at WDW is excellent. You use your entry ticket to obtain a pass to come back at a specific hour block of time and move to the front of the cue. However, a colleague correctly told me that you can always come after the time allotment, just not before. This was proven at Kilimanjaro Safari in Animal Kingdom, when we got there twenty minutes late and still got to use our Fast Passes (although I understand this policy may have recently been changed).
Another great feature for parents is the switching off option. Let’s say only one of you wants to go on a ride, but both kids want to. Both parents line up, but at the front the first parent gets on with the first child, and the second parent waits at the front with the second child. Then when the ride is over, the kids switch places, and the second child gets to ride with the parent. It also works if both parents want to go on the ride, and only one child does. In this case, the parents take turns.
Here is one last important piece of advice. Make sure you follow your kids’ ride wish list first, especially if the ride does not have a Fast Pass option. However, a mistake could create some Disney “magic” as it did for us on the first day. Joshua wanted to go on the Indy Car Racetrack ride in the Magic Kingdom, but it was lunch time. We told him to wait until after lunch, but when we went over to the ride, there was an hour or so wait. He was beginning to break down and would not have lasted in the line up. My wife walked up to the nearest cast member and asked if the line would get shorter eventually. After being told it would be at least another couple of hours, we decided to try to come back later. It was then that the cast member asked us, “How many people do you have?” My wife answered four and he immediately led us through a gate to the very front of the line! It was a magical moment we will never forget and it saved the day for us and our son.
Taking our young children to Disney World had its share of challenges, but in the end it was well worth all the planning. If you go, here’s hoping you create as many great memories as we did.
You can read more in my blog at http://atwinsdad.blogspot.ca
All rights reserved by Steven Jeffries