Enjoyable for both the young and young-at-heart, Walt Disney World Resort is the perfect vacation for the whole family. While Disney World certainly caters to little ones, it can still be a challenge tackling the parks with your kiddos joining in on the fun.
It's important to prepare as much as you can in order to have the awesome trip you've dreamed of, complete with tons of amazing memories! I'm here with a handful of tips that we find useful for frog and human families alike, based on my own family's visit with our 5-, 7- and 8-year-olds.
How to Prepare to Visit Disney World with Kids
1. Prepare to carry the kids.
Warning: At Disney World, little ones will likely ask to be carried more than they normally do. The fun and excitement of Disney can be overwhelming for some, causing them to be worn out easier ... or maybe my daughter just liked the view from my shoulders! My 5-year-old had rarely been carried during the previous year and held up very well with trips and hikes done previously. However, at Disney, she almost immediately complained that her legs were tired and that she wanted to be carried. Fortunately, she was not overly heavy and I ended up carrying her on my shoulders for most of our time in the parks.
The one plus to carrying my daughter most of the time is that she did not complain about wearing her princess dresses while we were at the parks. I told her that I would only carry a princess on my shoulders, so she was happy to wear her outfits. Her 7-year-old brother was not happy with her being carried all the time when he had to walk, but he was too heavy to carry other than for very short periods.
2. Do park research by letting the kids watch favorite Disney movies.
We love making the most of the excitement when we visit Disney World with kids, and there's no easier way than letting them watch all of their favorite Disney films, plus some new ones! Doing this allows your kids to be more familiar with what they will see and they will have a better appreciation for the rides and shows. For example, we watched "Swiss Family Robinson" several weeks before our trip so that the kids would be familiar with the story and the tree house. When we saw the Swiss Family Tree House at the Magic Kingdom, the kids immediately recognized it and had a greater enjoyment walking through the tree house than they otherwise would have.
3. Factor in height when deciding on that first visit.
We debated how old our youngest child should be before our first visit as a family to the Walt Disney World Resort. We ultimately decided on age 5, but after being at Disney, we feel that height can be more important than age in deciding when to make that first visit. We discovered that there were a decent number of rides that had a minimum height requirement of 44 inches, but only two that were more than that (48 inches for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and Primeval Whirl). Fortunately, our daughter was 45 inches tall so we could all stay together on the rides instead of trying to do Rider Switch. It was significantly easier touring and riding the attractions with her being over 44 inches rather than having to switch off each time for those rides. My recommendation for a first visit would be to consider height as much as age.
4. Consider taking the kids out of school for a visit.
We wanted to visit during a less busy time of year, so we chose the week after Thanksgiving. This week seems to be considered about the best week to visit due to the combination of smaller crowds and all of the festive Christmas decorations and activities. Our children, of course, had to miss school for the week, and I remembered reading debates about whether or not to take children during the school year (here are some considerations before you decide to do it).
While we know some parents and teachers aren't advocates of taking kids out of school for vacation, we find that it's worth it. Crowds AND prices are typically much lower during those times when kids aren't on break, leading to a much more enjoyable experience. Our kids learned tons during their trip!
5. Bring a backpack just for sweats and jackets.
If you are visiting the parks during a time of year when it is cool in the morning, but warm in the afternoon, it works out well to have a backpack for holding sweatpants and light jackets. Our three kids would wear shorts with sweat pants and a T-shirt with a jacket to keep warm in the morning. After the day warmed up, the kids would take off the sweat pants and jackets, which would then be put in a backpack. If we were at the park long enough, the kids would put on their extra layers again when it cooled off in the evening. This worked out well for us and we did not have to backtrack to a locker to store or retrieve the clothes.
6. Help keep tabs on the kids with Ear Hats.
One item a child can wear to help keep track of them in the crowds at Walt Disney World is one of the iconic Mickey Mouse ear hats. There are a large variety of styles for the Mickey Mouse ear hats, so while other visitors will have Mickey Mouse ear hats, too, they will rarely be the same. My boys wore an R2-D2 and a Donald Duck-themed Mouse ear hat during our visit. We only saw a handful of other people wearing the R2-D2 style, but we don't recall seeing anyone else wearing the Donald Duck style. Since the hats are distinctive and are on top of their heads, they were much easier to spot when we needed to do a quick scan of an area for them (i.e. quickly find our son in the group of kids in the attached picture).
7. Make sure to ID younger kids.
For a younger child or one with limited verbal skills, a basic ID tag with the child's name and your cell phone number will be a big help in case your child were to become separated from you at the parks. For our visit, we had metallic pet tags engraved with this information and attached to our children's shoes (do-it-yourself pet tag machines are located in most pet stores). The metal is weather/water resistant, will not peel off like a label, and is worn on an item that the child will most likely wear everyday ... perfect for preparing for Disney World with kids. Runner's shoe tags also work well for this! (We have some tips on how to prevent your child from getting lost at Disney World ... plus, some tips on what to do if your child with special needs does become separated from you.)
8. Warm up to characters.
Sure, every kid is overjoyed to meet their favorite character ... but reality may not exactly match up with expectations. Just like going to meet Santa Claus, little ones coming face to face with their favorite Disney characters can be an overwhelming experience. The "face" characters, such as princesses, are a bit easier to interact with since they walk and talk like normal people! The "fur" characters, such as Mickey, may be a bit daunting for a child who has only seen them on TV. We recommend pointing out the characters from afar, such as spotting Pluto or Chip 'n' Dale in Town Square, before committing to a meet-and-greet. Watching the interactions take place while you wait in line is helpful, too!
9. Remember, every child reacts differently.
I remember riding Haunted Mansion when I was 4 years old and how fascinated I was with the dancing ghosts in the party scene. It was also my Mom's favorite ride. I thought our 5-, 7- and 8-year-old would be fine on it because we made a point of telling them that the ghosts were pretend and were friendly like Casper or like the fake ghosts they see on Scooby-Doo. Even though we tried to downplay anything that might be scary, the 5- and 7-year-old did not like the ride at all and were both frightened by it. The 8-year-old loved it and wanted to ride again. I took him a second time while his sister was at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. However, his 7-year-old brother decided that he would rather sit and watch his sister receive a makeover than experience Haunted Mansion again.
Similarly, our 5-year-old loved Big Thunder Mountain Railroad during the day but was quite scared when we rode it at night. Keep in mind how various factors may contribute to your child's reaction on the ride to better prepare you for the real deal.
These are my tips for preparing to visit Disney World with kids. What worked for you? Share your tips for visiting Disney World with kids below. You’ll find more information inside our Planning Pages.
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