By Undercover Tourist customer Vern Woodruff
Many people attending Walt Disney World will do so with young children. Doing this can be a challenge, so any tips you can pick up beforehand will be beneficial. Entire books have been written and are available that deal just with this topic. Here are a handful of tips from my own family’s visit with our 5-, 7- and 8-year-olds that we did not find in a book, but you may find helpful when you are visiting Disney World with kids.
How to prepare to visit Disney World with kids
1. Prepare to carry the kids.
One warning for people with little ones is that they may ask to be carried more than they normally do. My 5-year-old had rarely been carried during the previous year and held up very well with trips and hikes we had done earlier. 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. I’m not sure if her legs were really that tired or if she just liked the view from my shoulders because she at times insisted on being carried first thing in the morning on our walk to the Disney bus stop.
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 then. 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.
Mommy Frog’s Note: For parents of older kids who are beyond using a stroller for everyday use, know that you can rent single and double strollers in the park.
2. Do park research by letting the kids watch favorite Disney movies
Prior to leaving for your visit to Disney, make sure to have your kids watch the various Disney movies that are connected with either an attraction or a show at the parks. 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 had.
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″, but only two that were more than that (48″ for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Primeval Whirl). Fortunately, our daughter was 45″ so we could all stay together on the rides instead of trying to do the child switch-off. It was significantly easier touring and riding the attractions with her being over 44″ 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 choose 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). There were teachers and others quoted as saying just how bad of an idea they thought it was to miss school for a Disney trip. However, I wondered if these same people complain when school bands or choirs miss school to visit Disney? Do they campaign against such trips and advise the school board to deny such requests? While we were there, a number of high school choirs were participating in the Candlelight Processional. Also, our local high school band takes a trip to Disney every 3-4 years. If schools do not see a problem with letting the band or choir go on a school-authorized trip to Disney, why should it be such an issue for kids from an individual family to do so? I would argue having a large group of kids missing would be more disruptive to classroom instruction because of the number of students (as well as teacher chaperones) involved.
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 make watching and keeping track of them in the crowds at Walt Disney World is one of the iconic Mickey Mouse Ear Hats. There is 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 a R2D2 and a Donald Duck themed Mouse Ear hat during our visit. We only saw a handful of other people wearing the R2D2 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 some 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. (Lily offers more tips in her safety strategies post.)
8. Beware, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
One warning about Big Thunder Mountain from our 5-year-old is that she was scared riding it at night, but was fine to ride it during the day. If you think your child might be borderline for either being scared or being fine on Big Thunder Mountain (or any other more intimidating roller coaster or attraction), make sure to ride it during the day.
9. Remember, Every Child Reacts Differently
I remembered riding Haunted Mansion when I was 4 1/2 years old and how much I was fascinated 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 on 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.
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? Share in comments below. You’ll find more information inside our Planning Pages.