If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that we managed to sneak away to Florida for a few weeks. I've been dreaming of taking Chloe to DisneyWorld for a long time. I went with my parents when I was five years old and I feel like a Disney trip is a rite of passage. The castle, the princesses, the over-tiredness and fear of furry costumed characters - those are childhood memories I have embedded in my mind and I wanted to give Chloe her own to look back on (okay, maybe minus the fear of Pluto!). Here's my tips on How to survive a Disney World vacation:
1. Go in October.
Florida can be scorchingly hot. I can't imagine what Disney World is like at peak season in the summer months: long lineups, cranky sweaty children, the concrete sidewalks of Epcot hot enough to boil an egg on. By contrast, Disney World in October is downright pleasant. The temperatures when we went were about 90 F / 29 C every day. We walked right in for most rides and waited 30 minutes at most for others. Hotel prices are also slightly cheaper so you can save by going in the off-season.
2. Bring your own stroller.
You can easily rent a stroller at any of the Disney parks. However, you can't take a stroller out of the park (and if you're carrying a sleeping toddler, that long tram ride + walk back to your car will feel even longer). We also had connecting flights getting to Disney and the stroller was a benefit as we were able to travel to far-away gates with ease, keep Chloe contained in security and check-in lines, and check the stroller right at the gate. Another stroller tip: make sure to ride in either the first or last cars when riding the tram from the parking lots. Bigger strollers won't fit in the middle rows.
3. Don't sleep in.
We aimed to be at the park when it opened and head back to the hotel mid-afternoon for a break, before coming back to the park for evening fun. By getting an early start to the day, we were able to get on the most popular rides easily and take a rest when the sun was at its peak.
You don't need to plan every moment and every ride, but you don't want to just "show up" at Disney World. It is huge and overwhelming. With a bit of planning, you can avoid some of the long lines, find rides that appeal to the whole family, and manage to not spend every last dollar you have. I highly recommend this book. It gives specific and helpful tips, like which parks to avoid if its your first time to Disney, which rides to ride first thing, and the best place to meet a princess. At a minimum, read up on the Fast Pass system and Rider Switch options and you'll at least save some time waiting for rides.
5. Save and Splurge.
Once you're at the Disney park, it can be hard to resist the allure of all the Mickey or princess logoed toys, t-shirts, and mouse ears. One thing we did was buy some inexpensive gifts before we left home. Each day, Chloe would get to open one gift (e.g. autograph book, colouring book, an outfit) and it seemed to decrease her desire to buy trinkets when at the park. Conversely, we were ready to spend the money to give her one memorable experience: a meal with the princesses. I made the rookie mistake of telling Chloe that she would be eating breakfast with Cinderella in the castle before I discovered those reservations book six months in advance. Ugh. Luckily, I kept checking every day for cancellations and snagged lunch with the princesses at Epcot.
6. Dress the part.
When you enter the Magic Kingdom, one thing becomes obvious: almost all the little girls are in princess gear. We had brought Chloe's Cinderella dress from home but she didn't wear it to the park that first day so seeing all the other little girls in their finery triggered tantrum # 1. Lesson learned: indulge your child's desire to dress up. Whether he or she wants to dress like Jake from the Neverland Pirates, wear the same Minnie t-shirt for the third day in the row, or that polyester Merida dress and wig that couldn't possibly be comfortable, let them wear what they want and feel a part of the magic.
7. Schedule in some down time
We scheduled in a "free" day in between our four Disney days and it was the best decision. We spent the day doing a bit of outlet shopping and swimming at the hotel pool. It was just enough to rejuvenate us for more Disney time. You need to go in knowing that a Disney vacation isn't really a relaxing vacation... as they say, "You'll sleep when Mickey is done with you!"
7. Wait to go until kids are 40"
I know many parents take their babies and young toddlers to Disney and have a good time. But this is just my personal observation: wait until your child reaches 40" and you'll be able to enjoy so much more with them. At 40" (around 4 years of age), your child will be tall enough to ride some of the bigger rides like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain - fun for mom and dad! Chloe had also outgrown naps and was not very scared of the characters so we were able to maximize our time at Disney and get some great photos.
There are so many other things to know about Disney but for now, I'll leave you with My Top 3 Must-Do Disney World Experiences:
- Lunch with the princesses at Epcot. We were able to see Cinderella, Aurora, Snow White, Belle, and Alice in Wonderland. They also do a procession with all the boys and girls around the restaurant (which is not done when you have lunch at Cinderella's Castle with the princesses).
- Soarin', the ride. By far, our favourite ride, fun for the whole family.
- Disney's Not So Scary Halloweeen Party. You pay extra for this nighttime party that happens throughout the month of October but it is well worth it. We wore costumes, rode the rides (again!) at night, visited characters we'd missed earlier in the day, and trick-or-treated our way around the Magic Kingdom (so.much.candy). I want to go back for Halloween next year!
Have you been to Disney World? Any top tips you want to share?