Well, we did it!!! We just returned from our week long vacation to Disney World with our two small children, Abigail and Luke, and the trip was more magical than we could have ever imagined.
I must admit, after researching and reading hundreds of parental Disney experiences, I was a little nervous before we headed out. From kids screaming on the whole flight to Orlando to major meltdowns in the parks, I was geared up for it all.
As we prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, I anticipated sleep deprivation, overtired, over stimulated cranky children and more. I am pleased to report that we experienced none of it! Honestly, not one tantrum, well, except for the one I had when our flight was canceled after 4 hours of waiting at the airport and there were no more available flights that day (and as we all know tantrums are effective and so we ended up flying to Tampa and being driven to Orlando so we wouldn’t miss Abby’s big birthday celebration at the Bippity Boppity Boutique in Cinderella’s Castle followed by lunch with Snow White).
While I’d love to credit my years of experience and stellar parenting style with our trip success, it probably wasn’t either that made the trip so successful. Careful planning and preparing allowed us not only to survive, but thrive on our Disney adventure.
So what were the top ten things that I believe made our trip successful?
1. Where we stayed.
We stayed in the park at a resort that was accessible to the Magic Kingdom by boat and by bus. This is the second trip we’ve used Disney transportation on and have never had an issue with crowded busses or long waits.
2. We bought the right gear.
We invested in a new stroller (Maclaren Twin Techno), a sun shade for that stroller, a back pack and we rented the CARES restraint system for each child to use while flying. Well worth the price for all!
3. We planned our trip around character dining.
At this age, our kids are most interested in the characters. They both love Mickey and Minnie and Abby loves the princesses. We had a character meal every day of our trip and they were the highlights of our day. Not only were they fun, they forced us to take a break and to sit and relax in a comfy air conditioned restaurant.
4. We were the first ones at the parks.
Each morning we were sure to be at the park before opening. This allowed us to ride everything we wanted to without long waits. One day we even stayed on It’s a Small World several times in a row without getting off because there was no line.
5. We packed our day bag well.
From sunscreen to snacks, we could have lived out of our backpack! We also toted a small cooler with lots of water and sandwiches for the kids. It was so great to have the flexibility to feed the kids on the go, if needed and pull a cold drink out of the cooler.
6. We used the Disney Dining Plan.
In addition to convenience, the Disney Dining Plan forced us to plan our meals in advance and reserve the meals we wanted. We wouldn’t have been able to afford doing all of the character meals if we weren’t on it.
7. We were on top of the character meet and greets and parade schedules.
We made sure to be at the character greeting spots right before the characters showed up. Disney makes this easy by providing a schedule for the day at the entrance of each park and by encouraging you to ask a cast member where your favorite character may be.
8. We took in the shows.
The shows were amazing! We saw Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. We showed up right before the doors opened and got front row seats for each show. This provided for lots of character interaction and a nice break from the heat. The kids really loved the shows too!
9. We were back in the room for bedtime.
While we had planned to return home each day for a midday nap, the kids slept in the stroller for an hour (while we enjoyed a nice treat at the closest bakery or ice cream parlor) each day so that didn’t happen. It worked out fabulous. We did make a point to be back in the room by 7 pm each night. While we didn’t get to experience Disney after dark, it paid off ensuring everyone had a good night’s sleep.
10. We went with the flow.
While we definitely had a schedule and a plan, we also allowed for flexibility. We had planned to return to the resort to nap each day and then head back out after dinner, but it ended up working out better since they napped in their stroller and were home for bed each night on time.
Now that we’re home, the photo albums have arrived and we’ve had time to digest all the fun we had, we have magical memories to treasure. Even Luke at 16 months old loves looking through the albums, pointing to his favorite characters and smiling. While the naysayers say he won’t remember the trip and it was a waste, we have the memories and photos forever and our princess has a crown she still hasn’t taken off.
Have you experienced Disney with small children? Share your experience below.