Monday, September 21, 2015

Five tips for going to Disney World with small children from a dad who made it back alive.

You're looking at your most important piece of equipment here - your stroller.

Just a few weeks ago, Mrs. Permanent Press and I took our four year old son and our fourteen month old daughter to their first ever trip to Walt Disney World. After a bunch of research, lots of walking, lots of standing in line, some tears, and lots of smiles, I can say with experience that I have some good tips of what to do and what not to do when you're taking young children to Walt Disney World. 

For purposes of these tips, I'm assuming that you have at least one child under six, and you probably have at least one younger than that. If you're taking more than three children to Disney, and they're all under the age of six, then you're either really brave or really dumb. In any event, here are some tips from a dad who made it back alive.

1. Avoid Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney is a really cool shopping, dining, and entertainment area right on a beautiful lake. It has live music, cool places to eat, lots of neat stores....and nothing good your young children will really want to see.  You have children, remember? Downtown Disney is where you go for a night out away from your children when you get a babysitter. Don't worry about missing the shopping, either. There is so much shopping at Disney, you really will be okay. I promise.

2. Your stroller is the most important thing you will bring with you. Listen up, dads. Your stroller is vitally important for your Disney trip. Vitally. Think of yourself as a tank commander in WWII. You need a good tank to make it home alive. Your stroller is your tank. Your stroller will be a resting place for your children, a sleeping place for your children, an eating place for your children, a storage place for food, water, extra clothes, and all the other stuff you bring with you into the park. It will protect them from the sun and the rain if it has a canopy. You can certainly rent a stroller from Disney, but we decided against that, because the Disney strollers don't have adjustable backs that can lay your child all the way back.

Believe me, you want your young children to be able to take a nap in the stroller. Heck, you're going to want to take a nap in the stroller before it's all over. If you have a great stroller of your own - bring it. We had a good stroller, but we didn't have a double stroller, and we knew we wanted to avoid carrying either one. Even a young child will get very heavy very fast. Disney is very spread out. There's no way you can take a child who is a beginning walker and expect them to just hold your hand. You'll end up carrying them, and then you'll get tired. You see the one pictured above? We rented it from a third party vendor who delivered it to our hotel, and then picked it up from our hotel on the last day. Totally worth it. Don't skimp on the stroller.

3. Fast Pass. Learn it. Use it. Disney is a pretty popular place. You won't be there by yourself, and unless you enjoy standing around in lines with your four year old for an hour, you need to listen up.

Fast Pass is Disney's gift to parents with small children. A Fast Pass reservation allows you to bypass about 98% of the existing line and basically go right to the front of the line. For instance, if the regular a/k/a "Standby" line for Thunder Mountain Railroad is at eighty minutes, a Fast Pass reservation gets you on the ride in just a few minutes. Gee, what sounds better? Standing in line for forever with your child in the heat or just riding immediately? And you get three Fast Pass choices a day. I used one in the mid-morning, one right after lunch, and one late. This worked out rather well for our family. In the morning, some rides are no wait, so you can just walk up and go, no Fast Pass needed. For instance, when we got to It's a Small World one morning, there was no line at all. So we just rode the ride. (Side tip, this is a good ride to give your child a snack on since it's kind of long and slow.) 

If you are staying in a Walt Disney World Resort, you'll get to make Fast Pass reservations sixty days before you arrive. Do that. Repeat. Do that.

4. Rider Switch is great for families with really small kids. Rider-Switch is Disney's extra gift to parents with really small kids. We took advantage of it multiple times. Some websites make it sound complicated, but it's not. Basically, if you have a family like mine where an older child can ride a ride that the younger child cannot, then you qualify for Rider-Switch. Star Tours is a good example. Our son was just tall enough to ride, but our daughter was nowhere near tall enough. So one of us stays behind with the small child while the other parent takes the older child. With me so far? Good.

Then, after the older child and parent finish the ride, you switch - so your older child gets to ride the ride again, but with the other parent. Our son rode Star Tours a ton with this technique. All you do is ask the Disney person at the entrance for a Rider Switch ticket. They'll take care of you. Mostly, they didn't even have to be asked. It's an obvious benefit to the older child, but that's what your there for, remember? (Note, Rider Switch is only available if the younger child is ineligible to ride. They can't simply choose not to ride.)

5. Don't make each day the Bataan Death March. If you have children, you know how they get whiny and fussy when they're tired, and that typically happens around 5:00PM or so? Yeah, that's going to happen to you even if your at Walt Disney World. Don't be the dad who tries to march everyone through the hottest part of the day to make it to every single ride. Relax. It's your vacation. Pace yourself.

Here's the way we did it that worked best for us. Get up early. I mean early. Get yourself up, get your children up, and get to the park early. This has many benefits. First, you'll beat the big rush of people who arrive exactly when the parks are set to open. Think of it as beating rush-hour traffic in the morning. Yes, getting up early sucks, but trust me, being crammed asses-to-elbows on a bus at 9:00AM sucks, too.

Since you got up early, you'll be able to ride a few rides first thing with very minimal lines, which is great. Then, you can use a Fast Pass as the park fills up. By then, it's time for an early lunch, and then it's time for the really big, super-secret tip. You ready?

After lunch, ride one or two rides...and then go back to your hotel. Just go back. Don't try ride a bunch of rides. Just do one or two, and then go back to your room. Your children will sleep like rocks. You will be able to relax. If you're staying at a Disney Resort, you can go to what will be an amazing pool and completely refresh yourself. It's amazing how a dip in the pool can revive you.

Then, you're all set to head back into the park around 6:00PM or so just when everyone else who stayed there all day is leaving. Suckers. You're now there a lower volume time, you're rested, and you can enjoy yourself more. Even better, your children have napped, so they're not completely unreasonable monsters who say "no" to everything. You can eat some food in the park for dinner, stay for the fireworks, and then head back. Seriously, if you take nothing away from this but this one tip, you'll be great. Go back to your resort a little after lunch. You'll thank me.

Have fun. It will be expensive, but it will be totally worth it. You can make more money when you get back home.

1 comment:

  1. May I add another tip? Do NOT involve grandparents over the age of 55 in this adventure other than sending us photos of our grandchildren sporting huge grins. You think your kids might get whiny... no comparison to how whiny your mother-in-law would have been. But, oh, how I loved the photos and loved that my grandchildren were having so much fun. Good job, Mom and Dad.