A lot of these tips come from what I’ve learned personally after trips with young children. We took our eldest to Disney World when she was six months old, and our most recent trip was with our 3 year old and 18 month old. Whilst they are based on experience mostly at Disney World, they also apply to other Disney Theme Parks.
All Disney restaurants provide an activity sheet and crayons for kids dining there. However, they are more suited to older kids. Print off some Disney coloring pages (easily found online) and / or take a blank coloring pad with you to keep the kids amused while waiting to be served and in between courses.
Disney restaurants aren’t permitted to heat baby food or bottles for guests (health and safety rules), so be aware of this and prepare accordingly. In-park Baby Care Centers have microwaves provided for this use. Most places will provide a complimentary small bowl of pasta for young ones old enough to eat it. More on the subject of dining in a future article.
When making Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) for breakfasts, bear in mind that you’re often up later at night on vacation, and although your toddler may get up bright and early while at home, they’re likely to be more tired while on vacation. Factor in the travel time to the park or resort and an 8am breakfast reservation might not be quite as good as it sounded when you booked it. We learned this the hard way on our last trip. Long days at the parks and later nights meant our kids were really too tired to be getting out of bed at 7am and were very cranky as a result. Breakfast ADRs can usually be made up to about 10:30-11am, so make the most of this and let the kids have a lie-in!
Similarly, don’t expect your kids to be able to stay awake to see IllumiNations at 9pm, or Wishes at 10pm. As much as they might want to see the fireworks, little ones find it very hard to stay awake when they are so tired, and if you try to keep them awake you’re likely to have a cranky child on your hands and possibly even tantrums.
Again, on the subject of tiredness, if your child is prone to tantrums, learn to watch out for the signs so you can try to stop it before it starts. Prevention is much better than a full-blown meltdown on Main Street! If you see the signs of a tantrum approaching or your child getting overly tired or cranky try to get them to have a nap, either in their stroller or go back to the hotel room. If that’s not possible or they refuse to sleep, go somewhere quiet and have a drink and a snack to get their energy levels back up.
Even if your child is too old/big for a stroller at home, you may still want to consider renting one for at the parks. You can cover miles in one day and that’s a lot of walking for little legs. They probably won’t want to be in it all of the time, but it’s very handy to have when they get tired and need a rest or a nap. Hiring them on a daily basis at the parks can get expensive. If you can’t or don’t want to take your own, there are a couple of other options. If you have the use of a car, make a visit to Walmart or Target and pick up a cheap umbrella stroller for $20-30. A more comfortable option is to hire from a company such as Magic Stroller Rentals who offer different styles of strollers, charge less than the parks do for hire and even deliver them to your hotel for you.
If you’re staying at a Disney Resort, pak n play cribs and bed rails are available free from housekeeping.
In a regular hotel room, you’re all sleeping in the same room, so when the lights are out at night it’s totally dark (obvious I know!) Adults probably won’t want to sleep with a light on, but kids are often afraid of the dark, so you need to find a compromise. Either take a small night light, or leave the bathroom light on with the door slightly ajar so you’re not in total darkness.
It may sound obvious, but don’t forget to apply sunscreen regularly, even on cloudy days when damaging UV rays can still penetrate the clouds. It does get tedious, and last trip we seemed to spend half of the day applying sunscreen, but it is very important to protect their young skin. Spray-on sunscreens are the quickest to apply. Also hats are essential for little ones. While those Mickey ears and princess hairbands might look cute they won’t provide much protection for the scalp.
Carry a change of clothes with you, and if your child might want to spend some time in the play fountains (Downtown Disney and Epcot), a swimsuit / swim shorts are a good idea too. At the very least take a spare pair of socks with you (good idea for adults also) in case of rain showers or going on water rides; walking round in wet socks for the rest of the day isn’t too comfortable – says she from experience!!!
All too often while visiting Disney Parks I’ve seen kids screaming the place down because they don’t want to go on a particular attraction, but are being forced to by their parents. That can’t be fun for anyone, and will only leave the child with bad memories. For many people, a vacation to Disney is something they’ve saved long and hard for, maybe even a once-in-a-lifetime trip and they want their kids to experience everything there. But if the child doesn’t want to go on a particular attraction the parent won’t listen and tries to force the child to go on, it leaves everyone unhappy. Walk away, take some time out and go do something else. You can always try again later or another day. But if your child really doesn’t want to go on an attraction, it’s best not to force them as they’re unlikely to enjoy it or even want to try any other new attractions.
If both parents want to experience an attraction that the child is either too small for or doesn’t want to go on, make use of child swap. Tell the Cast Member at the attraction entrance that you wish to use child swap, and they will then issue you with a child swap ticket. One parent gets in the regular line and does the attraction while the other waits outside / walks around / visits another attraction with the child. Once parent #1 has finished, the other parent shows the child swap ticket and enters the attraction via the exit or Fastpass queue, experiencing little or no wait.
Take some Post-it notes. Why you may wonder? Young children, especially those recently potty trained and still getting used to using a toilet can get scared by the automatic flushing toilets at the theme parks and Resort hotels. My three-year old was so freaked out by the automatic flushers that she refused to use the toilet at first until we figured out to cover the sensor with toilet paper (wetted so it would stick to the wall!) A simpler solution is to carry a small pad of Post-it notes with you, then just pop one over the sensor before using the toilet to stop it flushing while the child is sat on the toilet.
This is especially true for youngsters who have recently been potty trained, but can also happen with slightly older children. Whilst it’s always a good idea to try to get your child to go to the bathroom before getting in line for an attraction, it doesn’t always work that way. A few times on our last trip we’d have been waiting in line for a while when our 3 year old decided she needed the bathroom – now! Rather than having wasted all that time waiting in line for nothing, we simply informed the Cast Member at the attraction queue that our daughter needed to use the bathroom and asked if we could get back in line when she had been. Every time they were great and let us back in through the Fastpass queue, or gave us rider switch tickets to get back on without having to wait in line all over again. Please note that this is not a way to get on a ride quicker without having to queue, and should only be used in genuine toilet emergencies! If there are two or more adults in the queue with the child, one may be able to stay and keep the place for the other while they take the child to the bathroom.
On the subject of queues, take note of the posted wait time before getting in line, and bear it in mind with regards to your kids. If they get antsy after standing in one place for more than five minutes, getting in a 30 minute queue is probably not the best idea. We always set a limit, saying we won’t get in a queue that’s longer than 15 or 20 minutes. Good planning is the key here, know which attractions you want to do and hit the most popular ones first before they get too busy. Make use of Fastpass for attractions that feature the free service to minimise wait time.
If it’s your child’s first visit or birthday, stop by guest Services for a free button.
Guest Services also have complimentary earplugs available if your child gets scared by the loud bangs from fireworks.
Write your name and cellphone number on a piece of paper and place it in your child’s pocket in case they get lost. Free ID name tags are also available from Guest Services. Make sure your child knows to find the nearest Cast Member (wearing a Disney name tag) if they do get lost.
Before your child’s first visit, try to get them familiar with the different Disney characters they are likely to meet, using Disney movies, plush toys, etc. Many toddlers will freak out when they see a 6ft mouse towering in front of them, and it’s usually best to start off from a distance and take it slowly from there. If the character knows that the child is scared they are usually really good, will approach with care and back off if need be.
Don’t forget about the Baby Care Centers, located at each Theme Park. They not only provide a more comfortable and spacious diaper changing area, but also have quiet seating areas, highchairs, microwave and bottle warming facilities.
If you have any useful tips for taking young kids to Disney Parks, please reply and let us know!
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