Just joining us for the recap? Check out all of the previous Disney World posts here!
There are a gazillion of these lists, so I'm sure I will have a lot of the same advice but I wanted to share our experience. We had a wonderful time, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, but that doesn't mean that sometimes it wasn't challenging! Here are the tips I would pass along to other parents of younger children (our kids are 5.5 and 2.5)
1. Rent a stroller. Don't doubt yourself, don't wonder if it will be worth it, or if it will be a hassle to have. Just get one. Jake was long past the age of actually needing one on a regular basis at home, but we were so grateful to have it at the parks! (in fact, I think he utilized it more than Liam did!) Disney is a LOT of walking...my legs were tired and sore after being there all day, I can't imagine how little legs would survive. We rented a City Mini Double from Apple Stroller Rental. We added on a parent console/cup holder and a rain cover for a total of $10 each for the whole week; our total to rent the double stroller for 6 nights, 7 days was $60 (with the parent console and cover)
I didn't get a picture of the storage area, but it was a bit cumbersome to get to since it was fairly compact. Our method was to take a large tote bag with us to the park; this tote bag included sweatshirts, extra clothes for the boys, and extra bottles of water. IN that bag, I had a smaller tote bag that had diapers/wipes, snacks, sunscreen, and autograph books. I carried all of that until we got to the park because you have to fold up the stroller to get on the bus. Once we got to the park, I took the smaller tote bag out and hung it from a clip on the stroller for easier access throughout the day. (I carried the camera, my phone, tissues, etc. in a cross body purse so that I could take it on the rides with me) The tote bag went in the storage area under the stroller and we were all set!
2. Take your kids there. Before we seriously considered a trip to Disney, we were more in the camp of "let's wait until they're both old enough to remember". I'm so glad we threw that logic out the window, because let me tell you, these ages were perfect as far as the actual childhood experience could go. Were there tantrums? Yes. Were they exhausted by the end of the day? Yes. Was it all worth it? Absolutely. I don't know that Jake thought the characters were real, but he was still enthralled by them. At almost 6 years old, I don't know how much longer that's going to last, so I'm so glad he was able to have that experience. And for Liam, those were totally his friends. They were real and he LOVED them. It was amazing to see both of their faces light up when they saw Mickey, and hear their little giggles on the rides.
3. Be flexible. I know this seems to go without saying, but I needed to remind myself of it sometimes. I think for the most part, we did a pretty good job of just going with the flow. Yes, we knew what days we were going to be in certain parks, and we had one sit down reservation per day, and had a general idea of which rides/attractions we really wanted to do (and had a loose plan of what order to do them in, based on wait times and locations), BUT we knew we might have to stray from that at times.
Going into it, I wasn't sure if we would need to head back to the hotel midday to let Liam take a nap, but as I mentioned in a previous post, he rocked the stroller naps so we didn't have to deal with the hassle of going back to the resort. However, there was one day where, in hindsight, I could have been a bit more flexible. We arrived to Hollywood Studios (after a full day at Magic Kingdom the day before) at 7:20am with the intention of staying there for the Fantasmic show at 7:30pm that evening. Around 3pm, Jake lost it. Crying he didn't want to do any more rides, he wanted to go back to the hotel and swim, etc, etc...we dealt with it as best we could (and he did come around eventually), but I shouldn't have pushed that much to stay for the nighttime show. So don't be like me and selfishly want to stay for a show if your kids have had it for the day! :)
4. Order food and supplies. We only had 1 sit-down breakfast reservation for our trip. The reason for this was 2-fold: 1, it seemed like spending an hour and a half at breakfast was a waste of time when we could be in the parks at one of the least crowded times (at opening) and 2, my kids are ones who wake up starving every day and want to eat the second they wake up. So the thought of getting them ready and out the door with no food everyday was terrifying. We opted instead to order groceries from Orlando Theme Park Shoppers, and I was very pleased with the service. I received estimates ahead of time from 3 companies: Orlando Theme Park Shoppers, Garden Grocer, and Mouse House Concierge and of the 3, OTP Shoppers was the least expensive option so we went with that. The groceries were there when we arrived and delivered to our room by bell services. They even threw in little Disney cups as a special treat for the boys! I also had them deliver diapers, so that was one less bulky item I had to haul down in our luggage. Next time, I might order less snacks (we really had no idea how much food we would get on the meal plan, see post about that here) so we could have done with less of those items, but the breakfast items and bottled water was key.
5. Utilize the child swap option for rides. This was a great feature, and we utilized it for a number of rides. Basically, if you have a child who is under the height requirement for the ride, you let the cast member in line know and they give you a ticket. That ticket enables someone to stay with the child while everyone else goes on the ride, then that person who stayed behind gets to go on (without having to wait in line) immediately after the first group. So for example, Liam was too small for Star Tours....everyone but me and Nana went on the first time. The ticket allows you to ride with up to 3 people, so when the first group got off the ride, me, Nana, and my mom hopped right on it. (so it works out well since some people will get a bonus ride out of it!)
6. Bring some stuff from home. We brought the standard ponchos for everyone, but I also brought along some fun extras for the kids. And since I'm crazy and have a hard time stopping myself, I took it one step further and made letters from the characters to go along with the little items. I wasn't sure what the kids would think, but they LOVED it, and really thought that each night, those characters were coming in the room and leaving them stuff. The items they got weren't big (and some nights the "characters" only left the letter saying to have fun, no gifts) but they did each get a small stuffed animal (purchased on super sale at the disney store last black friday, score!), glow sticks and bracelets for the night of Fantasmic, and then again for the last night at Magic Kingdom. Not only were the kids thrilled to get the glow stuff from the characters in the room, but it prevented them from begging for the overpriced glow items that were being sold in the parks those nights.
7. Let go. Don't actually let go of them, it's very crowded there (and we did experience about 3 seconds of terror when we realized that while walking into the line for Haunted Mansion, no one had Liam's hand...it was one of those, I thought someone had his hand, they thought I had his hand, no one actually had his hand....yeah, terrifying, don't physically let go!) I mean let go of expectations and rigid rules. Did the kids need to sit down and eat meals throughout the day? Yes. Did I have to lower my expectations and normal guidelines of what is normally considered to be an acceptable meal? Yes. They drank a lot more chocolate milk than I would have liked, and had more desserts in a week than they normally do in a month, but that's ok. It was a week. Everyone survived.
8. Bring the grandparents with you. I know, that's probably awful advice to include in a general list as it's not an option for everyone, but truly, it was a lifesaver for us. It made it much easier to handle Liam's naps, trips to the bathroom, occupying the children in line, and even getting ready in the morning when needed. It was also nice because there were a few rides that me, Brian, Nana, and PopPop wanted to ride, but GG and Pappy couldn't because they have back issues....rather than having to rotate everyone on the one ride while they waited, they were often able to take the kids on a different ride at the same time, keeping everyone happy. And, as I've previously mentioned, I really feel like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the kids to experience with their grandparents. Jake is still talking about which rides he went on with which grandparents and asks me which character they liked the most :)
9. Get there early. This was fairly easy for us to do since Liam is up at the crack of dawn. But I really think that getting to the parks when they opened made a big difference for us in terms of our enjoyment, and how much we could get done. It was amazing how many rides we were able to knock off the list in just the first 2 hours of the park being open due to the fact that wait times were practically nonexistent, and there were so few people in the parks at that time (see picture above, we were able to take a castle shot with no one else in the picture when the park opened at 8am our first day!)
10. Expect the kids to go through severe withdrawal. We have been back from our trip for 3 weeks now, and pretty much every single day, one kid or both has begged to go back to Disney World. Sometimes there are tears involved....true, genuine tears. They are experiencing some severe withdrawal, and want go to back now. Like, yesterday. Brian keeps saying Disney needs to offer some type of re assimilation program, to get kids back on track to lead a normal life post-Disney. The good thing about this is, they have really started using their imagination since we've been back....I've seen them play everything from parade, to pretending like they're in the park, to studying the maps of the parks to determine what they will do on our next trip.
So there you have it....we survived Disney World with 2 young children and you can, too!! :)