We’ve just returned from taking our kids to Disney World for the very first time. And it was magical. And exhausting. Somehow Disney vacations find a way to bring out the best in people and the worst. And traveling with young kids makes each end of that spectrum more extreme.
I’ve had some time to reflect on the trip and already the good parts float to the top and everything else takes a back seat. It reminds me of childbirth. Immediately after having my kids I vowed I would never do it again. And, well, I have two kids so obviously I forgot how bad labor is!
But I’m not going to sugar coat it: Disney World vacations are hard work. And it’s expensive hard work. But I wanted to share a few truths and a few tips for those of you who may be heading there soon. Especially those with young kids.
And I know there’s a MILLION Disney blogs from experts who share some amazing guides to help you through, but I’m going keep it to the must haves. These are my five Disney World tips that will save your sanity right as you are one meltdown away from ghosting your own kids at the Happiest Place on Earth (Not that I ever had that thought…).
*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. What the hell does that mean? It means I might get compensated if you click on and purchase something from some of the links below. And by compensated I mean pennies. But hey, beer money is beer money.
As a family we don’t tend to have a ton of snacks on hand but I knew that Disney World trips are 80% standing in line, 10% riding rides and 10% whining about standing in lines. So before we left I packed half a suitcase chock full of snacks. I’m talking the good shit people. Your goldfish crackers, granola bars, applesauce pouches (pack those super carefully so they don’t explode in your luggage), pretzels, etc.
And I thought I might be going overboard at first when at least a third of our luggage was taken up by food. But I’m so glad I did. Snacks came in handy ALL. THE. TIME. I used them on the plane. I used them while waiting in line. I used them to distract the kids. I used them to avoid a meltdown. I used them on the shuttle bus. I was snack bitch for three days straight and it saved us.
And honestly it was imperative to refuel during the day because we were doing so much walking. I made one mistake by trying to stretch our morning and watch a parade before grabbing lunch and I didn’t have enough snacks on me and my daughter was HANGRY. So hangry. It was the only true meltdown she had at the park and it was totally avoidable.
I learned after day one to double what I thought I would need for the day. And I suggest snacks like pretzels or goldfish crackers because they take longer to eat. Or grab some apples from the hotel on your way out. Those always take plenty of time to get through. And bring some cheap water bottles to fill up for free at the parks!
Dollar Store Hacks
One of the million ways that Disney gets your money is through all of those amazing gift stores and chotzkies that get pedaled around on the streets and during nighttime shows. It’s unavoidable. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t splurge on a really nice souvenir to remember your trip by. But it can get out of hand fast.
We made a dollar store run before the trip and stocked up on some glow sticks and necklaces and a few Disney related kids items like coloring books and pens. We packed them with us for the day and when it came time for the evening show Fantasma we whipped the glows sticks and necklaces out and the kids were beyond thrilled. They raved right along next to the kids whose parents just spent $50 on Disney crap.
Hideously Bright Colored Shirts/Sweatshirts
Matching shirts at Disney are nothing new. And I’m totally down with having those cutesy coordinated family shirts. But my twist to this is to make the shirts as bright as you possible can. I’m talking neon colors, tie died, caution tape yellow or parking cone orange. Not cute at all, but incredibly effective.
We bought bright neon green sweatshirts for all of the kids (we had four total in our large group) and you would not believe how many people stopped us and commented on how easy it was to spot them. And I’m talking Disney employees. So you know it’s a good idea if even they say something. Think of the millions of shirts they see every year!
And I may or may not have lost track of my daughter for a hot minute at the airport and I was able to spot her super quickly with that hideous sweatshirt on. It would have taken much longer to find her in the crowd if she had a normal color shirt.
We were traveling with a large party so ticking off everyone’s ‘must see’ list meant we were at the park all day. I will admit that if it had just been the four of us traveling I would have preferred to take a break in the middle of the day and head back to the hotel. All of the resort hotels have amazing pools so if you are traveling with little ones don’t hesitate to go back and relax for a few hours.
If you can be at the parks bright and early (and of course you can because kids get up at the ass crack of dawn) then go hard till lunch, head back for a rest or a swim, and go back to the park for the evening. We were so exhausted by the end of the night that we only stayed for one evening show out of fear that our kids would be monsters the next morning.
I debated on having a stroller at the parks for a long time. But I ultimately decided to rent a double stroller through Kingdom Strollers and it was a freaking LIFESAVER. I can not imagine doing a trip to Disney without them with small kids. My oldest is almost six and hasn’t been in a stroller in forever. My youngest is almost three and probably hasn’t been strolled around in a year or so. But for real, I would probably consider a stroller for kids that are much older.
Think about how many steps we take in a day at the parks as adults. Most people say they average 5-10 miles a day! Now think about how many steps your little one takes to just keep up with your one step. Even the most active kid isn’t going to be able to hack it. Grab a stroller and let them chill in between rides and attractions.
Bonus use for the strollers for us came on a rainy/misty day and we could pile the kids in the stroller and use the rain cover that was provided and shuttle them around without getting their shoes soaked like they would have had they been walking. Snacks can be consumed on the go and impromptu naps are also a bonus.
I think it could be tricky getting around the parks during high volume times but I felt the parks were very accommodating, even for a double stroller, when it came to space to maneuver through. And the rental process was super easy with pickup and drop off at the hotel.
Oh, and don’t forget to put a bright colored ribbon on your handle bar so you can pick your stroller out of a crowd! They have workers who adjust stroller parking to fit everybody in so where you parked it may not be where it is when you come back. This makes it easier to spot!
BONUS: This isn’t so much a tip as it is a warning. If you are staying at a hotel on site, know that the shuttle bus experience could be difficult. Especially if you are bringing a stroller with you. If you get out and about with the first couple of shuttles in the morning you will be fine. But take too long at breakfast and you will feel the wrath of an overcrowded bus at 8:30 a.m.
And if you stay till the park closes just be prepared for standing room only. I’ve never had to use my non-existent six pack abs more than I did the night I precariously balanced myself, my kid, and all my bags while enduring a cramped, pitch-black 25 minute shuttle back to our hotel…all while standing.
So there you have it! I wish you the best of luck as you plan your trip. We had a blast and would love to go back again soon. If you’ve recently been to Disney World, share your tips in the comments for all the readers that stop by! We all need all the help we can get when traveling with kids!
And check out my top five baby products (some I STILL use today!)