Traveling with kids is both fun and exhausting, so I've put together the mother load of Disney World Tips for surviving the Magic Kingdom with young children.
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So you put some time and thought in and planned your Disney vacation. Now I want to talk to you about your day(s) that will be spent in the Magic Kingdom. This was the only park we hit on this trick for a variety of reasons that I discusses in my post about planning your Disney vacation with young children. I've got a ton of tips to make the most of your time in the Magic Kingdom and hopefully make things run smoother.
Managing your expectations about Disney World with Toddlers
I want to start by talking a bit about expectations. I don't know about you, but my last few Disney vacations have been adult-only. And they were a blast. But you have to know, this trip will not be like that.
Don't get me wrong. You're going to have a great time and there is absolutely nothing like seeing Disney World through a child's eyes. It really is magical.
But I think it's really important to manage your expectations from the start. Know that there will be melt downs. You will not be on your usual routine (vacations in general totally screw up my girls routine but we get through it). People will get tired, grumpy and sick of waiting. You will all move slower and you probably won't accomplish every single attraction, at least not the way you will when they are older.
Go in with low expectations and you will find that you're pleasantly surprised with how much fun everyone has and how special the experience is.
Arriving at the park and how it relates to Disney World hours
Before we left for our trip, I reached out to my cousin who happens to also be a Disney cast member to ask for tips. One of the best tips she gave me was to arrive one hour prior to the advertised park opening time. Now I know this sounds excessive, but hear me out.
Even though the park technically isn't open until the time the advertise, Main Street USA is open. You can grab your coffee, walk the street, check out the stores. Make last minute trips to the potty. Apply sunscreen. All this without having to worry about being late for that first fastpass.
Expert tip: By getting there early (or for "rope drop" as they call it) you'll be able to hightail it directly to the busiest rides. This is especially good if you have a popular ride or attraction on your list that you weren't able to secure a Fastpass for. For example our gals really wanted to meet Mickey but there were no Fastpasses available and the waits were super long. So we got into the park early, grabbed some food (and hello, Mama needs her coffee!) and got right into the Mickey line. The wait was only 20 minutes and we used that time to eat a light breakfast, apply some sunscreen and get excited to meet Mickey!
Note for those staying off property: Getting into the park takes a little bit of time. Once you've parked, you'll need to take a tram and get through security (they will look into your bags, so be prepared). Ten you'll need to take the monorail or the ferry to the Magic Kingdom entrance where you will then get/use your cards (or Magic Bands) as your tickets to enter. This takes time. You'll be glad you arrived an hour early.
Expert tip: When entering the park and getting your ticket cards for the first time, they will ask to see the credit card you used to pay for the tickets. So have that ready (I actually purchased the tickets for all the extended family on our card and then they paid me for it. This worked out great because I got more miles for it, and we only had to have one card ready for entry).
Note for those staying on property: The busses, boats and monorail are totally convenient but not necessarily fast. That's where heading to the park that hour early will totally help you!
Parking at Disney World
Although parking isn't cheap, it's a necessary evil if you're driving your car in, which we were. At the time of posting (May/2018) the parking cost for us was $22 for the day.
Expert tip: Hold onto your receipt in case you need to leave and return, you can use the receipt for the rest of that day to return and not have to pay again for parking.
Expert tip: Make sure you pay attention to the character and number associated with the parking lot where your car is located. I like to take a photo of these things on my phone to make it easy to remember after a long day having fun at the park.
Eating in the Magic Kingdom
This is going to be a bit more specific if you don't have a Disney dining plan. Although I'm typically not a proponent of kids snacking all day (no judgement if that's how you roll, that just not how we roll) there are certain situations where all bets are off. This includes shots, professional photo sessions, travel and vacations special occasions.
I encourage you to bring food in with you. The food at Disney World is expensive and if I'm being completely honest, I wasn't really impressed (although, I will say their snack and treat game is strong!). While we certainly enjoyed our fair share of treats, I enjoyed the sandwiches be brought for lunch over many of the quick service options and it was much more budget-friendly.
If you're driving I encourage you to hit Publix, as that's the best grocery store in the area (in my opinion). Even if you're staying on property, or just don't have transportation in general there is also the option of grocery delivery from companies like Garden Grocers, Amazon Fresh and Instacart. Disney allows you to bring in a small, soft-sided cooler. Take advantage of this.
If not anything else, bring some snacks and some waters. You always refill water bottles in the parks any place that serves food will give you free cup of water that you can use to fill your bottles. Don't get dehydrated. A hydrated kid (and parent) is a happy kid (or parent).
With that being said, I also encourage you to not be afraid to enjoy the treats that are available. My girls loved the Mickey Ice Cream pops and you know we all went nuts over the Dole Whip. Treat yourselves, you're on vacation!
Expert tip: There is nothing wrong with eating at odd hours. I found the 3pm parade to be an excellent opportunity to sit down and eat some sandwiches or a snack, especially since you'll want to claim your spot up to an hour early to get a good place- this is a great opportunity to rest as well.
Take advantage of the baby area for your convenience
Did you know each park has a Baby Area? This is sponsored by Huggies and is a seriously great place to take advantage of with really little one's. It's located right next to the first aide area between Casey's Corner and Crystal Palace. There's also a restroom located nearby.
You'll find a very clean and comfortable area to change diapers, high chairs for feeding. A room with everything you might need for your little one (although, like everything else, they are pricy. But it's nice to know everything is available in a pinch.). It's also air-conditioned, so that offers a nice break from the heat.
Handling the Heat
The Florida heat can be unforgiving and the weather can also change at the drop of a hat. Here are some tips for managing the heat:
- Dress in layers- It may be cool in the morning, so have a light jacket or hoodie with you.
- Be prepared for rain- Don't let a rainy day ruin your Disney experience. Pick up some cheap ponchos and keep them in your stroller. Then you can continue enjoying the magic with out having to fork over a ton of money for a poncho in the park.
- Have cool washcloths ready- Put some wet washcloths in the fridge or even the freezer the night before and then pop them into a sandwich bag and keep them in your cooler. These feel super great on a hot day!
- Get a fan with a sprayer- if you're going to get one single (albeit overpriced) item in the park, make it the fan with the sprayer. Best $20 we spent that day. It cooled everyone down and the girls had such a blast playing with it, especially Tessa. Watching her spray herself and giggle while waiting for the parade to start is one of my favorite memories. Bonus points if you pick up a spray fan before you come and save some money.
- Plan your rides so that you have indoor rides mixed in with the outdoor ones- While this isn't always easy, it helps that Fastpasses for many of the slower, indoor rides and character experiences were more readily available throughout the day than the really popular ones. Some of the best rides at Magic Kingdom for this are It's a Small World is an excellent option because it's a longer ride and even the wait area is a bit cooler and well shaded, The Journey of Little Mermaid, Pirates of the Caribbean, Country Bear Jamboree and even the train offers a nice break.
- Indoor character experiences also offer a break from the heat- While it's not always easy to get in to see Mickey, we had a very easy time getting Fastpasses to meet the princesses, which take place near the castle in a well-air conditioned building. I was also shocked that the wait times were so short to meet Donald, Goofy, Minnie and Daisy. I suspect this is because those characters all hang out inside Pete's Silly Side Show which is way in the back of Storybook Circus and kind of blends in. Not only were we able to knock out meeting some of the girl's favorite characters, but it's super cool and comfortable in there, at a time of day that was sweltering!
- If your kids like water, take a break and let them play in the Casey Junior Splash-N-Soak Station- T is my water baby and she went nuts over this great splash pad. It offered us adults a chance to sit and rest our legs and A was able to ride one of her favorites a few times (The Barnstormer!) while T got her water fix and cooled down a bit. Expert tip: Make sure you pack a change of clothes!
- Kill two birds with one stone at Dumbo the Flying Elephant- Did you know they actually put a playground into the waiting area for Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride? This is genius! The line takes you indoors to a cooler area and at a certain point they give you a pager and send you into the play area where your kid can enjoy the indoor playground while you sit down and rest your feet. When the pager goes off, you exit the play area were you find yourself in a short line for the ride. Our girls loved the break from the line and I loved the break from the heat!
- Drink lots of water and be sure to reapply sunscreen throughout the day- This should probably go without saying. Trust me, you'll be grad you did both these things.
Handling Long Lines and Magic Kingdom Wait Times
While it's good for kids to learn to wait and not always get instant gratification, we all know that long wait times can be a total bummer and a major time suck. Here are my tips:
- Utilize Fastpasses wisely- I touched on this in my post about planning your Disney Vacation, but let me reiterate:
- Once you’ve used all three of your FastPasses you can schedule more.
- You can move FastPass+ reservations around as you start using them- so try and make your first three FastPasses to be between the hours of 10am-2pm with around an hour in between each one so you can move things around if something great pops up.
- Keep your eye on the My Disney Experience app for additional Fastpasses that pop up throughout the day here's no reason you shouldn't benefit if other people's plans change!)
- Hack the system by booking Fastpasses for the whole party, even if they don't like those kind of rides- Our parents and my aunt were with us at the Magic Kingdom and there are certain rides that they don't enjoy or choose not to go on. We still made a point to book Fastpasses for all of us on certain rides. This really worked out because then we could take A on some of her favorite rides a few times in a row without a huge wait by using the non-rider's card or Magic Band. Just make sure that if you don't end up using each one you still scan the card or magic band so that everyone's Fastpass schedule clears out!
- Try for more popular Fastpasses later in the evening- While we couldn't get a Fastpass at all during the day for rides like Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain, they were super easy to find after dinner. Expert tip: If you have an older kid and are traveling with extended family who are willing to watch the little one, take the older kid back to the park after dinner while your family members watch the little one. We were able to move much faster without a toddler in tow and take A on some of the "big girl" rides that her sister couldn't go on. It ended up being a really special "Mommy and Daddy date night for A and was a really special experience for all of u and enjoy the fireworks together (they terrify T so the first night I ended up taking her into the shops to keep her calm). Expert tip 2.0: A is at a height that is right on the boarder of being able to ride certain big girl rides. Earlier in the day she got denied for entry due to height on both Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain. We got right onto those rides with Fastpasses multiple times at night and no one even questioned her height (I can neither confirm or deny that there may have also been a stack of napkins shoved into each of A's sneakers, just in case...). Maybe we just got lucky. Maybe it was the fact that we used Fastpasses. But either way, A got to enjoy some of the more wild rides later in the evening after being denied during the day and they ended up being some of her very favorite rides out of the whole trip.
- If Fastpasses aren't available for your whole party, try getting a smaller amount of Fastpasses at overlapping times- It never hurts to look.
- Bring some small activities and toys to help with those long lines and wait times- My husband rolled his eyes at me hard when I packed some sticker sheets for the girls to play with at Disney World. He didn't understand why the girls would need something like that in a theme park. So you can imagine my inner victory when our girls started to get a bit antsy in some of the longer lines and I handed them each a sheet of stickers which helped them both manage the wait time for the ride in a happy way (you'll note, I chose stickers because my kids are really good about following the rules and not putting stickers anywhere but their paper and onto us. Choose your activities accordingly so your kid doesn't end up "decorating" places that aren't meant to be decorated.). The Target Dollar Spot and the dollar store are great places to find small trinkets and activities like this. These Reusable Water Activity pads are an amazing option! I've also seen families with older kids playing the Heads Up app and having a blast. J and I even initiated our own personal dance party in the line for Pirates of the Caribbean and the girls got such a kick out of it.
Other great miscellaneous tips for enjoying the Magic Kingdom with Toddlers
- Save yourself money at night by bringing your own glow sticks for the fireworks. Younger kids won't even notice that they aren't the big expensive ones.
- If you have a little one who hasn't been around fireworks, you might consider bringing hearing protection earmuffs. And be prepared to move them inside to browse the gift shops if they get scare (I had to do this with T.
- When riding Aladdin's Magic Carpets, if you don't want to get wet, make sure you keep the carpet high. The front seat in each carpet controls the up and down movement and the back controls the tilt up or down of the ends of your carpet.
- If you don't want to get very wet on Splash Mountain, go with one of the back seats, specifically to the left. If you're looking to get wet, try to sit in the front.
- The Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It! Street Party is a great opportunity for your kid to interact with certain characters that they may not otherwise get to meet. While the main characters like Mickey and Minnie are up on top of the floats, there are several characters that come down and dance with the crowd like the Genie, Stitch and some of the gang from Zootopia. The key is to bring your kid over as soon as they invite the crowd to join in on the party as the characters will dance with the crowd. While it won't be a full-on, one-on-one character meet-and-greet, it will be a chance for them to meet some of their other fav's and if you're quick, you might even get a photo (or if other peoples kids wait their turns, which isn't always the case as we all know).
- If you need to get back to the parking lot, generally they tell you that the Ferryboat and the Monorail are the only options. Those both get jam packed and can often take forever! One friendly cast member let us in on a little secret- there's usually one bus that goes to the parking lots. If you head over to there the busses are located, there are a few signs indicating where each bus is headed and at the very bottom it usually lists a bus headed to the parking lot. I'm not sure if they change the bus number, but when we were there, it was bus #28. Be fast because the line builds up quickly, but honestly, it was still much shorter than the lines for the Ferryboat and Monorail.
- Make sure you tell a cast member if it's your kid's first visit (or any other special event that you're celebrating). They'll give them a 1st visit pin.
I will update this post as I think of more tips. If you haven't planned your trip yet, make sure you check out the other post I wrote about planning your Disney vacation with young kids.
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