My family just got back from our second visit ever to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and I must say, I came out the other side smarter and smilier than I did after our first trip there. I’m no Disney regular, and am certainly not an expert, but there are definitely ways to more thoroughly enjoy your day at the park. Welcome to Rookieville, USA. Here are my 20 tips for parents taking on the Magic Kingdom with kids in tow from one novice Mouseketeer to another:
1) Yes, the time of year you go to Disney matters. We’ve done the week before Thanksgiving (super slow and fabulous) and Spring Break week (the polar opposite of the aforementioned descriptive). Check out this easy-to-read chart from Undercover Tourist if you have a strong opinion about crowds.
2) One kid? Rent a stroller. Two kids? Rent a double stroller. No matter how strong and energetic you think your children are, they WILL get tired at Disney. But may I suggest that you don’t rent one from Disney? Theirs kind of suck and there’s not a lot of room for storage. We rented a nice City Mini Double from Simple Stroller Rental. They drop off and pick up at your hotel and it’s half the price of those buckety garbage strollers available in the park.
3) Marker your children. Maybe I’m paranoid, but only 1/3 of my kids have our phone numbers memorized so you better believe I write on them in black Sharpie marker in case they get lost. We talk about what to do if they can’t find mom and dad at any point during the day (find an adult and point out the numbers), because honestly I don’t know what one does if they lose a child at the happiest – but busiest – place on earth. Also, if you have a runner/wanderer, consider putting them in neon orange/yellow/pink to spot them in a crowd.
4) Space out your Fast Passes accordingly. Load up the park map and decide which rides will require a Fast Pass (meaning you basically skip the line wait entirely). We based ours on wait times and kids preferences (so chose Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad). If character rides are more your style than roller coasters, consider Fast Passing Peter Pan, Aerials Grotto or Pirates of the Caribbean. If your kiddos just want to meet and greet some of their favorite Disney personalities, look into which ones offer the Fast Pass option (especially the Fairytale Hall, where you can meet 2-4 princesses at once) and be prepared to wait patiently in a number of lines throughout the park. Be sure to check out character meet and greet schedules before you go. Give yourselves time to get from ride to ride/Fast Pass to Fast Pass without rushing. Remember…kids have little legs and Disney’s not very fun if you’re in a rampant rush.
5) There is a Fast Pass grace period! Fast Passes give you an hour slot in which to arrive at your ride. What they don’t publicize is that there’s a 15 minute grace period if you don’t happen to get there in time. We may have learned this the hard way (thanks to a parade blockade and too much dawdling in a gift shop).
6) Pack snacks and drinks. You can bring food in so take advantage of it. Nothing that melts or requires assembly, but chips and popcorn and bananas and nuts…those worked wonders for our kids! If you decide to eat on the premises (which we wound up doing multiple times), try out The Friar Nook’s in Fantasyland. I was kind of diggin’ the pot roast mac n’ cheese and I wasn’t disgusted by the prices. The “real” restaurants in the park (such as Be Our Guest) are fantastic, but expensive – plus they fill up really fast, so we mostly just avoided those and stuck to “fast” food.
7) Getting in and out takes time. If you’re staying off site (not in a Disney resort), prepare for a long journey to get from parking lot to park entrance (think car, tram, monorail and ferry). Also, prepare for the same amount of time when leaving. And when I say “long journey,” I mean 45+ minutes. Told you so!
8) You WILL spend money! Unless you’re a regular (in which case, why are you reading this article?), go in prepared to do some expensive spoiling. $20 face painting, $90 princess or pirate makeovers, $30 Mickey hats, and overpriced food and fare. Yes, these are real prices. But you’re at Disney for your kids, right? Maybe consider getting them an appointment at the Pirates League (where they can become pirates or mermaids) or the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique (where they get the royal princess treatment). I dunno. It just seems like the perfect time to let your guard (and pocketbook) down and just say “YES” to making memories. Book things like these as early as you can. They fill up quickly.
9) Get to the park early. I mean, why wouldn’t you try and make a full day of it with the amount you’re spending on admission? Not to mention, if you’re there before the gates open, you can see the character train drive by where every character you could imagine (even Anna and Elsa) will wave at you from above.
10) Just a suggestion: Head to the back of the park at open. It’s human nature to veer left or right upon entering a space like this, so go against the grain and head straight…as in straight back into Storybook Circus and Fantasyland. The earliest 30 minutes of the day should hopefully give you some short lines for the Belle or Aerial ride, or even Dumbo or Goofy’s Barnstormer rollercoaster.
11) Do NOT pass on Mickeys PhilharMagic 3D movie. It’s my kids’ all-time favorite! There never seems to be a wait and it’s pretty hilarious (cuz it stars Donald Duck) and includes actual wind, water and scents. Plus it’s a solid 12 minutes long. I laugh super hard and my kids sing along to the music from a variety of our favorite 90s Disney classics. It’s a great spot to rest your bones in air conditioning while getting in a good giggle.
12) Wear tennis shoes. Pack sandals. Our kids appreciated letting their toes breathe cuz it was so stinkin’ hot the day we went. Sandals are also nice if you get wet feet.
13) Take time to cool down. If it’s crazy hot when you’re there, hit up the mini splash pad in the Storybook Circus. Or hop on the Disney train (20 minute round trip around the park…in the shade). Or bop into a store or two. Many are air conditioned. Our favorite is the Souvenir Shop that looks like a circus tent in the Storybook Circus.
14) I suggest a small, light backpack for money, phone, small snacks, diapers or whatever else you want to make sure you don’t lose. Having our small Eddie Bauer stowaway daypack gave me peace of mind when we would leave our stroller behind (in the plentiful stroller parking areas) because I knew everything of value was on my back.
15) Do Dumbo. This was cool: we really wanted our one-year old to go on the Dumbo ride but there was a 35 minute wait. Well, that specific ride actually has an indoor play area for kids to kill time while parents hold the pager while chilling on benches waiting for their turn to ride Dumbo. It’s like being at Chili’s or something…minus the two-for-one margaritas (bummer, right?).
16) Rider Switch for the win!! Because we have two older kids and one little guy, we couldn’t all go on the bigger fun rides together. Disney took that into consideration when they created the Rider Switch. For our family, we only did this for the rides we had Fast Passed – one adult took the riding kids on first, got a ticket printed up for the other adult, then when the ride was over, the other adult can take the same kids on that ride again without waiting. Just let the worker know and they’ll get you all set up. It was nice because the kids got to ride twice as many times as they would’ve without the Rider Switch option.
17) Take breaks. Sit down. Allow time to rest and recoup or you’ll go crazy. You can’t expect small legs to go all day without substantial pit stops. Find a spot in the shade and munch on an apple with your shoes off. It’s worth it. For sure. You can also utilize the Baby Care Centers throughout the parks for some much needed R&R.
18) Buy souvenirs last. This obviously depends on what you buy. But no one wants to lug a torso-sized plush Stitch doll around Disney for 12 hours. In case you were wondering, yes, we lugged a torso-sized plush Stitch doll around Disney for 12 hours.
19) Stay for the fireworks! I mean, only do this if you feel like getting completely weepy because A) it’s beautiful, B) it’s magical and C) it’s late and you’re exhausted and you’ve basically survived a day your kids will remember for the rest of their lives. But seriously, they’re SO well done and touching. A tip for watching them: Stand on the bridge between Tomorrowland and Main Street for a nice view. Plus….
20) Right after fireworks, sprint to the ride of your choice. The line should be relatively non-existent. We sped to the Buzz Lightyear ride because it had an hourlong wait all day and it was right next to the bridge so we got on immediately after fireworks finished. It was the coolest! If the park is open post-fireworks and your kids are night owls like mine, stick around! We got on three more rides before calling it a night because there was virtually no wait time that late at night. We got on more rides the last hour of our night than we did the first three hours at the park that morning.
So that’s it. I hope these pointers I gathered after a mere 14 hours spent at Magic Kingdom will benefit other families. This place can either lead to stressful anxiety or emotional, magical feelies. I hope you get the feelies like I did watching my children create memories of a lifetime! Feel free to comment on this blog with your tips for surviving Disney relatively unscathed. The more, the merrier. It takes a village to master the Mouse.