Walt Disney World is a milestone and an adventure the whole family will LOVE, even if your child is just a baby.
Kimberley Bouchard, author of Positively Disney, should know. She has visited Walt Disney World once or twice every year for the past 26, starting before her three kids were born. An obsessed super fan? You could say that.
Bouchard’s first child made her debut visit to Walt Disney World at just 14 months old. When Bouchard’s other two children came along, they began making the bi-annual pilgrimage to Walt Disney World too.
“At one point, we had three in strollers. My kids grew up with Disney. It has helped shape their lives,” Bouchard says. The Bouchard kids, now 18, 20 and 22, still come with Bouchard and her hubs to Walt Disney World when they go at the end of August and in December each year. “I don’t have to worry about losing them,” she says, “and I’m grateful there’s a lot of food there. The baby is now 6′ 4″ and he eats a lot!”
Along the way, Bouchard has learned a trick or two for optimizing the Disney experience with kids because let’s face it: Walt Disney World is far from a Small World after all.
Covering 43 square miles—roughly twice the size of Manhattan or San Francisco, the theme park can be overwhelming, exhausting and costly. But don’t let that deter you. Here are Bouchard’s tips for getting the most from your next trip to Disney and saving money—while still capturing the magic!
To avoid the crowds, get an advance FastPass and “get there at ‘rope drop,’” Bouchard says. “When you get there when the park opens at 9 AM, there are always fewer people, no matter what time of year. It’s nicer experience.” Also, go during nonpeak season, which is generally after Labor Day until the week before Thanksgiving, early December, January and February, late April and September. “Take your kids out of school if you have to,” says Bouchard. Feeling guilty at just the thought? No worries. Bouchard is a former educator. If she can let her kids skip school, so can you!
Personalize your program
Decide what you’re going to Disney for, then build your itinerary around it. Concentrate on one park at a time. Otherwise, you can spend waste lots of time traveling from one park to another, but not really seeing or doing much more than riding the bus, boat or monorail.
Save Your Sanity
Don’t go off the grid
Stay at a hotel on Disney property so you won’t have the hassle of dealing with parking. Do your research. There are value resorts within the park where a family of four can stay for $75 per night. “On Lake Buena Vista Boulevard, there’s a least a dozen that include complimentary breakfast,” Bouchard says.
Rent a stroller
Kids who no longer use a stroller at home may still need one at Disney. If you have a child who is 4 to 6 years old, plan to rent a stroller (or bring your stroller from home). It’s not realistic to expect a 4, 5 or 6 year old to keep up with you. “A child of that age isn’t going to be able to walk for five or six hours,” says pediatric researcher Cheryl B. Anderson, Ph.D. And a stroller at Disney is a given, of course, for kids age 3 years and younger.
Don’t make dinner reservations
In general, “don’t let dining dictate your Disney experience,” Bouchard says. Skip the dining plan, too. It’s not fun trying to run from one reservation to another. It’s better to be free to move about the Magic Kingdom, and beyond. There are plenty of over the counter restaurants that are wonderful, especially at Epcot.
Exceptions: Do get advance tickets to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review. The Western themed, high-spirited dinner show in Pioneer Hall in Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is “a hidden gem,” Bouchard says. The all you can eat and drink event “is my number one dining experience.”
Likewise, a character breakfast or dinner is fun for kids of all ages, even grown-ups.
Take a time-out
Trying to do and see it all is one of the biggest mistakes parents make. “You’ll get so tired no one will enjoy it,” Bouchard says. If you feel like it, pull over into a quiet area and take a nap. There’s a lot of grassy areas in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. And keep in mind that every park has a child area near the medical center, with a diaper changer, toys, food and rocking chairs.
Check out special tours
For preschoolers and elementary school age kids, Bouchard recommends Rafiki’s Planet in Animal Kingdom. You’ll take the train to the back of the park. Inside the attraction between 10 a.m. and noon daily, except Tuesday, “you can watch vet technicians perform surgery, X rays or ultrasound sounds on various animals from around the park,” Bouchard says. “It’s one of the coolest experiences we’ve had.” For older teens, she suggests the Keys to the Kingdom tour at Magic Kingdom. For this five-hour tour of the iconic theme park, you have to be 16 or older. “This behind-the-scenes tour doesn’t spoil the magic of the Magic Kingdom. It enhances it,” Bouchard says.
Heated advice: Don’t forget hats and sunscreen
In Orlando, you’re near the equator and the sun is intense, especially in the summer, so stay covered.
Buy cheaper tickets
To keep costs down, get your theme park tickets in advance online instead of buying them at the ticket window. If you’ll be going to Walt Disney World more than twice a year like Bouchard often does, she recommends an annual pass, which will also entitle you to discounts on lodging and merchandise. If you’re a Florida resident, get a seasonal pass. “It’s a bargain,” she says.
Stock up on food, drinks and snacks
To save on food and beverages, stash food in your hotel room, such as bagels, yogurt and bananas. Most rooms have a refrigerator. Pack your own lunch and snacks in a cooler bag or backpack and bring your own water bottle and refill it at the water fountain to save on buying bottled water. “As long as your water bottle isn’t glass glass, you can bring it in,” Bouchard says. To avoid carrying around refillable water bottles, Bouchard toted Dixie cups in a Ziploc bag and had her kids drink from the park water fountains.
Plan for cloud outbursts at Walt Disney World
During the summer months, Orlando is known for its frequent afternoon thunderstorms. The daily downpour only lasts about 20 minutes. Still, it can really put a damper on the delight. Bottomline? It pays to be prepared. “To avoid paying $9 for a rain poncho at the park, pack your own rain ponchos from home,” Bouchard says.
Once you’ve packed the rain ponchos, snacks and the sunscreen, Bouchard has some parting advice: “Leave your adultness at the gate. Disney is an equalizer where you’re free to be a kid again.”
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Copyright Sandra Gordon Writing Resources LLC