We were going to be in Florida anyway. That was why we decided to “do” Disney with our not-quite-three-year-old when I always said I’d wait. Truth be told, I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to go too! Foolishly I believed that a day at Walt Disney World would be like a day at any other theme park. I was mistaken. First of all, there are four theme parks and two water parks to choose from – and they are all busy. Then there are these crazy things like ‘Extra Magic Hours’ and ‘Fast Pass’ rides to consider. Top it off with ‘Park Hopper’ passes and Walt Disney World can be overwhelming instead of exciting. Fortunately I have a friend who’s a Disney expert (no kidding) so I was a little more prepared, but smug ol’ traveling me got a real crash course in how preparedness makes your Disney experience fun instead of frustrating.
Check out our guides to visiting Walt Disney World With A Toddler for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios…
If your trip is Disney-specific, try to stay on-site in one of WDW’s 17 resorts. The difference in prices is fairly steep between deluxe and value, but they all offer free transportation to the different parks, and staying on-site allows you to take advantage of ‘Extra Magic Hours’ which vary from park to park and day to day but essentially the park opens early or closes late only for WDW Resort Guests. We stayed at the Boardwalk Inn, which is fantastic, but as one of their deluxe resorts, it’s pricey. It’s beautiful though, and a 5-min walk to Epcot where there are good dining options for those who didn’t make dinner reservations up to 6 months in advance.
Yes, I said dining reservations 6 months in advance. I learned this the hard way when I thought I was being silly booking dinner a week in advance. My daughter is mad for Cinderella and one of the character dining options is dinner with Cinderella and the gang at the Grand Floridian Hotel. My husband told our daughter she’d be meeting Cinderella for dinner in order to get her psyched about our trip. Imagine my horror when I called to reserve to be told there was NOTHING available. I tried calling back every day up until we arrived to see if there were any cancellations. As a last resort, I tried our hotel’s concierge and he managed to get us a table the following night. The moral of the story? Well, there are several… Don’t – make your kids promises until you have a reservation confirmation number… Do – a bit of research to see if there are any special restaurants you’d like to eat at and book them immediately…and Don’t be surprised when your trip to Disney turns you into one of those crazy ‘my kid has to have everything’ moms! We had 2 days and 2 days’ worth of park-hopper passes. Although the Animal Kingdom Park looked cool, my being preggers limited the attractions and rides we’d be able to go on, so we decided to stick with the Magic Kingdom and a little bit of Epcot.
Now my husband went to Disneyland a lot in California and for me it was Florida at least three times, and it’s funny the things you don’t remember as a kid. You don’t remember the lines, you don’t remember the expense, and you don’t remember the frazzled nerves of all the parents. Luckily, we were visiting at a quiet time, so even though the park seemed busy, the longest we waited for a ride was 30min, and most times the wait was less than 5. It actually took us 5 minutes to walk on to the Finding Nemo ride at Epcot – the line area is so long! Frankly, I could not imagine visiting during peak season and waiting that long for a ride! Apparently, good times to visit are November (before US Thanksgiving) and May (before school lets out). It was really convenient to have the ‘Park Hopper’ passes, especially as we could walk to Epcot to eat, but it does add a lot to the admission. With older kids you could probably plan out your days better but with a still-napping toddler, it was a relief to have the flexibility to come and go when and where we pleased. The bus service between the resorts and parks was amazingly convenient, and even heading back after the fireworks (a must-see – plan for at least one late night!) was not as bad as I worried it might be. Clearly Disney knows what they’re doing, especially in terms of looking after families with young children. They even have little toddler toilets in their baby care centers!
There was a lot that impressed me about Walt Disney World… I loved that it is 100% accessible and that even the most severely disabled people can go on some rides. I loved that the healthy options at the counter service restaurants were really good and not outrageously overpriced, I loved that it is super-clean and you can ask any Cast Member (Disney staff) any question and if they don’t know the answer, they’ll find out for you. I loved that my daughter loved “It’s A Small World” and we went on it five times. At certain points throughout our visit, I inexplicably turned into a blubbering idiot. While I’d love to blame the hormones, I think it had something to do with only remembering the good from the Disney visits of my childhood, feeling sentimental about the past, and then sharing all this with my daughter. It wasn’t until our 4th “It’s A Small World” ride that I made it through tear-free. And the waterworks started again when they played “When You Wish Upon A Star” during the fireworks at the castle (and I don’t think I ever saw Pinocchio!)…
Our expectations were low, but ultimately, I’m glad we made the effort to visit Walt Disney World. I think our daughter will remember a lot of it for a while yet (editor’s note: she does!), and I’ll never forget her reactions to some of the sights and sounds. If you do decide to take the plunge, it’s well worth it to book with a Disney expert. My friend Sandra Halket runs www.clickthemouse.ca, and you’ll consider her a friend if you book your visit through her. Disney might be a little overwhelming for a more sensitive child – you’re the best judge of what your tot can handle. After all, it’s your vacation too!