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Monday, February 19, 2018

Disney World Tips, traveling with kids 5 and under

Phew. Now that I've managed to get some sleep and catch up on laundry, I can consolidate all of my thoughts after tackling Disney world with 5 kids, 5 and under. The whole time we were there I kept thinking, "I need to write this down!" or "This is going on the blog!". When people ask me how it was I have the same response.... absolutely magical and incredibly exhausting. There is NO tired like Disney tired, but there is nothing that compares to the magic and fun of Disney World. I keep trying to think of ways to organize my thoughts and tips but bear with me, I am just going to go with the flow. 

Travel in a group
Jon and I took Ford and Lucy to Disney World 2 years ago when they were 2 and 8 months old and this trip was drastically different (in a good way). We met up with my sister, her husband, and their 2 kiddos and then my parents joined us for the last 2 days of our trip. We had SO much fun with cousins and I highly recommend doing Disney with family or friends. It also helps that we could take turns watching the kids and go on adult rides, more on that later. 

I am 100% Type A and have a knack for packing and organizing. I packed the kids outfits in large Ziploc bags by day and included everything from clothing, socks, and undies. This made it SO easy to set out bags the night before as we were exhausted and crawling into bed. I packed 1-2 extra outfits for each kiddo, 3 pairs of jammies for 5 nights (and only used 2), light jackets, and ponchos. The kids each got their own mini Disney suitcase for Christmas (here and here) and we let them pack toys, games, and snacks in those for the plane. The suitcase set came with a zipper bag and that was great for bringing to the parks with snacks, autograph books, sunglasses, and little toys to play with in lines. Jon always carries his backpack when he travels with his iPad and laptop so we used that as our bag for the week, carrying snacks, diapers, wipes, etc. Don't forget sunscreen! Florida is almost always hot with lots of sun and humidity. 

We stayed at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort and it was great. The resort is under some major construction but it provided all we really needed. The rooms were pretty small but clean and efficient. There are 3 tiers of Disney resorts and we chose the lowest because honestly you are never in your room during the day, only at night to sleep. The rooms are pirate themed and the kids loved that. Jon and I shared a full bed, Lucy and Ford shared a full bed, and Gideon slept in a pack and play (provided by Disney) in the bathroom. There was a big curtain between the room and bathroom which was nice. Staying on Disney property has a lot of perks, the main one being the bus system. Every 10 minutes, a bus comes through the resort going to all of the different parks. There was a delicious buffet and a food truck on the property and we ended up eating there 3 of the 5 nights. We didn't even bring our swimsuits but there were pools, slides, hot tubs, etc. 2 years ago we stayed at Disney's Swan Dolphin and it was great. It was more of a traditional hotel whereas the Caribbean Beach was more resort style but both were great. I am anxious to see Caribbean Beach once construction is complete. 

Disney's Magical Express
If you stay at a Disney property, you get free transportation to and from the airport on the Disney Magical Express. You must make your reservation in advance and is pretty streamlined once you arrive. The big downside is that it can take quite a while to get you to your hotel. 2 years ago we were the very last stop (they group you by arrival time and drive to multiple hotels) and got dropped off at midnight, ugh. This time we were the first drop off which made our ride only about 30 minutes. It is fun because they have a video looping with Disney tips and cartoons, the kids loved it. It would be a lot quicker to take an Uber but we loved that it was free and we didn't bring carseats. It wasn't worth it for me to pack 3 carseats for an Uber. They pick you up 3 hours before your scheduled flight home so keep that in mind if you are taking an early flight. 

I remember 2 years ago researching where I could find cheap Disney tickets but your best bet is through My Disney Experience. Children under 3 are free so we didn't have to pay for Lucy or Gideon, yay! Disney now sends you a Magic Band bracelet a few weeks before your trip and all of your ticket information, Fast Passes, hotel key, meal plan, and even credit card info (if you choose) is on there. 

My Disney Experience
My Disney Experience is the Disney website and app for managing your whole trip. The app is truly incredible! We used it every day we were there, looking up wait times, finding maps of each park, ordering food for mobile pickup, and changing our Fast Pass times. 

Fast Passes
Fast Passes are the greatest invention of all time. You are allotted 3 per day and they give you access to the fast lane of the line, going right up to the front. Some Disney rides have 1, 2, and even 4 hour waits (Avatar at Animal Kingdom), but you can reserve your FP so you don't have to wait. Each FP gives you a 1 hour window where you can go right to the front and ride. I did a quick Google search and also asked on my mom's group the best rides to use a FP for (versus just waiting in line). I will talk about my suggestions later. If you are staying in a Disney hotel, you can reserve Fast Passes 60 days before you arrive. 30 days for non Disney hotel guests. You can change your FP selections on the My Disney Experience app as many times as you want... we did this a lot if we realized there was no wait for something we had a FP for later in the day. Also, not many people seem to know that when you use your 3rd and final FP of the day, you can grab an additional FP on the My Disney Experience App or at a FP kiosk at the park. If you have a park hopper pass (we did not), you can get it at any park. Some of the really popular rides "sell out" pretty quickly so be sure to book your FP well before your trip! 

We had 4 days total at the park which was a lot to do in a row but we managed and it was great! We did Magic Kingdom day 1, Hollywood Studios day 2, Animal Kingdom day 3, and back to Magic Kingdom day 4. We chose not to do Epcot after hearing a lot of it was under construction and we had plenty to do between the 3 parks we went, and we still didn't even do everything at Magic Kingdom in 2 days! 

We brought a single stroller (Britax B Agile) and then rented a double (City Mini Double) through Kingdom Strollers. I cannot tell you how awesome it was to rent a stroller! Ford is 4.5 and still loves to be in the stroller but I encourage parents of even 5-6 year olds who don't like a stroller to rent one. Disney is SO much walking and it is pretty much always hot. It is nice to have a place for little ones to rest. It's crazy to see such big kids passed out asleep in strollers at Disney. Kingdom Strollers had our stroller at our hotel when we showed up and it was labeled with our name (tons of people rent strollers). It came with a cup holder and rain cover which we didn't have to use but nice to have. Gideon and my 2 year old nephew napped in the strollers during the days, I recommend getting one that lays all the way back. A stroller is also a great place to store stuff... snacks, diaper bag, drinks, etc. We left the stroller at the front desk when we checked out.

Disney is expensive, if you are planning a trip there you should already know that! And that includes the food. They allow you to bring as much food/drink as you want into the park so I packed an ENTIRE diaper box of snacks and checked it on the plane. I packed tons of Clif Bars, Nutrigrain Bars, fruit snacks, dried fruit, pouches, PB crackers, pretzels, and other dry goods. Our room had a mini fridge so I packed 2 quarts of almond milk (you can buy it in cartons in the dry section) for Gideon. Snacks made mornings easier because I gave each kid a bar on the bus to the parks and that would tide them over until morning snack. We ate lunch at the walk up restaurants at Disney, we decided not to do any seated dining because we had 5 kids under 5 and just wanted to go with the flow. Every restaurant will give you cups of ice water for free so I packed our kids water cups and we would refill throughout the day. We splurged on $6 Mickey pretzels and $5 Mickey ice cream sandwiches a few times but mostly ate our own snacks. With how much my kids snack, this saved us a lot of money!

Mobile Food Ordering
The My Disney Experience allows you to order food from any of the non sit down restaurants. I couldn't believe how easy it was. We'd choose our restaurant, order food on the walk over, and go pick it up right away. The lines during the lunch hour were insane so it was really nice to bypass those and get a table/food right away. There is an order tracker so you know when your order is ready and a separate counter for mobile pickup.

Seating Dining/Sci Fi Diner
Our little family had dinner one night at the Sci Fi Diner at Hollywood Studios and it was SO FUN! Your table is shaped like an old classic car and it is set up like a drive in movie. It is dark and cold and the kids loved watching the black and white movies and old cartoons. We made a last minute reservation on the My Disney Experience App where you can search for restaurants by park, price, or whether or not they have characters. We had originally booked a character breakfast but since we had met all of the characters multiple times, we decided to cancel and save $200. Again, Disney is expensive!

One of the hot souvenirs at Disney are these little bubble wands that cost $24 a pop. My kids kept asking for them and I reminded them we had a fun bubble machine at home. If I would have known, I would have totally bought a cheap one at Target and brought with us. On every corner there are stands to buy bubble wands, Mickey ears, light up toys, etc.... for a pretty penny. I let each kiddo pack their own little toy bag so when they asked for toys, I reminded them we had a lot at home. I just hate chatchski things so we didn't buy any souvenirs. You could always buy a few things a head of time and bring them out as prizes while you're at the park. Like everything else, there is a huge mark up and things are super pricey. I am shocked that my kids never asked for these giant Mickey balloons that were on every corner!

Rider Swap
I am SO glad my girlfriend who just came to Disney with her almost 2 year old told me about this. Rider Swap allows parents with kids who aren't allowed to ride, each have a turn. How it works is when you walk up to a ride, ask for a Rider Swap. They give you a lanyard and then at another check point or the front of the line, they'll give you a Fast Pass ticket (not on your Magic Band like the other FPs) good for 3 people. They also don't expire for a few weeks! My parents met us for the last 2 days of the trip so we used the Rider Swap SO MUCH and we all got to ride some of the awesome adult rides! Example... two of us would reserve a FP for the Everest Coaster at Animal Kingdom and then go at our scheduled time and get a rider swap. We were done in 10 minutes and then the rest of the adults could use the FP immediately or come back later. 

Dressing for Disney
My biggest piece of advice.... wear tennis shoes. Skip the cute flats or sandals because you will be left with sore feet and blisters. Wear a good pair of broken in tennis shoes the whole time. Check the weather ahead of time and pack accordingly. The weather was only in the 70s when we were there but the humidity was crazy! It felt so much hotter. Shorts/tanks and layers if it will be cold. We packed ponchos just in case because afternoon showers are pretty common. I wore a hat the whole time because I hate my face being in the sun. Pack sunglasses for yourself and your kids. Bring sunscreen! Make sure to spray those precious baby legs sitting in the stroller. 

Kid Areas To Know About
It's funny that even in Disney World, sometimes kids just want to play on a playground or with a tiny toy. They can get overwhelmed with the rides/characters/shows so it is nice to have a little break time. While you are waiting in the Dumbo line, there is a huge indoor playground. Our kids just wanted to play in there and not ride the ride. It was the perfect rest time for the adults and then we were done, we walked right up to the ride. Right at the entrance of DinoLand in Animal Kingdom, there is a playground with a dinosaur bone dig. We had to pry our kiddos out of it after an hour, they were just filling buckets with sand and barely even speaking to each other! There is a little kids area at Magic Kingdom right at the exit of Splash Mountain. I was on kid duty while some adults rode the ride and the kids just chased each other and played hide and go seek. Our kids also loved the carousel right behind Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom. There was hardly ever a wait. If you are a nursing mama or have a tiny babe, be sure to find the Baby Care Centers at each park! We went 2 years ago when I was still nursing Lucy and they are air conditioned buildings with private rooms for nursing/feeding/changing. They have rockers, TVs, changing tables, and you can buy anything you need for baby. 

My kids (and me!) hated the Bug's Life show at Animal Kingdom. Little creatures come out of the seats and poke you and they spray this gross stuff to make it smell like a stink bug. We ran out about  half way and my sister said it little cockroaches came out at the end. No thanks. Lion King Festival of the Lion was incredible. I cried a few times during the songs and the costumes were amazing. Be sure to get a Fast Pass ahead of time! We absolutely loved the 3D Mickey's Philharmagic show in Magic Kingdom and did it twice! The kids were so excited and laughed the whole time and it was a nice (cool) break for the adults. The last day at Magic Kingdom we had time to kill before our last FP at Splash Mountain so we did the Bear Jamboree and the kids loved it! Again, it was a nice break for the adults too. We did quite a few shows at Hollywood Studios and they were all great! Disney Junior was perfect for our aged kids because they watch all the shows at home. There were bubbles and streamers and you got to meet the characters after for autographs and pictures. We did the Frozen show which was a sing along, and so adorable. We did the 3D Muppet show and my kids laughed and grabbed things the whole time. The last show we went to was Beauty and the Beast at Hollywood Studios and it was beautiful! My kids had never seen the movie and were hooked. I had a few tears because it reminded me of my childhood. Hollywood Studios has a lot of StarWars things and had this walk of Storm Troopers and mini show pretty much every hour on the main strip. 

Disney Springs
Disney Springs is "Downtown Disney" and basically it is a strip of shopping and restaurants, free to get in to. You can take buses from your hotel or any park and it is a nice change of scenery. I was a little bummed by the lack of restaurants, especially kid friendly ones, but we ate a Blaze Pizza one night. 

Favorite Rides
  • Adults- Space Mountain (MK), Everest (AK), Kilimanjaro Safari (AK), Dinosaur (AK)
  • Kids- Dumbo (MK), Teacups (MK), Tomorrowland Speedway, Aladdin Magic Carpet (MK), It's a Small World (MK), Toy Story ride (HS), 
  • Supposedly the Avatar ride is out of this world but even 60 days prior to our trip, there were no FP available. The line was also 4 hours long and people were saying it was worth it! No thanks. So if you have a hookup for FP, try to get one of those!

I have been working on this post for a few days and trying to think of everything imaginable but I am sure I forgot stuff! If you have questions about Disney, shoot me an email! Overall, Disney World was exhausting, draining, expensive, and WONDERFUL! It was magical and worth it. I kept telling myself, "this trip isn't about you" because it was far from relaxing but it was incredible to see the magic through my children's eyes. They are already asking to go back... to which I am answering 5 years guys. Go with friends/family, go when your kids still believe in the magic, it is worth it!


Unknown said...

These are all great suggestions! Just wanted to mention that Caribbean Beach is a moderate (middle) level Disney hotel and that after you use your 3rd fast pass of the day you can book the next one via the app (doesn’t have to be via a kiosk) and it can be at a different park if you have a park hopper! Disney nerd here :)

Unknown said...

I'm looking to take my kids within a year. Curious if you could tell me an overall budget you had or around what the whole trip cost you? I have one less child but both will be over 3 by the time we go. This blog has great information in it by the way, thanks!

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