Traveling with Kids: How to Not Get Conquered by Disney World

“Disney World is going to conquer you.”

Those were the words a “friendly” TSA employee working the airport security line delivered to Kim.

First of all, who feels it’s a good idea to predict a disaster to someone on their first day of vacation, the one their five-year-old has been counting down for over 80 days? Granted, Kim was holding a two-month old, jamming a half-folded stroller into the x-ray machine, and prepping four bottles of breast milk for a some guy with blue gloves to make sure they weren’t laced with explosive material.

And second, what if Little Miss Sunshine had known that Kim would also be pumping several times at the park itself?

What she didn’t know, of course, was that it would be our fourth time there since our honeymoon. We’ve now done it twice with a two-month-old. (Ben’s first ride was It’s a Small World; Virginia’s was Under the Sea.) Many people think of going to Disney World with small children is a death sentence. And it could be if you do it wrong. Here’s a few things we learned along the way:

Don’t Go in the Summer.
It’s pretty busy all the time, but it’s hell in the summer. Literally. Temperatures reach 130 degrees and Satan replaces Mickey Mouse in all the parades.

Plan Ahead.
Bringing water bottles, sunscreen, and extra baby wipes are all obvious tips. But think ahead to the worst that can happen and look for ways to avoid them or alleviate the pain if they do. Kim earned MVP of the trip by backing 10 “Blowout Kits.” (Paper towels to lay the kid down on! More paper-towels pre-sprayed with stain remover! Wal-Mart bags for the dirty clothes and diapers!) Ginny is at the stage where diapers are simply no match for the volumous explosions that erupt from her nether regions. She had three blowouts at one day of Epcot alone. Not fun to clean up, to be sure, but because of a little forethought, they weren’t disastrous, either.

Don’t Try Doing Everything.
Disney costs a lot of money, but you don’t have to treat it like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Getting your money’s worth by cramming as many things into each day as possible is a wonderful way to get conquered. Prizes are not awarded to the people with the highest attractions per hour average.

Take Naps.
If you plan on spending most of the day at a park, it’s wise to budget in a time for naps. Even the grown-ups appreciate it. Sure, we “miss out” on a few hours of time when we could have been at the park, but it allows us to enjoy the time we are there SO MUCH MORE. This cannot be overstated.

Take Your Time.
Things take a little longer with kids. You can either fight reality and spend your whole trip trying to speed them up (not gonna happen, by the way) or you can slow down to their level and breathe a little. Magically, enjoying the moment becomes a whole lot easier, especially when you begin noticing all the other people frantically running around like headless chickens.

Know Why You’re Going.
Kim and I have been to Disney World without kids, and yes, it is quieter and less stressful. But these days, I’d have a hard time going without them, because I’d spend the whole time thinking, “Man, I wish Lucy could have seen that,” or “Ben would have just loved this.” Some people think it’s stupid to spend all that money going with young children because they’ll never remember any of it. I resent that thought because it assumes it’s all about the kid. Ben may not remember meeting his hero, but I will never forget the stunned, sunglasses-wearing little boy who stood before Mulan speechless when his time finally did come. Lucy may not remember the details of meeting all the princesses at breakfast, but Kim and I will never forget the sparkle in her eye as each one of them grabbed her by the hand and took the time to talk to her. When we take the kids to Disney World, it’s just as much for us as it is for them.

So…Disney World did not in fact conquer us — just as we knew it wouldn’t — mostly because we did the things explained above.

But there is a bigger moral to this story.

Some people get a kick out of forecasting your story for you, whether they’re parents, teachers, or TSA employees. Never forget: this is YOUR story; you get to decide how it’s going to go.

Do you have any good tips for traveling with kids? Share them below!

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  1. We love Disney with our kids. Here are some tips we came up with…

  2. Dave Katz says:

    I agree with everything you guys have to say in this article – especially the advice to “take naps”!
    Here’s some other “insider advice”:

    Stay at a “Disney resort” hotel on the property. This entitles you to two great perks – early admission to at selected Disney theme parks each morning AND a Disney Fast Pass Magicband. The early admission is a perk for on-property hotel guests that lets you in to the particular theme park of the day before anyone staying off property can get in. There are no lines even for the most popular attractions. To get the best use of this privilege walk to the back of the park and start working your way towards the front. Focus on the attractions that usually have the longest lines. When you first encounter to big crowd at official opening time coming towards you … walk to the front gate, exit, go back to the hotel AND TAKE A NAP! Late in the day the crowds start to thin out.

    The Fast Pass Magic Band will get you “line jumping” priority privileges for the most popular attractions during the rest of your day at all theme parks you paid for along with your hotel reservation. The band also does pretty much the same thing as credit privileges on a cruise ship – you can bill all of your food and beverage purchases on property to your room

    If you DO go in the summer – using early entry, taking a mid-day siesta, having lunch, and going to indoor attractions in Downtown Disney (like the DisneyQuest indoor theme park) and returning to the outdoor theme parks at dusk will keep you out of the “Mad Dog and Englishmen” midday sun.

    One last thing: DO YOUR RESEARCH! There are tons of official and unofficial guides you can buy – and every one of them will save you money and aggravation. Take note of rides the reviewers say are too scary for children. I’m not just talking about thrill rides – there are tons of stories of even adults getting freaked out by “Alien Encounter” in Tomorrow Land. Plan an agenda for each day – and follow it. Schedule your nap times and meal times. Also schedule reasonable bedtimes for both your kids – AND yourselves. Vacations are supposed to be stress-free and restful! So pace yourselves and come back home well rested.

  3. Angela Polhill says:

    When my children were little we traveled a lot across the United States, by Plane, Train and Automobile. I did take all 3 of my daughters ages 5, 4, 3 to Disney Land with my Stepmom one year. I have learned to plan ahead and always pack water and snacks, wet wips and a towel or two. I have to agree that you have to make sure to slow down when traveling with children, but you pick and choose what you want to see. I would get out the map the night before and ask each daughter what they really wanted to see the most. Then I give them a color marker and then circle it on the map. That way they know which place they have choosen. I have always done this with them when traveling and it worked well, even when I received custody of my neice and nephew who put me at 5 childrens ages 9,8,8,7,6. The first year I had them I did a road trip to Disney World all by myself. Yes I am crazy, but with planning ahead it was a great time for all. I gave each of them a color marker for the week and when we were going some where they would circle what they wanted to see. Ane it made the trip a wonderful first expaned family vaction. I hope some of this helps out new parents .

  4. I have learned mostly that I have to release my expectations for my kids before we ever leave the house, because a bad day can ruin everything if we can’t just blow it off and start over the next morning. Having one extroverted child (I’m an introvert and so is my other kiddo) means I have to be mindful to make sure he has people to connect with and a group to do stuff with. I have to be very patient and articulate when the two introverts are fried and the extrovert doesn’t want to escape with us, but isn’t old enough to be wherever unsupervised. I’ve also learned over the years that while I am perfectly happy to pack and eat snacky picnic type foods for outings, one of my kids has a strong need for a hot, sit-down meal at least once per day, and that factors into the budget as well as the schedule. Leaving the country with them this summer might be insane, but we will have a clear “home base,” and I’ve been there before, so I don’t have anything I have to see and I can let them choose the pace.

    • Good tips, Lynn! And a great example of the importance of learning and adapting as you go!

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