Photo courtesy Walt Disney Company
One question we get a lot is when is the best time to take a child on their first visit to Walt Disney World. The reality is, there’s no “best first time” to visit. Instead, there are a lot of factors that come into play that determine whether or not making that first trip is right for your family. Here are some things to consider:
- Are you a hardcore Disney fan? If you are, then skip the rest of the article. Instead, pack some diapers, hand sanitizer, and put that baby in a sling or stroller and head to Disney World. You’ll make it work.
- Are there older kids in the family? Often, we hear from parents with younger, school-aged kids, who want to go but are concerned with taking a younger sibling. This can be tough because parents want to maximize the experience for their older child (and take them while they still believe in the magic) but worry that taking a younger child might “ruin the fun’ for everyone else. In this case, I like to offer two suggestions: If possible, make it a special trip with mom or dad (or the grandparents) and let your older child enjoy some special one on one time with a parent. This can be a nice option for a child who’s been putting in big sister/brother time and feeling the need for a little extra attention. It also saves a bit of money. If that’s not possible, go anyway, but make sure you follow some of our suggestions outlined below.
- Your child’s disposition. While some kids love to travel, some little ones find if very frustrating. Most kids’ nap schedules are completely off at Disney World and some may have difficulty adjusting to a different sleeping environment. Add to that, meals in distracting places with characters and noise, sugary foods, and an exciting environment, and some kids just are of sorts. While I generally find that little ones go with the flow after a day or two, if you’re worried, take a “test run” on a shorter trip to see how your child reacts to a change in environment.
So, you’ve decided to make the trip. We would have done the same thing! Here are some tips to help you make the most of your visit with your younger child:
- Bring enough diapers! This can’t be stressed enough and it seems like common sense, but when you’re packing for a such a big trip, it can be easy to forget. Yes, overpack on this one. Same goes with all their gear, such as enough clothing for changes, bottles, formula–they’ll do better with familiar foods/snacks/blanket. And while you’re at it, don’t forget a nightlight.
- Think carefully about the type of room you choose. I would rather put a family in a value suite than a deluxe room on the monorail because in most cases, everyone is going to sleep better. This is especially true if you have children who are waking up in the middle of the night or if one of the adults needs to check on work emails, etc., after the kids go to bed.
- A good stroller is a must. Even if your three-year old hasn’t been in a stroller in a year, they’ll likely need one at least for getting in and out of the park (you can park them safely and leave it if you need while you enjoy rides). If you need to rent a stroller, there are plenty of off-site companies that can drop off at your resort and pick up at the end of your stay. We do not recommend renting from Disney since the strollers are difficult to maneuver and expensive to rent. Plus, you can’t take them out of the park.
- Character meals are great but keep in mind they’re also very distracting for kids. Limit character meals to two or three on a 7-night visit.
- Pack a small bag of babyproofing items if you have toddlers who like to explore the room.
- It’s your trip too. Even if you don’t hire a sitter and have a grown-up night out, consider one of Disney’s signature restaurants. They’re a great introduction for kids to more sophisticated dining and tastes and yet very kid-friendly, so don’t be afraid of trying one out. If you don’t see anything on the menu your kid will eat, your server can find something that will accommodate them (i.e., chicken nuggets). In that same vein, consider taking a little time to yourself. Dad goes back to the resort and naps with the baby, mom goes to Disney Springs and shops and has a quiet lunch, enjoying some of the best people-watching anywhere. Everyone needs a little “me time, ” even at Disney World.
- Take advantage of the “baby swap.” No, this isn’t when you trade a bad napper for a good one. Disney’s baby swap is when you wait in line with your group and then someone takes the child who isn’t old enough to ride and waits. When the rest of your group is done, the person who waited gets to go.
- Don’t park hop. Yes, park hopping is great: it makes planning easier and visiting the parks more flexible (Busy park? Go to another!). But for young kids, the 60 to 90 minute travel time can be too much.. Consider not adding the hopper until you’re in the parks and know that you’ll need it. At $75 per person, that’s a huge savings if you don’t need it.
- Understand that you’ll need down time. This isn’t going to be a theme park commando type of trip. Instead, enjoy the experience of taking things a little more slowly. Some of my most enjoyable park memories are of sitting on a shady bench while my twins napped in their stroller.
- Stay on Disney property if you’re visiting Disney World. Good neighbor hotels in Disneyland are super easy to get to on foot, but at Disney World, you’re going to spend more than an hour getting to the Magic Kingdom even on a slow day. Stay on property and take advantage of the bus transportation and ease of getting back and forth from the parks.
We’ve been taking our kids to Walt Disney World since they were infants and we’ve never had a bad trip (we’ve had . . . interesting trips, but not bad). I hope that you’ll have the same experience creating wonderful (and funny) memories as well.