A week ago, I packed up the car and headed North to Orlando for a fun, 2-night and 3-day trip to Walt Disney World with Abby and Ellie…yup, Abby and Ellie.
Due to a last-minute training added to his schedule, hubs was out for this trip, but instead of rescheduling, we decided to go on ahead. I’d taken Abby plenty of times solo in the past (in fact, I counted: this was her 12th trip!) and I had some fun friend-meetups scheduled, so I wasn’t stressed about it.
To plan this trip, I employed my usual philosophy of sticking to a general theme (this one was all about meeting characters!), minimally scheduling (so as not to rush too much), and taking breaks (in both forms of returning to resort room for scheduled naps, or taking downtime in the park).
We were staying at Disney’s Old Key West Resort (OKW), and though we had the car, we mostly utilized Disney Transportation – not only for the ease of it, but because Abby LOVES it all (busses, monorails, boats) which makes it its own attraction. However, we did drive to Epcot (since our room wasn’t ready yet, and we had taken a short lunch break in Celebration after the two hour drive, so we were refreshed) on Day 1, and to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for the DVC Moonlight Magic Event on Day 2, since it was so late at night and I was banking on sleeping children…but more on that later.
I wasn’t planning on any sit-down dining for this trip (we had a one-bedroom booked at OKW, and I brought some food), but when I did a quick check that Monday morning before the drive and saw an early dinner opening at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, I sprung for it (So, that’s my Tip #1 – check for dining reservations last minute, you never know what might show up – plus, with littles, who knows how their interests might change during the course of that 180 day booking window, hah!) and believe it or not, it was my first experience there too – and we LOVED it!
With two under three in tow, our bill was super reasonable for Disney standards, and even better since we had the opportunity to meet so many princesses (~$65/adult, and that was all I had to pay). While I had read mixed reviews on the food, I absolutely enjoyed my main dish (salmon duo), loved the cold appetizer buffet/starters, and was blown away by the tasty desserts (you receive an plate of three yummy sweets – chocolate mousse, apple cake, and rice pudding).
So, Tip #2 – and this might sound counterintuitive, but I learned this even as a VIP Tour Guide back in my Cast Member days – sitting down for meals can be a time-saver over quick service. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on the makeup of your group, but in general, if you have a reservation, you know that you will be generally seated at a certain time, and you can relax. With quick service, the prices may look lower, but between standing in line, looking for a seat (sometimes battling for a seat, in popular locations!) you could waste a lot of valuable park time. Plus, with character dining, you’re killing two birds with one stone, since that’s an attraction (like Princess meet and greets) you can now skip since you met five princesses in one meal! Whoo!
For our situation, sitting down was absolutely a fantastic choice, for all of the above reasons, plus the fact that I didn’t have to attempt to carry a tray of food, while maneuvering a toddler, and wearing an infant.
Speaking of herding the kiddos, I absolutely was eager to test my theories on the best way to transport them, and this is what I gathered..part of Tip #3 – Know your kids’ mobility preferences!
To preface, I am a babywearer, and have been since Abby was an infant. Our carrier(s) of choice are the MJ Babycarrier and the Kinderpack – and of course, since Ellie’s still two months, that was an easy choice to bring/use. However, with Abby – she doesn’t LOVE riding the stroller (unless we’re running), but it is a lot of walking to expect out of a toddler, and since I have to carry a diaper bag, I can’t exactly tandem wear them (like I could possibly do, for say, a walk around the neighborhood).
So, I divided it up like so:
- Double Stroller – for Epcot afternoon and Animal Kingdom evening
- Carrier (infant) + walk- (toddler) combo – for Magic Kingdom morning and Disney Springs morning
The no-stroller days could have been a lot more challenging if they weren’t designed to be shorter, but ideally, I could have thrown my umbrella stroller in the trunk for those days – easily folded up on the bus, but helpful if Abby got tired – luckily, we toughed it out! (for more – I mean, a lot more stroller ramblings, check out this post).
Which brings up my second-to-the-last Tip #4: Know how you’re gonna go. To me, knowing how you’re gonna get from Point A to Point B is the surefire way to reduce stress on your Walt Disney World trip. I am fortunate to have most of the knowledge stowed up in parts of my brain, but for newbies, this site is absolutely helpful. Mapping out the most direct route (and alternate routes, just in case!) ensures more time having fun and less time being frustrated about missing a reservation! Bonus tip: always overestimate the time you think it might take to get somewhere (busses, for example, run every 20 min-ish, and wait times are posted at bus stops, but I always figure ~45 minutes to get from place to place), it will further reduce aggravation, and pleasantly surprise you when you get there quicker than planned!
Since I am closing in on 1K words, I thought I’d end on a high note, with Tip #5 – USE THE BABY CARE CENTERS! I really love these!
Each park has a designated one, and while some are busier than others (the one in Magic Kingdom can get a bit busy), in general, they’re wonderful places to duck in for diaper changes (they have tons of changing stations, extra large, as depicted here), feeding (they have high chairs, microwaves, sinks and tables), nursing (private rooms) and even a lounge area (complete with Disney cartoons) for bigger kids that might just need to get away from the hustle and bustle. Best of all, they are staffed by friendly Cast, and even have a small retail selection of baby items (diapers, baby food, formula, clothing) just in case!
In general, the main takeaway in traveling with young children (and really, with any group, to some extent) is to manage expectations.
BONUS! Ready for a lightning round of tips? Here we go:
- You won’t do as MUCH (though you certainly can take advantage of Rider Switch, especially if you have more adults in your group – read all about that here.)
- Travel with friends! Or, in our case, meet up with them! Since Abby’s just two, she doesn’t have a theme park ticket yet (that starts at three) but loves attractions – good news! She had the ability to “tag along” with friends’ FP+ reservations for any non height-restriction attractions (double tip: check those in advance to avoid unnecessary stress here).
- You shouldn’t go straight through, all day, everyday (try to stick with your kids’ usual naptimes to avoid meltdowns) – but you can schedule early and late with Extra Magic Hours, if you are staying on property, to still clock those theme park hours!
- Absolutely download the My Disney Experience app! I booked a few Fastpass+ each day, but they weren’t always the most ideal time slots. Surprise! Once we arrived, I was able to modify on the fly, and we had extremely minimal waits in the return lines. Additionally, one of our chosen FP+ selections was for Pirates of the Caribbean, which went down for some sort of technical difficulties, which was a bummer – but we were quickly compensated, via email, a replacement FP for (almost) any other MK attraction (exception was Seven Dwarves Mine Train, which I could not do with both littles with me, anyway)!
As in planning any other vacation/getaway, it can feel overwhelming, but the good news is, it’s not impossible, and there are COUNTLESS resources to help you plan for your best experience! And of course, don’t forget my ultimate tip: recruit the aid of a Disney Certified Travel Professional for no-fee planning 😉 I mean, why not!?