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Making memories with the Mouse

Plane Tickets? Bought.

Hotel reservations? Made.

Yes, my friends, we’re going to Disney World. And I think I might be even more excited than my kids.

We visited the Magic Kingdom two years ago this November, when my daughter Clara was about a year-and-a-half old. But this year she’ll be three-and-a-half, and I cannot wait to witness her in action, seeing all her favorite princesses up close and personal.

Of course, she’s not the only one who’s going to have a blast. One of my favorite things about the Magic Kingdom is how easy it is for kids (and adults) for all ages to enjoy together. There were very few rides that Clara couldn’t accompany us on when we went before, even though she was just a toddler. But even our biggest kids got into the Disney spirit.

I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me. Before our trip two years ago, the last time I’d visited Disney was the summer I turned 15, and I had a blast then, too. My favorite rides then: It’s A Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Haunted Mansion. My favorite rides as an adult? Same.

Even though I’ve only been to Disney World once as a mom, I quickly picked up a few tidbits and tips to pass along to other parents visiting The Mouse with their kids for the first time:

1. Get there early. When we were scrambling to make the first shuttle so that we could be there before the park opened, I had my doubts. But they were erased as we stood elbow-to-elbow with other families, waiting for the gates to open. Get to the park before it opens and you’ll be treated to an opening ceremony sparkling with so much joy, optimism and gosh-darn-good-cheer that you’ll find your chest swelling with hope about the human race. Yes, it’s totally corny. Yes, I totally cried.

2. It’s OK to bring in snacks. For some reason I had it in my head that you aren’t allowed to bring food into Disney Parks, and had my mother-in-law in a tizzy as I tried to convince her that the granola bars in her purse were contraband.

Turns out, I was wrong: the park FAQ clearly states that outside food is welcome in any Disney park. Knowing that might have saved us a few bucks on water and snacks, though the restaurants were very good, with lots of reasonably priced “real” food and healthy options. (Our favorite was the Liberty Tree Tavern, where servers in colonial costume brought us hearty dishes like pot roast and turkey.)

3. Pace yourself. We visited in mid-November, when lines are short and the weather was great. Even with that considered, I was surprised at how easily we got through the park, and still made it over to Epcot for dinner. That said, last time we split our Orlando trip between two different park systems, which meant we didn’t get to enjoy Epcot nearly enough, and we would have loved a second day to revisit our favorite attractions. This year, we’re sticking to Disney parks, and getting a two-day Magic Your Way pass — it’s a better value for more fun.

4. About that stroller …We’ve all heard plenty of snarky comments about “big kids” in strollers, but I recommend bringing one if you have a child who may need a nap at some point. Clara will be three-and-a-half this visit, and yes, her legs work just fine, even on long walks. But it’ll be really nice to have a place to let her rest if she gets tired or zonks out, and in a pinch, it makes a convenient place to stash things you don’t want to carry anymore.

For example, when we visited last time, it was chilly enough at the beginning of the day that the kids needed hoodies, but had warmed up considerably by noon. And if you just can’t wait until the end of the trip to browse gift shops, the stroller basket is a nice place to store your booty.

5. Stay on site if you can. Last time we visited Disney World we stayed in an off-site hotel, which did save us a little money on the front end. But some of the value-priced Disney resorts are quite economical, and you can reserve the hotel without having to commit to a dining plan (we went this route because our younger kids are not big eaters, so we prefer to order off the a la carte menu for them.)

Also, Disney Resort guests get perks like an extra hour in the parks after closing time (especially nice in the off-season, when the parks close earlier), complimentary transportation to and from the Orlando airport, and complimentary parking at the theme parks.

We’ll be staying at the colorful and brand-new Art of Animation Resort, where we scored several adjoining double rooms for $105 each per night. Many of the resorts also offer family suites.

And last, prepare yourself to have a good time. No matter how cynical and sarcastic you might be in your day-to-day life, there really is something about that Disney vibe that just makes you feel optimistic and good. I guess that’s why they call it the Magic Kingdom.

I’m going to be writing more about our Disney World memories and plans for our upcoming trip as a part of this  series! Tune in for more over the next couple of months.

A big thanks to Sony for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.

Want to capture your own family memories on video? We’re giving away two Sony Handycams! To enter for a chance to win, simply comment on this post with an answer to the following question: what’s your favorite family memory?

Want a chance to win weekly prizes like a Sony Handycam or a $200 Disney shopping card? Enter to win here!

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