In my family, we are Disney people, through and through. My husband and I even honeymooned at Disneyland. But when we decided we couldn’t wait any longer for our three kids to get some Disney theme park magic in their lives, I’ll admit we were very afraid. I mean, just taking all three to the grocery store raises my blood pressure, how would we survive Disney World?
Let’s face it, vacations with kids are different. Gone are the days of simply relaxing by the pool in silence for hours, eating your meals hot, or lazily sleeping in on vacation. (Honestly, you may not manage to get any sleep at all.) But you can manage to create those lasting memories all of us want for our families. Here are some things that helped us thrive in the crazy.
1. Let toddlers be toddlers.
You might feel the pressure to see everything you can inside Magic Kingdom, and maximize every fast pass you can get your hands on, but I hate to break it to you: your toddler will not be on the same page. They still see curbs as balance beams that need to be walked on, and fence posts as things that need to be tapped as they walk by. Slow down, let them take the lead, and leave your expectations at the gate.
2. Remember why you came.
I went into the trip so excited that my oldest was tall enough to do a few of the bigger rides. Turned out, he hated those rides and was far more interested in riding the same kiddie ride over, and over, and over again. My daughter mostly just wanted to see Minnie. Every. Single. Day. For as long as she could. I found myself frustrated, until I realized we brought them here to have a magical time. Forcing them into my agenda — one they apparently hated — wasn’t getting us to that goal. Following their lead in every way took us straight to the magic.
3. Slow the sugar flow.
I know we all like to throw caution to the wind when it comes to vacation nutrition, but Disney World demands a certain amount of stamina. We found that making nutrition a priority helped everyone feel better, and saved us from the dreaded sugar crash we have all experienced with our kids. We let the kids pick one sugary treat a day to enjoy, because I mean, there’s no better place to indulge than Disney (dole whip, funnel cake, or churro anyone?) but tried to get real nutritious stuff in them regularly throughout the day. Luckily, Disney makes it easy to find plenty of those healthy options.
4. Take advantage of the baby care centers.
Honestly, Disney’s baby care centers are a lifesaver. I’d stop in just to change a diaper, scrub out a bottle, or stay a while and let my baby girl cool off and roam around a bit. They have comfy chairs, baby entertainment, and all the supplies available you could ever need.
5. Prepare for the weather.
Coming from cool, cloudy Ohio, the Florida heat hit us hard. Luckily we dressed light, and got each kid their own spray bottle fan. Not only did this keep them cool, they provided endless hours of entertainment while we waited for parades and rides.
6. Remember, this is Disney.
Disney knows kids, and the parks cater to them. Waiting in line was rough on my 2-year-old. To her, this probably felt a lot like her least favorite thing in the world: the grocery store. She kept climbing on things and touching things she shouldn’t. This in turn threw me into auto-apologize mode, as I often do when we are out in public and she’s causing a scene. Luckily though, the reactions from the Disney employees were night and day different from what I usually get on errands. No matter if it was the first or the fifteenth time they told her “Please don’t climb on that princess!” they did it kindly and patiently, with a smile — every time. Bless them. As a mom conditioned to stressing over people being annoyed by the very existence of my children in public, this was a beautiful thing that allowed me to relax.
7. Know when to quit.
We are typically the die-hard, stay-from-open-to-close type people, but this time, we knew that was just too much. When your kids are exhausted to the point where stroller naps can’t even stop the fatigued meltdowns, just go home. It helped us to be able to spend a few days in the park so we could spread things out and take our time. We would go home early, or get to the park a little late, but it kept everyone going. Kids (and adults) aren’t at their best when they are over tired, and sometimes pushing through it is more than we can handle.
Disney World with little kids is a lot of work, but as I stood there crying while watching my Zoe meet her BFF Minnie in real life, I knew it was all more than worth it. My biggest take away here is to focus on what the kids need to have a good time, and accept that it probably looks a lot different than what you want. Then sit back, watch your kids have the best days of their life and let it hit you that watching them have fun is better than any kind of fun you have yourself.
Welcome to Disney World, parent-style. It’s still pretty magical — if not, more so.