The deadline for Disney’s spring (book by Feb. 13) and early summer (book by March 27) deals are rapidly approaching and some families are scrambling to get their plans in place. I’ve had several requests from friends for my Disney tips and strategies that have run over the years. I thought maybe other families out there could benefit from those links as well. So I have pulled for you guys a bunch of helpful links.
The first section of links is deals, the second section is news about Disney, and the third is tips and strategies.
Up to 30% off at select Disney Resort hotels for stays most nights February 17 through April 16, 2011. Book by February 13, 2011.
Kids, ages 3 to 9, can stay and play for free when you buy a non-discounted 4-night/4-day room and ticket package at select Disney Resort hotels for select nights February 17 to October 1, 2011. Book by March 27, 2011.
Some deal links
Some news about the park
Star Wars weekends (If you have a little boy or Dad this is not to be missed!)
The Disney park link to Star Wars weekend info — I can’t find the 2011 dates on the Web site. You may have to call to ask.
This story ran in the AJC’s Go Guide in 2005 and is so old I can’t even find a link for it anymore. However I think a lot of the tips are still really relevant, especially with toddlers.
BYLINE: THERESA WALSH GIARRUSSO
DATE: May 22, 2005
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Home; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
We’ve just returned from three stressful, tough days of dragging a 2- and 4-year-old through the four parks at Walt Disney World.
“The Happiest Place on Earth” is anything but with a whiny, 30-pound 2-year-old who just wants to run free. While the under-5 set is one of the prime targets of Disney’s magic, it takes a little sorcery of your own to survive and enjoy the experience.
Here are our best tips for taking toddlers and preschoolers to Disney World:
Enjoying the visit
• Be sensitive to the youngest child’s age. In our case, we shouldn’t have taken our 2-year-old. Our 4-year-old handled everything great. The 2-year-old didn’t understand why he was waiting in line and just wanted to play in the hotel’s pool. Our experience the previous year had been so much easier because he couldn’t walk yet, and he napped throughout the day. Most kids 3 and older understand that they have to wait their turn, and they will be rewarded with the ride at the end of the line. Most 2-year-olds don’t.
• Visit only the Magic Kingdom with toddlers. Although Disney spokeswoman Michelle Baumann points out that all the parks are relevant to preschoolers and each has activities to interest them, I contend that the Magic Kingdom offers the most concentrated area of rides and characters for that age group. You have to focus your efforts so the whole family doesn’t get worn out. Baumann says families should plan their “must-see” rides and accomplish those first.
• Visit one park a day. If you feel like you want to see the other parks, don’t try “park hopping” during the day. The word “hopping” suggests a carefree and easy process, which it is not. To switch from the Animal Kingdom to the Magic Kingdom, we had to turn in our park-rented double stroller, carry the 30-pound toddler and 20-pound backpack and drag the 4-year-old by the hand to the bus stop. After a 15-minute bus ride, we had to walk to ride a boat and then get through security and ticket lines to get into the park to pick up our new stroller. If you bring your own stroller, you have to take everything out of it and fold it flat.
Baumann says that park hopping with preschoolers is possible, but here is how it should be done: Go to the park as early as possible (especially if you’re staying at a Disney resort and can use the less-crowded Extra Magic Hour). Stay for several hours, and then around lunch go back to the hotel. Sleep, swim, read — do whatever will refresh the family, and then head to a different park for the evening hours, when it’s cooler and less crowded. Those not staying at Disney can go home, too. Just get your hand stamped, and your ticket and parking pass will get you back in later that day.
• Take a day off between park days. We did two days back-to-back (Friday and Saturday) and the kids were like zombies on Saturday despite a good night’s rest. We took Sunday off before returning on Monday to the park, and they were more receptive. My kids loved the All-Star Movie resort’s playground and pool. We also all enjoyed visiting Downtown Disney, but it did tempt us to shop more.
• Two days in the parks is really enough for most young kids. After that, they’re just exhausted and tired of the lines. (My advice runs contrary to what Disney has found in satisfaction surveys, according to Dave Herbst, a spokesman for Walt Disney World. He said they found that the longer people stayed, the more they were willing to take breaks and slow their pace, which made them happier overall.)
• If you’re renting a stroller from the park, pay for all the days you’ll need it on the first day. It’s a new service called a “length-of-stay stroller.” You can get a partial refund at the stroller stand in any of the parks or at Downtown Disney if you return it early. You will avoid a huge wait (25 minutes for us) each morning.
• Leave your big diaper bag in the stroller when you go on rides. It is unlikely that anyone will mess with it. Take your wallet, camera, one diaper, wipes, sippy cups and snacks in a smaller, lighter bag in the line. No one bothered our big bag two years in a row. (I wouldn’t leave Disney merchandise in the stroller.)
• The strollers have very little storage, but you can balance your bags on top while pushing.
• Leave your stroller in a central spot and don’t move it for several rides. We parked near Mickey’s PhilharMagic in Fantasyland, rode it and Dumbo and hit the bathroom without moving the stroller.
• Take advantage of the baby care centers in all four parks. Baumann says they are a “nice retreat from the pace of the theme parks.” They have rocking chairs, high chairs, spoons and changing tables, all free (most park restrooms have changing tables, too). They also have diapers, bibs, formula and baby food for sale, if you need them.
Surviving the lines
• Alternate between rides with short lines and rides with long lines so the kids get some quick satisfaction. The first thing we did Monday was get a FastPass ticket for the Buzz Lightyear ride. We had an hour to fill in Tomorrowland, so we waited 25 minutes to ride the race cars and then walked right on to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. After we got off those, it was time for Buzz Lightyear.
• The FastPass is valuable only if there is stuff nearby that you want to do. While waiting for our Jungle Cruise FastPass time to arrive, we decided to ride the Pirates of the Caribbean, which we love but feared would upset our daughter (it didn’t). Baumann says that even if we had to kill some time, at least we weren’t standing in a queue. She says that is the purpose of the FastPass — to keep you out of line. She suggests getting ice cream, seeing a character or just sitting and relaxing if there’s nothing else nearby to do.
• The FastPass is important in Fantasyland, which always seems crowded because preschoolers can travel any time of year. Baumann, who is a mother of a 6- and 3-year-old, offers this strategy: Head to Fantasyland first thing in the morning. Get a FastPass for Peter Pan’s Flight or the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. (She also likes to FastPass Mickey’s PhilharMagic show, but I’ve never experienced a long line there.) Then get in line for Dumbo. Next, ride Cinderella’s Carousel (which typically does not have a long line), and then your FastPass time should be up. If it’s not up, she says hit It’s a Small World. However, on our recent trip, the newly remodeled Small World was packed and had a 45-minute wait.
• Bring small, healthy snacks with you. Snack-size plastic bags filled with things like pretzels, graham cracker sticks, granola, raisins and cheese sticks kept their minds off the wait.
• Matchbox cars, Simon Says, 20 questions, Disney trivia and hand-clapping games also helped occupy them in line. Baumann adds to the list blowing bubbles — which I think the neighbor kids in line would enjoy, too.
• Playgrounds in the parks are a relatively new thing and really help keep the kids sane. Playgrounds are in Toontown in the Magic Kingdom (no older than preschoolers); the Space Base in Mission: Space, and dancing fountains near the Imagination pavilion in Epcot; the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure playground (for bigger kids, too) in the back of Disney’s-MGM Studios; and the Boneyard in Animal Kingdom (also good for bigger kids). The train, Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Country Bear Jamboree and the Carousel of Progress are good breaks as well.
Saving some money
• Bring in food and drinks. We saved so much money and avoided many lines by bringing our own snacks and water. > Pay the $10 extra to have a refrigerator in your hotel room. Again, we saved money just by having milk, juice, yogurt and fruit in our room for breakfast and snacks. Plus, you save time feeding the kids while you’re getting ready.
• Get the kid’s meal for everyone. The quick food service areas in the parks offer kids’ meals that come with a nice portion of the main course, a side of vegetable or fruit and milk or juice box. In Animal Kingdom, the kid’s meal had a hot dog, ear of corn, apple sauce and milk for under $4.
• If you do nothing else, don’t buy single rolls of film in the park. I stupidly bought two rolls for $10 each (400 speed, 36 exposure) off a cart and found out later the larger stores in the park sell five packs (five rolls of 24 exposures) for $20. I was too embarrassed to even tell my husband (though I guess he knows now).
Strategies for everyone
• Pay attention to the Disney hotel rates to determine the most crowded days in the park. More expensive means more crowded. For this year, Disney’s Herbst says: The value season, when attendance is the lowest, is January into mid-February, Aug. 28-Oct. 4 and Nov. 27-Dec. 19. The regular season, which has higher attendance than value but less than peak, runs Oct. 5-Nov. 26, mid-April to mid-August and Oct. 5-Nov. 26. The peak season is Feb. 17-April 16. The holiday season runs Dec. 20-31.
• During peak times, the weekends and Mondays are the most crowded. During nonpeak times, weekends can be OK, but Mondays are often still congested. Herbst explains that people who travel by car drive down during the weekend. This way, their first day in the park is Monday.
• Head left when entering the park. Baumann says research shows that most people turn right in the Magic Kingdom. She says the other thing people do is stop at the first ride they see (especially true at Epcot’s Spaceship Earth).
• The Magic Kingdom is most busy at the beginning of the week because families want to go there first. For smaller crowds, visit the other parks first.
• Even though the Extra Magic Hour (the parks take turns opening an hour early for guests staying at Disney hotels) is not congested, the park offering the Magic Hour tends to be more congested during regular hours. So if you can’t get in during the Magic Hour, you may want to avoid the park offering it that day. On the other hand, parks with Magic Hours at night don’t tend to be more crowded than normal.
• For the next 18 months, visitors arriving by air and staying at a Disney hotel can use the Magical Express to whisk their luggage from the Orlando airport to their hotel room (like a cruise line does). And you can ride a bus to the hotel for free.
What’s your best tip for visiting Disney with children? Share it with us on our travel blog, Gotta Go!, at ajc.com/travel.
Are you planning a trip to Disney this spring or summer? Will the Georgia snow days affect your trip? What are your plans? What deals are you taking advantage of? What are you best tips for other parents?
– By Therea Walsh Giarrusso, Momania on ajc.com