You know what’s weird? I usually get five to ten emails a day offering me penis implants or dates with girls from Russia, but while we were away in Florida, nothing. And then this morning, a regular return to spamming. How did they know I was away? Eerie.
Anyway! Disney was SO AWESOME. We had a great time and the kids asked many times if we could just abandon our house and lives in Ottawa and move into the castle. Seriously, they did not want to come home. Neither did we!
I must take a minute here to sing the praises of going to Disney on the off-season. I know not everyone can do this — it’s called the off-season for a reason! — but if you can afford to take the kids out of school for a week, go in January. We rarely waited more than five minutes for any ride. In the first hour of the park opening, we could walk onto any ride we chose, and if we really liked it, we’d run out the exit and in the entrance and hop right back on. We didn’t need to queue for shows hours in advance; showing up five minutes before start time was enough to get us a seat (15 minutes before showtime would get us front row).
And, I never waited for a bathroom. EVER.
All that meant that we were able to see everything we wanted to in the parks, and I mean every little thing, all without having to push the kids beyond their limits. There was always time for as many pee breaks as they needed. We could always take a time out to sit and have a snack or just look around and enjoy the atmosphere, because we were never rushing to get anywhere or stuck standing in a line.
So really, that’s what made the trip so great, and if we were to go back (which we TOTALLY ARE), we’ll choose off season again.
The other thing that really made our trip amazing was the way we handled the food, but I am going to save the details on that for a whole other post. Since the Captain has food allergies this was one of our biggest worries, but it all turned out great and I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.
I’d advise anyone who is thinking of going to invest in a good guidebook (we used Fodor’s Walt Disney World With Kids and it was good). You’ll get the most out of your visit if you read up ahead of time and have a good plan going in.
In addition, here are some of my tips off the top of my head — things that worked really well for us.
1. Have a day-by-day plan in mind. Don’t arrive at the park and get a map and then try to figure out what you’re doing — you’ll waste so much time planning and debating, especially during the early hours when the line ups are smallest. Now, I am the most Anal McPlanner on the planet, so I’m not sure you have to go to the lengths I did, but here was my approach: a) read up on all the attractions at the various parks in the guide book; b) make a list of what we wanted to visit at each park; c) decide based on this list how many days at each park (we did one at Hollywood, two and a half at Magic Kingdom, and two at Animal Kingdom — we skipped Epcot altogether). I planned out which park we’d visit on which day based on which park had extended Magic hours — these are early opening/late closing days for people who are staying on the park, and we took full advantage of all these special days. (You can see the park hours, including the Magic Hours, for the week you are going on their website.)
We got copies of maps of all the parks from our neighbours who had been just a couple months ago, but you can print the maps from their website too, and you should. Then you can prioritize — our guidebook suggests picking four top-priority items per day when travelling with little kids, although we were able to do much more thanks to minimal lineups — and plot your route for each day. I actually did this detail planning once we were at the park — after the kids were in bed, I’d look at the map for the park we were going to the next day, and I’d look at my list of things we wanted to do at that park. I’d pick which attraction we wanted to do first (the busiest ones), then use the map to plot our route for the day. Worked awesome!
One thing you can’t really figure out until you get there is when and where to meet characters, and when to see the shows. As you enter the park you can pick up a single-sheet schedule that tells you which characters will be where that day, and what times the shows are at. So you might have to do a little tweaking of the plan when you arrive to work it all in.
2. Pack a LOT of snacks. Even if you are on the Disney meal plan, you’ll need extra. Walking around all day makes everyone hungrier than usual, and you can amuse your kids in line by giving them a baggie of pretzels or raisins. Also, bring some empty refillable water bottles, and fill them up whenever you see a drinking fountain. These also come in handy at the airport — you can’t take any liquids through security, so once on the other side, you can fill up your empty bottles at a drinking fountain and have water for your family on the plane.
3. Get a stroller. Even the Captain, at age 6 1/2, could not handle walking around the parks all day, and I’ve heard it’s even harder on kids in the summer when it’s super hot. I’d say, any kid age 5 and under will definitely need a stroller full time; a kid age 8 and under might want to ride sometimes (and it’s useful to have them riding when you’re sprinting across the park to make a show). We rented a double stroller every day (if you pay up front for multiple days, you’ll save money, so be sure to do that!). Most of the time, the Little Miss and Gal Smiley rode, but sometimes we’d let the Captain have a turn and we’d carry the Little Miss, especially when we were in a bit of a rush or had a long walk across the whole park.
We really debated a long, long time about whether or not to bring a stroller from home. Our guide book suggested that any kid under age 3 would need a stroller just to get from their hotel room out to the buses area — a lot of the hotels are huge complexes and it’s quite a hike with a little one in your arms at the end of the day. We lucked out and got a main floor room that was only steps from the bus stop (I’m not sure if you can request this, but if you can, do so!), and it was convenient not to have to push two strollers at the park (we knew we’d have to rent one for Gal Smiley no matter what), so it worked out for us. Still, we did carry the Little Miss around a lot and both Sir Monkeypants and I have pretty tired arms — plus, the trains inside the Magic Kingdom were useless to us, as you can’t take your rented stroller on board. It’s a tough call, but if you do decide to bring one from home, make sure it’s a very small umbrella-style stroller, so you’re not shut out of crowded buses because your stroller won’t fit.
4. Don’t forget that your hotel is a fun place, too. We worked one “rest” day into our schedule, where we wouldn’t go to any parks. We used this day to go to Downtown Disney but it totally wasn’t worth it. We were staying at Animal Kingdom, which is the farthest from Downtown Disney, which meant it took us almost an hour to get there by bus, each way. Plus, Downtown doesn’t open until 10am or so, so combined with the long commute, we ended up blowing almost the whole day just to do a little shopping. Instead, we really wish we had just stayed at the hotel — the kids LOVED the pool (which had an awesome water slide and water activity centre), and all during the day there were Disney-themed parties, games, movies, and kid-based activities. This is one of our few regrets — that we made the Downtown Disney Epic Journey and so missed out on a lot of our hotel-based fun.
5. Don’t be afraid to split up. We did most things as a family, and certainly almost everything at Disney is fun for everyone. But after a day or two, we realized that the Little Miss was getting a bit bombarded by noise and colour and action, and needed to take things at a slower pace. So occasionally Sir Monkeypants would take the big kids on an extra big-kid ride, while the Little Miss and I just hung out, having a snack, taking some photos, or standing in line to meet a character (which the Little Miss pretty much uniformly despised, but we kept trying!). We were always worried when we split up that we’d never see each other again, but we did manage to find each other, and the big kids had a great time on some of the more thrilling rides. On the morning we had to leave, both of the girls were feeling crappy with a cold, so they stayed home and watched TV while Sir Monkeypants took the Captain over to the Magic Kingdom for one last ride on Space Mountain (and in an hour, they went on Space Mountain four times and the Buzz Lightyear ride three times, because OFF SEASON RULES).
That’s all I can think of for now…tomorrow, more on food!