Here are the lessons we learned from our first visit to Disney World's Magic Kingdom with a 5-year-old and 3-year-old!
We've just returned from our first family trip to Disney World and we had a blast! After months of planning, I have to say our day at the Magic Kingdom was indeed magical and I'm here to share all our tips, tricks, and advice.
Don't get sucked in.
First and foremost, don't get sucked into the Disney machine. When we first started planning, I felt all this pressure to DO. DISNEY. I had to stay on site! I had to spend the entire week visiting all the parks! I had to get the dining plan! I had to call at 6am six months in advance to book all the character meals or my children's vacation would be RUINED!!!
Then, I took a deep breath and calmed the heck down.
I know many people believe on taking vacations "for the kids." I'm just not one of them. After all, I have a job. My kids don't. I actually need a vacation and I had no desire to spend my much-needed vacation trudging all over Disney World.
For our first trip, we decided one day was plenty and that Magic Kingdom had the most to offer kids our boys' ages (and heights).
Do your research.
Buy The Unofficial Guide to Disney. It's the Bible of Disney planning and there's a reason for that. This massive tome contains the best advice for visiting every Disney resort, park, restaurant, and ride.
The best part? The guide also contains touring plans with step-by-step schedules for how to see the best each park has to offer depending on how long you are going to stay and how old you are.
The book recommends linking up to touringplans.com to customize your touring plan and - at first - I was skeptical. I wasn't sure I needed a paid service for just one day.
I was wrong.
I strongly recommend touringplans.com. You can create highly customized plans based on everything from how fast you walk to when your fast passes reservations are. This website was how we were able to visit 23 of the Magic Kingdom's most visited shows and rides in only one day with barely any waiting in line.
Full disclosure: I had a lot of problem with the site's app while we were at the park but I still think it was worth it. I do recommend printing your customized plan just in case.
Make ALL your reservations up front.
So, turns out, "the make your reservations 180 days in advance" thing IS important, especially if you want your kids to experience a character meal (aka meet and greets with their favorite Disney characters during the meal). After surveying the character meal options, we decided to go to the Ohana's Best Friend Breakfast because my boys LOVE Lilo and Stitch.
I also decided to reserve the character breakfast for the morning after our day at Magic Kingdom 1) so I didn't eat into our touring time and 2) to extend the magic a big longer.
My mistake was I stopped worrying about reservations after we had the character meal booked. I should have made our reservation for dinner at the park 180 days in advance as well, especially since there were seven of us. We ate breakfast and lunch outside the park but it would have been nice to have had dinner plans right as we were needing a break.
Build the excitement
I love a countdown. Nothing builds the anticipation like counting down the days until a trip.
After surveying Pinterest suggestions, I knew I wanted to include watching movies the most popular attractions were based on, making autograph books and other crafts, as well as easy activities like Disney coloring pages and online games.
Then, I had a BREAKTHROUGH!
Who said I had to assign a particular activity to each day? I always hate doing that because you inevitably end up with a complicate and time-consuming activity on a day when you have a mere five minutes to spare!
So, I color-coded the activities instead!
Blue = Less than 15 minutes activities including previewing a ride on YouTube or printing a coloring page.
Red = Watching an attraction-related Disney movie
Yellow = Longer, more involved activities and crafts
Can I tell you? It worked like a CHARM! We got our Disney shirts made, our autograph books decorated, and every Disney film watched while excitedly counting down the days to Disney!
The Day Of...
- Get there an hour before the gates open. This is not a joke. First, you beat the crowds on some of the most popular attractions. Second, they do a little show and a countdown and it is so much fun!
- Rent a stroller and attach a balloon. Unless your child is upper elementary school, the walking will most likely be too much so the stroller is a lifesaver. The balloon helps you find your stroller in the parking zone AND your party in a crowd!
- Take. The. Break. The Unofficial Guide recommends taking a 3 hour break in the middle of the day to eat lunch and rest. They are the experts for a reason. Do it.
- See the Festival of Fantasy parade. The Main Street Electric Parade is awesome and see that as well but I think the daytime parades are a little forgotten. We stumbled upon it as we returned from our break (around 3pm) and I'm so glad we did!
- FastPass+ strategically. I'm still not an expert on this system but luckily there are people who are.
- I read several tips that recommended bringing your own light up necklaces to avoid paying for Disney's $12 fanciness. I hate to burst your bubble but nothing purchased at the dollar store can hold up to Mickey's finest light-up stick. Amos was unimpressed and ended up with a Mickey stick from the cart.
- Get the Dole Whip! It's worth it. I recommend a mid-morning snack instead of mid-afternoon when the line is LONG.
- Other than the essential Disney ears (and aforementioned light-up stick), we were able to avoid souvenir purchases. We packed so much fun into the day we really didn't have time. Instead, we went to one of the nearby Orlando Premier Outlets and purchased our souvenirs at a discount!
The Big Hits with the Hollands
We truly had a magical time at the Magic Kingdom. There wasn't a single ride or show that that was disappointing. However, there were some that were BIG hits with our boys. Amos loved Peter Pan's Flight and Under the Sea - The Journey of The Little Mermaid (also my favorite!). I think for preschoolers anything that closely recreates the film is the most entrancing and both of these rides do an excellent job. Griffin loved the Dumbo playground (not to be confused with the actual ride) where you wait until it's your turn to ride Dumbo. So, word to the wise, don't waste your FastPass here because the waiting area is half the fun. He also laughed. his. butt. off. at Mickey's PhilharMagic (also Nicholas's favorite).
Overall, I really couldn't have asked for a better day. No meltdowns. Little whining. Lots and lots of fun and magical moments that left me on the verge of tears.
My friend Amy says every kid should take a trip to Disney around kindergarten and I have to agree. Griffin was the perfect age to enjoy the Magic Kingdom. For Amos, we're considering a Disney Cruise. Then, for the finale with baby #3, we might go all in for the week at Disney. There's no way we could cram in fun for the big boys and baby in one day and there'd still be plenty of time for mom to rest by the pool!
As we were leaving the park (at midnight!), Griffin and I were discussing how no one had more fun that day at Disney than we did. He looked up at me with a smile.
"Thanks, Mom, for planning this awesome day!"
And THAT, my friends, was worth every penny and hour spent!
What are your best Disney tips?