By young children, I am referring to ages 2, 3, 4 and some 5. This is a big audience for Disney, but I have seen parents who simply want to do it all. It is understandable, as the Disney vacation is an expensive one. You will want to do as much as possible to feel a value for your vacation dollar. I am not immune! I often rush from site to site, push the family to get ready and get going! To some extent, this is an important quality for someone in each family, otherwise most of your trip may be spent sleeping, lollygagging around, and waiting in lots of lines, getting frustrated.
There is a balance to strike, however, as you want to get going and do things but you have to be careful not coming back from Disney completely exhausted. I, as one of these referenced parents who want to do it all, feel like I have struck a balance. Perhaps, as I age, I have become more laid back about my Disney trips as well, finding more enjoyable moments at the pool, in the resort hotels, or simply marveling at the atmosphere of the Disney parks rather than making sure I ride-all-the-rides-as-many-times-as-possible.
Here are several strategies and tips for parents with kids 2-5.
If you ONLY have kids under 5 and therefore not yet in school, go in May or November (although not the week of Thanksgiving). You will benefit from lower costs and less crowds compared with those that have school age children. This is the most important of all the tips for those that can take this time off. This age group also will likely prefer the Magic Kingdom, so I will focus on this park, although there are some tips below for other Disney parks.
Regardless of the above, there are several other strategies you can employ to encounter an enjoyable Disney vacation. I think a decision has to be made whether you want to be an early bird or a night owl. Make that decision and try to stick to it for the duration of your trip. The worst thing you can do is head to the parks at your leisure and leave after dinner because you are tired. You should either be at the park 30 minutes before it opens or plan on staying to the very minute that it closes. For some fortunate souls, they can do both, and in this case a very important tip (particularly in the summer!) is: Go to your hotel to take a rest.
There are many intricacies to a Disney vacation and this last tip is one of them. If you are staying at a Disney resort – particularly the Contemporary, Polynesian, or Grand Floridian, this tip is both easy and vital. Note I said take a rest, not necessarily a nap. If your child simply won’t nap, just setting their feet up for 30 minutes and resting in a nice cool environment can hold their tempers and tantrums for the remainder of the day. We’ve all seen it: The tired four year-old temper tantrum at the Magic Kingdom. You can avoid this! Take that break. If you are NOT staying at the monorail properties, you have to then balance this tip with the difficulty of getting back to your hotel. What are the hours during your stay? If the park is open to 11:00 pm, midnight, or later, a break is still a good idea, and a nap even a better idea. There is nothing like the 11:00 pm – 12:00 pm walking on to rides at the Magic Kingdom feeling. That nap makes this a possibility.
Let’s say the park closes at 9:00 pm and you tend to not be able to get to the park until 10:00 am despite all your best efforts. In this case, you may want to take a little break during the day, but not hassle with transportation and ticketing any more than absolutely necessary. In this case, with the little ones, I recommend that you remain within the Magic Kingdom but you can still take a break and perhaps sneak a little nap in for the little ones via these quiet adventures:
• Liberty Square Riverboat – a great place to set kids in their stroller and let them fall asleep
• Full circle round the park aboard the Disney Railroad
• Peoplemover in Tomorrowland
• Sitting under a tree in a quiet part of the park (the walk between new Fantasyland and Tomorrowland near the train tracks could be a good spot)
• Basically any of the sit down shows such as Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress, Philharmagic, Tiki Room and others offer a chance of a break and rest although unlikely to result in sleep due to the action and noise
Here are some additional tips for Disney’s other theme parks:
At Hollywood Studios, you may complete the park and instead of going back to your hotel for a break, consider taking the boat launch to Epcot and let the little ones sleep while transitioning to that park. It is a good way to transfer where they can sleep better than on a bus or other transit options.
At Animal Kingdom, there are less options for you, but fortunately this park can be completed in a shorter time frame. So, you may want to plan on a five or six hour day here, followed by a rest at your hotel. Then perhaps finish up at one of the other parks.
Note, at Epcot, the park is huge. Walking could be a major issue for younger children, so spend the money on your strollers especially if you plan on visiting the World Showcase.
Finally, note that each Disney park has a “Baby Care Center” that is a nice quiet, air conditioned space for parents with infants. Most have places to change diapers, get additional infant supplies that you may have run out of, and they have little play areas and televisions for older siblings. Ask a Cast Member for the location or consult the theme park maps upon your arrival. They are nice and clean!