Disney Dreaming With Kids: Things to Consider When Planning A Disney Vacation with Children

by Melissa Sulyok, PassPorter Guest Contributor
Last modified 08-25-2011

Photo illustrating Walt Disney World - Planning

Some days I am barely organized enough get myself dressed in the morning, let alone my kids, yet I am dying to plan a trip to Walt Disney World.

I am a stay-at-home mother of three young girls, now aged 3, 2, and 1. My loving husband and I went for our magical Disney honeymoon in 2007, then proceeded to have a honeymoon baby, followed by two more. I have been thinking that I want to take my whole family to visit all the wonder that is Walt Disney World.

Those Beautiful, Magical Gates photo
Those Beautiful, Magical Gates

Also, I have to get this off my chest: my name is Melissa and I am addicted to Disney planning spreadsheets. I have been using up my laptop’s memory saving spreadsheet after spreadsheet. I have spreadsheets to help me decide which resort, potential dates, the epic dining plan question, which parks which day, restaurant choices, driving vs. flying, and the list goes on and on. I have found that this is one of the few ways that I can try to keep anything involving small children… well, sane.

Now, I am not even remotely suggesting to live life, or a vacation, based on a very strict schedule. You will only be disappointed if you think that anything is going to go according to plan, pretty much ever. But, my goal is to constantly be prepared for the inevitable missteps. Here are some of the things I have decided based on my knowledge of my children and research on others travelling to Disney with small children:

1. Christopher (my husband) and I will in no way be able to see everything we want to see.
2. We will spend a significant amount of time in places we don’t really care all that much about, like playgrounds, fountains, in line for autographs, and/or watching shows.
3. We will need afternoon naps… all of us.
4. We will have to be there for rope drop in order to get anything done, as even a 20-minute line is almost impossible.
And 5. There will be tantrums, tears, whining, anger, and melt-downs - from the kids, and eventually from me - but I will be ready.

Here are some of the things I am planning on doing in order to help my eventual vacation go smoothly. Let’s start at the beginning: we are going to drive from Ohio to The World. Yes, I know some will think we are absolutely insane, but I think it will work best for us since we have a nice van complete with DVD player. Note to self: Don’t forget DVDs, snacks, Dramamine, and loveys for sleeping.

Here are some things that I have not decided yet: I think we are capable of making a Disney Value resort room work. Our youngest would still be in a crib/pack 'n' play so we can sleep in a room for four. While I think we would be more comfortable in a Moderate, I’m not sure it is worth the additional expense for our family. I think this is cause for another spreadsheet!

How many days can we mentally and emotionally survive in Disney without feeling like we want to leave our children on “it’s a small world” to be raised by the creepy animatronics? I am thinking probably five days. That is a happy medium between a long weekend trip and a week-long excursion. Gosh, more decisions.

To Dining Plan or not to Dining Plan? We had the older version of the Disney Dining Plan on our honeymoon in 2007 and absolutely loved it. I know, I know, it doesn’t always make sense for everyone, and it may not be the cheapest option. But I believe that the ability to be able to say to my kids, “Pick something off here, I don’t care what it is, just eat it” and not have to worry makes me feel better about it. Maybe its all in my head, but the convenience sounds like it would be worth it to me.

On to the inevitable souvenirs. Children, particularly girls, can shop you out of house and home. My idea is to stock up on Disney paraphernalia, maybe at deep discounts at after-Christmas sales, or at local dollar stores. Then, maybe with a little help, Tinker Bell or Mickey can leave each girl a gift. This is something I’m planning in order to get my children out of the park each day without a “Mommy, I NEED that” moment. I can somehow strategically divert attention to “I wonder if Tink left us any goodies in our room!”

These are just a few of the things I think about when fantasizing about our first family vacation to Walt Disney World. I hope this helps anyone if you are deciding whether or not to think about thinking about a trip with children. While I have never experienced it myself, I dream about it day and night!

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About the Author:
Melissa Sulyok is a stay-at-home mother to a Jessie-wannabe (Emma, 3 years old), a Cinderella-wannabe (Abigail, 2 years old), and a Stitch-wannabe (Natalie, 1 year old).  Melissa and her husband, Christopher honeymooned at Walt Disney World in 2007 and she has been dreaming of returning ever since, to share the magic with her little ones.

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Reader Comments:

Melissa, we just did Disney in March '11 (before my husband deployed) with a newly 1 year old and a 4 year old... and honestly, it went a lot more smoothly than expected! The main tips for WDW with kids that little seem to be "Don't do it!'-- I totally disagree! As long as you set expectations low it's totally fine... we drove from VA, had a "top five" list for each park we went to, my mother was there so that was a huge help. We're going in April '12 after my husband gets home form this deployment, and I already have my spreadsheets going, lol!
Here are the main tips I got from our first family trip:
-to not try to do too much at each park (hence my "top 5" lists, the 5 "must-do" items for that day), and try to have a general idea where you want to start out in each park-- we wandered and wasted time a bit last time
-have "rest days" in your plan (we're going for 7 days, but doing 2 park days & an off day, 2 park das & an off day, & one final day at MK)
-have someone to help out if possible (ex: my mom took our little one home early from MK while our oldest went to bibbidi bobbidi boutique, the night parade & the fireworks)
-dining plan was HUGE for us! using it for char meals (akerhaus breakfast was our winner) saved us so much, esp because we didnt have to go to meet & greets for those characters!
-i stocked up on "souvenirs" before hand, surprised them with new" disney shirts last trip... & since i'm planning now, ive already gotten a bunch of stuff from clearance sales (i just hope i sized them right for april!)

soooo this is a lot longer than i meant it to be... but all i ever see is the negative stuff about little ones, hopefully it can help out you or someone else who was in my position! smiley for :D

     wdwplanner16 on August 25, 2011 @ 7:59 pm
Those were all great spreadsheet items and things to wonder about. But I have a few tips from my previous visits which included three children and now a fourth child.
1. When considering the dining plan child under 3 are free if they share off your plate. So depending on what age your children are when you actually make your dream come true the dining plan may or may not be worth it.
2. The first time we went, in 2008, we had three children 5, 3, & 1 1/2 we stayed for 10 days and although it was great to get home and more expensive. We didn't feel like we had to try to hit all the big stuff before we ran out of time so we were way more relaxed about not trying to do it all. Although if we went into a park we tried to make it a pretty long day or morning, afternoon rest, and evening so that we didn't "waste" our ticket for the day. If you can be gone that long it might be something to think about. If you are going to stay for that long you might consider an in-room babysitter for one night so you and your husband can enjoy the World too! My husband and I did that and it was great to go to dinner by ourselves (we planned it for the middle of our trip).
3. As far as souvenirs go, Mickey and Tink are great ideas. We also do pressed pennies. It seems kind of expensive to spend $0.51 but it is great fun trying to find the machines and picking out the ones you want. Plus it is something that will last instead of a toy that will be tore up six months later. Again depending on the ages when you go it might do the trick. Now that mine are a little older (we just got back two weeks ago 8, 7, 5 & 1 1/2) I give them a set amount of money they can spend per day (usually $10). If they choose to spend more then they have no money for another day. So they usually end up buying something that is $20 one day and nothing the next. I usually let them buy whatever they want but it does have to be approved and not everything gets that approval.
4. This last trip we drove from Southern Indiana (about 940 miles) and took an extra day to get down there, so we could run/swim/play the extra energy off the kids both nights and it really made a difference on the happiness level of the group when we arrived. We did the home trip in two days and the little one didn't like to be strapped in every time we got back in the van.

This is just my thoughts and I hope at least some of it helps in planning your trip with your children. Yes it is insane to do but a great time can be had by all. Because after all it is the happiest place on Earth! smiley for :)

     chele3076 on August 25, 2011 @ 9:15 pm
Another tip for the souvenirs --- You know those souvenirs your kids just *haaaave* to have but you know deep down they'll be forgotten as soon as the cashier says, "Thank you"? smiley for :) I take a picture of DD6 with the souvenir so she'll "remember it forever." It's worked so far! Later, DD likes to take my iPhone and scroll thru the pictures while waiting at restaurants or in line. Saved me lots of fussing, money and clutter!

     2Peanuts on August 25, 2011 @ 9:26 pm
Loved the article Melissa! Great advice and don't worry I've brought young kids to WDW and survived. You have a good plan & attitude that will get you through. Hope you have a wonderful time exploring WDW through your kids eyes. P.S. I love WDW spreadsheets too smiley for :)

     Pooh#1 on August 26, 2011 @ 9:29 pm
My husband and I have been visiting WDW since before we had children. Our oldest son was 7mo. old on his first trip (well, his 1st trip was when I was 7 mo. pregnant w/him!). Our youngest had his 1st vacation when he was 13 mos. (if you don't count me being pregnant with him during #1 son's 1st visit!) We encourage all our friends - and even strangers - don't wait "until they're old enough to remember". YOU'LL REMEMBER and share the great stories with them! So, good for you that you want to train those kiddies right!!

Maybe consider tacking on grandparents. I know this can be even more stressful than the kids, but they come in very handy (when trained properly). You have the planning down pat - make sure everyone has a job, that YOU delegate, every morning and every evening. Otherwise, everyone is just sitting around waiting for you to get ready (even though you will be the first one up and the last one actually dressed for the outside world).

Grandparents love to "sight-sit" (finding a bench and watching the tourists go by!) which is invaluable when you have someone asleep in the stroller and you want to ride Splash Mountain. They are great to have around at the end of the day when everyone is bathed and sound asleep. This is a time when my husband and I loved to just stroll around the resort grounds, maybe sit at the bar or grab a late night snack.

We've found the hustle and bustle of the Value Resorts to be a favorite part of our Disney vacation - lots of families - lots of noise and that precious moment when you can overhear another mom or dad losing grip and you can secretly assure yourself that you aren't the "worst parents ever" because your kids aren't thanking you and singing your praises every minute for taking them out of school to go to WDW!!

Remember: A bad day in Disney is better than a good day at home. Have a great vacation!!!!

     LoveWDW71 on August 27, 2011 @ 1:45 pm
You will have a great time and the girls will be fine. Just give them and You and Hubbie a break in the middle of the day. You will be fine in a Value hotel. I took my best friend and her famiy which included 2 boys 4 years and one 8 months and 6 adults on a trip 1/28 - 2/5 and we all stayed at Pop Century. My choice for value hotels. Does not share their bus with any other hotel. Dining plan worked great for us.... you all will be able to find plenty of good food at the food court and in the parks. The time of your trip is a major decision. We go in the winter more than any other time. Very few lines, cooler weather, less crowded equals MORE FUN and DisneyMagic is everywhere.

Enjoy your trip... seeing WDW through the eyes of a child is priceless.....


     DMG on August 29, 2011 @ 9:02 am
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Updated 08-25-2011 - Article #723 

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