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iPhone, I Travel
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Animal Kingdom Lodge: Perfect for Teens
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Mickey's PhilharMagic
Fantasyland For Adults
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Four Parks in One Day
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Playing "Millionaire"
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A Day With Allie
Past Attractions at Magic Kingdom
Meeting Mickey
Disneyland at 50
Future of Disneyland
Beyond the Disney Parks
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Monorail System
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Expanding Disney's California Adventure
10 Reasons to Love Disneyland
A WDW Veteran's First Trip to Disneyland
A Disneyland Veteran's First Trip to Walt Disney World
Disneyland Homecoming
Walt Disney World With Pre-Teen Boys
Keys To The Kingdom Backstage Tour
Pirates & Princess Party
WDW with Teens? Absolutely!
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Artist Point
1900 Park Fare Dinner Review
Making Magic
Romance At Disney World
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NASCAR AllState 400
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Surviving the Parks as First Time Parents

by Kimberly LaPaglia, PassPorter Guest Columnist, Walt Disney World fan, and mother of Nicolas (age 3)

For many years, we were a couple sharing a mutual love for Walt Disney World. And so, our first trip to Disney World as parents took a lot of planning. By the time we got there, I thought I would have known everything about negotiating the parks as a parent. Well, after two trips, I'm still learning! Our first trip as parents was in January 2002, when our son was just 2 years old. We again ventured back to the parks in December 2002 when our son was almost three.

Nicolas prepares for a day at the parks

When you first visit Disney world as parents you'll have certain expectations. You may envision your toddler hugging Mickey Mouse or imagine your teenager thanking you after a shared Tower of Terror experience. You may have saved for years or you may be frequent Disney guests. However, the first trip with your child is filled with your dreams.

You will find special moments outside the parks.
Our child was mesmerized by the animals at Animal Kingdom Lodge, boats at Grand Floridian, and the bridge in the Wilderness Lodge lobby. Yet, nothing held his interest like the monorail and we could have experienced that without a park hopper! Stay at the hotel that suits your budget and then explore.

Be Prepared for the Unexpected.
I had a plan. I knew how long we would spend in each park, each land, each restaurant. Nothing prepared me for my son’s sudden refusal to sit in his stroller. He was going to walk all of Walt Disney World. And when he was tired, he was going to be transported in the arms of his parents or grandparents. On our second trip, our son enjoyed his folding umbrella stroller. Even with its canopy, the stroller was easy to fold and maneuver on the trams and monorail. I tied a green scarf to the handle so we could spot the stroller quickly. Our touring bag was easily secured over the handles.

Be flexible.
Plan an itinerary that allows for flexibility. Allow extra time to arrive at scheduled events or priority seating meals. I began with circling attractions that we missed thinking we’d catch them later. Finally, I let myself be impulsive and enjoyed my son’s adventures. We watched ducks and squirrels. I never knew about the wildlife roaming the parks. I sent part of our group to the Haunted Mansion and then I sat by the river and watched ducks with my son. There was something magical about hearing the screams from the Haunted Mansion, the bell from the riverboat, and the giggles of my son -- all mixed together. It’s a moment that I cherish and it wasn’t even at an attraction.

Invite your family to slow down and share the magic.
Know that you can and will experience magic other than what is found on rides. Stay rested and do not worry about adhering to everything on your itinerary. Determine what to try based on your child’s personality. Since our son doesn't nap anywhere but his bed (another interesting quirk that doesn’t allow for efficient touring), we tour in the morning and return to our hotel around lunch time. We swim and nap, then resume touring later in the day. Even in the off-season this works well. Swims and naps are easily accomplished when staying on property and is most advantageous when on the monorail line. However we also had success with this plan from the more remote hotels. When adhering to nap times, parents can rest, enjoy the view from your room, or take turns shopping and exploring the resort. Establish a nightly routine similar to your rituals at home. We relied on a bath with toys, followed by the treat of watching a Disney Bed Time Story, and then story time with familiar books. Our son fell asleep with the lights on!

Know that you will not see nor participate in everything included in your admission passes.
Plan to tour differently as parents. Since parenthood, we haven’t seen Fantasmic because our son is sensitive to loud noises. During the Magic Kingdom fireworks, we took our son inside Tinkerbell’s Treasures. I can still hear the sound of the pixie dust flying across the wall! To best utilize your time, try and take advantage of the Extra Magic Hour for resort guests. On specified days, resort guests may enter one of the four major parks an hour earlier than the posted opening time. This extra hour in the morning makes a huge difference in the off-season when parks close early. With a toddler, we were up early anyhow! We were able to tour all of the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland in the first hour.

Food survival is a parental challenge.
Enjoy at least one character meal. Share snacks while waiting for a parade. Splurge on ice cream or break out your toddler’s favorite treat. It’s amazing what a bag of crackers or a lollipop can do for a toddler’s impatience. Treat yourself to room service or an in-room pizza prior to a busy evening or upon your return. Call it an indoor picnic and your child might actually eat. Keep your child hydrated with familiar beverages. Kid-size water bottles can be easily refilled. Bring small toys to amuse your child at meal times. Stick to ordering familiar food for your child or sharing new foods off your plate. Save time by having breakfast in your room, so that everyone can take turns eating and getting dressed.

Pre-trip suggestions.
Immerse yourself in Disney. Watch videos from previous trips and get the Sing-Along movies showing actual footage of the resorts and parks. Order a free vacation planner video from Disney. Share Disney books. We talked about the characters, the rides, and the hotels as we looked at the pictures. This helped our son recognize the characters as his "friends."

We live near Hershey, PA and frequented Chocolate World to expose our son to the characters and waiting in line. When we reached Disney, our son danced with Chip and Dale. He kissed Minnie Mouse. He played peek-a-boo and compared shoes with Mickey Mouse. And he knew how to strike a pose with his new friends for pictures. He also did very well in the queues!

Do I recall the romantic days we spent in WDW pre-parenthood? You bet. But I’ll never forget the first time we strolled down Main Street and glimpsed that castle, the three of us as a family.

You can find romance in Disney even with the kids in tow. Invite the grandparents, or a special aunt and uncle along on the trip and arrange for a free afternoon or evening to shop and/or dine at a resort or Downtown Disney. We used a free night to roam the Grand Floridian. If you aren’t traveling with extended family, there are options. Reserve an on-site baby-sitter to entertain your children while you venture out to a restaurant. While we enjoy dinner on our next trip, we hope to show our son the wonders of the Neverland Club, an on-site child-care facility.

You can find romance even with your child nearby! My baby was born three months premature and our dream came true when he met Mickey Mouse at Chef Mickey’s on our first night in Walt Disney World. (Dining here will introduce your child to the characters.) My son’s eyes lit up when he saw Goofy walking across the room. I fell in love again. With my husband, with my son, with the magic found only in Disney World.

This article appeared in our May 15, 2003 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

Read more articles by Kimberly LaPaglia.

Return to | Discuss touring with kids on the PassPorter Message Boards

Updated 04/06/07 

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