Tips for Taking a Preschooler to Disney

I’m a Disney-phile and proud of it!  It’s a place of dreams and dreams coming true.  I get emails from the blog DisneyDining.com and love everything I read from them!  Today they hit on a topic that will be important to me in a few years (I hope).  Taking young children to Disney.  One of my joys and (what’s the word for least joys???) non-joys? of Disney is the kids.  I love seeing a child experiencing the wonders that I experience every time I am there, but have you seen the kids who have just had too much?  Tantrums like I’ve never seen anywhere else!  We were just commenting the other day that some of the parents at Disney look decidedly UNjoyful!  So here are some tips to help you make the best experience possible, every time!

Top Ten Tips for Taking a Preschooler to Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World is for the kid in all of us. There is no right or wrong age to go for your first visit. If you’re planning a trip to Florida with one or more members of the four and under crowd you are going to want to be prepared. Crying children and angry parents are an all too common sight at the “happiest place on Earth”. They don’t include those scenes in the commercials! Having a great Disney vacation with small children is more than possible. These suggestions, ideas and tips might help to relieve a little bit of the stress and help make your family vacation as magical as it should be.

10) Allow Your Kids to Help Plan

Walt Disney World can be overwhelming for adults, imagine what it could be like for a small child. Allowing your kids to help plan the vacation will give them a bit of an idea of what to expect. Although it sounds like a great idea to tell them that you’re all headed to Grandma’s and then surprise them by pulling into a Disney resort parking lot, kids often don’t react the way that is hoped. YouTube is full with videos of Disney surprises gone wrong. Order the free DVD from the Walt Disney World website and watch it with your preschoolers. Plan to also watch plenty of Disney movies before the trip, especially those that are featured predominately in the parks.

If possible, plan your trip during an off season. The parks are less crowded so that will mean less time in line. The parks also have shorter hours during the off seasons, which isn’t a bad thing when you’re traveling with kids. When you start packing for the trip allow your preschoolers to choose a couple of things. Don’t over pack, you don’t need to bring the entire toy chest, but let your child pick a special toy or two. If you’re flying let your child decide upon one comfort toy to carry on the plane. Explain everything to your child so that he or she will have at least some idea of what to expect.

9) Allow Time for a Nap (My personal favorite nap place is the Hall of Presidents in Magic Kingdom and Spaceship Earth in EPCOT.  It’s like Magic… I sit down and am out cold!)

Tired children are not happy children. Allow time for a nap each day of your vacation. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of leaving a park, find a fairly quiet corner and allow your child to sleep in the stroller. (If you fly you can rent a stroller in each park or from a local company, there are plenty of places that have them available.) Walt Disney World is going to be overwhelming for your preschooler so allow him or her to have a little bit of down time. Don’t think about all of the things that you could be doing while your child sleeps. Enjoy the opportunity for a break as well.

8) Don’t Force Any Rides

What looks like a fun ride to you could be terrifying to your preschooler. While some rides may require a little bit of encouragement, if your child really does not want to ride something do not force him or her to. Some kids are scared of boats, others do not like the sensation of going around in circles. Nothing will make your child hate Disney faster than being forced to do things that he or she does not want to do. You know your child better than anyone. If it is more than just a case of the jitters, do not force a ride.

7) Be Prepared to Say “No”

For some reason many kids seem think that they can get away with more at Walt Disney World than they would at home. When your child starts screaming for a Mickey ice cream bar but it is not time to eat, say “no”. There is no reason that you need to overdraw on your debit card because your kid wants a little bit of everything. Some parents will give even preschoolers a vacation budget. They are given a small amount each day (maybe five or ten dollars) that can be spent on souvenirs or a healthy snack. When the money is gone do not give in. Remember that many of the souvenirs are going to lose their appeal two weeks after your vacation is over. Chances are that after you leave the store your child will forget about that “must have” toy. Children live in the moment, you don’t need to give in to their every whim.

6) Don’t Try to Do It All

Adults cannot do everything that there is to do at Walt Disney World in a week. You are not going to be able to see and do everything if you have preschoolers with you! If you realize in advance that you won’t be able to see and do it all, your entire family will have a happier vacation. Find a few “must sees” in each park and make those your priorities. Remember that while you’re hurrying to see the next performance of Lights, Motors Action, your kids could easily be distracted by a Green Army Man. Be flexible in what you want to do. Remember too that little legs get tired easily. Be prepared to see each park at a pace that suits your child.

Another good idea is to try to set some type of schedule that loosely resembles what your child is used to. Plan your meals for the same time each day. Make sure your child gets enough sleep, even if it means missing Wishes on this trip. Setting a bedtime for your vacation can make a real difference to a young child. Preschoolers need stability, a set schedule that is close to what they are used to will make a real difference.

5) Schedule an “Off” Day

As an adult this is one of the things I wish I thought to schedule for myself!  Time to just relax and enjoy the wonderful thing surrounding the parks.

A week at Walt Disney World is exhausting. You will get up early and go to bed late each day. You will walk for miles in the parks, stand forever in long lines and eat heavy foods for days on end. If a week at Disney takes its toll on an adult, imagine what it will do to a preschooler! If you intend to be in Central Florida for a week plan an off day halfway through your vacation. Spend the day exploring Downtown Disney or head to the interactive fountain in Celebration, Florida. Take a picnic to the beach, and plan to return early. Catch a kid friendly dinner show or take them to explore the World’s Largest Entertainment McDonald’s on International Drive. One day away from the excitement will allow your entire family a chance to recharge, which will make the rest of your vacation that much better.

4) Take Advantage of the Hotel Pool

Most kids are drawn to hotel pools. There is a good chance that your preschooler will like the pool even more than the parks. You could spend your off day at the pool, or you could use it for a break during the day. It does not matter if you’re staying at a Disney resort (where the pools are incredible) or at a budget hotel, the pool will be important to your child. If you’re not traveling during the summer and not staying on Disney property, call the hotel in advance to find out whether or not the pool is heated. You don’t want to disappoint your child because the water is too cold to swim in. Remember that even if there are lifeguards, you are responsible for your preschooler. Keep an eye on him or her at all times when you are near water.

3) See What Your Kids Want to See

There are plenty of rides and shows at Walt Disney World that are meant for the entire family. Make sure that you see and do the things that are important to your children. If your child wants to ride It’s a Small World for a second (or third) time go ahead and do it. They are not little for very long and it’s those special moments that you will cherish once they are older. Take advantage also of the rides that now have interactive queues. Rides like Dumbo the Flying Elephant and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh allow kids to play while they wait. They might like the line better than the ride.

You will also want to take advantage of the play areas that are located within the parks. Some time at The Boneyard at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or the Magic Kingdom’s Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station will allow your preschoolers a chance to blow off steam while you can sit down for a few minutes. The play areas can be confusing and it is easy to lose sight of a child, so watch them carefully.mickey's christmas castle

2) Follow the Rules

While Disney may seem like the world’s biggest playground, there are rules to follow. Your kids need to follow the rules at Walt Disney World just like they would at home. The height restrictions on certain rides are there for a reason. Have a cast member measure your child at the entrance to the ride if there is a question. Do not sneak your preschooler past the entrance and wait in the line, hoping that the boarding cast members will take pity on your child and let him or her ride, because it won’t happen. If your child is not tall enough and you really want to ride it yourself, ask about the Rider Switch option. That’s designed so you and your spouse can both ride without having to wait in line twice. You could also grab a FASTPASS. That way no one will not be waiting too long while you ride Space Mountain.

Your preschoolers need to behave while they are in the parks. Things such as fighting with light sabers, running ahead and cutting in line should not be allowed. Your kids should behave like you would want other people’s children to behave. You don’t want to be the parents that everyone else feels sorry for because your kids are seemingly out of control.

Finally, keep an eye on your children. If you do become separated, inform the nearest cast member. Show your children before you leave home what a cast member name tag looks like and make sure that they know to find someone wearing a similar tag if they can’t find you. Disney is a big place and kids do get separated from their parents. Fortunately Disney knows what needs to be done to keep children safe and to get them back where they belong.

1) Don’t Force the Characters on Preschoolers   (I have the BEST memories of my little brother and a very dear friend his age screaming and crying when the characters got too close!!)

You might already be picturing in your mind that magical moment when your child meets Mickey for the first time. You can almost see your son or daughter running up to him and giving him a huge hug. In reality it often does not happen that way. The characters are intimidating to many children. They know what Mickey looks like on TV but when they actually look up at a life sized version of him they are not sure how to react. Don’t force a preschooler to get too close to a character if he or she is intimidated.

If your child is shy you might want to start with a face character. They are often less intimidating because they are more realistic and can also talk with your child. Another good idea to get your child used to the characters is making a reservation for a character meal. The setting is more relaxed at the meals and the characters come to each table. Many children do better in such an environment. Another way to get your child more used to the characters is watching the parades. They will then see that a giant Mickey is not so scary after all. Once they are used to being around the characters you can then wait in line for more greetings. That’s when you’ll end up with priceless pictures.

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