Well H E L L O! We have just returned from our fabulous trip to Walt Disney World with our oldest daughter Katie, her husband Hector and their three precious children (our grandchildren). I had so many questions while sharing our adventures on my Instagram Stories (click HERE to watch) that I have asked Katie to write today’s blog post. While I’m a seasoned Disney traveler, its been years since I’ve done it with little kids. Katie has 15 Tips to make your Walt Disney World trip with kids exceptional!
For this particular family vacation, I booked the airfare, hotel and WDW tickets (package). I asked Katie to set our daily schedule as I knew she would want to have a list of Disney things to see and do. My personal plan for WDW has always been to do one park per day. With there being four parks, we booked a 5 day/4 night stay at Disney’s Riviera Resort (Laura and I stayed there during this WDW trip). I like this property for several reasons. It’s Disney’s newest resort, it has suites and it’s on the Disney Skyliner which enables you to easily get to Hollywood Studios and EPCOT. The other parks were accessible on the Disney bus line. All Disney transportation is included with your package if you stay at any Disney resort. We flew in on Monday morning (they came from Austin and we flew from Dallas) on non-stop flights. So our park reservations were made as follows:
- Monday – Animal Kingdom
- Tuesday – Hollywood Studios
- Wednesday – Magic Kingdom
- Thursday – EPCOT
- Friday – Character Breakfast and departure
OK, now let’s get down to the real planning. I’ll let Katie take it from here…
Disney Planning with Small Children
Hello Teta fans (that’s what our littles call Tanya)! I am going to share a bit about our Disney experience as a mom of three young children, in hopes that it helps you in planning your amazing Disney vacation.
Below, I will let you in on some tips acquired either through pre-trip research and planning, or directly from our recent WDW experience. Some of our original plans were a little different than the reality of Disneying with littles. And I quickly learned, that’s not only okay, but should be expected – especially if you are a first-time planner. Just a note to readers – some of these tips will be more useful for families with small children, staying at a Deluxe Resort, and taking advantage of Disney’s Genie+. We were also super lucky to have an amazing Disney planner in Teta (Tanya) as well as close friends of ours, who travel there annually. Here are my 15 tips to make your Walt Disney World trip with kids exceptional!
Tip #1 – A stroller seat for each child is a MUST
We brought our City Mini Single stroller from home, and rented a City Mini Double stroller (and inflatable toddler bed) from Kingdom Strollers (407-271-5301). Kingdom Strollers offers pick up and drop off at the airport or at your hotel. Mark with Kingdom Strollers was great to work.
Initially, my husband was not sure about the two-stroller idea. By the end of Day 1, and after seeing parent after parent lugging kids in their arms, he was thrilled to have them! Having a seat for each child not only saves your body, it also lets YOU choose the next move rather than being chained to your child’s physical limitations or spontaneous desires. If it’s any indication on how much walking we did, Teta’s health app on her iPhone indicated 12,000-15,000 steps per day. Y’all that 5-6 miles per day!
Renting a deluxe stroller through a stroller rental company is better than renting at the park in my opinion. The rentals have more storage space for all your stuff, cup holders and pockets for quick and easy access to food and snacks. Plus, the stroller stays with you from hotel to park and back, which is SUPER important at the end of the day when tired kids and tired grownups are waiting for that last bus, or in line for the Skyliner.
Pre-planning Note: Pack stroller hooks and lights – something bright, blinking and flashy. With these two pre-trip purchases, you will not have to carry anything and will be able quickly find your stroller at night, or if moved by a cast member. After all, there are hundreds of strollers at WDW and they all look alike.
Transportation Note: You will need to empty and fold strollers when traveling by automobile or bus, but you can walk your open single-stroller right onto Skyliner, with bags in tow and kid in seat.
Tip #2 – Bring TONS of snacks and reusable bottles for water
While we purchased lunches and dinners at the parks (typically through the mobile app) we had a huge cooler bag full of sliced fruit, yogurt pouches, lunchables, chex mix, goldfish, chips and crackers. We ordered groceries from Publix Super Market in Orlando. Our amazing transportation service, Tiffany Towncar (407-370-2196) stopped there so we could pick up curbside, on the way to the hotel.
You will need more snacks than you think! We accidentally doubled our order, and I’m glad we did. We blew through everything! Whenever the kids were hungry or thirsty (which was often since they’re running around constantly) we had a snack and water ready. Lines at Disney are LONG, and food is pricey. A bottle of water is between $3-4. We saved hundreds and prevented countless meltdowns because we constantly had food and water immediately available.
Water Note: Most kids’ meals come with a choice of drink, and a bottle of water is often a choice. Stock up! Also, when needing to refill water bottles, most restaurants have a soda machine that offers water as a selection, for free. There are lots of water fountains throughout WDW parks. Fill up when you see them.
Tip #3 – Include time for a nap, or reconsider that early entry rope drop, especially on late park days
Second only to food, sleep is KEY to a good day with children. Our friends who travel to Disney annually, still return to their hotel daily for naps, and their kids are teenagers. If you are planning on heading home early, maybe a nap is not necessary. But, if you want to catch those fireworks, partake in early entry or extended evening park hours, a siesta is a necessity. Or even just some quiet downtime in the room is helpful.
Tip #4 – It is okay if you can’t do it all!
I’ll explain this by our trip example. Because we were staying at the Riviera Resort, a Deluxe Disney Resort, we not only had early entry to Magic Kingdom, but extended evening park hours as well! We could be in the park from 8:30 am until 11:00 pm. In my pre-trip-planning, over-achieving brain, this meant we could ride every ride and not have to wait in any lines. I had a multi-colored, multi-phased arrow diagram that looked like a build-your-own-adventure book, outlining different paths based on what times our lightning lanes were booked. We just needed to be at the park, no later than 7:30 am for early entry rope drop. After all, with little children, Magic Kingdom was the most important day of our trip!
In reality, Magic Kingdom was also day three of our trip. Neither my husband nor I remembered to set our alarms before we collapsed into bed after a long day of Hollywood Studios and a night at Oga’s Cantina. We were awoken by my eldest asking about Mickey Mouse waffles, at the exact time we were supposed to be loading strollers onto the Magic Kingdom bus. EEK!
I jumped out of bed, threw on my clothes, and opened the app. There were so many rides at the Magic Kingdom and often, such long waits! I was able to purchase individual Lightening Lane’s for our group for Peter Pan’s Flight, and book us all on Jungle Cruise through Genie+. We rushed to get ready, ran down to the buses, but alas, the next bus was 25 minutes out and it was already 8:25 am (early entry was 8:30 am and general park opening was 9:00 am). After freaking out for a moment, I recalibrated and remembered my research. Most guests head to Tomorrowland and Fantasyland at park opening, and some of the best attractions and coolest sites are in Adventureland. Plus, we had extended hours that night!
When we finally entered Magic Kingdom at 9:15 am, we were relaxed and rested, instead of stressed and tired. We’d all slept a long time – which, by day three, was desperately needed. We enjoyed so many attractions! Some favorites were The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, It’s A Small World, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, and Peter Pan’s Flights. My daughter blew kisses to and took pictures with Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Princesses Elena and Tiana. We were lucky to see Moana, Peter Pan, Gaston, and my favorite, Mary Poppins during cavalcades. We napped at the hotel, and returned to the park for the Disney Enchantment fireworks and extended hours. We were NOT into the crowds for firework viewing, so we set up near Sleepy Hollow Refreshments and had a perfect view of Cinderella’s Castle and Tinkerbell magically flying out of the top of the castle. After fireworks, we set out for Tomorrowland for extended hours. We walked on to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Astro Orbiter, Space Mountain (at least I did) and Tomorrowland Speedway with absolutely no crowds or wait time. We had a BLAST! It was the best day of our trip.
Tip #5 – When traveling with kids, the best rides for them may not be the ones that are most popular or well-known
Do not feel pressured to wait in that 90-minute-plus standby line for Avatar, when the kids would get more out of seeing the lions. In Animal Kingdom, my older two hated the Avatar ride – one of the most popular rides in all of WDW. My youngest could not even ride it. All three LOVED the Kilimanjaro Safari and playing in the Boneyard in Dinoland. They enjoyed walking around Star Wars Galaxy’s End in Hollywood Studios, seeing the spacecrafts and characters. But they were not fans of the rides. In Magic Kingdom, we rode The Magic Carpets of Aladdin at least 5 times (never much of a wait) but they were ‘meh’ about Pirates of the Caribbean (which never went below a 60- minute wait). Our littlest enjoyed it’s a small world (20-minute wait) much more than Peter Pan’s Flight (145 minute wait). We learned after riding Slinky Dog that our kids also were not fans of roller coasters, so we knocked all those popular rides off the list (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, etc.). Be ready to adjust your plan once you see what your kids like and don’t like.
Tip #6 – Take advantage of staying at a Disney Resort, 7:00 am Lightning Lane booking/purchase option!
Gone are the days of ‘Fast Pass’. This is a new system. Check the list of rides available for lightning lane booking through Genie+ or purchase through Individual Lightning Lanes, to know what you want to book and purchase, before 7 am. I would highly recommend researching how Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes work. There is definitely a trick to it. (see below for a quick comparison and explanation of Lightning Lanes). This also plays into the type of WDW ticket you purchase for your stay.
You need a bit of a plan before you book at 7am, and it should be a flexible one. By 6:55 am, know whether you want to purchase either or both of the TWO individual Lightning Lane rides available at that day’s park, and which ONE of the many Genie+ attractions you want to book first. You can only book 1 Genie+ attraction, so KNOW which rides you want to purchase, and which ride you want to book and grab them right at 7 am!. The only reason we were able to ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot was because Teta purchased it early that morning! And even with her purchase BEFORE PARK OPENING, the earliest time we were able to purchase was at 6:45 pm. I’m so glad she grabbed it – the new ride is AMAZING!
Tip #7 – Dining Tips! Dining Reservation times and numbers can be flexible
Booking a dining reservation? While you DO need to check in at the time you reserved, you are not always seated at your reservation time. On several occasions, Teta would check our party in (and let them know there were 7 guests instead of 6) while the kids checked out one more nearby Star Wars ship, or princess. She would text us once the restaurant was ready to seat us. But, stay close! As soon as a table is ready, cast members want to seat you and they only seat complete parties.
Tip #8 – Character Dining is a MUST, if you can snag a reservation!
Character dining is a great way to get some one-on-one attention with favorite Disney characters. There are 6 restaurants that pop up on the app as Disney Character Dining, including, Chef Mickey at the Contemporary, Garden Grill Restaurant in Epcot, Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood Studios, StoryBook Dining at Artist Point with Snow White, Topolino’s Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort, and Tusker House in Animal Kingdom. If you can get a reservation, I highly recommend it, especially for the littlest Disney-goers. We had great meals and amazing character experiences for dinner at Tusker House and breakfast at Topolino’s Terrace!
Tip #9 – For my fellow A-Typers, call and ask a Disney Cast Member BEFORE your trip, if you have questions about how things work!
Whether you need information on transportations around the park, dining reservations, lightning lanes, whatever – CALL Disney cast members and ask. While a LOT can be researched, inevitably more and more questions will arise in your planning. If you have hotel or resort questions, reach out to a cast member, and call 407-939-4357, and call 407-939-7765 with any tech questions. I always found them to be so helpful.
Tip # 10 – Familiarize yourself with the app and the map BEFORE you go
The My Disney Experience app (FREE in the app store) with Disney Genie is your key to getting around and utilizing your time in the most efficient and effective way. The app is where you book and purchase your Lightning Lanes. It can show you the shortest walk to any attraction, where the closest bathroom is, help you order food that will be ready when you walk up, and tell you which land has the shortest waits. I was on it daily, two weeks prior to the trip. Research “Tip Board” and “My Day.” Know how to use and access these two tabs, as these are the keys to reservations and Lightening Lane purchases.
Tip #11 – Get the Disney MagicBand!
I cannot say enough about the ease and fun of the Disney MagicBand. We used ours for EVERYTHING. Teta and Pops (Pete) gave each of us MagicBands as part of our Christmas Disney unveiling, so we had them when we arrived on property. My 6-year-old thought it was “so cool” that he could open our hotel room door with his band. He went in and out of the door at least 5 times while we unpacked, just to practice his unlocking the door with his band. I thought it was “so cool” that we did not have to check in. We walked right up to the room, and opened the door with my MagicBand. The ease of having everything I needed as a cute accessory on my wrist eliminated so much stress too! When rallying kids and gathering snacks, strollers, coolers, waters, etc., all just to get out the hotel door, NOT having to also worry about a park pass, room key or ticket is fantastic. Link of the MagicBand to your credit card, and you don’t need to fish through a backpack or wallet when paying for meals or souvenirs. The band is also your entry into any Lightning Lane or attraction during evening extended hours. Think of the MagicBand as your magic wand in Disney – with a flick of the wrist, you have everything you need. Also, KEEP THEM! They are reusable and can be activated for your future WDW trip!
Tip #12 – Get ready for tomorrow’s park, the night before
Everyone with little children knows, the less you have to worry about in the morning, the less stress you have and the better chance of being out the door on-time. Each night, we unpacked and then re-packed our strollers and snack cooler for the next day. We also got all non-refrigerated breakfast items ready and on the table. Clothes were laid out, shoes and MagicBands were by the door. We were ready to walk out the door before we went to sleep. This led to happier mornings, shorter waits at transportation, and more time at the parks. CHEERS!
Tip #13 – Go with the flow – your children’s flow
Remember, after all, when Disneying with small children, the trip is mostly for them. Be ready to improvise or change plans last minute, if you are not able to book the lightning lane when you wanted, or if you find out your kids are scared of roller coasters. There are rides with short wait times at EVERY park that little kids will enjoy. If they find an attraction with a short wait and want to ride again and again, do it! When they tell you they have to go to the bathroom and cannot hold it, just as soon as you reach the front of Frozen Ever After, even though you asked them ten times before you got into the line, just take a breath and tell a cast member. They have an accommodation for that. Let them run, play, be crazy. Go slow when they do. Run when they do. If they need a nap, make time for one. If you are late, roll with it. If the kids want to climb around the rock walls or explore hidden places, let them. Everything at Disney was made with little kids in mind. Every place in Disney holds an adventure – it was designed that way. Enjoy the adventure!
Tip #14 – Bring ALL the costumes!
Our daughter dressed as a princess every day, and our middle kiddo was a stormtrooper most days. Not only did they have a BLAST being dressed up, it also saved us energy when getting them dressed in the morning and everyone commented on it. Cast members – especially characters – interact in a special way with costumed kiddos! Be sure to pack a change of clothes, just in case. Please note: Adults are not allowed to wear costumes (I wouldn’t say this because I LOVE and totally support costumed-adults).
Tip #15 – Finally, and MOST importantly, make your Disney memories, POSITIVE memories!
Having a positive family experience is the most important thing about Disney! You are making forever-memories. There will of course be meltdowns and grumpiness – that is life with littles and even the best vacations have stressful moments. Focus on not sweating the small stuff. Disney was MADE for kids of all ages. Relish every excited look or happy little wave. Having just gotten back, it’s not the popular rides that I remember. It was my daughter’s amazement when she saw her first princess! My sons’ excitement when they saw the alligators in Jungle Cruise and laughter as they rode Magic Carpets of Aladdin, again and again. And my dad and Teta’s happiness when we sat down at our meal in Mexico – a Foster family tradition at WDW – with a new generation of Disney kids. If there is one thing the last two years have taught us, it is to enjoy the time and experiences we have, with the ones we love. And take lots of pictures!
A few more pointers that I was not able to get answered until arriving at Disney
- Disney Transportation starts running about an hour before park opening, BUT, this opening time is based on when the park opens for YOU. So, if you have early entry to a park through your Resort, Disney Transportation at your resort starts an hour before early entry. Also important, if you have extended evening hours, it runs until about an hour after the park closes, for YOU.
- I never figured out how to cancel a Genie+ booking. A lot of pre-trip articles I read on Genie+ discussed canceling Genie+ LLs. I never saw a way to do this. I even asked several cast members, and they didn’t know how either! This may be a change from a prior version of Genie+. If someone figures out how to cancel a Genie+ booking, please share below int he comments!
- There is no 1 pm reopening of lightning lanes. Even articles written in the past six months sometimes discussed 1 pm lightning lane openings, for afternoon times. According to cast members, this is no longer a thing. I believe park hoppers can book or purchase lightning lanes at other parks, beginning at 2 pm, but they too are limited by the availability that limits all other guests. If an attraction no longer has lightning lanes available because all have been purchased or booked, new ones do not suddenly appear at some magic time in the afternoon. Lightning Lanes open at 7am for Disney resort and hotel guests, and at park opening for all other pass holders. Once they fill up, they are full for the rest of the day, for everyone.
- The Lightning Lane window is an hour, but it is usually ok if you are a little late. If you are running a little bit late, don’t stress! The LL can usually be used for a bit after the expiration time. We were told an hour, though we never chose to push it that long. We had no issue a few times when we were 10-15 minutes late.
- The Skyliner does not always run! If you are staying on a Skyliner resort, check with a cast member to ensure it is open and running for your trip to Hollywood Studios or Epcot. It closes if too windy, or occasionally, for maintenance. For example, according to the app, it is closed the entire week of January 24th. But, if it is closed, buses will be available to get to your park.
So, what is the difference between Individual Lightning Lanes and those booked though Genie+? Which attractions are available for lightning lane booking or purchase? Check the Disney app before you go, but below is a list of some key differences, and what attractions were available during our trip.
Genie+ Lightning Lanes (LL)
Individual Lightning Lanes (LL)
|Genie+ LLs are “booked”||Individual LLs are “purchased”|
|Available for booking by only those who purchased Genie+||Available for purchase by anyone with a park pass|
|Offered for several attractions at each park||Offered for 2 attractions at each park|
|Can book 1 Genie+ LL at a time (additional bookings may be made 2 hours after a prior booking, or immediately after the lightning lane is used by all parties included in the original booking or the booked time expires. Note though that the two hour clock does not start running until after the park opens)||Can purchase one or BOTH of the two Individual LL attractions available|
|You can only book each Genie+ LL attraction once per day (though you can wait in the standby line as many times as you’d like)||Can only purchase an individual lightning lane attraction once in a day, but you can wait in the standby lane as often as you want.|
|When booking a Genie+ LL, the app will provide you with a singular time slot (an hour) available to book. (to opt for a later time, try refreshing the app and a new time may appear)||When purchasing an Individual LL through the app, you will be able to select which time slot of those still available, you would like to purchase.|
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
“it’s a small world”
Mad Tea Party
Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor
Peter Pan’s Flight
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Alien Swirling Saucers
Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage
Disney Jr. Play & Dance
Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
Slinky Dog Dash
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Toy Story Mania
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival
Journey into Imagination with Figment
Living with the Land
Soarin’ Around the World
The Seas with Nemo & Friends
Turtle Talk withCrush
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
Frozen Ever After
A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King
It’s Tough to Be a Bug
Kali River Rapids
Na’vi River Journey
The Animation Experience at Conservation Station
Feathered Friends in Flight
Avatar Flight of Passage
Expedition Everest (closed through April 2022)
WHEW! I know this is a lot of information but I hope it is helpful if you are planning a trip to Walt Disney World with small children/grandchildren. We are so grateful for this family vacation and have made memories of a lifetime. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below.
xoxo – Katie Foster Valle
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- Helpful Websites when planning your trip
My Disney Experience (official WDW)
- Disney parks Blog
- WDW MAP
- Adam Hattan youtube
- Crowd Calendar- Undercover Tourist (11-2021)
- Transportation at Disney
- Transportation- Most updated
- Genie & Genie+ (undercovertourist)
- Disney Genie+ and LL Tips (DisneyTrippers)
- Guide to Genie+ at WDW.
- 19 Best and Worst Genie+ Rides
- Early Entry Rides
- 2022 Early Entry and Rope Drop (11-2021)
- Rope Drop Magic Kingdom (Nov 2021)
- Rope Drop Hollywood Studios (Nov 2021)
- Rope Drop & Early Entry Hollywood Studios (Oct 2021)
- Rope Drop Epcot (Jan 2022)
- Ride Durations
- Single Rider
- Rider Switch w/ LL (Oct 2021)
- Disney Springs – Yelp Info
- Baby Care Center
- Disney Restaurant Checking – Disney Dining
- Research on Dining- Undercover Tourist
- 15 Best and Worst Skyliner Restaurants
- Best Vegan Dining
- Grocery Orders at Disney
- Disney Trippers – GREAT website