Updated for 2017!
Let’s be honest. Taking children on vacation to theme parks, surrounded by thousands of people and potentially walking miles a day, can be overwhelming. For the Disney parks in particular, add in scheduling Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) and FastPass+ times, and you have a lot of information to absorb and keep up with.
We’ve amassed our best tips for taking children to Disney theme parks in one easy to follow guide. And away we go!
1. Daily Schedule
Grab a daily schedule when you first arrive at the parks in the morning; this way you know what’s going on with scheduled events, entertainment, and character locations. You can also get a schedule from the front desk at all the WDW resorts. Children that can read might enjoy having their own schedule, which means multiple people in your party will be planning things down to the minute!
Those of you with iPhones can use the My Disney Experience App. to see times and locations for character meet and greets, attraction wait times, and a limited schedule for some events like Casey’s Corner Pianist, Celebrate the Magic show, Flag Retreat, etc. Kids are totally tech savvy these days and will enjoy looking this up on a phone.
2. Go Early
If you have spent any time on vacation with children, you know that they are usually wide awake and raring to go way before the adults. Most smaller children are in prime form in the mornings, crashing later on in the day. So it makes sense when traveling with kids to head over to the parks bright and early.
Theme parks are the least crowded first thing in the mornings (unless there is morning Extra Magic Hours), so you will have shorter wait times than from noon until later on in the afternoon. In the summer, it’s not yet hot and humid during the early mornings, and you can always come back to your room and grab a nap. Vacations are hard work; I am a big proponent of naps.
3. Take a Picture of your Parking Row
Time to start your day off right. Cast Members say you wouldn’t believe how many people forget where they parked each day. Take a picture of the sign on your parking row and text it to yourself, or just text the information so you don’t forget how to find your spot.
If any child traveling with you has their own phone, have them take the picture (participation!) and send it to you. Let them be in charge of finding the car, with a little gentle supervision from you.
4. Take a Nap
As I said in #2 when discussing beating the big crowds by waking up early for park openings, I am all about the nap, both for me and for children. On a typical Disney day, but even more so when it’s summery-hot, kids start to lose it around lunch time. Even if you have active children who can handle a fair amount of walking, the Florida heat alone can suck the life out of you.
If your children normally take a nap, we recommend heading back to the hotel for a quick rejuvenating snooze. There are kids napping in strollers everywhere throughout the parks, so if they fall asleep before you make it back to the room, that’s even better for those left to ride roller coasters while the kids nap it out in the shade.
5. Or Take a Break
Not every child will need a nap, but they certainly might need a break. There is so much to see and do in the parks and resorts (ever seen a child in a gift shop on the way to a park?!) that overstimulation is a very real possibility. If you have two adults, let one take the nap and the other adult can take the non-nappers for a swim.
Single parent of nappers AND non-nappers? This is where you turn the room TV on a low volume, turn off the lights, draw the curtains, and catch some Zs for yourself while those still awake watch some cartoons. Hanging out with the less-stimulated child is certainly ideal over the cranky and completely over-stimulated one.
Naps and breaks can make your vacation run much more smoothly.
6. You Can Rent Strollers
While parents can bring strollers from home, Disney also has molded plastic strollers for rent. These rental stroller are not suitable for infants or older babies, but they are certainly fine for toddlers to preschoolers. You cannot remove strollers from the theme parks, so if you park hop, just present your rental receipt at the next park to obtain a replacement. A $100 credit card deposit is required for strollers rented at the Disney Springs area.
- Single strollers are recommended for children 50 lbs. or less. The daily rate is $15 and multi-day length of stay rate is $13.
- Double strollers are recommended for children 100 lbs. or less. The daily rate is $31 and multi-day length of stay rate is $27.
To qualify for a Length of Stay stroller discount, simply pre-pay the number of days that you will need a stroller. Purchase a Length of Stay rental ticket, and show your receipt at the rental location to receive your stroller for the day.
In addition to stroller rental locations across Walt Disney World Resort, several private companies in the local area also offer stroller rentals.
- Orlando Stroller Rentals: (800) 281-0884
- Kingdom Strollers: (407) 271-5301
- Magic Strollers: (866) 866-6177
7. Realize Strollers are Moved
Where did your stroller go? You know for a fact you parked it right here. Well, as they straighten up park areas, Cast Members will often move strollers around so everything looks more organized. There is no need to panic if you don’t find your stroller where you originally parked it. Look around for the huge group of strollers, and if you use tip #8, you’ll have no trouble spotting it.
8. Cheapskate Decorate Your Stroller
You need your stroller to stand out from the crowd. Stroller decoration certainly doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take much time. Lots of families attach balloons, ribbons, or decorate bright-colored name tags so they can recognize their stroller more quickly. When you walk out of an attraction, you will then spot your distinctive looking stroller more quickly.
Personalization is especially important if you rented one of the identical looking Disney strollers. Pick identifiers your children will recognize, so they don’t climb into the wrong one. (Ask me how I know this happens…) You don’t have to spend lots of money for a Mickey helium balloon to make your stroller look special, but if you do, remember to take it home at the end of the day. I’ve heard stories from parents who say their balloon stayed inflated sometimes for over a month.
9. What’s in Your Stroller?
I always tell people Disney World is a really safe place, both for your family and your belongings. I once forgot a backpack on a resort bench as we boarded a bus to Magic Kingdom. 20 minutes later after riding back to the bench, me in panic and with a furious husband, that bag was still sitting right there with all the contents, untouched and in place. Chances are anything you leave in your stroller will be right there upon your return, but…
Just in case, make sure anything you leave unattended will not ruin your trip if you come back to find it missing. If your child can only sleep with that one specific Mickey doll, perhaps that Mickey doesn’t need to be in the stroller. Or maybe you need to bring two Mickeys, one for the stroller and one for the room. Chances are everything will be fine, but sometimes it’s not worth taking a risk bringing along financial or emotionally valuable items with you into the parks.
10. Stroller Fold Up
Keeping in mind that you can’t take the rental strollers out of the parks, when you bring your own stroller on the Disney busses and trams, you will need to fold it up before you climb on board. This catches a lot of families by surprise, and stroller break down and bag organizing can take some time to get yourself together.
Strollers can be rolled onto monorails and some boats, depending on space, but it’s always a good idea to be prepared for fold up. Children should be ready to be in and out quickly. People behind you in line will thank you.
11. Bag Check Lines
Since we’re talking about potentially holding people up in lines, bag check into the parks is another area you should be prepared. You need to have every pocket of your bag open for Cast Members to check. Just for your information, they are looking for glass containers and weapons, not food.
Children traveling with you should have their bags open as well, even if it’s a small backpack or fanny pack. Trust me, people behind you in line will thank you.
12. Emergency Plan
If you become separated, do your children know where to meet? Do small children know what to do if they suddenly can’t find you? Should they stand still or walk around looking for you? It’s an excellent idea to determine a meet up place if you get separated or have a plan on what to do.
For children that are really small and unable to communicate how to reach their parents, many people tape phone numbers in their child’s shirt collars, take pictures of what they are wearing that day, and lots of other child finding measures. We have an entire article with tips to help you keep up with your children in the parks: How NOT to Lose Your Kids at Walt Disney World and Disneyland
13. Baby Care Centers
Baby Care Centers can be truly helpful during your vacation. Open during regular park hours, each full-service Baby Care facility is FREE to use and includes the following:
- Private nursing room with rocking chairs
- Changing room with tables and a unisex bathroom
- Feeding area with high chairs
- Kitchen with microwave, oven and sink
- Main room with television, table, chairs and sofa
There is an on-site shop offering formula, baby food, juice, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, over-the-counter medications and clothing for purchase. These items will not be free.
14. First Aid
What do you do what a child gets sick in the parks? Or if the adult watching a child feels sick? Visit one of the First Aid centers. Nurses are available during regular park operating hours, providing over-the-counter medications, bandages and other quick remedies.
15. Souvenir Pick-Up for Toys/Merchandise
Have the kids have picked out souvenirs too large for you to carry? Or maybe you don’t want to leave expensive items in your stroller? Decide you have to purchase something breakable? Good thing you have an option. Theme park merchandise can be delivered to a designated location near the front park entrances for convenient pick-up as you exit the parks. To utilize this service at the time you make your purchase, let the Cast Member who rings up your items know you want everything delivered to the park entrance.
You can also have items delivered to your resort room, but obviously don’t use this service if you are leaving early the next day. How awful would it be to miss your souvenir delivery!
16. It Gets Loud
Small children can be really noise sensitive, as can be children with special needs. Fireworks and music in Fantasmic!, IllumiNations, and Wishes can be really loud. If your children are noise sensitive, pack some earplugs; if you forget, they are available at First Aid. If possible, try not to sit too close to the front.
17. It Also Gets Dark
If your younger children have never been on “dark rides” before, you may be shocked by their reactions. I’ve seen kids wailing in Small World, and this is a happy dark ride! Start explaining to them that some rides and shows may be in the dark. A great way to do this is by showing ride videos found on YouTube.
Once you arrive in the parks, don’t push your children into something they can’t handle. If the tears start in the first dark space, then don’t continue going into dark ride after ride. You can always come back when they are older.
18. Lines/Queues are Long
Stand-by lines can frequently get really long, like hours long during holidays, and this can be stressful for both adults and children. Many parents recommend that kids play on iPhone apps. or try looking for Hidden Mickeys while they wait. Hidden Mickeys are just Mickey-head shapes/three circles that appear where you wouldn’t expect them.
This is also a great time to have a conversation with your child, especially teens, because now you have a captive audience!
19. Ride Before Parades & Shows
People can start lining up for shows and parades nearly one hour or more before they actually start. This means while large groups are gathering in one spot, you can take advantage of what can be shorter wait times for roller coasters. The lines will fill back up right after the entertainment ends. I’m not saying choose rides OVER parades and shows, because Disney absolutely has some of the best of both. But if your group isn’t that into seeing live entertainment, then use that time wisely for more popular rides with potentially shorter waits.
Read: Less Stress on Vacation
20. Tips For Big Theaters
Shows like PhilHarmagic, Little Mermaid, and the Muppets 3D movie are all housed in large theaters. Your impulse will be to hurry inside, but the better plan is to hang back. The first guests through the doors are instructed to walk all the way to the end of the rows. If you want to sit in the middle, our favorite viewing spot, let other people go in before you.
However, if you do rush into the theater and find yourself sitting at the beginning (which is now the end) of the row, cheer up, because you are in prime position to get out of the theater faster to move to your next attraction.
If you haven’t been to Disney World in a long time but are now taking kids with you, know that things have drastically changed in the last few years, especially changes from the paper FASTPASSes. Now, you can schedule FastPass+ rides in advance, but you cannot make them for the same ride. You should have seen my sons’ faces when I said we were unable to schedule three passes for Space Mountain. Both over the age of 15 now, this is a disappointment they still suffer through every single trip.
You can ride the same rides over and over, but you will find yourself at the mercy of the Stand-By lines, and those can be lengthy. Make sure the kids understand this before you arrive, or stress and tears can ensue. This is a HUGE change for people who haven’t been to Disney in a long time.
22. FastPass+ is Inflexible
FastPass+ ending times are now strictly enforced. Long ago, if your FASTPASS paper ticket said 2:30 and you showed up after 3:00 with your paper pass, Cast Members waved you through. But now with the use of MagicBands and a crack down on times, you will not be allowed on a ride if you show up outside of your return time window, no matter how much you smile or how much the kids beg. So plan accordingly, which can include writing your time frames down or storing screenshots of them in your phone for easy access.
23. Additional PastPass+
When the initial switch was made from FASTPASS paper passes to FastPass+ and MagicBands, you were only allowed three passes per park per day. You can now get more PastPass+ passes once you have used your original three, but warn the kids, what is left at the end of the day will probably not be their first choice ride. There’s not much left by the end of the day in terms of really popular rides.
24. Special Holiday Parties = Closing early
During certain times of year, there are “hard ticket” events that cause the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios to close early. Without a ticket for popular parties like MNSSHP (Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party) and MVMCP (Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party) you will be leaving the parks around 7 pm. This was a real shock for my crew when we were instructed to make our way to the exits way before 10 p.m fireworks. Be sure to have your Travel Agent check the dates for you or check themselves using this link to Disney’s Special Event Ticket page.
25. Extra Tickets
If you want to purchase a ticket for these special events so you can stay after 7 p.m., know that prices will vary. You can expect a starting price of around $55- $65 for children’s tickets and $65-$75.00 for adult tickets before tax. You get sweet treats, special photo opportunities with characters, music and light shows, and time in the parks when the general public has gone home. How Much Are Tickets to Mickey’s Halloween and Christmas Parties? Grab Your Disney Visa!
Starting in April 2016, Magic Kingdom park will stay open for three extra hours after the park closes to other guests on certain dates. This is called Disney After Hours. You can enjoy favorite attractions and character greetings with very little wait time, but it’s going to cost you $149 before tax for both adults and children.
Of it’s being offered, the Early Morning Magic program will involve one hour and 15 minutes of park time before opening with three rides and a breakfast buffet. The rides are The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight. This cost $69 for adults and $49 for children in 2016.
Disney is providing lots of way for you to visit the parks without huge crowds, but it will cost you extra, and a fair amount extra at that.
26. Sleep In
You may have days when you just can not wake up super early without a child (or adult! I’m thinking of you, dear husband) committing mutiny. It’s not the end of the world to sleep in. So you miss a few rides…you can make up for it later with a good attitude and a rested body.
27. Stay Late
Extra Magic Hours (EMH) are times the parks open early or stay open for those guests staying at Disney resorts. This extra time a perk of staying on property. The parks will thin out as non-resort guests leave, but they also get replaced with on-property guests coming over from other parks. If you have small children, Magic Kingdom Extra Magic Hours are your best option, because when the really popular roller coasters have long lines, there are still lots of other attractions for kids without crazy waits.
If you managed to catch a nap, then enjoy Extra Magic Hours late at night, when the summer temperatures and humidity are lower.
28. Show the Bands
If you are attending Extra Magic Hours, you will need a MagicBand/park ticket for every person you are traveling with to show a Cast Member for admittance. You will not be allowed on rides or in shows without a ticket or band, and that rule goes for every person in your party. So make sure you keep them with you.
29. Night Time Shows
This may be tough with small children, but if they can stay up later, (naps help tremendously here) some of the best shows start after 9 p.m. I’m referring to the Main Street Electrical Parade, Wishes, and Celebrate the Magic at Magic Kingdom, IllumiNations at Epcot, and Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios. These are all excellent shows that start after most younger children’s normal bed times. If Disney offers a second show time, the second showing is generally regarded as being less crowded than the first.
30. Prep. for Holidays
Holiday crowds at Disney World are indeed crazy. If you go vacation during a holiday when kids across the country are out of school, then you better be mentally prepared for long lines, people everywhere, and more waiting in lines. Should you take your kids out of school? More and more parents are these days, so they can hopefully enjoy lighter crowds, but Christmas is definitely the busiest time of the entire year. Prepare your own children for possible long waits and crowded situations.
Other holidays are packed out as well; if the kids are out of school, crowd levels will be pretty intense.
Here are two articles that can help you prepare for the holiday madness.
31. Need More Tickets?
When the kids are having a blast at the parks, if you decide (to make them happy, of course!) you would like to add another day or days to your current tickets, go to Guest Services. You need to make this decision before you are on the final day of your tickets. Extra days are not as expensive as your initial four or five days. Unless it’s the last day, you have the option to add more days, park hoppers, and water parks options.
Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you headed toward the Magic Kingdom, pushing a small child in a stroller…
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Amanda Major is the creator of cheapskateprincess.com. She remembers her first visit to Magic Kingdom like it was yesterday, because she had a ham sandwich tucked in her shorts pocket. The whole family snuck in their lunch; you can’t make that kinda stuff up. 40 years worth of trips to Orlando later, she is still trying to save money on vacations.
Amanda is a Disney Vacation Club Member and Annual Pass holder. Her amazing husband, band director Carl Major, plus three teen children and two dogs keep her busy. Amanda teaches Leadership to high school seniors in the almost-coastal town of Foley, Alabama. Read about her cheapskating local vacations with this link. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking somewhere, or paddling a kayak. Life is indeed a blast.
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