Ask a Disney Expert: Top Touring Tips
For Fodor's recent "Ask a Disney Expert" Contest, travelers submitted their toughest Disney questions for Kim Wright Wiley, author of Walt Disney World with Kids 2009. Kim will answer questions from the contest's 8 winners, along with several others, in a four-part series on Fodors.com. Winners will receive a complimentary copy of the guide. Thank you to everyone who sent a question in!
Today Kim suggests ways for the whole family to experience the parks' thrills.
"I would like to take my grandchildren to Disney; they're both under the age of 3 (a girl & a boy). What would be the ideal itinerary for toddlers this age?" --- submitted by lorimb, (winner)
At this age, less is definitely more. Focus on the Magic Kingdom, the most toddler-friendly park; in Fantasyland you'll find rides like Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, It's a Small World, and Peter Pan. Young kids love the parades and shows like Mickey's PhilharMagic are great choices (assuming they're old enough to handle the 3-D glasses). Some toddlers enjoy meeting the characters and others find them intimidating, so start slowly. Let the kids see the characters from a distance in the parades and shows and then perhaps visit them in Mickey's Toontown, which is a controlled environment where young kids can meet the characters in smaller groups and thus are less likely to be overrun by excited older children.
Younger children are usually more at ease with the "face characters" like Cinderella and Peter Pan than they are with the fully costumed characters like Mickey and Minnie whose heads are large and possibly frightening. If meetings in the park go well, plan a character breakfast for the last day of your visit. After a couple of hours in strollers, toddlers also need exercise, so visit the play areas in Toontown and Fantasyland. Finally, remember to build in rest breaks. If your hotel is close to the parks, it's worth returning in the early afternoon for a nap or a swim in the pool. Disney World is tiring so don't push them---or yourself---too far.
"We travel with four kids and they are 3, 6, 8, 14 years old, so everybody has different interests. How do I cope with the excitement and anger and different paces they all have?" --- submitted by marianamendelzon, (winner)
Wow. You're really running the spectrum on ages. You need to accept from the get-go that your 14-year-old and your 3-year-old probably have a drastically different concept of what constitutes a good time. First of all, split up. Let one parent take the younger two kids (or at least the 3-year-old) back to the hotel in the afternoon for a nap while the other stays in the park and rides the major rides with the older kids.
Secondly, strike some deals. Before you leave home, read the ride descriptions in my book and let each child pick two "absolute must sees" for each park. Ideally, there will be a little overlap, but make sure you do the things on the list no matter what. That way you can say to the older child, "Hey we rode Expedition Everest and Dinosaur like you wanted so even if you're not crazy about the idea of watching The Festival of the Lion King, you need to buck up a little. It's your sister's top choice." The strange thing is that kids often end up enjoying everything on the list, even things they might have deemed too babyish at the outset. I get plenty of mail from parents telling me their "way too cool for you" 11-year-old totally loved the kiddie rides and shows.
"My husband and I are planning a trip in Spring of 2009 with our 10-year-old and by then 2-year-old daughters. What do type of itineraries do you recommend that will keep the 10-year-old well entertained without overwhelming my 2-year-old.? Yet also allowing the 2-year-old to also have a Disney experience although she won't remember a thing about it." --- submitted by alwaysgreen
Accept that 10-year-old is going to want to ride quite a few things that the 2-year-old simply can't. One parent can ride something wild like Misson: Space at Epcot with the older child while the other parent takes the younger child to play in the nearby splash fountains. There are also plenty of things that the whole family can enjoy together such as the parades and shows.
As for giving the 2-year-old the pure Disney experience, for kids that age it often boils down to a) meeting the characters b) blowing off steam in the play areas and c) letting them enjoy the shows and parades which are full of music and excitement. The one thing you don't want to do is push the 2-year-old too hard. Families often make the mistake of going at the speed of the older child and suddenly the younger one collapses in weepy exhaustion. Remember that rest breaks keep things magical for everybody.
"What kinds of activities would you suggest for two sixty-something grandparents, a mother and a 9-year-old?" --- submitted by cruznjan
This should be a piece of cake! The shows and parades have appeal for all ages so those are great activities to take in together, especially the spectacular closing shows at all of the parks. When it comes to rides, Mom can take the nine-year-old on any rides that might be a little too wild for the grandparents---Disney is full of benches, snack shops and comfy resting places so thereâ€™s no need to push the group to stay together the whole time if---for example---the child wants to ride Space Mountain and the grandparents arenâ€™t as enthused.
My husband and I have been to WDW many times. We are going in October with our 4-year-old son (his second trip), our 1.5 year old daughter (her first trip) and my parents (their last trip was when I was 12). We will be in WDW on Halloween this year. We will be going to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party several nights before, but how should be spend Halloween itself?" --- submitted by agallicchio
Since the Magic Kingdom will be hosting the Not So Scary Party on Halloween you need to spend that day anywhere EXCEPT the Magic Kingdom. The crowds there, I promise will be So Scary that you'll be glad you chose to spend that day in one of the other parks. The kids can still wear their costumes if they like and they'll have plenty of company since all of Disney World celebrates Halloween, just not with quite as much fervor as the Magic Kingdom.
"How can a 2-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy enjoy Disney World at the same time?" --- submitted by WAW
The shows and parades will appeal to the whole family. When you do come to a ride that the 7-year-old can handle and the 2-year-old can't, split off. Disney makes this easy by putting toddler play areas near big-deal rides. For example, if one parent takes the older child on Dinosaur the other parent can take the younger child to the nearby Boneyard and let them play on the slides and in the sand pits while you wait. If you don't want to split up or you're a single parent family, you can ride using the Baby Swap method. Just inform the ride attendant youâ€™ll be needing help.
"We've been to the park 6 times and 3 with our 5-year-old daughter. Is their anything new going on that we could participate in as a family? My poor husband is so tired of all those character meals." --- submitted by travelbuff127
If you still want some variation of the character dining experience, consider the Luau at the Polynesian which has characters and hula dancersâ€¦.talk about something for everyone! You might also try the Family Magic Tour in the Magic Kingdom---a fun scavenger hunt in which the whole gang goes on a search for Captain Hookâ€™s favorite hook.
Your daughter is also the right age to break out just going to the Magic Kingdom and begin enjoying all the parks, including the water parks. One of the reasons Dads get Disney-itis is too much time in the Magic Kingdom; a day in the more adult environment of Epcot or cooling off at Blizzard Beach might be just the ticket.
"Hi, I'm mother of two, Mariana, 28 months, and Joaquin, 11 months. I'm a big, big fan of Walt Disney World and I can't wait to take them there. Absolutely everyone tells me not to go now because my kids are too young and I'm going to have a bad time instead of a great vacation. Is it true that I'll be exhausted all the time and unable to enjoy the trip?" --- submitted by Sorayein
Just keep your expectations reasonable. Go early in the morning and ride a couple of rides, see a show and/or visit a character or two and then return back to the hotel and rest. If everybody's up to it, you can return to the parks in the afternoon and play a little more. Touring Disney World with kids the age of yours is challenging but it can be done and it can even be enjoyable if you don't push them past their limits. Also, since school schedules aren't a factor for you, be sure to visit in the off season when crowds are lighter and the temperatures are cooler. There's no need to make it tougher on yourself by going in July! And if you run into any snags while in the parks, don't hesitate to stop by the Baby Care Centers where you'll find rocking chairs, potty seats, unisex bathrooms, highchairs, etc.
"When is the best time of the day to take a young child (3-year-old girl) to the parks at WDW at the end of August? I want to make sure she gets to see the most characters during our vacation package stay." --- submitted by jet2008
Go to the parks early in the morning, both to limit the crowds and also to cut down on the brutal Florida heat. (Mickey's Toontown is virtually empty first thing in the morning.) Character meals are also a good idea since she can meet the characters in a reasonably relaxed, calm, air-conditioned setting. There are character lunches and dinners as well as breakfasts and these might be a good choice for you if you're trying to use the mornings to tour the parks.
"How many hidden Mickeys are at Walt Disney World and what is the best way to find them?" --- submitted by lemmedu
How many? Exactly one zillion. I made an official count. Seriously, no one knows exactly how many there are. If your family enjoys a scavenger hunt, buy a copy of "Hidden Mickeys" a small travel guide that exists solely to help you scout them out.
"We have a Disney Time Share. When is the best time to use it? Shortest lines and best weather!"--- submitted by Tango
January 2-mid February as long as you avoid Martin Luther King weekend
Spring in general as long as you avoid President's Day weekend, College Week, and Easter
Mid-September to mid-November
First two weeks of December
In other words, avoid the summers and major school holidays. I personally love Disney World in early December. The weather is perfect, the parks are all decorated for Christmas and the holiday crowds haven't yet hit.
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