I have been going to Disney World since the mid seventies shortly after the park opened in 1971. I have lost track of just how many times I have been there; but I am sure it has been more than ten times. While I have fond memories of all those trips the last two may be the most memorable. That is because my wife and I made the last two trips with our grandchildren. In 2008 we flew to Disney World with our two grandchildren; a girl who was four and a boy who was just shy of three years old. In 2010 we traveled by automobile; at that time our grandchildren were six and four years old. In this first part of Seeing Disney World With Little Children I will delve into the how, when, and where of making a trip to Disney World; offering tips and advice that I hope will help to make your trip to Disney with little children a little more enjoyable.
In deciding how to go: whether to fly or drive there are a lot of factors involved. Probably of interest to most people is the cost involved. For most people the cost of flying is directly proportional to the number of people in the party. The cost of flying also depends upon when you are going to Disney World. The first thing I recommend is that if you want to fly is to sign up for email alerts and join Air Tran’s reward program at www.airtran.com . Air Tran quite often will send out email messages offering bargain airfares on short notice; if you have the flexibility to make your trip on short notice you can quite often save substantial amounts.(I must be psychic because as I was writing this blog I took a break and checked my email. There was an email there from Air Tran that offered flights to and from Orland during July-August for $114 each person each way.) The cost of flying is also related to when you fly; fares are naturally higher when the parks at Disney are busiest. On the upside flying to Disney World has its benefits. If you take off early in the morning you can be in Orlando in a little over two hours and depending on where you are staying you can be in Disney World in time for lunch. If you are driving you can make it to Disney World in one day. The driving time to the main entrance at Disney World from my driveway in North Canton is 16 ½ hours. This is o.k. for adults and older children. A lot of people I know drive to Disney overnight and let their little children sleep in their car seats. I don’t happen to agree with this method of traveling with little children. I only have to look in the rear view mirror and see the contorted positions my grandson can get into when he sleeps in his car seat that I don’t have the heart to make him sleep the night that way. We split up our trip into two days of driving, staying overnight at a hotel. Although it adds to the cost I think it is better for a little child in the long run and I am willing to spend the money. Another thing to consider is even if you make the drive in one day after traveling overnight almost everyone will be dog-tired when you get there and spending your first day in Disney World will be less enjoyable than it could have been. The Christmas before we traveled by car I bought each of the kids a portable DVD player for Christmas for them to take on the trip. Each child took a selection of their favorite movies and it helped to make the 8-9 hour drive more enjoyable. Some people I know, particularly those who are combining a trip with friends or other family members are renting large vans to make the trip. This may be o.k. because it does offer more comfort for the traveling children but it substantially adds to the cost.
Where to stay goes hand in had with how to go and the costs are related. To me nothing beats staying at a Disney Resort for several reasons. It adds to the enjoyment of your trip in a way that is worth a little extra cost. Once you are at the Disney Resort of your choice you don’t have to leave it for any reason. You can make it to the parks in just a few minutes by hopping onto one of the ubiquitous Disney buses. They are everywhere and when you stay at a Disney resort they arrive every ten minutes at a bus stop a short walk from your room. If you stay off site most Orlando hotels do offer a shuttle service to the Disney World transportation center which at first sounds good but I have found them lacking in service. You are lucky if the hotel has one van or a small bus to service guests; it mostly likely will only be able to make one trip an hour to and from the Disney World Ticket and Transportation center and much of your high priced travel time will be spent waiting upon said conveyance. In addition, you still have some more time to get from the transportation center to the park of your choice. If you stay at on off site hotel that doesn’t offer shuttle service you then have to drive to the transportation center and pay a fee to park that is currently fourteen dollars a day. If you fly and stay at a Disney World resort you won’t need to rent a car because Disney’s Magical Express will have a bus waiting for you at the Orlando airport, whisk you to your resort where you can pick up your park passes at check in and head to the park of your choice. You don’t even have to bother with your bags, Disney will issue you a tag for your bags when you make your reservations and your bags will find their way to your room while you and your family are enjoying a day at the parks. When you are ready to go home the process reverses itself - couldn’t be simpler and adds tremendously to the enjoyment of your trip. All this sounds as though staying at a Disney Resort is going to cost substantially extra, but it is surprisingly reasonable considering what you get in return. When you are planning your trip go to www.disneyworld.com and sign up for an account. Do this as far in advance as you can because Disney World will quite often offer discounted prices especially during their periods of lower occupancy. Another tip is to sign up for the Chase Disney Rewards Visa card. Chase along with Disney at times offer additional discounts when you pay with the card. Pay it off before paying interest and you will come out ahead, especially when you consider the points that you earn. I let my daughter book our trips and put it on her Disney Rewards credit card and then I pay her. In 2010 when we went to Disney World without my daughter and her husband she gave us a rewards card that we used for extras and all the souvenirs that my grandchildren wanted - and they wanted a lot! Another thing to consider on your trip is the cost of food. Disney offers a dining plan with all its Disney World resort packages and the dining plan is a great way to go. The dining plan offers two meals and one snack a day for each member of your party. One meal is a sit down full service meal and the other is a casual dining meal. The dining plan can be used throughout Disney World at its parks and resorts. If you select the dining plan and I recommend that you do so you will add to your enjoyment of your trip. In addition the Disney parks and resort hotels offer what is called “character dining”. This is where your meal is accompanied by visits from the kid’s favorite Disney characters. The one you don’t want to miss is Chef Mickey at the Contemporary resort hotel. It is by far the best of the character dining experiences; Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy make numerous stops at your table, pose for pictures with the kids and sign autographs. Chef Mickey is extremely popular and I suggest you make your reservations as soon as you book your trip. Reservations may be made up to 180 days in advance and openings disappear quickly during peak periods. When you book your reservations you will be offered some options for park passes. The standard park pass lets you into one park only a day; you cannot hop on the monorail and go to another park during the same day. This is my option of choice. There is so much to see and do at each park that you don’t really need to get what is called the Park Hopper option. This option lets you to go back and forth between parks as much as your heart desires. I would recommend this for an experienced visitor to Disney World who is traveling without little children. Dragging little children back and forth between parks not only uses up time but can be tiring on little children. Another option is the Water Park Fun and More option; this offers you admission to Disney’s two water parks and some additional attractions. The water park option is nice but you have to weigh the cost against how much you will use the water parks and additional attractions. We got the water park option on our first trip with our grandchildren in 2008 and only used it once during one evening when Typhoon Lagoon was open later for resort guests only. This brings me to one of the best benefits of staying at a Disney resort. Each evening one of the theme parks has “Extra Magic Hours” where that park’s most popular attractions are open extra hours exclusively to resort guests. If you follow one of my suggestions when traveling with little children and take time in the afternoon to rest you can have a ball during these extended hours. Instead of waiting in line for an hour or two for the most popular rides or attractions you simply walk right up and take your seat. A list of the day’s extended hours park and times is readily available in your resort and at guest service stations throughout Disney World.
How to go and where to stay go hand in hand with when to go. The summer time is the most popular and the parks are packed, the heat is almost unbearable and prices are high. While this may be the only option for your family I recommend going during an off time if you can. At certain times of the years the parks are quite a bit less crowded which results in what I think is a much more enjoyable Disney experience. Surprisingly there are other times during the year when the parks are also quite crowded. We encountered summertime like crowds during the two times we stayed at Disney World during president’s week. A lot of people take the opportunity to get a break from winter and book an extended weekend stay during president’s week. Also president’s week follows the Daytona 500 race and a lot of people will take the short drive to Orlando for a stay at Disney World. The crowds during the rest of January and February will be sparse and some great bargains can be had, both on airfare and accommodations. The downside is it can get quite chilly in Orlando during those times and swimming is out of the equation. The lines at the most popular attractions will be quite short and as a result your time in the park itself will be a lot more fun. The park hours will be shorter and some attractions such as the fireworks will not be offered every night as they are during busier periods. The spring break time of March and early April brings a large number of visitors but not as much as the summer months. The absolute best weather I have ever encountered at Disney World was in March. The days are warm and sunny without the surprise thunderstorms of summer. The weather is warm and the crowds are less in September and October but you are getting into the hurricane season in Florida and nothing will ruin your vacation like a hurricane. The holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas bring large crowds with some of the largest of the year during the Christmas week through New Years Day.
One more tip in Part 1 of Going to Disney World With Little Children. Do try very hard to see the trip through the eyes of the children you are traveling with. The travel time both by air and car can be very stressful on little children. If you are leaving early in the morning make sure the kids are well rested, this especially applies to the trip home: don’t try to cram extra time at the parks during your last evening at Disney at the expense of the kids’ sleep time. I can tell you from experience that a stressed out three year old can have an embarrassing meltdown on the flight home. Forewarned is forearmed! Making sure the children get plenty of rest also applies to the other days of your stay and this is where staying at a Disney resort come in handy. During our trip in July of 2010 temperatures at Disney World were hitting a hundred each day. We would have breakfast, head to the park of our choice where we would stay until about one or two and then head back to the resort and the swimming pool where the kids (and grandpa) would have a ball going down the waterslide. A little rest after swimming and then we would head back to the park, most likely have a wonderful character dinner and then stay at the park until bedtime. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make sure the children don’t get stressed out during you Disney experience. If you do make the effort to see the trip from their eyes you will find that their happiness is your happiness.
There are so many facets to visiting Disney World with little children that I cannot possibly enlighten you to all of them. Anyhow discovering Disney World with little children is an adventure that should be experienced without too much structured planning. Part of the awe of a Disney experience is the exploration and discovery of your very own Disney memories.
In the future parts of Going to Disney World With Little Children I will be exploring the individual parks and giving some other tips along the way. Next stop - the Magic Kingdom!