Planning a Disney vacation can be an overwhelming experience filled with a mixture of excitement and angst. Here are some tips I’ve learned over our many trips to Disneyland (DL) and Walt Disney World (WDW).
Have a loose plan
Choose two to three things you want to accomplish each day, then go from there. I get input from my family then sketch out a general plan. You will definitely see and do more, but this allows you to plan FASTPASSES (line shortcut, free with your ticket). Consider nap/pool time back at the hotel in the afternoon when lines are longest and it is hottest. (This is easier at DL, but doable at WDW.) If princesses are important, consider a princess meal and make sure to book that reservation in advance by at least six months (WDW) or 60 days (DL).
Beware of scary stuff
Characters or dark rides might scare the youngest kids unexpectedly. My kids love everything to do with characters. However, our friend’s daughter on our last trip was terrified of them. When we realized this at a character meal, I promptly let someone know, and the characters stayed clear of her. Characters with visible faces (as opposed to masks), like princesses, are sometimes are easier for these kids. Similarly, dark rides with loud noises can scare some kids. If your child is new to rides, try open-air rides before moving to dark rides. If loud noises bother them, consider bringing some ear protection like Baby Banz.
Lines + kids = nightmares for most families. In order to minimize and make the most of time in lines, get to the park early, schedule fast passes, and pack some easy entertainment. Lines lengthen as the day goes on. FASTPASSES allow you to skip the longest lines and can be booked 30-60 days in advance at WDW. For fun, I stash a small container of bubbles in my bag if the kids get particularly antsy. For older kids, Disney-related apps or hunting for “hidden Mickeys” can be fun.
There are always long lines for security, which can be especially hard for the youngest kids. We wind up sending one parent through the bag-check line with the stroller and backpack, while the other parent goes through the “no bag” line with some sunscreen and the kids. Inside the park, the second parent can apply sunscreen on everyone while waiting in a much more enjoyable location for parent #1. Better yet, try to avoid bags if you can so no one has to wait.
WDW vs DL
I prefer DL for the under-five set due to the close proximity of attractions and hotels. Plus, it has littles-friendly Toontown and Carsland. WDW has MagicBands (all-in-one line shortcuts and payment device), while DL does not. Instead, FASTPASSES are scheduled daily in the park at DL with separate room keys.
Random tips and references
If you have a baby or toddler, use the baby centers. They have nursing areas, changing areas and even toddler toilets! If anyone has food allergies, Disney is great with them. Just speak up. Helpful websites: easywdw.com, disboards.com, mousesavers.com.