Wednesday, April 6, 2011

WDW advice with little ones

Here's something I wrote up for someone I knew was going to WDW with their little kids.  I'm sure I got a tad-bit overzealous with my report, but that comes with the territory!

WDW Advice with Little Ones

Location, location, location is everything when staying on property at Walt Disney World with little ones (5 and under). Pre-walkers and short legs make for long days, and the shorter transportation times, the better. With kids under 5, I highly recommend focusing most of your park time at Magic Kingdom.

If you are so fortunate as to be able to stay in a deluxe resort, the Contemporary, Polynesian, or Grand Floridian are the best locations. All of these are on the monorail loop to the Magic Kingdom and a short monorail transfer to EPCOT. Anything in the Magic Kingdom resort area is really perfect. This includes Wilderness Lodge and Ft. Wilderness, too.

Of course all the other resorts, have their equal merits. The Value resorts are just as the name implies, a great value. Theme is over the top and perfect for the little ones’ imagination. These resorts include the All-Stars (Movies, Music, and Sport), and also POP Century. POP Century is my favorite. As a child of the 80’s, I can’t help but to fall in love with all that nostalgia. I could overdose on it! Great amenities at a perfect price. The trade off is the transportation option. Only busses are available to the parks, but it is still a convenient option. Just remember the stroller for the littlest member’s of your party. Some of the distances from the rooms to the food court or the bus stop can be long; and at the end of the day, no one wants to carry a sleeping child on their shoulder for more than a city block.

Moderate resorts include locations such as Port Orleans Riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter, Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs and Ft Wilderness Cabins. Other deluxe resorts include Yacht and Beach Club and Boardwalk Inn which is just a short walk to the International Gateway entrance to EPCOT, and the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Also there are a number of Disney Vacation Club resorts that can be rented which have amenities such as full kitchens, separate bedrooms, washer/dryers, and living areas.

Each resort is unique and can be tailored to every family’s unique likes, needs, and wants. Research is key. What do you want in a resort? What do you need in a resort? Does your family have special considerations that should be taken into account? What is your budget? All things to consider and we haven’t even gotten to the theme parks, yet! Whew!

Before you hit the parks, you must have the proper need gear -- backpacks, bags, strollers, cell phones, and good shoes. Also, in the summer you can’t forget the sunscreen, water, rain ponchos and aqua towel (my new favorite accessory for keeping cool and wiping down wet seats). And you must remember to bring things to keep the little ones hands busy while waiting in lines. Finger snacks are perfect. Leave the bubbles at home…it’s just too messy.

Let’s talk apps…because there is an app for just about everything related to the theme parks. My favorite app is "Undercover Tourist".  It’s on the expensive side as far as apps go, but it’s has the most up to date park times, parade/firework times, attraction wait times, and dining location with menus (this is invaluable!). There is also an assortment of free apps out there, too. There is no wireless in the parks or resorts, so that’s kind of a bummer if you have a data limited smartphone plan, or an iPod touch. If you aren’t techno-savy, you can always use the free handy-dandy map and show time list available just about anywhere in the parks.
So once you get to the parks, the experience can be overwhelming if you aren’t prepared. The places are so big, there’s so many people, and where do you start first. This is where arriving even slightly prepared will save you time and energy.
When traveling with little ones, think about the experience through their mind, and look at the park on their eye level. It looks and feels much different than it does at yours. Slow down, take a breath and enjoy the moments.

Arriving at the parks, you want to make the most out of your days, so devise a plan of attack. Maybe focus on one half of a park in the morning, take a break mid-afternoon for some nap or pool time at your resort, and come back refreshed in the evening. Maybe focus on just a few rides and plan a leisurely day in the park. You know your kids well enough to know their limits. Respect those limits! Meltdowns are frequent and common. You don’t want to be looked at as "that parent". There are a ton of advice columns and services out there that offer guidance on the best routes through the parks, where to start, what rides to do first, etc, etc. Research them and determine what you want to do, but bottom line, for goodness sake, make a plan. I’ve seen way too many bewildered parents standing at the front of the Magic Kingdom looking at their guide map asking each other "where do you want to go first?".

With that said, here is some advice for must dos at the parks with the little ones. By all means, this is not an inclusive list and you may find things that your kids enjoy that I did not list. Every family is unique.

Use the Fastpass system at every park! It’s free, so take advantage of it. Basically, the fastpass system issues you a "pass" to enter certain high volume attractions at a point in time during the day, therefore bypassing the standby lines. Fast passes are available at the attraction entrance and are limited, so get them early. Fast pass attractions are denoted in all the guide maps.

Magic Kingdom
Fantasyland is undergoing a refurbishment right now, so you will see a lot of activity there.  Good rides for kids:  Dumbo, Winnie-the-Pooh (they just completed a new interactive queue), Peter Pan, Tea Cups, Small World, and Carousel.  Snow White Scary Adventures is dark and kind of scary for little ones.  Phillharmagic is a 3D show, which is very fun, but our daughter was scared of the 3D effect when she was 2. 
Mickey’s ToonTown Fair (now closed):
This the first land added to the Magic Kingdom and Feb. 12th will be the first land removed from Magic Kingdom.  Toontown Fair is being evicted to make room for a expanding FantasyLand, so make sure you visit this.  The little ones will love it.  From Toontown you can take a train to the front of the park or FrontierLand. 
Ride the Tomorrowland Transit Authority several times.  Nice relaxing ride.  Never a line.  Be sure to listen for "paging Mr. Morrow….paging Mr. Tom Morrow"
Monsters Inc. Launch Floor is great…the kids will LOVE it.  Skip the Stitch ride…yuck! 
Try a dole whip at Aloha Isle.  Tiki Room "Under New Management" is cheesy but worthwhile.  Jungle Cruise is classic, as is Pirates of the Caribbean (might be scary for a 2 yr old). 
Liberty Square:
Don’t take a child screaming and kicking onto Haunted Mansion no matter how much you think they will enjoy it.  They will only hide under your shirt the entire time.  Oh…yea…I know about this.  Of course, now it’s our kids’ FAVORITE ride. 
Tom Sawyer Island. 
A good place to let the kids run loose for a while from all the stimulation of the park.  Skip if you are short on time.
Countrybear Jamboree is cute; Splash Mountain (water flume) and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are good if you have an adventuresome and tall child. Both these have height restrictions.
Main Street Electrical Parade at night is awesome, as well as Wishes (fireworks).  Wishes might be better viewed from the Contemporary or the Polynesian resort beach.  They pipe in the music and the view is amazing from the distance.
All the theme parks have Baby Care centers.  They are a good place to take little ones who need a break from the park.  They have lower toilets for potty training kids, family restrooms, changing and feeding areas for babies.  There is a small quiet room with a TV running cartoons.  Very handy to know about if you think your child is going to have a melt-down. Locations are noted in all park guides.

If you venture to the other parks, here are some highlights…

Lots of stuff to see, not as much stuff to do for the little ones.
Living Seas with Nemo & Friends ride and Turtle Talk with Crush (must, must, must do with little kids).

Soarin 40" height restriction is amazing, but it has a 40" height restriction so the smaller child may not be able to board.

Test Track and Mission Space borders on the edge of what a little ones would enjoy. Maybe a tall, adventurous 5 year old might do.

Gran Fiesta Tour (Three Cabarello’s) in Mexico is great, relaxing, and a nice place to cool down during the summer. 

Illuminations (fireworks show) is awesome. 9:00 every night at the World Showcase Lagoon.

This is biggest park, expect a lot of walking. 

Food is fantastic in the countries. 

Now I mentioned height restrictions several times. So that begs the question, "as an adult am I stuck with only the rides the kids can go on?". If you are traveling with two or more adults, the answer is a big NO. Try the "baby swap". Dad can go through the line, while Mom waits with the kids. Then when Dad finishes the attraction, Mom is allowed to bypass the queue. A nice benefit is that if there are older kids involved, they are often let on to ride with both Dad and Mom. Ask a cast member at the queue entrance for details, as each ride has different procedures.

Hollywood Studios
Not too much at this park for little ones in terms of rides. Instead, plan your day around the various stage shows. Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Lights/Motor/Action Stunt Show, Indiana Jones Stunt Show (although this is getting old), Beauty and the Beast Stage Show. 

Toy Story Mania. I’m conflicted on this ride with respect to little ones. It recently opened and has become Hollywood Studios top attraction in terms of wait time, and fast pass distribution. Standby can easily exceed an hour or more on any given day. It’s cute and fun, however, it’s interactive and difficult for kids under 5 to operate. I just don’t see waiting in line for more than 30 minutes with little ones for this. If you do the fast pass method, then it’s OK.
Check out the "Singing in the Rain" Umbrella just outside of the Lights/Motor Action Stunt Show.  Jump up and down on the senor below it and it rains.

Tower of Terror and Rock’n’Roller Coaster – awesome for the adults! Use baby swap and don’t miss out. 

If you have a star wars fan, check out star tours (again, this is height restricted and could be scary for a really young one). Jedi Knight training academy might appeal to a young boy. My son did this when he was 6 and loved it.

Street Atmosphere "streetmosphere" is what Hollywood Studios has going for it. Lots of things going on at any given time. Be on he look out for the police officer, Hollywood agent, starlet, and those famous green army men.

Fantasmic is their nighttime show.  It’s not fireworks but a show set on a huge stage using characters, water, smoke, and pyrotechnics.  Themed around the Disney Villians so tends to be "dark".  I like it, but kids don’t seem to like it as much. 

Animal Kingdom
This is not my favorite park from an attraction standpoint, but it is my favorite "themed" park.  It is incredible the amount of detail that has gone into that park.  Some of the better attractions are the Safari ride, Festival of the Loin King, Finding Nemo the musical, and It’s Tough to be a Bug (3D movie with special effects).
Check out the Dino Dig site. Wonderful place to let your kids stretch their legs and play.
Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur, and Primevil Whirl are high speed, scary attractions. They are good so enjoy them with baby swap if you have the time.

Animal Kingdom is a park with a great deal of educational programs about the animals and the environment. The level of enjoyment for the little ones will really depend on their interest in nature.

If you are traveling in the summer, this park tends to be the hottest. Not sure why…maybe the level of vegetation doesn’t allow airflow like the other parks, but it can be brutal in the summer. Drink lots of water and take frequent breaks in the shade.

Outside the parks, you can check out Downtown Disney if you are a shopper.  I don’t care for it so much, but many people rave about it.  Resort hopping is one of my favorite activities. There are so many hidden gems throughout the resorts. A boat ride to Wilderness Lodge from Magic Kingdom, you can see a gyser (aka ol’ Faithful) go off every hour.  Polynesian resort (monorail ride away) is a great place to be at night with all the tiki torches lit.  Great place for viewing Wishes and the nighttime Electrical water pagent.  Another boat ride away is Ft. Wilderness.  They have an evening campfire/movie program that is free to resort guests.  Makings for s’mores are sold.  Ask your resort concierge about it if you are interested.  I’m sure they can get you movie showings and times. 

Food at disney is notoriously either really good or really bad, and always expensive.  If you look over that fact, here are some places I recommend.  Table service or buffets -- O’hana’s at the Polynesian, Whispering Canyon Café at Wilderness Lodge, Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge, 50’s Prime Time Café at Hollywood Studios, Beirgarten in Germany @ EPCOT.  Counter Service locations – sunshine seasons at EPCOT, Columbia Harbour House at Magic Kingdom, Pizzafari at Animal Kingdom.  Food and drinks are allowed in the parks (no glass or alcohol) so that is really nice if you have picky eaters like we do.

Historical note – on the boat ride to Ft Wilderness and looking west (??) from the Contemporary, you will see the remnants of Discovery Island and near Ft. Wilderness, the remnants of River Country.  Discovery Island was once an exhibit with birds, turtles and other animals in a native habitat.  There was an educational nature program and the like there.  River Country was Disney World’s first water park.  Both have since been closed, and seemingly abandoned.  It’s bizarre the shape both were left in.  It was like someone said that tomorrow this place is shut down and walked away.  Strange.

Hope you and your family have a good time!

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