By Shayle McIntosh, Smarty Mom of Harper & Julian (6) and Laurel (4)
I love Disney World! I recognize not everyone feels this way, and I always hesitate to share my feelings for fear that someone will assume I own a Mickey Mouse fanny pack (not that there is anything wrong with that). To me there is no greater escape than Disney World! My husband will take his Blackberry to the beach or the lake, but no one is on conference calls while lunching with princesses or sailing through the Pirates of the Caribbean.
The Magical Age:
In my opinion, the magical age for Disney World is 4 years and 40 inches. At four they are still young enough to be completely captivated by the magic of Disney but old enough and tall enough to enjoy the majority of the rides. Cynicism comes early, one of my 5 1/2 year old twins whispered to me during the “Flight of Tinkerbell” in front of the Magic Kingdom fireworks spectacular, “she’s not flying, she’s zip lining!” At 40 inches you are tall enough to ride Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain at the Magic Kingdom, and the bravest four year olds can even ride the Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Prior to that, you can still have fun but beware even the Winnie the Pooh ride has a stormy, dark side. Plus, I think we all know what can happen when an unassuming two year old comes in contact with a massively large, plush character!
What Season is Best?
Obviously, the least crowded season is the best! Most of us are a slave to the school year, so the busiest times of year are Summer, Spring break and other major holidays when school is out. Random months like February, and September (after Labor Day) are the least crowded and least expensive. If you have to go during school breaks, I would opt for Spring break over Summer and the week after Christmas. The weather is pretty mild during the spring. Plus, different states and different countries have varying spring breaks. Avoid July because everyone is out of school in July. However, a lot of school districts have started back by early to mid August. I have heard that the time between Christmas and New Years is the most crowded time of the year. Plus, Winter weather can be super cold even in Florida! If you have to go during July or Christmas break, Disney has tried to make up for the crowds with more parades and longer park hours. Be sure to check the resources below for deals and special offers!
Location, Location, Location:
Unfortunately, like plastic surgery and paper plates, you get what you pay for. Staying in one of the Walt Disney World Resorts is the easiest thing to do with small children. It is easier to get back to your room for naps or meltdowns or just a mommy cocktail if you stay on property! At the high end of prices, are the three monorail resorts. They are super convenient to the Magic Kingdom which is where you will be most of the time with smaller children. However, each park (Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) all have resorts located in close proximity. If you have a group of thirteen year olds, they might want to spend more time at Hollywood Studios or Downtown Disney. Walt Disney has many resorts at all price points. In addition, Orlando offers many hotels near Walt Disney World at more affordable prices. You should really consider some of the resources listed below to browse your options. Again, be sure to keep an eye open for deals!
One Final Thought:
Go for as many days as you can afford. Don’t try to cram all four parks into three days, you will only leave frustrated and exhausted. If you can only go for two days than consider visiting just the Magic Kingdom. You cannot expect to see and do everything. Disney has brilliantly orchestrated it this way, so that you are compelled to come back again and again. As we left Disney World the last time, one of my daughters cried for thirty minutes and begged for one more day. As I heard myself consoling her by saying that we would come back another time, I couldn’t help thinking that Walt Disney was a genius and I am a giant sucker!
http://touringplans.com/ (Be sure to check out the crowd calendar!)
What are some of your favorite Disney tips?
I enjoyed reading your article, it had tons of great advice! The links you provided were also helpful for folks planning a trip to Disney World.
I need a Disney sherpa. My husband and I have never been to Disney so “if” we take our children it will be a first for all! I have some time b/c my son won’t turn 4 ’til 2013 but by then my daughter will be 6.5!
I have been in Aug. pregnant, in Dec. with a 2yr boy, and most recently in Jan. with 1yr and 4.5yr old boys, so let me know if you need any help. I would highly recommend booking through AAA or other travel agency. Most of the time they get better deals and sometimes offer free dining plan. I would also recommend Birnbaums Walt Disney World Official guide. It gives a great overview of the parks and hotel and offers great smarty tips.
We just took 4 1/2 year old twins (over 40 inches–this is a must!) and an 8 month old the first week of May and the parks were pretty empty. We stayed at a monorail property and that was a must for us! Here are my top 5 tips: 1) get to the park 20 minutes before it opens and head to the back of the parks. We never waited in any lines nor needed any fast passes and were out by 1 pm each day (for naps and pool time) and then went back to the parks at night; 2) bring back up. If you can swing it, bring your parents, in-laws, bros, whoever with you. It was so nice to have extra hands esp with the little one so that we could go on rides with the twins and also on adult rides (Everest is scary!) together; 3) don’t do the meal plan. It was too much food (my kids are kinda picky eaters and we dont’t eat much dessert) and it was generally pretty unhealthy. It took me two weeks to get off the disney lbs I put on in 4 days. ; (4) get the touringplans.com Lines app on your smartphone to see where the waits are and the fast pass times. Awesome!; and 5) rent a stroller for the older kids. You will think you don’t need it but after a few rides in the heat, the munchkins loved jumping in the stroller and being pushed around. Plus it allowed us to move fast and that helps! (I recommend if you child is under 2, to bring your own stroller for the babies, esp if on the monorail).
What a great article, Shayle! As one who has never been to Disney, I think you perfectly helped me to see how to organize such an overwhelming trip! We hope to go next year!
http://www.disboards.com is also a lifesaver