Take a peek into our day at Disney, our first visit as a family of three with some tips and takeaways for going with kids. (And shout out to my friend Melissa who dropped us some of these before we went!)
This trip had been a long time coming, as you probably already know that both Scott and I lived in Orlando and frequented the theme parks often. I was born and raised in the area and Scott lived in the city for a total of twelve years, but most people don’t know that he also worked for Disney for three years.
You probably guessed it, yes, he was “friends” with many different characters and roles throughout the seasons with his favorite being the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.
Why was this his favorite? He said the sassy personality and being paid to tell jokes and cause trouble on a microphone in front of the teacup ride was wildly entertaining for him, too. (It’s a bummer this was before I met him, as this would have been a sight to SEE, ha.)
We’ve both performed in Disney parades and have fond memories spent around the parks separately and together, so we were waiting for the perfect time to take Skyler to experience the magic of Disney for the first time. And finally, just a few months ago, this guy saw as much as we could fit into a day with myself, Scott and my mom back in February.
It was equally as exhausting as it was amazing, just as we predicted. But would we do it again?! One thousand percent. Here some highlights along with my takeaways for next time.
On Timing With Kids’ Ages
A worldwide pandemic delayed us a few years, but looking back, I would say that taking our (almost) five-year-old was the perfect age to get the most out of our investment. I’m confident in saying he will have core memories of the trip, and he was tall enough to ride most of the rides appropriate for him at 42 inches — including Thunder Mountain, which I was not ready for. (I thought one of the four of us would not make it off of that one, I was so stressed out about him staying inside of the bar and my mom riding with us, too. Luckily, Scott had a power grip on him the whole time but geez .. be careful out there!)
He remembers the parades, the characters and even the food. He’ll still talk about things I’ve already forgotten, so it feels great knowing that the magic we grew up with was not lost on him at all. He had an absolute blast and asks to go back often!
Also, we decided to go at an off-peak time of year, so it was a good age for him to miss a few days of preschool over a higher grade a few years down the road.
You could take younger kids (and I believe children under three get in free), but they might have a harder time keeping up with being on-the-go all day and missed nap times surrounding their normal schedules. They will, however, be there and included in the special photos, so it’s totally your call to make on what works best for you and your family.
And finally, think about what rides you really want to go on. The Haunted Mansion was a favorite of ours, and we knew Skyler would be okay with it since he loves Halloween, zombies and everything related to ghosts in cartoons. (It’s actually weird, lol.) He did not like being in the dark during some rides, but overall, he handled everything like a champ. Just remember that every kiddo is different!
On the Investment
It comes as no surprise that visiting any park, especially Disney’s Magic Kingdom is not easy on the wallet. Go ahead and think of it like planning a wedding – no matter what you budget, you’re probably going to go over it, and that’s what it is. We went in early February (before holiday spring breaks started), and three tickets for our one-day passes cost around $500, just for entry.
We could have scored better deals for multi-day or park-hopper passes, but this visit wasn’t the trip for that. We had exactly one day in our schedules to go to Disney, so we picked the biggest bang for our buck, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom!
I am a sucker for Animal Kingdom and Epcot (the Food & Wine Festival is something that makes me sad to miss every single year), but there’s nothing like seeing the classic Disney characters perform at Cinderella’s Castle along with the famous Fireworks show. I’m glad we picked what we did, and we will be back for longer periods of time in the future to explore the rest.
It’s also worth noting that we stayed with my parents and were already in town for other events, so we didn’t have to factor in the extra cost of flights and a hotel, but that sure adds up quickly. That said, we’re already planning on coming back (maybe closer to the Fall – before the holidays), and using a timeshare we have nearby to stay on that side of town and fully immerse in the experience.
Our FULL DAY Experience: Open to Close Strategy
As you’ve already read, we chose to make our one full day FULL by planning to be at the park close to opening to closing time. It’s a lot, but we really wanted to make the most of our one day access, so that’s what we decided to do ahead of time. We knew the day would be long, but awesome. We planned a character breakfast at the Crystal Palace for 9:25 a.m. and stayed well after the fireworks, walking out at 10:45 p.m. after Skyler finally zonked out.
Would I recommend this to everyone? Definitely not, especially if you have the option to visit the parks for multiple days in a row. But you also have to understand that this is how my husband operates; he has severe FOMO (fear of missing out on things), and has to see every little thing possible in the time that we have. He’s always the last to leave events and outings.
I, however, tap out much earlier and we agree to start making our way towards an exit when I give him “the look” … usually. But back to the full, packed day strategy – would we do it again? Yes and no.
Doing this day after day does not sound like a vacation to me, lol. Instead, I’d recommend planning half days (maybe a little longer, but choose to either get there when it opens or stay until close, but not both) and if you’re staying at a local resort, plan extra time to decompress there. Spend some downtime at the pool, enjoy the amenities and take breaks to recharge and get ready to go-go-go again the next day.
Biggest Tips and Takeaways
I’ve had a few friends reach out and ask what they need to know before embarking on Disney for the first time with their family as well, so here’s what I’d say:
- Download the My Disney Experience app, like ASAP. Everything you need from tickets and line reservations to your personal photo gallery will be on the app. It takes some getting used to, but then becomes user-friendly in real time. You can also link up with friends and plan reservations together, share photos and more. More info here.
- If you want to save money but have cute Disney gear, check out this shop on Amazon. We ordered different shirts than we’re wearing in the photos (this was mine!), and sadly, they arrived after we already left because of a lobby mix-up in our building. Here’s Skyler’s shirt and his hat with ears. Also, I opted to purchase ears ahead of time for $10 instead of $40 inside the park. They’re not the same, but they’re pretty great quality for the price.
- Get the Genie+ Passes to skip over lines, it’s one thousand percent worth the cost. Disney Genie+ costs $15 to $29 per person, per day at Walt Disney World. Guests have access to over 40 rides to choose from, and if you have a Park Hopper ticket, you will still be able to select rides and access Lightning Lanes across parks. It doesn’t cover all rides, and there is a limit to how many you can reserve per two-hour time slot, but it still proved to be worth its weight in gold over and over. Our line waiting experience was not bad at all!
- You’re going to want to take a stroller or wagon with kids. Yes, even our son who has outgrown his stroller used a small but mighty one all day long. We were hopeful that he might take a power nap in it. He didn’t, but we were still so thankful to have it to hold our bag, essentials and HIM when he didn’t feel like walking the tens of thousands of steps you will.
- Plan one big sit-down meal per day, but don’t waste your time on more. We chose a breakfast buffet to get full and fueled for a long day ahead with a strategy of snacking here and there for the rest of the day. This worked well for us! We ended up stopping for a quick “linner” in and out, cafe-style mid-day and I don’t regret it. You could, however, get away with sharing a few turkey legs and other snacks along the way.
- Get a DOLE Whip®. Period. This very popular frozen treat blends pineapple, vanilla or swirled flavors with vanilla soft serve. We found them in the corner by Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride, but they’re also at Aloha Isle in Adventureland.
- Take the photos. And please, get in some with your kiddos, you’ll want them later. Yes, this includes the professional ones. Get a collection of different activities with the professionals throughout the day, and you will see them almost instantly uploaded to your app. You can sort through all of them after you leave and pick your favorites to purchase individually or as a full-day package for $70. Worth it, in my opinion. (This post uses a mix of personal and professional!)
- Want to meet the characters? It’s not as easy as it used to be. This is specifically why we chose to have breakfast with the characters at the Crystal Palace, so we knew we could at least guarantee a run in with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet. We waited in line to see Aladdin and Princess Jasmine (45 minutes), and that was everyone we saw up close, outside of parades and shows throughout the day.
Scott says that they now hang by the new Storybook Circus Area towards the far back corner of the park, so you’ll have to make an effort to get out there. You can also see their appearance schedules and locations through the app – touch the map pin at the bottom, then select “Characters” from the middle menu and it will help you narrow down the search. More info here.
- You have the option to take the ferry or monorail over to the park from the parking lot, and we always take the boat over and ride the monorail back. This has been Scott’s routine for years and I trust him after working there for so long. Definitely allow extra time for this commute if you have reservations early on, up to 30 minutes!
I don’t know if I covered everything, but I think this post is a pretty great start. I know we’ll be back to share more down the road, too. Overall, it was a much-anticipated day that was just as magical and emotional as we hoped it to be. And I can’t wait to do it again!
Thanks so much for stopping by to read about the journey, and please, leave any additional takeaways you have in the comments below!