Growing up on the Gulf Coast, I spent a few family vacations at Disney World in Orlando, FL. For my brother and me, our trips felt seamless, with one magical moment after the next. Now that I’m a mom, I realize the reason our trips to Disney seemed perfect was because of the time, effort and planning my parents put into our vacation before we got there. But the thought of creating the perfect Disney World itinerary for my growing family seemed like a daunting task, especially with the Littles being so, well, little!
In my mind, we would wait until the kids were a little older to show them Disney World so we would/could all enjoy it more. But that’s not how things went down…
Have you ever unintentionally taken a trip to Walt Disney World? Sounds a little crazy, right? Well it happened to us last month.
My Brother-in-law, his wife (whom I call Sis), and their three boys, ages six, nine and 11, had been planning their once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disney World for what seemed like forever.
But as their trip approached, we started to realize that it would be silly for them to be in the same country (they're from England) and us not see them. So the plan was to fly my family of four to Orlando to see my B-I-L, Sis and the boys, but not, and I repeat not, to do Disney!
However, once word spread that we were going to Orlando, it turned into a whole different kind of vacation. My mom and her husband could, “easily drive the five hours down from Savannah.” Naturally.
Then, my in-laws, also from England, wanted to be with all of their grandchildren for Easter. Of course!
And so it was. Welcome to my Big Ole’ Southern-British Disney Family Vacation!
Much like any Disney experience, it was an adventure. But at the end of the day, I’m glad we went and I learned a lot in the process. And now I would like to impart my learnings to you all so, unlike me, you can confidently go to the "Happiest Place on Earth!"
1. Get a map and get organized:
Regardless of how old your kids are, organization is key when going to Disney.
With two kids under three, there were a lot of rides we weren't able to go on. So while it may seem tedious, we saved a TON of time (and stress) by taking a map of the park we were in and marking an ‘x’ next to all the attractions that were age-appropriate. We had plan of attack - we knew exactly what our goals were and how to get there, and as a result we were able to time everything just right and maximize our Disney experience.
I also highly recommend taking advantage of the “FastPass” system. Remember to factor in where/when they can be obtained when planning your itinerary.
2. Get to the parks early:
As a general rule of thumb, the weather is cooler and the lines are shorter the earlier you get to the parks. Luckily, little ones tend put their best foot forward earlier in the day, so we were able to hit the parks as soon as the sun was shining. If your kiddos are late sleepers lure them out of bed with the promise that they'll get to go on extra rides the earlier they get there!
3. DO go to Disney's Animal Kingdom® Park:
While Disney is known for their fairytale characters, don't count the Animal Kingdom out when planning your trip. We visited the park with four adults and five kids in tow and everyone had an absolute blast! The biggest hit for the Littles was the Kilimanjaro Safaris® Expedition because they felt like they were Dora the Explorer and Diego, and Hubs and I both came out of it saying, “Why go to Africa, when you can just go to Orlando!” I swear we were “this close” to a giraffe! This park has so many fun things including a water ride and a 4D “It’s a Bug Life” movie, and there are educational attractions, too! Definitely a must-see!
4. Bring snacks and consider accommodations with a kitchen/kitchenette
Days at the parks are LONG and you never know when the Littles might need a quick bite.
But unlike adults, they just can’t seem to hold back a tantrum even at the first signs of hunger, so while visiting a place like Disney where the food can be over-priced, we were able to save tons of money (and prevent unexpected fits) by carrying our own snacks with us for the day.
Plus, when traveling with the Littles, it’s infinitely easier to deal with early morning milk needs and meals in general when we stay in a place with access to a kitchen. On our Disney vacation we did just that were able to get out the door and to the parks faster by eating breakfast in and making our morning coffee.
5. Relax Between Park Days
One thing that kept us balanced during our Big Ole Southern-British Disney Family Vacation in Orlando was the fact that we mixed pool or “lazy” days with park days. This way, we never had two park days back-to-back. I highly recommend this, if possible. Even pool days and play days with a toddler are exhausting, so at least take a day in between park days to slow down just a little before you rev up to hit another big day with tots in tow. Rotating days was our sanity- that along with cocktails at night after the kids went to bed and a morning jog for some natural endorphins!
Now, go forth and enjoy the magic with your Under-3 set. And don't stress, just have fun. It’s worth it!