Ugh. There just is not enough time in the day. Right now I should definitely be cleaning my house and not blogging. But I've been promising a Disney blog so I need to get to it, because that's a LOT of information. This morning I discovered that if my children are not up by 8, we're not getting anywhere by 10:30. This morning we JUST made our playdate, and we were glad we did because we had a good time and got some great pictures. I mean, tell me this isn't adorable:
I don't know how we got there at a reasonable hour but it was fun. Now at 2 in the afternoon I'm finally making coffee.
Anyway my husband turned 29 on Monday and we went to Disney World for the weekend to celebrate. Here it is, the much-anticipated "How To Take Your Toddler to Disney World and Come Home With Your Sanity" instructional manual. Enjoy:
First let me say that Disney World is a large collection of theme parks, resort hotels, and attractions. Disney is not a single theme park. So when you say you're going to Disney, and somebody says, which part? you don't say, Disney. If you mean the Magic Kingdom, then you should say the Magic Kingdom. The four main theme parks are Magic Kingdom, EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.. There are also water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), a large shopping / nightlife area (Downtown Disney) and multiple resort hotels.
To fully experience all four parks for the first time, I recommend at least one day in each park. This is what we're doing when my niece visits in November. Some basic information on each park:
EPCOT is all about culture and knowledge. Some kids will find it to be boring, but it's usually the adults' favorite. All the great food, wine, and shopping is at EPCOT. There are a few rides that the little ones can do, and a few that they can't. My 2-yr-old loves Journey Into The Imagination, Spaceship Earth, and Ellen's Energy Adventure. She can also participate in Maelstrom, Living with the Land, The Living Seas, and the Mexico Boat Ride with Donald Duck, as well as any of the sit-down shows. She is too small for Mission: Space, Test Track, and Soarin'.
One-Day plan for EPCOT:
Eat breakfast at your hotel or home, then head to the park. Arrive at the park probably around 10, realistically. Go straight to Soarin', located in the Land. Get your Fast Pass for later. (See Fast Pass description below). Ride Spaceship Earth, Ellen's Energy Adventure, and Journey Into the Imagination. Also check out the sights, the gift shops, and the Innovations building. Pick up your Kim Possible Phone at Innovations and do a cute little scavenger hunt if you want to. Eat lunch at Coral Reef if you want a nice meal, or the food court in the Land if you want a quick meal. Ride the Nemo ride and check out the aquarium. Check out the Lion King Show and the Living with the Land boat ride. Then ride Soarin' if enough time has passed. Head over to the World Showcase. It's a big circle, so head left or right depending on what you want to do first. Every country has a show, ride, shopping, or dining to enjoy while you learn a little about their culture. Each location has cast members from that country to help you and chat with you, as well as a Kidcot location. These are masks or other crafts for them to color, to entertain them for a few minutes. An older child will enjoy having a little collection of projects to take home. World showcase highlights: Canada film, shopping in China and Japan, drummers in Japan, pub in UK, Beatles cover band in UK, singers in US, Boat ride in Mexico, shopping in Mexico, admiring the inside of the pyramid in Mexico (it's awesome), glass-blowers in Mexico, tequila shots in Mexico, boat ride in Norway. The following have restaurants that are all amazing: Mexico, France, Japan, China, Italy, Canada. You may want to make a reservation (see below). If you don't want a sit-down dinner, many of the countries have little kiosks at which you can buy snacks, or you can find a counter-service dining location. I know China and US have them. If you're into fireworks, pick out a spot by the water around sunset and enjoy the show. If you're into avoiding a mass exodus with two (probably sleeping or screaming) kids, skip the fireworks and go home early.
The kids can ride Toy Story and the Great Movie Ride, as well as view any of the shows. This a movie-themed park and there are a lot of really good shows. They are too little for Tower of Terror (awesome, and pretty scary), Rockin' Roller Coaster (also awesome), The Studio Backlot Tour (cute), and Star Tours (eh).
Go straight to Toy Story and get a Fast Pass. There is a 54" requirement to sit on your own, but you can have a lap rider of any size with you on this ride. While you're on that side of the park, check out the Little Mermaid Show (awesome) and the Playhouse Disney Live Show (also awesome). There's some good shopping in this area too. There is a place you can meet Toy Story characters, and there's a Narnia show which I've never seen. The Brown Derby restaurant is supposed to be awesome, but I've never eaten there. When you're done in that area head over to the giant hat and ride the Great Movie Ride after you look for your favorite stars' handprints. I like Audrey Hepburn. Then check out the rest of the park in whatever way you happene to be headed. The Muppet Show is cute if your kids will wear the 3D glasses. The Honey I Shrunk The Kids playground is pretty cool for photos. The Indiana Jones show is cool, and a classic. There are street performers frequently. We didn't care for the Beauty and the Beast show, but it might be worth checking out for someone else. We really like the Sci-Fi Dine-In theater for a sit-down meal. It's done up like an old drive-in, and you sit in cars to eat and watch your movie. They have a delicious marinated tofu dish, and some great pastas. We also enjoy the counter-service locations near the Tower of Terror.
The greenest and shadiest Disney park, Animal Kingdom is mostly about the animals and exhibits. We did all that once with Audrey because she loves animals, but we're not that into this park. The Yak and Yeti restaurant is very good, and I really enjoy Expedition Everest and the Kali River Rapids, but these are both thrill rides and not suitable for little ones. There is some great shopping at this park.
This is what people mean when they say "Disney." This park is geared toward the kids, the characters, and the magic. There is no alcohol available for purchase at the park. There aren't many good restaurants, either, unless you like American buffets, which I don't. We do enjoy Tony's on Main Street, very near the entrance. Cinderella's castle is in the middle of the park with everything else in a circle around it.
First we head to the People Mover in Tomorrowland, and the Astro Orbiter on top of it. Older kids and grown-ups can check out Stitch's Escape, Space Mountain, and the Buzz Lightyear ride. The whole family can enjoy the Carousel of Progress. Fantasyland is home to Cinderella's Castle, Cinderella's Carousel, The Mad Tea Party, Dumbo, Peter Pan, It's a Small World, and Mickey's Philarmagic. These are all suitable for all ages. Audrey's favorites are the carousel and Small World. We usually skip Dumbo because the line is always really long, and the Astro Orbiter and Aladdin's Magic Carpets are exactly the same ride. Adventureland contains Aladdin's Magic Carpets, Jungle Cruise, The Enchanted Tiki Room, Pirates of The Caribbean, and the Swiss Family Tree House, again all suitable for little ones. Get yourself a pineapple float while you're in this area. Frontierland has the Hall of Presidents (naptime), Splash Mountain (not for babies), Great Thunder Mountain (not for babies), and the ferry to Tom Sawyer Island (all ages). Tom Sawyer has a ton to explore for kids of all ages and there are some great photo ops. It's a huge attraction with something for everybody. I think the Country Bear Jamboree is in Frontierland as well, but I haven't done that in a very long time. The Haunted Mansion is in between Fantasyland and Frontierland. The kids can go on it, no problem. Mickey's Toontown Fair is behind Fantasyland. Here you'll find Mickey's House, Minnie's House, Donald's boat, and the Judges Tent, where you can meet Mickey and friends. There's a kiddie coaster in this area with a 36" requirement that mine doesn't meet yet.
To get around we take a double stroller with one bag for diapers and stuff, and another bag for food and stuff. We take buses from hotel to park, from park to hotel, and from park to park. My kids nap in the stroller, eat off of our plates, and we never wait more than 15 minutes in a line. We stay at a Disney resort and purchase the Disney Dining Plan, which a great deal if you're going to be purchasing food at the park. We make reservations at the restaurant where we want to eat. You have to collapse the stroller to get on the bus, but not on a monorail, so if you can take a monorail to get somewhere definitely go for that. You can bring your own food if you don't want to pay for it at the park. Kids are free under 3 to get in; and they don't have a meal plan for that age so they just eat off your plate. There's a ton to do at the hotels as well; swimming, playing, eating, shopping, entertainment, everything. Fort Wilderness Campground is a great place to stay with kids because of the campfire sing slong every night and the splash park near the pool. Tons of fun. Baby Care Stations are available at each park; check them out.
Obtaining a Fast Pass is like making an appointment to come back to the ride at a later time, so you don't have to wait in the long line. For instance, at 9 AM you insert your ticket and get a Fast Pass with 2 - 3PM written on it. You are supposed to come back between 2 and 3 PM. You get in the express lane and you're on the ride in ten minutes or less. Something I found out recently is that they will take your fast pass anytime after the beginning of your window, so you don't really have to rush to make your appointment. You can have 2 Fast Passes out at a time per ticket, and they do fill up. They only give out a certain number for each ride.
If you have little ones who can't ride, you can do a rider swap. Mommy gets in line while Daddy waits with the kids. Mommy tells the attendant she needs a rider swap card. When Mommy gets off the ride, she gives Daddy the Rider Swap card and he doesn't have to wait in the regular line. He goes on the Fast Pass line with up to 5 members of his party while Mommy then waits with the kids.
Note that Daddy did not need a Fast Pass ticket here, even if Mommy used one. So he could use his 2 allowed Fast Passes on 2 different rides than Mommy is using them for, and the party would be able to have 4 Fast Passes out at a time. So even with kids you can ride the grown-up rides with little to no wait.
We don't do any of the extra stuff like the Christmas Party, Halloween Party, Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, or Character Dining, but we do purchase reasonably-priced souvenirs. One good thing about going back and forth is that you can think about the purchases and they're not impulse buys. If you go back and it's till there, then you buy it if you still want it. We also don't usually watch the parades; we would rather take advantage of the shorter lines.
Characters are pretty easy to find; just take a look at your map when you get there and head to their designated location.
I'm happy to field Disney questions, and hopefully soon I can get back to my food blogging :(