Taking Tots to Disney

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Last year, I had the great idea of planning a family vacation to Disney World.  To be honest, I use the term vacation, but my husband says to call it like it is-a trip, not a vacation.  While I try to give credit when credit is due, he is definitely correct in this aspect.  While taking two children under the age of two is by no way, shape, or form a vacation, it truly can be one of the most magical trips you and your family can embark on.  

Since our return, I have been asked more than a dozen times how did the trip go?”  What were my family’s “must-dos?”  Do I regret taking a five-month old at that young of an age?  

I am going to share with you why our trip was so enjoyable FOR US.  Please keep in mind the age of my children.  My oldest is two months shy of turning three, and my little miss had just turned five months old the day before we departed for Orlando.  What worked for us may give many of you insight on taking tots to Disney.  However, if your age of children do not match up with mine, then my advice might not be that beneficial!  

First and foremost, I want to say that I, and I alone, planned every last detail to our “trip.”  There are amazing, wonderful people out there that will plan your entire Disney vacation for you, for free!  However, given my take-charge personality, I wanted to do it.  Not even for the take-charge aspect of it, but more so for the purpose of knowing what to expect and where we needed to be.  Disney’s website (www.mydisneyexperience.com) is so user friendly, and guides you through every step of your planning.  Once you purchase your tickets, everything is linked to your account.  

TRAVEL:  Since I am currently on maternity leave, and neither of my children are in school, date of travel wasn’t relevant for us.  By the grace of all things good in the world, I chose (out of the blue) to travel in late January, early February.  Crowds were relatively “low.”  Now what one considers to be low in regard to another person’s opinion, I did not think crowd levels were too bad.  We were there a week that was after the Disney Marathon, but before the cheerleaders came to town for Nationals.  Weather wise, mornings and evenings were chilly, but afternoons were enjoyable.  

LODGING:  My two-year-old son is a Disney Cars loving freak.  He loves Mater and Lightening and Doc Hudson, so I knew we had to stay at the Art of Animation resort.  While this resort is considered a “Value Resort” it was absolutely perfect for us.  Thanks to the Facebook group “Smart Moms Planning Disney” (and the 70,000 + moms that are members!) I was able to read posts from people that had previously stayed at this resort.  I can honestly say there were very few complaints from them and myself.  We stayed in the Cars suite, and being at the resort was just as much fun as being in the park.  If you are looking for a more low-key resort, DO NOT STAY THERE!  Every last detail down to the bathrooms are themed.  Also, because we stayed on Disney property, that gave us early access to book our Fast Passes at 60 days out and our dining reservations at 180 prior to our trip.  Magic Bands were also sent to us because we were staying on Disney property.  In addition, transportation to and from the airport and between all of the resorts was also included! 

PARKS: Our trip consisted of  four full days in the parks.  We started our magic with Animal Kingdom, then Magic Kingdom, followed by Epcot, and finished off our trip with Hollywood Studios.  Basically the parks are broken into rides, characters, and shows.  I learned during Finding Nemo, the Musical my toddler HATES SHOWS.  He was not thrilled, and definitely did not want to sit through the entire thing.  That’s okay!  Parents, go off of what your child shows interest in.  There are more activities to count, and magic for everyone in the family.  If you see your child is not loving a certain aspect of your day, find something they do love!  

FOOD: My husband downloaded Instacart, and was able to have groceries shipped to our room.  Oh, and wine!  Through this service we had all of my son’s go-to food items on hand.  There is an option of a Disney Dining Plan, but we chose to opt out of this service because of the ages of our children.  Please, please pack foods that your child knows and loves.  My son eats us out of house and home in strawberries and raspberries.  I packed both for the park each day.  You can absolutely take food and drinks into the parks!  When in the parks, find the must-do treats!  Treat yourself to a Dole Whip, Mickey ice cream or pretzel, and if in Hollywood Studios-a Titos and lemonade after you get off of the Aerosmith rollercoaster!  Dining reservations were one aspect that we didn’t focus on too much because of the age of our children.  I had a character meal scheduled for each day of our trip, but because we went during peek flu season, I got paranoid and canceled them.  The majority of character meals are buffets.  Once my children are older, I will focus more on our dining experience.  I couldn’t’ justify spending $70 a person for a meal that I would have to scarf down because my youngest was restless!  

MEMORY MAKER: The Memory Maker was $169 if you purchase prior to your trip (it goes to $199 if you purchase it during your trip.)  As much as I love taking my own pictures, I just didn’t have enough hands.  Two kids, double stroller, two book bags, and the list goes on.  This option also put me back into the pictures.  I will hands-down always choose to do the Memory Maker each time we visit Disney.  It took the pressure off of me to capture those picture perfect moments.  There are photographers located in a bunch of different places throughout the parks, at character meals, and character meet and greets!  

FUN THINGS FOR KIDS:  There are two fun things for your kiddos to partake in while they are at Disney.  One is penny pressing, and the other is pin trading.  Because my son is not even three, I knew I only wanted to expose him to one or the other.  I opted for the pin trading.  I purchased two lanyards off of Amazon for each of my children.  I also found a lot of Disney pins.  There were about twenty five pins that cost me about $18.  The idea is for your child to trade a pin with a cast member they see also wearing pins.  They chose a pin from the cast member, and in return give them one of theirs.  My son LOVED IT.  Since I stocked up on pins prior to going, this saved me so much money.  My husband and mother-in-law even got into it!  The pins at the park range from $10-$20 a piece.  We purchased  four pins for my son while in the park, and would surprise him with them as we were waiting in line or on the bus back to our resort. 

 

TIPS FROM ME (BY NO MEANS AM I AN EXPERT!): 

  1. Please factor in swim time for your kiddos!  My son asked every single day if we could go swimming.  
  2. Buy Disney gift cards to pay off your trip!  We either bought gift cards at Giant Eagle for the fuel perks or Target with our Red Card!  
  3. Some of the items I packed included: pop-up hamper for dirty clothes, glow sticks (for nights in the parks or a fun bath time), little Disney themed toys that I left on my son’s bed throughout the week, zip lock baggies, and scissors.  Every last one came in handy, and saved me a ton of money!  
  4. If using a bag, go for a book bag!  Much easier to carry around!  
  5. Plan, plan, plan.  I snagged a brochure at my local Disney store that I used as my guidebook for our trip.  I started at one end of the park and chose our selections for our Fast Passes and dining reservations based on where they were located in the park.  
  6. Take advantage of RIDER SWAP.  Don’t know what it is?  Browse the Smart Moms Planning Disney Facebook group!  Lots of posts to teach you all the secrets of getting the most out of your Disney experience!
  7. Schedule a “rest day.”  This is something that I did not do, but if I was able to do over would definitely include.  Our stay consisted of four full park days.  Looking back, I should have done two days in the park, rest day, then finish off the other two park days.  
  8. Take your in-laws.  We could not have done it without ours!
  9. As much as everyone that works there contributes to the MAGIC of Disney, be a part of the Disney magic YOURSELF!  Give a child a glow stick at the parade, or pass on your Rider Swap that you’re not using.  
  10. Take advantage of nap time in Epcot, and drink around the world! 

 

The irony is that we take young children on what is supposed to be the most “magical vacation ever.”  We try to expose them to everything Walt Disney World has to offer.  That is impossible.  They can quickly get overwhelmed. I understand it is an expensive vacation.  Parents go with the mind set that they are going to get the most bang for their buck.  You will have a much more enjoyable time if you cater to your age of children.  Not once did my children have a meltdown or tantrum in the parks (except when my baby had a diaper blow out and my father-in-law was carrying her!)   We did the parks from Rope Drop to 4 pm. each day.  That included my toddler napping for two hours in his stroller around 11 a.m. and my baby sleeping as I wore her.  While I would have loved to be at the parks in the evening, it was not fair to push my children when I clearly knew they were done for the day.  

If I can leave you with anything, cater to your child!   I planned for this trip for six months, and I told myself to take it all in and enjoy my hard work.  Our plans got shifted, and we definitely did not get to see or do everything.  It’s impossible to fit everything in.  That is just another reason to start planning the next trip!  There’s a saying that people that visit Disney World “catch the Disney Bug.”  Let’s just say this momma has caught it!  

 

 

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Ashli is a Fayette County native but made the leap to Allegheny County in 2013. She married a man named Jarred that she met randomly at a Toby Keith concert at KeyBank Pavilion. Seven years later, they have shared four blissful years of marriage and have welcomed three children into their homes; their oldest- a black rescue lab named Fiona, a sweet toddler boy named Collins, and a precious baby girl named Carmie. Ashli and her clan live in the South Hills, but more importantly five short minutes to Target where she enjoys quiet weekend strolls through the aisles. Extra bonus points are added when she stumbles upon something she doesn’t need, but has to purchase because it has the red clearance sticker on it. Ashli is currently working on obtaining her Master’s degree in STEM Education. Ashli is passionate about working with children, and is a fifth-grade teacher presently on maternity leave. Last January, Kristine Sorensen from KDKA interviewed Ashli because she was nominated as a top Peer Mentor for the students in her district. While away from the classroom this year to take care of her own sweet babies, she receives weekly FaceTime calls from former students that need a pep talk. Ashli’s goal in life is to change the lives of students that have ventured onto that wrong path in life, and do everything she can to get them back on the right one.