I’m a Mickey Mouse mom and was hell-bent on creating Disney memories with my son. Certainly I was discouraged against bringing a 2-year-old to Disney World – the cost, the travel, limited age-appropriate activities and attractions, and so on. Could I really make Disney happen for a 2-year-old and simultaneously keep my marriage intact over four days?
They don’t call it the Magic Kingdom for nothing. The Disney theme park might be pushing 40, but it hasn’t lost its charm or magic. Like many of us on the wrong side of 35, the park is starting to wrinkle and sag (Tomorrowland has always been the weak link), but for the most part it’s well preserved. Among trips with family, friends and spouse, my visits to Disney are in the double digits. I keep going back because it’s a destination that makes me feel like I’m unplugged and in another world. Some folks will tell me I need to pick better places, but, hey, I’m low maintenance and low brow, and Disney’s never let me down.
Now, I’m a Mickey Mouse mom and was hell-bent on creating Disney memories with my son. Certainly I was discouraged against bringing a 2-year-old to Disney World – the cost, the travel, limited age-appropriate activities and attractions, and so on. It’s not as if he knows Mickey, Minnie or any of the characters. He’s more of a Curious George and Thomas the Tank Engine guy. Characters aside, I wanted him to just hang out in the place where I’ve had such magic moments. (In my younger days, I even got a Mickey tattoo, but that’s a story for another time.)
Did I mention I was hell-bent? My smart husband agreed, albeit reluctantly, to a weekday getaway, to avoid the weekend crush.
With that OK, I go into full reporter mode, researching anything and everything that an active toddler with his father’s patience for crowds and long lines would want to do. I map out routes, check parade schedules, memorize park hours, print transportation guidelines, compare hotel amenities, digest the dining plans and the list goes on.
I got stressed.
Can I really make Disney happen for a 2-year-old and simultaneously keep my marriage intact over the four days?
The answer is, yes. To get there, though, you have to do the legwork beforehand. You also have to take your child’s personality and penchants into consideration. It’s along the lines of “know thy enemy.”
My son might not remember it, but when he’s older we’ll tell him (and show him the video) of his first of what Mom hopes become many Disney visits. Otherwise, how will I ever explain the tattoo?
The advice that follows isn’t gospel but hopefully practical. Going into battle well-armed is the best insurance.
Where to stay
For most adults the hotel is just a place to sleep and shower. Throw children into the mix and the hotel selection suddenly becomes important because you can’t spend every minute of every day at a theme park and still have happy kids and husbands. They need downtime, nap time and time to splash in the pool – you can’t escape from a New England winter and just blow off the pool in favor of another ride on “The Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Space Mountain.” We bunked on the Disney campus at the Coronado Springs Resort in the most economical (read: bare-bones) room offered. I had to search high and low just to find a pen.
Everything in Disney has a theme, and Coronado is no exception with its American Southwest design. One of Disney’s moderately priced resorts, Coronado is a good option for families, but we did wish we’d gotten a bigger room. We did, however, love the mini-fridge because we brought our own snacks and juice to avoid Disney’s infamous astronomical food prices. And, we loved the Mayan pyramid-themed pool, waterslide and hot tub.
We didn’t love the location, though. Coronado isn’t near anything, and that’s probably why it has a ton of amenities – including five restaurants, three pools, a spa and seasonal water sports. If you stay here, you’re at the mercy of the shuttle bus – we waited as little as 10 minutes to as much as 45 minutes. Especially with young and excited kids, it’s better to pick a location within walking distance of the theme park or attraction, or a more reliable form of transportation like the monorails, which run every 5 to 7 minutes and travel between Epcot, some hotels and the Magic Kingdom. To get to the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, you’ll have to take your chances on the buses, which run more frequently from park to park than from hotel to park.
Geographically speaking, pick an Epcot-area hotel, such as the Disney Beach Club Resort. You can walk to Epcot and Disney Boardwalk, and it’s near Hollywood Studios. It’s a deluxe resort (read: most expensive) but it’s money well spent for the convenience alone. I stayed here pre-baby and would again in flash. Likewise for the Grand Floridian for its monorail service and proximity to the Magic Kingdom, and the Animal Kingdom Lodge for the pleasure of shacking up with wild animals for a few days.
Quick Tip: Disney owns and operates 20 resorts on its Orlando digs, and that’s a lot to digest. Staying there does have its perks – extended theme park hours, free parking, free airport shuttle, free luggage delivery service and the option to purchase the dining plan.
I made a list before we left of what we wanted to see and what we’d skip. I wasn’t overly ambitious, either; I wasn’t going to try to visit all four theme parks. That would’ve been a recipe for disaster.
Given my son’s age, I narrowed it to the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom Park. Those offered the most age-appropriate rides and attractions: I knew my son would love riding the trains. I knew the characters would scare him. I knew he’d love seeing the animals.
Armed with that knowledge, we headed off to the Magic Kingdom and hopped on the Walt Disney World Railroad, disembarking at Mickey’s Toontown, an area of amusements geared toward the younger set. We took a ride on Dumbo, the Teacups, Cinderella’s Carousel (twice) and saw Mickey’s Philharmonic 3-D show. I ruled out Snow White’s Scary Adventures because my son was a bit freaked by the 3-D show, so anything with “scary” in its title was out. A quick lunch and we returned to the hotel for a poolside nap.
After dinner we headed back to the Magic Kingdom and Pooh’s Playful Spot, a play area with tunnels, slides and a tot-sized house.
Later, while the “Spectromagic” was starting, we took advantage of the smaller lines and dashed onto It’s a Small World and the race cars at Tomorrowland Indy Speedway. Afterward, we locked in a spot for the fireworks show.
Be warned: the park closes after the fireworks and there is a mass exodus for the gates. It’s dark and crowded and you have to be on guard so you’re not run over by overtired kids and grumpy grownups vying for the quickest lane out. Either you leave before the end of the show and increase the chance of catching a bus back to your hotel or stick around and let the crowd dissipate. (This is an example of why it’s better to lodge at closer digs. It took more than a hour for us to get back to the Coronado.)
Quick tip: Fast Pass – learn it; use it; love it. This feature allows guests to make reservations for a popular ride to avoid waiting in long lines. We hit up the Kilamanjaro Safari ride at the Animal Kingdom, which had a one-hour wait. We grabbed fast passes at 11 a.m. that were valid between noon and 1 p.m. In the meantime, we took a train ride to the petting zoo, hung out with Lilo & Stitch, took a snack break, and within the hour were waltzing onto the safari ride soon to be face-to-face with a rhino.
To stroller or not to stroller
The majority of guests were families with stroller-age kids. You need trams that fold up easy for the buses, monorails and some rides. I brought my Maclaren umbrella stroller and it was the perfect Disney accessory – so perfect they should market it that way.
Don’t be freaked if you park your stroller outside a ride and it’s gone when you return. Cast members might move it to keep lanes clear, but it’s surprisingly safe; just don’t leave valuables.
You can rent strollers, too. But it’s pricey: $15 a day for a single and $31 for a double. Besides the cost, another downside to renting is all the strollers are the same so it’s hard to recognize yours. And, they’re hard plastic. Not too comfortable for the kids, but easy to spray down with a hose when cleaning.
Odds and ends
The best time to hit a chunk of rides is during the parades. Everyone stops to watch the parade, leaving the rides free.
Hundreds of thousands of guests visit Disney on any given day, but the parks remain clean. Vacuum cleaners were sucking up debris almost before it hit the ground.
When overstimulation and weariness strike, it’s good to have a Disney joke stashed away: Why does Tigger bounce? So he doesn’t step in poo.
Schedule a park-free day to fully enjoy the amenities at your hotel. It’ll make your stay more enjoyable and give your feet time to heal. Most hotels have fantasy pools, hot tubs, dining, shopping. The pools are usually most crowed in the late afternoon and the evenings.
From shopping at the Once Upon a Toy store and the Lego Imagination Center – with the world’s biggest “pick-a-brick” wall – to rides on a mini-carousel and mini-train, we found lots to do in the Downtown Disney area, including grabbing a cold beer for Mom and Dad. They don’t serve alcohol in the Magic Kingdom.
Most of the rides at Magic Kingdom empty into, or pass right by, a gift shop. Find a way to distract the kids on the way out or you’ll be loaded down with pricey souvenirs.
Bring a good backpack to fill with water, snacks, wipes, diapers, sunscreen, video and digital cameras. You can bring food into the parks, so stock up on snack packs, sandwiches, juice boxes and water – just don’t feed the animals.
Meal plan: For most stays between Aug. 16 and Oct. 3, certain Disney resorts are offering a free Disney Dining Plan when you buy a five-night room and theme park package. (The package has to be booked by Sunday.)
Do use the Disney Photo Pass option. You can get professional portraits shot at iconic spots in all the parks, Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom and the Tree of Life in the Animal Kingdom Park, for example. Later, log onto the Web site and enter your code to view your photos. Buy them if you like them.
For more information: disneyworld.disney.go.com/
Contact Dana Barbuto at firstname.lastname@example.org.