Taking a Preschooler to Disney World: Dos and Don’ts

We’ve been back for a month and Raddy G is STILL talking about Disney; the pool slide, Splash Mountain, his chair/bed (ched? bair?), and when he will be tall enough for Space Mountain.

Can someone tell me when four-year-olds finally understand the difference between their age and their height? He continues to tell me that he’s big because he’s four…

Rather than recap every detail, I’m just going to make a list of stuff that worked and stuff that didn’t.

What Worked:

1. Roll with it. I did plan ahead and acquire Fastpasses using My Disney Experience, but we were also very open to changes made at the last minute. Who knew he would want to go on Splash Mountain? He hates water in his face, but loves this ride. So, we roll with it, and change FPs, and wait in long lines, but if the wee man is happy, we’re happy.

2. Roll with it, part 2: We also planned to be in particular parks on particular days, with one day just for the hotel and pool. But after a morning swimming, the boy said he wanted to go on rides, so used My Disney Experience to get some FPs for Animal Kingdom and away we went.

3. Get as much ticket as you can afford. We get annual passes because we go twice in one year, 51 weeks apart, then repeat that the following year. The great thing about having more days than you need (or an annual pass) is that you don’t feel back running to a park on the day you arrive, or on a day you planned off. The additional days once you get to 4 or 5 aren’t significantly more expensive, and if you can swing it, it really allows your to be flexible.

4. Take your prepared kid to “Fancy, Grown Up Restaurants” (prepared is the operative word!). Originally we were going to have my parents along, allowing a date night for us, but that fell through. Rather than cancel that reservation, we made it for much earlier in the evening. Then we had a talk about expected behavior and really pushed how special it was for a kid to go to a nice restaurant. Then I packed my purse with a Smuckers Uncrustable and a new box of Lego City bricks. The waiters were excellent, even plating his sandwich for him (sooooo picky, but we bought a fruit side and the sandwich came from the quick service in the same hotel) and the Lego toy kept him entertained when needed. It was a total success.

5. Order Kid desserts!! The children’s dessert menu at Jiko included a donut decoration platter. He got three mini donuts, three small sides of different sauces/frostings, and mickey sprinkles. Again, don’t hesitate to take your small kids to the signature restaurants; Disney knows what they are doing!

6. Show videos of rides before you leave. Adam was prepared for ride ques and possible ‘scary’ parts. The big surprise was when he asked to go on Splash having not seen anything about it. The videos were how he learned about Big Thunder Mountain, Soarin’, Mine Train, Toy Story, and Haunted Mansion. For kids who dislike change/transition this can be a great solution.

7. Bring some pool toys. We have diving sticks shaped like squids even though our kid won’t swim or go under water. However, those diving sticks made him friends everyday at the pool and meant that he always had someone to play with besides us. I wish I’d brought six instead of three!

8. Have the bartender split the virgin frozen drinks into two cups, one for your kid to have today, one in your freezer for him to have tomorrow.

9. Give your kid a specific budget or item list for souvenirs. Adam knew before we left he was allowed to get one new stuffed animal and one new vehicle (matchbox sized). He was insistent that he get them right away, but after that he also knew he was done with trinkets from stores.

10.  Bring clothes pins. My kingdom for clothes pins!!! To hold the curtain shut while your little boy sleeps in for the first time in his life, for example. Or to hang your wet swimsuits somewhere other than over the chairs.

What Didn’t Work:

1. Fireworks. They were just too late at night. Parades were close, but as it turned out, the wee man didn’t like the Main Street Electric Parade because it lacked firetrucks. Who knew. We did enjoy Illuninations with him, as that happens at 9. (9 was pushing it for him, given the bus ride back to the hotel).

2. Singing and Dancing Shows–total bust for our guy. Your mileage may vary.

3. Carrying a backpack of crap around. This sucked and in the end, we hardly ever needed anything in it. We sunscreened up before we left the room and came back at lunch, so carrying more was silly. Snacks in the bag just get warm and/or crushed. Plus, who wants a bag of pirate booty or an apple when there is Dole Whip around? Next year, we’ll go bagless. It’s Disney, anything you discover you need is for sale somewhere nearby. Also, the entrance line is way shorter for bagless ticket holders!

4. Early AM flights on departure day. It was direct, that’s why I booked it, but if you want to use the check in service in the hotel lobby you must be there three hours ahead of time and they don’t open until 6:30 AM. Lesson learned.

5. Trying to stick to a plan made months beforehand. On the first day I was diligent about “the plan” but quickly came to realize that having fun was way more important than doing it all. So we had fun and didn’t do much. It’s okay, we’ll be back.

6. Working out. I brought the stuff and pre-kid I would absolutely have made time to run or go to the gym. But after carrying nearly 40 pounds of kid around at the end of each day I didn’t feel compelled to do additional exercise. We also learned that we walked pretty far (not as far as many claim they do at Disney–all that shuffling your feet in line is not really taking a step!), about 4-5 miles each day, sometimes more. Consider the hallways, walks to and from the bus stops and the pool and the steps do add up fast.

We had a great time, better than expected and I think it’s because we let some of the planning go. It’s important to plan, to have an idea of what is where, what you like and how you want to spend time. It’s important to make dinner reservations if you need them. But it’s also important to listen to your kid and willingly wait in the Splash Mountain line, again, and again, because he’s having a good time!

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