Calling all Mouseketeers!

Matt graduated from law school this month (YES! YES! YES!) and we’re going to celebrate.

We’re going to Disney World!

Other than my own visit as a teenager, we’ve never been.  I’m so excited, and a tiny bit overwhelmed by how to navigate the big wonderful world of Disney.  I need help from you experienced Mom travelers.


  • We are staying off-site in a condo that has a kitchen, 1.5 miles from Disney World.
  • We will have a rental car/van.
  • We will be in Orlando for 6 full days (including one Sunday)
  • Three children:  ages 7, 5, and 3.
  • We have a behavior plan currently in place where kids can earn “Disney dollars” they can use to purchase snacks or trinkets at the park.  Good behavior earns dollars, bad behavior loses them.  Pretty simple.

Questions: (answer any or all of them.  I’m “all ears.”  Get it?)

  1. How should we divide up 5 days between the 4 parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios)?  Please consider my kids’ ages and recommend what they’ll like the most/least.
  2. I don’t think we can afford to eat at Disney restaurants and such.  How realistic is it to eat off site or bring a lunch?  Could we “run home” and eat or is that really a 2-hour round trip?  Suggestions?
  3. I know about the “Fast Passes” you can use to come back later and not wait so long in line.  How does the “Ride Sharing” (thing where you and your husband can take turns going with/without children) work?
  4. Any great insider tips?
  5. What about must-see attractions, events, sites to see within the parks?
  6. Natalie is 3 and never uses a stroller any more.  Should I take one anyway?
  7. Anything I should pack that I probably haven’t thought of?
  8. Should I pay the upgrade for the park-hopper passes or is any one park going to easily occupy the full day?
  9. Anything you thought your kids would love and they didn’t?  I don’t want to waste my time.  I know for a fact they won’t like things like walking tours (for example, the Animation studios tour).
  10. I can’t think of another question, but name anything random you want me to take a picture of while we’re there and I’ll do my best.

p.s.  Don’t forget to join us in the Winter Poetry contest.  Entries due by Tuesday night.


31 thoughts on “Calling all Mouseketeers!

  1. I have never been to either of the magical kingdoms, so I unfortunately have no advice to offer. Another blog frequents the Cali park, so she may be able to offer some tips. But you guys are gonna have so much fun!!!!

  2. Space mountain!!!! I’ve been to Disneyworld twice and both times it was the Magic Kingdom (as a teen). Space mountain is really fun (the line was huge, but that was before fast passes). And the Magic Kingdom will easily take up your whole day. Try to catch the night light (SpectroMagic) parade. I am sooo excited to take my kids someday. What a great reward for finishing law school! You will want to bring/buy bottled water because Florida water tastes funny. And I believe in the spring there is always a short afternoon shower (at least that’s how it was in Tampa), but it is warm water.

  3. We went in 2008 with my extended family for a family reunion, so there were quite a few small children. We also stayed in an off-site condo that was very close to Disney. One thing we chose to do was hit the parks when it opens (our children are early risers), stay until right after lunchtime then we headed back to the condo for a nap. Usually we ALL ended up napping. LOL Then, after the refresher we headed back out and were able to stay until park closing. My other siblings chose not to do this with their families and they ended up with exhausted and cranky children at the end of the day. Any time I go in the future with small children, I’m totally doing it this way again! 🙂 Have a good time!

  4. As a parent of a child who got separated from us on a very busy day at Disneyworld, make sure you take your cell phone and put your cell phone number on a piece of paper and stick it in a pocket or somehow attach it to each child. Just in case. And make a “just in case we get separated” plan and tell the kids what it is. Practice it with them. Hopefully you won’t have to use it.

    From what I remember of Fast passes, you can only have one fast pass at a time, so you can’t get fast passes for several rides. You can go on other rides, but you have to stand in the regular line. But my memory might be wrong. And it was many years ago that we went (2003).

    I have no other advice for you.

    When are you going? Have fun!

  5. I just remember my mom packed a ton of peanut butter and honey sandwiches along with water and juiceboxes. and fruit and other various snacks. We were about the same ages as your kids (me and my siblings, that is).

    Other than that, I don’t have anything else for you. I’ve only been to Disneyland.

  6. Now, I’m nowhere close to being a parent, but I just finished an internship at Disney World so I think I can help.

    Magic Kingdom is a must! You really could spend all day there. I love EPCOT, but since your kids are younger, they may not enjoy the World Showcase as much. (They now have a Kim Possible adventure game, but I’m not sure how much it costs. It takes you around the World Showcase.) Animal Kingdom has a lot to do (but sadly don’t know much about it. 😡 I somehow missed going there in my 5 months in FL). Also, Hollywood Studios is awesome. It’s full of fun shows for kids.

    Oh, I just remembered, EPCOT’s World Showcase has a lot of character meet-and-greet ops.

    The traffic around Disney World can get pretty bad. If you’re going to be at MK, I suggest packing food/choosing that day to buy food. Hollywood Studios and Epcot are the closest to Lake Buena Vista, FL. (10-20 min drive) so if you wanted to eat at a restaurant/fast food.

    I worked at a resort (the BoardWalk), so I’m not sure how rider switches work. For FastPasses, when you print out a new one, it tells you how long until you can get your next one.

    You *must* see Fantasmic (at Hollywood Studios) -it’s awesome! Also, SpectroMagic and Wishes (at Magic Kingdom) are must-sees!

    Definitely take a stroller. There’s tons of stroller parking for rides, and she (or your older kids) may want to nap in it. (When my family went, I was the one who ended up napping in the stroller, even though I was 5 and my sister was a few months shy of turning 2.) You could even use it for storage when your bags get too heavy.

  7. Here are my thoughts for you:
    Yes, it does take a ton of time to get to the parking lot, get into the park, and get to the rides. I don’t know when you’re going. On the off seasons the park hours are much shorter and you probably won’t want to leave. If the park hours are longer, I’d do what the earlier commenter suggested and go ahead and take a break mid day for lunch and naps. If the hours are shorter I think you will loose too much time if you leave.

    By the same token, I vote against park hopping. When we went we got park-hopper passes and never did hop–it just would take too much time.

    Take a stroller! All 3 of your kids will be wanting to sit in it by the end. In fact you might be better off renting a double stroller at DW. One side for your 3 year old and the other side for your stuff and/or one of the other kids. Really, they’ll want it.

    Take lots and lots of snacks and drinks.

    We did better when we told our kids exactly when they’d be able to spend their bribe money. Otherwise they pestered us all day every day about buying something.

    I would pass on Epcot with your kids. I also might pass on MGM. There is simply so much to see in the Magic Kingdom & Animal Kingdom (though I don’t know that I’d go back to Animal Kingdom for a 2nd day) that will be thrilling to your kids, and at their ages much less at Epcot. MGM does have the very exciting roller coaster & tower of terror, but those are probably too old for your kids. And the tour rides will probably not keep them interested.

    I am a big fan of the Unofficial Guide to Disney World. I am not one to normally adhere to a rigorous schedule, but I think the Disney experience is so big and so crowded that following their schedule suggestions is a really great idea.

    Take stuff to put on blisters.

    Ride the Buzz Lightyear ride.

    Our favorite place in Orlando is Sea World. We think it is amazing. 😉


  8. Thanks for commenting on my blog! Well I haven’t done the full trip to Disney World with my two kids before, but I’ve been there before (and do take my kids to Disneyland quite a bit!) and can offer some advice:

    Don’t pay the premium for the hopper passes. One park can easily occupy a full day, and the parks are quite far apart from each other so you can’t just walk between them very easily. Especially since you have so many days there, I’d just get the non-hopper passes.

    I wouldn’t try to run home for lunch or dinners, if you want to be able to fully enjoy your time at the parks. It would take you too much time away from the parks. I think packing lunches and then renting lockers to put your lunches in at the parks is a great idea! For dinners, you might want to split meals to save a little money.

    You should devote one full day to each park, and I would do two full days at least in the actual Magic Kingdom. If you want to do the water parks, those might be fun for an extra day too!

    I would still take the stroller! It’s a LOT of walking and standing, so she might get tired and want to ride in it for awhile. You could always try it out for one day, and then ditch the stroller on the other days if she didn’t use it. (My daughter is named Natalie too!)

    Hope this helps!

  9. The only advice I have to offer is this:

    Your kids are still really little for this kind of a vacation. Don’t be surprised (or ticked off!) if they don’t have the stamina you feel they should have in order to get your money’s worth out of this trip. You may have a day or two where they’ve got three hours in them, and then they’ll be done, no matter how much you spent to get there or how long you had to drive or whatever.

    Orlando is a really fun place to be; there are a lot of things to see and do. Mix it up, do some driving in between events (maybe a nap while you move from place to place) but above all remember that this is a time to celebrate this accomplishment in your husband’s life. That’s a lot to pin on three little kids, so decide before you leave (and this is advice for Matt, too) just what will constitute a “successful” vacation.

    Have fun!!

  10. Wow–I have opinions, but you probably don’t want me to dump it all (or you do, but I need to get to bed.)

    Call me if you really want my input–same area code, 651-4021.

    Oh, and please ignore my post about Disney the other day–you guys TOTALLY deserve it. 🙂

  11. Oh, so fun- we went to Disneyworld 2 yrs ago- Kaiya was 5, Emi was 2. We were there 4 days…only went to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. 2 days at each park was perfect for our family. Park hopper tickets- don’t waste your money. We also stayed off-site- even though it was really close to DW I think it’d be too much of a hassle to leave to eat. Our strategy was to eat breakfast at our condo…eat a “cheap” lunch at the parks…brings lots of snacks…and leave early evening (4-5ish) and eat dinner at a restaurant off-site or make dinner at the condo. Another strategy is to come back during the afternoon, take naps, then head back for the remainder of the evening. Yes, bring the stroller. Ride sharing was awesome- if I remember right the one parent notifies a staff member they want to parent swap…they get a special pass…then the other parent takes the pass, bypasses the line by going thru the fast pass line or the exit route…gives pass to staff and rides. I think that was how it went. Let’s see what else? Bring sunblock. Dress your kids in bright shirts…the more obnoxious the better so you can keep track of them. Do the big attractions/rides during the parade. Oh, we did the Cinderella character dinner thing- thought it was a waste…there’s plenty of character signing/picture opportunities everywhere. And lastly, if you really want to splurge…get into the whole pin trading thing- my kids loved that!

    PS. Can I second the plug in an earlier comment about Sea World? Love SW…totally worth it.

  12. So… I was getting all excited because we will be at Disneyland at about the same time (We are coming over for a wedding in a little over a month!) and then I realised that you guys are going to the WORLD not the LAND and I was so disappointed. BUT excited for you!

    No advice… just another comment all about me.

  13. I wish I had some advice for you but we’ve not been with kids.
    I should bookmark this though because someday maybe we’ll go!
    I would take a stroller though. Even if she didn’t ride in it, you could put your lunch and sweatshirts that kids get tired of wearing in it.

    Have fun!

  14. Eating “at home” does work, even if it is a 2 hour deal. Sometimes it’s good to have a break from the crowds in the middle of the day.

    Congratulations and have a great time.

  15. You might want a nice break in the afternoon so you can do the night stuff. I have lots of advice of things you can do in Florida that aren’t Disney: like go to a natural lazy river (so fun), and many, many other things so you can see the real Florida.

  16. I haven’t been to Disneyland or Disney World with my kids, but I have tackled the local zoo and that can be tiring with kids. Take the stroller or rent a wagon, if they have it. Even the double stroller is a great idea. You will want something to carry all of the crap, I mean trinkets that they want to buy and carrying it in your arms ALL day gets tiring.

    You will really want snacks, water, and jackets with you during the park. I have a collapsable cooler that is a lifesaver when I go on trips because it takes up so little space when I am driving, but when I am out I can have it full of drinks and sandwiches and snacks. I also saved the free freezer packs that came with the bottle bags when my kids were babies, the ones that you can refreeze over and over, and I use those to keep things cool. If you are at a condo that will have a fridge and a freezer this could be a time and money saver. You could also buy bottled water and freeze it to keep everything cool all day and have the water to drink.
    My advice is take your time and don’t try to “stuff” everything in all at once. Enjoy the experience.
    Oh and make sure you do have a “just in case” plan, my son got separated from me at the zoo and I panicked, and Disney World is a ton bigger then the zoo. I think you could look online at the different worlds and see which would best suit your children. I like the other comments about “taking a break” and going for lunch then coming back, but it does depend on the hours. I went to Disneyland when I was in collage and I got tired from all the walking and the waiting in line. I am excited for you all and I know you will have a ton of fun.

  17. I don’t have the time or energy to read through all of the comments, so these may be repeats. We went about five years ago, so our girls were 7, 5, and 5. We had a great time! We LOVED Sea World. If you pay for one day to Sea World, you get a free pass for the next day (or you did when we were there) and we ended up making the trip back because the girls loved it so much.
    These are some things I would say might help at Disney:
    –Get one of those books about Disney World at the library. Find out which places your kids might like to eat in the park, and plan to spend time in that area of the park around mealtime. We did this, and saved a lot of time not doing the “where should we eat, what do you want?” thing. We also stayed a couple of miles away, and it would have taken WAY too long to go back to the hotel to eat. But, you could take a simple lunch and lots of snacks in and then eat one big meal late afternoon. We did this, and even missed the crowds that way.
    –Do the Fast Pass thing, and plan, plan, plan. Decide what times of day you’ll spend in which areas, and which rides are on the “must-ride” list. Plan around those.
    –Either take a stroller, or rent a wagon. Even if the kids don’t ride (they will want to!) then it can carry all of your drinks, snacks, jackets, junk. We were there with Scott’s brother who had a 4-y-o and a 3-y-o and we rented one of those double strollers they rent there. One or two kids were constantly in the stroller. They were all tired of walking, and it was so much faster to have them ride.
    –Call you mom and dad and have them meet you there!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. We’ve been to DW an absurd number of times the last few years. We went with kids who started at ages nearly 4, nearly 2, and barely born and now are almost 7 almost 5 and 3. The LOVE IT. The remember it. Playing Disneyworld is one of their most common play themes. Here is my list of pics and pans. Spend 2 day at MK, 1 at AK, 1 and EP and 1 at DHS. Use DHS as you duff day. it is mostly sitting and watching shows–amazing shows!!! AK and EP are both short days. get there when the open and you can see everything and be done by 2pm, unless you really want to explore the countries. plan accordingly:)

    All at Magic Kingdom unless noted

    Best of the best
    Expedition everest (Animal Kingdom)
    Mickey’s philhar-magic
    Tower of terror (Hollywood Studios)
    Rockin’ rollercoaster (Hollywood Studios)
    Space mountain
    Haunted mansion
    small world
    peter pan
    evening parade and fireworks at MK
    soarin’ (epcot)
    festival of lion king (animal kingdom)
    tough to be a bug (animal kingdom)
    kali river rapids (animal kingdom)
    finding nemo show (animal kingdom)
    Beauty and beast show (hollywood studios)
    toy story mania
    mexico and norway rides (epcot)
    honey i shrunk (epcot)

    Fun you might overlook but shouldn’t
    Monsters inc comedy show
    Sappy, but fun: Carousel of progress.
    Hall of presidents
    Jungle cruise
    tomorrowland speedway. kids just love getting behind the wheel. try not to breathe too many fumes!
    exploring tom sawyer island is a great tension breaker mid day.

    must eat: DOLE WHIP across from swiss family robinson treehouse. call it lunch:)

    Country bear jamboree
    Enchanted tiki room
    try to convince them to pick ONE of the dumbo/aladdin/buzz kiddie rides. they are all the same and the lines are endless

  19. one more thing–fastpasses are NOT tied to a particular person’s ticket. what this means is that you can use your kids ticket to get a FP for something they are not interested in. For example, when we get to DHS one of us takes all the tickets and gets 2 FP for rockin rollercoaster and 2 more for tower of terror. the other parent does something with the kids. then we meet back up and can swap out going on the big rides without waiting later on in the day:) If you get FP right away your window for getting more FP is often within an hour so you can still get FP to use for whole family stuff.

    Also, you don’t have to go to the FP ride in the allotted time printed on the FP. Any time during or after the window is acceptable.

  20. Definitely take a stroller. A double stroller if you have or can borrow one. They’re expensive to rent.

    Pack cheap Wal-Mart ponchos so you don’t have to buy them there.

    We usually pack a swimsuit for the kids if the weather is nice so they can play in fountains. And we bring a couple of hand towels from the hotel.

    I wouldn’t upgrade to Park Hopper with the number of days you are staying. You’ll get in a full day wherever you are.

    I say do MK your first day and your last day. (Or, try NOT to go to MK on a weekend, as it’s always the most crowded of the parks.) AK is terrific fun but if your kids have gone to a great zoo or safari-themed place, it’s not an absolute necessity. We still haven’t been to Hollywood Studios (though I went 10+ years ago when it was Disney/MGM).

    My girls LOVED Epcot, and it’s still my personal favorite. Go to the Living Seas when you first arrive and do not miss Turtle Talk with Crush!! Try to sit in the front. There are tons of spots where kids can meet and take pics with characters with MUCH shorter lines than at MK. My girls loved dancing to the Beatles cover band in the UK. And they loved the Maelstrom ride in Norway. Eat pastries at the French bakery Boulangerie Patisserie! And there’s a crepe cart in France. : Epcot is the only Disney theme park with the “Kidcot” program. All of the World Showcase countries and The Land, The Living Seas and Test Track in Future World have “Kidcot stations”. The kids are provided with a blank mask and and at each station they can choose from free items to decorate it.

    If your kids like roller coasters, Goofy’s Barnstormer is the best. There’s something great about Dumbo, so there’s always a line. If your kids last until the Spectromagic parade, it’s incredible. This is a great resource:

    This will help you plan which rides to hit:

    Eat big breakfast at condo. Each kid can bring a small empty water bottle to fill. Shop at Publix and pack pbj sandwiches, apples, baby carrots, crackers and the like. Then you only have to shell out for dinner, and you can share meals and supplement with sides. Cheaper dining tips:

    Also check out:

    If you can spare some time, I would invest it in researching before you go so you know your kids’ interests and priorities and can make swift judgments depending on conditions “on the ground.”

    Have you considered Universal? It has two parks, is cheaper than Disney, and is way fun for kids: Camp Jurassic’s Pteranodon Flyers is ONLY for young kids (height max) and a guest; Curious George water playground, Barney show, Shrek, SpongeBob, tons of Dr. Seuss-themed rides and more.

  21. I am totally not an experienced Disney traveler, but I am an experienced wife of the forever-in-school husband and I wanted to say CONGRATULATIONS! You earned it just as much (if not more!) as Matt did!

  22. You really should bring a really good friend along with you – one that knows your family well, and lives nearby, and who really apprciates Matt graduating too, and may need him to climb up into our attic when you guys get back to check and see if the wall we want to knock out is load bearing or not. I am just saying it would be the Christian thing to do.

  23. YEAH!!! What a great time! We were in Florida a few months ago and , of course, Greg had good plans. Give him a ring if you need any additional advice…looks like you received lot’s of great thoughts. The kids LOVE LOVE Sea World, LOVE Disney World (even better with a break for naps), and LOVE LOVE the beach. Not so fond of Epcot but Greg and me like it because of it’s Int’l food and education. Enjoy! We love your family!

  24. Buy the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. And google it — they have a website, too, and a little table to tell you which days are most/least crowded in each park. Invaluable. They even have an analysis of which rides & shows are crowded at what time of day.

    I know the food is expensive, but there are some things you MUST try at the Magic Kingdom: at the bakery in Main Street USA, get the French Toast loaf. Heated. Fantastically delicious.

    In Adventure Land (I think), get a Dole Pineapple Whip. Also fantastic. Right across from the Swiss Family Robinson tree house, also a big hit with my kids.

    We have a family reunion with my husband’s side every two years in Orlando. We rent a house with a pool. This is essential, because we cannot spend all of our time in a park, and the kids needed that outlet.

    Bring familiar toys with you, if possible, for the time you spend in your lodgings. Your kids will be bored.

    Also, we always spend a good bit of time riding around to the various resorts. The Animal Kingdom resort has a little mini-zoo and it’s free. There are playgrounds and pony rides (pretty reasonably priced) at Fort Wilderness, and all of the resorts have free parking and interesting things to see.

    The Disney properties are like their own little town, and even though it’s all basically Orlando, it might take you 30 minutes or more to get from your lodging to the park entrance. Bring snacks and maybe even lunch, but consider the time and gas you lose by leaving the parks and just bite the bullet and eat there. You can always find less-expensive options, and they truly are masters of catering to children and making the process as painless as possible.

    All of the regular shopping places also sell Disney paraphernalia, so shop for your souvenirs at Wal-Mart instead of getting “official” stuff at the park. Except my kids’ have baseball caps that are official. They’re just a little more stout, and they wear those caps everywhere. Still. A year later. And the ones we bought two years before that? They wore those until they were too small. Best souvenir choice for my boys, bar none.

    I blogged about our last trip here:

    Have fun! And take a day off in between parks. And don’t limit yourself to Disney properties. And take advantage of any free stuff you possibly can. Seriously, my kids loved wandering around the different resorts. And they still talk about the pool in the back yard of the house we rented.

    Congratulations! When my husband graduated from school, we still didn’t have children, so we took the rest of our student loan money and went to Europe for a month, backpacks in hand, slept on trains, all that. It was a fantastic trip, and even though we just finished paying off his student loans (7 years later), and by extension, the trip, it was ABSOLUTELY worth the expense. I’m not ordinarily a proponent of vacations on borrowed money, but every once in a while, an exception comes up and that was ours. So. Just do it!

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