Here is How Having Kids Has Given Me a New Approach to Disney

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Disney is a place for kids of all ages. But taking your own little ones can completely change the game.

Kids and Disney

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Adult-only trips to Walt Disney World are awesome. Trips to Walt Disney World with kids are awesome.

Whether you take children along with you to Walt Disney World or not, you are sure to be able to find something to occupy and delight you. However, your definition of delight might shift depending on whether you have little ones in tow.

If you have had a chance to be on both sides of the coin, you are probably all too familiar with some of the stark differences there are between traveling with and without children. Here are a few of the ways that having kids has changed my approach to Disney trips.

I Slow Down

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When I was a Childless Millennial, I hit the parks with full force. Like many Disney die-hards, I was there an hour before Rope Drop. Of course, I was also there after closing, enjoying some late-night shopping or some ice cream. I chased extra hours and skimped on sleep.

Basically, I went from here to there maximizing the fun and experiencing as much as possible. But, then I had kids, and they taught me a few things about the nature of children at Walt Disney World.

The first time you take your children to Walt Disney World, you want it to be perfect. You want them to do all the things and experience all the Magic. But here’s the thing: kids do not have any idea what “all the things” means. They live in the moment, and for them everything is new!

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In fact, they will probably be happier if you don’t try to do all the things. A realistically planned approach may even help prevent children from having mid-vacation meltdowns. For a full list of meltdown prevention tipshead over here.

Remember, on their first trip, your children will have no idea if you didn’t make time for the hottest attraction unless you happen to tell them about it. In fact, it is likely that if you have very young children they will say their favorite thing was “the bus” or “the pool” or “the bed inside a cabinet at the hotel.”

Hence, I slow down. We make time to stop and play at Bruce’s Shark World or to try to pull the sword from the stone one more time. We may even stop to marvel over the bunnies in the Canada Pavilion—even thought they are the same bunnies we have all around our neighborhood. For some reason even bunnies are more magical at Disney World.

I Reconnect with Childhood Favorites

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I love a nostalgic ride now and then. But, experiencing them with your own children for the first time is a whole new level of wonderful.

I didn’t even envision I would enjoy devoting much time to riding it’s a small world as an adult, but riding it with my kids has been such a joy. Listening to them excitedly point out details like the pink camel (or is it a dromedary), the flying carpets, or the little boy playing pipes for his lamb – details that I remembered pointing out to my own parents when I was small – is a level of nostalgia that is difficult to describe. I don’t know that I have a vocabulary term to match it.

The only childhood favorite I can’t get into is Journey into Imagination with Figment because it is just too far from a cry from its original form (yes, I am one of those people). Luckily, neither of my kids like the new version, so we skip it.

I Skip Rope Drop

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I can’t believe I just typed those words. “You must Rope Drop” is one of those things people who aim to Disney hard know as a hard and fast rule. And, while we do hit Rope Drop at certain points on our trips, we also are okay with skipping it sometimes, too. I have come to accept that it has just to happen now and then. This is especially true if we decide to utilize late hours.

My kids can handle a little bit of going to be late and getting up early, but doing it for an entire trip is going to create some unwanted grouchiness. We want everyone to be able to enjoy the parks without fighting off exhaustion. So, we plan some sleep in days where we can relax a little. My husband, who usually rises before the rest of us, sometimes heads down to the quick service restaurant and surprises us with Mickey Waffles to wake up to!

I Spend More Time at the Resort Pools

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Don’t get me wrong. I love swimming. And I love Disney’s pools. But I did not make much time for them when I traveled as an adult pre-children. I wanted to be in the park.

But, my Little ones love those resort pools. For them, they are every bit as alluring as the parks themselves. And, I suppose my child self would have been mesmerized by a pool with things like a dragon waterslide or an actual ship as well!

So, when we travel to Walt Disney World, we carve out at least one morning where we can sleep in and wander over to the pool. We might go to the parks that evening. And, we never regret it. In fact, taking these moments to intentionally enjoy some physical activity is one of the things that helps prevent vacation meltdowns.

I Make Fewer Dining Reservations

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One of my favorite things about traveling with other Disney-loving adults sans children is enjoying all the amazing dining Disney has to offer. My husband and I once did a trip where we scheduled 2-3 meals a day (back in the days of free dining post cards- remember those?). But we would not do that sort of food-centric trip with our children at this stage in life.

My kids do enjoy going to eat in restaurants. In fact, I have found they will try new things in Disney World that they would probably be skeptical of in our kitchen at home. Even so, I know that for us overscheduling sit-down meals is one of the biggest mistakes we can make.

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Walt Disney World restaurants can take a long time to experience, especially some of the signature restaurants. And, if the kids have had a day full of action, a sit-down dinner may not be the best idea if you want to truly enjoy the experience.

we schedule reservations strategically. For example, if we are going to do a sit-down dinner, we might schedule it for early in the trip while everyone is perky and ready to go. We might also schedule one for our sleep-in-semi-rest day. That way everyone is at a place both physically and mentally to enjoy a meal and some park time after.

We also tend to stick with scheduling meals either character or meals that might be of high interest to our kids like Space 220’s Lounge. For a list of character-less meals that your kids will enjoy, click here.

I Pay More Attention to Characters

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I remember loving the characters when I was a child. But, as a teenager and adult, I became less and less interested in them.

Then, along came my children. They first loved Buzz Lightyear and Darth Vader, and we had to visit Buzz no matter what. Prior to discovering Character Locator, I waited for an entire hour so that we could meet Buzz once.

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And then came my second child, who doesn’t just like characters, she adores them. She calls them “her puppets.” In fact, I spent an entire trip with her tracking down characters while her older brother did the thrill rides with my husband. Thanks to Character Locator, she got to take photos with more than 40 characters with very little wait time.

Now when I go on adult-only trips, she always makes requests like, “Can you get a photo of Vampirina for me?” Absolutely, little one! I do not know that there is anyone who squealed more happily than she when I read her the news that Character Hugs are returning. You can read that same piece right here.

I Splurge on the Outfits (Sometimes)

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When I traveled to Disney as a teenager and an adult, and when I first started traveling to Disney World with kids, we packed the same clothes we wore every day. But somehow I got bit by the outfit bug.

It probably started with Gap Disney pajamas. We were staying in an Art of Animation Nemo Suite, and I found Gap Nemo pajamas on sale. I thought, “wouldn’t it be cute if my kids MATCHED the room?”, and suddenly they were getting Nemo pajamas for Christmas.

Then I thought, “wouldn’t it be fun to have on a Mickey shirt when you meet Mickey or a polka-dot dress when you meet Minnie?” And it became a slippery slope.

Credit: Susan

Now, if my kiddos say something like “I’d like to wear a Zurg shirt under a Buzz lightyear jacket to see what happens when I unzip the jacket and reveal Zurg to Buzz,” I try to make it happen. (You should try that one sometime, the result is entertaining).

I even did matching family t-shirts once or twice. I do not know what possessed me, and I cannot explain it. but I sure do love it when the pictures pop up on my memories on my phone. after all, the time for wanting to play dress-up is fleeting.

Final Thoughts

cavalcade
Credit: Susan

Overall, the time for being little is precious and short. And Walt Disney World vacations are pricey. If we are going to take them, we want to enjoy them for all they are worth. And I want to enjoy my children enjoying the magic.

So, I relinquish some of the control and some of the urge to have every moment mapped out on a color-coded spreadsheet. We slow down and make adjustments. We enjoy the now as much as possible and fret less about getting it all in.

How do you approach Disney when you are planning a trip with your children? Let us know in the comments or join our friendly crew to continue the conversation on Facebook.

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