For our son’s 3rd birthday we planned a family trip to Magic Kingdom for one day as a family of 7. This post is how I planned for our trip for 5 adults and 2 toddlers under the age of 3, how our day actually went, and some tips if you’re planning a trip of your own.
(This is a long post but it is very informative.)
Both my husband and I have been living in South Florida since we were kids, so Disney has always been very close and I have always been in love with theme parks and I love roller coasters.
At one point in my later childhood, my mom and I had seasonal passes and would go regularly on weekends and would have a blast enjoying every once of every park. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been, a lot has changed in the parks and a lot has changed with me, particularly having a family.
My husband is not as fast paced and energized as I am about theme parks and with small children I know the importance of routine and that totally messes with the schedule of a full day at a theme park. I did my best to research and plan as best I could according to the parks and according to my family’s needs.
My husband and I decided a few weeks before our son’s third birthday to take the kids to Disney with our family. We brought my husband’s family (parents and sister) so we were 5 adults and two toddlers (our daughter is 1.5).
We decided on a quick weekend trip where we would only be at the Magic Kingdom Park for one day because anything more than that would be exhausting and expensive.
Within those weeks we purchased the tickets for 5 adults (children under 3 are free) and found a place to stay on Airbnb near the parks that accepted dogs, we didn’t want them staying in cages all weekend and paying for that so we brought them.
I did some research on Youtube and the Disney website (which has a great Moms Panel) and the Disney App (with maps, character info, attraction and entertainment info, etc.) to try to be as informed and prepared as possible.
I did not want to arrive without some sort of guideline and end up missing out on something or regretting not having known about certain things (although that’s always going to happen).
We also had to be prepared for the heat, because Florida summer is very intense, I’ve been here most of my life so I already know to stay indoors as much as possible if the sun is out.
With the heat we’ve been having lately just going to the zoo or a playground I decided to buy some small fans to keep us cool, especially the kids.
I had already recently purchased a great rechargeable fan that can be clipped on to just about anything (such as a stroller), it stands on its own if necessary, it has amazing adjustable power, and its position is also easily adjustable. I’ve been advertising it to my friends for weeks because I’m so fascinated by it.
And just before the trip I purchased three additional fans, two identical necklace fans that blow up towards your face, and one handheld misting fan which mists like a humidifier and was also amazing.
If it hadn’t been for these fans I don’t think any of us would have made it through the first 20 minutes of entering the park. It was hot and we were sweating like pigs! I honestly think those things saved our entire trip.
Sunscreen was another must when it came to the sun, we all coated our skin with sunscreen (100 and 50) before arriving and tried to reapply when possible.
We also had hats for the kids and my father in law had his own to protect from his skin conditions.
For my daughter, who has my father in law’s sensitive skin and develops rashes and burns more easily I got her a long sleeve one piece bathing suit/rash guard from Target a sized 3t (she usually wears 2t) to cover as much of her skin as possible.
She did great with it! It was a little long, as planned, but I just needed to roll up the sleeves or unravel to protect more skin and she was also kept dry. You can find it here.
Our plan was to have a full day (Saturday) to experience the park to take advantage of all the shows and attractions. However we had to be considerate of our kids’ energy and nap schedules, as well as our dogs staying locked up at our rental all day so we needed to calculate how much time we would intend on being at the park.
15 Things to Know in Advance:
- Buy your tickets in advance.
If you plan on buying at the park, that’s an extra line you don’t want to be in that day. If you purchase online in advance you can reserve FastPasses a minimum of 30 days in advance.
- Download and use the My Disney Experience App.
Do this as soon as you get your tickets so you can study the park map, attractions and entertainment shows, and maybe even pick out your restaurants.
The app shows you live wait times on attractions, character meet and greet locations and wait times, show times, restroom locations, dining locations, online food orders or dining reservations, shops, FastPass, PhotoPass, and tons more.
Parks also have a resourceful Baby Care Center & First Aid, which are listed on the maps on the App, although I did not personally get to utilize them.
- Know the Attractions.
Find out what each attraction is about, if they interest you or your family, if they have height restrictions, if they have short/long wait times, and even if they are indoors (Air Conditioned attractions are the best for cooling off).
- Use FastPass in a way that suits your family.
Most people book their 3 FastPasses on popular attractions, and they go out quickly.
When traveling with small children its hard to predict when they’ll be awake or willing to go on certain attractions, so have that in mind. One of my FastPasses didn’t go as planned and we ended up missing that attraction but I was able to schedule a few others to avoid waiting in 30 minutes lines (the popular attractions were all booked though).
- Photographers and PhotoPass.
PhotoPass is linked to the Disney App and is where your professional photos will be stored.
You can ask Photographers throughout the park to take your pictures on their cameras as well as your devices for free. They will either link their photos to your Entrance Ticket or hand you a card with a code to link to your Online Account, where you can preview your photos and decide on purchasing.
You can either purchase all photos from a 24 hour period for $69.99 or a 30 day period for $199.99, they call these packages Memory Makers.
- Check Showtimes.
Disney has many kinds of great shows: they have large Parades, Street Parties, Character Shows at the Castle, and mini Character Shows throughout the park.
- Consider booking a Character Meal.
This came highly recommended in my research because you get a full meal along with character experiences while indoors and without a waiting line within the park.
Personally, we opted out mostly because of the cost and limited time however the meals seem to be a lot larger than the tiny overpriced meals that we did have so I might consider doing it at a restaurant outside the park on a separate day.
- Parking Cost, Bag Check, Additional Transportation & Overall Arrival Timing.
Standard parking costs $22 per car per day for the entire Disney World lot, $45 for preferred which is closer.
Parking lots have trams that take you closer to the park entrance. Some parks also require additional travel to get to the Entrance, for example, to get to Magic Kingdom you need to take a Monorail or Boat ride over and that adds to your travel time.
You will also have to go through Bag Check before getting in, at Magic Kingdom it is before the Monorail or Boat ride.
- If possible, arrive at rope drop to catch shorter attraction lines.
Sadly we didn’t make it that early but I hear its highly recommended by Youtubers.
- Bring [your own] Stroller if you have children under 5.
At first I considered just bringing a single stroller for my youngest but because the park is so large a stroller is highly recommended for any child under the age of 5 because it is a lot of walking- my son even asked to get on at some points and this became their bed at nap times.
The park has rental strollers for $15 (or $30 for a double) but they are hard with no padding or cushion and have almost no storage or place to put your things. There are also third party companies that rent out better strollers of popular brands.
However when you rent a stroller you may have a harder time finding it when you have to leave it parked (Cast Members may even shift them to make room for more stroller parking) and you will have to wait in line to pick up and then drop it off inside the entrance of the park each time you enter or leave a park (even if you’re park hopping).
- Pack lightly but pack the essentials.
I had a hard time with this because I was worried about rain so I brought thin ponchos for everyone, including the stroller, and I brought several fans which saved us all from heat stroke.
I also carried sunscreen, water, spare outfits for the kids, diapers, wipes, and a few snacks. It doesn’t sound like a lot but I filled up two diaper bags to the brim.
If possible pack lightly so that you won’t need to lug things around, I managed to keep everything on the stroller, but also because your time at the bag check will be much quicker.
- Pick your outfit wisely.
I recommend dressing lightly, preferably in workout clothing, because you will be sweating.
I had my kids in bathing suits and rash guards to protect them from the sun and moisture. I wore a sports bra and workout leggings but opted for a regular Minnie Mouse shirtI got at Target.
- It rains in Florida.
We were lucky and didn’t catch rain, but I came prepared with ponchos for the whole family (and the stroller). Usually it rains just after lunch time in Orlando.
- Celebration Buttons.
You can ask around anywhere for celebration buttons. They have general ones, first visits, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. They lent me a sharpie to put my kids names on the front and the date on the back.
When Cast Members see someone wearing a Celebration Button they are more likely to give them a freebie, like stickers for kids, free desserts or drinks, or get chosen for interactions. Our son got picked to participate in a show because he was wearing his pins- it was awesome!
- Consider staying at a Disney Hotel or Resort.
There are modes of transportation (busses, boats, and monorail lines) that are exclusive to these hotels and resorts they are much faster for getting in and out of the park because the lines are much shorter! People who have previous experience staying in these highly recommend them.
In the rush of planning we didn’t find anything affordable and we knew it would be difficult with our dogs so we didn’t get to stay at one.
Feel free to ask me any questions or add any info in the comments!
How Our Day Went
Magic Kingdom opens at 8am, but per my research the park opens a little earlier, around 7:40 am. According to the Disney App, the Let the Magic Begin Show at the Castle was set for 7:55am that morning. I was hopeful we would be able to make it to opening time and take advantage of short lines and get on the Peter Pan ride, but I had a backup plan of getting on a 9am with a Fastpass. We woke up at 5:30 am despite having gone to bed super late at our rental 20 minutes away from the park (the majority of that drive being within Disney World itself) and managed to arrive at the parking lot by 8:30- so yea we got delayed and I wasn’t pleased about it but there was nothing I could do. We parked the cars, walked over to the tram line and got on the next one. My husband lugged the folded double stroller on with him and I had all the bags while our family got on behind us with the kids and my daughter immediately freaked (I think she was nervous but she calmed down as soon as we started moving). If you’re carrying a stroller, be prepared to struggle getting on the tram or just walk through the parking lot instead. We got off the tram and made it through bag check (I had a lot of needed stuff for the family) and picked up some first visit pins and a birthday pin for the kids and got in line for the Monorail. We were in line forever! We crammed into the monorail with the stroller folded again (to save space in the Monorail) and kids with the family, same thing happened, crying little girl and crammed like sardines. By 10am we arrived at the park. So it took us an hour and a half from the moment we parked the car to actually arriving into the park! We officially missed our FastPass to Peter Pan.
Next on the schedule was the Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire Show at 10:30am (they have multiple showtimes) so we settled in and slowly headed to the Castle and surprisingly there was no crowd. We waited in a shaded area off to the side and as soon as it started my son and I started heading closer on foot and he took off! My son isn’t the type to run away but he was so excited that he started running faster than me, my heart melted. We got up to the front and lost our family behind us but it was great, there was so much space and it wasn’t crowded at all for summer. But it was hot! We were dripping in sweat, his neck was sweaty and my face was literally burning from what I think was a reaction of the sunscreen and my intense sweat that morning. The show was great and he loved it til the end, he even yelled out goodbye to Donald Duck as he exited the stage after the first song and everyone around us was in awe and laughing. Just after the show was one of the showtimes for the Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It! Street Party Parade at 11am. We hung around for a few minutes at the same shaded spot while refreshing with cold water, ice cubes, and our amazing new fans (links above). The parade started soon after and the floats passed by then parked themselves in front of us as the characters got off and invited everyone on the street to dance with them. My kids were a little shy to fully participate but they were excitedly waving and high five’ing the characters so they managed to enjoy it, I took pictures as my mother in law held their hands.
After our first hour of massive exhaustion we headed a few feet over to Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe for an early lunch and to cool down in AC. Our son enjoyed watching the animated Ray playing the piano on stage, I remember it from my childhood too but I think it could use a little updating. This restaurant is a quick service type of place where you order, wait for your food, and then bring it to your table. We settled at two small tables because they didn’t have any large ones, and two of us headed over for the lines only to realize that it would be faster to order on their mobile app (and it really was). We were surprised (well its Disney so not that surprised) by the prices, they were high and the food wasn’t that great in taste or size. Ironically there was a woman there with a large family wearing a shirt written in Disney font that said “Most Expensive Day Ever,” I need one of those! Apparently Amazon has them for men and babies:
We then headed over to Pirates of the Caribbeanfor our second Fastpass that I had scheduled. By the time we got there my daughter fell asleep in the stroller so my in laws, who didn’t care for the attractions anyway, stayed with her in the shade while my husband, my sister in law, and I took my son on the ride. I haven’t been to Disney in 10 years so this was my first time experiencing the new Fastpass system and I have to say its pretty great, it actually cuts down the wait time! The ride was great, this was our son’s first ride and he was quiet the whole time but he enjoyed it. Just after we got off there was a Pirate Tutorial Show at 1pm just outside the ride on a small stage out in the sun, we decided to check it out and see if our son would have any interest. Little did we know he would be selected to be in the show by Jack Sparrow himself! And he did so well! I was amazed by him that I could barely move, but I did manage to film the whole thing. He was up there following instructions almost perfectly with kids much older than him for over 12 minutes! Proud mamma moment!!!! And later I got to see all the professional photos that were taken of this, making their PhotoPass a great resource.
On our way to our next Fastpass to the Haunted Mansion he asked us if we could go back to the Pirates, but he had no idea what was in store for the remainder of the day. Our daughter was still asleep so the four of us headed onto the ride. He enjoyed this one as well. I’m glad I got to see it again because I hear they’re going to be renovating it for the Coco movie soon.
It was about 2:30 pm when we got off this ride and we were all desperate for something cold, including our now awake daughter, so we stopped for some ice cream right next to the ride. While enjoyed our cold desserts we contemplated whether we really wanted to wait for the 3pm Festival of Fantasy Parade, as planned, and decided that with the kids’ impatience and the heat it might be best to skip it since we had already seen some characters and we could take advantage of that time to enjoy some more attractions. We headed over to Mickey’s PhilharMagic 3D Show and waited in their standard line currently listed for “15 minutes.” The kids were very impatient and had some tantrums in line, our son has been a little off lately on the grumpiness meter and I think he was in need of a nap. When we got inside, my husband sat on one end with our son and I sat on the opposite end with our daughter, which worked to our favor in keeping them quiet. The show was nice but my daughter didn’t keep still and I know how loud she can be when she’s angry so I had to let her wiggle around and walk around my seat and play with the empty one I intentionally didn’t take in case she did get antsy like this. I think our son enjoyed it but I was on the other end.
We then headed over to the Splash N Soak Station they have near the Dumbo ride and Circus buildings. It was okay, some kids were having a blast. My son just wet his hand a little but didn’t have much interest. We weren’t sure what to do at this point and with the tantrums given earlier I figured my son was overdue for a nap so I put them both in the stroller and walked over to the Souvenir shop right next to the Splash Station which was a giant circus tent with AC, perfect for doing laps in to put the kids to sleep. And he fell asleep! We parked the stroller off to the side where there was a large open space and an electrical outlet and I charged my phone and one of our fans. My husband stayed with our son for a bit while I took my daughter to meet Daisy and Minnie Mouse right next door and then I stayed with him while they went outside and ended up finding an awesome lounging space with charging stations without any AC. We let him nap for a while and then headed over to our next attraction where we woke him up. Under the Sea was a beautiful new ride with all the characters from the Little Mermaid. We all got to go and the kids really enjoyed it, this was our daughter’s first ride. Just after that we went on It’s A Small World, using a FastPass from having cancelled our missed PeterPan ride (which was no longer available and had a long line), and the kids enjoyed that too! I somehow managed to book us another FastPass last minute (must’ve been a glitch but lucky us) for Monsters Inc Laugh Floor of which our daughter fell asleep on the way to and it was the 4 of us again, and boy was it funny! We came out hungry around 7pm and used the Disney App to find a quick serve restaurant that served Italian and ordered on our phones. By the time we arrived (it was back on the other side of the park where we had just been) our food was ready to pick up so we didn’t have to wait on any lines and our food didn’t get cold. Again the food portion was small, tasted OK, and was priced high.
After dinner we headed over to our last stop of the day, back to the Castle for the Happily Ever After Fireworks Show scheduled for 9:15pm. We settled on a spot in front of the Castle and sat down. Just before the show started they had us all stand and pack close together more to the front which sucked because we had the double stroller and two grumpy kids who were exhausted and didn’t understand why were waiting. As the show started both kids decided to have another tantrum, I managed to distract my daughter with cheerios I packed while my son was being picky about wanting them too but only in a specific container which I could not reach nor did I want to with that attitude he was giving us. The show was was beautiful! The castle was projected with images from all of the Disney Movies and Characters, with music and fireworks going along with it. If it hadn’t been for breaking our shoulders carrying those kids while feeding cheerios and dealing with a tantrum in a crowd of which we could not move (or find an exit strategy) we all would have enjoyed it more.
And just as it ended we had to figure out how the F* to get out of there. Seven of us, two tantrummy (not a word) toddlers that we could barely strap on to the stroller, turning the double stroller around to head back through a crowded street of people, while trying not to run over their feet and not get the wheels stuck on the tracks of the trolley. There was trash on the floor, people cutting us off, people parked in front causing “traffic.” And when we finally made it to the main entrance we had to decide on Monorail or Boat to get to the Parking Lot Area and we decided on Boat because we really didn’t want to deal with getting everything and everyone off the stroller and lug all of it and the kids through a massive sardine crowd like that. Even the line to the Boat was horrible. People have zero respect. Luckily our son fell asleep on the stroller at this point, but our daughter decided she wanted her grandma and only her to hold her rather than being safer on the stroller. Getting out was one of the worst experiences of our lives, it ruined the trip completely. And then we had to make it to the parking lot, still sweating from the nighttime heat mixed with old sweat from the whole day. Fanning ourselves at 11pm, we decided to walk our way to the car, except the “walking path” took us so far away from where we should have been going that we got lost, more frustrated and more exhausted but we finally made it and the kids slept in the car. Once we made it back to the house, a bath was out of question because of the time so we put on their pjs and tried to put them to bed but they ended up playing with each other instead for a while, it was actually kind of sweet, until we turned off all the lights.
We drove back home the next afternoon and the kids napped during that time, leaving us in peace for the drive but ready to play by the time we got home. The next day was our son’s birthday and we had a full day of plans but I was falling asleep all day, I even took a nap during their nap time. We’re reaching the end of the week now, only a few days later, and we’re still recovering. Not sure how people do this when they actually arrive on time and stay even later for the other nighttime shows, or even when they do multiple days of Park! I’m Disney’d out for a while!
Final Take Back
On our drive back my husband and I were joking about how we’d never go back, except we were kind of serious.
Honestly I think our son is going through a phase with a little extra defiance and grumpiness so it wasn’t one of his best days. Add on the heat and the exhaustion of a theme park didn’t help one bit.
It’s not easy traveling with a toddler, its not easy forcing them to do things on a schedule they’re not used to. In our case, we have two toddlers!
We chose to travel in a larger group because we are a close family and my in-laws wanted to join us as well as help with the kids so that my husband and I could enjoy too.
We are extremely grateful because we wouldn’t have done anything without them, but its not easy traveling in a big group and we knew that before. But again, nothing would’ve been possible had it just been the 4 of us, we probably would have given into the frustrations of the tantrums and ended up leaving just after arriving.
In all seriousness though, maybe we will go back…. someday. When the kids no longer need naps and can handle their whirlwind emotions a bit better things will be a bit easier and then maybe I wouldn’t need to carry so much either.
Looking back to what we were able to achieve that day, with sacrificing the 3pm parade, we were able to squeeze in a bunch of attractions and a couple of naps before the end of the day so I see that as a win.
I got to see our little boy run towards the castle when the characters came on stage, yelling out at Donald Duck by name so that everyone could hear him, watching him wave at characters and jump for joy. And the highlight: watching him participate in a live show as a Junior Pirate melted my heart!
I wouldn’t sacrifice those moments, I would love to recreate them… someday, just not that soon!
We were exhausted for days! We need a vacation after this “vacation!”
Have you been to Disney or any Theme Parks with toddlers? Was it magical or a disaster? Share your story in the comments.
My name is Paula and I’m a mom of two scrumptious cuties. Thanks Mommy Blog became a project for me to help guide other new moms and current moms through any of my own personal experiences and struggles. My hobbies include singing, doing jigsaw puzzles, baking, designing and trying to stay creative.