Florida and Disney Bound!

iPhone photo of Jasper at the Disney store..

Almost since Jasper was born we’ve wanted to take a family trip to Florida. Jeff’s dad lives there and he hasn’t seen Jasper since he came to visit him when he was 5 weeks old (and a total reflux/colicky NIGHTMARE!) Last year we were still too terrified of the idea of Jasper on a plane so we kept putting it off. But now that we know what an excellent little traveler he is, AND our very good friends moved down to Florida recently – it seemed like the perfect time to finally book a trip.

We originally hadn’t planned on going to Disney until Jasper was older, but I started to read about friends’ trips with toddlers who seemed to love it and also realized that kids under three are free.. so we thought why not? We will only go for two days, one day at the Magic Kingdom and one day at Animal Kingdom. Realizing that the animal kingdom would be so much fun for him (he’s obsessed with Dinosaurs!) was also a big part of the decision because I figure there is only really one day’s worth of toddler friendly rides at the Magic Kingdom and a 1 day trip to Orlando is hardly worth it!

Of course we booked the trip for a busy time of year (second week in April) and also at the last second, so we are still trying to find a reasonable hotel room. Seems we can stay at one of the more mediocre Disney hotels for about $200 a night, or find an off property nicer hotel for probably around $125 or so a night (but then we need to pay for parking at the parks which is $25 unless we manage to make the hotel shuttle to the park which don’t seem to run more than once or twice a day.)

Anyhow, I would LOVE to hear any tips and pointers from anyone who’s been there recently, particularly if you have a toddler.

After visiting our friends for the weekend and then Disney for two days we will drive to Marco Island where Jeff went to high school and where his dad still lives for the remainder of the trip. We will hopefully (finally!) get to meet Jeff’s cousin Alicia and her son Owen, get to visit with Jeff’s friends who just had a baby boy, and at some point I am determined to visit Dawn & Walter who we haven’t seen in way too long. It’s going to be a whirlwind, but I LOVE that Jasper is already brimming with excitement – every day he asks us to “talk to him about florida” and we tell him all the fun things we are going to do and all the people we are going to see (a big giant Mickey Mouse!)

So, bring on your Disney advice, hopefully by the time we get back I’ll have a bit of my own to add!

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Edie says:

I haven’t been to Disney since I was young, but our good friends took our godson (age 3) this winter and had a spectacular time. Garrett’s (our godson’s) favorite thing? The park opening. They do a big event something to open the park and he thought it was simply magical. His mom has never seen him as excited as he was at that moment in time. So, if you can swing it, try to get to Magic Kingdom for the opening of the park. And that early, the lines are much shorter, too.

Kristen says:

Thanks so much for this post Ariana!

Paula says:

Definitely plan to stay at a Disney hotel. It will make your life so much easier! Every day a different park opens an hour earlier to resort guests – we took advantage of this feature, and would head out until lunch time (which was plenty for a toddler) and then head back to the hotel for a nap/swim, general relaxation. We would then have an early dinner and enjoy the parks again at around 6pm and take advantage of the evening entertainment. If you stay off the grounds, it makes it a really long day, and a cranky toddler is no fun in those crowds!

jbhat says:

How thrilling! I have funny memories about Disneyland. I used to live in LA and from time to time my friends and I would just go to Disneyland on a whim, sometimes for the day, sometimes just for the evening. It was so much to go there at night as a young adult. Most of the families gone for the day, the lines were short, if there were lines at all, and we could ride the monorail over to the hotel for drinks. I loved that! So in my mind, Disneyland is sort of not for children….but that’s just me being weird/nostalgic.

Have so much fun!!

jbhat

Susan says:

I don’t have any Disney advice for you, just a suggestion for your Marco visit. I live on Marco Island and highly recommend a visit to Mackle Park. Once you tire of the beach (or it’s too windy) take your son to the park. They have a very special playground and water spray park and…it’s all free. Your son will love it.

Sandi says:

I live here in Central Florida. We don’t frequent Disney too often, but here are some tips:

-Go to the grocery store and buy snacks/juice boxes, etc. Disney charges an arm and a leg for everything, and it’s always good to have things readily available at the park.
-Wear sunscreen. You will burn.
-You can get one fast pass per day (per ticket) – get it as soon as you get to the park.
-Do other activities other than Disney. Green Meadow Farms, air boat rides, etc. Florida is SO MUCH more than Disney.

Lourdes says:

SO exciting! We took Wes a bunch of times before his first birthday and would love to go again this summer, but we’re in the middle of buying a house, so…

I gotta say, I’m a total staying on property snob. I love taking the buses and avoiding driving, even though YES, it’s a bit of a PITA folding your stroller, etc. I think the whole taking your own stroller vs. renting one there really does all depend on the nap issue…since we went when he was smaller, we definitely took ours, but I think next time we’d skip it, get one there, and just go back to the hotel for nap time and early enough for bed time.

The Polynesian is amazing – but it’s one of their deluxe properties. I personally don’t love the Coronado if only because I find it way TOO big and cumbersome to get around if you want to go get a bite to eat walking from your room or from a bus stop to the main lobby, etc. Port Orleans – French Quarter would be my recommendation for a moderate priced hotel; true, it’s closer to Downtown Disney than the two parks you’ll be going to, but it’s just the right size I think (unless you can splurge on the Poly, lol).

Even for older toddlers no longer nursing or needing to sit in a high chair for regular meals, etc. I still HIGHLY recommend any of the baby centers at the parks because it’s the perfect place to take a break, change a diaper if still needed, get some much needed A/C, or anything. They usually play some Disney video and you can all sit together for 15 minutes to catch your breath, use the bathroom, cool down, and regroup.

If I think of anything else, I’ll be sure to pass it your way. We’re pretty much Disney freaks. So happy for your vaca.

Maggie says:

omg, that’s long. sorry!

Maggie says:

We took our son there when he was about 18 months and it was awesome. Like AWE-SOME. We still talk about how fun it was to bring a toddler. (in the interest in full disclosure, I love Disney and went every year for most of my childhood because my grandparents lived in Florida. Taking our son was DH’s second time there)

As far as advice – everyone told says with kids you should get there right when it opens, take a break in the middle of the day (go back to hotel) and then go back at night. Let me tell you, not one day did that happen. He wouldn’t leave, and there was no way we could cut his fun short. Since Jasper stopped napping, you’ll probably be the same way. Instead, Eddie wound up sleeping in most days (around 9:00), we would eat breakfast (we always stay off site so we can have bedrooms and a kitchen at one of the timeshare places) and then mosey our way to the park. Did we get there when it was super busy? Yup, but it worked for our family. No way was I waking up my kid to go to the park and run him ragged, he needed his rest.

I would make sure to bring a swim suit/change of clothes when you go to magic kingdom – they have a couple of fun water areas and it was nice not to have DS in wet clothes the rest of the day.

The main reason we stay at a timeshare? Groceries. You can bring food into the park – in a soft sided cooler – and it saved us a ton of money. Easily made up for parking. We brought freezable go-gurt, uncrustable sandwiches, bottles of water (some frozen and some not),fruit and other snacks in every day. To give you an idea of Disney prices, water is about $4/bottle (and you can get a case for what 2 bottles will cost you) and the uncrustable sandwiches…one at Disney was the same cost as a box of 4 (or is it 6?) at the store. An orange at one of the carts, if I remember correctly, was over $1. Bringing our lunches and most of our snacks saved us a ton, and still left room for us to get that always special mouse-ear ice cream treat :)

At Magic Kingdom, know that the “classic” rides like Dumbo will have loooong lines. But, know that there are 2 other “Dumbo” style rides (flying little things that you move up and down with levers), one Aladdin themed one at MK and one at Animal Kingdom. We didn’t take DS on the actual Dumbo, but stood in line for the other two many, many times because the lines were far shorter. Other favorites at MK? Buzz Lightyear, by far!! DS’s and Hubby’s fav!

Animal Kingdom is my favorite park. I’m not sure if it is because the animals are there and there is some beautiful scenery, but it is just a calm park. Everything seems to run at a different pace there. We all loved the Safari, which we always go on multiple times. The dinosaur area is super cute (that’s where the other “flying” ride is) and they have a bunch of carnival games. Plus you can (usually) find character photo-ops at Animal Kingdom with smaller lines. Animal Kingdom also has some great live shows, like Finding Nemo, which is really awesome. Be sure to line up early to get into the theatre!

And finally (I promise I’m wrapping up!) I didn’t want to bring my “big” camera (nothing as nice as yours, but still a nice nikon!) since I was nervous with it on the rides. Instead, I brought my point and shoot and have regretted it since. I just wasn’t able to capture the memories like I wanted, and didn’t take the time to realize that 90% of the rides that we were going to be on as a family (the ones I wanted pictures of, like the tea cups) were going to be pretty calm, and I totally could have protected my camera.

Just remember to enjoy it. I had our days planned out to a T, and when we got there it was a huge slap in the face to just take it easy. DS lingered in some areas longer than I wanted to be there, and I had to realize that my main goal was for him to enjoy it. And if he didn’t want to sit and watch some of the street performances, I didn’t have to force him. We were laid back, he was laid back, and we got through a 4 day Disney trip without a single tantrum :)

ariana says:

Thank you ALL for such wonderful links and info, I’ll be reading all night!

Alexandria, which parks did you go to and what did you wish you had more time to see?

Alexandria says:

We took our son to Disney in October & he’s about the same age as Jasper. He LOVED it. My only regret was I tried to squeeze to much into 2 days. I wasn’t sure if he would have liked it but he did and I wish we would have had more time.

Sara says:

We took our 18 month old there last August and had a BLAST! Definetly stay on property. If Jasper needs a nap or even just a break, they have great pools and you can rest up and hit it again later. Have fun!

Anh says:

I’ve never been to Disney World, but I’m super excited for you and Jasper! We’ve taken our little guy to Disneyland a couple of times. When we parked our stroller at Small World, it was 10 strollers deep if you can believe it, so having an easy-to-maneuver stroller was a plus! Anyhow, your post just reminded me of this article I read on CNN a couple of weeks ago. Maybe you’ve already read it ‘The absolutely indispensable guide to Disney World’:
http://www.cnn.com/2011/TRAVEL/03/01/bt.disney.world/index.html

Victoria says:

You guys are going to have so much fun! We live a few minutes away from Disney so we have been taking Jake since he was 5 weeks old almost every weekend. I recently made a blog post about taking infants and toddlers to Disney World, I hope it’s of some help!

http://www.adventuresinmommyhood.net/2011/02/disney-world-for-babies-and-toddlers.html

Sharon says:

Kristen – regarding the stroller, do you have enough room in your vehicle (are you driving to Disneyland?) to pack both strollers? If so, you may like having the flexibility of having both. If not, or if you are flying, it would depend on a couple things for me.

First, since you are staying on property, it makes dealing with strollers infinitely easier. The biggest PITA with bringing your own stroller to the parks is packing them up for things like the tram, shuttles to the park, etc. Being in the Disneyland Hotel, you can walk to the park, and therefore that problem goes away completely.

Will your child nap in strollers? And before you say no, I thought the same thing about my daughter, until I watched her pass out from exhaustion in the parks. lol

Being able to recline her and place a blanket over the top of the stroller to shade her and keep it more quiet was really helpful for us! It was actually easier for her to nap in the stroller than in the hotel room (but mostly because everytime we went back to the hotel room, it involved epic meltdowns and her pleading to go bye-bye. hehe – she was having too much fun!).

Also, do you have storage options on your umbrella stroller? It was awesome being able to store her diaper bag, water bottles, and other random things in the basket under her stroller, rather than carrying it all around.

I would probably take the Bob, but it can be kind of a pain with a big stroller in large crowds, in the shops, etc, so that is something to keep in mind. If you can take both, the umbrella stroller would be great for places like Downtown Disney, or if you aren’t going to be in the park all day (maybe going back for the evening after naps or something like that), and you don’t need as much stuff.

Kristen says:

We’re in the same boat, going the last week of March! (to Disneyland not World) Looking forward to reading advice!

We’re staying at the Disneyland Hotel. It’s a treat for us since my family used to always stay at the cheapity-cheap Motel nearby which are perfectly fine by us, but I justified the for this one time since it will make naptime so much more convenient to be so close.

I’m curious as to what people say about strollers. We’re debating umbrella stroller or Bob. One little and easy, but a pain to get around, or the Bob which is huge, but handles so easily.

Sharon says:

The benefits to staying on Disney property are limitless! I would stay at one of the cheaper on-property resorts before going off property to stay at any hotel/resort in a heartbeat!

Disney World is HUGE. Many of the hotels in the area offer transportation options to the park so you do not have to deal with driving and paying to park, etc. However, Disney transportation has so many options, and I find that it is insanely convenient to be on property.

Plus, Disney offers so many services to their guests. If you buy merchandise and don’t want to carry it around the park all day, you can have it sent to your hotel room. Someone mentioned the stroller options. There are just a bunch of benefits that you wouldn’t even think of.

If you are only going to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, I would recommend looking at Polynesian (near Magic Kingdom and not too far from Animal Kingdom, it also has a fun breakfast on property) or Coronado Springs (right next to Animal Kingdom, but the closest Animal Kingdom to Magic Kingdom). It is nice staying in resorts near the parks you spend a lot of time in because the transportation options are usually easier and faster.

I used to work for Disney World, and over one Christmas, my parents came to visit me and I got them rooms at Caribbean Beach Resort. The rooms weren’t bad, and the resort area was really expansive and had lots of fun things to do. Location-wise, it is closer to Disney Studios and EPCOT, but it is a fun, reasonably priced option. The Downtown Disney resorts are going to be really far from most of the parks.

Cathy says:

From what I saw last spring and the amazing backups to even get off at the Disney exit stay at the park . You will save sanity in driving and parking in Orlando during spring break !
When you are ready to head out of town then get in your car.
Enjoy Disney and the other parks are magical take lots of memory cards ! Enjoy

Becky says:

If you are thinking about renting a stroller while there, I definitely recommend magicstrollers.com They drop them off at your resort and pick them up there. They rent the city minis which are fabulous – great recline for an impromptu nap and a HUGE sun shade. You can also request a rain cover.