I worked at Magic Kingdom in my late teens and it was my favorite job, aside from being a doula.
Since I’ve become a mother, we’ve had Florida resident annual passes for a few years. During that time, and combined with my earlier years experience, my family and I have learned a few tips and tricks that I’m happy to share to make the most of your trip to see the Mouse.
Annual passes for Floridians.
One of the best things about annual passes is that all the pressure is gone – if your kid is tired and melting down at 3pm, you can just leave! You also get discounts on merchandise, hotel stays and more. Which one you pick depends on how you’ll use it. We don’t have the one that adds the water parks, but we do have the one that doesn’t have blackout dates. If you plan on going four times or more per year, the passes pay for themselves.
Don’t be afraid to wear your Disney swag.
We have a special shirt – or two! – for every member of the family. In winter, I wear a Mickey long-sleeve and in summer I’m rocking The Little Mermaid. I personally could take it or leave it, but the kids think it’s so much fun!
Bring in your own food.
Disney still hasn’t managed to have great food and it’s really expensive! We bring a soft-sided cooler with fruit like apples and grapes, those awesome frozen, round, pb&j sandwiches, cookies, Lara bars, crackers – whatever we have on hand. I also bring empty Kleen Kanteen bottles; water fountains are located around the parks and some are refrigerated! This is also an eco-friendly option to buying one-time use bottles and discarding them.
Bring the right stuff.
A full change of clothes for each child, including underwear. If you’re going in the summer, a bathing suit and camping towel will be put to good use at various splash pads in the parks. Wear good shoes. Bring sunscreen and a hat for everyone. I like to bring a muslin baby blanket and a few binder clips to make a private, shady area in the stroller for whomever needs a rest. Stop at your favorite discount store and pick up a disposable rain poncho for each person and one for the stroller, too. Personally, I love it when it rains at the parks! The tourists go back to their hotels, lines are shorter and it’s so much cooler!
Try to get there before the park opens. As the day goes on, it just gets hotter and busier. If you’re going to Magic Kingdom, remember it takes about an hour to park, tram to the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC), cross using the ferry or monorail and walk into the park. Also, if you get there early enough, you might be able to skip the parking lot tram and walk to the TTC… this is great if you have a huge stroller. Folding it and fitting it on the tram is a tough job!
The Disney App: Download this handy app on your smartphone.
You’ll use it for its maps, rides/attraction wait times, FastPass, dining and more. The parks also offer free wifi so you don’t burn through your data.
If you plan on sitting down to eat dinner at the park anywhere other than a quick serve, fast food-style spot, you must make reservations. You can do this on the app on the way. If you want to dine with characters, you’re probably going to need to do this several days/weeks in advance, depending on the season.
Fastpass +. This is a must.
Using the app, you can choose and book your Fastpass experiences on your way to the park. Try to pick rides/experiences with times early in the day, because as you use your FP, you can pick more – one at a time. Forget about getting a FP for anything to do with Elsa and Anna. It won’t happen unless you book months in advance, and who has time for that?
You can absolutely take little babies to Disney.
Each of the four parks offers a baby care center; an air-conditioned, peaceful spot to change baby’s diaper, nurse in a rocking chair, warm up a bottle or just chill. Magic Kingdom’s is the biggest and best, in my opinion. Some even have a TV with Disney Junior shows for your tired big kids to watch.
Bring your baby carriers AND your stroller.
Don’t plan on renting the strollers offered by Disney – no kid I’ve ever met can nap in one, they don’t have good shade and their plastic shells get pretty hot in the sun. If you’re over 5 foot 6, you’ll also get a hunched back trying to push it around all day. You’ll definitely put your baby carrier to good use. I prefer a buckled, soft-structured carrier for maximum comfort. Dress you and your baby lightly and be sure to have a good hat for both of you.
At Magic Kingdom, walk opposite of traffic.
The park was originally laid out for guests to enter through Main Street, USA, and walk to their right, through to Tomorrowland and around the circle, out through Adventureland. (Pay attention next time – the sidewalks are MUCH bigger that way for this reason!) Since that’s how most people will walk, we go to the left through Adventureland first! This trick only works if you come early in the day.
It sounds silly, but it works. Florida is hot. Walk where there is shade. Take breaks in air conditioned shops. Drink lots of water. Wear hats and loose cotton clothes. Yes, it’s fun to dress your little ones in princess or pirate gear, but they will swelter in polyester all day.
Older kids will love participating in pin trading.
Children can approach any park cast member with pins and ask to trade – and they have to say yes! I bought a lot of random pins on eBay one year and since then my big girl has been steadily trading every one for something she prefers.
Celebrate the little moments.
We long ago dropped the idea of getting to do a lot and traded it for a slower pace. Instead of focusing on cramming in as many rides as possible, we stroll. We play the games. (They are in park games, like a treasure hunt in Adventureland, in many areas of the parks.) If you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary or some other special day, find the button station at the entrance to the park you’re visiting. Your little one will love having everyone tell her “Happy Birthday, Princess!”
The first roller coaster ride, blowing kisses with a favorite princess, singing treasured and silly songs… the joy of the “most magical place on Earth” is there to be found for those willing to find it.