Sunday, January 19, 2014

Disney World with young children

Magic Kingdom

Large party and our accommodations
 
We are back from our week in Disney World! My husband is in power school and unable to get time off, so I went without him to Disney World 16-weeks pregnant with our 5-year old and 2.5-year old twins, my parents, my 83-year old grandmother, my youngest sister, and my middle sister with her family (husband and 1.5-year old daughter). All in all, we had 11 people including 3 strollers (my 2.5-year old twins and my sister's 1.5-year old daughter) and 1 wheelchair (for our 83-year old grandmother). We stayed in my parents' timeshare, which ended up being fabulous: a 4 bedroom, 2000 square foot Presidential suite with a view of the fireworks in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. I really cannot say enough fabulous things about our living arrangements that week. My middle sister and her husband had one master bedroom; their 1.5-year old daughter slept in a large hall bathroom in her Pack'N'Play. My 2.5-year old twins shared a bedroom. My parents slept in the other master bedroom. Granny, my 5-year old, my youngest sister, and I shared the last bedroom. I was going to put my 5-year old in the same room as his brothers, but he prefers to sleep with Granny, his favorite person in the whole wide world! :)

I had all 3 of my boys wear matching shirts each day we were in Disney World. Read my blog post: "Make your own Disney shirts."

Shuttle versus parking

We thought before we came down to Disney World that we would take the resort's shuttle in to the park each day. However, the shuttle turned out to cost $6 a person plus we had to make a reservation an hour in advance (the timeshare is not a Disney resort). We then decided to drive our vehicles and park each day instead. Parking cost $15 a vehicle each day ($30 a day to park both our vehicles compared to $66 a day on the shuttle with the hassle of making the reservation and waiting for the shuttle). Disney World is very spread out; everything is not close together like Disneyland, so driving worked out just fine. The parking lots are laid out so that you don't have to take the tram in; you can walk from every park entrance to anywhere in the parking lot. We walked from the park to our car at Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot. We had parked a fair distance away from the entrance to Hollywood Studios and so we did ride the tram both ways at that park.

Strollers and a wheelchair

With 3 strollers, a wheelchair, and 11 people total in our party, it was important to be efficient-- loading and unloading at the tram (including folding all 3 strollers and the wheelchair) or parking the strollers outside rides and restaurants. My middle sister with the 1.5-year old daughter wore a backpack that had everything she needed in it: money, diapers, etc. I believe underneath her stroller was mostly empty. I'm not sure she kept anything in her stroller besides drinks and such (she has a Baby Jogger City Mini). I used two umbrella strollers at the park. I wore a small backpack that was mostly empty, a small wallet with my debit card and IDs and various things I threw in there throughout the day (purchases, a bottle of water for the boys, etc). I hung their diaper bag on the back of one of the strollers and left that there when we went on rides. When I went into a restaurant and left the strollers outside, I grabbed 2 diapers and the wipes out of my diaper bag. On the back of the wheelchair we hung a drawstring bag, a lot like this: Minnie Mouse drawstring bag. We kept bottles of water and granola bars in that. We made sure to refill the water and granola bars each day.

Read my blog post "Strollers in Disney" for more information on taking toddler twins to Disney World.

Disney tip: use stickers, luggage tags, or ribbon to help mark your stroller or wheelchair. The strollers and wheelchairs must be parked in designated stroller or wheelchair parking or they will be moved to the nearest stroller/wheelchair parking by a cast member. When parked in these areas, you would be surprised at how many people have your stroller and how all the rental wheelchairs look alike! The ribbons on the back of our wheelchair really helped us find our wheelchair quickly and the stickers on the back of our strollers really helped when finding our strollers as well.

FastPass+

While we were there we encountered two new things: FastPass+ and the Disney Marathon. First, FastPass+. Since we were not staying in a Disney resort, we did not have FastPass+ each day at the Magic Kingdom or at Epcot; we only got to use FastPass+ there on certain days that they were testing it. Animal Kingdom had FastPass+ each day and I honestly don't remember if Hollywood Studios had FastPass+ or not; we only got FastPasses there for Toy Story Mania! The difference between FastPasses and FastPass+ is huge. When you get a FastPass, you have to walk to the ride and get a FastPass for the time available; the FastPass station will say the time above the station and you can choose to get a FastPass for there or not. For instance, you could walk to the Haunted Mansion and see the time "1:30-2:30" and either decide to get the FastPass or not, but you couldn't get one for a later or earlier time. On the bottom of the FastPass it would tell you the time that you could get another FastPass, usually an hour before the time on your FastPass, so it would be about 12:30 in our scenario. For FastPass+ you can get up to 3 FastPasses at the same time and you go to a FastPass+ station anywhere in the park. On one of our days at the Magic Kingdom, there was a man at the monorail station-- before you even entered the park-- with a FastPass+ sign who gave us FastPasses. We had lunch plans and so we got FastPasses for Enchanted Tales with Belle at 9:45, immediately after we entered the park, and FastPasses for Big Thunder and Peter Pan in the afternoon, after we ate lunch. When my sister, who was working out all our FastPasses, told us what time she got the Big Thunder FastPasses for, my mom and I felt she should have gotten them a little later, so she asked the man to change them, which he did. I loved that we could change times and choose times with FastPass+.

Disney tip: when figuring out which FastPasses you want to get, Toy Story Mania! at Hollywood Studios and Peter Pan in Magic Kingdom run out of FastPasses early. Try to get those FastPasses as soon as you get to those parks.

Disney Marathon

As for the Disney Marathon, we just happened to book our Disney World vacation during the time the marathon was going on. While all the Disney books and websites say "DO NOT GO TO DISNEY WORLD ON MARATHON WEEKEND," we actually didn't have many issues with the marathon. We went to Hollywood Studios the first day (Saturday, the day of the half marathon) and had no crowds or traffic. The second day (Sunday, the day of the full marathon) we went to Animal Kingdom. We had no traffic getting to the park and Animal Kingdom was not busy. The only encounter we had of the marathon was entering the Animal Kingdom. The marathon route went right in front of the park entrance and so when we got off the tram from the parking lot, we had to wait to be flagged through the marathon course. On the way out of the park, we just walked to our car and the marathon was over so we didn't even have to wait to cross. It all worked out just fine. However, we tried to go to Shades of Green Saturday morning to buy discounted military tickets and the traffic over there was horrible, so we gave up and just went to Hollywood Studios and bought tickets at the gate. It worked out very well to go to our resort concierge and find out where the marathon route was and where we should go.

Exploring the Shades of Green resort

Military park tickets
 
To buy discounted military tickets at Disney World, you must go to Shades of Green. The military tickets are not for sale at the gate of the Disney parks; they will tell you to go to Shades of Green. To find the military prices, go to the Shades of Green website http://www.shadesofgreen.org/index.html, hover your mouse over "Attraction tickets" and then click on "Walt Disney World." The first thing you will see on that page is the advertisement for $169 Four Day Military Appreciation Park Hopper ticket. These tickets are for sale at your local ITT office and you should buy these in advance. Your ITT office can run out of these tickets. Each military family can buy up to 6 of these tickets in a calendar year. When you buy these tickets, you are given a voucher that you activate at the gate of the Disney parks (you do not go to Shades of Green to do this). Disney will give you your 4 day park hopper tickets at the gate and the military member or dependent must be present to activate the tickets; DoD is not eligible to buy or activate these tickets. Shades of Green does sell discounted military tickets that you can buy even if you have bought 6 of the Military Appreciation tickets. To find the prices for those tickets, look under option 2 on the "Walt Disney World" tickets page and select what is applicable to you. Since we were not staying at a Disney resort, we selected "I will not be staying at Shades of Green or another WDW resort hotel" and compared ticket prices for us there. It is also important to keep in mind that children under 3-years old have FREE park entry, so our 3 toddlers, my 2.5-year old twins and my sister's 1.5-year old daughter, were free.

Side note on Shades of Green, it was a really nice resort! If we did not have access to my parents' timeshare, we would have stayed at Shades of Green.


This app was amazing. Before you go, you must download this on your smartphone. My sister made lunch reservations for us at Epcot one night while we were out to dinner at House of Blues. While we were waiting in line on one ride, we would use the app to figure out which ride we wanted to go on next. We did go to Disney World in January so the lines were short, but we used the app to make sure we were never standing in line for more than 25 minutes with our large party full of young children.

Disney tip: the line times are always slightly exaggerated. Most of the time when a line said 25 minutes, it took us 15-20 minutes to get through. 10 minute lines usually took about 5 minutes and a 5 minute line usually meant we could just walk on.

Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios
 
Our first day in the park was spent at Hollywood Studios. We had a lunch reservation at the 50's Prime Time Café, which ended up working out great due to the marathon. While my dad and brother-in-law went to ride Tower of Terror, we took the kids to the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure. They played there for a long time, all the way up to our lunch reservation. When we first entered the park shortly after it opened, we made a beeline to the Toy Story Mania! ride to get FastPasses. I was surprised that early in the day it had a 60 minute wait and the FastPass time was all the way at 6:30-7:30 pm. We go the FastPasses and our party broke up. I didn't feel there was much for our toddlers to do in Hollywood Studios, though I think our 5-year old would have enjoyed it a bit more. He didn't really get a chance to though because he spent the whole morning playing with us at the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure. They all had a lot of fun there. Lunch at the Prime Time Café was really good. If you go, say hi to Cousin Joey for us; he was our waiter and very funny. Before lunch, I ordered the boys Mouse ear hats with their names embroidered on the back. My dad and brother-in-law picked them up for us later. When we took the boys back to nap, they stayed and rode the Rock'N'Roller Coaster.

Digging in the Boneyard at Animal Kingdom
 
Our second day was spent at Animal Kingdom. This park was very exciting for the boys to look at. We really started spotting characters here. On our way to Dinoland, we spotted a Meet and Greet with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. We just walked down and the boys were star struck. This was the first character encounter for the toddlers and they weren't quite sure what to do. They were very excited to meet Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, but didn't want to hug them. Our 5-year old had his little autograph book out and took his picture with them. After that, we went to The Boneyard in Dinoland. All of our boys loved this, even my dad! After playing for a bit, my mom and I took the toddlers to a play area across from the Boneyard. The play area was really nice, but very hard to navigate with 3 toddlers. There were lots of stairs and slides that they needed assistance with. I felt this play area was geared more toward the older kids (our 5-year old loved it) while the play area in Hollywood Studios was perfect for all the ages of kids we had with us. In Dinoland, our 5-year old rode DINOSAUR and Primeval Whirl. We all went to It's Tough to be a Bug; it terrified the toddlers and made our 5-year old nervous. We left with clingy crying children wondering if we should have skipped it. :) The Kilimanjaro Safari was a huge hit with everyone; the kids absolutely loved it and were all talking about it well after it was over. I was really surprised when my 5-year old insisted he wanted to ride Expedition Everest (even though he had already ridden the Primeval Whirl and DINOSAUR and loved them both), but he was adamant. So I let him ride. He went on it twice and loved it! When we were trying to leave the park, we got cut off by Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade. I was glad we were! The boys loved the parade, especially when the animals leaned over and stuck their tongues out or a character came over for a high five. We all wanted to come back and spend more time at the Animal Kingdom. We didn't get to do everything that we wanted to-- there was a lot we didn't explore-- but the Magic Kingdom was by far the biggest hit with our children and so we spent our last "extra day" there instead of coming back here. I really wish we could have explored Discovery Island, but our toddlers were in desperate need of a nap!

Outside The Seas with Nemo at Epcot
 
 
We spent our fifth day at Epcot. Epcot was not very popular with our 3 toddlers, though our 5-year old had a good time there. All of the adults in our group said that even though our 5-year old was having a great time, it would have been even more fun to go at an adult pace and really get to explore the different shops and shows instead of going at a preschooler's pace. My sister and her husband actually got to go back and spend the evening there, just the two of them. We were all jealous to hear they found an adorable shop in Japan that sold Totoro stuff. One of the toddlers basically started melting down the minute we walked into the park. We made our way over to The Seas with Nemo and Friends, which was an adorable ride. We did Turtle Talk with Crush afterwards and it was a big hit with my 2.5-year olds, but not so much with my sister's 1.5-year old. She seemed to get bored or antsy during the show. I sat out of Soarin' with my toddlers, even though my mom offered to sit with them so I could go. They were having epic meltdowns by this point and I was feeling pretty tired keeping them happy in the stroller. Thankfully we had a lunch reservation at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall set up so I was able to tell the boys that we were on our way to get food, which seemed to cheer them up. My sisters and I really wanted a character dining with princesses, so we were really looking forward to this lunch. We were all surprised with how much my boys liked it, especially the toddlers! One of my toddlers gave Aurora the biggest hug and kiss; we thought he would never let go. It was very cute, plus the food was delicious. (I'm not sure my 5-year old cared for his meatballs though.) After lunch we were able to just walk on Maelstrom, which was right outside of Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. I have to say, the children liked the boat ride, but all the adults were very confused. I then left with my mom and sisters to get the toddlers down to nap. My dad, brother-in-law, and grandmother stayed to explore some more with my 5-year old. I know they went on Captain EO, the Test Track (I don't think Granny rode this), and Mission: Space. They also rode the Gran Fiesta Tour in Mexico; apparently this boat ride was much less confusing and enjoyable than the one I rode in Norway. Epcot made me wish I had brought our baby-sitter with us. I really (really, really, really) wanted to browse through the Disney art stores and wander through the countries.

Brunch at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom
 
 
Magic Kingdom was a hit with our entire party. As west coasters, we grew up going to Disneyland and Magic Kingdom was most reminiscent of the happiest place on earth. With a large party, there was also the most to do here for everyone, including a pregnant woman (me), 3 toddlers, and adults. I even think Granny had the most fun here, though she liked exploring Epcot with my 5-year old (her little man, her first great-grandchild). We spent our third, fourth, and sixth day at Magic Kingdom, 3 days total. My 5-year olds favorite rides were Big Thunder, Space Mountain, and the Tomorrowland Speedway. My 2.5-year old twins favorite rides were: Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (though they didn't really shoot the guns), It's a Small World, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan's Flight, and Under the Sea. All of the boys loved dining in the Hundred Acre Wood at the Crystal Palace on Main Street. I absolutely loved Be Our Guest (we went for their quick lunch, not being able to get a dinner reservation), Enchanted Tales with Belle, and taking the boys to the Tiki Room. Obviously my favorite princess is Belle. :) Our other family favorites are Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Dumbo, and the Jungle Cruise. One thing I liked better at Disney World than Disneyland is Belle's village in Fantasyland; I loved it. There is a whole Beauty and the Beast shop by the Gaston fountain. It was also nice to ride the PeopleMover's again, as they have been long closed in Disneyland. However, the Railroad and the Swiss Family Treehouse (now Tarzan's Treehouse in Disneyland) are much better in Disneyland. The other really fun experiences we had were the Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Tutorial (my 5-year old is still talking about it) and the Main Street Electrical Light Parade. It was so worth staying in the park late for the kids to get to watch the Main Street Electrical Light Parade; it is such a fun parade. Instead of battling the crowds to leave the park afterwards, we headed to Pirates of the Caribbean and walked right on the ride-- no line-- before heading out.

Disney tip: the quick lunch line at Be Our Guest moves much faster than you would think. When we stood in line, we were told 30 minutes and it took about 20 minutes. They open for lunch at 11:00 am, but you can start standing in line at 10:30 am. Make sure you look at the menu while waiting in line because you order before you are seated.
 
Napping in the Magic Kingdom
 
Toddlers and naps
 
Napping while at Disney World was a play it by ear kinda thing with us. I originally planned on heading back to our timeshare everyday at naptime, no matter what. Sometimes it just didn't work out that way. Our first day at Hollywood Studios did. The day at Animal Kingdom did not. Most of our days at Magic Kingdom didn't. On Monday, when we were at Magic Kingdom from 9 am to almost 9 pm for the Main Street Electrical Light Parade, all 3 of our toddlers actually napped in their strollers. My mom sat with them all while the rest of us rode the Jungle Cruise. The Epcot day we had to leave right after lunch to put the toddlers down to nap because they were behaving so badly. We had a lot of long days. We had to have a lot of patience with the toddlers. A tired toddler doesn't want to get off his favorite ride and one of my toddlers absolutely lost it when we got off Winnie the Pooh. But it was so fun. They loved riding Small World. They loved meeting the princesses and Mickey. They loved the Electrical Light Parade. This definitely is not how we do things at home. I don't normally carry bags of granola bars to bribe our kids with while waiting in line for things. We just tried to be calm, relaxed, be patient, be understanding, be prepared (crayons, snacks, plenty of water on hand), and go with the flow.
 
My family can tell you, I was very nervous when heading out on this Disney vacation, especially since my husband wasn't coming. I felt that I would be pregnant and tired and have 3 over-stimulated worn out boys on my hands. Instead, my family was amazingly helpful. Our timeshare arrangement worked out perfectly (so nice to be able to put them in a room and close the door during naptime). I thought I would just end up missing out on all the stuff I wanted to do (yes, I love Disney). Instead, I had a great time. There were rough moments (ahem, Epcot). There were tiring days (the walk back to the car 16-weeks pregnant after spending almost 12 hours in the Magic Kingdom with 3 strollers, 1 wheelchair, and a party of 11 felt like a long, long walk). But parenting is a leap of faith, an adventure, a ginormous why not? You never know until you try and this time was one of those times that I was beyond thrilled that I had taken the risk (okay, that my mother and husband talked me into it) and that I had an adventurous attitude. So a huge thank you to my family for being so wonderful. You were so supportive and understanding the whole week. You really helped me out and I had so much fun with you. Thank you to my husband for listening to my nighttime worries the week leading up to the trip and to my friends who offered all their advice and Disney tips before we went.
 
All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.
-Walt Disney





4 comments:

Amanda D. said...

I had so much fun! I am so happy I got to be there for the boys first Disney trip and that all the cousins could be together!! I had so much fun, I didn't want to leave!

Kimber said...

I'm glad we all had so much fun! :) It really was a great time. I thought it would just be super crazy, LOL! Hopefully next time hubby can come with us too!!!!

Sarah said...

We are headed to Disney soon with our 2 year old twin boys and 5 year old daughter, found your blog while looking at the stroller connectors! We will be staying onsite & having to haul our stroller(s) on/off the buses multiple times daily. I do not want to mess with our City Mini double because of the buses. Do you think the stroller connectors worked well enough or were they more of a hassle?

This isn't our first trip to Disney but is our first with twins - any other twin specific advice?

Thank you!

Kimber said...

Hello, Sarah! I posted a blog on the umbrella strollers and connectors we used while we were there: http://kimbersnavyfamily.blogspot.com/2014/01/strollers-in-disney.html.

At the bottom of the post I really discussed what I liked and didn't like about the connectors. I wish I had gone with the Munchkin stroller connectors instead of the Prince Lionheart. The Munchkin ones looked like they worked better for people than the ones I bought. (Link to the Munchkin ones on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Munchkin-20065-Stroller-Links-Black/dp/B003XMWFAU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1390866382&sr=8-1&keywords=munchkin+stroller+connector.) Overall, I really liked the ease of pushing one small umbrella stroller instead of pushing a side by side through the park. On the few times I needed to push both strollers, it was nice to have the option to connect them.

As for twin advice, it was important for me to watch their moods. My husband wasn't able to go with us (he's in the Navy) and I went with my family, which was a very large party. While they were extremely helpful, when the toddlers were overtired and overstimulated, they wanted Momma and there just is no way for me to carry around two 2yos around Disney World! Some days we were able to get them to nap in their strollers. Some days we were able to push them past naptime and put them down for a late naptime. On the last day we were there, we actually spent all day at the Magic Kingdom and they didn't nap at all (we left the Magic Kingdom just before 6 pm). It was hard sometimes for me as the mom (and planner) not to think, "We need to do this and this and this before the lines get long." There were things we missed out on, like we didn't even make it to Discovery Island at the Animal Kingdom (only spent one day at the Animal Kingdom), but all our boys had a great time at the Animal Kingdom anyways. I really made sure not to throw our toddlers under the bus with our 5-year old, "We can't go do this because your brothers need to nap." We also were careful what we mentioned to our 5-year old in case our plans changed, which they can with two toddlers. This philosophy worked out great at the Animal Kingdom. Our 5-year old got to do a lot there, but he doesn't know what is out on Discovery Island and what he "missed out on" there. I also had to let go of certain expectations I had built into our "first Disney trip," a big thing in the parenting world, lol! Since I'm pregnant, there were a lot of rides I couldn't go on. Our 5yo went on all his first roller coasters with his uncle, his aunts, or his grandfather-- not me or my husband! Both my hubby and I were a little torn before I left on the trip knowing it wouldn't be either of us taking our son on those things, but it still was an awesome trip and he had a great time! We just had to shift our thinking from "We are going to show them this great time" to more letting our kids have a great time (make sense?). :) We went for the kids to have fun. Even though that sometimes meant sitting in the hotel room while the toddlers napped and my brother-in-law took our 5-year old around the Magic Kingdom (which, in all honesty, was a welcome break for this pregnant woman!). Watching the toddlers moods and being really patient with them really helped everyone to have a lot more fun on the trip. :) Best of luck to you guys! Have fun!