When my son was about 18 months old, he made a new friend named Mickey Mouse. For the next year and a half, he was obsessed with everything Mickey. It made his 2nd birthday party easy to plan and his ongoing dedication to the character was impressive. And since I had grown up loving Disney, I appreciated his developing love for Mickey Mouse and friends. I couldn’t wait to take him on a Disney vacation.
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After long-debated conversations in our house about the perfect age to take kids to Disney, I finally won out when my kids were 6 and 4. I mean, my son clearly had shown his dedication for Disney over the years and earned himself a trip! And since my daughter just had a birthday, we kind-of spun it off like this was her big present! So really it was a win-win for everyone.
Let’s be real, though, a trip to Disneyland/Disneyworld is not cheap. And younger kids probably won’t even remember the details of the trip. But it is an amazing experience-building opportunity for families in an environment centered around them. It’s a trip you can talk about forever and even if they don’t remember all the tiny details, there will be pictures (proof) of all the fun they had! Of all trips you can take, this is your child’s time to be a kid. So give in to some of their temptations and help create a wonderful opportunity for memory making…or picture taking so they can kind-of remember it.
Keep these 7 Underrated tips in mind when planning your Disney vacation:
Buy Disney Items Ahead of Time
Buy a few Disney themed items ahead of time to use on your trip. A quick trip to the dollar store, Target, or Amazon can help you prepare items ahead of time so you don’t have to pay the high mark-ups at the theme parks. I grabbed a few light sticks, some activity books, an autograph book, water bottles, and Disney t-shirts. You can easily personalize these with vinyl stickers and labels. By saving money on some of these items, you can splurge on a few other items inside the park.
Let Your Child Choose a Hat/Mouse Ears
It’s a store full of hats! But not just any hats, Disney themed hats and decorated mouse ears. Let your child wander through the store and pick out their favorite one. My son sometimes has a difficult time making a decision (I have no idea where he gets that from), but after he made one pass through the hat store, he proudly selected the huge, fluffy Mickey Magician hat in all it’s glory. I was worried he would get tired of wearing it because it was so big so I suggested we wait and check out another store further into the park, but he was certain of his decision. A friend’s daughter had her heart set on the bride-themed Minnie Mouse ears and that’s what she wore all week. Even if you don’t necessarily love the hat they pick, let them make the decision.
Get Their Face Painted
If they’re in to face painting, get their face painted. This is definitely a splurge and over-priced item, but my daughter really wanted to get her face painted. She had no interest in mouse ears (to my great dismay), but hooked on to the face painting idea. They did a great job with it, it didn’t take long, and it made my daughter so happy. Plus, unlike a costume, it didn’t get in the way throughout the day or cause issues.
Pick Out a Disney Toy
Let them pick one toy from the toy store. I had prepped my kids ahead of time so they knew they could each pick out ONE toy from the toy store. It came as no great surprise that my son instantly selected the Woody doll, his current obsession. It did cost a few dollars more than I found at the Disney store at the mall, but later I found out that some of the toys purchased at the theme parks have special/different features. For instance, the Woody we got at Disneyland had a slightly different outfit and said different things when you pulled his string as compared to the regular store Woody. Plus, it carries the special experience of choosing it at the theme park on a family vacation. (Making memories here people!)
I know this one is a little complicated, but if your child has a Disney hero they love to dress up as, what better place to rock that costume than Disney? (I mean, they’ve already worn it to the grocery store, school pick-up, church…am I right?) Bring one from home to save some money or let your child pick out a new one from one of the stores. We brought my son’s current favorite character costume, Woody from Toy Story (at his request), but he decided not to wear it to the park. Instead, he just wore his cowboy hat and boots and carried his new Woody doll around and wore his costume at the hotel. He perfected dropping to the ground next to Woody if we yelled, “Andy’s coming!”
Take all the pictures
We’re building memories here and sometimes those memories need a little photographic refresher! You can pay for the Disney photo package, which a lot of people love, or you can just take your own pictures. We opted to just take our own and we got plenty of great photos. But guess what we forgot to bring on our Disney trip? Our camera battery! Luckily, there is a real world just outside of Disney and a nearby store had one in stock. Be sure to get a picture with your child and their favorite character!
Bring a Lightweight Stroller
You can rent a huge stroller from Disney, but the daily rental fee starts to add up and it’s pretty big to push around. I found that a small umbrella stroller worked great for easily maneuvering through the crowds. I also wouldn’t suggest bringing your top dollar stroller because even at Disney, there is a chance it could be stolen. Strollers are nice for getting across the park quickly, stashing jackets and snacks, and giving kids a resting place while waiting for the parade. (We took a Maclaren Stroller and this Cars Umbrella Stroller)
Ultimately, keep in mind that your trip to a Disney theme park should really be all about the kids. Sometimes you have to lower your expectations a little, and maybe even miss out on a ride or two, but you want to create happy memories on your vacation. Overextending kids by trying to do everything in one day, from gate opening to close, eating on the run, and continually standing in long lines is just asking for kid melt-downs. So follow their lead, enjoy the magic of Disney, and have a marvelous time making memories with your kids!
What’s your favorite Disney vacation memory as a kid? Do you have any secret Disney tips? Share yours in the comments below!
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