Disney World is a one-of-a-kind experience. For a lot of young kids, it’s become a right of passage. There are travel agencies, entire blogs and countless Facebook groups devoted to curating your perfect Disney experience. Families will plan for years in advance for this once in a lifetime endeavor. Well, that’s not our family. We’re not what you would call Disney fanatics. Up until six months ago, I couldn’t even tell you the name of half the Disney princesses, let alone anything about a Disney World vacation. But with our girls falling head over heels for princesses (and heels), Brad and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take them to the home of princesses; Disney World. Turns out that Disney is free until three! So off to Disney World we decided to head over our Thanksgiving break just weeks before our girls turned three. And you know what? I think we rocked our last minute Disney vacation in the eyes of our almost three-year-olds! I wanted to share with you some tips and tricks that I picked up in some frantic last minute researching that helped us have a magical day. If your a non-fanatic who is headed to Disney and has no idea what to do, I’ve written this post just for you!
Like I mentioned, kids are free at Disney until they are three. This can be really beneficial because tickets to Disney parks are not cheap. So the trick is to take your kid as close to three as you can. However, just under three is still quite young. If you are going for the “remember this as an adult factor”, it’s not likely. But as the parent to two almost three-year-olds, I knew that my girls are at a place where they would truly enjoy the Disney experience. They are understanding, track stories, hold conversations, express preferences, have favorites, can survive a whole day without napping, walk, potty and eat independently. And Disney has plenty to do for the vertically challenged in your life. Our girls are not even three feet yet, so I was worried about what all they could experience, but really most attractions at Disney do not have a height requirement except for the roller coasters. And at 35″, the girls were even able to ride their first roller coaster; Barnstormer. If you are planning a full week with resort stays and park hopping, I wouldn’t necessarily rush the trip just for a free ticket, but this was the perfect age/timing for a weekend Disney getaway.
We chose to focus on Magic Kingdom. Of course Disney has other parks: Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, but if you only have one day I highly recommend Magic Kingdom for a classic Disney experience (unless you have a particular interest that would preclude you from choosing that park). If you kids are princess obsessed like ours, you may want to consider Magic Kingdom and Epcot if you have two days. Disney has a deal on a two-day pass with entry after noon that we highly debated getting. We eventually landed one day because we were trying to stay as inexpensive as possible and because Magic Kingdom has other ways to experience some of the princesses whose meet and greet is at Epcot. Here’s the breakdown of which princess meet-and-greets are traditionally located at Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
- Belle (not a traditional meet-and-greet, but you do get one on one time and pictures)
- Anna & Elsa
- Snow White
- Coming Soon: Moana
Like I mentioned above, there are other ways to see the princesses that don’t have traditional meet-and-greets at Magic Kingdom. There is an attraction called Enchanted Tales with Belle where the kids are walked through and participate in a short skit for Belle and get to have a little one-on-one time with her at the end. Fairytale Hall is where you can traditionally meet Cinderella and Rapunzel along with Tiana and Eleanor, but sometimes the last two are traded out for visiting princesses. Also, every day at the Magic Kingdom there is a Festival of Fantasy Parade that shows off many of Disney’s classic storylines. Watching the parade we saw Ariel, Belle, Snow White, Anna and Elsa. For the holiday season, there is also a show at the Magic Kingdom where Anna and Elsa (and Elsa and Kristoff) make an appearance to turn Cinderella’s castle into ice. Finally, you can always snag a (pricey) dinner reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table where Aurora, Snow White, Ariel and Jasmine often make appearances.
Now how do you make the most out of your day at the Magic Kingdom? Because there is so much to see you could spend days there. And visiting with little kids is going to slow down your sight-seeing and likely truncate your day. I have two tips for you. First, get an early start to your day. Second, use the Disney app and fastpasses to maximize your time in the park.
Did you know that Magic Kingdom actually opens before there 9 am opening time? I didn’t until the day before our trip. Main Street is typically open up to an hour before the park (and the monorail, ferries and parking even before that) and you can go as far as the circle in front of Cinderella’s Castle. My advice is to be stepping into the park at 8 am. This will give you an opportunity to check your castle picture off the list before the crowds and chaos take over. You can also use the head start to attempt a rope drop strategy, which basically means beating the crowd to an attraction that typically has a long line. You can Google this separately for ideas. We are not morning people so our arrival was much closer to 9 am, but I was still able to tell how less crowded and chaotic the park felt before 11 am. We managed to ride the tea cups, Barnstormer, Dumbo, meet Ariel and ride Under the Sea without waits before using our first fastpass that morning.
So what about the rest of the day? That’s where the Disney app and fast passes come in handy. As soon as you buy your ticket go ahead and download the Disney app and link your tickets. You can use the app to book fast passes, dining reservations, order food (highly recommend for not having to wait in line for food or drinks or Dole Whip), keep track of events you want to attend such as the parade and even see real-time wait times for rides.
A fast pass is entrance to a special queue that is shorter than waiting in the regular line. You get to book three fastpasses before arriving at Disney. Fastpass reservations open 30 days prior to your visit date. But even if you buy your tickets last minute like we did, you can still get a lot of benefit from your fastpasses. The trick is that once you use your three fast passes in the park, you get to book another fastpass real time in the park. And once you use that one, you get another and so on for as many as you can cycle through in your visit. So the key is to make sure that your original three fastpasses all end as early as possible. Even if your favorite ride only has an opening at 10 pm, don’t take it because you won’t be able to pick a new fastpass day-of at all. Once our three fastpasses were used, we were able to pick a new one and every single ride popped up at one point or another throughout the day as an option except the Seven Dwarfs roller coaster (I recommend using the rope drop strategy on this one unless you book your fastpass as soon as possible). We ended up using about seven or eight fastpasses throughout the day and only had to wait more than ten minutes in line once because we had to use the standby line. We actually used fastpasses mostly for princess meet-and-greets (which can have really long lines) because that was the girls’ biggest priority.
Another key to the fastpasses is that they are good for an entire hour starting at the time you select. So don’t feel like you have to be there right on the hour. We were able to get a coveted fastpass for the Jungle Cruise in the evening because it started at the same time as the holiday castle light up. But we knew the program was only going to be ten minutes so we had plenty of time to make our fastpass. If rides are your thing, skipping the parade and fireworks show is another way to score some short lines. We actually watched the fireworks show from the bridge to Adventureland (couldn’t see the castle, just the fireworks) and were able to dip out a minute early and hop on two rides with no waits.
Just like with booking fastpasses, I highly recommend looking through the app to score a dinner reservation. Food in the park can be pricey of course, but we chose to bring snacks for all day and save up for a special dinner. And if it’s a themed dinner, you get the benefit of both eating a nice meal and adding some magic to your visit. Note that you are allowed to share your meal with kiddos under three and do not have to buy them a separate plate. We ended up buying them one kids meal to share saving us a little bit on dinner. I think above three everyone has to buy their own plate.
Dinner reservations open 180 days in advance, so needless to say we were grasping at straws when it came to fancy dining. But dinner reservations can be cancelled up to 24 hours before the reservation time, so I just constantly refreshed the app the two days before hoping for something to open up. And a time slot opened up at all three of my restaurant choices (Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest & Storybook Dining at Artist Point with Snow White, which is outside the park). We ended up choosing Be Our Guest because it worked best with our schedule.
All of these things considered, I think the most important thing was to manage our expectations for the day knowing that we could not do it all. Since our girls were really into princesses, we chose to focus on Fantasyland and count anything else as a bonus. We also mapped out our morning but left the evening fairly clear (except dinner and the fireworks) so that we could plan as we went given what things our girls enjoyed and what fastpasses came available.
A couple of other things I am glad I found out about the park to make our visit special:
1. I highly recommend letting your little princess wear her princess dress to Disney (but wear street shoes) if she is into that sort of thing. All of the staff and characters that we interacted with referred to our girls as “your highness” or “princess” or by the character name (Cinderella and Aurora). It was so cute and a nice extra magical touch to their day.
2. You can stop at any gift shop and ask for a free celebration button. We stopped in and got our girls “1st Visit” buttons as keepsakes for our visit.
3. Cups of ice water are free at the park. We brought our girls’ water bottles and would get free cups of ice water to refill.
4. Up next to the Crystal Palace is a baby care station where you can unwind with your kiddos if needed (especially if it is hot an you need air conditioning). There is also a nursing/pumping room there, which I used. The first aid stand next store gave me fresh ice to keep my pumped milk cool (they will not store it for .
5. You can pay a pretty penny at the Bippity Boppity Boutique for your kid to get a princess makeover or you can just ask for some free pixie dust at the Sir Mickey’s gift shop. This includes a wish and wave of the wand releasing glitter on their head. Brad has a strict no glitter policy, so we skipped this perk.
Finally, I highly suggest bringing a lightweight and easy to maneuver stroller, a ton of snacks, wipes and a back up pair of clothes. I am actually not a big stroller person, but it was so convenient to have a place to set everything and a place for the girls to take a cat nap midday. The nice thing is there are stroller corrals all over where you can park your stroller if you want to lighten your load for a bit. I wasn’t worried about the stroller because it was parked along with a hundred other strollers. We did tie something on ours so we would be easily able to identify it. Note: I have heard that wagons are not allowed at Disney.
We plan to take Heidi on a similar trip right before she turns three. We left sweet baby girl with grandparents and that was the best decision of the whole trip, so we could enjoy the rides with the girls and Heidi got to get spoiled as an only child all weekend.
So there you have it, everything we learned last minute and day of to help us have an awesome Disney experience! If you have any other tips or tricks, please share below in the comments.
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