My three daughters are in the throes of Disney Princess love. They only want to watch Disney Princess movies and wear their princess dresses. Going to Disney World was a no brainer for a family vacation. When I threw the idea out to my hubby about a year ago, we both knew it was inevitable. I had no idea how involved planning a Disney vacation could be! I shouldn’t be surprised there are whole websites, travel companies and many careers built upon visiting the happiest place on earth. Thankfully, I didn’t fall down the rabbit hole (too far).
Timing: the time of year to go and the ages of my kids
We went this December, the week after Thanksgiving. It’s supposed to be less crowded because everyone is back to school. We are not in regular school yet, so it was just a matter of arranging time off with our nanny.
For this trip, the twins were about two-and-a-half years old and my oldest was close to turning five years old. I wanted to take this trip before my little ones turned three because kids under three are free! They didn’t need tickets to get into the parks and kids under three eat free at character meal restaurants too. We saved a pretty penny with this strategy (like over $1,000 for four park days and one character). By the end of the trip I started to joke my twins are not real people because they never counted!
Even at this young age, all three girls knew who everyone was and they were very engaged, but I doubt the twins will have memories of it (thus the tons of photos I’ll print and put into a Disney album one day. I’ll add it to the list of projects I’ll do while binge watching reality TV which is just too good to pass up).
The best age to go to Disney is totally subjective.
Some people will tell you wait until they are older (so they’ll remember), but we couldn’t pass up the savings on tickets and food (we didn’t do a meal plan, but again they would have been free if we did). Moreover, this was really the best age to go for our family because they truly believe all the characters are real (the magic is real to them). They really thought we shrunk down with pixie dust and then met Tinker Bell (my oldest was flapping her arms trying to fly).
We wanted to stay on resort
When the girls are older and out of car seats, we’ll stay at a different hotel off Disney property and check out other theme parks. We liked staying on resort because it meant not traveling with three car seats and dealing with the logistics of transportation. Going to California with three car seats was a Herculean feat! By staying on resort, Disney picked our luggage up from the airport and brought it directly to our hotel room. We could take a shuttle to all the parks without any issue. The convenience can’t be beat.
Every kid responds to Disney World differently
There is something for everyone at each age. With the girls being young we were limited to what we would do because:
1) the girls are too short for a lot of the rides
2) they are easily scared (some rides they were tall enough for were too frightening, so they were out)
Two of my girls were freaked out by water spraying on them from any Ariel type of ride or show. Even mist from Frozen stuff was scary to them! By day two in the parks, I realized they are really frightened by the unexpected. Part of the fun of rides is not knowing what’s coming next. Unfortunately, this did not sit well with my little trio of princesses. I could tell they were stressed and sitting in a car, boat, whatever was like torture. Whoever was sitting in my lap was trying to crawl into my chest cavity for safety.
I think each family has their own stuff to watch out for. We ended up swapping Pirates of the Caribbean for It’s a Small World because it was clear they would lose their sh*t seeing pretend pirates and not knowing what was around the corner. My oldest needed constant reassurance that the Beast and Ursula were nowhere to be found throughout the parks/rides. At Belle’s Storytime my oldest needed to be constantly reassured the Beast was NOT coming. These are my delicate little flowers <<sigh>>.
I kept telling my girls everything was pretend. Hearing it’s not real enough times made it their mantra. One of my twins yelled out during a live show, “No! You not nice! You not real!” It got a great laugh from the crowd because every parent with a toddler is in the same boat there. It’s actually a life raft because I feel like we’re all just trying to survive the overwhelming experience without traumatizing our kids too badly (my husband still talks about his Disney trauma at Pinnochio’s playhouse when he was little).
It was wonderful to see the girls have fun, but I really felt like there wasn’t anything for me personally at Disney because I was in constant mom-mode. I was making sure the girls had what they needed and were OK (packed tons of snacks and treats to handle meltdowns/tantrums). Each night my hubby and I got into a routine of prepping for the next day by packing our diaper bag, food bag and stroller with provisions for the following day. He is an expert at making delicious peanut butter cracker sandwiches.
Overall, it was intellectually exhausting trying to stay a step ahead of what was coming next for the girls (emotionally and physically). A full day in a park is a lot to demand of a little kid. The girls LOVED it, but I am a hard pass on another trip there until I can do Harry Potter World!
I look at vacation as a way to experience something new. I like visiting new places, experiencing different cultures and cuisines. I love food, so my vacation souvenirs are good meals. The highlight of the trip for me was
somehow magically getting a breakfast reservation for our family of five at Disney Storybook Dining in the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (aka Frozen Land in Epcot) the night before we planned to visit Epcot. This is a character meal and it felt like a miracle because these reservations get snatched up literally six months in advance (crazy, but true). This meal was PERFECT. We got to meet five princesses in one place (Belle, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel and Snow White) and I had a nice sit down meal, and tried a new cuisine! This experience was delicious in every way.
Now, if you ask my girls their favorite parts of the trip my oldest says sleeping on the pull out sofa bed, one of the twins says the slide in the resort and another says the swings. There were no swings anywhere on this trip. With this, I confirmed what I always knew. My girls are happiest just being together as a family, where we are is really secondary.
Moreover, if the only time I saw my girls incredibly happy was in Walt Disney World, then I would have bigger problems on my hands. Our home is full of singing (the Frozen soundtrack, called “Elsa songs” is on permanent loop), dancing and laughing. I am greeted by exuberantly joyful little girls every morning and when I come home from work.