Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Disney Parks for all ages: Tips for making it work

Walt Disney World resorts and parks are magical and a lot of fun for all ages. The parks have a good mix of rides and attractions for the very young, students, parents, and older. But what does a park day look like if you are traveling with different age groups?

We just came back from a visit to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios with our 11-month old baby boy and 6 1/2-year old thrill ride junkie, Amelia. In prior visits, we were able to focus entirely on Amelia's wants and likes. We could ride everything all together and enjoy any shows without a concern for volume or darkness. But with Andrew in tow this year, it was much more difficult. We spent much of the day separated instead of together as a full family. We had lots of fun and experienced much magic in our 12-hour mega day, but it was certainly different than what we were able to do in the past with the older cousins or just the three of us.

If you are planning to visit a Walt Disney World park with a very young child and one who enjoys all the rides, here are some tips for managing your expectations and having an enjoyable day:

PARENT SWAP - know it and love it. If you all enjoy rides but the youngest is not able to partake in the adventure, ask the line attendant for a parent swap ticket. This ticket allows one parent and child(ren) to enter the line while the other stays out and enjoys a rest, stroll, or nearby shopping with the young one. And once the ride group disembarks the ride, the waiting parent can get in the Fast Pass line. The child(ren) able to ride can go again with the second parent at this time. Amelia enjoyed getting to experience her favorite rides twice this way! 

BABY CARE CENTERS - these are so nice! I hadn't been in one before. Clean, quiet places for a break from the hustle and bustle and noise. Soft play spaces, tidy diaper changing areas, and lots of baby goods are available in these centers. The one at Epcot had a television and coloring so the older child can have something to do during the quick baby break. It really gives everyone a chance to recharge and regroup.

STROLLER PARKING - do not forget about this. Many rides and attractions require you to park the stroller, which means parents need to be prepared to carry non-walkers. We waited in lines for Nemo and the Mexico boat ride at Epcot, and a Lillebaby carrier was helpful for toting Andrew around and keeping him snug and happy while we inched through lines. Any good quality baby carrier will do; it really saves your back and arms when the stroller is not allowed.

CHARACTER MEETINGS - plan, plan, plan. Use the My Disney Experience app to look ahead throughout the day to when various characters are out and get in line early if you can. Even better, have one parent wait for one character who comes out about 15 minutes after the character for whom you wait so the family can essentially get two character experiences for only a bit more than the wait of one.

Basically, go to the parks understanding that you and your spouse (or other accompanying adult) will be separated a lot if you want to keep both children happy. Be sure to enjoy the attractions that everyone can enjoy like Nemo at Epcot or It's A Small World at The Magic Kingdom, plus dine and snack together. And otherwise, divide and conquer! Enjoy the magic for all ages - with just a bit of extra planning.

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