Planning a trip to Disney World with kids is a lot like prepping a birth plan.
You do the research, come up with an ideal schedule, and nothing goes as planned. Yep, Disney trips with kids can be a little unpredictable.
But! A little preparation will still get you ahead of the game when it is time to pivot.
We just returned from our first family trip to Disney World, and boy did I have some questions before I left! I will make a strong assumption that you have questions as well.
Here is how to plan a Disney trip with kids.
Inside this DISNEY post, I will share tips on:
- What we did BEFORE leaving for Disney World
- The guidebooks we read
- How to use the Disney App (Including Genie +)
- Disney World Tickets
- Dinner in Disney World
- Where to stay in Disney World (Disney World Resorts)
- Transportation from the airport to the Disney World Resort
- Car Seats for the kids
- How we packed for our Disney Trip
- What we wore (because who doesn’t love a little flair?)
To keep everything Disney even more organized, I broke traveling with kids into a few other posts.
In this post, you will learn what to do BEFORE going to Disney World with kids.
- Plane Rides with Kids (coming soon)
- Traveling with a food allergy (coming soon)
This post is NOT sponsored or collaborated with Disney. All thoughts and opinions are my own, and I am excited to share what we learned along the way. Days with Grey participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more about these links in my disclosure policy.
1. THINK ABOUT WHAT AGE FEELS RIGHT
It has been a long time since I’ve been to Disney, which means I don’t have a strong lay of the land.
I had questions about how the park was organized, the crowds, and how I would get to the different parks each day. It felt like a lot!
With all these questions, waiting until my children were past the toddler stage worked best for us. At the time of the trip, my children are 4.5, 6.5, and 8.
We take adventure days together and have a “goodish” rhythm to going out as a group. But Disney is crowded! Think ahead of time how to match an adult per child.
It is an honest assessment that Disney is difficult to keep track of everyone. The weather is warm, and children are off regular schedules. It can get pretty sweaty in between the joy!
RELATED: Looking for someone to help plan your trip? We used Candace as our Disney Planner, and she is excellent!
Plan ahead in case someone gets separated
I’ve read in some articles that families bring tracking devices for children to wear. Talk with your family ahead of time to ensure everyone knows what to do if they get separated. Who do they look for help if needed?
With this being said, there were families with younger children that appeared to be enjoying themselves.
Think about which ages feel suitable for your family and go when ready. Lots of pregnant mamas too!
RELATED: Here are our favorite travel accessories.
2. LOOK AT DISNEY MAPS BEFORE YOU GO
I am a visual learner. Frontierland, Tommorland, and Fantasyland don’t mean much to me until I see them on a map or picture.
As I unsuccessfully searched online for a map, I came across two helpful guide books.
I bought Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World Guide for Kids to look at with the boys and the adult version for myself. (shown above)
The guides have mixed reviews on Amazon, but they did the job for us.
The Disney guide books offer maps of each Disney park and share ride details. It is the perfect starting place to begin a conversation about what to expect.
3. WATCH YOUTUBE VIDEOS OF RIDES
Yep, we watched Disney and Pixar movies leading up to the trip, but YouTube was the star of the show.
GOOD NEWS! There are plenty of YouTubers that share the excitement of each ride. Watching the videos was an excellent addition to reading about the rides inside the guide books.
We watched a little girl coming off Space Mountain crying, and it helped me realize this was NOT the time to invite the boys on that ride. I was able to see how the ride was structured, and it was not a ride my children would feel comfortable on.
I did, however, think they would be up for a roller coaster like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It turns out I was wrong about that one. However, the Barnstormer was a fun introduction to roller coasters for my two younger children.
I have three boys, and each one was up for something different. My oldest was out for anything fast and loud. My middle took some time to decide. And my youngest was all in for anything loud, dark, and scary. – not sure how those teenage years will go with him.
The moral of this Disney tip?
Go with low ride expectations. Pick a few rides to aim to ride and know that can change due to moods and meltdowns. – Parents included LOL
Have you heard of Genie +?
Yep. It is as confusing as it sounds. YouTube saved the day with that to give us a starting point with what it was and how to use it. (And it does make more sense with practice)
I will save it for the experts on YouTube to explain, but plan on being ready at 7 am to make your ride reservation for the day.
That is a tall order for an exhausted parent. Making this reservation isn’t amazing, but it made the lines SO MUCH faster when we used it. We zipped right onto the ride we had scheduled.
The catch is you can only book ONE ride at a time. After you ride it, you can book the next. Time slots are limited. I screenshot what this looks like in the image below.
4. DOWNLOAD THE DISNEY APP
The Disney app is *somewhat* easy to navigate, but it takes a little practice. Play around with the app before heading to Disney World! The more I used it, the more it made sense.
Inside the My Disney Experience app, you will find ride wait times, interactive maps of the parks, and where to order food.
FUN FACT: You can also bring your snacks and food into each park.
Before going to Disney, I couldn’t wrap my head around how I would know what food to order at 10 to pick up at 12. You can also change your time slot if something comes up.
Indeed, ordering lunch was a breeze!
Rest assured, this was a LOT easier than it felt. We had no problems (even with a food allergy) coming up with a lunch plan. You open the app, find a place, and select a pickup time. I enjoyed using it!
Here is where we ate lunch inside the parks:
- Disney World – Cosmic Ray Starlight Cafe
- Animal Kingdom – Taco Cart near the Feathered Friends in Flight
- Hollywood Studios – PizzeRizzo
- Hollywood Studios – Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo
5. TICKETS FOR DISNEY WORLD PARKS
We purchased hopper tickets ahead of time and also purchased wristbands.
In my opinion, the flexibility of the hopper tickets and the convenience of the bracelet was worth it. We hopped to a different park (after a pool break) two out of the three days.
If you are unsure about wanting to buy wristbands, you can find them at Disney or in your hotel.
Naturally, my four-year-old lost his wristband by day three, and they accommodated him at the park entrance with a ticket.
Our Disney schedule:
- Day one: Arrive, pool, dinner out
- Day two: Magic Kingdom
- Day three: Animal Kingdom, dinner in Epcot
- Day four: Universal (ended up going back to Magic Kingdom)
- Day five: Pool and depart
6. PLAN FOR DINNER AT DISNEY WORLD AHEAD OF TIME
Since we have a food allergy, we needed to think about dinner and have a plan before arrival.
This part gets a little complicated. Our Disney planner Candace helped a lot with this. She would get text messages that availability opened up and do all the leg work. As a newbie to Disney, this was the most overwhelming part of the preplanning.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Disney takes food allergies very seriously and will talk with you anytime you need to learn more about the available information.
Our Disney Planner encouraged us only to book two dinner reservations and eat the rest of the nights in the hotel. This suggestion was a great plan!
The first night after the Magic Kingdom, I was SO tired. We put a towel down to eat, ordered room service, and fell asleep around 7:40. (myself included!) I needed this night of sleep to help keep me going for the rest of the trip.
And the kids? They thought the dinner in the room was epic. FIVE STAR REVIEW from the kids!
Ask around before picking your Disney dinner spot.
I have listed where we ate, but after returning, I have heard many other suggestions of fun (and tasty) dinner spots. Ask friends and family where they like to eat!
We planned ahead to eat dinner at:
- Polynesian Hotel – Ohana Restaurant
- Epcot – San Angel Inn Restaurante
Come hungry! The Ohana Restaurant sends a lot of food family style to the table. At San Angel Inn, you order off the menu. Out of the two, I would recommend Ohana.
7. IF POSSIBLE, STAY SOMEWHERE WITH A POOL
Our Disney trip didn’t go exactly as expected, and the pool was my saving grace.
We stayed at the Grand Floridian, and this hotel has a few pools to take a break from the crowds and have a snack break away from the parks.
A standard hotel room may be tight for a family of five, but we brought along a portable Shunk bed for my youngest to sleep on.
For a few reasons, this may not be your hotel of choice. Keep an eye out for pricing. Some days are much higher than others.
Many families stay in an Airbnb or another hotel near the parks.
Take a look at the hotels in the Disney area before deciding. Again, ask around and think about what is most important for your family and your budget.
If you have young children who nap, it is helpful to stay in a hotel on (or near) Disney property to take the monorail back to and take a midday break. A few toddlers were spotted taking a nap in a pool chair or a stroller.
Disney hotels on property:
Here, you will find a list of all the hotels in the Disney area.
8. TRANSPORTATION FROM THE AIRPORT
Once you find where you’d like to stay, think about how you will get to and from the airport.
We used the MEARS car service.
Here’s my review about MEARS:
MEARS was fine upon arrival. In a star rating, I would give it a three.
Here’s why I vote MEARS as so so.
We had trouble navigating where the station was in the airport, but it was a smooth ride once we found it. Depending on your hotel, you scan your app to check-in and are directed to a lane to wait.
Here’s what went wrong.
When checking out of our hotel, I received alerts that our transportation was waiting for us. The only problem is that there was no car service insight.
Luckily, the MEARS taxi was on the property, so we jumped in there. It cost us $70 that we weren’t planning on spending. I will be in touch with the car service for a refund.
9. CAR SEATS
Bringing our own car seats worked best for our family.
We used these three booster seats.
We carried the car seats on the plane and stored them in the overhead bin during the flights. Check out Safe in the Seat for more car seat information.
10. PACKING FOR DISNEY
Do you use packing cubes? They help organize outfits for the day.
I packed all three boys’ outfits in each packing cube for the day. When at the hotel, I put each packing cube in a drawer. I took out the cube that day, and everyone had an outfit to toss on.
I packed an extra cube for the two nights out for dinner. These extra outfits were a good decision since they needed a change of clothes after a day at the park.
Dress in layers. Florida weather can be cool in the morning and hot midday.
If you stay in a hotel with a pool, don’t forget to pack goggles!
Here is what we used to pack for Disney:
- Kid’s Suitcases
- Packing cubes
- Best Day Ever Shirts
- Adult Walt Disney Shirt
- Alarm clock my oldest son travels with
Here are the backpacks the kids use to hike and travel:
Phew! That sure was a lot of information. My guess is that Disney feels the most confusing the first time around. Next trip we will be more prepared! (maybe)
Have you been to Disney World with kids?
What are your favorite places to stay or tips? Share in the comments below!