When I told our 2-year-old we were going on a special trip, I didn’t think she could grasp the concept of Walt Disney World. So imagine my surprise when the first words out of her mouth when we touched down in Florida were: “Where’s Mickey Mouse?”
Somehow, without really knowing what Walt Disney World was, she knew that Mickey was at the center of it all. And with that, the search was on to find him.
If you’re planning on traveling to Disney World with your toddlers or preschoolers (especially if it’s your first time like us) you HAVE to have a plan beforehand of which parks you want to visit, what rides you want to try out and where you want to eat. Being spontaneous may work in other aspects of your life, but not at Disney. The place is simply too large, and without a plan, you’ll end up feeling overwhelmed and waste precious memory-making time.
Luckily Disney is making strides in helping families easily plan their Disney experience. There were a few things in particular that really helped in making our trip seamless and stress-free.
The first was the My Disney Experience website. This is a one-stop shop online tool for planning your Disney vacation before you ever leave home. You can link your flights and hotel accommodations, make dining reservations, buy park tickets, link your FastPass+ choices (rides and attractions you choose beforehand to skip ahead in line) and manage your Memory Maker photos (unlimited digital photos captured at Disney PhotoPass locations).
What’s even cooler is a free app version. Pull it up on your mobile device when you’re in the parks to get current wait times for your favorite rides and attractions, schedules for the fireworks shows and parades, and find out the current locations of the characters you want to see.
The second must-have item that made our trip so smooth was the MagicBand. These colorful, customizable wristbands act as your room key, your theme park ticket and your wallet—simply link a credit card to them to make food or merchandise purchases in the park. How convenient is that?
MagicBands are still in the testing stage. Currently, they’re included in Disney Resort hotel guests’ stays, but once they are fully rolled out, they will be available to all guests to buy for less than $15.
Once you have your plans set, the only thing left to do is enjoy the parks.
We knew we had to visit New Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom. If you can only visit one park with your toddlers or preschoolers, this is the one to choose. It turned out to be our daughter’s favorite.
Here you’ll find classic rides and attractions like It’s a Small World (low-key and beautiful), Mad Tea Party (a different experience each time you ride depending on how fast or slow you spin) and Dumbo the Flying Elephant (classic Disney), plus new features such as the Under the Sea—Journey of the Little Mermaid ride and the stunningly ornate Be Our Guest Restaurant (modeled after the Beast’s enchanted castle).
You’ll also want to be sure to catch a parade on Main Street. Check your My Disney Experience app for times or, if you’re lucky like us, you’ll just be strolling along and find yourself right in the middle of one!
If your little one loves Disney princesses, a visit to the new Princess Fairytale Hall is a must.
Rapunzel ended up being the first “real-life” princess my daughter met and the look on her face when she signed her autograph book is something I’ll never forget. But just in case I do, I have about 20 photos to remind me!
Character meet ‘n’ greets and dining experiences like that were probably the most memorable moments of our trip for our daughter. She loved having the chance to meet some of her favorite Disney and Disney Junior characters face-to-face: Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet at The Crystal Palace (Main Street USA), Doc McStuffins and Jake from Jake and the Never Land Pirates at Hollywood & Vine (Disney’s Hollywood Studios) and even Cinderella’s step-sisters who were walking right alongside us on the street!
But best of all, the last character we met was Mickey Mouse himself. And get this . . . he TALKS! Amazing new technology has made it possible for every child to have a unique, interactive experience with Mickey at Town Square Theater. They can have a full-on conversation with him. He hears and responds—in that well-known high-pitched voice!
Our trip had come full circle after our meeting with Mickey. It was the perfect ending to an unforgettable vacation.
Walt Disney World is just as magical as you imagine it to be. And now it’s easier than ever to plan the perfect visit for your family.
Jackie is the digital editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Oak Park with her daughter and husband and is expecting their second child in Spring 2015. Follow along on her blog, Momma Knows Best, as she tests out the best products for moms and babies on the market to find the ones parents can't live without.
See more of Jackie's stories here.
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