So, cards on the table, what’s it really like at Disney with a pre-schooler? Is it a totally magical experience? Are they just the right side of excited all day? Does the day fly by with a smile, guaranteed to build everlasting memories that you’ll recall with a sigh and make you reach for the computer to re-book as soon as your holiday ends? Well… Honestly, no. I’ve pulled together 9 reasons our days weren’t quite as magical as they might have been, and 8 ways you can learn from our errors.
The days at the theme parks are long
Those tickets cost a bomb, and you (as an adult) want to make the most of your money by staying all day, seeing the fireworks at night, and by cramming as much in as possible. Unfortunately, your 3-year-old is used to a nice, gentle routine, generally in which they don’t stand in a line for an hour (or more) to ride on a 3-minute attraction.
Which brings me on to number two –
Those lines at Walt Disney World are hellish
We have visited Walt Disney World in Florida in January when we were able to run around the queueing area, go on the ride, then run all the way back to the beginning to repeat, ad nauseum. Seriously, we made ourselves feel sick on the Rock’n’Rollercoaster 5 times in a row. However, (unless you are visiting in January) those lines are going to be long. And you’re sort of moving all the time, so it’s not really appropriate to settle your child down with a colouring book, because you’d have to keep disturbing them. We found that some people are ok with kids playing in a little group like a mini school playground at a different part of the line than you are, while other people (particularly some Disney cast members) do not like it. When we were there in March of this year, the lines were around 40-110 minutes, depending on the rides.
The weather in Florida is humid
The Disney parks are built in swamplands, surrounded by water, and the sun is warm but there is lots of rain. There’s a good chance it’ll rain whatever time of year you visit. Pre-schoolers don’t always love to wear coats on the just in case, puddles are all around but they can’t jump in them because they’re not wearing wellies, and being hot, sticky and damp kind of makes everyone a tiny bit grumpy.
You want them to be excited
But not too excited. You don’t want a full-on sugar rush for 9 hours but you do expect a bit of enthusiasm when they see Arial (after all, see point one – those tickets cost a bomb). And 3-year-olds do not always comply. Actually, the whole day can be a little overwhelming, and seeing Mickey Mouse, trying to figure out why he’s enormous and not the little guy they see on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse might be a little bit puzzling, to say the least. That having been said, James still talks about meeting Tinkerbell because he loves her so much.
Three-year-olds at Walt Disney World can’t always ride on things they’d like to
In our case, James was 98cm when we visited in March. The height limit for a lot of rides is 100cm, and he was just that bit too short. One cast member (helpfully) told him that if he eats his cookies he’ll be able to go on next time. Alas, that was our second day and all the cookies in the world wouldn’t have made him grow 2cm in less than a fortnight. So (even now, a few months later) James asked to go on the dinosaur ride so many times and (frustratingly) we couldn’t help him out. That does not make for a happy, magical, experience!
You don’t always get the chance for regular meal times
Sometimes you’re stuck in a queue while Mr Hangry appears. Mr Hangry does not want to go on the boat ride and see It’s a Small World – Mr Hangry wants to scream and lie on the floor because They. Are. Starving. And. Need. Food. An. Hour. Ago. Noah is amazing at putting away food, and we often underestimated that ability when putting together our snack bags for the day (yes, you are allowed to take food and drink into the parks) and by the time James asked for food we’d occasionally run out. Being in the middle of the line for Winnie the Pooh, when you’ve missed out on a FastPass+ for the past couple of days and finally have one… That’s a bit frustrating for adults to have to leave the line to grab something (expensive) to eat! Our own fault, you may say, but a cautionary tale for you.
Three-year-olds at Walt Disney World want a present but they don’t know which one they want, or they want more than you’ll be prepared to buy
(those tickets cost a bomb, after all, you don’t want to be shelling out extra on Disney Parks Official Merchandise). All around there is a giant Disney Store, filled with merchandise. Rob point blank refused to buy a toy James really wanted because it wasn’t very expensive and therefore probably not the thing he actually wanted (cue: endless crying and upset from James and confusion from all other adults – just buy him the cheap thing and be done!)
You are walking a lot
We covered about 8 miles in one of the days we were in Walt Disney World. A tired three-year-old is not a pleasant 3-year-old. Unless they’re asleep.
The days at the parks are long
I know I’ve said that already but it really is worth saying it twice. All the guides you read if you’re planning your trip to Disney suggest that you leave part way through the day to have a nice time by the pool, or go shopping, or whatever. But often we’d kind of peaked around 3pm, put it to the vote and decided that if we left now we’d not come back and see the fireworks, use the FastPasses, or meet the character we’d planned to. And so “for the sake of the kids” we’d stay. Not necessarily the best move!
So how can you avoid all these pitfalls to actually have a magical time at Walt Disney World Resorts with a 3-year-old?
- Plan your days – book the FastPasses before you go. Ours was a last minute trip so we didn’t have time to book them in advance so I can definitely see the benefit of doing this.
- Be prepared – pack more than enough snacks.
- Go to the dollar store before you visit the parks and get little toys that you can give your 3-year-old when they’re flagging or need a pick-up.
- Take breaks in your day. If you’ve hit the parks early, go out for lunch early so you can relax and be back later.
- Take pac-a-macs! If it doesn’t rain, they didn’t take up too much space; if it does rain, you’re vindicated in taking them – winner, winner.
- Load up your phone with apps they can play during the long lines.
- Discuss what they’d like to do – show them the map and talk about what is available in the parks.
- Consider taking a stroller. You walk a lot in each of the parks and your 3-year-old is not used to walking 8 miles in a day (maybe you’re also not!). You can hire them or pick one up for about $20 in Walmart.
And you can always go back! Maybe…