I’m a Disney World Expert, But I Still Made These Mistakes on My Kid’s First Trip


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Source: @raven.vasquez
Source: @raven.vasquez

In my humble opinion, Disney World trip planning could be an Olympic sport. While any vacation planning can be complicated and time-consuming, planning a family vacation to the Most Magical Place on Earth is particularly strenuous. Though we’re bound to fumble when coordinating any trip, making Disney World mistakes can be particularly frustrating. At 43 square miles, Disney World is the size of its own city, with four theme parks, two water parks, a shopping and dining complex, and numerous Disney World Resort hotels

As someone who writes about Disney World for a living, I get a thrill from getting to plan a Disney trip. Getting the right reservations and booking a hotel for a great price—this is my Super Bowl. But, as much as I consider myself an “expert” when it comes to trip planning for Disney World, I still made some mistakes when I took my toddler to Disney World for the first time. Here are the Disney World lessons I learned the hard way—and what I did right.

Disney World Mistakes I Made

Despite going to Disney World countless times and writing about it extensively, I still found myself failing to listen to my own advice. Here are a few of the biggest Disney World mistakes I made on my toddler’s first trip to the parks.

Forgetting Essentials

I write about Disney World daily and have a tried and true list of Disney essentials I always bring with me when traveling to the parks. Still, I found myself forgetting a handful of essentials for my daughter, including wipes, a fan, and a change of clothes (spoiler alert: we ended up needing all these things). 

While it was easy to beat myself up at the time for forgetting these must-have items (I mean, wipes, c’mon!), this certainly wasn’t the first or last time I’ve missed an item or two in the diaper bag. And while there are some essential items you absolutely do need to bring with you (medicine, etc.), it’s important to remember that Disney World is made for families, and nine times out of 10 you will have a way to get the item you may have forgotten. Whether it’s through the numerous stores throughout the parks or the Baby Care Center (more on this in a moment), Disney comes well-stocked with essentials you may have forgotten. 

Overestimating Excitement for Rides

Considering my daughter loves thrills (her adoration of the big kid slides at the playground gives me constant heart palpitations), I thought it was a no-brainer that she’d love some of the rides that Magic Kingdom had to offer. 

Alas, while she wasn’t upset going on rides, she genuinely did not seem to care for them one way or the other. We tried out dark rides like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, and neither piqued her interest in the least. Luckily, we opted for rides with the shortest wait times first before spending money to skip the lines with Disney Genie+ because that certainly would have been money wasted.

Source: @homeoftheharveys

Not Preparing for the Heat 

Since we’re Passholders who can go to the parks throughout the year, we chose to go during one of the least crowded times of the year—late August. While this made for lighter crowds and cheaper hotel rates, it also brought some of the most stunningly hot days of the year. By 10 a.m., the scorching heat was hitting over 100 degrees, and no amount of fan, water, or sunscreen was getting us through it happily.

While I knew it was going to be hot, I can’t say that I planned for the heat to be that extreme. This was no doubt one of my biggest Disney World mistakes. And considering my kid’s lack of interest in rides (AKA a place with air conditioning), that mostly left things to do that required being in the blazing sun. 

Setting Expectations

I am a planner at heart, especially when it’s for something I’m excited about. And my daughter’s first trip to Disney World? Well, let’s just say I was planning out those two days long in advance. I started making Advance Dining Reservations as soon as our 60-day mark hit, planning out which character meals we could enjoy while we were there.

In total, we only ended up making it to two of the meals I planned, both of which ended up being more spur-of-the-moment decisions. While everything worked out, I definitely found myself falling into my own trap of beginning to set unrealistic expectations, something I always advise against for those planning their Disney World trip (especially a first one). While reservations and a general plan are always helpful, there’s never been any Disney vacation that has gone exactly as you imagined.  

What Worked on Our First Family Disney Trip

While I made some Disney World mistakes, it’s important to point out some highlights of what did work on our first family trip to the parks.

Staying Close to the Park

When you’re going to the parks, there are great options both on and off-property available at all price points. For our first trip, I knew I wanted to stay somewhere close to Magic Kingdom because I knew right off the bat that our toddler would only be able to handle a couple of spurts at a time.

We chose to stay at Disney’s Grand Floridian (which had a great rate due to construction and the time of year), which allowed us to get to the park by walking path, Monorail, or boat. So we could get to our room from the front gate of Magic Kingdom in 15 to 20 minutes. It made it easy to go back and forth to the park throughout the day. 

This closeness to the park also had added benefits for my husband and I. When our daughter went down for her 7 p.m. bedtime, we were able to bring drinks into the room and enjoy our balcony, even getting a view of the Happily Ever After fireworks. While the hotel certainly won’t fit into our budget for every trip, staying with a younger kid is substantially easier when there are easy transportation options to get to the parks. Whether it’s walking, a boat, the monorail, or the Skyliner, getting back and forth to spend time at the hotel is incredibly helpful and convenient.

Wearing the Right Outfits

Pre-kid, my Disney outfit of choice was a dress with bike shorts. Post-kid, my look leans far more toward athleisure. Choosing an outfit based on the heat and how much walking you’ll be doing is essential. What I hadn’t planned for was just how much my daughter wanted to be up and out of the stroller—I can tell you I was feeling particularly grateful to be wearing an oversized tee and bike shorts for the amount I was picking her up and putting her down.

While not as essential, we also opted for a cute kids’ Disney outfit for her that ended up being a hit when we visited the characters at Crystal Palace. She even pointed to her Winnie the Pooh dress when she met the real-life Pooh.

Source: @hikarimurakami

Planning Character Meals 

Speaking of character meals, this is an expensive Disney experience that is seriously worth the price tag. While kids can be hit or miss with characters (my little brother acted like he was meeting Freddy Krueger as opposed to poor Eeyore), character dining is worth a try if you’re going with kids.

Not only will you get the chance to meet multiple characters, but many of the character dining options have buffets. If you are going with kids under 3, that means their plate will be completely free. And even if your kid is older, a buffet can be a great option for a picky eater who may not do as well ordering a la carte.

While we went into our experience at Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom unsure how our kid would react to meeting Winnie the Pooh and Friends, she ended up loving it. She interacted with each character, and the photos alone were well worth the price of admission.  

Using the Baby Care Center

There is one thing I cannot stress enough if you’re bringing a young kid to Disney World—use the Baby Care Centers. With a location in each of the four parks, the Baby Care Centers offer changing tables, nursing rooms, a TV area, and even a small shop where you can pick up any missing essentials.

When we realized we had forgotten wipes, we went into the Baby Care Center to pick some up and then changed her at one of the (impeccably cleaned) changing stations. Each station is next to a garbage can, with new paper put down between each child. When we went in, there was only one other family in there, and it served as the perfect spot to get a little bit of air conditioning and settle down for a moment in between all of the stimulation of the park.

I’ve spoken to countless parents who weren’t even aware that the Baby Care Centers existed, and I cannot recommend them enough if you’re traveling with a toddler or baby in Disney World.

Choosing Not to Push It When We Needed a Break

While I made the initial mistake of setting expectations too high, once I came to the realization that wasn’t going to happen, I leaned into our biggest success of the trip—knowing when to take a break. When you’ve spent all that money to be in the park, I completely understand the rationale of a “go, go, go!” attitude. But, more often than not, this push to do everything can lead to doing even less than you intended.

While setting a plan is great for having a general idea and options of what you want to do, going with the flow is really the key to a successful Disney trip. That way, any Disney World “mistakes” won’t feel so discouraging. Especially with younger kids, it’s important to know when you need to take a break. In our case, we left Magic Kingdom after only two hours to go back to the hotel and enjoy the Alice in Wonderland Splashpad at the Grand Floridian. Cooling off in the water and getting to go down the slide again and again may have been the highlight of my daughter’s trip—and seeing the smile on her face was certainly mine.

I Write About Disney World for a Living—Here’s What You Should Pack for a Day at the Parks
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