There’s nothing quite like the pure joy on your child’s face as they walk down Main Street U.S.A. and get a glimpse of Cinderella Castle for the first time. Yet with so many options and variables in play, planning for that magical trip can be stressful for anyone – and that’s doubly true for single parents. The good news is that knowing the law of the land and following a few simple tips can have you on your way to a truly magical, stress-free experience.
Be Aware of Height and Age Restrictions
Many rides have height restrictions, which will vary based on the intensity of the ride, and all rides require a child to be at least seven years old to ride alone. If you’re traveling with several kids under the age of seven then you’ll need to focus on rides that can accommodate three or more passengers – there may be more options than you think! In Magic Kingdom alone, the following rides allow for at least three to ride together:
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Liberty Square Riverboat
- The Haunted Mansion
- It’s a Small World
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- The PeopleMover
- Walt Disney Railroad
- Jungle Cruise
Each park will have several rides that can accommodate several people, and you can order free park maps directly from Disney to find out about height requirements for each ride.
If you have a child over the age of seven who wants to ride some of the thrill attractions that you’re not interested in, you can either send them to wait in line on their own, or accompany them through the line queue and exit the building through the ‘chicken exit’. There is one at every ride and they are designed specifically for parents to wait in line with their child and exit without riding.
Plan for Plenty of Breaks
Breaks serve two purposes: They help prevent meltdowns, and, when planned appropriately, they’ll allow you to miss the busiest times of the day. No matter the time of year, the busiest hours will be between 12 PM and 4 PM, and the hours with the shortest lines will be the first two hours of park opening.
The ideal touring plan would start at parking opening, often referred to as ‘rope drop’, and would give you a chance to hit the major rides within those first few slow hours. If you’re planning to eat lunch in the park, get to a quick service restaurant within the first half hour of opening for greatly reduced wait times, and then head back to your resort for a much-needed midday break. Come back to the parks around 5 or so and stay until close. On hot summer days, this plan also allows you to relax in the cool pool, or stay in the air conditioning, during the hottest parts of the day.
Most Table Service Restaurants Accept Reservations
Many people are surprised to arrive at Disney World and discover that they can’t get a seat at a sit-down dinner. You can begin making dining reservations 180 days before you trip, and popular choices can fill up fast. Sit down meals are a great way to take a break in the middle of the day, and they’re a perfect way for the little ones to meet characters without waiting in long lines. If you’re planning to get autographs from the Princesses or your favorite characters, be sure to bring your own autograph book – they’re quite expensive in the park.
As you’re making your dinner reservations, try to keep the times fairly consistent each day. A common mistake parents make is to prioritize the location of their meal over the time they’re eating and end up with dinner at 4:15 one day and 7:45 the next. If your kids eat at consistent times, then find restaurants with opening at those times. You may miss a few of your top dining choices but you’ll gain a lot in missed meltdowns.
You can also bring food and beverages into the park. If your kids are picky eaters, or if you simply want to keep your costs down, pack up a few sandwiches and some fruit and settle down on a bench for a relaxing, inexpensive lunch.
Keep an Eye Out for Family Bathrooms and Baby Care Centers
Every park has a Baby Care Center, which is a cool, quiet spot to get away and decompress. You’ll find changing tables, rocking chairs, a private nursing area, high chairs, and a full kitchen to prepare food or warm milk. There are also many baby items for purchase, including formula, diapers, and jars of food.
Family bathrooms, which Disney refers to as “Companion Bathrooms” include a changing station, sink, and toilet. Some have a kid-sized toilet, and every park has several of these bathrooms spread throughout. Grab a map as soon as you enter the park and take note of where each family bathroom is.
Key Stroller Considerations
Many parents can benefit from a stroller, even if their kids are past the age where they’d normally use one at home. There are stroller parking areas throughout the park, so you can park it when you don’t need it and settle a tuckered out kid into one when you do. Even the most energetic kid can get tuckered out after hours of walking and standing in the hot sun, and strollers can be a life saver at the end of the night.
If you’re not driving and bringing your own stroller you’ll have a few options. The least expensive is to rent a stroller ahead of time for the duration of your trip. Various vendors offer will even drop them off right at your resort.
There can also be serious advantages to renting one each day when you arrive at the parks, including the fact that you won’t have to struggle on and off buses or in and out of cars – strollers can be rented at the front of each park. A single stroller will run you $15 a day and a double stroller is $31, though there are discounts available if you’re using it for several days.
Storage Locker Rental Can Be Well Worth It
Every park has lockers at the entrance, which cost $10 a day. Being able to drop your bag off and be free throughout your touring can be well worth it for some. It’s recommended that you bring not only what you’ll need, but things you may need. A few commonly forgotten items include:
- An extra sweatshirt – You may be surprised how cool it can get at night.
- Bug spray – Especially if you plan to eat outdoors at one of the many counter service restaurants.
- Poncho – Rain clears the parks out in a hurry! Have a few ponchos ready and throw them on to wait out the rain, then enjoy greatly reduced lines. Disney also sells ponchos for $8 each and if they tear you simply go to any gift store and have them replaced for free.
- Sunscreen – Remember that you can get burned even on rainy, cloudy days!
There’s lots to love about Disney World – and lots to prepare for! The above tips will help you make the most of your time and create magical memories you’ll cherish for a lifetime!