Making the Most of Magic Kingdom with Young Kids

A common question we are asked is how we make the most of our time in Magic Kingdom, having two kiddos, a double stroller, and still “claiming” to take breaks and maintain the nap and eating schedule they keep while at home. It is an art that we have mastered through trial and error, and one that admittedly comes with some sacrifice.DSCF1198

{Our one year anniversary dinner at the Crystal Palace in MK}

Tim and I have taken many, many trips in our young adult lives without kids, so we have done every thrilling ride WDW has to offer, that is mostly off limits to children below a certain height or thrill level. {My sister is 13 and still prefers to sit out the thrill rides…so sometimes the ability to ride everything with ease as a parent does not come with height or even age.} This is the reason that Tim and I urge adults without kids to take a WDW vacation before their parenting years. We hear so often, “Yeah, Disney World will be nice when we have kids. Isn’t it pretty much a kiddie park, anyway? I don’t care to meet Mickey Mouse.”

NO!

And the experience you have without children is so incredibly different than the one you will have with them. Both are amazing. Actually, Tim and I now prefer WDW with our kids, because there is nothing like experiencing everything brand new through them. Seeing them so happy and amazed, believing their favorite dream worlds into reality…I’d say that anyone is hard pressed to not shed an emotional tear or two when feeling the joy of experiencing WDW through the eyes of their child.

That being said, this is how we do a typical day in Magic Kingdom with our kids. You will not see Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in our day anywhere because unless we are there with family that is willing to watch the kids while we do such rides, they are not worth the time and switch-off for the thrill. Been there, done those, we have more fun doing the “experiences” Disney has to offer than being raced around a track in the dark over and over. If you want to ride the thrill rides again and again, maxing out your FastPass potential and by-passing parades and shows, go without young kids; because trying to do both produces angry adults that don’t think it’s worth the ticket price, and cranky kids that are hot and tired of waiting on Daddy to ride that “big” ride again. Believe me, we’ve been there.

So without further ado, this is how the Elrod’s make the most of Magic Kingdom with young Kids:IMG_5594

Step 1: Be there early. 

Like, at least 15 minutes early. Remember to calculate in transportation times. If you are coming from a resort by bus, I’d suggest being at your MK bus stop 45 minutes to an hour before the park open. Most bus rides to MK will take longer than other parks because MK is kind of set apart, being surrounded by the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. We notice the bus ride takes anywhere from 20-30 minutes depending on your driver and traffic, etc. Don’t fool yourself. Just because it’s WDW transportation, doesn’t mean it runs on pixie dust and gets you there at the speed of Lightening McQueen.

If you are coming via boat, give yourself a good 30-45 minutes, and monorail a hair less. Obviously monorail is most timely, however, it can make some long stops if there is a hold up.

If you are driving to MK, bless you. Give yourself a solid hour to hour and a half, please. You will have to stop at the gate to pay for parking {or present your parking pass if you are staying on property}, find a parking spot, and hopefully be close enough to not have to take a tram to the ticket and transportation center. Hop on one if you aren’t, though. Save those feetsies for all of the walking you will have to do in the park. Don’t burn out energy here.

At the transportation center choose either boat or monorail {we suggest monorail} and then you will finally arrive at the gates of MK. Next is bag check. Parents, tag team it here. One take the stroller and bags through check while the other takes the kids into the park and finds a spot for the opening ceremonies. Remember: The park has not yet opened! If you are on track, it is only 8:45am at the latest.

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The best spot to see the opening ceremonies is obviously the center, although there is not really a bad spot, since they are up so high. We have a double stroller that is difficult to maneuver through crowds, so sometimes one of us stays center with the kids while the other takes a spot near the right hand {if you are looking at the park with your back to bag check} entrance. This is because we like to do “the slink ‘n slide”.

The Slink ‘n Slide – a strategical move mastered by the Elrods to maintain better positioning upon opening of the park to ensure being one of the first guests in.

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Step 2: Enjoy the opening ceremonies! 

“Good morning, good moooorning!…” Main Street citizens will perform, the train will come around the track, filled with all of your kid’s favorite Disney characters, a little more song and dance will ensue, and then they will introduce the Family of the Day. When you hear this, shift gears and begin the first steps of The Slink ‘n Slide. Move quietly, stealthily, and hey, graciously {“Excuse us. Oh, sorry! Excuse me, just trying to get to my pregnant wife, right there…”} toward the right-hand entrance of the park. Right-hand entrance is key. By now they should be counting it down. 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1! Aaaaand you are officially allowed to enter the gates.

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Step 3: Let your kids meet Mickey. {note: if you are going to MK several days of your trip, only do this step one of the days. Getting a family picture with Mickey is on our yearly check-list, not something we do over and over again. If you want to see Mickey again, we suggest doing a character meal with him! Yummy and fun!}

One of you take the kids straight inside Town Square Theater on your immediate right while the other parks that dang stroller {notice your kids have really yet to be in the stroller, but believe me, if you have children our kids’ ages or a little older, it will come in handy sooner than later!}. Inside Town Square Theater, a Cast Member will already be directing other wise park guests where to go. Right now, you are able to choose between a Magician Mickey and Minnie meet ‘n greet, or a meet ‘n greet of some big name Princesses. However, at some point in fall 2013, the Princesses are getting their own royal treatment for meet ‘n greets back in New Fantasyland called Princess Fairytale Hall.

You will be shuffled through a short line of ropes, and into a claustrophobic holding room. When Mickey is ready, you will be escorted by another Cast Member to the Main Mouse, himself! Since lines are not long, we aren’t usually rushed through our time with Mickey. Cole {or the baby} always gets a game of pee-a-boo from Minnie while Jack starts the tally on his high-five meter for the day. Fun times. Get a Cast Member to take pictures with your camera, take the PhotoPass card from the other Cast Member, and you are on your way! Your kids have met Mickey and Minnie and the park has only been open about 10 minutes! Yesss!

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Step 4: Take in the castle.

Strap those kiddos in the stroller, it’s time to move, move, move! At a slightly slower pace than speed walking, get thyself right-ith down the center of Main Street {watch out for the horse-drawn trolley!}, gawking at the castle and letting the kiddos take it in. {note: I DIDN’T say stop for a picture. You’ve got things to check off your to-do list, and believe me, this is not the best time. With the position of the sun, you will either all be wearing sunglasses or making the angry-squinty-face. Pictures in front of the castle turn out much better in the evening!} Push forward and up, going straight through the castle, taking a moment to check out the mosaic story of Cinderella in the walls if you never have before {skip it, if you have, you’ve got places to be!}, and come out of the other side into Fanstasyland!

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Step 5: Fantasyland 

Spend the next hour to hour and a half running going back and forth between rides. Make sure you put Peter Pan’s Flight, Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh, Journey of the Little Mermaid, and Enchanted Tales with Belle at the top of that list, those are the ones that get the longest lines later in the day. Mark them off your list early. The Barnstormer is one of Jack’s favorite rides, and both boys tend to zone out in over-stimulated bliss in It’s a Small World. Do not bypass Mickey’s Philharmagic! No, it’s not a ride, but I just love it. A must do, for sure. Last year Jack was so concerned about Donald being blown into the wall at the end, he talked about him the whole trip; asking if he was still stuck. So. Cute. Then of course there’s the Tea Cups and Carrousel….Just look at wait times {download the App for your phone! Yes, there’s an App for that!} and try to hit up as many as you can before lunch. Often times, because we go in the off-season, we are able to do almost all of them.

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Step 6: Move on to phase two rides. 

If you still have some time before lunch, or there are some rides you skipped back in Fantasyland due to lack of interest, move on to phase two rides. We usually take the path by It’s a Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight to Liberty Square, Frontierland, and then slip into Adventureland from the backside, coming in beside Pirates of the Caribbean. Rides we take advantage of are Haunted Mansion {yes, we take our kids on that}, Splash Mountain {Sorry, Tim and I just have a hard time passing up this “big” ride because it’s our favorite. However, I’m usually pregnant, so he’s the only one that can ride. We are hoping Jack meets the height requirement this year. We are wanting to desensitize him early, so he will always want to ride.}, and Pirates of the Caribbean {yes, we take our kids on that, too. Both of our boys took their first ride on it before they were a year old.}. If time permits, you can scamper across to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Spin, but we usually save Tomorrowland for post-naps.

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Step 7: Dream Along with Mickey

We always make sure to see Dream Along with Mickey before/right at lunchtime. Check your times guide for showtimes and get there a hair early so your kids can have a good spot to see. My kids adore this show, and that’s probably an understatement. We like to see it before naps to get it out of the way and to avoid the blaring midday heat.

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Step 8: Lunch.

Usually Casey’s Corner. C’mon. We are suckers for a good chili-cheese dog and cheese fries with a side of cheese…haha! So we splurge a bit on the diet when we are in WDW, who doesn’t? And we like Casey’s Corner because it’s right on Main Street, which makes for an easy out for naps. We like to traipse through the Main Street Emporium on our way out. We can usually make it out without actually buying something. Other options we enjoy are Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe or just hitting up the turkey leg stand. Or hey, maybe your way would be whipping out the pre-packed PB&J during Dream Along with Mickey. We’ve done that before too, and it’s definitely more cost efficient.

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Step 9: Naptime.

Our kids go down for naps between noon and 1:00pm. Keep your kids on whatever schedule they’re used to, adjusting rides and shows accordingly. Just don’t run them ragged, especially if you are there for 5-7 days. By day three they will be fit to be tied, and you will wonder why you didn’t “wait until they were older”. {Another common misconception: You can’t have fun in WDW with kids until they are older. The youngest we’ve take our kids to WDW is three-months-old. We’ve gone at least once a year since then, mostly twice. You just have to know how to do it!}

We hope for you, at this point, that you are staying at a deluxe resort nearby. The best vacations we’ve taken with kids, by far, have been when we stayed at Bay Lake Tower in 2010 with a three-month-old Jack, and at the Wilderness Lodge in 2012 with Jack {then freshly turned two} and Cole {eight-months-old at the time}. Being able to walk or take a boat back to the resort for naps, without having to fold up the stroller and ride on a bus was…well, magic. We’ve done nap times at the value resorts, and though it was do-able, it was a lot more work for a less enjoyable experience. You don’t have a balcony at the values, so one or both of us were stuck inside of a dark room with our slumbering toddler, waiting it out, listening to the muffled sound of pool-side games and dance parties.IMG_5824

{View from our balcony at the Wilderness Lodge. So peaceful. A great break from the hustle and bustle of MK, even for adults!}

At the deluxe we were able to go out on our balcony, kick our feet up with a cup of midday coffee, and chill. It was great bonding time for Tim and I too, and turned out to be some of our favorite memories together. We would sit out there playing board games and DVC dreaming, and now a year later, here we are about to go on our very first trip as members! Yay! God is good!

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Step 10: Wake up and go!

After the kiddos get their snooze on with a side of “happy heart”, as we like to call it, lace those shoes back up and get ready for the rest of your full day of MK fun. Fill up that refillable mug on your way out, if it suits your fancy, and catch your mode of transportation. When you get back to the park, I’d still suggest one parent hitting up bag check while the other takes the kids on through. It’s always easier on the nerves to have the kids wait as little as possible.

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Step 11: Phase three rides. 

Whip out that handy-dandy App and check out your wait times. Rides we generally hit up in the evening are Buzz Lightyear’s Space Spin, The PeopleMover {more than once, actually. If you can hit it right at sunset too, you’re in for a treat! We just love it.}, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, The Jungle Cruise, round two of Pirates of the Caribbean or another of the kids’ Fantasyland favorites, or a ride around the park on the Walt Disney World Railroad.

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Step 12: Parades and fireworks.

Make sure you know when the parades start and get to a good spot {we almost always go with the curb on Main Street, although Frontierland and Liberty Square are another great option} 30-45 minutes beforehand. A good solution to doing this with young kids is giving in to that sweet treat, so sitting will not be as torturous, or have one parent hold down the fort while the other takes the kids on a brows through the gift shop or a ride with a walk-on wait time. Switch off, if necessary.

Do the same with fireworks, only get there an hour to an hour and a half before it starts, depending on the time of year you go. I know, sounds extreme. But believe me, if you want a good spot {we suggest the top or bottom of Main Street} you need to do this. And it’s worth the wait. I promise. Wishes it so worth it. I cry almost always. Okay. Always. I just can’t take that darn Jiminy Cricket telling me that all my dreams can come true, as I’m standing there next to the man of my dreams that has provided and loved and cared for me in every way possible, and our two gorgeous sons who make me laugh everyday because they are just like us in so many ways…Ek! Okay, I’ll stop being so mushy. {Elrod WDW Tip: If you can get a spot at the bottom center of Main Street, this is ideal for fireworks viewing with toddlers and babies. The thunder of the fireworks is not quite as loud, and it is an easy out after it’s over, since you are right near the exits. Let the kids watch from the stroller, if they can see well from there, so you can just kick the break and high-tail it outta there after the show. Be the first to catch that bus, boat, or monorail!}

{another side note: we generally only do the fireworks at MK one night of each trip, usually close to the end. Makes it special. All of the other nights we try to get the boys in bed as close to their 8:00 bedtime as possible.}

And that’s it! Your 12 Step process to doing MK with young kids!

Other handy tips:

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~ Get your castle pictures in the late afternoon/early evening, 4:00pm-6:00pm. Also remember there are some great spots for pictures without being front and center on Main Street. There are PhotoPass photographers that can get your whole family to the left and right, near the entrances of Tomorrowland and Liberty Square.

~ Utilize the Baby Care Center behind Crystal Palace. I always prefer changing diapers in there, as opposed to the restrooms, if we are nearby. Baby Care Centers usually have cute little toddler-sized potties too.

~ Don’t stress if you don’t get to everything. MK is a big park! Here is a list of rides we often skip without stressing:

Jungle Cruise {Okay, WDW guru’s–just hush. I get it. But our kids don’t.}

Magic Carpets of Aladdin {especially if you’ve already done Dumbo}

Tomorrowland Speedway

Astro Orbiter {see Magic Carpets of Aladdin}

Stitch’s Great Escape {please, for heaven’s sake ALWAYS SKIP THIS!}

The Carrousel

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Space Mountain

Swiss Family Tree House

Tom Sawyer Island

~ Shows are great if you have the time and your kids have the attention span. Jack claims to love the Tiki Room, but we’ve only done it with him once. For young kids, it’s probably best to steer clear of The Hall of Presidents {although I love it and get choked up with American pride every time} and The Carrousel of Progress {that one hurts to type out. Again, I love it! But my boys would run amok in that thing. Or cry. It’s long.}. Safe tries would be the Tiki Room, Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor, and of course Mickey’s Philharmagic.

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Please let me know if I skipped anything. I will be happy to answer questions in the comment section!

With love, Malorie

8 thoughts on “Making the Most of Magic Kingdom with Young Kids

  1. Hi Tim and Mal,
    Very thorough! LOL I enjoyed reading this. I have done Disney with babies, but I have to tell you, I don’t think I quite had it down to the science that you do! 🙂 You may be on the verge of being adicts – no actually, I think you are already there. Ah well, if you gotta have a habbit, this has got to be the best one to have. 🙂 LOVE Disney too! We’ve been going back between Disneyland and Disney World, but Florida is definitely our favorite. Can’t wait to see the pics with your new little one. 🙂
    Cheryl

  2. This sound so much fun! And the photos are amazing too! Thank you so much for sharing this! I really enjoyed reading your post. It felt like I was also there sharing all the fun with you guys! 🙂

  3. Even though Scott and I have pretty much sworn off WDW till our kids are at an age they will remember the experience, this post makes me want to ditch that idea and go even if for just the sole purpose of trying the “Slink and Slide!”. Awesome info!

  4. Hey!
    I recently told you I’m a new follower of yours on Instagram and wanted to ask you a question. But didn’t want to flood your Instagram!! 1. I feel like if we didn’t live in PA we would get along greatly! Our families seem so alike 😀 2. love following your adoption journey , we have also started to look into the local bethany here for adoption. 3 back to Disney . I have been going to Disney my entire child hood and most of my adult life ! This is our second year taking our kids . Last year they were 2 and 1 this year they will be 3 and 2. We are staying at Coronado springs . In your opinion do you think it would be worth it for us to split out magic kingdom day up by going back to the room for naps. Or do you think that’s to much work we will be driving to the parks so we would have a ton of walking to do just to get to the car both times ? What are your thoughts ? Thanks and keep being awsome and inspiring 😀

    • Hi Jess! Let’s do it this way: 1. Yes, I recognize you from IG and I feel the same way! That’s the wonderful thing about social media; you can connect with amazing people you never would otherwise! Maybe one day our trips will line up and we can meet in person. 🙂 2. Thank you! It has been such a crazy rewarding journey and I’m so excited for you guys if y’all decide to take that step!! 3. I always like to start with Mommy Knows Best. Always go with your gut because you know your boundaries and you know your kids. If it was ME, {based on their current ages} it might still vary. Haha! Our 3yo is starting to skip naps every now and then, so it might be worth it to try to let the 2yo nap in the stroller for an hour {if you feel like that is doable} and not spend all the time on transportation. However, if you know your kids and they just function better on rest, and dinner reservations and Wishes is in the plans, then yes, if it was me, I may still huff it back to the room. Would you consider bus transportation? I don’t know that it would be quicker, but it would definitely be less walking and getting on and off different modes of transportation {ie. monorail or ferry, tram, car…}. If you are gonna drive, I’d take the monorail over the ferry 10 to 1. For us, if we were staying for a long trip and were going to be in MK more than one day, we may stay in the park longer one day and go back for an early dinner, pool time, and usual bedtimes, and then on the night we wanted to do fireworks, go back for naps so they are happier at 9pm. But like I said, Mommy Knows BEST, and I’m sure you’ll make the right choice for your family.

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