Posted on: March 3, 2024 Posted by: Comments: 0

Disney World certainly wasn’t at the top of my vacation bucket list, but the timing and pricing in February worked out, so we decided to give it a first-time go. Nick and I have never been big Disney people so we went in with low expectations, and honestly had such a good time as a family!

I wanted to answer some FAQ’s from Instagram, but note family preferences will vary widely based on ages and interests. As a little background, my kids are aged 3 and 5, and they’re very familiar with Disney movies and characters. Since Disney+ streaming service offers many audio languages, we have movie night in Mandarin each month as a fun way of bilingual learning. While their familiarity with characters definitely added to the magic, I know they would’ve had a blast regardless!

You can also read my post on outfits I packed (including the best princess gear), and some things I wish we had brought.

A+F sweatshirt xxs (pocket version), Zella 7/8 leggings xxs (mine are older), belt bag, Adidas Sambas men’s 4.5 = women’s 6 // On the kids: Gap Disney sweatshirts

When is the best age to visit Disney for the 1st time?

When I asked you guys, answers ranged from “any! it’s different at every age” to “when the kids are old enough to remember and meet all the height requirements.” After going, I believe age 5/6 was just perfect for a first visit (at least for families who don’t plan on going regularly), although our 3 year old certainly had a grand time.

At age 5 Nori was old enough to truly appreciate many elements of the trip and last through most of the day, but also young enough to still believe and feel the magic. The number of times the kids whispered, “wow….wow…” to each other on a daily basis just about made it all worth it!

As an FYI, kids under age 3 get free park admission and eat free at buffets and fixed priced style meals. That saves about $100+ a day on admission alone and more on Lightning Lanes and meals, so something to consider if you’re contemplating a visit! Not meeting all the height requirements was a non-issue for us since there’s no shortage of things to do.

How long did you stay?

We did 4 nights (3 park days) and would’ve liked at least 1 more. I could see staying even longer if you’d like a “rest day” in between. We did Magic Kingdom on Day 1, Epcot on Day 2, and back to Magic Kingdom on Day 3 (since we only covered half of it earlier), so would’ve loved an extra day to visit Animal Kingdom!

Budgeting at Disney: Splurge vs Save

Disney World costs took me by surprise, so I wanted to share some areas where we ended up splurging vs. saving. I also have friends who did Disney on a budget by staying at much more $-friendly hotels.

What we splurged on:

Lodging at a convenient Disney resort along the Magic Kingdom monorail. As first-timers with young kids, we really enjoyed this.

Genie+ for Lightning Lanes (the “fast pass” at Disney World) – about $35 per person, per day. This really adds up for a family, but significantly minimized vacation time spent waiting in lines.

What we skipped:

Fixed price restaurants and buffets. We did mostly takeout or fast casual instead of the popular restaurants like California Grill or Ohana, which would be around $250-$300 for a fam of 4.

Character Dining. I was torn on this one! While they’re pricey, they’re obviously fun and I do think they save a lot of time from waiting in individual meet & greet lines.

Bibbidi Bobbidy Boutique. The famous makeover where kids get a princess dress, hair, and makeup done by Cinderella’s fairy godmothers. But what Nori doesn’t know won’t hurt her (and saved us $500) and we brought all our princess attire from home.

Souvenirs. We set expectations ahead of time with the kids that we wouldn’t be buying toys or trinkets at the parks.

Nightly fireworks from our room balcony at the Contemporary Hotel

Where did you stay?

While we usually stay at Airbnbs when traveling, we opted for a Disney resort for the many perks. Many of you recommended staying at a resort along the monorail if we’d be frequenting Magic Kingdom, citing the convenience of popping back mid-day for a pool or nap break. The monorail line stops at Magic Kingdom and 3 resorts:

The Contemporary. We stayed here, and an added perk is you can walk to/from Magic Kingdom in less than 10 minutes. Great to have as an alternative option to the monorail!

The rooms are average and plain by hotel standards with subtle The Incredibles theming, but I found them to be fairly renovated and clean. There’s a family-friendly pool with clean life jackets that we used daily, hot tubs, sandy “beach” area with cabanas, good allergy-friendly food downstairs at Steakhouse 71, and the kids loved that the monorail goes right through the hotel lobby. We stayed in a standard 2 queen bed, theme park-facing room and loved the nightly fireworks from our balcony! If you’re a light sleeper, though, I found that staying in the main building got a little loud at night.

We booked 2 months in advance during a “low” week, and it averaged to around $800/night (still crazy IMO) but it did make for a great first visit. It was priced the lowest out of the monorail resorts, and I’m not sure how much costs vary different times of year.

The Polynesian. By far, this and the Grand Floridian were named the most often by readers as their favorite Disney World resort. Many mentioned loving the pools here.

The Grand Floridian. The most luxurious and $$$ resort at Disney that definitely felt fancy and elegant compared to the usual Disney themes (first pic above was taken there). We also saw a large, fun-looking kids splash area.

Our room at the Contemporary hotel, right above the monorail path

Disney World Tips that Came in Handy

I did a TON of research before our trip, from filling my feed with #disneytips reels to delving into forums and YouTube videos. Some tips that came in handy:

If you’re staying at a Disney hotel and want to take full advantage of the 30 minutes early entry, plan to arrive at the park before that early entry time. Early entry is when you can start going on rides, but you can physically enter the parks much earlier. So if a park opens to the public at 9AM, early entry is at 8:30. I’d arrive to the park around 8:10 to walk toward the first rides you want to get on.

For first timers buying Genie + Lightning Lanes (these are like a “fast pass” for lines), make sure to research online or ask your Disney planner in detail how it works and ways to maximize it, such as with Standby Skipper.

If using Lightning Lane, there is a grace period starting 5 minutes prior to your “return window” to at least 2 hours after that window, so don’t stress if you’re running late to a ride.

Check data on rides at each park with the shortest & longest wait times. We often found that the most popular rides with the longest waits were not our family favorites (ie Peter Pan & Jungle Cruise in Magic Kingdom). So if you skip those, you can likely go on multiple rides and attractions in the time you’d be waiting for one.

If you have young kids who might get scared, watch Youtube videos in advance about the attractions at each park so you know which rides are dark, which ones have a surprise drop, etc.

Learn about Rider Switch

Pack slow-munching snacks to keep kids occupied while waiting in lines.

With young kids, lower expectations and don’t try to do too much. For our non-napping kids, this meant wrapping up mid afternoon at the parks each day before potential meltdowns. And putting them to bed early even if it meant missing the fireworks.

Loved this spot at Main Street for a front-row view of the parade!

Magic Kingdom specific tips:

Some shared that the best spot to watch the Fantasy Parade is at Main Street by the entrance of the park. This is also where the parade ends. The parade starts at 3PM, and we arrived at this spot around 3:10 both days and had front-row parade access that the kids loved!

When you’re tired: the People Mover is an easy and long ride with great views of Magic Kingdom and minimal wait. The Railroad (runs between Fantasyland, Frontierland, and the entrance at Main Street) is a nice way to get around without pushing through crowds.

A lunch spot with average food but a picturesque, peaceful view was the 2nd floor balcony of Pinnochio’s Village Haus. We welcomed the quiet respite from the crowds, and they also had allergy-friendly options for my little pizza lover.

Peaceful lunch spot in Magic Kingdom with allergy-friendly pizza and a view

How did you get around?

For getting to & from the airport and hotel, we did Uber/Lyft. This lighter weight Cosco car seat was a reader recommendation 4 years ago and is still our go-to for travel. There are also Minnie vans which have car seats, but they cost several times more than a standard Uber or Lyft.

For parks and airport travel, we brought our trusty Yoyo stroller with ride along board. I read that a stroller was a must at Disney, even for kids who’ve outgrown one back home, and it truly was a lifesaver having two stroller seats. You don’t have to collapse your stroller to get on the monorail or skyliner, so the only times we had to fold it were on the Disney buses and the railroad train inside Magic Kingdom.

Disney is very stroller friendly with stroller parking areas at nearly every ride, and it seemed like no one worried about anyone stealing their stroller or stuff. There are also plenty of stroller rental options both in the park and companies that deliver them to your hotel.

What was your itinerary?

Day 1: Arrival/Resort Day. Got in around noon and Uber’d to hotel. Had pool time and rode the free Disney bus and Skyliner gondola (we enjoyed this!) to explore some other Disney hotels. Took the bus to Magic Kingdom, where we hopped on the monorail to dinner at Kona Cafe in the Polynesian resort. Many suggested checking out Disney Springs for dining & entertainment, which we’ll have to do next time!

Day 2: Magic Kingdom. During the early entry period and the first hour or so after public opening, there was no wait / very short waits for easy rides like the Barnstomer roller coaster, Winnie the Pooh, Little Mermaid, Small World, Tomorrowland Speedway, Dumbo and more so we knocked many of those out without using Lightning Lanes.

We used our Genie + Lightning Lanes for popular attractions like Peter Pan’s flight, Jungle Cruise, Buzz Lightyear, Belle’s Enchanted Tales, and other princess meet & greets that are not open during early entry. Rio refused his nap each day, so we stayed until the Fantasy Parade (the kids loved this!) ending around 3:30PM before heading back to the hotel for pool & rest time.

Day 3: We were torn on Epcot vs Animal Kingdom, so I polled you guys on what’s better for young kids and it was split exactly 50/50. So it’s just personal preference! Our kids are in a princess & Elsa phase, and it was rainy, so we chose Epcot. We walked, ate & drank “around the world,” rode Nemo and the aquarium, Figment the dinosaur, Frozen (our fave at Epcot), Ratatouille (we’re prone to motion sickness and would not do it again) and met several princesses in each country. This is where I believe the Princess dining at Akershus would’ve been worth it to meet everyone (except Elsa + Anna) at one meal, rather than waiting in multiple meet & greet lines throughout the day.

Day 4: Our last full day. It would’ve make sense to do a park we hadn’t gone to yet, but our kids loved Magic Kingdom so we went back for attractions we missed earlier. Even with two days at Magic Kingdom, there were still several attractions we didn’t get to.

Tasty kids meal at Shiki-Sai in Epcot with allergy modifications.

Did you book through a Disney planner?

Yes! This was a big tip from you guys, and comes at no extra cost for trips that are 3 days or longer (Disney will pay planners a commission). As a first-time visitor I found it very helpful to have someone knowledgeable to ask a ton of questions and walk through our itinerary with in detail. Based on the MANY recommendations I received, there are clearly tons of good planners out there. I clicked one of the first recs I received, and the planner Joseph Cheung happened to be a fellow local parent of kids similar to mine in age (with food allergies too) so we clicked!

How is Disney with Food Allergies?

Wonderful! Disney and Disney cruises are well-known for being great with food allergies. Our kid has a dairy, nut & egg allergy, and almost everywhere we ate in the Disney parks and hotels was allergy-conscious.

Most Disney restaurants have strong allergy procedures in place, including a designated prep area to minimize cross contamination, and a manager checking each allergy order.

Each Disney restaurant has an online menu with allergy menu at the bottom. Check these out in advance as a guideline.

Once you’re at a restaurant, you can ask to talk to the chef to get more allergy-friendly options that may not be on the menu. The more formal sit down restaurants provided greater attention and alternative options over grab & go spots.

Dairy, egg & nut-free snacks that can be found often throughout Disney include Mickey waffles (tho my kids were not a fan), Mickey soft pretzels, and fruit Dole Whips but not the vanilla flavor.

At Magic Kingdom, Columbia Harbor House has healthier allergy-friendly kids meals like grilled salmon or shrimp, though Nori preferred getting dairy-free pizza at Pinnocchio’s Village Haus (I had a decent chicken caesar salad that contains dairy).

At Epcot, a tasty allergy-friendly snack was the fresh baked bread and dips in Morocco. We also had a meal at Shiki-Sai in Japan which was pretty good sushi, leaps and bounds better than our meal at Kona Cafe in the Polynesian hotel.

At the Contemporary hotel, we got daily takeout from Steakhouse 71 for the kids (adults after the kids snoozed) and ate it either by the Contempo Cafe area watching the monorail, or by the pool. The kids meals are well-priced for steak, “cheese” burger, fish, or chicken with a choice of 2 sides. The kids loved the green beans here!

Enjoying an allergy-friendly kids meal from Steakhouse 71 by the Contemporary hotel pool.

Whew! That was a lot! We’re FAR from Disney experts having just wrapped up a first visit, so would love to any input or tips for our next visit. Also happy to answer any more questions on our trip or the food allergy aspect!

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