Flying Solo–Traveling Alone with Kids to Disney

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Stop stressing, enjoy your kids!

Traveling to Disney World is both exciting and daunting, since you must possess the fortitude of an intrepid explorer, the cunning of a master spy, and the fun-loving nature of a game-show host.

Traveling as a single parent requires all this, and more. Whether you’re flying solo by choice or necessity, going alone with your kids to the World can be exhilarating, memorable, and, ultimately, thoroughly enjoyable–with a little planning.

Ask Your Kids for Help

You kids probably know this already, but you’re not infallible. Sit down with them before the trip. Explain that you’re going to have to work together as a team, that certain rules are non-negotiable, and that you’re not out to ruin their good time, but that your job is to take care of them, and everything you do, you do for a reason.

Explain to Your kids What Non-negotiable Means

No ice cream before 11 am: possibly flexible. Not wandering off by yourself: not flexible.

Make Disney Work for You

The hotel staff and park employees in Disney World are enormously helpful to parents traveling alone with their kids, but only if you ask them for help. Call your hotel before you go and explain your situation. Ask for anything that will make your life easier in terms of location, special needs, etc. Will you need help carrying luggage? The number of an all-night drugstore? Extra packets of coffee in your room? They won’t know you need it unless you tell them.

At the parks, find park staff and express any concerns or difficulties. If they can’t solve every dilemma, they can certainly help in some way. Disney staff often excel at dealing with special issues like this. Disney World is a great place to be alone with your kids, because they’re so welcoming to so many different kinds of families and travelers in general.

Figure Out What Your Biggest Issues Will Be

When you’re the sole parent, it’s all you, all the time. Figure out ahead of time what issues this will pose. One child is a night owl and the other conks out at 7 pm? One child is tall enough for certain rides and the other isn’t? Older sister likes to ride Kali River Rapids five times in a row, while little brother would rather go see It’s Tough To be a Bug? You probably won’t be able to solve all the issues, but knowing what they are before you go can let you approach them and talk to your kids about them. If some issues can’t be solved, come up with alternatives.

You also need to figure out what works for you, and realize that you just won’t be able to do everything, but that enjoying what you are able to do is what’s important. Are you more comfortable staying close to your hotel for meals, or are you game for exploring? Is venturing outside of Disney World too much, or a nice diversion?

Don’t Panic

Arrange ahead of time rules for what you do if you get separated, if one child has a meltdown, etc. Think about giving kids temporary cell phones or other ways to communicate with you. Whatever you need to do to ensure peace of mind is worth it. Make sure to carry small activities for kids to do while waiting in line, have emergency numbers with you, and so forth.

Be Flexible

Once you have a rhythm going, many parents find that it’s not as difficult as they feared to be alone with kids in Disney world. But that realization requires knowing when to stop: When to stop touring, when to stop planning activities, when to stop trying to give your kids The Best Time Ever and just chill out. It’s not admitting defeat; it’s being smart.

Ask Kids for Feedback

You’re a team, and everyone on the team plays. Have a nightly meeting to figure out what’s working and what isn’t. Be frank with them (without making them feel guilty). It’s perfectly okay to say, “I want this to be fun for all of us, so let’s figure out what we can do to make this trip more fun with less yelling on my part.”

Make Time for Yourself

Parent downtime is not frivolous. Whether it’s sitting on your patio for half an hour by yourself while the kids color nearby, or choosing an activity or ride that you really want to do (and doing it three or four times in a row, if you like, you need the time to recharge.

Do you have suggestions about traveling alone with your kids to Disney World? Let us know!

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Posted on July 12, 2012

37 Responses to “Flying Solo–Traveling Alone with Kids to Disney”

  • I’m a dad who in 8 days is going to take my sons aged 7 and 4 to the World for a week. We are Disney fanatics and go several times a year, so having that extensive knowledge of the area and the parks does give an advantage. That said, it is still a 2-on-1 trip. Here’s a few things I’m doing.

    1) A schedule – I normally like to wing it a bit, using the crowd level guides here, but for this trip we know which parks we are going to on which days, which shows we want to see, and have all our dining reservations well in place.

    2) Rest times – We are always a family that comes back to our condo for the middle of the day, but for this trip, keeping everyone rested and not letting anyone get too tired or hungry will be critical.

    3) Double stroller – Yeah, my kids are a little bigger, but renting a double stroller to move everyone across parks or through parking lots at “dad” speed is critical.

    4) Agree with everything in your list above. All things we’ve done or have plans to do.

    5) If your kids are like mine, when with just one parent they tend to conform to your parenting style, so take advantage of that and know that it’s OK to have “mom rules” or “dad rules” for a trip like this that might not coincide 100% with normal home or even vacation rules!

    Can’t wait to have some “guy” time at Disney World!!

    • All good ideas, especially the one of viewing it as special time with your kids! And yes, it’s always good to remind kids that dfferent people–and different situations–sometimes call for different rules!

  • I would also add that it is MUCH easier to take your kids when the crowds are lowest. I didn’t need them to be within arm’s reach for fear of losing them in a crowd and I could always spot them at the hotel pool. It made for a much more relaxing vacation for all of us. I also made sure to have an ADR for a table service dinner so that I had someone waiting on me at least once per day. :-)

  • I’m a divorced dad who pulled off the “Taking my two kids to WDW” trip in Jan 2011. Daughter was just shy of 12 (3rd time), son was 6 (1st time). This was my 25th trip to WDW so I know the place pretty well. Stayed at the Poly. The trip went off as well as I could expect, and I have high expectations. Here’s what I noted:

    - clear rules as was stated. Teach your kids a word to call out if they get separated. “DAD!” or “MOM!” doesn’t work well. We used “Marco” and “Polo” as if they were still playing a pool game (and may not appear as though they have lost parents).

    - had two-way radios already so we used call-signs and codes. Cell phones are better but watch out for roaming charges.

    - my daughter could do ‘jaunts’ in the parks if she had a radio. By that, she could go run Space while my son and I rode did the Indy. She also did runs to Captain Cooks at the Poly to ‘fill up the mugs’. Again, with the radio, and would check in.

    - Downtime is a MUST for the parent, but it’s likely going to come at the end of the day. I soaked my feet in a hot tub for a half-hour with the door closed while they watched TV. Normally, I wouldn’t need the tub but…

    - if you think that a sick child is a problem, a sick parent is even worse. I didn’t get sick, but I did develop a severe pain in my right ankle. I’m in shape, but an old injury aggravated after all of that stop-start walking. By the last day, every step was severe pain and everything slowed down. Luckily, it was a repeat day of MK and we focused on enjoying things as we could, how we could. The foot soaking helped a bit…but I think that was more on the mental side.

    - I didn’t have to worry about the difference in ages or heights. My kids are both tall and absolutely fearless. There was no splitting to enjoy attractions, other than we had to sit in separate rows on the coasters. Yes, for the first couple of rides on RnR, I sat with my son to make sure that he really was enjoying it. The only ride that did not hit the “Wanna do that again” list was Mission:Space, mostly because the prolonged G-forces were unsettling.

    - Stroller + Epcot. ABSOLUTELY! Even my daughter wanted to ride at times. My son had no issues, even at 6, with hopping in and out since the WDW strollers are more like carts than strollers.

    - Morning Dashes – we did the dash to Soarin’ and to TSMM. I pulled a Luke Skywalker with Yoda on my back. Being ‘in the pack’ will still score a decent fastpass (our goal was to get a FP, ride right away, and then use the FP). From now on, my (now) 13 year old daughter (plays boys rep hockey) will be doing the dash with all 3 passes while we catch up. Field test in August 2012!

    - Food – I’m a bit uptight about what the kids eat…normally. Threw the rules out the window for 1 week. Turns out that they varied it up themselves. Snacks – to each their own, but I gave them a daily snack allowance. Their choice but once it was gone, that was it. That really saved me from the “Can I have a…’s”

    Can’t wait to do it again!

    • Your suggestion about not callng “Mom” or Dad” is really smart, as is the idea of having code words. Parents, take note.

    • Roaming charges? Who has roaming charges any more?

      If your kids have a smart phone (obviously not this poster), but some would google latitude (and there’s a similar iOS app) or the fee based app on feature phones that locate the phone work somewhat well as a way to locate the other person.

      Although in reality they’re not actually that reliable. (But when it’s working it does avoid having to make phone calls to find out where the other person is.)

      This works well for teens and adults in the party with smart phones (so it’s a tip for everyone not just single parents).

      • Yeah Ron, WDW tends to attract patrons that might be from ‘other countries’. While my family is from North America, paying for a North American-wide plan for a teen or pre-teen is not logical. Thus, we have to worry about such charges.

        Having used professional GPS systems for supply chain management, I DO NOT recommend using a smart phone app to provide Lat/Long coordinates. There is a degree of error built into every one of them. In a confined area, such as a theme park, this could turn into a nightmare. The error calculation used is usually varied (sometimes at power-up, sometimes at initialization, etc) – plus it takes time and training to navigate using only Lat/Long and not having road networks.

        The two-way radio is one option for within a park. Phones are also good, and have more range. We tend to use text since background noise is often an issue.

        • Sorry about coming off in a way I probably didn’t intend. That surely does explain roaming charges comments.

          I haven’t tried google latitudes in the parks. I think it’s kind of buggy generally for true pinpointing. (Not really for a 6 year old either.) Sometimes it is right on the money though. But I would say that for a teen who has an american smart phone anyway, putting the latitude or other app on there can help re-assure you that they haven’t caught the monorail to EPCOT or wandered off to DTD or whatever.

          It won’t really allow you to totally sneak up on them or track very well. But it is nice to know (without constantly asking) okay latitudes indicates that Johnny is somewhere in tomorrowland where I expected.

      • Taking advantage of smart phones is a good tip!

    • You rented a stroller for a 6 year old who also rides rock n roller coaster?

      I wonder if that was an every day thing….

      The stroller has its conveniences, but I think having a stroller is probably more inconvenient than convenient.

      As a parent of a 2 and 6 yr old, I know that the older one (6yr old) loves riding in the stroller when possible (I mean who wouldn’t.) But I was hoping to try to not have a stroller when they’re 10 and 6.

      Maybe it’s a more necessary travel for the lone adult / single parent than it would be if there was a 1:1 adult child ratio. That way whining from a 6 year old being unable to keep up doesn’t hamper park touring.

      Sounds like the original poster could have used a stroller ;-)

      • Yep Ron. I sure did. If you read the line, I stated it was at Epcot only. We did try doing the park without it, but I decided at 2pm to get one. Since your kids are still young, you haven’t had to experience it yet. My daughter’s stride is nearly the same length as mine, but my son’s was around half. That’s more work to cover the same distance.

        You might recall that Epcot is something of a large park. And the purpose of the day (and this was day one of touring) isn’t to ‘push through’. We all had to recuperate for day 2, which was Magic Kingdom.

        It really depends on one’s children. Mine are actually very active – daughter plays boy’s rep hockey, and son is a golfer. Still, I’m there to enjoy my time – I’m okay with a stroller for the day if it eliminates whining. We had some fun with it too – he was filming videos while we were moving. Very funny, and I think the Disney marketing people could do the same to see what it’s like from ‘down there’.

        We were more than fine in the other three parks. It’s the size of accessible space in Epcot that makes the difference. It also allows a parent to control the schedule a bit. Epcot was fascinating for a science and transportation minded kid like my son. However, there are only so many times that one can listen to the TT roar, or time to memorize the plaques outside M:S.

        To each their own – I’m not a rookie when it comes to WDW, but that trip was the first time I’d taken my kids by myself. Probably my favourite trip to date. Next one is in August 2012. My now 8 year old won’t be needing a stroller this time – but I’m careful to watch for fatigue.

        • Thanks for the reply; I was genuinely curious. (It gives insight into tips and realities of situations that are a few years off for me.) That explains the rental. Good thing it was available at 2 pm.

          My older one definitely gets tired. We tried no stroller about a year ago for a few hours at EPCOT with the baby in a “sling” and the older one walking. We split up, and I took the older one to Soarin, while mom and baby waited near Via Napoli in the standby line.

          In order to make it back to Via Napoli after putting our name on the standby list, I carried him all the way from Soarin to Italy, hustling and making it in 10 minutes. I really paid for it that time (with no stroller).

          So, I guess the conclusion is that for a 6 year old, you might want to rent a stroller at EPCOT (and not MK) or just in situations where fatigue will be a problem.

          It’s quite a dilemma. Because with a 3 or 4 yrold, some parents could just carry the child in a pinch if they find that they made a bad stroller decision.

          But once they’re too big to be carried but still little enough that they just don’t cover a lot of ground, you really need a stroller if they get too tired because carrying isn’t an option at that point.

          I’ve seen plenty of evenings at Disney where the 8 year old looking kid is being carried out of the park totally sleeping with Dad. The adult doing the carrying in those situations is usually somewhat muscular.

          An adult by themselves with more than 1 kid, would be a situation where it would be pretty hard to carry 40ish pounds of child while still managing the whole group.

          Sounds like weening off the stroller is the right way to go.

  • I often go alone with my pre-schooler. I use the parade as a time for us to recharge/rest. To get a great spot you want to stake out your spot about 45 minutes before. I put down a blanket, give my daughter snacks-buy her an ice cream, let her watch a show on the iphone while I read a magazine. We have our spot, and our rested for the parade.

  • Im a single mom and took my 12 year old to DW for both our first time in April. I let him pick out must do’s for every park and if we have time to do’s We both had a great time, there was no melt downs and I wouldnt trade that experience for the world.

    • Definitely one of the best parts of traveling alone with your kids is the bonding–you can really become a team.

  • I took my daughter for our first mother daughter trip to the world when she was 13. It has since become a great tradition and it is our special place. We both travel at the same rhythm and have our must dos. She is 22 now and still asks when we are going again. She will always be my princess and always one at Disney!

  • Thanks for this post. While neither my wife or I are ready for solo trips with our daughter just yet, there will be times on our next trip when it’s just one of us with her for a few hours. Some good tips here are we wade into this.

  • The timing of this article is very fortuitous! I will be at the parks in two weeks with my sons (9 and 7). The big issue is that the youngest is finally tall enough to ride RnR and is very excited about it, but his brother doesn’t want to do it. Any ideas?

    I wish they had a reverse buddy-swap!

    • Hi KP,

      I was dreading this as well since I wasn’t sure that my son would be of sufficient height in time. My daughter was 11 at the time, but I didn’t like the idea of doing the ‘parent’ swap with her. And in your case, it’s the older one that’s a little nervous.

      The entry and exit points for RnR differ so you can’t just queue up and ‘push through’ the non-rider as with most rollercoasters. However, my sister and family (we’re a family of Disney nuts) ran into a problem on ToT that might have a similar solution. She and her husband have two children – son who’s now 8 (call him CJ1), and another son, 5, who has severe physical and mental challenges. They have to split up on rides like this anyhow for the time being. Now CJ1 had learned that his cousin (my son – CJ2) had LOVED ToT and RnR when he was 6, but CJ1 is still nervous.

      They queued up, and went to do the babyswap. CJ1 balked at the last second, but he was also upset since he didn’t want to ‘ruin things’ (he is that sensitive). What the CMs did was a modified babyswap for CJ1. They dressed him up as a bellhop, and he got to greet his mom when she arrived (I kid you not). They encouraged him to stay in character for his dad, which he did.

      Speak with a CM at entry about what happens if the 9 year old balks at the last second. It’s going to still be busy in 2 weeks so you don’t want to wait in queue and find out at the last second.

      Just don’t stress about it as children ‘smell’ stress and they may mis-read it as stress about the ride. Or chalk it up (and this is a tough one for me) to a ‘next time’ event.

  • I took my daughter (now 8) on her first Disney trip last year and we are headed back this year again (same time- end of August/first of Sept). Here are a couple things I did last year that I will be repeating that seem to have worked well for the two of us…

    Most important to me… immediately when we get to the hotel and the parks (before we do ANYTHING), I always take my daughter up to a cast member and show her the nametags they wear and talk about all the different outfits she will see them wearing. I then explain that if we ever get separated, she only needs to go find ANY Disney employee… on the sidewalks, a shop, a restaurant, etc and tell them what is going on. I always tell her that Disney is the safest place on earth if kids get separated and not to panic and find someone. I also explain that it happens literally every day there, and they know what to do!

    Along with this, I did purchase one of those velcro wrist straps that she wears each day. Inside has information, including my cell phone number so I can be reached right away.

    Also, about 4-6 weeks before going, we start a nightly ritual (at least during the weeks I have her) of going out and walking a couple miles… gets her used to not only a lot of walking, but making sure her shoes are broken in properly, etc.

    We do a lot of planning together (dining reservations, the early rides we want to hit during either EMH or before the crowds get busy, etc). It makes her truly feel that she is contributing.

    The other fun thing we do, is once I plan a trip, I set up a “vacation checking” account on my computer just for her. Whenever she does extra jobs around the house or help “dad” out, I will put an entry in for $X. Then, before the trip, I’ll load a gift card with the total. I have been so impressed how much she will specifically state she wants to add money to her “Disney Account” and save up for the entire year!

    And, as many others do, we make a point on many of the days to return to the resort to take an afternoon nap! I am thankful that we are able to go for a bit longer than many, because that helps make it easier to leave the park mid-day and know we will still see most of what we want during the trip. And, either after our nap or in the evening, I take along some of those Johnson foot soaks and mix it with water in the tub and we soak our feet for about 5-10 minutes… nice and refreshing after walking all day!

    We love Disney, and I am sure after this trip whe will want to return yet again! Unfortunately, I keep trying to remind her to not think this is going to turn into an annual thing!!

    • The walking is a great idea, not to mention making sure that shoes are well broken-in. Reminds me to check with my ex-wife about the state of the kids’ shoes before we head back in August.

      And the Disney Account – great idea. They don’t need to know that Dad or Mom will cover ‘some’ slack, but it definitely motivates them (and has them checking their change instead of spending it in 5 minutes).

    • Pointing out the cast members to your kids is a great tip–thanks!

  • I did DLR solo with my son when he was 3 1/2. I decided that solo trips with other children could wait until they were out of the car seat years. That and a melt-down at Denny’s were the only really tricky bits. It was kind of liberating to just do things my way. One night we ate pineapple spears, bagels, and Cheeto’s for dinner. He still talks about that.

    • A big high-five on the pineapple, bagels and cheetos for dinner! Obviously a great memory, but also demonstrates “It’s only a couple of days. We’re supposed to be having fun. This is fun!”.

      I’m usually quite attentive to what my kids eat, and I relax the food rules while away. And I find that I’m relaxed as a result.

    • Love that! And you’re right–it’s that kind of thing that they’ll remember!

    • Three cheers for Cheetos and bagels!

  • I’m a single father, who has been taking his daughter there a couple times a year since she was two. Now I not only take her but my daughter’s sister. You don’t want to lose your ex-wife’s new kid. She’s only three but I think they may be a bit attached to her. One tip that I didn’t see was make sure the kids have YOUR PHONE NUMBER. For years I’ve laminated one of my business cards and made sure each child has it in her pocket upon leaving the resort.

    I saw one single mother of three that wrote her cell number on each child’s arm. If a CM finds your kid they need to be able to call you. My daughter and I found a little girl near Splash Mountain one day. She was 5, didn’t speak English and we couldn’t find her parents. Cast Members swung into action and had the little girl talking to a CM that spoke her language on the phone but it still took a long time to reunite her with her sister.

  • by Carmen Kohlhoff on December 27, 2012, at 6:51 am EST

    Mike, when you do the marshmallow challenge, how do you bring it all together in the end? It sounds like a totally fun activity, I’m just unsure how you make it a meaningful activity that will impact the students.