Back when Disney Springs was Downtown Disney, it was relatively easy to keep a family happy – park the kids at DisneyQuest while you spend an hour speeding through a few shops and then you’re good to go. However, with the major expansion of the Disney Springs nearly complete, there are now many more points of interest in the area for adults, perhaps making it more challenging to keep youngsters engaged. Here are some ideas for keeping little ones occupied at the expanded Disney Springs.
Movies may be your best option for keeping kids occupied for an extended period.
Shopping: The key draws for kids here are the Super Hero Headquarters and Star Wars Galactic Outpost shops. Bear in mind that these are both relatively small shops, with no activities available other than perusing the merchandise. (Rest in Peace D-Street and your Vinylmation coloring and trading stations.) The only other location of much interest for kids is the Candy Cauldron, a vendor of standard Disney sweets. Again, this is a small shop, mostly good for quick sugar acquisition; however, the open kitchen features a picture window from which you can view cast members decorating desserts. If you happen upon a session of fancy apple crafting, this could be interesting for five or six minutes.
Dining: West Side Dining holds little special appeal for kids. One point of interest is the interactive screen at the Starbucks location here. Kids can use their hands here to draw on what amounts to a giant MagnaDoodle.
Entertainment: Believe it or not, the West Side’s DisneyQuest indoor arcade is still open. While Disney had reported its imminent closing over a year ago, the plan is now to keep DisneyQuest in operation into 2017. That being said, I can’t recommend this as a diversion for the kiddos. DisneyQuest has a steep cover charge ($39 for kids ages 3-9, $48 for 10 and up). Even with one parent/child pair, you’ll be dropping nearly $100 for some sadly outdated entertainment in an environment that I’ve found to be lacking in Disney’s usual cleanliness. Other more promising options include the AMC movie theater and Splitsville Bowling Lanes. Both these options are reliable ways to beat the heat or pass the time on a rainy day. If the weather is good, you can opt for the Characters In Flight balloon experience, which offers panoramic views of all of Disney World. With Characters In Flight, bear in mind that you may have to hold a short child in order for them to have viable sight lines.
As much as I love walking around the parks, sometimes you just need an air conditioned retreat. With kids in tow, it can be even more imperative to escape indoors. And though it’s typically not considered the most kid friendly of the Walt Disney World parks, Epcot has plenty of great indoor play areas for kids of all ages to let loose. If you’re looking for a reprieve from that Florida heat, humidity, sun, or even an afternoon rain shower, here are some great locations in Epcot for kids to burn off some excess energy.
ImageWorks – home of the Figment-centric interactive games
Disney World is a place to get caught up in the magic, and this magic creates a sense of comfort and safety. It’s reasonable to enjoy this carefree feeling to a certain degree. But keeping in mind some safety tips as well as doing some safety planning ahead of time is well worth the effort—because things don’t always go as planned.
The primary focus of this article is child safety tips for parents of younger children, but many of these apply to all “kids” both young and old.
Safety planning should start well before your trip to Disney World because once you enter the park, the attention of parents and kids alike will almost certainly be divided.
So let’s look at some tips to plan ahead for safety.
Strike a Pose
If your family is anything like mine, you’ll take lots of family photos during your Disney vacation. Whether you take your own pictures, take advantage of the many PhotoPass photographers in the parks, or both, these pictures are one of the best ways to make family memories.
In addition to those memory-making photos, there is another photo you should take every day that has a more practical purpose. Use your smart phone to take a picture of the kids each morning (or each change of clothes if you break in the afternoon) where you can clearly see their faces and full attire. If your child should get separated from you, this photo can easily be shown or emailed to those helping to search.
Bonus: After our trip, these photos taken in our resort room, at the bus stop, or in line at rope drop have often been added to our official photo album. Without the usual “say cheese” for these photos, we have some adorable pictures of our kids waking up to another exciting day at Disney World.
Before school had started in some states, Disney was already ringing in the Halloween season with the 2016 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (often referred to by the unpronounceable MNSSHP). My husband and I had gone once in our child-free years, but with our daughter now six years old, we thought this would be the perfect time for a repeat of the party. In the end, it was a marvelous time for us, but we saw a number of families who were having a less than magical experience. Here’s some tips to make the evening truly not so scary.
Pick a Date that Works with Your Schedule
Staying up until midnight on a school night is not the best option for younger children. For this reason, we chose a Friday night leading into the Labor Day holiday weekend. (There are no Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parties on Saturday nights.) This meant that our daughter was in school that day, and we had her take an hour of “attempted nap” between school and heading for the party. If you’re on vacation, you may want to skip visiting the parks altogether on your party night. At the very least, you’ll want to take most of the afternoon for down time to have your best shot at making it through the whole party with everyone in good spirits.
It is perfectly acceptable to go to the party without wearing a costume, or just wearing a Halloween-themed t-shirt. For some people, wearing a costume is part of the experience. Hurricane Hermine had pushed through the state less than 24 hours before our party, and thankfully we had selected costumes that could be scaled back for the possibility of rain. Knowing the weather in early September in Florida trends towards hot, we also made sure our costumes would be comfortable in 90-90 weather (90 degree heat, 90% humidity). In the end, we were able to keep a bare minimum of our costume intact and get huge amounts of laughs and love for our simple costume idea. We went as a game of Duck, Duck, Goose basically by two of us wearing white shirts with large wooden signs around our neck saying DUCK (with a small duck figurine) and one wearing a white shirt with a sign saying GOOSE (with a small goose figurine).
On the flip side, I saw many families wearing heavy, bulky, and downright uncomfortable costumes–or having their children dressed up in costumes that had no breathability. The heat and humidity will sap your energy faster than anything. Think about your costume choices as if you were going to run a race in it. How will it look and feel when hot and sweaty? Those cute specialty shoes with the costume might be great for going around the block, but how will they feel after putting on several miles of walking? If you must have a certain costume for some of the experience, consider bringing a change of clothes and renting a locker.
Imagine with me, if you will, a parent’s paradise in Walt Disney World. No, not that one where you ditch the kids and head over to the Adventurers Club at Pleasure Island (RIP). The other one. The one where the kids wake up bright and early, brimming with excitement to start their day. No whining about getting up early for rope drop, no nagging for that $16 autograph pen from the gift shop, and absolutely no fighting between siblings. Sound too good to be true? Maybe. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to aim high! So let’s talk about how Tinker Bell gifts can not only encourage good behavior but also add an extra touch of Disney magic while simultaneously helping you save money on souvenirs.
Note from Tinker Bell
What are they?
For those who haven’t heard of them, Tinker Bell gifts are small presents you leave in the room for the kids in your group. They can be left overnight for discovery in the morning (like a Disney version of Santa), or if you can find a way to sneak back into the room without the kids noticing, you can leave them as a surprise for when they return from the parks. Typically, the gifts are accompanied by a note explaining the gift and who gave it.
Though they are called Tinker Bell gifts by most people, if you think the child(ren) in your party would be more excited about a letter from Rey (Star Wars) thanking them for their help with the Resistance than a note from Tinker Bell, then this is the time to get creative. Personally, I like to leave a note that includes four things: a quick mention of the fun from the prior day, an itinerary for the current day, an explanation of the gift, and a reminder to be well behaved. On a recent trip with younger relatives of mine, each note was written by a different character and tied into whatever the kids would be doing at the parks that day.
I am not much of a fisherman, but for my 13 year old son Alec, it has become his number one obsession. More than girls, gaming, and grilled cheese sandwiches combined. Alec was supposed to join the Hazelton/Brazeau clan for our Touringplans #Everywhere trip in 2014, but a medical issue kept him home. He and I finally completed the #Everywhere adventure this March when we flew to Miami and boarded the Disney Wonder for a 5-night Western Caribbean Itinerary C. Alec’s only request: “Can we go fishing?”
At Castaway Cay there are four fishing excursions to choose from.
Abaco Flats Fly Fishing ($215.25 / person)
Castaway Cay Bottom Fishing ($139 / person)
Castaway Cay Troll Fishing by Troll Boat ($163.75 / person)
Every fisherman will tell you that when it comes to a day of fishing there are no guarantees. You might catch the fish of your life or come home without so much as a nibble. We met our guides at Marge’s Barges at 1:00pm and learned that the morning group did not have much luck. Our guides were quick to remind us of the “no guarantee rule”. We caught several fish throughout the afternoon but the real adventure was in the hunt for the elusive Bonefish. A hard to land sport fish, the Bonefish is considered by some as the best fighting fish, pound for pound. Plus, it requires a specific set of conditions and equipment to find, hook and get in the boat. “Let’s get dem Bones”, our guides cheered as we left the dock.
Some kids may enjoy everything that Epcot’s International Flower and Garden festival has to offer. For others, it may be as exciting as, well, watching grass grow. There are some activities that are generally enjoyed by kids of all ages, whether they are fans of plants or not. Here are some of the best.
Music Garden Melodies Playground
Kids (and the makers of migraine medicine) will love this playground located around the corner from the Imagination pavilion. Topiaries of Mickey and friends welcome you to this delightful play area. The playground is divided into two sections: a rope web climbing structure for ages 5-12 and a more traditional playground set for 5 and under. Both are under shade, and there are chairs and little “cabanas” for adults to relax under. Around the center between the two play areas are large musical interactive features for kids to bang on and make “beautiful music”. Around the outside are several small gardens with plants themed to different types of musical instruments, providing adults something to do while the kids play.
Cars Cactus Road Rally Playground
Another playground returning for this year is the Cars Cactus Road Rally Playground, located between Mouse Gear and Test Track. In addition to the cacti growing all along the paths in the area, there are informative signs to learn how cacti adapt to their environment. But the big draw for the kids is the playground area. The area is also shaded and there is some seating, but it is a much smaller area than the other playground. A typical playground climbing structure is there, but kids also will enjoy bouncing on the circle of tires located near the back of the play area. Make sure to take a look at the Lightning McQueen and Mater topiaries near by as well.
You’ve got kids. You’ve got kid stuff. And you’re taking it all to Walt Disney World for a magical fun-filled vacation. Sounds great, but how do you maneuver all those kids and all that stuff all over four gigantic theme parks, your hotel, and maybe an airport or two? With a stroller, of course. Here’s the complete stroller scoop to get you started on your planning.
Typical Disney World single stroller rental
Do I really need to use a stroller at Walt Disney World?
If you’ve got a child age six or under, chances are you’re going to want access to a stroller at some point during your Disney vacation. Your seven or eight year old might even find himself asking for some stroller time.
But my child hasn’t used a stroller at home in years, why would he need one at Disney World?
Many guests have worn pedometers during their Disney vacations. Factoring in theme parks, resorts, and entertainment areas, they typically find that they’ve walked somewhere between seven and twelve miles EVERY DAY of their Disney vacation. Just one lap around the World Showcase area of Epcot about a mile. Do that several days in a row and you’re going to end up tired. Now imagine walking that much with the tiny legs of a kindergartener, in 90 degree heat.
Another reason to consider using a stroller is the safety factor. Let’s face it, Walt Disney World can be a crowded place, particularly during high intensity times like park closing or during the fireworks. Even if you’re holding a child’s hand, it’s quite possible to lose him in the melee. To avoid separation, or having your child get accidentally stepped on by another guest, it may be easier to keep him in the confines of a stroller where you’re in charge of the direction and pace of movement.
Additionally, some children simply become overwhelmed by the constant stimulation at Disney World. A stroller can be a safe haven – a contained environment where a child can go to temporarily regroup and decompress.
Should I bring my own stroller or rent one at Disney World?
This is a personal decision, and I’ll talk you through some of the factors you may want to consider, but in general I recommend that guests bring their own strollers rather than rent from Walt Disney World.
Typical double Disney rental stroller
The first factor is pricing. The Walt Disney World rental strollers currently (spring 2016) cost:
$15 for a single day, single stroller rental
$31 for a single day, double stroller rental
$13 per day for a length of stay (multi-day) single stroller rental
$27 per day for a length of stay (multi-day) double stroller rental
Do the math and you’ll find that renting a double stroller for a week will cost $189.00. Run a quick search on Amazon.com for “double umbrella stroller” and you’ll find dozens of models for sale for less than half that price. Even if you leave the stroller at Walt Disney World and never use it again, you’re still coming out ahead financially.