First Timer -- Disney Planning Advice W/4 Year Old

Updated on August 11, 2012
A.D. asks from New York, NY
8 answers

I am so excited about this upcoming trip I can hardly contain myself. I have a few questions for you lovely mamas:

1) How did you book – directly with Disney or through a travel agency? I have my reservation on hold with both – Disney comes out more expensive and I am not sure why… travel agency is even adding 1 day more of park tickets

2) We are doing the meal plan that is 1 “sit down dinner”, 1 “fast meal” and 1 “snack”. I have a 4 year old and an infant… didn’t think we could handle the full throttle meal plan – what was your experience?

Some background info – we will be going Thursday-Monday in October, visiting the parks 3 full days and probably a little bit on arrival day (if I go with the agency). We will be concentrating only on Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom due to my son’s age. We will be staying at the Disney Contemporary Resort.

Any tips/suggestions/etc for this excited mama? Apps for your iphone? Best to plan your day or play it by ear at this age? You get the idea… any tips are appreciated!!!

The last (and ONLY) time I was at Disney was when I was 8 years old!

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So What Happened?

Jim - yes, October of this year LOL. Based on your feedback perhaps I should skip the sit down dinner and do all 'fast' meals if I am likely to get horrible time slots for the meals???

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answers from Houston on

I'm so excited for you! An I'm jealous that you're staying at the Contemporary! I'm sending you a PM with some other info that will be helpful.

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answers from Chicago on

We went in December with a 6 and 4 year old. We went to every park. We actually liked Animal Kingdom the least. Hollywood Studios has a fun Toy Story ride/game and my kids got to have Jedi training. Epcot has some really amazing rides - go to Soarin first! There is a book called Disney with kids. Get it. Great tips!
We also stayed at the Contemporary. Walk to Magic Kingdom (way faster) and tram back.
We did book through Disney. The more days you visit the park the cheaper the park entrance is.
We had the same meal plan as you are getting. A little hint.... the portions are HUGE for the fast meals.... we shared one meal for either lunch or breakfast with our kids. Then we had a couple of extra "fast meals." There is a big breakfast at the Contemporary. There is also a refrigerator in the room there. So I brought a small suitcase full of shelf stable milk as well as snacks to bring along.
We had an app that tells you wait time but I don't recall what it was. There was another app or program that you enter which rides that you want to go on and it tells you which order to do everything in.
Do you do facebook? There is a group on there. The moderator is a travel agent who specializes in Disney or may only do Disney. He knows ALL the answers.
For your sit down dinners... book them NOW!!! Call today!!!!! We did all character meals for the sit-downs. Chef Mickey's is at the Contemporary. There is another at Magic Kingdom with Winnie the Poo and friends. I read that others said skip them but I wouldn't change it. It is buffet with lots of choices and you also get to meet many of the characters and you don't have to worry about waiting in lines at the park then. And get an autograph book at the Disney store at home or at the park (or online) so your son can get autographs.
And yes, either bring a collapsable stroller or rent one there. Both of my kids went in (yes the 6 year old too).
Have fun. It is truly magical.

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answers from Houston on

October of THIS year? And you haven't firmed up your travel yet? First off it takes about 4 weeks to get all your passes/plane tickets (if you're flying) and for the parks etc.
Dinner reservations need to be made sometimes up to a year ahead of time.
Get on it ;) Good luck and have fun.

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answers from New York on

Yay! My first visit to Disney was about 5 years ago and I was hooked for life! We did our first Disney cruise in July and we are going back down to the world in three weeks! On average we go twice a year.

I personally have never used a travel agent but I have worked for one and sometimes they can offer you a "better" price cause they get special travel agent packages only they can offer and sometimes they will take a cut in their commission to get the sale. A lot of time the sale is more important then the commission because of incentives they can get. You should also verify the tickets there are one park per day tickets and multi parks per day tickets.

Personally I have never used the dining plan for a number of reasons. The sit downs you have to reserve, you can't always get in with just walking up but you never know. Your stuck on a schedule, what's the point if your supposed to be on vacation right? Unless you like schedules. You can wind up eating more food then normal because of the large portions. The quick serve is basically fast and fried food. Depending on the meal you choose on the dining plan you can actually waste money. When we are there we drank more then we actually ate. I like eating on my own time and with kids that's hard to schedule in my opinion. My youngest will be hungry every hour and sometimes she won't eat for hours know what I mean? You can also ask for a cup or ice or water at the parks I always do.

Magic kingdom is perfect for everyone the others are personal preference. We love Hollywood studios over animal kingdom and Epcot is higher on the our list then animal kingdom too. Review the events and rides and check for yourself. we took our cruise out of new York which had a stop in port canaveral. We were given one day hopper passes and this is what we did.... We start out at Hollywood studios rode midway mania twice, tried another ride that shut down so we left and back on midway mania. Took the bus to animal kingdom watched the festival of the lion king and then expedient Everest then took another bus to epcot. At epcot rode soarin, my daughter did around the world with perry the platypus, its a mystery game and your an agent on a mission and you have to find the clues it's a lot of fun and we at in Germany. Then the tram to the magic kingdom! Let me tell you it took at lot o planning I wouldn't suggest it with little ones.

Since your going in October look into the Halloween party, one year we made the error of going to the magic kingdom on an event night. We had no idea about this party so they announce the park closes at 7 that night. If you don't have the party ticket you have to leave and you will miss out on the parades and fireworks. The party is a special event and a different ticket, so your regular park ticket wont help you.

Websites: is an amazing website. is another.

Apps: Disney parks mobile magic is the only one I love. When your not in the pack it gives you information on everything from dining, characters and attractions. When your in the park it gives you live wait times and more.

Good luck. We always went in September - October weather is great and crowds are not bad. We have time share (dvc) so I have no info about hotels.

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answers from Lakeland on

You are going at a good time. The weather will be cooler and the park will not be busy. If you can get a cheaper rate through the travel agent then go with that. I would try to go to Mickey’s not so scary Halloween party, it is a little extra but your son will love it.

You should not have a problem getting in for a sit down meal, that time of year is slow so there should be spots open (you can book them now through Disney's website).

We have stayed at the Contemporary and it is nice and convenient to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Try to get in a meal at Chef Mickey's, this way you are right there. They also have busses to get to the other Disney parks and Downtown Disney.

Have fun and bring strollers for both kids (unless you have a double).

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answers from New York on

Hi there! So excited for you (your enthusiasm already tells me that you're going to have a wonderful time!). I stayed off site and didn't have a meal plan, so can't answer those questions. However, I have some general suggestions. Get the Unofficial Guide to WDW (if you haven't already) and look at the attractions at each park that you'll be going to. Decide what your "can't miss" things are and whether or not you want to meet characters. Best to plan doing those things early in the day and then everything after that is a lovely bonus. However, don't be too rigid with your goals for the day b/c that can really stress you out! Bring a cooler with water and snacks. So convenient to have things that you know that the 4 y.o will eat handy. Don't forget a hat an sunscreen at all times. Definitely plan on a stroller for each child (we had no problem with the ones that they rent there, but I only had a 4 y.o., not an infant). Don't try to do too much. At first, I had big plans about returning to the park at night for fireworks, but quickly realized that it would mean having an over-tired child the next day. My daughter still needs a nap, so we definitely left the park each day by 1:00 even if the excitement of the morning prevented her from actually sleeping in the early afternoon....downtime helped with having a nice evening (swim in the pool, dinner, etc.). Have a magical time! :)

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answers from New York on

***ETA: I think the reservations that Jim may be referring to are the "Character Dinners" and yes, you need to book those pretty far in advance. Considering that October is prime tourist season in FL, you should call the parks in the next few days if you want to do a character dinner. I'm referring to the nice restaurants IN the parks... you can often book those the morning of, but you should research and do them as far ahead of time as possible. Otherwise, you will be stuck eating dinner at 4:00 or 10:00!***

Have a wonderful time! Don't "overbook" yourselves and reconsider that meal plan. We took our son (same age) in December for the day and he really didn't want to "sit down" and eat because there's so much to do and see! If you decide to stick with the "sit down" meal, make sure to make a reservation as soon as you get into the park because the "good time slots" fill up quickly.

If you don't already have a double stroller, rent one in the park. There are many who will say that your son is too old to be in one, but when it comes to this I disagree. There are long lines and lots of walking... you will all be much happier if he has a place to "sit and chill" between activities. PLUS you have a place to store "stuff".

Agencies have agreements with Disney so you get "their discount" if you book through them. Do you have to pay the agency a percentage or are they a flat rate. Factor in all of the math before deciding.

Keep in mind that October in FL (especially central FL) can be HOT so pack light clothing, comfy sneakers, hats and sunscreen! Take a break from the park during the hot time of day (2-4) and go back to the hotel for a nap. The Magic Kingdom at night is beautiful and well worth coming back for!

Have a great time and there is NOTHING like seeing Disney World through a child's eyes. My son still talks about going to "Mickey's House" in December and can't wait to take his baby sister when she's old enough.

Oh... and keep in mind that NOTHING about Disney is cheap. Plan on spending plenty of cash on snacks, water, ice cream, Mickey pretzels, souveniers and the Photo Pass pictures. These pictures are truly better than ANY you would take and are well worth the investment. We had the picture of our family in front of the Castle at night (with me 6 months pregnant) printed on notecards as our "thank you notes" from Christmas!

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answers from Milwaukee on

when we went a few years ago there were 7 of us....the kids were 5,6,7, and we had my 80 some year old mother in law with us. i did the travel agency. that way felt if some went wrong i hadd someone to call for help. we also did the eating plan and that was nice to have a planned break in the day. we had breakfast in the morning before we left the hotel and planned a late lunch/early supper for our sit down meal. and that way we had the snack if we needed it for later in the evening!!! have fun and you will get tons of different opinions!!

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