Twenty Tips for a Disney Day Trip with Toddlers

Last month we went on a week-long family vacation to Florida. We stayed in Orlando at a great vacation property owned by friends.

It is a two-bed, two-bath unit with full kitchen, family room, and private balcony. The gated community has an amazing pool with a zero-edge entry, large splash pad with small water slides, and an additional set of three-story waterslides. There are multiple playgrounds within the neighborhood, sand volleyball courts, basketball courts, tennis courts, and walking paths. Needless to say, there are plenty of things to fill a week of fun in the sun without ever leaving the property.

We knew we could swim, take walks, play at the playground, and go to the beach for a day while we were visiting.

Canaveral National Seashore is our favorite beach for a day trip when we’re staying in Orlando.

With the unit being so close to Disney we wondered whether we should attempt to take the kids to the parks.

We were skeptical because they are SO little–two and one at the time we went. We knew they would never remember the trip. But when we checked ticket prices we found out kids under three are considered “infants” and get in to Disney parks for FREE.

Since we were going the week Garrett was turning three we knew it would likely be the only time we would be able to get two kids into a Disney park for free and we decided to go for it.

Magic Kingdom seemed the obvious choice for toddlers so it was an easy decision which park to go to.

Confession time: I did minimal reading and planning for our day in Disney. We aren’t those people who have been to Disney as adults, order personalized and themed Disney attire for our trip, or spend months planning and researching. I’m talking maybe one hour of online browsing just three days before we left. We made a decision early on that we weren’t going to stress over this trip and our entire goal was to make it fun for the kids.

Somehow, with what little planning that went into our Disney trip, we ended up having the perfect day. Here are our best tips for a low-stress, magical day trip to Disney’s Magic Kingdom with toddlers. 

Twenty Tips for a Disney Day Trip with Toddlers

  1. Download the Disney app

I didn’t bring my computer on vacation so we booked and managed our entire Disney trip on my phone. You can purchase your tickets, reserve your fast passes, check wait times, make dining reservations, and more all within the Disney app.

2. Purchase your tickets online

We didn’t purchase our tickets until we were actually in Florida because we wanted to make sure we went on a day with ideal weather conditions. If it was raining all day or extremely hot we knew the kids would not be down for it. Waiting until we were in Florida to purchase our tickets gave us a better handle on what the weather was going to be like and we picked a day with no chance of rain and a high of 75 degrees.

Kids under three do not need tickets. I called to verify this. I assumed they would need some kind of infant ticket or wrist band. Nope. I also assumed I’d need to have their birth certificates as proof they were actually both under three. No again. If your kids are under three you just purchase the adult ticket(s) and bring the kids with you.

3. Reserve your fast passes

Every ticket has three fast passes that “come with it”. You can reserve your fast passes in one-hour windows and reservations can not overlap one another. (Ex: if you have a fast pass from 9-10 a.m. you can’t book another one until 10:05-11:05 a.m.). I didn’t know if we would use all of the fast pass reservations we made, but I saw it as an opportunity to guarantee we could definitely get on a ride or meet special characters with minimal wait time at different points throughout the day. Fast pass reservations can fill up quickly, but we were still able to get all of the slots we wanted 24 hours in advance. I would not wait any longer than 24 hours ahead of time to make fast pass reservations–the earlier the better.

4. Make a lunch reservation

I was worried about having somewhere to sit down in the middle of the day. With a lunch reservation we were able to sit down in the air conditioning and eat without waiting. Dining reservations fill up quickly, so the earlier you can book, the better chance you have of getting a table in the restaurant you want (a downside of waiting to purchase your tickets until the day or two before). So again, as soon as you have your tickets, book your dining reservations!

We ate at Tony’s Town Square and it was a great place to catch the MousekeDance parade at 11 a.m. and then go in and eat. Bonus: one large pizza and two fruit cups were enough for all four of us so lunch was less than $25.

Waiting for our table at lunch. Even with dining reservations and fast passes there is still some waiting!

5. Pick up your magic cards the day before you go to the park

The day before we went to Disney, Levi kept the kids at the condo while I drove over to the park to pick up our magic cards. Magic cards are essentially your tickets–you use them for entry to the park and for your fast passes on the rides. You have to go to the actual park to pick up your magic cards. You can park your car in the “15-minute” drop-off parking zone, go through security, and then stand in the Will-Call / Ticket Purchase lines.

These are not separate lines–whomp whomp. It took me almost 45 minutes to get our magic cards. Luckily, my car was still there when I got back! It was a bit of a headache but this was 45 minutes we didn’t have to wait with the kids at the very beginning of our day at Disney and it helped start things off on a positive note. **Only Levi and I needed magic cards–kids under three do not need magic cards to get into Disney or ride the rides. **

6. Go early!

When I picked up our magic cards the day before, I left the condo at 10 a.m. and it only took me about ten minutes to get to the security gate. However, we learned the hard way about the morning traffic when the park first opens! The park opens at 9 a.m. so we left the condo at 8:15 a.m. Despite already having our magic cards we still were not in the park until 9:30 a.m. If we do is trip again we will plan to leave the condo at 7 a.m.

7. Take your own stroller, if possible

I know Disney is changing the stroller rules but we were lucky enough to go when we could take our own double stroller. We were used to pushing it, the kids were used to riding in it, and that was a big bonus for a long day. It was comfortable for all of us and Laine took a mid-day nap. Disney has strollers for rent but these are essentially plastic carts with no sun shades that can be hosed down and disinfected at the end of each day.

8. Regular parking

Regular parking was $25 for the day while premium parking was $40. We decided to try regular parking and parked around 8:45 a.m. in the Simba Lot. We were still close enough to the premium lot that it was an easy in and out of the park and we saved $15.

9. Wear comfortable shoes

I feel like this is a no-brainer but socks and tennis shoes are a must. You’re walking a lot but there are also lots of strollers / scooters / other walkers that are bound to bump into you (I had someone drive a motorized scooter up the back of my leg-ouch!).

10. Take the ferry over

After you park, you have to go through security. Choose a security line all the way to the left and you’ll breeze right through. The trolleys unload on the right so everyone queues there. Since we already had our magic cards, after we made it through security we could go straight to the ferry or monorail. The ferry ride over is a nice slow ride and the castle is coming into view the entire time.

11. Snap your castle shots early

Levi hates taking pictures but I asked someone to take ours as soon as we got in the park. The earlier in the day it is, the less crowded it is and the less tired the kids are. Stopping for a quick minute right when you arrive to get the shots guarantees you’ll have them and there will be a greater chance everyone is smiling.

12. Toddler-friendly rides

The following are the rides we picked for our fast passes and the they were all great for our one-year-old and two-year-old.

It’s a Small World – This was hands-down the kids’ favorite. We had our fast pass reservation for 9:05-10:05 a.m. and we could walk right down the line and step into the front row of the first boat. Zero wait and front row seats–can’t beat it!

Dumbo – The kids enjoyed this one but I personally felt the pay-off was not worth the wait. We had to wait about 15 minutes to ride this one and it lasted about two. We had a fast pass reservation for this ride from 10:30-11:30 a.m. and headed over to it right after It’s a Small World.

Jungle Cruise – The kids really liked this one too! We had our fast pass reservation for 12:30 – 1:30 so it was starting to get warm and they were starting to get a little cranky. We waited about 20 minutes even in the fast pass line but somehow we got a front-row seat again. The cruise is about a 10-15 minute ride with “jungle animals” to see along the way which the kids loved. The boats are also covered with shades which is a bonus in the middle of the day!

13. Use mobile ordering for snacks and treats

Had to get a dole whip. The kids love soft serve and I love pineapple. As with most things Disney, there was a long line at this stand. I spotted a mobile pick-up line, hopped on my Disney app, and placed the order there. It was ready in less than 10 minutes. When you mobile order take a screenshot of your order confirmation so you can show it when you go to pick up. Cell service was slow and sticky, like it is at sporting events or concerts, and you don’t want to not be able to pull up your order confirm when it’s your turn.

Dole float from Aloha Isle

14. Catch the parade

Magic Kingdom has a Move It! Shake It! MousekeDance It! Street Party parade that typically runs at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 5:45 p.m. We caught part of the 11 a.m. parade in front of the castle on our way to our lunch reservation and we watched the beginning of the 12:30 p.m. parade after our lunch reservation on our way back through the park. It wasn’t difficult to get a front row spot for either.

15. Dum dum suckers and fruit snacks

I’m convinced these are two of the great secrets of motherhood. Sorry, Shiela if your kid doesn’t drink juice or eat anything with corn syrup. Kudos to you. Suckers and fruit snacks got us through some longer wait times with no tears and minimal complaining throughout the day.

16. Bonus fast pass 

If you use all three of your fast passes you get a bonus fast pass. The kids loved It’s a Small World so much we booked our bonus fast pass for 2-3 p.m.

17. Go with the flow

When we got back to It’s a Small World around 2:15 p.m. even the fast pass line was pushing 30 minutes. We knew the kids weren’t going to do well with that long of a wait during peak nap time and we also wanted them to see the 3 p.m. parade. We abandoned our fourth fast pass to keep the peace.

18. Stake out a spot for the 3 pm parade

Around 2:30 we started to walk back towards the park entrance and noticed they had the streets cordoned off. Laine was finishing up a nap so she and I grabbed a spot right behind the rope with the castle in the background and Levi and Garrett went to walk around for 30 minutes (and saw Mary Poppins!). It becomes near impossible to find a good spot for the Festival of Fantasy parade quickly and by the time the parade started people were packed 4-5 rows deep behind the cordons. The double stroller made it easy for the kids to have a guaranteed front row seat without anyone trying to push them out of the way. Laine even got to meet Snow White!

19. Go with the flow

This one gets a double mention because we felt it was so important. After the 3 p.m. parade our kids were done so we called it. We were at Disney for them and if they were tired and ready to head out, we weren’t going to force them to stay until fireworks. Remember, this is about the tiny people! If they aren’t having fun, is anyone really having fun? By the time we got out of the gates it was close to 4 p.m.

20. Take the monorail out

When we left we were all hot and tired but the kids were excited for the monorail ride. It also went a lot faster than the ferry ride in which was fine with us! Taking the ferry in and the monorail out gave us the opportunity for the kids to do both with an exciting entrance and a quick exit. We were back to our car by 4:30 p.m.

We felt like one day was the perfect amount of time to take our one-year-old and two-year-old to Disney and have major respect for families who take toddlers on extended Disney vacations!

If I were to add a 21st tip to our list it would be to have whiskey at your condo for the evening after Disney. Levi and I were happy for a stiff drink when the day was over and the kids were in bed. The biggest challenge for us on our day trip to Disney was the crowds. We aren’t used to vacationing with large crowds and the sheer amount of people and constant level of stimulation in Disney is overwhelming in and of itself.

We’re glad we decided to go for it and take our toddlers to Disney. We had a great family day and will definitely be back in a few years. Likely when we won’t need to bring a stroller :).

To New York, With Love

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New York has an undeniable pulse to it. Step off the grinding subway to a thundering drum performance and you can physically feel the beat. Every corner turned boasts a different part of life.

Joy, sorrow, love, loss, beauty, disfigurement—it all can be found in New York. Centuries-old stone churches kiss new-construction steel skyscrapers. Every age, gender, race, and class swirl through the streets. You can buy a 99¢ slice of pizza next door to a restaurant where $99 is the standard entrée price. The dichotomies are overwhelming and gorgeous.

This past weekend my husband took an extra day off work and watched our kids while my mom and I drove over to visit my brother in the West Village. (Can I get an Amen for husbands who are equal partners?).

This was my fourth time to New York City but first time staying in the West Village and it offered a side of the city I’d never experienced. The residential feeling I never felt in Midtown and the Upper East Side was found in the West Village.

After this weekend it is easy to see why so many artists are drawn to the city. There is no shying away from life when you’re there. Art, music, theatre, food, people—there is inspiration seeping at the seams.

How cool is it to have a brother who lives someplace this awesome? To say I hit the sibling jackpot with my older brother and younger sister is an understatement. I hope one day my own kids will stop fighting over the Dory plate and like each other. I hope even more so that when they’re adults they’ll like to spend time together. I know I have years of refereeing knockout matches over Cozy Coupes, television shows, and car keys between now and then, but here’s to hoping.

My brother hosted the perfect weekend—great food, jazz, once-in-a-lifetime seats at Hamilton—and it was such a different scene from my day-to-day life. Don’t get me wrong—I’m deliriously happy with my life—but this weekend was a perfect testament as to why it’s good to step outside of our own lives every now and then and travel.

Taking a trip is the ultimate reminder that there is so much more beyond the walls of our homes, streets of our communities, and routines of our lives.

I can’t help but feel this past weekend was a little bit of magic. To be in the city where anything is possible and spend time with some of the people who have known me from the very beginning, who have informed who I am today, is priceless.

 

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Change and Control

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I wrote this the other day as part of a passage about growth in stillness and reason in waiting but this idea that there are many things we can change and few we can control has turned and turned in my head.

 

We have all made decisions that have led us to where we are in this exact moment. And while we have made choices to get here, we can’t always control the circumstances.

 

Since November 2017 Levi and I have had a second child, finished old jobs and contracts, listed our house, sold our house, went under contract for one house, bought a different house, moved 3.5 hours away to a brand-new town, our two-year-old and one-year-old both had surgeries, we started new jobs and contracts, and essentially started life over. Finding where the grocery stores are, our way around town, new doctors, new friends, new routines.

 

And it has all just felt like A. LOT.

 

We couldn’t control the kids’ health situations, when houses hit the market, whether or not a seller is willing to remediate black mold, or work projects.

 

Those are all circumstances we had no power over.

 

But we could decide what we could change in each of those situations. We could get the kids the help needed to improve their health, we could walk away from a house and buy a different one, we could say yes to great opportunities and take a leap.

 

And while the past year has been challenging, there has been growth in that too. All of the challenges seem a little more manageable if I can sort out what’s out of my hands and what’s in them. If I recognize I have no control over something, it’s easier to let go of it and ask, what can I change?

There is a lot we can’t control. But there is even more that we can change.

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choosing to embrace the mess and Valentine-making memories.

Sentimental Set

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I’m not an overly sentimental person. My family describes me as a purger and if something doesn’t serve a purpose or have a designated place it is swiftly and efficiently removed from the house—donated, pitched, passed along.

But there are odd items that seem to have a sentimental hold over me. Objects that anchor the family and act as a touchpoint. Our former kitchen table and chairs was one of these.

After it was gone I tried to find a picture of it, but I couldn’t locate one.

I could find lots of photographs that it appeared in, but none where it was the focus. This piece of furniture that three generations of families had gathered around. The chairs that were reglued, and reglued, and reglued. The sixth chair that was broken during a too-rowdy weekend. The chair that he draped a damp towel over the back of and its telling water marks. This table and chair set that bared nearly fifty years of stains and scars, each carrying with it its own story.

When I was growing up it was our eat-in kitchen table. The formal dining room set was reserved for things like Christmas and Easter, so this table was where we ate our family dinners most nights of the week.

Morning coffee and art projects. Macaroni and cheese and homework.

Place setting over the years ranged from paper plates, to my mom’s everyday Poppies on Blue pattern, to my grandmother’s china.

Candles blown out and prayers said. Weekday spaghetti dinners and grilled chicken on summer Sundays after church.

Just a piece of furniture? Or a constant? Something we could return to. Something that is there for us to gather around to celebrate the good and try to make sense of the bad.

It traveled with Levi and I from Columbus, Ohio, to St. Louis, Missouri, to Brentwood, Missouri, to Springfield, Illinois, to Aberdeen, South Dakota, and back to Ohio again.

Finally, we didn’t believe the chairs could take anymore glue. They wobbled and creaked with a simple slide in and slide out.

We needed a new set. Something sturdy. Something that we can hopefully have around for another three generations.

“Give it to someone who needs it,” my grandma and mom both said.

I did not go with Levi on the farewell drop-off to our local Goodwill. Yes, it is just a piece of furniture. An inanimate object. But it was ours. My grandparents, my parents, and then mine and Levi’s. It is where decades of birthday parties and family meals occurred. Where bewildering math problems and seemingly unsolvable life problems both found solutions. It was just an object, but it was so much more. It was the foundation that nourished generations of life and living.

 

All sisters eat dessert under the kitchen table right?
All sisters eat dessert under the kitchen table, right? Sharing laughs and dessert with my sister under the kitchen table.

 

 

*a version of this post originally appeared on former site, These Paths. 

Oh Shipt. How Grocery Delivery is Changing My Life.

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I’m never going back. Never again will I troll through aisle after aisle pushing a cart while visually scanning and comparing prices. My days of maneuvering between the 10-foot plastic car carts and people stopped in the middle of rows riffling through coupon books are over. At least for the foreseeable future.

Between Levi and I both logging long hours, watching Garrett, and growing a new human, the 2 hours I spent every Saturday morning grocery shopping was a major bummer. From making the list, to driving to the store, to the actual act of shopping, to waiting in line at checkout, to putting all the groceries in the car, to driving home, to unloading all of the groceries from the car, to putting all the groceries away… it’s too much.

I know, I know. First world problems. But still.

There are options where I don’t have to do this. We can use those 2 hours every Saturday morning to spend time as a family, or I can get some more work done, or I can even take a nap for the growing human. Over the past five weeks I’ve tried 3 options that didn’t involve me stepping foot in the grocery store and felt the need to share.

  1. Send the husband. When I was towards the end of my first pregnancy Levi did the grocery shopping every week. He usually doesn’t get home until 5:30 or 6 p.m. so I typically make dinner most week nights. We’ve found it’s been easier if I make the grocery list for the week, that way I can meal plan around my schedule as well. Levi is great about going grocery shopping but (with his permission I’m sharing) he forgets things. Which usually requires a follow up trip later. Also, if he goes to the store we still lose out on time we could be spending together as a family.
  2. Kroger ClickList. Kroger Marketplace is where I’ve shopped every week for the past 2+ years. Digital coupons, fresh produce, 5 minutes from our house… what’s not to love? The Kroger closest to us still does not offer ClickList so I was excited when a new Kroger Marketplace about 15-20 minutes away started offering ClickList last month. So I thought I’d give it a try.
    • Downsides.
      • Limited pick-up windows. I placed my order at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. We were going to church and I wanted to be able to pick the groceries up on the way home. The earliest available pick up window was from 1-2 p.m. Which meant we went to church, came home, and I still had to make a special trip back out for groceries.
      • Long trip time. I had to drive 15-20 minutes to the store, then I spent 15 minutes waiting in the ClickList parking lot / having the employees load my groceries (I was the only car in the ClickList pick up lanes so I’m not sure why it took so long), and then I had to drive 15-20 minutes home and still unload all the groceries from the car (Levi helped). The whole trip still an hour+… not a great time saver.
      • Fee per pick-up.  There is a $5 fee per order–not terrible, but not great when you consider other options.
  3. Shipt. This. Is. It. If there was a Mom category for the Nobel Prize this would be a contender for first place. Shipt partners with local retailers and it varies by region. For us, Meijer is the grocery store available.
    • What I love:
      • $8 monthly fee. That’s it. Less than Netflix. Orders over $35 (which we easily spend in a week) have no delivery fee. Since we order groceries once a week, I’m looking at $2 per order. Worth it.
      • Delivery windows every hour. From when you order you can typically choose to have your groceries delivered any hour beginning 1.5 hours after you place the order. Delivery windows have also been available every hour of the day each time I’ve ordered. I have had groceries delivered between 9-10 p.m., 7-8 a.m., and 3-4 p.m.
      • Communication. Your shopper texts you when they start shopping, asks you about substitutions while shopping, lets you know when they’re on their way to your house, and once they’ve arrived.
      • Delivery. Groceries show up at your house and our shoppers have carried them inside and set them on our kitchen counter. It’s like a unicorn sighting. I don’t have to go outside. I don’t have to lug bags of groceries and gallons of milk in and out of the car. Everything just magically appears.
      • Tipping Options. Tips aren’t required for ClickList or Shipt but I’ve tipped all of our Shipt shoppers so far. They have all been polite, high school / college kids who got everything on my list correct AND carried the groceries in. The Shipt app gives you the option to add a tip after your order is complete so it’s fine if you don’t have spare cash on you.
      • Your previously ordered items are saved. Items you’ve previously ordered are saved so when you make your list the following week it is quick and easy to add regular things like milk, eggs, bread, yogurt, bananas, cereal, etc.
      • Easier to manage budget. You can easily see prices for different brands while creating your order. Also, I haven’t made any impulse purchases like I do while in the actual grocery store (I’m looking at you, donut holes). These two things alone have resulted in lower weekly bills even with the monthly fee and shopper tips.
    • Downsides
      • Price discrepancies. Some items are priced higher than they would be in-store. One week a bag of Doritos was over $5. I ended up not buying them and told myself we were all probably better off because of it. For other items like toilet paper and paper towels I am using prime pantry or getting them on once-a-month Sam’s Club trips.

I realize I just wrote a small novel prior to 7 a.m. on grocery delivery. Grocery shopping is something we all have to do (unless you eat take-out for every meal, in which case, Bravo). If there is a way to do it better, I’d want to know! The two hours I’ve gained back every weekend since using Shipt have been invaluable. I’ve been able to get other work done (and make money) or, better yet, spend more time with my family. And you can’t put a price on that.