Traveling with Kids | Walt Disney World

by , posted on August 23rd, 2013 in Traveling With Kids

family guide to walt disney world

photography by Dave Cooper

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World? We spent 8 days exploring all 6 parks—we even did the water parks. I took my notepad, talked to other Disney goers (and even some staff/Cast Members). Here are all the things we loved and think you’ll love too.

Jen, I gotta ask, why Disney?

Good question. Dave and I have gotten it quite a bit. Especially from friends who’ve heard us wax poetic about our past vacations to the Outer Banks. And to be honest, I kind of had to talk Dave into Disney. He was hoping for something more laid back.

But the time was right—we had the money (miraculously) and the kids were the perfect ages. They were old enough to remember everything and young enough to still enjoy hanging out with Mom and Dad all day.

family guide to disney world

Plus, we looked at other options and were priced out. Any dreams of Europe or exotic tropical islands would have to wait. And hey, it’s Disney! We knew it’d be a fantastic and memorable experience.

Are your kids huge fans of the characters?

Total honesty here? Not so much. In fact, they kept calling Donald, Daffy which was embarrassing for me since I’ve written for Disney in the past.

donald duck

But the kids went through a Phineas and Ferb stage and when they were younger they both loved Playhouse Disney. And they do love the Pixar movies and old school Disney cartoons and movies (like The Swiss Family Robinson and Pollyana). But more than anything, my kids love themes and immersive experiences and that is what Disney does best. They are geniuses and I wanted the kids to see that level of execution.

family guide to walt disney world

family guide to walt disney world

family guide to walt disney world

How long did you stay?

We went with an 8 day park-hopper pass and added the water parks. We considered our sanity for staying that long, but in the end there were still things we could have done and seen. It was a good length.

family guide to walt disney world

Where did you stay?

We asked around to see what our most affordable options were. Some people told us to look at renting a house, others suggested we stay on site. In the end, we booked hotel and air through American Express Travel. You can use it even if, like us, you don’t use credit cards. A friend of ours told us it’s open to everyone. I had no idea!

As far as where we stayed? Well, I don’t have a ton of nice things to say about it. Since I don’t really want to slam them here, I’m going to side step that question. I will tell you that we stayed near Downtown Disney at a non-Disney owned hotel. The hotel had a shuttle service but the times were so inconvenient that we ended up spending a ton on taxis.

So my recommendation to you? Stay at a Disney property. If we had to do it again, that’s what we’d do.

family guide to walt disney world

Okay so tell me, what are the must sees and dos?

This is my favorite part Let’s get to it!


my favorite photo from our trip

my favorite photo from our trip.

Nighttime Fireworks at the Magic Kingdom
It’s nuts. Crazy nuts. There are so many people and no room. And getting out of there? Ridiculous. I’ve never seen such herds of people. But my friends, it is totally worth it. It is, by far, one of the most moving shows I’ve seen. I may have even teared up. Who am I kidding? I totally had a moment. And when I looked over at Dave, I’m pretty sure I caught a hint of mist in his eyes too.

Monsters Inc Laugh Floor (Magic Kingdom)
We walked in not knowing what to expect. In fact, I think I only suggested it because it was the heat of the day and it was an air conditioned space. I don’t want to ruin anything for you if you haven’t been, but we all laughed heartily. I’m still trying to figure out how they did what they do there.

Turtle Talk with Crush (Epcot)
Again, another surprise for us. Crush actually talks to the kids. He swims right up and asks the kids questions. In return the kids get to ask him questions.

family guide to walt disney world by classic play

Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular (Hollywood Studios)
We were lucky to snag excellent seats just a few rows back from the front. It’s a great show for older kids. The stunts are superbly executed. Not that I know the first thing about stunts, but they looked pretty amazing to me. Get there early or don’t be shy about walking down to see if there are any open spaces in the ‘good’ sections. You may luck out like we did. The worst that can happen is that you have to walk back to get a seat further away.

family guide to walt disney world

A Bug’s Life (Animal Kingdom)
I know this show has been around for a while, but we’d never seen it. It was cute and we all got a kick out of it.

family guide to walt disney world

traveling with kids: Walt Disney World

Maharaja Walk (Animal Kingdom)
It may give away how geeky we are, but learning about the animals along the walk was one of our favorite experiences. You’ll see tigers, flying foxes, and an assortment of beautiful birds along with other animals. Workers are stationed at points along the walk who are more than happy to chat about the animals you see. The scenery is gorgeous too. Great big paintings and archways. It’s beautiful everywhere you look and perfect for photo ops.

animal kingdom

family guide to walt disney world

World Showcase (Epcot)
You can’t go to Disney World and not see the World Showcase. We’ve been a couple of times, but this was the first we actually walked around the entire thing. Did you know that they actually flew in Moroccan artisans to do all the tile work in the Morocco section? That’s the level of execution I’m talking about.

family guide to walt disney world

Man Behind the Magic (Hollywood Studios)
Tucked away on one of the little streets in Hollywood Studios is a museum dedicated to Walt Disney. Again, I’m giving away our family’s level of geekiness here, but this was one of our favorite things at Disney (okay, so more Dave and mine than the kids probably, but they seemed to get a kick out of seeing the models for the parks). It ends with a touching movie narrated by Walt himself.

For me, it was hearing the struggles he faced and overcoming them. And that it was never easy. He said he and his family had mortgaged everything several times and that it did all eventually pay off. I was also surprised to learn that it was his brother who had the business acumen that made the Disney brand famous. No one gets great alone.


Let’s be frank here, Disney cuisine brings the following adjectives to mind: overpriced, cafeteria style/quality, unhealthy. There were surely places that fit that description, but we found some surprising gems.

family guide to walt disney world

Sci Fi Drive In (Hollywood Studios)
Hands down, this was the BEST place we ate. The atmosphere alone is worth making a reservation. The whole place looks like a 50s drive in. You sit in a car and watch clips from classic sci fi films and cartoons. The kids wished there were more cartoons, but the sci fi clips had us laughing too. Look around and you’ll see couples cuddling. Must be the atmosphere ;) Tip: let the kids sit together so you and your honey can get a few moments to talk and hold hands.

family guide to walt disney world

50s Prime Time Cafe (Hollywood Studios)
This is another cute place to take the kids. You’ll have to follow Mom’s rules: meaning, no elbows on the table, no texting and you need to eat your veggies. The decor is fun mid-century and everything is a reminder how far we’ve come. Especially, the clips from 50s tv shows.

hanging out at 50s prime time cafe

50s prime time cafe

Restaurant Marrakesh (Epcot)
Hidden in the back of the Morocco section is Restaurant Marrakesh. We had the best service at this restaurant and the hummus and baba ghanoush were delish. Get the lemon fish. Divine.

Pecos Bills (Magic Kingdom)
It’s quick serve, but the food is decent and it provides a great vantage point for watching the Electric Parade. Grab a seat outside (get their early!) and enjoy dinner and a show.

family guide to walt disney world

Tortuga Tavern (Magic Kingdom)
We’re not vegetarians per se, but we eat a LOT of meatless meals. And I’m always craving vegetarian fare after I’ve indulged a bit. Tortuga Tavern has a veggie burrito that’s big enough to split. For less than $8 you can feed two people. It’s a great lunch option!


There’s so much to do at Disney World, it’s pretty much a non-stop experience. I couldn’t possibly tackle a section of what to do. Sweat starts beading across my forehead just thinking about it. Talk about overwhelming. So instead, I’m going to share some things we stumbled across that surprised me.

familiy guide to walt disney world

The Magic of Disney Animation (Hollywood Studios)
Ever dream of taking an animation class taught by a Disney artist? That dream can come true. Enter The Magic of Disney Animation studio and off to the right is a little section where you’ll want to wait in line. Really it’s more of a corral area, but you get my point. When the doors open, you’ll step into an animation studio. Find a light table, take a seat and learn how to draw one of the Disney characters. The teacher leads you step-by-step and you’ll walk out with a great drawing. When you’re done, head to the gift shop and ask for a rubber band. Roll up your art, slip on the band and your work of art is ready to go home with you.

family guide to walt disney world

Make Your Own Lightsaber (Hollywood Studios)
My kids went nuts over this. If you have a Star Wars loving child (I have two), he or she will love this. Kick it up a full Disney notch by having your kids do this after riding Star Tours.

Astro Orbiter at Sunset (Magic Kingdom)
Located in the Tomorrowland section of the park, the Astro Orbiter is a Dumbo style ride. Unlike Dumbo however, it’s located on top of a building so probably not great if you’re not a fan of heights. You have to ride an elevator up to it and the wait can be fairly long. But time it right, and you’ll get amazing sunset views of the park.

family guide to walt disney world

Any more tips?

Yes! Here are some things we learned along the way…

Don’t be afraid to divide and conquer. If you have kids who like different things, split up. Jonah was not feeling the Magic of Disney Animation so Dave took him to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area, while Ellie and I sat in on the class. Everyone was happy. You don’t need to spend 100% of your time together. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.

kids being kids

Invest in a good water bottle. I made fun of Dave for spending money on a fancy water bottle but was singing his praises by the end of day 1 when our water stayed cold all day, even in the Florida heat.

family guide to walt disney world

Pack band aids for blisters. Your feet will thank you.

Pack snacks. We loaded up a light-weight backpack with snack packs of Goldfish, fruit bites and almonds. If you’re not used to walking, you’ll need fuel for all those calories burned. My kids (and us *ahem*) get super cranky when they’re hungry. It was nice to hand everyone a bag of calories when tempers started to flare.

Speaking of calories, go ahead and split meals. Not only does it keep costs down (it ain’t cheap, let me tell ya), the portions are often large enough for two people.

Every park has a first aid station. Look for them! They can dispense aspirin, Benedryl and other over the counter meds. We visited one when Jonah had an allergic reaction to the sunscreen we were using.

family guide to walt disney world

The Disney transportation system is great. Use the buses between resorts. If you’re heading to Typhoon Lagoon, grab a bus to Downtown Disney. It ends at Typhoon Lagoon.

Here’s something we had forgotten about—to get to the Magic Kingdom, you first go to the Transportation Center. From there you’ll either catch the Monorail or Boat in. The Monorail is faster but the Boat is more scenic and often less crowded.

family guide to walt disney world

family guide to walt disney world

Heading to the water parks? We hit them in the afternoon because of Jonah’s allergy to sunscreen and I wanted to avoid more sun damage. There are fewer crowds in the afternoon and almost no waits. The downside? Rain. If there’s any hint of thunder, they close everything right down.

Whew, that’s a lot of info, yeah? Hope I didn’t completely overwhelm you and my apologies if I did. I guess what I really want to say is, we had a wonderful time and I’m so happy that we were able to make this trip work. It’s one we’ll all remember for a very long time!

Now, is there anything I missed? Let us know in the comments below.

ps. I know the pictures don’t really go with the items listed, but we were there on vacation so we’re going with family photos peppered throughout ;)

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20 Responses to “Traveling with Kids | Walt Disney World”

  1. Cassie Says:

    August 23rd, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Great information – thanks! We’re going the second week of December and by that time, I’ll be 6 months pregnant (originally not in the plans when we booked).

    Jennifer Cooper Reply:

    Oh wow! Congratulations! We went in December one year. I was about 4 months pregnant with Jonah. :)

    I remember being incredibly impressed by the holiday decorations. Again, it’s that attention to detail that blows me away.

    You’ll have a wonderful time! Take lots of photos!

  2. Becky Says:

    August 23rd, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Jen did I ever email you our tip sheets? I can’t remember. I will email them to you now, although it’s too late to help you at this point but maybe you will read something you weren’t aware of and/or could help other people. I will say our favorite place to eat in the MK is the Columbia Harbour House, it looks crowded from downstairs but once you get your food you can eat upstairs where it is relatively empty and look out the windows and watch the riverboat go by.

    Jennifer Cooper Reply:

    Becky, I know I already said this but you should really think about starting a Disney blog! You guys have so much experience and knowledge. It’s fantastic!

    Jennifer Cooper Reply:

    Oh and if we make it back, we’ll definitely check out Columbia Harbour House. I love the image of the riverboats going by!

  3. Becky Says:

    August 23rd, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Also wanted to say, sorry that you had a not great hotel. We either rent a house or stay in a timeshare. We stayed on property once and it was great but sooooo expensive that it is not likely to happen again. It is way cheaper to rent a house, a car, and pay for parking and you get a lot more space. If you have the money to stay onsite that’s great but if you are looking to save money that is a big expense that can be cut way down. You can rent a house or condo for anywhere from $65 – $$$ per night. We split a 5 bedroom, 4 bathroom house with a private pool with another family and we each payed $600 for the week, in August. I helped a friend find a 3 bedroom townhouse for $80 a night for her family. We have also rented a car down there for about $10 a day, you just have to know the sites to go through.

    Tammy Reply:


    I would LOVE to chat with you sometime. We live in CA and are pros with the parks here, but we have not been to Florida. We’re headed there in June and I would really appreciate your obvious knowledge. Any chance of connecting?

    Becky Reply:

    Sure, send me an email. I’m pretty busy but good about emails. :)

  4. stacy Says:

    August 23rd, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Fabulous, fabulous post!! I only wish we hand’t have just returned from Disney … many of these tips would have come in handy

    Jennifer Cooper Reply:

    I wish we wouldn’t have missed each other by a day! How fun would that have been? I bet our kids would be fast friends.

  5. julia Says:

    August 23rd, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    This is such a great post and your photography is beautiful! We went a year and a half ago and Animal Kingdom was my favorite. My husband and I both really enjoyed the Walt Disney museum at Hollywood Studios too! I’d like to go back in a year or two when the kids are a bit older and will enjoy more rides.

    Jennifer Cooper Reply:

    Thanks so much Julia! I’ll make sure to pass that along to Dave. I love his photography too.

    The kids were great ages for all the rides (10 and 8) although I will say Jonah was not a fan of some of the more thrilling rides (Rockin Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror). Space Mountain and Expedition Everest were his favorites though.

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    August 25th, 2013 at 9:51 am

    [...] Walt Disney Post You’ve Been Waiting For from Classic Play! Read the post –> Traveling With Kids: Walt Disney World See the pin –> Fabulous Photo Guide to [...]

  7. Kristin Barclay Says:

    August 26th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Your photos are awesome, but I also love the way you shared your experience with helpful tips. My daughter also has a sunscreen allergy, have you found anything that works for your son?

    Jennifer Cooper Reply:

    Not yet. Sigh… We’ve just been keeping him out of the sun as much as possible during the hours of 11:30ish to 3.

    We have a family friend who’s a dermatologist so we gave him a call the day it flared up (I had used Neutrogena which had seem to work in the past). He said to apply cold, wet compresses to the sites and give him a dose of Benedryl. It really helped for the inflammation that day.

  8. Geoff Silve Says:

    November 9th, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Awh. This was awesome to read! And what beautiful pictures too! Thanks for sharing.

    I actually found a cool resource recently for getting cheaper Disney vacations, so I figured I’d share that here. Who knows, maybe someone will find it helpful! :)

    Thanks again for a great post.

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    December 30th, 2013 at 11:59 am

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    February 19th, 2014 at 11:20 pm

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  12. Monica Says:

    March 1st, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Great tips, planning our vacation for June!

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