Thursday, July 12, 2012

Disney with Kids - How to Prepare Them

So you've decided your kids are old enough to go to Disney World. You've chosen a place to stay and you know when you're going. Not only that, but you've started your packing list so you know what to bring. But have you ever thought of how to prepare your kids for Disney?

Now, if you're planning a surprise for the kids and aren't going to tell them until you're on your way, don't follow these tips. You just might give it away. ;)

Our kids have three trips under their belts, so they know what to expect. But on our last trip in February, our best friends went with us. Dad and kids had never been, Mom had been as a teenager and things had changed a lot since then. They wanted to know everything about everything! So here are some suggestions we gave them to help prepare. These ideas can work for your family, too.

1. Watch videos about the parks to build excitement. Netflix offers several Disney park videos on their instant streaming option, some of them with behind-the-scenes footage. If you don't have Netflix, go to the Disney website's planning section. You can order a free planning DVD that features tours of the parks and an overview of the resorts. Even though we've been several times, we still order this free DVD and enjoy watching it. It's just fun to think about the good memories we're about to make!

2. Find out ahead of time what attractions your kids can ride - and the ones they can't. Believe me, this will save a great deal of disappointment if you already discuss ahead of time whether your child is tall enough to ride a certain attraction. Disney offers fantastic descriptions of all their attractions, including height requirements. For safety reasons, they are very strict about those requirements and will not care if your child is begging and pleading to go on Space Mountain. If they're not tall enough, they're not tall enough. But you can definitely play up the ones they CAN ride and get them excited about those! Several of the thrill ride descriptions feature videos to give you a taste of the adventure awaiting you, so watch those and get ready for fun!

The Tower of Terror is one of my favorite rides.
3. Get walking - now! Even if you're vacation if planned for next summer, start exercising with your family today. Even your small kids can walk along with you to get used to it. We didn't do any kind of pre-trip exercise and we regretted it! But we learned from that experience. We walked as a family through our neighborhood, and then when the weather got colder, we used a treadmill. Trust me, your feet and legs will thank you after your first day walking at Disney!

4. Give your kids opportunities to earn spending money. In the months leading up to our last trip, we started offering chores the kids could do to earn some extra money. These were not their regular, day-to-day chores like unloading the dishwasher or taking out the trash. If the lawn needed mowed, one of them could do it for cash. If hedges needed to be trimmed and cleared, they could step up beside Dad and help. They don't get a regular allowance, so this was a way they could get rewarded for their work and save for souvenirs. It was really interesting to see what they chose to spend their hard-earned money on. They weighed their options carefully, I can tell you that. And they've taken very good care of their souvenirs since they paid for them themselves. Amazing!

The Princess poses with one of her treasures, a parasol from China.

 5. Discuss with your children what they should do if they get separated from you. No one ever wants to think about losing their child in a crowd, but Disney World is a really big place. In fact, it's twice the size of Manhattan! Which means there are plenty of opportunities for a child to wander away. And if you have more than one child, you know how hard it is to keep them in view (or in hand!) all the time. So prepare them for what to do just in case they lose you in a crowd. There are cast members all over the place. Each attraction has several at beginning and end. Every shop is staffed with multiple cast members. Point them out to your children when you enter the parks so they'll know who to look for. Instruct your child to find a uniformed cast member and tell the cast member they're lost. Disney trains their staff to handle these kinds of situations and they do it well. Literally within seconds, word will go out via two-way radios and steps will be taken to reunite you with your child.

You also need to find the nearest cast member as soon as you realize your child is missing. They will ask for a description of him and her, including what they were wearing. Here's a little hint - if you have a digital camera, take a picture of them every morning as you're entering the park. That way you can show a cast member exactly what they look like and what they're wearing if the need arises.

On our first trip, when the kids were four and five, we tucked a 3x5 card into their fanny packs. It had our names, their names, our cell phone numbers and the resort where we were staying. We told them that if they got lost, find a cast member and give them that card. We never had to put them to use, but I felt better knowing that if my child was upset and unable to tell a cast member that important information, they could just pull the card out of their packs and hand it over. There are tons of other ways you can "tag" them with essential information - lanyards, dog tags, even temporary tattoos. Find whatever would work best for you and your kids.

I have to admit, I'm getting excited for our next trip as I'm writing this post! Just thinking about the fun we've had in the past makes me want to go again. I think I'll go watch a Disney park video on Netflix to get my Disney fix!

If you've ever been to Disney World, did you do anything special to prepare your kids? Share with us in the comments.

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