How to Survive a Theme Park…

Over spring break this year, our family went to Disney World in Orlando. It was one of my top favorite vacations we’ve taken as a family. Mind you, I’m a total Disney nut any way so I’m going to enjoy it no matter what. But with kids you really must be prepared. I can’t stress it enough. Taking the time to carefully plan made our trip all the more enjoyable.

I’m not a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of girl. I’m a planner—which worked to my benefit greatly. Though there’s a host of do’s and don’ts I could write about, I’m going to keep it to my top priority check lists in what to take with you and what to consider prior to your arrival. As always, please feel free to add to it once you’ve been! You know me, I love to compare notes 🙂

Things to think about and plan

Think about what your kids are into and do research ahead of time about associated attractions. For Evelyn, she was all about Nemo. And Mabel was about the princesses. For mommy, roller coasters . Daddy just goes with the flow. He’s always a good sport 😉

Make sure to make your lunch and/or dinner reservations in advance. You can reserve up to 180 days prior to your visit. We planned a character lunch with the princesses in the castle. It was just magical for Mabel. And Evelyn, well, she was into the food 😉

Making reservations ahead of time saves you the aggravation of long lines to meet characters, and you can also find out in advance what Disney characters will be available in the restaurants you choose. An added plus is that the characters will come to your table for photographs with the kids.

Stay on the property. There are a few plusses to this.

1) You can make your advance Fast Pass selections.

2) You can decompress in the middle of the day. Granted, we have two young children and Evelyn still takes her afternoon nap, so we loved breaking up our day so we could ALL have a rest. We were ready for round two once Evelyn woke up.

3) There are great things to do on Disney properties. We took full advantage of the swimming pool. Nothing like a pool on a hot Florida afternoon to cool off.

I would also suggest having a chat with the front desk and enquiring about any special events or activities for the kids. Often the hotels have a “kid’s room” where they can spend time doing arts and crafts and even make snacks.

We stayed at the Jumbo House and took in everything it had to offer. An added bonus is that guests who stay on property are given certain priorities such as early/late “magic hours” where they are allowed in earlier and to stay a bit later than the general public.

I also made sure to keep my kids on their regular routine as much as I could, which meant breakfast, lunch, and dinner around the same time as we do at home. Evelyn’s nap schedule stayed the same. The same for their bedtime. So that meant no fireworks for us. They go off at 9pm–it’s just too late for my little ones after a full day of stimulation, especially when we had other full days on the horizon.

Of vital importance is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. With so much stimulation and distractions, it’s easy to forget to stop for a drink. Make sure you and your family are consuming plenty of water.

Don’t overschedule. I get it, going to Disney is expensive. You want to get as much bang out of your buck as possible. But knowing my kids, I know that too much stimulation will send them over the edge at a certain point. And a full-blown tantrum is not my kind of fun. Even for Bruce and me, we needed a break from the hot sun and crowds. There were SO many attractions we didn’t get to do (and we were there for 3 days!) But I feel we still had a full experience. The kids are still talking about that trip. I really feel doing less was more for us.

Prior to arriving, I spoke to the kids about what we would see and do. I told them that we need to practice patience when waiting in lines and that staying together at all times is very important because there will be so many people around. My kids need things mapped out because of their age. Over-sharing worked wonders for them so they weren’t caught too off guard.

Pick a time of year to go when it’s considered low season. High season is during the holiday season in December and Spring Break. Yeah, we picked a terrible time to go. It was extremely busy. When we go next, I’ll probably pull Mabel out of school for it and pick a less hectic and cooler time of year.

As you’re walking into the park, pick a place where you can tell your kids, that god forbid you get separated, this is where you’ll meet. Choose something like the castle or someplace that would be easy for them to find. For younger kids these safety writeable tattoos are amazing. While it may seem a little over the top, I think taking a picture of your kids before setting off for the day in the park is a good idea as you’ll have a record of exactly what the child is wearing, making it easier to identify them should there be an unexpected separation from the rest of the family.

Lastly, I was never into the show portion of Disney theme parks before having children. It’s always been about the rides for me. But now, I’m all about getting in some shows, to be able to sit AND cool off in some cold a/c. We went to see Finding Nemo The Musical in the Animal Kingdom one day, which was great. Don’t underestimate the power of a show!

Tie something colorful on your stroller so you can pick it out of the sea of strollers that all look exactly the same...

What to bring

A stroller…I brought two. A light-weight one for Mabel and Evelyn’s heavy duty stroller. I should have just made Evelyn’s stroller into a double but I thought having two made more sense. It really didn’t. But we had extra space to store all our personal effects. So, even if you no longer use a stroller for your child, you may want to consider bringing one along if you plan to spend more than a day at the park. Because quite honestly, unless you’re wearing a FitBit , you won’t realize that you actually walked some 10 miles in one day! And I assure you, Mabel definitely needed a break to rest her legs at times.

TIP: Tie something colorful on your stroller so you can pick it out of the sea of strollers that all look exactly the same. You can also rent strollers on the property if you prefer. I saw a portable fan that was clipped onto a baby’s stroller and I thought that was a great idea! It was hot and humid in Orlando and my kids would have benefited from that. Even this water misting fan would have come in handy. Next time! I also made sure to take our strollers’ rain protectors. You never know what to expect with Florida’s tropical weather. Poncho’s come in handy too. You can even use it on Splash Mountain. But we were so happy to get wet on that ride—it was that hot!

Bring your own Mickey’s ears! Go to Party City, the Dollar Store or Etsy . You will pay a fraction of the price at these stores than on the Disney property.

Grab glow sticks or buy your autograph book here . Just anticipate what your kids will want and buy it prior to your arrival. I don’t know what to tell you about the balloons though. We sucked it up and dished out $40 for 2 balloons. Crazy, right?! Think ahead my friends, because it will save you some money.

Snacks, water bottles, and miscellaneous

There are so many unhealthy snack options at every corner. We packed loads of healthy snacks in my kids’ soft lunch box with an ice pack . My kids munched them while waiting in lines or while taking a break in their strollers. I brought their thermos bottles that kept their water cold, and Swell bottles for us that we kept refilling throughout the day. Like I said–hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I put it in my Jansport backpack and we were good to go.

A change of clothes is key. I took two changes of clothes for the girls. I added light cardigans for when we were inside watching a show or eating. The a/c is always cranked up indoors. It feels great at first but then we were freezing after five minutes!

And the obvious

First Aid Kit 


Bug Spray

Kid’s antihistamine 



Advil and Tums for the adults!

If you have to get there by plane, this post will help you survive the flight!

Please add your personal survival tips in the comments!

Happy summer to you and here’s to surviving the theme parks this season.

Emma xx

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Carli Wootton says:

Hi emma, great timing we are just about to fly to florida in 3 days and we cant wait, although like you i have 2 small kids so im not sure how they will react but ive tried to do as much as poss to plan it, we have a villa booked which we used on our honeymoon but then wee booked one night at a universal hotel to get the skip the lines tickets, so hopefully not much waiting in lines for us.
Im just worried about the heat for jonah who is 9mnths, did u say you saw a fan to attach to a buggy somewhere?????

Emma Heming Willis says:

You’re probably already there now but there’s a link in the body of the post!! Or go to amazon and you’ll find ut there!! Have fun 🙂

Melissa L. says:

We have 3 kids – 8, 5 and 1. I would add that the stroller fans are awesome. Our 3rd baby gets way hotter then the other 2 ever did and it comes in handy at the boardwalk and siblings soccer games so it was worth the $16 . We took disposable $1 ponchos for the adults so when the rain passed we weren’t stuck carrying around wet plastic bags. The older 2 have Wildkin ponchos that fold up into their own pocket pouch. The disposable ponchos even fit over our stroller. We have the summer infant extended sun shade which can be pulled pretty far and twists flat for storage. Disney gives you free ice water at any counter service so you can save money that way too. I also throw one of those twist pop up hampers in my suitcase. It helps keep the hotel rooms a little less scattered and easier to find what’s clean. Lastly, I have bought adidas climacool boat sneakers every summer. They last the entire summer, no socks required and have water/air vents. Perfect for summer adventures! Love following your blog Emma and all your down to earth advice!

Emma Heming Willis says:

Thanks for the name of the poncho company! They are great. I’ve never heard of them before. But I added it into my post now 🙂

Gail says:

Hi Emma! What a great idea for a post! Having gone to Disneyworld with our four princesses a lot over the past ten years I can totally relate. We LOVE Disney and do everything we can to prepare so that everything goes smoothly…or as smooth as it can with four little girls! Your suggestions are great and are actually exactly what we do when we are there. Great minds think alike!

I totally agree about the rain ponchos…they are indispensable. I draped mine over the stroller when we would park it to go on a ride. My husband also packs some clear garbage bags in case the stroller does get wet the baby won’t have to sit in a soggy stroller.

We are always so nervous about bringing four kids to such a large park. We do the same thing as you…take a picture of each child with our cell phone at the beginning of each day. My husband also writes our cell phone in Sharpie on them somewhere. The most recent trip we took about six months ago our youngest was only 18 months. I bought GPS tracking bracelets called My Buddy Tag online. They were great! You download an app to your phone and you can track each child’s position. A load alarm goes off on your phone if they wander too far or go to near any body of water. It also has a panic button that an older child can be taught to push. It seems a little overboard, but we felt better having them as we did have our second daughter wander off in a store in Disney a few years ago…longest few minutes of my life until we found her!

We agree with getting out of the parks early and never get to see the fireworks. It actually works for us as the transportation back to the Disney hotels is far less busy before the fireworks than after. When you have to fold a stroller and carry two little ones, it is so much easier to do without a huge crowd. Our family tries to avoid the Magic Kingdom on Saturday or Sunday when they are most crowded. Fall is a great time to go…less crowded and we get to go to EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival! Disney has some great apps to estimate wait times for the rides as well so you won’t traverse the whole park to get to a ride only to find out it has a 90 minute wait. You can also book the Disney restuarants with the app as well.

I always enjoy reading your blogs…keep them coming! I hope you have a wonderful summer with your beautiful family!

Emma Heming Willis says:

I’m buying that tracking device asap! And telling my friends about that one. Thank you!!!
It’s funny because after I posted this I thought that I should had researched tracking devices. xxxx

Faith says:

Great tips. When our 3 were young and we went to Disney or any other crowded place with lots of kids, I told them they were allowed to call me by my name not Mom. I found that all you here is Kids saying mom all day that I might tune out when my kid were calling me, but if they called my name I would turn immediately. I was always worried about them getting lost or separated from us with so much commotion.
I am not sure if they still have Pal Mickey but we loved having him.

Emma Heming Willis says:

What’s Pal Mickey??
I’m with you. It’s SO busy there, it scares me as well. I like the idea of your kids calling you by your first name. Lot’s of moms and mommys being said!

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