An Age-by-Age Guide to Letting Kids Help Plan Your Disney Vacation
Tired of spending hours buried under piles of brochures and logging late nights on Disney travel sites, trying to plan the best family vacation? Maybe the best travel agents are the ones wearing footie pajamas right in your own home—your kids. This vacation, let the kids get in on the action right from the start. Gather everyone around the table and plan the best Disney vacation yet.
For some parents, the idea of letting the kids help plan the trip fills them with visions of a long week of endless spins on Dumbo. But just because you're letting the kids help plan doesn't mean you're letting them call all the shots. Here's how to find balance between their dream trip and yours:
- Give options. Especially for younger family members, give them a list of options that are acceptable for them to choose from. For example, "One day we'll go to Magic Kingdom. Look, here's the map. We can ride Buzz Lightyear first, or try the Jungle Cruise. Which one would you like to visit first?"
- Explain activities that fit within your budget. Let the kids know what's realistic—and what's not. Be clear if your vacation budget means the kids can do Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and a character meal every day versus having fun hanging out at the hotel pool and catching the singalong with Chip and Dale at Fort Wilderness for free.
- Keep everyone's interests in mind. Do a brainstorming session to find out what everyone is really interested in—your four-year old's interest in dinosaurs might mean spending time at the Boneyard, and you schedule an afternoon at World Showcase to cater to your ten-year old's growing enthusiasm for world cultures.
Getting some of the details covered ahead of time can help resolve potential trouble spots before they arise, and let the kids feel empowered about some of the decision-making. Let the kids help decide:
- Who will sleep where? If you're in a hotel, will the kids be sharing a bed? Guide the discussion, but let the kids hash out who gets to sleep on the cot, or who gets the top bunk if you're in the cabins at Fort Wilderness.
- Plan smooth sailing. Be clear with traveling times. If a driving trip will take eight hours, ask the kids to figure out how often they think you should stop (reminding them that more stops means a longer day). Ask them to choose what they think they'd need to entertain themselves in the car, and give them a limit ("Everything has to fit in this 'backseat backpack,'" or "You can bring three items each.").
- If you've got very young kids in the mix, talk about what the older kids will do if the little ones need some siesta time. Is there a quiet card game they can pack? Let them brainstorm some options like heading to the hotel pool with one parent, or doing an activity the little one wouldn't enjoy, like shopping for souvenir collectibles.
Especially for younger kids, hit the dollar store and let them each pick out a pre-selected number of items for a special travel bag that they can either use en route or at their destination. A bonus: Many dollar stores have Disney items, too.
Pick up some low-cost digital cameras for the older kids or get a couple of disposable film cameras for them to plan and take their own photos. Spend some time, pre-trip, brainstorming some great photo opps they may have or give them a crash course in photography.
If your scheduled departure isn't for several weeks (or months!), let the kids brainstorm some Disney-related activities to keep them occupied.
You know the kids will love some souvenirs at the destination—give them opportunities to earn some extra change with vacation-related jobs prior to departure. Younger kids can fill plastic bags with pet food for the pet sitter or kennel, or put batteries in flashlights to keep bedside at the hotel. And older kids can clean up the car (vacuuming and clearing out any excess junk) or set the timers on the lights.
Under five: Kids this age have a hard time understanding time—tell them too soon about the trip, and you'll be fielding questions daily along the lines of, "Do we leave today? Are we leaving today? When do we leave?" Save your sanity (and theirs!) by sharing trip info a couple days before departure. Show them pictures in brochures or online, and let them know what they'll be seeing and doing. And don't forget everyone's favorite: The countdown chain, where they remove a link every day before the trip.
Then, when you've packed the necessities in their bags, ask them to help you pick out something special to pack that they think they'll need (that will fit in their bag!)—and let them pack it, even if you don't think it's a necessity.
Kids this age can help you choose a snack for the trip and pack it in baggies, too.
Early elementary: If you'll be driving, show kids your home town on a map, and point out the destination. Ask him to help think of a route that would make sense, and let him trace the roads on the map.
Go over the attractions that you're willing to visit, and ask him to choose his top three (or a number you pick) things. Write them down, and tell him you'll try your best to be sure he gets to do those special things on the trip.
Older elementary: Share information about Disney, and ask her to brainstorm some attractions the family might like to do. Let her write down a special list of three "must do" activities, and ask her to find them on the park or resort maps. Let her figure out when those activities can be worked in your schedule. Then, it'll be her job to find Winter Summerland miniature golf on the resort map once you get there.
Middle school: Let your middle schooler help plan some logistics. Ask him to help calculate the driving time, how many pit stops he thinks you'll need, and good stopping points along the route. If you're willing, let him help plan the budget, considering hotel prices or the cost of gas.
Give him some guidebooks or hop online together and let her choose some attractions to consider with the family, or let him choose which restaurants you'll make reservations at.
High school: Your high schooler can help brainstorm realistic itineraries, considering everyone's interests and temperaments. Challenge her to find scenic stopping points along your route to Disney—the historical "brown signs" or local attractions—and research a little about each. Let her help research hotels and find low rates or best travel dates. If you'll be driving or using a recreational vehicle, let her help with the mechanics, checking air pressure and oil level, stocking the RV, or doing a safety check on the vehicle (tire condition, emergency kit).
Kathleen M. Reilly is the author of WALT DISNEY WORLD EXTREME VACATION GUIDE FOR KIDS and is polkadotsuitcase on the DISboards.
Would love the countdown chain!!
| Tremekia Cochran
Please send me the countdown chain. I have a 1, 2, 7, 10 and 15 year old, so your info was more than helpful.
Kudos! What a neat way of thniikng about it.
| Debbie Cody
Can you please send me the countdown chain? Thank you!
Can you send me the count down chain?
please send me the count down chain. this is listed under the under five section thank you
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Today's Theme Park Hours
Epcot Future World:
Epcot World Showcase:
|9:00 - 11:00
9:00 - 9:00
11:00 - 9:00
9:00 - 6:00
9:00 - 7:00
10:00 - 5:00
10:00 - 5:00
Extra Magic Hours Morning: Magic Kingdom