Any advice for a first timer with a 5 year old? What not to do? What to do? What mistakes to avoid? What worked or didn’t work?
I could write you a novel, haha! We celebrated our oldest son’s 5th birthday at WDW just last May, and we had a blast. If I were to focus on a few really key tips, I would go with:
- Don’t schedule too many ADRs. It felt more special to have a couple big, sit-down meals (we actually loved Chef Mickey’s breakfast), and to just grab counter service the rest of the time. It kept us flexible and allowed us to eat when we felt hungry (which was good for everyone).
- There may be no rhyme or reason to what will scare a 5 year old. Despite being a giant Toy Story fan, Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin was really scary for our little guy. But then he did BTMRR and Splash Mountain, no problem. (We stretched it with Dinosaur and Star Tours, which both really scared him… but we do have a big Star Wars fan on our hands now!).
- For our turning-5-year-old, the parks were fun, but the pool was literally just as much fun (and for our 2 year old, the pool was totally the highlight of his whole trip). So make time for lots of breaks, including pool time.
If you have any specific questions, feel free to let me know. We’re gearing up for our return trip in October, and none of us can wait!
Be flexible. It’s hard enough to predict your own moods, let alone a 5-year-old’s.
If doing ADRs, look for lunches - a 75-minute (take your time!) break in AC in the middle of the day is a great way to keep energy levels up and crabbiness down.
Assume a slower pace. Taking it easy will help you and the child from getting overwhelmed, and you never know what along the way will attract a child’s attention - whatever it is, indulge them in it. And get pictures.
Shorter park hours. Going open to close with a young child has a high chance of not ending well (though I’m sure some children would do just fine with it). So, either take the afternoon break, or get some kind of in-park downtime and just make an earlier day of it. My last trip, the twins napped in their stroller, so we didn’t have to leave the parks, but we finished our days by 5pm or 6pm, had dinner, and turned in early instead so we’d be ready to hit rope drop again the next morning.
We also took DS for his 5th birthday in the World. Agree that he kept demanding pool time over park time, though it was January and not really up to temp for that for most of our trip.
Also agree that none of us really liked ADRs. DS really liked the interaction at Garden Grill in EP, but the meal dragged on for so long that we were ready to go long before it wrapped up. We have great pics of DS hugging all the characters, though. We also did Crystal Palace, and didn’t like it as much as others - DS wasn’t super thrilled, and it was SO loud and chaotic in there. But other than the BOG dinner that mommy wanted , we canceled most of our ressies after day 1, just weren’t feeling the sit-down meal experience.
One of DS’s favorite memories was the meet and greet with Talking Mickey at MK (in the theater). That was super cool.
Otherwise, DS5 liked BTMRR, 7DMT, Star Tours, PotC, basically anything sort of thrill ride that we took him on. No real meltdowns. We did take mid-day breaks and went back, but only caught night-time fireworks once after an afternoon nap.
We did bring a stroller, and will bring one for our next trip. Our Epcot day, we walked something like 13 miles, it was just too much for little guy, and he was better-tempered with the option to sit and ride for a bit.
An afternoon ADR is good for the foot break, the ac, and a good chance to really hydrate, take advantage of the refills.
Figure out what the most important rides are, and focus on them, this allows for the I wanna do that one, or maybe your kids will want to play in a patch of grass, try and follow their lead on what they want to do and can handle.
And remember you CANNOT do it all in one trip.
My kids loved characters at this age. Do bring a book to get signed, we use a picture book or the character encyclopedia because the characters love to see their own pictures. Also, wear costumes or tshirt with characters n it makes the interaction so much more fun! My son got kissed by Ariel when dressed as Prince Eric, buzz lightyear actually signed the book instead of stamped when he say my kids in toy story shirts with some of their toy story toys to play with and the best was watching Peter Pan interact for over 10 minutes with my son dressed as Pan and my daughter as Tinker Bell even though there was a long, long line behind us. Figure out who are the must sees ahead of time but be prepared for them to want to meet every character,
Definitely bring or rent a stroller. We loved having the double for ours even though last trip the were 5 and 7. It makes it easier to keep track of them when traveling between attractions and they don’t wear out so quick.
Take midday breaks out of the parks, at least most days, or a long break before watching the parade on Main Street.
Take a non park day in the middle of your trip. Our first trip we went 5 days straight with no non park day and it was rough. Our last two trips we have had a break and never gone more than 3 days in a row in the parks, and we only had 4 day tickets, and still really enjoyed our break day.
Figure out your must see and do for each person and build a touring plan around that. Even if you get off track having the plan will help you know where to go next and what general order to see things. I found the touring plans the most helpful on our first trip when I was unfamiliar with the parks. Read ride description and watch YouTube if you don’t know about what attractions would interest you.
Most of all remember to relax and have fun. You can’t do everything in one trip but plan 1 special thing to do and you will have a great trip!
One thing I always try to stick to with ds5 is to always listen to him and what he wants to do! Even if that means I’m riding the speedway three times in a row or walking up Swiss fam more then I would like to count…but That’s what he loves and always remembers most from our trips! The stroller is great for crowds and resting those tired legs! Have fun!!!
Ease into rides slowly. Do NOT start with star tours. Start with Winnie the pooh, carousel, Alladin etc. a lot of the dark rides have scary elements you wouldn’t think of as an adult.
Another vote for pool time. Just let go of how much you spent on tickets and swim with your boy. Our best days were rd to 2 pm, swim, and dive in movie.
Also: re characters. My son was terrified of anything with a fake head. Apparently this is not uncommon.
Agree with the comment about the resort pool. My son would have been happy just hanging out at the pool everyday! We were there for 4 nights.
Did MK on the first full day - rope drop, back to resort to relax around 2pm then back to MK around dinner time
Day 2 was a “pool day” - we went to Chef Mickey’s for breakfast then spent the day at the resort, then went to Whispering Canyon for dinner.
Day 3 was at Hollywood Studios - rope drop, Hollywood & Vine character lunch, and then headed back to the resort around 3. We unwinded in the room and then grabbed a pizza at at Fort Wilderness and then to Chip-n-Dale’s campfire (that was one of our favorites!)
I also agree that it’s impossible to do everything. Over-planning and over-scheduling will drive you all mad! Something that worked for us was creating a morning TP and a separate evening TP for MK. We didn’t follow the TP steps exactly but they were more of a guildeline for what we wanted to see and how long it might take to accomplish - factoring in time to explore, take pics, etc., and soak it all in!
Before the child gets cranky , leave the parks. It can be that simple besides making sure they stay hydrated, get some protein to balance out the sugar, make sure they poop regularly (and in the potty would be great). Even trying to use the stroller to maximize stamina, if said child is passed out or you are desperately tap dancing to avoid “THE MELTDOWN”, are you really making any good memories? Just go back to your resort, cool off, re-hydrate and do low key activities. Don’t be that parent “I paid thousands of dollars, we are staying to see Mickey dammit or WE ARE NEVER COMING BACK!”
This is all really helpful. I know people are either FOR or AGAINST afternoon breaks. I did schedule them for each day.
Afternoon breaks work well when it’s hot and park hours are longer. Our issue was going in January in value season when park hours were short (AK 5pm, HS 7pm, etc.), we didn’t really have an option to go back in the evening. We’re looking at MK open to midnight this trip, 2 am with pmEMH, and while we’re unlikely to be there that late, at least we could swim and take a nap, head back around dinner time and stay for a few hours.
We just became big proponents of the midday break on this trip. It made the whole trip go a little more smooth than it had in the past. The other tip I give is to adjust expectations. Know going in that you aren’t going to see or do everything, so pick a few things each day that you know your child wants to do and get those done, then everything else is bonus.
My other tip that I have had many others disagree with me on is to not go to Magic Kingdom first. If this is your child’s first trip to WDW and you start in MK, they will expect the other parks to be like that too, and they are not. I don’t think it matters which of the other parks to hit first, and you don’t necessarily have to make MK last, but it sets a pretty high bar for the rest of the trip when you start there.