Are you nuts?
Our family thought we were nuts to take an infant with us to Disney, but we had a 3.5 year old who was obesessed with Disney Princesses, so we wanted her to experience the magic that only a 3.5 year old can, and that meant that baby sister had to be in tow. Here are some things that we learned when visiting Disney's Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios).
Is it a waste of money to take a baby to Disney?
Babies are free- so in that regard, no! Our 9 month old was captivated by her surroundings and just nodded off when she felt like it. It was really enjoyable for us to see her excited and curious about everything. Our 3.5 year old just loved everything. She may not remember much later on, but she's 5 now and she still remembers her first visit fondly and it was worth every penny to see her meet the Princesses that she adored so much.
We were able to take the baby on pretty much anything that our 3.5 year old could go on, so that eliminated alot of issues. We spent about 12 hours a day at the parks, so we felt we got our money's worth and we still didn't do everything there was to do.
If you plan on doing the more adult type of rides, you can line up, have one parent go, then when they are finished the other one can go without lining up again. We only did this once, but it was kind of fun to do something for us.
How old should kids be to really enjoy Disney?
I think it is more important to know whether or not your kids can "handle" Disney rather that recommend an age. I would say, based on my experience, that if you have children who are pretty portable, then you'll be fine. If you have children that can't handle missing a nap, then either stay on the property and high tail it back to your hotel room for nap time or wait a bit longer for the Disney experience. If your kids sleep on the go, then there is plenty to look at for adults while the kids are snoozing. The gift shops have some amazing items.
As far as attractions go, the shows are great, but if your little ones are easily startled, or afraid of the dark, or afraid of things that might be a bit scary, then you may want to wait a bit longer. Just about every show and attraction (not including the "rides"), involved a brief period of darkness and/ or a scary character or villain. I think the only one that didn't was "Small World", which we rode 5 times...
The height restrictions for the rides that aren't pre-school geared are usually around 42" or taller, so we plan on going back again when our kids are taller for the more action packed stuff. For now, there is still plenty to do for the wee ones.
Is Disney worth the money?
I would certainly say yes. The shows are really very good, if you are going just for rides then you may not think so. At home, we have Canada's Wonderland for rides, so Disney for us is really about the "experiences" and shows. Once you've seen the professional quality of the shows and parades, you'll understand why the ticket prices are so high.
The detail that they put into the sets around the experiences are amazing, the bushes trimmed to look like Mickey, Minnie and Snow White say it all. There is so much to look at, as well as do.
You can spend hours exploring the gift shops, they have some amazing items- lithographs, ceramics of characters, and of course the usual souvenir garb.
We made the most of our days as Disney first-timers, and spent about 12 hours at the parks we visited. The baby napped in the stroller and the 3 year old hopped in when we made our dashes from one end of the park to the other or out to the parking lot. I would recommend that you do a Disney Park one day, then take a day off to recover, then do another park the next day. This is especially important if you have stayed out past bed-time or missed nap times.
Don't forget that you can get a better price on your Disney tickets via CAA and you the price per day really drops when you purchase multi-day passes. We purchased a 6 day pass, which hurt at first, but when we go, we do two days each time, once a year, so it's going to last us for 3 years.
Disney and the weather: too hot for kids?
We were lucky, the weather was cooler (mid-March), low 70's to high 70's and it wasn't too humid and this made all the difference. We made an effort to drink water on a regular basis as it got warmer. If you get grumpy when you are hot, then don't plan to spend the entire day at Disney if it's hot, you'll hate it. Standing in line in the heat can be deadly. Some lines for rides/attractions offer shading, but not all, we didn't find too many shady spots. Many of the shows have holding areas, which are air conditioned- phew!
If you really can't take heat, visit one of the Disney water parks (need to have the Park Hopper option on your ticket for this), or head back to your hotel for a dip and a break and come back later in the day. Unfortunately the cooler weather prevented us from visiting the water park.
You can bring your own food into the park, which is a money and time saver. With an infant and toddler, you need to have your own foods anyway. However, there are plenty of choices, ranging from full on restaurant (a bit pricey and very busy) to the typical fast food fare. I did notice on my last trip that the food choices were getting better, a bit more creative (in a good way) and healthier options for kids. Kids' meals were actually well priced at around $5 for a personal pizza, milk or drink, and fresh fruit (grapes), I was pleasantly surprised! My husband and I had a panini, it was about $7-8 but it was sizable and quite good (for fast food). I would recommend bringing your lunches and snacks and purchasing your dinner. Don't forget to bring plenty of water!
Helpful Resources for Planning Your Trip
I have to admit that one of the best tools for helping us to avoid the crazy line ups was using a book called "The Unofficial Guide to Disney", since that version, there is another one for families with kids. The book is great because it gives you all sorts of tips, like which rides you should go on first, what your plan of attack should be based on your kids' ages and interests, where to eat, you name it, it's got it. I didn't read the whole thing, but what I did read, and the park map that was provided proved to be invaluable and helped us avoid major lining up (which you probably will know if pretty difficult with infants and toddlers). Visit this link for the guide that we used. http://astore.amazon.com/disneyonly-20
We had a great time, it was exhausting but fun. The kids enjoyed the trip, we enjoyed their reactions. Definitely needed the break in between Disney days if doing whole days. We will always remember it and the kids still enjoy watching the videos we took.