Here are my tips for Disney with two kids, ages 4 and 10, including where we stayed, Genie+, dining, travel day, strollers, and what to bring to the parks.
I know there are lots of opinions on how to do Disney: “You must go for 7 days!” “You must take time to rest by the pool.” “You must spend your money this way or that!”
This post is based on our experiences on how WE did Disney. We wanted to stay on Disney property, not have to drive a car, and save money on parks and food with a shorter trip. Feel free to share tips on how you planned your visit in the comments : )
I was so overwhelmed by the thought of going to Disney with two kids that I avoided planning the trip for a long time. At one point I was going to take Mazen (just the two of us), but I postponed the trip so long that Birch was old enough!
I know many of you have probably taken your babies, 2-year-olds, and young kids, but I looked around at mothers changing diapers and with napping babies on their chests and was so glad we didn’t come when Birch was a baby. I’d recommend age 4 and older!
My sister took her family the week before us, and it was wonderful to be able to ask her questions. So feel free to leave a comment to ask me a specific question that I don’t answer in this post!
What’s in this post:
- Disney in the winter
- Our guide book
- Making a plan
- Transportation to the hotel
- Our hotel
- The parks
- Stroller tips
- What to pack
- Dining reservations
- Disney with two kids ages 4 and 10
Tips For Disney With Two Kids
Disney In The Winter
I absolutely cannot imagine Disney World in the summertime. We went the first week of February and had two days in the low 80s and we were quite hot! I got sunburned on my shoulders, and we needed hats and sunglasses.
Those of you who go in July and August: you are very tolerant humans.
While we did have one colder day, I would much rather add layers than be melting. I definitely recommend going in the winter, spring, or fall if you can!
The Best Disney Guide book
My friend Emily recommended this guide book and I was hesitant to get it, but am glad I did. It was a great overview and helped explain all the terminology like Genie+ and restaurant recommendations. I liked being able to highlight the priority rides.
I skimmed the whole thing months before our trip and earmarked pages I thought I’d go back to. Then I read just those pages on the parks a few days before.
Plan your ride priorities
Even though I said I would NOT be planning our trip in advance, a few days before we left, Thomas and I spent a Sunday morning mapping out our three days at the parks.
I made a little spreadsheet that helped us with a loose plan of which rides Birch might like and which ones Mazen would want to go on. Even though I didn’t really use this spreadsheet once we were there (I mostly used the My Disney Experience App) it was helpful to get it all in my head!
Getting To Our Hotel: The Sunshine Flyer
We booked a bus called The Sunshine Flyer to get us to and from our hotel. This meant we didn’t have to bring a car seat on the trip for Birch which was one less thing to worry about. The cost was $104 for us round trip which I thought was pretty reasonable.
We flew into the Jet Blue terminal and had the hardest time finding the right place to get us to the older terminal B to get to the Sunshine Flyer. We were all tired and we had 4 suitcases and spent about 20 minutes going up and down elevators and escalators to figure out how to get to terminal B. We ended up finding the right bus and it was FAR! Like miles away.
Once we got to terminal B, we had another hard time finding the Sunshine Flyer area. And then we had to wait about 20 minutes for the bus itself.
All this to say, next time I might just bring a car seat and get an Uber! And if you have older kids who don’t need car seats, definitely just get an Uber or Lyft.
Once on the bus, it was about 30 minutes to our hotel. They had vintage cartoon movies playing for the kids which was nice.
Our Hotel: The Swan Reserve
Part of the reason I kept putting off planning a Disney trip was cost. I knew the hotel alone would cost a few thousand dollars because we definitely wanted to stay on Disney property for the early entry perk. Then I learned all about travel rewards and I found the perfect solution: the Swan and Dolphin hotels! These are Marriott hotels that are on Disney property so they have perks like early park entry and bus service but you can book them with points!!
The location of the Swan and Dolphin hotels was perfect. They are “Epcot resorts” so they are walkable to Epcot and a quick boat ride to Hollywood Studios. They are also next to the Boardwalk, so that opened up some more walkable restaurants. We loved the ice cream shop at the Boardwalk! The only reason I would say not to stay here is if you are ONLY going to do Magic Kingdom. I’d stay at a hotel on the Monorail if that’s the case.
While I had originally applied for a Marriott Bonvoy card hoping to use those points on this trip, we decided we really wanted to get a suite. So I ended up booking a suite at the Swan Reserve with 192,000 Chase points (that’s $2,400 for 4 nights). (Learn more about travel rewards here!)
Our suite was perfect for us!
We had a huge dining table, a fold-out sofa in one room for the boys, and a king bed in another room for us. The bathroom was very modern and nice with a rain shower!
The hotel is new (2021) and all the features were nice. We had a mini fridge, microwave, and 3 HUGE TVs.
Amenities + Pools
Since the Swan, Dolphin, and Swan Reserve are all part of the same collection, you can use any pool or amenity you want. We took 3 visits to the Dolphin Grotto Pool, which was just across the street. It was heated (not hot but lukewarm) and there were 3 or 4 hot tubs too. I loved that they had a few so they didn’t get too crowded on the cooler days.
Dinner at Cabana
We had our first dinner by the pool at Cabana. Our food was pretty good. And the muddled Watermelon and Cucumber Spicy Marg was excellent!
We got coffee and breakfast every day at Grounds Café.
The food was just so-so, but it did its job. We also brought cereal and bars from home. If we had known there was a microwave we would have brought oatmeal too!
The overnight oats was pretty good!
Transportation to the Parks
The hotel has buses to all the parks, but we only took one to Magic Kingdom. It was about a 10-minute ride.
We walked to Epcot! It took about 12 minutes.
We took a boat from the front of the Dolphin Hotel to Hollywood Studios. The boat ride was about 8 minutes.
We had 3 days to plan and ended up choosing Magic Kingdom first, Epcot second, and Hollywood third. I was glad we did this order because they went from most to least intense and our energy definitely drained as time passed!
We wished we could have also done Animal Kingdom, but we decided to prioritize location over bus travel. We also didn’t get to Disney Springs because our flight time got pushed back by the airline and we had to get Birch to bed! That would have been great for our first night.
I know a lot of people do a longer Disney trip and recommend planning down time for pools. Because the hotels and food were very expensive, we decided on a shorter trip and it was perfect. I’d rather do a shorter trip every 2 years than a longer trip every 4. We were pretty worn out after 3 days!
Links to our park blog posts:
Our Favorite Rides
- Mazen, age 10, loved Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, Smugglers, Guardians, Thunder Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean
- Birch, age 4, loved Nemo, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Small World, People Mover, Alien Saucers
- Kath, age 40, loved Guardians, Rise of the Resistance, Space Mountain, Frozen, Remy, Pirates of the Caribbean
- Thomas, age 40, loved Thunder Railroad, Remy, Guardians, Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster
Is Genie+ worth it?
YES. 1,000%. How much do you value your time? Genie+ cost us $180 over our 3 days and saved us hours and hours of waiting in lines. I would never go to Disney without it (unless maybe you are a group of 50 high schoolers going together).
The whole system wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. While some of the most popular rides did book up (we didn’t get on Peter Pan or Slinky Dog Dash), we got on 95% of everything we wanted to go on without waiting more than 10 minutes for any Genie+ line.
Each day I was up by 6:30 a.m. and set an alarm on my phone for 6:45 so I wouldn’t forget to do our Genie+ first reservation of the day. I purchased Genie+ for four and at 7:00 a.m. booked our first ride.
I would choose the most popular ride on your family’s “can not miss” list first and then choose less important but top priority rides as your first of the day for early entry.
As you go through your day, keep going down your priorities list from most to least important, keeping an eye on the times available. If something is getting close to when you want to leave the park and you definitely want to go on it, book it!
Our first ride and first reservation list:
- Magic Kingdom: first rides of the day were Little Mermaid, Barnstormer, Dumbo. First Genie+ was Space Mountain.
- Epcot: first ride of the day was Remy. First Genie+ was Frozen (at 11:40!)
- Hollywood: first ride of the day was Alien Saucers. First Genie+ was Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway. Note: I would do Slinky as your first Genie+ if you want that one! This was a mistake for us.
The downside to Genie+ is you’ll do more walking back and forth across the park to get to your next reservation, BUT this didn’t take as long as we thought. We only had to cross a park for a reservation time once or twice. Most of the time I could plan our route through the park based on what was next available.
Unlocking your next reservation
With Genie+ you can book a ride every 2 hours OR if you go on the ride you have booked, it unlocks the next one. For example, Jungle Cruise was creeping towards the 7:00 hour at 11:25 a.m. So I went ahead and booked 2 of us on that for 7:15 p.m. which would end up being our last ride of the day. This held up two of our G+ slots for 2 hours, but then I was able to keep going. If you split up, you’ll be able to be more flexible. This where having kids of different ages really helped us!
A lot of the time, when the 4 of us went on a ride I would make the next reservation while in line. Sometimes I could do something next door right away and we’d walk right on. Sometimes I reserved something 2 hours out and we did something like lunch or a show until the time came up.
Phone App vs. Swipe Cards vs. Magic Bands
We started our day with the phone app which was a bit wonky at times. The passes sit in your phone’s wallet and sometimes they wouldn’t scan the right person.
So halfway through our first day I went to customer service and got us 4 scan cards. These are like credit cards you tap on the lightning lane scanners. They worked great! We each had a different Disney character so we knew who was who.
We decided not to pay for Magic Bands, but if you have older kids, that would probably be the easiest thing to do.
Individual Lightning Lane (ILL)
They need a new name for this, but ILL is a paid service that is basically like using a Genie+ lane for a ride that doesn’t accept Genie+. The biggest and best rides offer ILL for purchase. Yes it’s annoying to pay AGAIN, but these rides are worth it!
We bought it for Guardians of the Galaxy and Rise of the Resistance because we wanted to go on both rides and didn’t want to wait 2-3 hours in line! This cost $45 for each ride ($14 x 3 people) but it was definitely worth it. We walked right onto the rides and they were the best of the trip.
There is something called Rider Switch where they allow parents waiting with small children to go on the ride back to back. I thought this would mean we’d only have to wait in the line once (the short Genie+ line) and Birch would swap parents on the loading dock. But it really just means that if Mazen wanted to ride once with each parent he could. But we still had to go through the line twice. So rider switch didn’t really get us anything. Sometimes we both went with Mazen and other times just one person did to save time (mostly at Magic Kingdom where time was of the essence and reservations were harder to get).
Should I bring a stroller to Disney?
Absolutely. I’ve heard if your child is under the age of 8 it’s a good idea. Even if Birch hadn’t wanted to ride much, it was SO nice to have our stroller for our jackets, snacks, water bottles, sanitizer, etc., etc. We had so much stuff the stroller was more for the stuff than the child! But the child used the stroller the whole time (we have a child who likes his stroller a lot). Bring your stroller with the biggest storage underneath, especially if you want to buy souvenirs.
There is a stroller parking lot outside of each ride, and dozens of strollers lined up. Be prepared to leave it, and don’t put anything in it you’d be sad if it got stolen. I wore my Lululemon fanny pack with a credit card, our Genie+ cards, sanitizer, and my sunglasses during all the rides.
I’d also recommend a stroller marker like a colorful ribbon to help you spot it in the crowd. I had a bright purple water bottle that made our easy to spot.
My sister rented a double stroller down there and was happy with that, but we ended up bringing ours because we could check it on the airline for free and saved money having to rent it. I’m glad we brought ours!
Note that some of the transportation will make you fold your stroller down. This was annoying when we had 4 water bottles and lots of small things we had to hold on the bus/boat. But not too bad. Just be aware.
If there is rain in your forecast, consider a stroller cover because while you can duck into a theater, your stroller has to sit outside and get soaked. Bring rain jackets or ponchos too!
What To Pack
Sanitizer and Clorox wipes
The Happiest or Germiest Place On Earth?! People were everywhere and I hated the rides you had to touch a joystick or steering wheel thinking of everyone who also touched it! We went through lots of sanitizer and also used plenty of to-go Clorox wipes to clean off on our phones, water bottles, and stroller handles before eating.
We packed a pouch full of bars, toddler pouches, and crackers that mostly Birch ate. Snacks are so expensive, even if you just need something small!
Someone told me to pack lollipops and this was a great idea! A few times Birch was getting grumpy about something or had to wait while Mazen rode a ride, and a lollipop cheered him right up!
A change of clothes for toddlers and layers
You never know when they’re going to dump a drink down the front of their shirt….
And the restaurants’ air conditioning was pretty cold!
Of course you’ll want to bring water. I can’t stand paying for bottled water because of the waste and cost. However, we found at Magic Kingdom there weren’t good places to fill them, so we did end up buying some water. The water fountains tasted like metal. They need more bottle fillers around like the airports have! I only saw one near Canada in Epcot.
We brought a portable charger that was useful at Magic Kingdom when my phone started to die at 6 p.m. We didn’t need it the other days though.
Dining reservations are a big deal at Disney because most of the service restaurants require them. You can start to book restaurants 60 days out. The day we were eligible was the day Thomas and I were up at 3:30 a.m. to fly to Anguilla, so I thought we’d get our top choices for sure. Turns out everyone must have stayed up til midnight because the ones we wanted were already full at 3:30 a.m.!
I was stressing out about dining until I consulted with Thomas who said “We aren’t going to Disney for the food.” He was right and all the pressure was gone.
We ended up changing ALL of our reservations while we were there. As people are on the ground they suddenly let go of reservations they have held onto for weeks and things open up. We switched our Epcot one three times that day!
Don’t sweat the reservations. We didn’t really think any of the food was that great, and the best meal we had was at Spice Road Table at Morocco at Epcot and we got that resy 10 minutes before we went in!
Disney with kids of different ages
When we started to plan this trip I didn’t know if we would have to split up 2 and 2 for the entire day or if we would be able to do most things as a family. Turns out that despite our kids’ six-year age gap, we did most things as a family. Mazen went on almost every ride that Birch did, and Birch was happy to chill while he waited on Mazen or us to ride some of the thrill rides. He didn’t seem to notice he was waiting (and the few times he did we found some great entertainment, like the mist machine or a snack).
Here are my tips for going with ages 4 and 10:
- Alternate rides so you’re doing a young one and an older one every other ride.
- Book your Genie+ 2 and 2 so you do 2 thrill rides and 2 kiddie rides and the parents swap.
- For thrill rides, have one parent go with the older child while the other waits with the stroller. Then switch. Most rides took about 15-20 minutes to go through start to finish with Guardians being about 30 minutes and the longest.
- Find shows for the little one to watch while the older is on the thrill rides.
My sister and I each gave our nieces and nephews a $50 gift card to Disney for Christmas. Thomas and I explained to the boys that they had $50 to spend and to choose wisely. When the gift card was gone, that was the end of their gift shop experiences.
Mazen ended up spending a bit more by using some extra money he brought in his wallet. And Birch got to go over during some of his waiting time. But at least they didn’t expect it and ask! Birch even said to me at one point “I’m going to go in this shop just to look.” I think they each ended up with about $100 worth of things.
That’s a wrap!