ONCE YOU GET THERE - Fodor's Walt Disney World with Kids (2015)

Fodor's Walt Disney World with Kids (2015)

You say you’ve done all the preplanning? Good for you. But there are still a few last-minute factors to consider, from the possibility of a thunderstorm to an upset tummy to happier unforeseen issues. Like maybe your two-year-old develops an absolute obsession with Minnie and has to see her Every Single Day.

It can be fun to plan certain parts of a vacation—looking over hotel pictures and restaurant menus, planning how many times you’ll ride Space Mountain. But knowing how to handle those less-fun details, such as stroller rental and finding a place to change the baby, can make sure your time in the parks runs smoothly.

Few vacations go off without a single hiccup, but if you’re prepared, a dead car battery or the loss of a MagicBand won’t ruin your whole day. And if you’re even slightly in doubt as to how to best handle an unforeseen problem, ask the nearest cast member for assistance. Disney does a wonderful job at helping guests in need.

Bare Necessities

Whether you’re pregnant, traveling with a baby, or nursing a sore ankle, Disney World is prepared to accommodate your needs.


Strollers are available for rent at each theme park for $15 (single) and $31 (double). (If you book one for multiple days, the price per day drops to $13 for a single and $27 for a double.)

At these rates, if you need a stroller every day it’s obviously most cost-effective to bring one from home. If you have an older child who will only need a stroller at Epcot, a rental isn’t a bad option. All kids three and under will need a stroller for napping as well as riding and resting. For kids four to six, the general rule is that strollers are a must at Epcot, nice in the Magic Kingdom, and less needed at Animal Kingdom or Hollywood, where the walkable areas of the parks are smaller and you spend a lot of time sitting in shows.

On busy days the Magic Kingdom opens an additional stroller-rental stand outside the main gate, before you enter the bag-check area. This location is never as crowded as the rental stand inside the park.

If you plan to park hop at Disney in a single day, you don’t have to pay for a stroller twice: Keep your receipt and show it for a new stroller on arrival at the next park.

At Epcot, if your five-year-old swears she doesn’t need a stroller at 8 am, but at noon she collapses in a heap halfway around Epcot’s World Showcase, head for the World Traveler shop. The World Traveler is also the place to rent a stroller if you’re coming from the Yacht and Beach clubs, BoardWalk, or the Swan and Dolphin hotels and using the “back-door” entrance.

Families staying at one of the more sprawling resorts, such as Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Art of Animation, Port Orleans, Fort Wilderness, or the All-Star resorts, should bring a stroller from home for any child under four. You’ll need it just to get from your room to the food court or shuttle-bus stop.

Time-Saving Tip If you’re renting a stroller for more than one day, you don’t have to get in line every morning. On your first park visit, tell the cast member at stroller rental that you want, for example, a four-day stroller rental, and you’ll be given coupons for four days. After that, you can skip the rental line and go directly to the stroller pick-up booth.

Do be aware that there are Disney cast members whose sole duty is to collect and rearrange strollers, lining them up outside rides and packing them as close together as possible. Just because your stroller isn’t where you left it, keep looking—you’ll likely find your stroller a few yards away. It may simply have been moved aside. Families often stop in mid-stride when they see an appealing attraction and abandon their stroller on the sidewalk, and cast members try to deal with these immediately.

Replacement Strollers

Still can’t find your stroller? In Animal Kingdom replacement strollers are at Mombasa Marketplace, and in Hollywood they can be found at Tatooine Traders. In the Magic Kingdom, check in at Tinker Bell’s Treasures in Fantasyland, the Frontierland Trading Post in Frontierland, or Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland. At Epcot you can get a new stroller at the World Traveler shop between France and the United Kingdom or the Glas und Porzellan shop in Germany. As long as you’ve kept your receipt there’s no additional charge for a new stroller; however, the shops don’t have many spare strollers and those they do have are given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Money-Saving Tip If you’re flying and would like a stroller for the resort as well as the parks, consider an independent rental company such as Kingdom Strollers or Orlando Stroller Rentals. Prices are lower, and the strollers can be dropped off and picked up at most hotels in the Orlando area.

Baby Care

Each park has a Baby Care Center where rockers, bottle warmers, high chairs, and changing tables are available; diapers, formula, and jars of baby food are for sale.

In the Magic Kingdom, Baby Care is beside the Crystal Palace Restaurant. In Epcot it’s on the bridge that connects Future World to the World Showcase. At Hollywood it’s in the Guest Relations (a.k.a. Guest Services) building; and in the Animal Kingdom it’s behind the Creature Comforts gift shop.

Disposable diapers are available in the larger gift shops, but they’re kept behind the counter, so you’ll have to ask for them. Changing tables are provided in most women’s restrooms and some men’s. If fathers have trouble locating a changing table in a men’s room, they can always make a stop at Baby Care.

Nursing Moms

Disney World is so casual and family-oriented that you shouldn’t feel self-conscious about nursing anywhere that’s comfortable. The main problem is that the noise and sound of other children’s voices often pull babies “off task.” If your child is easily distracted, try the rockers in the Baby Care Center.

One tip though—don’t think moving out from the crowd will guarantee privacy. On our most recent trip Leigh found a perfectly secluded spot in the Magic Kingdom only to find that other guests wandered over, thinking there was a show or restrooms just because they saw someone sitting there.

First Aid

First-aid clinics are beside the Baby Care Center in each park. Although the clinics mostly treat patients with minor problems such as sunburn, motion sickness, and boo-boos, they’re equipped for major emergencies and, when necessary, can arrange for ambulance service to an area hospital. Seek medical advice the moment you suspect there may be a problem. Waiting it out only makes the solution more painful and more expensive.

If you do suffer a medical emergency, take comfort in the fact that dozens of families that we’ve interviewed have given ringing endorsements to Disney cast members in times of crisis. We’ve gotten dozens of emails and letters from people who have broken their arms, fainted from heat, gone into premature labor, come down with chicken pox, and everything else you can imagine—and each person has lauded the Disney cast members for their quick medical response and emotional support. One mother of two from Maryland wrote, “We visited Walt Disney World with our son, who has cystic fibrosis, and found everyone there to be extremely helpful and aware of what our needs might be. In fact, they often anticipated our needs before we did.”


If anyone in your family has a recurring medical condition—your son often gets ear infections, for example—bring a copy of any prescriptions you generally use from home in case you need medication while in Orlando.

General First-Aid Tips

Keep these suggestions in mind if something goes wrong:

If someone begins to feel ill or suffers an injury while in the parks, head for the nearest first-aid clinic. If the nurses there can’t fix the problem, they’ll find someone who can.

All on-site hotels and many off-site hotels have physicians on call 24 hours a day. Contact either the Guest Relations desk at your own hotel or Centra Care Walk-In Medical Care (www.centracare.org), which, as the name implies, accepts walk-in patients and has in-house pharmacies. There are two locations near Disney World. Most area hotels provide courtesy transport to medical clinics and pharmacies for guests in need.

If you need a pharmacy, try the Walgreens (407/253-6288) on Kirkman Road or the CVS (407/390-9185) on U.S. 192. Both are open 24 hours a day.

Of course, in a true emergency call 911. Within the parks, any cast member can summon an ambulance for you.

Electric Convenience Vehicles (ECVs; $50 with an additional $20 deposit) and wheelchairs ($12 a day or $10 a day for multiday use) are available at all theme parks, so if you’re traveling with an older family member, a woman in the late stages of pregnancy, or anyone who might be laid low by the heat, don’t hesitate to rent a little transportation assistance—especially at Epcot, which has the largest walking area of any Disney park. Also, ECVs are rented out on a first-come, first-served basis, so during the on-season, be sure to get one in the morning if you think there’s a good chance you’ll need it later in the day.

Child Care

Why might any decent parent seek a sitter while on a family vacation? Consider this scenario: Meaghan’s sucking the inside of her mouth. Loud. Mom keeps making everyone stop while she readjusts the strap of her shoe to accommodate the blister she picked up halfway around the World Showcase Lagoon. You spent over $200 to get through the Magic Kingdom gates—and Devin spends two hours feeding quarters into the same arcade game that’s in the mall back home. Dad has been singing the first line—and only the first line—of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” since Thursday. You’ve asked to see the kiddie menus from nine different restaurants in nine different Epcot countries, and you end up at the American pavilion fast-food joint because Kristy won’t eat anything but a hot dog. It’s 100°F, this trip is costing at least $100 an hour, and that infernal sucking sound is getting on your last nerve.

Although it may seem un-American to suggest building time apart into the middle of a family vacation, the truth is that everyone will have more fun if you occasionally break up the group for a while. Even the most devoted of families aren’t accustomed to being together 24 hours a day—for every meal, every ride, every potty stop. Every minute.

Some hotels in Orlando have responded with programs designed to get the kids involved with other children while parents have a night on the town. The idea is that everyone returns refreshed and recharged, with some happy stories to tell, and you can start the next day actually glad to be together again.

Quite a few off-site hotels have their own kids’ clubs. Visit and tour the club before you drop your children off, and make sure that the place seems clean, safe, and has an appropriate child-to-caregiver ratio.

On-Site Kids’ Clubs

Disney’s on-site kids’ clubs generally run in the evening for children ages 3 to 12, but they’re most interesting for the 3 to 8 set. The older the child, the more likely he or she is to be bored. The clubhouses are well stocked with toys, computers, video games, and big-screen TVs. Make reservations by calling Guest Relations at the appropriate hotel; on-site guests get first crack at the available slots, but if the clubs don’t fill up, space is available to off-site visitors. Note that children must be toilet trained.

Prices, policy, and planned entertainment change quickly at the kids’ clubs, so confirm everything when you make your reservations.


The Polynesian Resort offers the most elaborate kids’ program in Walt Disney World. Called “The Never Land Club,” it offers a buffet as well as entertainment for youngsters.

The clubs usually open at 4 or 4:30 pm and close at midnight. Obviously, if you’ll be dining at a Disney resort, it makes sense to try to book your kids into that hotel’s child-care program so that you can drop them off, go on to your restaurant, and return easily to pick them up. Parents are given pagers in case of emergency, so you can truly relax while you enjoy your time alone. Rates average about $12 per hour per child with a two-hour minimum, and a credit-card guarantee is required when you make your reservation; if plans change, be sure to cancel or you’ll be charged.

To get current pricing or make reservations at a kids’ club, dial 407/939-3463 (407/WDW-DINE). The following on-site hotels have kids’ clubs:

Animal Kingdom Lodge


Beach Club








Grand Floridian




Wilderness Lodge


Yacht Club


In-Room Sitters

Kids’ clubs aren’t always the right choice. Sometimes you’ll need to arrange for an in-room sitter, especially if any of the following conditions apply:

You have a child under the age of three. That’s the cutoff point for most group programs.

You plan to be out after midnight. Most kids’ clubs close down before then, some as early as 10 pm.

Your kids are exhausted. If you know in advance that you plan to employ an all-out touring schedule or your kids fall apart after 8 pm, hire an in-room sitter who can make sure they’re in bed by their usual time. Most of the kids’ clubs try to put preschoolers down in sleeping bags by 9 pm, but this involves moving them, and probably waking them, when parents return.

You have a big family. Even with the add-on per-child rate, you can come out cheaper with an in-room sitter than by booking four kids into a group program.

For those staying on-site, one company, Kid’s Nite Out (407/828-0920 www.kidsniteout.com), provides trained sitters for all the Disney hotels; the service suggests calling two weeks in advance, but can sometimes accommodate more last-minute requests. Just prepare for sticker shock. The rate is $16 an hour for one child, plus $2.50 per hour for each additional child, with a four-hour minimum. A $10 transportation fee is also common, meaning that in-room sitting for two kids for four hours runs about $85—not cheap, but for many parents it’s well worth the cost.

If you’re staying off-site, you can also call either Kid’s Nite Out or Fairy Godmothers (407/277-3724), another service that has received consistent praise from readers. Or simply contact your hotel for help with in-room sitting. Most Orlando properties have relationships with reputable services. Not only does this save you a bit of hassle, but the person at the Guest Relations desk is also apt to know a lot more about whom to call than you do; if former guests haven’t been pleased with a sitter, the hotel was undoubtedly the first to hear about it, so most family-oriented hotels use the same services over and over.

Things You’d Rather Not Think About

We’ve anticipated the problems you are most likely to encounter, and these are our best suggestions for what to do in less-than-ideal situations.

Rainy Days

Unless there’s a full-out hurricane headed inland, the parks operate as usual. If there’s an electrical storm, outdoor rides and shows are suspended until the weather clears, and water parks may close down for the day.

If you just run into one of those afternoon cloudbursts so common to Florida, soldier on. Rain slickers are available throughout the parks for $7, and they’re much more practical than umbrellas because your hands are free to hang on to your kids. The only problem is that on a rainy day half the people in the park are wearing the slickers and everyone looks alike, making it easier to lose your kids in the crowd, so stay especially alert.

Here are some additional tips to make sure that a rainy day doesn’t turn into a total washout.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a good choice when the weather is iffy because most of the rides and shows are indoors. The Animal Kingdom has mostly outdoor attractions, but if it’s just misty and not pouring, it can also be a good choice because the animals are more active when a little rain cools off the air. The Magic Kingdom, where many rides are outside, and Epcot, which requires a lot of walking, are a bit tougher to navigate.

There’s always plenty to do at Downtown Disney: shopping, movies, Cirque du Soleil, and DisneyQuest. But be forewarned—DisneyQuest is especially swamped when the weather turns bad.

Remember, a rainy morning doesn’t necessarily mean a rainy day. Weather conditions can change rapidly in Orlando, and if it clears up later in the day the parks will be less crowded than usual. If you see a storm approaching, duck into a show or indoor attraction and give it some time. You may walk out to find sunny skies.

Lost Kids

Obviously, your best bet is not to get separated in the first place. Savvy families set up prearranged meeting places. We also suggest that you stop by Guest Relations in the morning and get a tag where you can put your cell phone number on the inside of your child’s clothing. TIP Where and when are kids most apt to get lost? During character signings, in play areas, and just after parades.

If you do get separated and your kids are too young to understand the idea of a meeting place, act fast. Disney employees are well briefed about what to do if they encounter a lost child, so the odds are good that if your preschooler has been wandering around on her own for more than a couple of minutes, she’s been intercepted by a Disney cast member. The cast member has been trained to walk around the area with the child for about 10 minutes and, if they don’t find you, take the child to the Baby Care Center in that park. So if you’ve been wandering around looking for longer than 10 minutes, flag down the nearest person you see wearing a Disney name tag, and ask him or her to call Baby Care and see if the child has been reported found. You can also make things easier if you wear colorful clothing and explain to any child old enough to remember that “Mom is wearing a bright blue shirt today.” This increases the chances a cast member or your child will be able to spot you in the crowd.

In real emergencies—when the child is very young or disabled, or when you’re afraid she’s been nabbed—bulletins are put out among employees. So if you lose a child, don’t spend a half hour frantically searching on your own. Contact the nearest Disney employee and let the system take it from there.

Lost Cars

It’s embarrassingly easy to forget where you parked, so be sure to write down your row number (or take a picture of it with your phone) as you leave your car in the morning. Pluto 36 seems easy to remember at 8 am, but you may not be able to retrieve that information 14 brain-numbing hours later. If you forget to do this and can’t find your car, tell a parking attendant the approximate time you arrived. Since the trams service parking-lot sections in a predictable sequence, if the attendant knows the general time you arrived, he or she can help you at least narrow the search.


One glitch in the system at Disney is that lost kids are often so entertained by the environment that they aren’t crying and don’t look lost. So no Disney employee intercepts them. Explain to your kids that if you get separated, they should approach anyone wearing a Disney name tag. That person can call in their name and, assuming you’ve also reported the child as missing, you can easily be reunited.

Auto Breakdowns

As the tram drops people off at the end of the day, security vehicles are parked at the end of rows in anticipation of the fact some unlucky family is going to find that their battery is dead, a tire’s gone flat, or they’ve locked their keys inside. This recently happened to me on a rainy night, and I returned to the tram drop-off site and flagged down security to tell them our battery was dead. The young woman inside followed me back to the car and had the battery recharged within seconds. Then she was off to help a frantic family who couldn’t remember what their rental car looked like. It’s these little “we take care of you” touches that make Disney so special.

Closed Attractions

Because Disney World is open 365 days a year, there’s no downtime for repainting and repairing rides. Ergo, two or three attractions throughout Disney World may be closed for refurbishment on any given day. They try hard to keep major attractions up and going for summer and holidays, so refurbishment is more likely to be an issue in the off-season. You can check to see which attractions are scheduled to be closed for maintenance during the time you’ll be in Orlando by visiting www.disneyworld.com. There’s still a slight chance that a ride will be malfunctioning and temporarily closed when you visit, but this situation is relatively rare, and the rides usually come back on line quickly.

Other Unexpected Problems

No matter how carefully you plan your vacation, the unforeseen can always occur. Your best bet when trouble brews is to go straight to the nearest Disney cast member and report your problem. There’s a reason you’re paying these high prices, and one of the biggest is that Disney has created a very responsive team whose highest priority is to help you have a great experience. Our mail is absolutely full of stories about Disney cast members who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Here are some examples from our readers:

“My father lost his cell phone in the Animal Kingdom, and a cast member called every single attraction we had ridden that day until they found the phone. I can’t say enough about the helpfulness of Disney employees!”

“Our family missed the last bus leaving the Fantasia Gardens miniature golf course, and we had no idea how we were going to get back to Fort Wilderness. Panic was setting in when an out-of-service bus passed by. My dad flagged him down, and, to our surprise, the driver told us to get aboard, and he would take us there himself. He even calmed my little sister down by singing to her through the loudspeaker. It was the end of his shift, and he could have easily driven by, but that’s not the Disney way.”

“We had a Princess dinner at Epcot scheduled for our first night, and my daughter’s princess dress was packed in our luggage, which hadn’t yet been delivered through Magical Express. We called the bell captain at our hotel, who was able to track the bag and get it to our hotel. He had it waiting for us when we got to the bell desk and let my daughter change in the luggage holding room! Then, since by that time we were running late, he even arranged for a special car to take us to Epcot so we wouldn’t have to wait on the bus. It was a shining example of Disney customer service.”

“One day our 4-year-old was crying hysterically—I think it was because his sister drank the last of the pineapple juice. A street sweeper on Main Street asked us what was wrong, and then said ‘Follow me,’ and led us into Casey’s where he got my son a Sprite. I was blown away. Such a kind gesture, especially considering how many crying kids that man probably sees in a day.”

“We had arranged to attend the Perfectly Princess Tea Party to celebrate my daughter’s birthday. They called our room to tell us the event had been cancelled at the last minute—evidently Sleeping Beauty called in sick—but my daughter overheard the phone call and collapsed into tears. It was too late to get into any other character meals, but I remembered reading in an earlier version of your book that you should ask for help when you need it. We were staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort and a wonderful woman in Guest Relations not only got us into a Princess Breakfast at Epcot, which we all enjoyed, but sent a special little gift to the room for our daughter every single day for the rest of our trip.”

Got the picture? If a problem develops, let the Disney cast members try to sort it out. And even if things are going smoothly, stop and chat with them. Many of our readers report that cast-member interactions are some of the highlights of their Disney stay.

Saving Money

Saving money at Disney World is something of an oxymoron, but there are ways to contain the damage.

Be aware that once you cross the Florida state line, there seems to be an inverse relationship between time and money. You have to be willing to spend one to save the other. It’s worth taking a few minutes to analyze if cost-cutting measures are really worth it; given the high cost of tickets, it doesn’t make sense to spend hours trying to save a few bucks.

Saving on the First Day

How should you spend your arrival day at Disney World? It’s tempting to rush straight to the parks, but that’s rarely the best use of your money. Because it will probably be at least afternoon before you arrive and settle into your hotel, you’ll be using a full day of your expensive ticket for only a few hours in the park. Instead, relax around your resort pool or spend the evening at Downtown Disney, which offers lots of Disney-theme fun but doesn’t require a ticket. You can start your first full day rested and raring to go.

Saving on Drinks

Staying hydrated is essential—and expensive—so bring your own bottles and refill them at fountains. All fast-food places provide free cups of ice water on request. Also, on-site hotels offer a deal where you can buy a souvenir beverage mug the first day of your trip and get free refills at the resort for the remainder of your stay. (These mugs can also be rented on a daily basis, so it’s an especially great option for your “off” day when you’re hanging around the hotel pool all afternoon and can take advantage of the free refills.) Because soft drinks and coffee are so costly, families who plan to eat a lot of meals at their hotel can save as much as $20 per person with the souvenir mugs.

Saving on Food

If you’re not on the dining plan, try to eat at least some of your meals outside the parks. If you get a suite, it’s easy to keep breakfast food and snacks in your room. Many off-site Orlando hotels offer free breakfast buffets to their guests, and there are numerous fast-food and family-friendly chain restaurants along the Interstate 4 exits that flank Walt Disney World.

Dining in Epcot’s World Showcase can be very special, but book those restaurants for lunch, when prices are considerably lower than at dinner. And remember that portions are huge, even for kiddie meals. Consider splitting a meal with a family member or toss a few sandwich bags in your tote and save some of those chips or grapes for a later snack.

Dinner shows are expensive, costing a family of four about $150; even a character breakfast can set you back $70 or more. If the budget is tight, skip those extras and concentrate on ways to meet the characters inside the parks.

Saving on Extras

Except for maybe an autograph book and a T-shirt, hold off on souvenir purchases until the last day. By then the kids will really know what they want and you won’t waste money on impulse buys.

Buy memory cards or film, diapers, and sunscreen at home before you leave. These things are all for sale in the parks, but you’ll pay dearly for the convenience.

Saving on Parking

Guests staying off-site pay a lot to bring their car to Disney ($17 per day at this writing). If you move from park to park in the course of a day, save your parking receipt so you’ll only have to pay the fee once. And remember that parking is free for on-site guests.

Saving on Park Tickets

Getting discounts on park tickets is difficult because Disney doesn’t really discount. But you can certainly buy your tickets when you make your hotel reservations, so you’ll have them before Disney decides it’s time for another price increase before you leave.

Meeting the Disney Characters

Meeting the characters is a major objective for some families and a nice diversion for all. If your children are young, prepare them for the fact that the characters are big and often overwhelming in person. I once visited Disney World with a toddler whose happy babble of “my Mickey, my Mickey” turned into a wary “no Mickey, no Mickey” the minute she entered the Magic Kingdom gates and saw that everyone’s favorite mouse was much, much larger than he appears on TV.

That reaction isn’t unusual. Many kids panic when they first see the characters, and pushing them forward only makes matters worse. The characters are trained to be sensitive and sensible (in some cases more so than the parents) and will always wait for the child to approach them.

On the other hand, some kids fall in love with the characters from the start. A father from Ohio said, “We were really surprised at how fast our 3½-year-old daughter became a character groupie. Even when in her stroller she could spot them from a mile away, and she loved getting autographs. This took a lot of time but was worth it just to see the excitement on her face.” And a mom from Tennessee reported that the first thing her 4-year-old son said upon entering the Magic Kingdom gates was “I see the real Mickey and he is awesome.”

Many children, even older ones, enjoy getting character autographs, and an autograph book can become a cherished souvenir. Before lining up, prepare the kids for the fact that the characters (except for those without masks) don’t talk. As many as 30 young people in Mickey suits (mostly women because the suits are pretty small) might be dispersed around Disney World on a busy day, and they can’t all be gifted with that familiar squeaky voice. Instead, they communicate through body language. (The exception is Mickey at the Magic Kingdom, who can chat with all his guests. If this is a must-see, make sure to get a FastPass+.)

Times and places for meeting the characters are listed on theme-park maps, tip boards, and entertainment schedules.

Top 12 Tips for Hanging with the Characters

Short on time? Character meals are a low-stress way to meet several characters at once. They’re popular, so make reservations in advance, and if you can’t get a reservation at Cinderella Castle, don’t despair. There are princesses aplenty at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway pavilion at Epcot, which is much easier to book.

What about the boys? In response to princess fever, Disney has done more to emphasize the pirates, especially at the Pirate League, where swashbuckling kids can get in face paint, eye patches, and costumes, and the Pirate Tutorial Session starring Captain Jack Sparrow. Both are located near the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Adventureland.

If you’re scheduling a character breakfast, save it for the last day of your vacation. By this time kids have seen the characters plenty of times in parades and shows and even the most nervous toddler has usually relaxed enough to give Mickey a hug. If you choose a restaurant inside a resort, you can see the characters without having to burn a day of your ticket, and it’s a great send-off for the trip home.

Let the kids wear their costumes to the character meals, especially little girls with their princess regalia. What could be cuter than a miniature Belle meeting the real thing?

Character dining can be pricey, so if money is an issue, skip the meals and use your entertainment schedule to find out where the characters will be inside the parks. The characters are usually available in greeting locations for about 20 minutes before they’re whisked away to another spot. There’s always an escort close at hand, so if the line to meet a certain character is long, check with the escort before you line up. He or she can tell you approximately how much longer the character will be there and save you from waiting patiently only to have Woody and Buzz leave just as your child makes it to the front of the line.

If your child is nervous about meeting the characters, start with the so-called face characters, like Aladdin or Cinderella, who don’t wear masks and can talk. They’re far less intimidating to young children than “mask” characters like Goofy and Mickey.

If the kids are still freaked out, remember not to push them forward. The characters are good at gently urging shy children to approach them. That said, because of the construction of their costumes, the mask characters can’t always see what’s happening beneath them too clearly. Donald and Daisy, for example, have a hard time looking over their bills, and small children standing at their feet might be ignored. If this appears to be happening, lift your child to the character’s eye level. You can also make Mickey’s day a little easier if you provide a thick marker for him to grasp and hold the pen and autograph book right in front of his face.

Older kids especially love chances to interact with the characters, such as at the Jedi Training Academy outside of Star Tours in Hollywood or the aforementioned Pirate Tutorial Session in the Magic Kingdom.

When the parks are crowded, you might need to go high-tech to assure that your kids see their favorites. The My Disney Experience app gives you the time and location of character appearances in every park and guests are now able to get FastPass+ for character greetings, which allow them to enter a shorter queue.

The opening of the Princess Fairytale Hall in the Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom offers a beautiful new venue for royal audiences. Cinderella and Rapunzel will always be available to greet their subjects, and each will have a princess friend with them, who will change daily. Anna and Elsa from Frozen also appear together daily. FastPass+ is especially helpful for this attraction, where long, slow-moving lines are the norm.

But, princesses aside—don’t automatically assume that the best place to meet a character is the Magic Kingdom. The stars of Disney-Pixar films and Disney Junior are exclusively available at Hollywood Studios. The lines at the Animal Kingdom are rarely unmanageable, and the characters are doubly adorable outfitted in their safari gear. Not only are the classic characters always on hand in Epcot’s Future World, but the World Showcase can be a character bonanza; meeting Mulan in China, Belle in France, Aladdin in Morocco, or Mary Poppins in the United Kingdom makes the experience that much more special.

Wherever you are, don’t get so involved in the hoopla that you lose your kids. When the kids are excited and dashing from one character to the next and parents are preoccupied with getting the perfect photo, it’s easy to look up and realize little Jeremy has slipped out of sight.