Is the Disney Park Hopper Option Necessary?

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Wondering whether you should spend the money on the Disney Park Hopper tickets? You won’t want to miss today’s Real Moms of Disney advice.

A young girl rides the carousel at Disney World.

When reserving your Disney Parks tickets, a huge question every parent has is whether or not to spend the extra money on the Park Hopper option.

Real all the guide books and blog posts you want, the best way to get Disney advice is from a family who has recently experienced the Disney magic themselves.

I love interviewing people after they travel to Disney to hear the kind of real world, hands-on advice you can only get from a parent who has just been to Disney!

Every time I chat with a friend, they share golden nuggets that help shape our own future Disney trips.

Today, I’m sharing an interview from my friend Carey from Massachusetts who has amazing advice to share about how her family approached their Disney Park tickets

You won’t want to miss her considerations along with the rest of her fantastic advice!

Jump to:

How Many Times Have You Been to Disney World?

I’ve visited Disney World five times.

First in second grade with my grandparents, next in eighth grade with the Science Club, in tenth grade with the Marching Band, and then as an adult with my husband (his first time!) in April of 2004.

We finally took our family of four and my in-laws. My husband wanted to wait to take our kids for the first time until they were tall enough to ride Space Mountain.

Real Moms of Disney: Awesome advice from those in the trenches of planning

Where Did You Stay?

When we went as adults in 2004, just the two of us, we stayed at the Coronado Springs Resort.

It was a wonderful, sophisticated, romantic resort atmosphere for adults, and we’d certainly stay there again; just not with the kids. The pools were amazing, and I remember thinking how cool climbing over the pyramid would be for a kid.

But with all the other resort options specifically tailored to kids, Coronado Springs isn’t the best choice for a young family. Now that we’ve seen the Caribbean Beach Resort, I can fully appreciate how Disney has tailored Coronado Springs with an adult appeal.

We chose Caribbean Beach for our children’s first visit because our children are obsessed with the ocean and the beach. It was a wise choice.

After we booked, I found some really unfavorable reviews of this resort online and I was really nervous. However, all those fears completely dissipated once we arrived.

We booked a bottom of the line room because honestly, we are a single income family and have to be frugal with our money. I would rather spend our vacation funds doing something fun and memorable with my family than on extra luxurious accommodations for a week.

It wasn’t the fanciest room we’ve ever stayed in, but it was completely fine for a vacation that you spend out of the room from start to end of your day.

In fact, the kids loved the resort so very much that they spent a large part of each day begging to go back and swim in the pools and play on the resort beach.

Truly, I think the resort was their very favorite part of their Disney experience. We would absolutely chose this resort if we ever have the chance to visit again.

Real Moms of Disney: Awesome advice from those in the trenches of planning

What Was Your Favorite Dining Experience?

While my husband and I are major foodies, our children are not.

We chose to go with the full Quick Service Meal Plan and have food not be a priority of the trip.

I don’t enjoy the aspect of trying to keep the kids entertained and well behaved before and after the meals at sit down restaurants. It sucks my energy immensely.

On top of that, I am uber time conscious; I cannot stand being late.

So if I have to be somewhere at a certain time, I am constantly checking the clock to make sure I’ve not lost track of time. I know this about myself, and knew that if we chose the Table Service options that needed reservations, I’d be a cranky mess for the trip.

I wanted to be able to fully relax, let go, and be flexible. This ahead of time intervention worked well for my control freak nature.

While we expected a week full of gross hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries (and I had totally prepped my inner foodie to deal with the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables), we were very pleasantly surprised with the variety of foods found on the Quick Service meal plan at all the restaurants throughout the parks.

I don’t think any of the adults ate the same thing twice, and we had plenty of fruit and vegetable options.

No one meal stands out in my memory a year later, but I know I didn’t walk away from the trip feeling like I’d been wholly unhealthy the whole time.

It wasn’t just “fast food” type options. (And I must say, we STILL talk about the Green Tea that was at the resort… man that stuff was good.)

Real Moms of Disney: Awesome advice from those in the trenches of planning

What Advice Would You Give Another Mom Planning a Trip?

1. Let go of your expectations.

For a trip that takes so much planning, costs so much money, and has so many amazing pockets to explore, it is impossible not to arrive with an extra suitcase of expectations.

But for the sake of your own enjoyment, and your family’s, you’ve gotta let ‘em go.

You won’t see everything there is to see. You won’t ride every ride. You won’t do everything there is to do.

On top of that, your kids may not want to do what you had your heart set on.

  • They may not enjoy fast rides (ours didn’t).
  • They may not enjoy rides at all.
  • They may not enjoy the shows.
  • That’s all they may want to do.
  • They may not want to stay at the parks until the fireworks.
  • They may want to spend more time at the resort pool than at the park each day.
  • They may not want to meet the characters.

Don’t fill yourself up with so many expectations of this once in a lifetime Disney trip that the real trip cannot possibly live up to them.

Real Moms of Disney: Awesome advice from those in the trenches of planning

2. Embrace flexibility.

Let your kids be the guides. Let what interests them be the filter through which you make the decisions about where to go, when to go, and how to go.

Let your kids remember this trip as the one where mom and dad let loose and had fun right there with them, instead of the trip where drill sergeant mom came out with her itinerary and cast out pushups on whoever had the audacity to rebuff.

(I say this lovingly, as one who has a tendency to like things to be planned and controlled).

If they are having the time of their life digging through sand pellets finding dinosaur fossils, then let them be (that was ours).

Don’t drag them away from whatever it is that they enjoy at Disney, to go experience something else that may not be something appealing to them.

3. Reconsider napping kids.

I cannot imagine trying to navigate the parks with a child who still napped.

If it were me, I’d wait until they were old enough to endure the whole day.

Perhaps you could just readjust your expectations as I said above, knowing you’ll experience less in a day with the restriction of nap time. Perhaps that could be the time your older kids get to spend in the resort pool while the younger kids nap.

My kids were never ones to nap in a stroller (and perhaps I’m still a tad bitter about that), so the idea of having to endure the trek back to the resort for a nap time, and then do the trek back out and back again for the later part of the day, overwhelmed me.

Part of me was frustrated at the time that my husband wanted to wait until they could ride Space Mountain before we ever visited Disney (I’m thankful I have tall kids or we’d still be waiting to visit.)

But in the end, I don’t think we were really ready to truly enjoy what Disney had to offer before they were 4-5 anyway.

I spent some time feeling guilty on some level that I’d deprived my kids of Disney Magic at 2, 3, and 4….. but in the end, I’m happy we waited.

Was the Park Hopper Option Necessary?

I joke about myself being Anxiety Girl, and I certainly like to plan for every potential bad scenario possible.

(Yes, I have a pair of scissors, duct tape, ziploc bags, and a roll of toilet paper in our van emergency bag, along with a fully stocked first aid kit). That’s the part of me that loves the idea of a Park Hopper.

When I visited Disney as a teen, and as an adult with my husband, the Park Hopper was a great option that gave us the ultimate flexibility to enjoy what was best for us at the time.

But for a family of four with young kids, it added some cost which my husband suspected we may not really need.

I was nervous not having it would hinder us and I’d regret it, but I was wrong.

We decided up front which parks we’d visit each day, and make the most of that park each day.

We didn’t miss the Park Hopper one bit. I’m thankful we didn’t waste that money for something unnecessary for this phase of life.

Real Moms of Disney: Awesome advice from those in the trenches of planning

What Would You Do Differently Next Time?

1. Keep it just your family.

For the most magical place on earth you may be tempted to include your parents, your in-laws, or even other families with young kids.

When on a trip like this, time is your enemy. There are only so many hours in each day, and you are trying to maximize them.

The more people you add to your party, the more opinions that must be considered.

More people suck up more time. It’s impossible to please everyone in decisions, and it sets you up for conflict.

  • If you are all supposed to be ready to leave for the day at 8:30am, someone will be late.
  • If you are supposed to meet at Cinderella’s Castle at noon, someone will be late.
  • You are on your way to see the Nemo show, and someone has to go to the bathroom.
  • You can’t be flexible and change your plans about staying to dig in the fossil exhibit, because Grandma and Granddad are waiting for you at The Tower of Terror.

It just complicates things and you will likely spend a lot of ‘dead’ time waiting on others.

Keeping it just your close knit family will ensure you do experience Disney to the fullest with the least conflict and wasted time.

Real Moms of Disney: Awesome advice from those in the trenches of planning

2. I would not put my 4 and 6 year olds on Space Mountain.

When we went in 2004 and my husband rode Space Mountain for the first time, I remember thinking it was dinky.

It wasn’t dark – I could see all the tracks everywhere. It wasn’t fast or thrilling. It felt like a silly kiddy roller coaster, which would be fine, but we were expecting a for-real thrill ride.

My husband had pushed back on the Disney trip for my entire kids’ lives, saying he wanted to wait until they were old/tall enough to ride Space Mountain when we visited.

So when our kids were 6 and 4, we went straight to Space Mountain. First day, nearly the first ride.

What a mistake!!! First, our kids have never really even liked rides. I was expecting a dinky little coaster.

Apparently, some time between 2004 and our trip Space Mountain received a renovation. Did it ever!!!

It was one of the few Disney Rides that is single file, so no comforting mom or dad by their side. It was utterly pitch black – you couldn’t see a THING. And it was FAST and rough. Whoa baby.

I spent the entire ride holding onto my son’s shoulders in front of me, terrified he’d go flying out of the car.

I mean, I knew he wouldn’t, but you can’t tell a crazed momma heart that.

They got off that coaster TERRIFIED. Utterly terrified. And scared to pieces to enter ANY other ride line for the duration of the trip.

They never even rode Splash Mountain – one of the few rides I remember from my own trip in 2nd grade and a favorite – because it sounded like Space Mountain in name alone.

Just the name Splash Mountain caused my little 4 year old to go into hysterics.

3. I would not pull my son out of school the first week of May.

We wanted to go during a less busy time and more affordable time of year, which meant the first week of May.

The weather was absolutely ideal. It was perfectly warm but not too hot. It wasn’t humid. The crowds and lines were tolerable (coming from an introvert).

But that meant pulling our son out of kindergarten for a week.

My husband argued “hey, it’s just kindergarten. We can make up the work.” We received permission from the school principal to miss the days, and we did make up the missed work. He was fine in that regard.

However, the last two weeks of school, my little guy was totally checked out. The break from the routine of school, that far in, and he was already in summer break mode.

When I volunteered in his class, he was just in dreamland and unfocused most of the day. Very, very different from his normal state. In hindsight, I would not do that to a poor 6 year old again.

Real Moms of Disney: Awesome advice from those in the trenches of planning

What Was the Most Magical Moment From Your Trip?

The most magical moment from our trip was our (two) rides on the Kilimanjaro Safari at Animal Kingdom.

As a child, I was obsessed with animals (any other fellow Wildlife Treasury kit owners out there?), and my children have inherited this.

We love animals, love learning about animals, love seeing animals, just anything ‘creature’ and we are all over it.

So getting to ride through the Safari both early in the morning and late in the afternoon were absolutely magical experiences.

Being sooooo close to the animals to observe them is amazing. The tour guides are enthusiastic, full of knowledge, and sometimes quite entertaining.

This was absolutely everyone’s favorite thing we did at Disney.

– Carey from Tennessee

Real Disney Advice from Real Moms

Looking to plan a Disney vacation for your family? Don’t miss this excellent advice from real parents just like you:

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Real Moms of Disney: Love the advice on which rides might be a bit much for younger kids!

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