Heading to a Disney park with your school aged child probably seems like the perfect choice. Toddlers and preschoolers are still pretty difficult and needy but school aged kids offer a lot more freedom. Plus they’ll gain lifelong memories of their adventures at Disneyland (or Disney World). It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. Here’s how you can make your Disney trip go a lot more smoothly.

Understand they can’t walk like you

School aged kids, especially middle grade ones, are pretty emotionally mature. You can enjoy things like late nights and won’t have (as many) tantrums to deal with as younger kids. There’s one thing  you have to be careful of though and that’s how much walking. Most people end up walking 5-10 miles or more per day while visiting a Disney Park depending on their schedule. Make sure your school aged kid has a lot of opportunities for breaks and you work that into your planning.

Be Food-Conscious

This is especially important if you have a picky eater but it holds true for all families. Make sure you check out the park food information ahead of time and decide if you’re going to eat there or pack your own. There are pros and cons either way but whatever you decide, you don’t want to be stuck with a hungry kid or food that’s gross.

Regardless make sure you pack something you know they’ll eat as a back up. Emergency snacks are great when the lines are long (and they can be very long for food) or you’re quite far away from somewhere decent to eat. Since they’re older a snack might be enough to hold them off but don’t forget that kids need to eat more often than adults do.

Be prepared before souvenir shopping

Chances are your kid is going to have a bit of cash to bring with them on their trip. Souvenir shopping should be a positive (if not overpriced) experience for your school aged kid. Discourage souvenir shopping early in the day, instead saving it for the end (unless you take advantage of the send to your room service). Chances are you don’t have a stroller or anything to carry that stuff in and it’s very tricky to lug too much stuff around. The other thing to remember about shopping is that different items appear in different stores. Make sure your kid has a chance to go in a few before spending their hard-saved cash.

Involve them in the planning

Unless the trip is a surprise it’s a great idea to involve older kids in the planning process, including the budget. Not only is it a fantastic learning opportunity it can also help with the excitement and their cooperation on the actual trip. Settle disagreements ahead of time about what’s important to you and them on the trip and make your compromises. Start with the most important things to everyone and add those to the itinerary. Next, fill it in with less important stuff. Balance the two with practicality (like where they’re located and wait times) and value (how much will this affect your family’s experience). If the trip was a surprise you can still do some mini planning at the start of each day to make sure everyone knows what to expect.

Remember they’re a person with their own personality

Maybe you’re go go go and super excited for your Disney trip but your kid isn’t, or the other way around. Keep in mind their little personality matters as much as yours does and work (as best you can) to strike a balance between conflicting personalities. If possible, try and travel with at least one other adult that shares the kid’s views so everyone’s needs can be met. For example, my son is very low key and needed a break but everyone else didn’t want to waste a day in the hotel. Thankfully my mom travelled with us and was happy to hang by the pool for the day with him so everyone won. Another day of our trip to Disney World my mom went back to Epcot alone and says it was one of the best days she had there. If it’s not possible to separate then just accept that your kid’s personality is what it is and you’ll have to compromise a bit. Take breaks when you need to or push yourself harder than you’d like. Whatever it is that you’re doing, though, always try your best to enjoy it and have fun. Sometimes those unexpected moments turn into the best memories.

Some more tips:

  • If you’re flying try and book a window seat
  • Big kids need their own comfy beds in hotel rooms, bonus points for separate bedrooms
  • Make sure your school aged kid has their own comfy backpack to hold snacks and other belongings in the park (but make sure it’s not too heavy)
  • Older kids still get bored easily in line, make sure they have ways to keep occupied
  • Liquid bandaid over marker makes a great “tattoo” of your phone number in case you get separated
  • Carry a map and make sure to take note of food or bathroom locations
  • Most school aged kids should be tall enough to ride every ride in the park
  • Don’t forgo the kiddie rides just because your kid thinks they’re “too old”, those are some of the best experiences
  • Try and do at least one fancy meal to really enjoy Disney with a big kid
Even if  your school aged kid is already starting to lose their magic (during the age of not believing) a Disney trip can still be a lot of fun. Share your enthusiasm and keep encouraging (but not pressuring) them into having fun.