Here are some pointers if you are planning to vacation at Walt Disney World with young children. My husband and I went in October with a 5 year old boy and 7 year old boy, and I'd love to help you along the way. Learn from our triumphs, and our mistakes. In the posts following, I have detailed each day at the parks, as well as rated each attraction. "A" stands for the adult's opinion, and "C" stands for the child's opinion of each attraction, and I used a * scaled, with 5 being the best rating.
1) If at all possible, drive. We had a 1,000 mile road trip ahead of us to go from St. Louis to Orlando. We left at 10 pm, and the boys slept until 8 am. We arrived in Orlando at 5 pm (it would have been 4 pm, but we missed our exit, and then were stopped for a speeding ticket). The 5 year old took a 2 hour nap in the car as well, so he was only awake for about 4 to 5 hours. I was surprised how manageable driving there was.
2) If at all possible, stay in a location with kitchen capabilities. We brought the majority of our non-perishable food items, and then stopped at a grocery store right next to our condo to buy milk, fresh fruit and veggies, hot dogs, orange juice, yogurt, lunchmeat, and frozen pizzas.
3) Bring a sack lunch to the parks...of course it is more cost effective, but it also gives you the luxury of eating while you wait in line for an attraction. I found that bringing our lunch saved us time in the park as well as money.
4) We ate breakfast in our condo each morning before we left. We ate dinner in our condo every night with the exception of the day we were at Magic Kingdom. We ate frozen pizzas, baked ham and cheese sandwhiches, mac n cheese and hotdogs, and pasta and breadsticks...all easy foods with minimal cleanup.
5) Bring bottled water in to the park along with the powdered Crystal Light or Kool-aid or Propel packets...my boys never complained about having something else to drink. When they'd finish their drink, I'd just find another water fountain, fill up their bottle, and add the powdered mixture. At $3.75 for a drink at the park, we saved TONS of money hydrating this way.
5) Buy gifts BEFOREHAND. I had purchased small toys at the $ store for each morning we were at a park. I also purchased Toy Story brown paper bags from Dollar Tree in which the gifts were "wrapped". My children never once asked to go in to a gift shop, because I explained that they had received their "gift" at the beginning of the day before we even left. Also, receiving their gift each morning was incentive for them to get our of bed, get dressed, and get to the table for breakfast. Day 1 for Hollywood Studios they received a Mickey Watch (from the $ store), Star Wars coloring kits (purchased for $1 each at Target) and a Disney autograph book ( 40 cents on clearance at Michael's Crafts). Day 2 for Magic Kingdom was a battery operated spinning glow in the dark toy (purchased at Walmart for $4 compared to $15 ones at the parks), a glow stick necklace, and Disney themed yo-yo (from the $1 store). Day 3 for Epcot they received a 50 piece Mickey puzzle (from the $store), a Disney Punch Balloon (from the $ store), and a Buzz Lightyear and Woody Figurine (from the $ store).
6) To help moods while we waited in line, we brought totsie-pops for the boys to have, as well as small coloring books...this helped tremendously!
7) GET THERE BEFORE THE PARK OPENS I cannot stress this point enough. Even though the parks were extremely crowded, our average wait time for a ride was 15 minutes...this was because we rode the most popular rides first, and there weren't as many people to contend with. If you have small children this is imperative...my children did not like to wait in line (what kid does?), so we did what we could to minimize our time in line, and getting there before the park opens is the best solution to this problem. In Magic Kingdom, we rode/did 7 attraction in the first hour and a half..if we didn't do this, we wouldn't have been able to do or see half of what we did because it got so crowded after 10:30 am.