When we started planning our first trip to Walt Disney World with our 4-year-old son, we envisioned his excited face as he met Mickey Mouse for the first time; his thrill at seeing his hero, Buzz Lightyear, in three dimensions on a heart-pounding ride; and his awe at the fireworks over Cinderella Castle. Little did we imagine that his very favorite thing about Disney World would be our hotel pool!
Of course, at Disney's Yacht and Beach Club, the pool is no standard rectangle but a virtual water park that kept our son entertained for hours splashing on the deck of a pirate ship, floating on an inner tube along a sand-bottomed lagoon, and feeling comfortable enough to swim underwater for the first time. For my husband and me, the trip's biggest surprise was rediscovering what a pleasure it is to eat a good meal without feeling on edge about our young son's behavior, even in the fanciest of Disney's family-friendly restaurants. And for my mother-in-law, who brought us on this trip, the highlight was not only being clutched tight by her grandson on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride but also the varied atmosphere at each of the theme parks and resorts we visited. The fact is, Disney caters to families like few other places on earth.
As Disney World celebrates the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth, Child decided to take a fresh look at the world's top vacation destination by consulting an army of specialists: the magazine's readers and Disney-with-kids veterans. Here, our roundup of insider secrets and smart strategies from parents who've been there and survived -- or, like us, had a far better time than they imagined.