Traveling to Walt Disney World with a toddler, young child, or multiple young children can be a daunting task, however if you are prepared and adjust your expectations, it can be fun and rewarding! Your toddler will love meeting their favorite characters! Your preschooler will have great memories of riding Dumbo, and even your infant can have a fantastic vacation if you keep these things in mind.
Stay on property
Disney World has some truly amazing resorts that your kids will LOVE – and so will you! Art of Animation has some beautifully themed family suites (Finding Nemo, Cars, The Lion King) and a truly spectacular Finding Nemo pool/children splash area that is fun for the whole family. Animal Kingdom Lodge is perfect for the young animal lover in your family, they can sit on the balcony and watch the giraffe and zebras or play in one of the two beautiful pool areas. Pop Century is another fun family resort with lots of giant memorabilia from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. They have 3 fun pools and a great food court with a wide variety of options. Or perhaps your family wants to stay within walking distance of a theme park and experience one of the best pool areas on property. If that’s the case, you should try the Beach Club Resort. Stormalong Bay is an incredible area, and a great place to spend a non-park day.
Staying on property has perks that you cannot get from staying elsewhere: Extra Magic Hours, free parking at the theme parks, free transportation, free activities, and proximity to the action. Extra Magic Hours are exclusively available to those guests staying at Disney World. Each day, one park may open early or close later. Therefore, guests get to enjoy more park time with their families when the crowds are less. Be sure to check the park hours before your trip so you can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours.
Parking at the theme parks is not free unless 1. you are an annual passholder or 2. you are staying on property. If neither of those things describes your situation, then you should be prepared to pay $15/day to park at one of the theme parks. Also available to guests staying on property is the unlimited use of Disney transportation. Every resort has a bus system that will take you to and from the resort to the 4 theme parks, 2 water parks and Disney Springs. Some resorts also offer other methods of transportation to the parks and other areas around the resort. There are also boats and the monorail system depending on which hotel you happen to be staying at.
The resorts offer free activities everyday and even free movie screenings in the evenings! Activities can include fun trivia at the pool, pin trading, pool games, scavenger hunts, story-telling, and so much more! Be sure to grab a recreation guide when you check-in so you can take advantage of all the fun activities they have available!
Finally, and most important, staying on property offers the close proximity to all the magic. If nap time is crucial for your toddler (and you may want one too), consider the ease of staying closer to one of the parks. There’s nothing like staying at the Contemporary and walking(!!) the short 10 minutes back to your room for a break from the Magic Kingdom. Always consider how your days are structured and decide how much time you want to spend on transportation. If budget is a factor (let’s be real, it is), the more wallet friendly options at the 3 All-Star Resorts are also family-oriented choices. They are themed after Sports, Music, and Movies and offer giant fun for the enthusiasts in your family.
Use a stroller
Whether you bring one from home, rent one from an outside vendor (such as Kingdom Strollers) or rent one from Disney (I have not personally sat in one, but they don’t look too comfortable), you should definitely plan on having a stroller. On average, you walk about 7-8 miles a day around the parks, so save yourself the meltdown – bring/rent/borrow a stroller! Be sure to add something distinctive to your stroller, or else it will get lost in the sea of strollers at stroller parking.
Take afternoon breaks
Everyone could use nap time! It’s Florida, it’s hot out. Your little one needs a break and you will be glad for it as well! Go back to your resort, take a nap, cool off at the pool, recharge and relax before you hit the trails again.
You are allowed to bring food into the parks! You will be so glad you did when you are waiting 90 minutes for Peter Pan’s Flight and your little one gets hungry. Not only that, but unless you are on the Dining Plan, snack prices can be a little steep, so bringing your own is usually the best way to keep little kids and big kids happy.
If you are reading this, then you probably do plan ahead. It is best to have a good game plan in order long before you hit the parks. Is your child a Princess fan? Then 180 days in advance, you should nab those Akershus breakfast reservations. Have a pirate fan? Try staying at the Pirate-themed rooms at Caribbean Beach Resort and checking out the Pirate’s League at Magic Kingdom. It is very important to note if you haven’t been down to Disney World in a long time that the old Fast Pass system is no longer in place. Now you can begin making FastPass+ selections either 30 or 60 days in advance of your trip (depending on whether or not you are staying on property). FastPasses are the best way to avoid lines for your favorite attractions and get to enjoy more of the parks!
Utilize play areas
There are play areas located all over the parks and resorts. Most resorts have kiddie pool areas and/or splash pads, as well as playgrounds. Below is a list of some of the play areas around the theme parks.
- Magic Kingdom: Tom Sawyer Island in Frontierland, Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak in Fantasyland
- Epcot: Dancing Fountains at Imagination!
- Animal Kingdom: The Boneyard in DinoLand, U.S.A.
Use rider switch
Rider switch allows parents to take turns riding while the other waits with any child that does not yet meet the height requirements. As a bonus, if you have a child that does meet the height requirements, they can ride twice, once with each parent!
Plan to have a day to relax
Even when not travelling with toddlers, you should always plan a day off to relax. When you are at Disney World, you walk an average of 7-8 miles per day, that can really take a lot out of you, especially if you are not used to it! Spend a day enjoying your resort, relax at the pool, or maybe go resort hopping (Animal Kingdom Lodge is really cool and there is a great safari viewing area available to all guests, not just resort guests)
Use Memory Maker
Memory Maker is a fantastic photo package that is available to anyone who has purchased a Magic Your Way Package. It links with your MagicBand and your MyDisneyExperience account and it will contain all your PhotoPass photos, attraction photos and attraction videos (for the rides who have this feature). This is a wonderful way to keep your vacation memories together and to be sure the whole family is included in your photos in front of the castle!
Even the best plans can go awry if your young-one decides they don’t want to do something. It’s okay! Maybe take a break back at your resort room (assuming it is not super far away), find a quiet place to relax (maybe duck in somewhere with air-conditioning), or grab a snack. Don’t feel like you have to rush around to see everything, take your time and enjoy each others company, even if that means missing a FastPass+. Maybe you are all exhausted from a fun day of touring the day before, don’t feel pressured to make it to rope-drop. Staying flexible will allow for your family to have a great time!
Plan for safety
- For younger children, be sure to keep some type of identification on them. You can engrave a pet tag from your local pet store with the child’s name and your cell phone number(s). You can also use the temporary tattoo method, using a pen, Skin Shield Liquid Bandage and water.
- Take a photo of each child every morning. This way, if someone gets lost you have a current photo and you can remember what they were wearing.
- Teach your children to seek Cast Members should they get lost. Cast Members are easy to spot because of their name tags.
- Bring some basic First Aid supplies such as band aids, Neosporin, and any aspirins or medications. You should also check on the map where the First Aid Stations are located, just in case. Most restroom locations and thrill rides have AED’s.
- Magic Kingdom: Main Street, U.S.A. by Casey’s Corner and The Crystal Palace
- Epcot: Odyssey Center between Future World (Test Track) and World Showcase (Mexico)
- Hollywood Studios: On Hollywood Boulevard when you first enter the park to the left
- Animal Kingdom: Discovery Island, right before the bridge to Africa
Prepare them before you visit
Disney World can be very overwhelming! There are lots of people around, new sights, sounds, and smells! There is also a LOT of walking involved and it can be extremely hot during the summer. Some good things to think about when preparing your kids for Disney are:
- Watch Disney movies – this gives them an idea of what the attraction is about and can help you judge whether or not its worth the 75 minute wait for Peter Pan’s Flight.
- Pick out what attractions they might be interested in doing and secure FastPass+ (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom). Be sure to also check out the height requirements for all attractions!
- Let them help decide where to eat. Go through menus of different places that are around where you will be for that day. Maybe even try a character meal! Don’t forget to make reservations 180 days in advance!
Utilize quiet, slow, longer attractions to unwind
There are quite a few longer attractions that are slow and relatively quiet that could be a great way to relax and unwind.
- Magic Kingdom: Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, Carousel of Progress, Hall of Presidents
- Epcot: Spaceship Earth, Living with the Land, Ellen’s Universe of Energy (may be scary to younger children)
- Hollywood Studios: The Great Movie Ride (may be scary to younger children)
Keep your child on his/her normal schedule
It seems like such a simple idea but for a lot of people, they want to spend as much time in the parks as possible. However, this can lead to breakdowns and #disneytantrums. So save yourself (and your children) from the stress and keep everyone on their normal schedules!
Bring something familiar on the trip
This can help with their comfort levels, especially in a new, overwhelming place like Disney World. So don’t forget their favorite Teddy Bear, blankie or stuffed Mickey!