This is a completely non-running and non-fitness related post, so I apologize in advance! I have several friends considering their first trips to Disney World with their little bitty kids and in giving the same advice to them over and over, I thought it might be worth writing about here as well. We took O to Disney World for 2 days when he was 20 months old and a week when he was 30 months old and the two trips were so wildly different! He had such a blast on our trip for the Princess Half Marathon, when he was 2 1/2 years old, and we all had a much easier, less stressful time than on our first trip.
I did lots of reading about taking toddlers to Disney World. Definitely check out the Disney Moms Panel as they have answers to lots of questions on their site and you can send in a new one if you’re curious about something you don’t already see in the list. I also linked several articles we found useful down at the bottom of this post.
In addition to the tips in those articles, these things helped us out:
– If your child is less than 3, take advantage of it! That means they aren’t ticketed, so for the purposes of Fast Pass + they don’t count! They just get to come along with the ticketed adult. That was really handy for the rides O really loved because he could ride with Darrell in the FastPass line, get off and ride again with me on my Fast Pass right after! We did this with Buzz Lightyear and with the Tomorrowland Speedway. This only works if they’re under 3 and not ticketed yet, but definitely take advantage of it if you kid falls in this group.
– Similarly, if your child is under 3, they’ll be free at any of the family style or buffet table service dining locations. At counter service locations, they can’t get a free kids meal but the meals are so huge we would just share our food with O and had plenty of food to go around.
– Stay out of the gift shops. I know people who end spending an unplanned fortune on souvenirs and treats from the gift shops. We avoided that by just staying out of the stores! I went in by myself a couple of times towards the end of the trip to pick things up, but we tried not to wander into those stores unless we had a specific purpose. Of course, we had a couple of unplanned trips into the store to buy extra clothes for O when he had diaper leaking accidents two days in a row, which brings me to my next tip.
– Bring more extra clothes than you think you need for your kid, especially if you have a little boy. There really aren’t many options for little boy clothes in the gift shops in any of the parks. We found a shirt when we needed one but the time we needed some kind of shorts (all in one day – a bad day on the diaper front) we couldn’t find anything at all! O ended up wearing pajamas for the rest of that day because that’s all we could find him in the park and we didn’t have time to go all the way back to our hotel room before our dinner reservation. For little girls, you can of course find a thousand princess dresses, so you could find something but it could add up. Bring at least more set of back up clothes than you think you’ll need, trust me.
– Disney allows you to bring in your own food and we made sure to pack snacks in with us each day. I had a mix of our usual snacks, like applesauce or yogurt pouches, plus some special occasion treats like gummy fruit snacks. It saved us a ton of money in park snacks, plus upset tummies and sugar highs from all of those treats! Oliver felt like he was getting special vacation treats just because he got fruit snacks every day and never seemed to notice all of the other junky stuff around. That also kept us away from those snacks, which was healthier for us too. (We used Amazon and a grocery delivery service to deliver snacks to our hotel room so we had them for breakfasts and snacks to bring into the parks.)
– Embrace your stroller for all of the nap potential it gives you! We rented a stroller and had it delivered to our resort, which was very handy. O doesn’t use a stroller anymore at home, but with all of the walking at Disney, we definitely needed it. I practiced in the stroller with him at home before we went to Disney and talked about the idea of riding in the stroller to get to the fun stuff faster, so he didn’t balk at the stroller when we got there (a problem we had on the trip when he was 20 months old). The stroller made it easier to get him around the parks and also gave him a nice place for naps during the day. We had some great breaks during the day when he napped in his stroller and we sat people in quiet sections of the parks. My favorite was in Epcot with a Grey Goose slushie – best naptime ever! Oliver actually cried and hugged the stroller when I had to take it back to the front desk the night before we left.
*We did not return to the room for naps because I knew O would have just fallen asleep in whatever bus/monorail we used to get back to the room, ruining any potential for a nap when we finally got back to the resort. Thus, we did stroller naps but tried to get back to our hotel room relatively close to normal at home bedtime so we could all rest. That limited the fun night time stuff we got to do with him for sure, but it was worth it in happy baby-dom overall.
– Take advantage of the Baby Care Center. Every park has them and even if you don’t need them for diaper changing, they make a nice quiet place for a time out or clothing change or sunscreen reboot. They also have supplies you can purchase in there if you need them and a TV with movies for older kids who need to wait for you deal with siblings.
– Disney is famous for customer service for a reason. If you need something, ask someone. The night before our breakfast at Hollywood and Vine (the Playhouse Disney breakfast – one of the highlights of the trip for my Disney Junior loving kid), I sent Darrell up to the concierge desk to ask them about the best way to get over to Hollywood Studios in the morning, as our reservation was before the park opened and I knew bus service might be spotty. They gave us a voucher for a cab, made sure one was available for us when we needed it and even helped us install a car seat in the cab so O could ride safely. We would have never known that was an option without asking and that was so much easier than fighting with the buses!
I cannot tell you how excited he was in this moment, to meet Princess Sofia.
– Speaking of buses, any days you’re going to be on a bus, try to minimize the amount of stuff you have stored in the stroller. The strollers have to be collapsed on the bus and the bus is always going to be crowded, so you don’t want to be juggling all of those things at the last minute. I hated the buses with a kid and a stroller, truly. We will be staying at the Magic Kingdom resorts until O outgrows the need for a stroller just so we can minimize our bus time.
– In addition to practicing in the stroller, we also practicing taking turns and waiting in lines. Well, really I just made a point of telling him what a good job he was doing waiting his turn and waiting in line when we’re doing things like waiting at the grocery store. I think it helped a lot because he already knew that waiting his turn was something he was “good” at when we got to Disney, so he was proud of himself when we would wait in line in the parks.
– We’re big fans of character dining. It was much easier to meet characters in the various restaurants on property than waiting in horrendous lines in the parks! Our favorites were the Disney Junior Play and Dine at Hollywood and Vine and the Garden Grill at Epcot. At both locations, O got lots of time to interact with the characters including a dance party at Hollywood and Vine and thanks to the small size of the Garden Grill, several chances to talk to Mickey as he passed by during out dinner. Full post about character dining is coming! It helped any time we saw a character meeting opportunity as we could just tell O that he could wave and tell Mickey we’d see him at dinner later!
Including Mickey @ Garden Grill flashing my husband the “Live Long and Prosper” Vulcan salute 🙂
Oliver’s list of favorite things looked very different than our previous list of Disney favorites.
In the Magic Kingdom (where we spent most of our days because there was more toddler friendly rides here than anywhere), he loved the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. It’s a flat boring little people mover for adults, but it was like a roller coaster for him (arms in the air and everything). There’s almost never a wait, so it’s a good way for your little kid to feel like they’re on a ride on busy days, even if they don’t love it as much as he did (although I don’t know many toddlers that don’t love it). Naturally, It’s a Small World was also a big hit. I bit the bullet and rode this one with him while Darrell was off doing something fun like Space Mountain. It was worth it to see the look of wonder on his face. There’s a small window in life where this ride is more fun than annoying, I think, and toddlerdom is it. He loved the Tomorrowland Speedway and we took advantage of the fact that he didn’t count as a Fast Pass himself to ride this one frequently, alternating which parent he rode with. Be wary of Dumbo – Oliver loved the ride, but he loved the playground that serves as the waiting for the ride even more. The playground waiting area is genius – you get a pager, like in a restaurant and your kid gets to play on a playground while you wait your turn to ride Dumbo. Even better, you as the parent get to sit down for a bit! However, when the buzzer went off, it was hard to get him to leave the play area to go on the ride and he wasn’t the only kid I saw crying over leaving to go ride Dumbo!
In Hollywood Studios, he loved the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground, which is awesome and you might not visit at all if you didn’t have a little kid! He also really enjoyed the Muppets show once he got the hang of the 3D glasses. We did the Live with Disney Junior show, but it was honestly a bit of a let down after dancing with Princess Sofia at the Disney Junior breakfast earlier in the day (and Doc McStuffins and Jake and HandyManny). We did Toy Story, but I think it moved so fast he never really understood what we were doing. It was Buzz and Woody, so he had fun, but he definitely didn’t get it.
In the Animal Kingdom, he would have ridden the Safari over and over if we let him. He loved pointing out all of the animals and correcting us when we got them wrong. The Finding Nemo stage show was also a big hit.
In Epcot, we essentially rode the Finding Nemo ride and did the Turtle Talk with Crush over and over and over. He didn’t get much out of anything else, but certainly loved those and the pizza at Via Napoli.
O getting a fist bump from Buzz Lightyear – doesn’t get better than that!
The biggest thing that honestly helped us was keeping the mindset that this trip was for O. We had to go at his pace and with his interests. As parents taking a toddler without a backup set of adults around to help out (like grandparents), we knew we’d cause ourselves a lot of stress if we were worried about getting in our own “must do” things. That’s not to say we didn’t get to ride our own favorite grown up rides – we absolutely allowed each other a little bit of time off each day to do those things. We just knew that couldn’t be the focus this trip or we’d exhaust him and us. Any time I got to ride Tower of Terror was a little bonus treat for me. 🙂
I’m so glad we got to have this experience with O and I’m looking forward to our next trip (500 days per hubby) to see how differently he sees and experiences things as a 4 year old! I love sharing the magic of Disney with him. Hopefully these things will help anyone else out there planning to build their own magical memories!
Articles that will help:
WDW Prep School: A toddler-center Disney World trip
Parents: Disney World with Babies and Toddlers
No Guilt Life Six Tips for Traveling to Walt Disney World with Toddlers