Disney World with a Toddler: I’m going to be honest here… Toddlers are hard! They aren’t babies anymore, but there are not big kids yet. They are kind of in the weird in-between stage where you can’t wait for them to grow up, but, at the same time, you keep asking yourself where the time has gone. It’s an emotional rollercoaster all around! So, taking toddlers to the happiest place on earth is no small task. I am past the toddler stage (thank goodness), so I feel like someone might be able to learn from my trials and errors. In this article, I hope to show you how worth it this endeavor can be, and some ways you can help minimize the meltdowns. (Notice I said “minimize.” Sorry, but there is no way to take it completely away.)
1. Just Go!
When I talk about bringing my little one to Disney, lots of times I hear, “Oh he’s too young. He will never remember it.” And while that may be the case, I don’t think it’s necessarily a reason not to go. You will have photos, videos, and souvenirs that will last a lifetime. But a bigger reason to go while your child is a toddler… they are FREE. That’s right, free! Any kid under the age of 3 has free entry into Disney World. Even if they turn three while you are there (like my son did on one of our trips). As long as they are 2 on the first day of your trip, you’re good to go. Also, bonus points if you are eating at one of Disney’s many kid-friendly buffets. They get to eat there free too, as opposed to sharing a plate at a typical restaurant. Whoo-hoo!! Disney with a Toddler just makes sense money wise!
2. Research, Research, Research!
I don’t know if I mentioned it yet, but did you know that you should research? Disney World is HUGE! It’s the size of the whole city of San Fransico. There is a lot of ground to cover (literally). So, doing a little research before your trip will be highly beneficial for you and the outcome of your trip. Here are some things to look into:
- Make sure you know ahead of time how tall your child is and what rides they can go on. Disney lists their height requirements on the My Disney Experience app, so you have all of the info right at your fingertips. Is your kiddo a little short? Don’t worry! Disney has soo many rides/attractions that do not have a hight requirement.
- If you’re staying at a Disney resort (another thing I highly recommend), look into each resort and see which one benefits you and your family the most. Some are highly themed to what a toddler would like, but may not have the easiest transportation to and from the parks. Some might have a theme to more appealing to the grown-ups of the group, but be just outside a park’s gates. Find out what’s important to your family and pick out a resort that best suits your needs.
- If you are not familiar with the process, look into how FastPasses work. If used correctly, FastPasses can save you TONS of time, therefore avoiding possible meltdowns.
- Rider Switch is a great resource to use if you have a little one that is not quite tall enough yet to ride a certain ride.
- Look into restaurants and see what menu appeals to your child. Most Disney restaurants do have toddler-friendly food. Also, character dining is a big hit for kids of all ages. You can make dining reservations 180 days in advance of the first day of your vacation. The photo above is my son and Pluto at Chef Mickey’s. They have a great kids selection and well as an awesome selection for us grown-ups. Best part… he was still two (about to turn 3 in just two days), but he was completely free and probably ate more than me that night.
3. Getting Your Toddler Prepared
When your toddler is going to Disney for the first time, I find that preparing them for what to expect really helps.
- Watch YouTube videos of rides, shows, and of people just walking around the parks. It really gets them interested in what’s to come.
- Go to your local thrift store and buy all of the classic Disney books that you can get your hands on. Usually, they are only a couple of dollars each, so it’s well worth the money. Familiarize your kids with the classic Disney characters that they might not have heard of before.
- Make a countdown calendar, or buy one off Etsy. Most toddlers don’t have a full grasp of the concept of time. If you told my son that we are going to Disney World in two months, he will ask every day, “Are we going to Disney today?” That’s almost as bad as the “Are we there yet?” question. So, unless you want to hear that every day, get a calendar.
- Take them clothes shopping! Maybe it’s just my kid, but he is so excited when he has his favorite character on his shirt. Make it special, and don’t let them wear it until they are at Disney.
4. Packing a Park Bag
Packing the right things is ESSENTIAL when going to Disney. Lucky for you, I have made a free, extensive, printable packing list! Click here to check it out! You won’t forget anything with this list around. But what I’m going to talk about here is what to pack in your Disney bag for the day. My first suggestion is to go with a backpack instead of a diaper bag. The main reason behind this is because if you decide to park the stroller somewhere but still want to take your bag, a backpack is easier to carry and hands-free. I know its hard to see, but pictured above is me (Hello, Everyone!) wearing the backpack I wore all week. Inside, I had:
- Diapers/wipes. If your child isn’t in diapers anymore, I still suggest bringing wipes. You KNOW they will make a mess at some point. Let’s be real.
- Change of clothes (again, the mess)
- A bag for wet clothes just in case they spill something on themselves or pee themselves. It happens!
- Sippy Cup (very important to keep those kiddos hydrated)
- Hand sanitizer and/or disinfecting wipes
- Ziplock bags
- A small toy or crayons and paper to distract them while waiting in line
- Pacifier/blanket/comfort item
- Fan/cooling towel
- Extra batteries
- Small First Aid Kit
5. Get to the Parks Early!
Now, I’m not saying do this every day; you and your family for sure need a day or two to sleep in. But for the most part, getting to the parks early is highly beneficial to you and your toddler. Lines tend to be shorter. Short lines = fewer tantrums. And the temperature tends to be lower, too. Also, if you are staying on-site, check to see what park has Extra Magic Hours in the AM to really maximize your morning time. ( Click here to read about the multiple ways that you can get into the parks early before anyone else!)
6. Balance Your Day
Like anyone, toddlers need some variety. They can get bored with the same thing over and over again. So balance your day with a mix of rides, shows, food, and sleep.
7. Naps are a Necessity!
If your child takes a nap from 12-2 every day on the dot at home, they will need to nap around the same time while at Disney. I am a firm believer in trying to keep the same schedule that you have at home while you are at Disney. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t bend the rules a little. But just make sure that they get to take a nap as much as possible. Cranky toddler = cranky parent. To read more about the best places for your kids to nap, click here!
8. Keep that Belly Full
I don’t know about you, but when I’m hungry, I’m cranky! So I can’t really blame my son when he has the same reaction. Disney is great with kid-friendly meals and snacks. There is something for everyone just around the corner. As I said before, kids under three can eat free at buffets! So that’s really great for the 2 1/2 year old that eats like a teenage boy. At regular restaurants and quick service locations, if you are looking for something that’s not completely unhealthy, look for kids’ Mickey Check meals. These meals meet Disney nutrition guidelines as a healthier meal. These dishes limit calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. Also, some quick-service locations have something called a Power Pack Meal. This super cute packaged meal comes with items that picky little mouths will love. Inside the boxes are carrots with ranch dip, Goldfish crackers, a cheese stick, strawberry yogurt, and a chocolate chip cookie. It also comes with a small-size drink choice. The meal costs $5.49 and is a great choice for those little once that might be on the picker side. Don’t forget, you can also pack a cooler and bring in your favorite foods. I usually have a few of those squeeze applesauce packs on hand for my son.
9. Baby Care Centers
Did you know that at each park Disney World has a neat little place called a Baby Care Center? They have everything you would ever need, and they are airconditioned! According to the Disney World website, they have…
- Private nursing room with rocking chairs
- Changing room with tables and a unisex bathroom
- Feeding area with highchairs
- Kitchen with microwave, oven, and sink
- Main room with television, table, chairs, and sofa
- On-site shop offering formula, baby food, juice, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, over-the-counter medications and clothing for purchase
10. Bring a Stroller
Strollers are a necessity for traveling with toddlers. And there are many options on how to handle the stroller dilemma. Should you rent one? Should you bring your own? Should you buy one while you’re there? Well, I have answered all of those questions for you in this article here!
11. Let Them Play!
No matter how fun Disney rides or shows can be, sometimes all toddlers want to do is play and run around! Try to schedule some playtime during the day to let them get those wiggles out, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. To read more about where fun playground areas, click here!
12. Disney Friends Wake Up Calls
If you are staying at a Disney Resort Hotels, this is a must-do!! The kids will love waking up to a favorite voice and it just might make getting out of bed go a little smoother! This will make Disney with a Toddler even more magical!
13. Plan for the Weather
Chances are, if you are in Florida for more then a day or two, you will probably experience some hot weather and some rainy weather. I know those kids costumes are super cute, but…. think about it this way: would YOU want to walk around soaking wet from rain or sweat in one of those big things? Some days are perfect weather for a fancy costume! But make sure you consider the weather before putting one on the kiddos. If you want to read more about how to keep cool in Disney, click here!! If you would like to read more about what to do when it rains while on your vacation, click here!!
14. Expect the Unexpected at Disney World with a Toddler
I know, I know. This is probably the most cliche thing I could possibly write. But it honestly is so very true! You, as a parent, know how unpredictable these little rugrats (I mean “lovely children”) can be. One minute they are so happy to be eating a chocolate chip cookie, the next they are crying because they changed their mind and now want a hot dog. Kids will be kids, even at Disney. Even more at Disney, to be honest. With all of the hot days, loud sounds, crowds, and so much going on, it’s typical for the kiddos to have a meltdown or two.
I hope this list didn’t scare you away from going to Disney World with a toddler! Just take it all in stride. Don’t let one thing that goes wrong ruin the magic for the whole trip. I promise, if you take it easy, you will enjoy your time and have a vacation to remember.