Tips for Disney World with Toddlers
Going to Disney World can be so stressful. If you have never been before navigating the fastpass system, dining reservations and Disney transportation can feel like a ride on Everest that never ends. We now have 3 young children with us when we trackle a day at Disney. They range in age from 4 - 6 months old. Here are my tips for a trip to Disney World with toddlers:
1. Stroller and/or Baby Carriers
We have 3 young children. When we first started going to Disney World I tested every stroller we owned and even tested not bringing a stroller at all. For 1-2 small children with an equal number of adults, in mild weather, I love skipping the stroller entirely and only bringing carriers (Like a Tula.) We would bring our 1 yr old (20 lbs) and a 2.5 yrs old (37 lbs) with just carriers. We were pretty loaded down but we could move across any crowd in record time. Most importantly we didn't have to deal with stroller parking. My husband carried the tot and I carried the baby. We used a cool towel, like this one. Frogg Toggs and other cooling towels provide a layer of cold between you and baby without getting yourself soaked!
Using only carriers is convenient but for longer days a nap in a stroller can be helpful. Or, now that there are 3 kids a stroller is kind of necessary to get through the day. We switched to a double when the first 2 grew to heavy to carry around easily. Here are my only real opinions on strollers: bring a full function but lightweight one. There are a lot of good options on the market now, I truly believe if you are pushing the stroller around it needs to provide shade and the seats should recline or there is zero point to pushing it around. I stress lightweight because if you use the Disney bus system you will have to fold it and take it onto the bus with you.
Stroller parking is annoying and honestly, the Disney employees are told to move your stroller to keep the lines and lines of strollers organized. The problem here is that when you return to pick up your stroller you might not be able to find it. Of course, it hasn't gone that far but it may not be where you left it. We usually take along a stroller lock to prevent this sort of "find the stroller" game. We make sure to put the stroller in the stroller parking (that is key here) and we put the lock around the tires and frame. The employees can move it but not far enough to make it difficult to find. I also have a friend who advised putting a Tile on the stroller but I don't own any of those yet so I haven't tried that method of keeping track of your stroller.
Here are some of the perks of using carriers...
- You can breastfeed while you wait in line for Mickey... FOREVER! (Or more accurately Anna & Elsa.)
- Babies & tots can nap on the go and you can easily go into and out of lines/restaurants/shows all without disturbing them
- You can quickly move around the park
- You can easily navigate down the curb filled, track filled, people filled main street
- You don't have to walk back to the stroller parking to walk the opposite direction to your next attraction
- You don't have to load and unload the stroller, fold and unfold the stroller for the tram & monorail
Here are some perks of having a stoller....
- It can hold your bag for you
- If your child sleeps better laying down the seats recline
- Shade... they can stay hidden under the canopy on the stroller
- Easier on your back
2. Pack the smallest diaper bag you can.
All moms like to be prepared but keep it light weight. You don't want to lug around a huge bag all day. Getting on and off rides is tricky enough, don't add a heavy bag into the mix. Disney has everything... for a price... so if you forget something don't stress. I like to pack a change of clothes per child, diapers, wipes, a few snacks, hand sanitizer and sunscreen. That is my short list for must haves. We also bring our water bottles (refer to the next tip) and of course our phones to take pictures.
3. Leave the water at home... but bring the bottle if you like!
Don't pack pre-filled water bottles to carry around Disney. They will give you ice water at any of the restaurants. We usually bring a large refillable cup, because it has a tight lid and then we get ice water from the walk up food stations.
4. Get Fastpasses for early in the day
Most people don't really understand the Fastpass system. Use the Disney app on your phone or my Disney Experience website to get your Fastpass+ selections made before arriving at the park. You can link your family and friends so that everyone can have the same fastpasses selected.
If you get your Fastpasses for early in the day you have a higher likelihood of getting on more rides using the nifty passes (which are included in your ticket price BTW.) Once you have used your first set of Fastpasses you can select more at the Fastpass+ stations inside the park.
5. Go to the hotel for an afternoon break... or call it a day early.
If you have little ones don't rush them around Disney until they scream their way out. Head back to the hotel for a nap mid-day. Or if you don't plan on staying until the park closes just remind yourself to call it a day early. Grab an easy dinner and get those kiddos tucked into bed at a reasonable hour. The more sleep they get the better your days will be and the more fun you will have towards the end of the trip. If the kiddos are exhausted by the end of day 1 you won't get much out of them but tantrums for the rest of your vacation. Exhausted kids also means they are more likely to get sick.
6. Stay at a Disney property or a hotel near downtown disney
Being close to the parks is so important with little ones. If you stay at a Disney property (or one near the Downtown Disney area) you will have lots of transportation options. The Disney property hotels include park parking (Oh you silly English language) in their room rate so you can use their provided bus system (or monorail or boat... depending on the hotel) or you can use your car and drive. Being close is a big bonus with little ones because you run a higher chance of getting back to the room quickly. (Our favorite place to stay is Disney's Art of Animation! Or if off property the Hyatt Grand Cypress!)
7. Use child swap passes
A lot of people forget these exist. This is a pass that is offered on "big kid" rides so that parents can swap the child between them and each of them get to enjoy the ride. Just tell the line attendant that you have a small child (they usually want you to point said small child out) and they hand you a pass that gets you into the Fastpass line with up to 3 other people.
8. Give the Magic Kingdom lots of time
The big MK is the best park for little ones. If you only have a few days you may just want to spend everyday at MK. It has dozens of rides that the tiniest of children can ride and character meet and greets around every corner. It really is the most magical park. Don't get me wrong, the other parks are great but MK just can't be missed!
9. Make restaurant reservations
This is a tough one... you have to decide months in advance what you want to eat and when but if you don't and you want to eat at one of Disney's many famous sit-down restaurants you will be eating at odd hours or you won't get in at all. I like to plan 2 sit down restaurants for our whole trip (which is usually 3 nights.) We also have a Landry's club card and use that for 1 lunch/dinner.
10. Use the Baby Care Centers
Disney World only has one Baby Care Center per park and most of them aren't centrally located, IMO. However, they are really nice! They have dark, quiet, AC filled rooms for you to nurse your baby. They have clean, big changing tables and they have baby essentials (just in case.) We love taking advantage of the one at Epcot (which I think is the most central of all of them, well as central as you can be in a LARGE park.) Even if you only use them 1x in your day they are a nice rest spot and make taking a load off very comfortable.
11. Take your time
Don't rush... seriously! I have seen time and time again parents dragging the toddler away from the Circus water play area in Magic Kingdom or away from the aquarium area at Epcot just because they HAVE TO GET TO THE NEXT RIDE! Now, if you have Fastpassess or restaurant reservations or you have already been playing in the water for 2 hours... I get'ya but most of the time it is just the parents need to go go go. The most magical part of Disney is seeing the look on your child's face as they discover something new. Slow down and watch them discover the magic of Disney.
*Now, I know this sounds like the opposite advice of make reservations and get Fastpasses but what I am saying is don't over schedule. There is a fine line.
12. DON'T GO DURING THE SUMMER!
If you have to go during July or August I get it but if you have any choice in the matter just DON'T DO IT!!!! Florida is not fun in the summer, unless you are in the water. It is so hot you can't think and everyone smells. The lines are terrible and frankly the park is just less magical with sweat in your eyes... or is it tears when you see an 80 min. wait on Peter Pan? Anyway, just don't go during the summer. I highly recommend late September through November and then February-March. (Try to avoid spring break also.) In fact, a good trick is to look at the Blockout dates for seasonal pass holders. If the pass holders can't go it is because the park is really full already and those are peak times. Go when the seasonal pass holders can go and you will enjoy it more! Promise.