Have you experienced the dark side of a Disney vacation? I don’t mean meeting Kyle Ren at Launch Bay at Hollywood Studios.
Grumpy kids. Frazzled adults, busy trying to ensure that their little ones are having fun. Pushing, pulling dragging them from attraction to attraction trying to fit everything in and see all the things. Fun-sucking, basically.
Disney can be magical experience. Or, it can be a complete nightmare.
We’ve all either been there or have seen families with young children, and sometimes even older ones, with anything but smiles on their faces.
Tired kids and frazzled parents do not gel in any situation. Add to the mix lots of money spent on the trip, extended travel-time and off-kilter daily schedules and in the Summer, excessive heat can make some parents swear off the entire experience entirely.
But it doesn’t have to be that way!
8 Tips for Traveling to Disney With Toddlers
It’s possible to get the most magical experience for your family with little to no stress if you’re prepared.
Opt for Character Dining
A large part of visiting the Disney Theme parks is to actually meet your favorite characters. When I first took our older kids to Disney World in 2005, thwere 5, 6 and 7 at the time. We purchased (at home) Disney themed autograph books and spent a great deal of time tracking down meet and greet opportunities.
They LOVED the idea of ‘getting autographs’ their faorite being lunch with Winnie and Friends at The Crystal Palace. It was a relaxed pace, fantastic buffet by the way, and just an all around fun experience. Toddlers are most likely not going to be the most patient when it comes to waiting in line for character meet and greets, so I highly recommend character dining instead!
A few years ago for my youngest at 2 years old there really was no need to get autographs, he was just happy to meet the characters and eat Mickey waffles at Chef Mickey’s. To me, the cost beats waiting in long, lines for 30-60 minutes and you get the added benefit of food, so there’s that!
Split Up Your Days
Until our youngest is about 7 years old and provided we are staying either on property or within reasonable driving distance (20 minutes) from the theme parks, we will opt to split up our days. Doing the parks this way of course takes some planning; you’ll want to check park open and close times and familiarize yourself with the myriad if calendars online that show busier days vs. less crowded ones.
This is almost essential for the sanity of everyone in the family. I usually plan which park we visit based on that information online and we plan on waking up relatively early and arrive usually between 9 or 9:30 and stay in the park until about 1:30.
At that point we’ll go back to the condo and have lunch (I bring and prepare a meal to be cooking in the crockpot and set it before we leave in the morning) and rest while the toddler naps.
Around 4 or 4:30 we’ll head back into the park and stay until closing; generally around 9 or 10 p.m. This option saves money in terms of food and we can have a nice dinner in the parks as well as a snack and it also keeps spirits high, eliminating over-stimulation and crankiness.
Definitely Do Epcot
I always recommend EPCOT for young children. It makes me sad when I hear people swear off EPCOT because they’ve heard it’s educational and boring for their little ones. There’s so much to see and do, and as any parent of a toddler knows, they find delight in the most basic of things most of the time.
Each country in World Showcase has a dedicated Kidcot FunStop where kids can interact with people from that particular country; they’ll collect stamps from each country on their Duffy Bear passport. (Disney World recruits representatives from native countries to do contract work in their native World Showcase ‘country’.)
It was fun for Zach to interact with cast members and have his Duffy Bear signed and stamped; we particularly enjoyed seeing how they wrote his name in Japan, China and Morocco.
Attend a Hard Ticket Event
On our last Disney trip we knew that we didn’t want to go to Animal Kingdom but that Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios were definite, given the 2 year olds interest in all things Mickey and Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
It worked out in our favor, rather than spend an entire day (because we split our days into BN/AN- before nap/after nap) to attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This “hard ticket” allows you into Magic Kingdom with a special wristband at 4 p.m. and access to special events and shows, plus free hot cocoa, cider and cookies at various locations throughout the park.
We had a relaxing morning around the condo and then ventured out around 3:30; Zach had had a nap prior and we had all eaten by then so we hit the park around 4 and managed to stay until 11:45.
The best part of this is event are the special events throughout; we stumbled upon the Club Tinsel Dance Party with Goofy Santa and Pluto at Starlight Cafe after we had a quick dinner at Cosmic Rays!
Travel in the Fall/Winter if you Can
As someone who has lived in Central Florida in the summer, and has visited Disney in July, it is not the ideal time to go. In 2005 I took my (at the time) school-aged kids to Disney right after school ended in Massachusetts. Too hot for us!
We prefer the week after Thanksgiving through the first 2 weeks of December; again check crowd calendars and be aware that a lot of sports groups and cheer groups travel to Orlando at that time of year. Always check your crowd calendars online!
Don’t Try to Fit it ALL In
Whether you’re going to Disney for the first and only time or if you go several times a year, don’t get overwhelmed.
You will not be able to see or do everything Just do what you can, enjoy it for what it is and you’ll look back on the experience with fond memories.
Take Advantage of the FREEBIES
There are so many free things to do at Disney both in and out of the parks. In Magic Kingdom, with theme park admission, you can play Sorcerers of The Magic Kingdom, an interactive game in which you collect cards to help Merlin defeat Hades. In Adventureland at Magic Kingdom, you can also play A Pirates Adventure – Treasures of the Seven Seas and take on missions from Captain Jack to help bring home the treasure.
Another interactive experience, free with Animal Kingdom admission is the Wilderness Explorers. Build up your badge collection like Russel from Disney Pixar Up! and complete fun, educational missions through the theme park.
Buy Some “Souvenirs” in Advance
The dollar store is a great place to stop in on a weekly basis leading up to your trip. You’ll be able to find several Disney related items that you can stash away until you leave.
I was able to get pencils, crayons, puzzles, books, an on-the-go chalkboard and so many other things for the trip. They make great surprises to pull out when waiting in a long line, driving or when waiting for your food to arrive to assuage any impending meltdowns. Check out my other tips for budget-friendly Disney Souvenirs.
Plan, Plan, Plan But Be Flexible
Check crowd calendars and find out the best parks for the days you’ll be attending, plan out your “must do” activities/shows/rides and stick to your plan as much as possible with a toddler. I’ve heard of so many people with young children going into the parks not knowing what to expect or just expecting to waltz in and immediately begin having fun.
You really have to know what you want to get out of each individual park in advance especially if you don’t travel to the theme parks often. There are countless books and websites devoted to theme parks with a family, so do your research and create an itinerary based on your family’s interests.
Now, that’s not to say you’re going to account for every minute in the park because that can be just as stressful and because there are so many things to do and see, you’ll want some flexibility.
Disney World with a toddler is so much fun, you don’t have to necessarily wait until they’ll remember the trip; taking photos and talking about the “remember whens” will keep the memories alive forever and isn’t that what it’s all about?
What are your top tips for traveling to Walt Disney World with a Toddler? Comment below and let me know if I missed anything!