Travel to Disney World with a toddler? Yes! It can be done!
The first time we traveled to Disney World it was an adult-only trip and we had a blast! I really thought it couldn’t get any better than that. No kids to worry about, no strollers and other gear to lug around. Pure relaxation was the name of the game. Then came the first time we took our daughter. Even though I was excited to be visiting Mickey and friends again, I was worried about traveling to Disney World with a toddler. Emily had never flown before, but that was the least of my concerns. I had no idea how to plan a trip with a young child in tow or what to even take with me. Should we bring a stroller from home or rent one? Do we book meals or wing it each day? And all those characters? I knew I really wanted to meet them, but how would my little one handle it?
In the end I let the planner in me take over a little bit. I am the mom who carries baby wipes everywhere I go, so how could I not prepare for full days at an amusement park, right? I certainly learned some lessons on that first family trip to Disney World; ones that I have been able to use with every vacation we have taken since. Allow me to share some of that wisdom I have gained so that your first, or second (or third!) trip to Disney World with a toddler or two, is a success.
1) Plan your days, at least a little
There are some that will tell you that planning your vacation takes the fun out of everything, but when you have small children in tow, you will be happy for a little order. Disney World offers so many ways to enjoy yourself and it would be a shame to miss out on something you really wanted to see or do because you forgot to plan. Young children will not have the same energy to go, go, go all day long, so look for places to take a rest whether it is booking a dining reservation in an air conditioned restaurant or planning to spend the afternoon back at your resort for a swim and a nap.
While you are in planning mode have a look at the maps online that are available for each park. You can locate the Baby Care Centers ahead of your visit should you need them. Not only do these centers offer a place to take care of infants, they have a place to rest when your toddler needs a change or just a break from the sun.
2) Pack more fun!
Packing is a chore that I can do without when it comes to traveling, but not packing the right stuff can seriously put a damper on your trip. With toddlers a must have is a good stroller. We have visited places, like our local zoo, where we rented a stroller and while I think those work well for older children, I was very grateful to have taken our larger stroller from home to Disney World. It was more comfortable and since my daughter was used to it, she was able to nap in it without a problem. Another plus of bringing our stroller meant we had it to use in the airport as well as at our resort. Trust me, by the end of a long, hot day in the parks you will not want to carry your tired kiddo all the way home.
Packing the right things can also save you time, money and a lot of worry. Diapers, wipes and sunscreen will cost you a small fortune at a Disney resort. I suggest you pack things that you can use to entertain your youngster when you have a long lineup to wait through, like small toys or books. Packing the right snacks can not only help keep a child from a boredom meltdown, but can also provide the fuel they need to make it to the next attraction. The first time we traveled with our daughter I packed some favourites that she loved, like goldfish crackers and included a new treat or two, like licorice, to make it interesting.
3) Disney World and the character meet and greet
One of the things I love to do at Disney World is meet the characters. It’s fun and makes me feel like a kid again. That said, not all children react well to characters. There is nothing worse than planning the perfect trip and having your toddler freak out when they first see Mickey Mouse in person. We solved that potential problem by booking a character meal. Disney World has tons of options for character meals, but it is wise to plan ahead and book your Advanced Dining Reservation well before you leave home (see #1). You will be rewarded for your preparation when your child gets to meet their favourite character in a somewhat neutral area like a restaurant, rather than in the hot sun after standing in line for thirty minutes. Parents can gauge a child’s reaction quickly and signal for the somewhat intimidating individual to just move along, for now. Another nice feature of the character meals is that they often make a second round. If your child is nervous and just wants to watch from afar they could potentially meet them on the second pass. I have sat through three “meet ups” with Lilo until my kiddo felt safe enough to have her photo taken. There was no pressure from me and she was able to get in a hug on her terms.
4) Pictures, pools and playtime
One of the ways I relive the magic of our Disney vacations is by going through our photos. Take your camera folks! Snap pictures of your child on a ride, meeting a character or chasing a duck. Photograph the glee on your little one’s face as they watch the fireworks or dance in a water fountain. Make sure to have at least one family photo taken in front of Cinderella Castle, and if you’re tired toddler looks less than happy? Know that it is a memory you will laugh over for years to come.
One of the most underrated things to do at Disney World is swim. Each resort has its own pool and they all have great themes. Take advantage of this amenity, bring some swim diapers if your kiddo needs them and visit your pool. Some resorts have awesome slides and some have fun splash areas, but all are designed to cool your kids off and create more of those magical memories.
While playtime can certainly come in the form of swimming, don’t forget about the little extras that Disney offers. Most of them are perfect for young ones with short attention spans! My daughter loved to spend time at the colouring table at our resort’s food court. She would colour the sheets that were put out every day and had a special keepsake to bring home. Many resorts offer things like Movies Under the Stars or special games around the pool area in the afternoon. These events are great for little ones to have fun, while you can relax a little knowing your resort room is not too far away.
The most important thing to remember when traveling to Disney World with a toddler is this: expect the unexpected and go with it! If you miss a ride because your child is tired, then catch the next one. Better yet, use the Rider Switch Service that allows parents to switch off who rides, without waiting in line twice. Your little miss or mister is afraid of characters? Don’t stress! Take a photo with the many statues you will find in the parks or even a cute stuffie instead. Enjoy the moments as they come and always, always, pack some baby wipes. 🙂
Suzanne Rudge, owner of the blog MapleMouseMama, is a Canadian mama of two, happily married to her supportive husband. Suzanne blogs about life in general, the trials and tribulations of raising a family, reviews and giveaways. Suzanne tackles issues like Food Allergy Awareness as she does planning a Disney vacation – with passion! You can follow Suzanne living her dream at MapleMouseMama.