So you want to go to a Disney World with a toddler or baby but they think are too young? I thought the same thing, but when we took our daughter for the first time at 19 months in December of 2014, it ended up being one of the most amazing experiences and something could have never imagined! We had an absolutely amazing time! First, this is not the vacation you’ve done in the past if you’ve been to Disney without kids. The pace is slower, your list of attractions is different, and you’ll be more mentally exhausted than you’ll imagine. That being said, it will likely be your most memorable vacation ever. I talked earlier this week about memories being the best souvenirs and this first trip with my little girl really, taught me that it’s the truth! Since her first trip, we’ve been two more times and it gets a little easier each time but it’s still a little exhausting.
Here’s a survival guide for moms, dads, and grandparents!
STEP ONE: PLANNING
Know the limitations of your little one. Don’t assume a stroller nap, don’t assume they’ll handle things as if it’s daily life or
that they will stay at their regular routine. It likely won’t happen! Yes there will likley still be a nap, but it might be earlier, it might be later, it might be for 20 minutes while you wait for the bus and that’s IT (those lucky parents need a hug).
Resort choice. We picked Art of Animation for extra space which proved to be helpful. Going back in time, I might have chosen something closer to Magic Kingdom since it’s where we spent the most time. It would have been a convenient break to get back there faster when it was nap time and to return after the nap. Our daughter loved the splash pad at the resort. It was the perfect place for her to play in the water and run. Of course, the strong Disney theme was well loved by everyone in our party! Not something you’ll get at a deluxe resort.
Our second time around, we went for convenience – Wilderness Lodge. It gave us a quick escape from Magic Kingdom (which we spent 3 days in) so we had a solid nap/break each day! We didn’t have a suite here but it was a great place, kid friendly and had some amazing cast members. It’s my favorite resort and we’ll most definitely return back there because of our wonderful experience! It’s in the Magic Kingdom area but it’s a bit off the beaten path so the resort it’s fairly quiet which makes nap time easier (a note that there is construction on the resort through 2017).
When to go. If you don’t have older kids to worry about school breaks, go during lower crowd times: times in January, February, end of April or early May, September, and parts of October (this one is a little iffy!), November, and December. Check crowd calendars first! If you can stay away the hottest summer temps and the rainy season, you will all have a better time.
To dine or not to dine? Dining plan with a kid? We did it. Would do it again! We were pretty full with our meals and had enough to share. We got a nice surprise at Via Napoli and our princess received a free meal off the menu! The other locations, she shared off our plates. Most of our snack credits went right to her. Yogurt, milk, and more. While it’s not the best use of our credits dollar for dollar, it was free dining, so no big deal in my book and she was happy!
Our most recent trip we opted to pay for a dining plan. With our daughter still under 3, it was worth the $$$ for us, as we chose mostly character dining (buffet style) and family style meals like Ohana. Snack credits were used more for pretzels, popcorn, LeFou’s Brew, and coffee for mom and dad. We had a grocery delivery of milk, juice, yogurt, bread, peanut butter, etc so the picky princess had food to eat without us paying for something she might eat. Being outside the home makes for a struggle to keep routine (as my girl is all about her routine so mealtime was difficult!)
Day off? If your trip is more than 5 nights, YES take a full day off. If you’re staying 5 nights or less, a half day off would be welcomed. We went to breakfast and went shopping and splashed around in the pool. It was great! We didn’t have to worry about sticking to a schedule. I’d argue to potentially make the first full day an off day and NOT go to the parks while you get used to your new surroundings. If you have a creature of habit, it makes for a less intense shock of jumping right into the theme park experience. I wouldn’t have said this until our most recent trip (which was our third with her). The first time, we jumped right now, the second we took 2 days to get used to the time change, being in a new location, and just hung by the pool and had dinner, and then hit the parks on the 3rd day of a 10 day vacation. I know that length of time is not available to everyone, but it made for a bigger success story!
STEP TWO: DINING RESERVATIONS
If you’re planning any dining, make sure it’s not within an hour of when they normally go down or wake up from a nap at home. That gives you some flexibility. Don’t plan a dinner too late in the evening when they are ready for bed.
Character meals?Make it at least your 2nd day in to give your child an opportunity to meet a character in the parks to ensure that up close experience with a character isn’t terrifying!That gives you a chance to cancel without penalty. Try out a character or two early in your stay to see how your kid does. If they are terrified, don’t force them into an experience and be mindful of other families around!
Think about places with larger portion sizes so you can share (or something your kiddo would enjoy sharing). If you choose a family style or buffet location, toddlers get their own plate of food. We enjoyed Boma for breakfast. Our pumpkin got a whole plate of food – pancakes, eggs, fruit, yogurt, and more! It was the perfect way to start our day.
If your little one falls asleep in a stroller before a dining experience, you can absolutely take your stroller into the restaurant. If he or she is awake, you’ll have to bring them without the stroller.
STEP THREE: FASTPASS SELECTION
60 days prior to arrival, you choose FastPasses. An exciting milestone for your trip! This is a great way to meet characters if it’s on the to do list! You can meet Mickey, Anna & Elsa, Tinkerbell, and Cinderella & Rapunzel in Magic Kingdom; Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy in Epcot; Mickey and Minnie in Animal Kingdom. Previous to traveling, I would have said seeing a character more than once would be overkill, but after coming back, we couldn’t get enough characters! We looked for Goofy and Mickey again and again and the less times we had to stand in the line, the better! Our favorite new home is Pete’s Silly Sideshow in Magic Kingdom. We got to see most of our favorite friends: Minnie, Daisy, Goofy, and Donald. They are not dressed in their traditional attire, but it was still a great experience with lower lines. It’s indoor and air conditioned and lines are really low the first couple hours the park is open.
If characters are scary, find all of the family friendly rides and things without height requirements. Know which attractions are dark rides. My daredevil loved everything from Haunted Mansion to Pirates of the Caribbean but they can be scary for toddlers. She just yelled “DARK” every time we went to a dark ride.
The second time around, the rides were not top billing and we found ourselves meeting more characters and the third time it was ALL about the rides. She even braved Barnstormer – a mini-coaster in Magic Kingdom, something I never would have believed would happen!
STEP FOUR: PREPPING FOR TRAVEL
Bring snacks so your toddler can eat on demand. Pack lots of extra clothes for varying temperatures. Bring a backpack or comfortable bag to bring to the park to store all of your stuff. Think about the stuff you use all the time at home – sippy cups, toddler silverware, place mats, and bibs.
You may want to purchase things for delivery to keep in your resort’s mini fridge: milk, fruit, yogurt, etc. This is expensive stuff from Disney’s little “markets”. We were fine without it!
How about diapers? Thanks to Southwest, we brought an entire suitcase of diapers, wipes, and snacks! If we had to pay for baggage, we wouldn’t have as much flexibility.
Stroller? Do you want to bring one or rent one? We rented one and it was great! It folded easily and quickly and was delivered right to our resort. It was less expensive than renting it daily from Disney as well and more comfortable for our daughter to sit in! After our first trip, we purchased the same style stroller for future use as we are frequent travelers and brought it with us on future vacations. It’s nice to have a stroller in the airport and you just gate check it. I thought it would be a nuisance but it’s actually quite helpful to have navigating the airport!
STEP FIVE: TIME FOR TRAVEL!
Be flexible! Things don’t always go as planned. Know how to change your FastPass reservations through your My Disney Experience account. Get to the parks early! Don’t try and stretch your kid too far for late fireworks if they are tired. Don’t try and do too much and enjoy the moments! Don’t stand in really long lines where your toddler will get bored and frustrated! While we didn’t do much “big kid” stuff, it was still a great time! We didn’t see much late night activity, but it was a totaly different pace which I really enjoyed. My feet were less tired.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! We’ve done it a total of 3 times and we’ll go back again and again as long as she enjoys it!
Ready to get started planning your 2016 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free vacation opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!