It’s a brave adventure for parents, taking a toddler to Disney World. While it makes perfect financial sense due to Disney’s “free until 3 policy”, the change in routine can be nerve wracking! If this is your first Disney World vacation EVER the new experience will be exciting for your entire family. If you’ve been to Disney World without kids, you’ll definitely notice a difference in pace and touring style. Please use this guide to help you master Disney World with a little one!
There are two schools of thought when booking your accommodations: convenience and price. Convenience would be within close proximity to Magic Kingdom. Keeping cost in mind, your best bet is Wilderness Lodge, although I could make an argument to upgrade to one of the resorts along the monorail to just “roll on” to the monorail allowing you to get to both Magic Kingdom and Epcot without worrying about taking your prince or princess out, folding the stroller up and repeating multiple times each day as you would to get on and off the buses. The resorts nearest to Epcot: Beach Club, Yacht Club, and Boardwalk Inn are also 3 great choices as you can walk or take a boat to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. (The walk to Hollywood Studios is long – I suggest the boat unless you literally just missed it).
In between the convenience and price category is Art of Animation. The family suites provide the best character presence in all of Disney World and it’s perfect for kids of all ages! A bonus of the family suites is that adults have a separate bedroom from the living space allowing your little one to get a full night’s sleep without you in sight! It will also avoid “lights out” earlier than you’d like or hiding under the covers watching a movie on the iPad! Another little bonus is that the family suites have a microwave!
Middle of the road money wise in the moderate category, I think Coronado Springs is the best. There are sliding doors between the bathroom area and the sleeping quarters that could block off light and noise while your toddler gets her beauty sleep (assuming a pack and play is still in the cards). Coronado Springs also has the best moderate resort pool experience.
If you’re really looking to save money, your best priced resort as well as winner for best use of characters in Disney resort is All Star Movies. Buyer beware though – you don’t get anything for free. This resort is rather large, so it’s worth upgrading to the preferred location rooms. During off peak travel hours, this resort shares bus service with the other two All Star resorts and Movies is the LAST stop. Not ideal with a toddler in tow.
All Disney World resorts have a mini fridge and you can request a pack n play or crib (based on availability) at no cost. The mini fridge is large enough to fit a half gallon of milk and some other cold snacks. Think the size of a college dorm fridge. For moms like me that are still doing whole milk for their growing babies, each resort has their own “general store” that you can buy milk, juice, and other supplies at Disney inflated prices. It’s better than buying cartons of milk one by one!
How many nights to stay?
This is your decision! If you’re taking a plane ride, I think 5 nights is your minimum. If you’re changing time zones whether flying or driving, you need at least that amount of time as well. An ideal Disney vacation (especially for a first time) is 7 days, 6 nights (or more) with a break every 2-3 nights to enjoy the other things your resort has to offer or to go exploring.
Theme park tickets, the most expensive part of any Disney vacation. First timers will definitely have some sticker shock at the overall cost of their vacation package when park tickets get added to the mix. Starting with “how many days”. My preference with or without kids is at least 5. There’s a big price break at 4, so the upgrade to that 5th day is really minimal. This gives you 2 Magic Kingdom days, 1 Epcot Day, 1 Hollywood Studios day, and 1 Animal Kingdom day.
If you’re on a shorter trip or a tight budget, use this guide to choose your parks. I understand you want to see it all but for the age of your little ones, Magic Kingdom just makes the most sense. There are well over 30 attractions plus live shows to enjoy. While some of them are for “big kids”, it’s important to know what each park has to offer.
3 Days: 2 Magic Kingdom, 1 park of your choice
4 Days: 2 Magic Kingdom, 2 parks of your choice (or 1 in each park, but you may feel like you’re missing out on Magic Kingdom!)
Choosing your “other” park, is based on what you and your child/children like. Hollywood Studios has a heavy Disney Junior presence, Epcot has lots of princesses, and Animal Kingdom has some great dining, a few lesser seen Disney characters and it’s great for little ones who enjoy the zoo back home!
Don’t be afraid to skip a park. You can always return to Disney another time to enjoy more when the kids get bigger!
What about park hoppers? Is that too much for young kids? My argument for park hoppers is that you’re little one is taking it all the sights and sounds of Disney. They won’t notice a difference of going to Magic Kingdom in the morning and heading to Epcot after nap time. Lights and noise are lights and noise!
Big Kids Can Have Fun Too!
For many of the attractions that have height requirements, the rider switch option is available. Alert a cast member that you’d like to take advantage of this service and they will walk you through the process. This allows one guest to ride while the other one waits with your too small or too scared rider and the “switch” with the other adult. If you have an older child who can ride, he or she can ride twice (once with each adult).
I’m sure traveling with little ones bring the thought of character meets to mind. If your kids do recognize some Disney characters (which I think happens around age 2), you can one or more of your FastPass+ allotments to meet their favorite characters or use the standby lines to do so.
Taking a break
Whether you choose base tickets or park hoppers, you can leave a park and return later in the day. Try and keep nap time consistent each day. If your little one is a good stroller napper, feel free to roll around the parks while she takes a snooze. If you need a quiet space, head back to your hotel BEFORE nap time to get some time to wind down and to prevent a complete meltdown.
Each of Disney’s 4 theme parks have a baby center. It’s an air conditioned area with rocking chairs, changing tables, bottle warmers, high chairs, and more. It’s also a great escape from the noise of Disney parks. Check the park maps for locations!
The addition of FastPass+ is the biggest asset to parents of young children. This allows you to schedule those top 3 choice attractions prior to your arrival. Avoiding being in line during nap time/when you’d like to leave the park for the morning.
Best FastPass+ attractions for each theme park for the toddler population:
- Jungle Cruise
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Enchanted Tales with Belle
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic
- Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor
- Haunted Mansion (+/- on the “scare” factor)
- Meet Anna & Elsa
- Meet Mickey at Town Square
- Meet Tinkerbell at Town Square
- Meet Ariel in her Grotto
- Meet Cinderella & Rapunzel
There are many more attractions and live shows available in Magic Kingdom to bring enjoyment to your toddler!
- Seas with Nemo and Friends
- Turtle Talk with Crush
- Journey Into Imagination with Figment
- Epcot Character Spot
- Spaceship Earth
- Living with the Land
The two headlining attractions in Epcot: Test Track and Soarin’ both have 40” height minimums. Adults will have fun with these. Check out details of Rider Switch.
- Toy Story Mania
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid (live show)
- Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage (live show)
Toy Story Mania “training” before you start to rack up your points!
- Disney Junior – Live on Stage (live show)
- Studio Backlot Tour
- Great Movie Ride (+/- for a few small scare factors)
- Muppet Vision 3D
- Lights, Motors, Action (live show)
- Indiana Jones Stunt Show (live show)
Enjoy some adventure time at Honey I Shrunk the Audience play area!
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Festival of the Lion King (live show)
- Finding Nemo the Musical (live show)
- Triceratops Spin
- DINOSAUR (height requirement and decent scare factor involved – beware before you choose this option)
- Meet Disney Pals
Play in the Boneyard! If you have time, enjoy some of the trails and treks – Flights of Wonder, Wild Africa Trek, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, etc. They’re worth the time exploring if you have a full day to dedicate to Animal Kingdom.
If you’re planning a character meal, book it later in your trip to see how your little one reacts to characters earlier in the trip. Stop by one of the character meet and greets and try face characters (those that can speak) vs. non-face characters like Mickey and friends who don’t speak. They may be a bit scarier at first. If you do make your reservation earlier in your trip, you can always wave characters past your table if the scare factor is too high! Remember, Disney allows cancellation at no cost 24+ hours from time of reservation so you can always do something else.
Don’t worry about a few tears or whiny moments, kids are everywhere in Disney and most parents feel your pain and are hoping their kid doesn’t do the same thing until AFTER they leave!
Non-character dining options that have great ambiance for kids and good food for adults:
- Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (Hollywood Studios)
- 50s Prime Time Café (Hollywood Studios)
- Beaches & Cream (Beach Club)
- Whispering Canyon Café (Wilderness Lodge)
- ‘Ohana Dinner (Polynesian)
- T-REX (Downtown Disney)
- Coral Reef (Epcot)
- San Angel Inn (Epcot
- Rainforest Café (Downtown Disney or Animal Kingdom)
- Live theater shows are sometimes a good option depending on your child’s attention span – Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ are my top choices.
Dining Plan or No Dining Plan?
Can you get your little one to sit down each night for a meal? Is he a wiggle worm and makes everyone’s dinner more difficult when he’s “all done”? Perhaps plus dining is not for you! If he wants food on the table NOW and you do want dining, select mostly buffet locations. The added benefit being that he can have his own plate of food at each buffet location without any additional cost. At other sit down restaurants, he can share with mom, dad, or big sister at no additional cost.
If you’re beyond meltdowns or have a toddler who will patiently sit and eat (I’m jealous), enjoy and explore all of your options. You still may want to stay away from signature dining as that can be a long meal!
Adults only time
Looking for some time away from your little one for a romantic dinner or outing? Disney has thought of EVERYTHING! Kids nite out offers 1:1 babysitting services in your hotel room. This must be set up in advance, but it’s a great way for adults to escape for a little bit. If you’re little ones are over age 3, you have the opportunity to enjoy some of the kids activity centers around Disney World deluxe resorts while you enjoy a meal as well!
A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)
Ready to get started planning your toddler’s Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote or use the form below. 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. Enjoy the time with your little ones! 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!) If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, please feel free to use the contact form below.