One of the best parts about visiting Walt Disney World with a baby or toddler (aside from them being free if they’re under 3!) is that so much of the experience is new and exciting to them. Even if you’ve been to Disney yourself a hundred times before, there’s nothing better than seeing it through your child’s eyes for the first time. A few people we talked to couldn’t believe we took our son at 19 months old versus waiting until he got older, but I really feel like it’s one of those places that’s good at any age. While our son could have ridden a few more rides if he was slightly older and taller, we all loved the experience and we’re already looking forward to our next visit when he’s a little older.
If you read our post on How to Prepare for One Day in Walt Disney World, you know that we did a lot of research and planning before spending one day at the Walt Disney World theme parks to make sure we could make the most of our day. I’m a firm believer in planning with little ones to create less stress on the day of your travels or adventures so you can just focus on having fun and enjoying the experience. That said, below are a few tips to make the most of your time in Disney with little kids.
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Tip #1: Bring Your Own Stroller
We learned this one the hard way after forgetting our stroller back at the house and definitely wished we had our own lightweight stroller that reclines for naps on-the-go. While Disney has strollers available for rental, they’re made of hard plastic and only have a lap belt versus a five point harness. Plus there’s no real shade coverage from that hot Florida sun, and we had to improvise with a sweater to keep our son’s face out of the sun. While the rental strollers are perfectly fine for older toddlers who need a break from walking, they’re not ideal for a baby or even younger toddlers. Keep in mind that Disney has two stroller guidelines when bringing your own: 1.) Strollers can’t exceed 36″ x 52″ (mostly just applies to double strollers) and 2.) Wagons aren’t allowed in the parks. If you do choose to rent, strollers are available for $15/day for a single stroller. Our favorite stroller for travel is the GB Pockit+ since it’s super light, folds small, has a recline feature and also accommodates adapters for infant car seats. The Summer Infant 3D Lite is also a great option for an inexpensive yet sturdy lightweight stroller with a recline feature.
Tip #2: Pack the Essentials
Below are a few key items to bring for your day at the Disney theme parks to save yourselves time and money from having to purchase there. (Note: This would be in addition to the usual diaper bag essentials, or if they’re potty trained, that large bag that comes along with having a little kid on an all day outing!)
- Sunscreen: Even if the forecast is calling for clouds, Florida is (almost) always sunny. Our favorite sunscreen for little ones when we’re on the go is Babyganics spray.
- Clothing Change: This is something I tend to forget as my son gets older and thankfully out of the diaper blowout stage, but the last thing you want to do is have to go home or spend more money on a new outfit if your kid gets too wet or messy. If you’re visiting in the cooler months, layers are also critical since you never know if that Florida sun will make things warmer than planned.
- Snacks & Drinks: The rules at theme parks have changed over the years and you can bring food and drinks (within reason) inside the parks with you. It definitely helps to ward off any hangry toddlers and saves money when you’re already spending so much on the parks.
- Portable Fan: If you’re there in the summer, consider bringing a small fan from home versus shelling out tons of money for a Disney one. We have this fan that you can easily hook onto a stroller.
Tip #3: Get to the Park Early
Not only can you catch the opening shows offered at Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios if you get there early, but the crowds are also lowest in the morning. With shorter lines, this means you can squeeze in more rides if you aim to do your top choices first. Plus, it’s Florida after all, so early mornings mean that hot son isn’t in full swing yet and your littles are less likely to get burn.
Tip #4: Do at Least One Character Meet and Greet
The characters are located in designated areas throughout the parks, and I definitely recommend taking your child to see at least one character in person. Even for the littlest babies, the photo op is worth it alone! (Unless of course, your kid is terrified of people dressed up as life-size characters. Then you might not want to ruin there day.) Most of the characters are entertaining and well trained at how to approach the kids depending on their age and reactions. Our son was obsessed with Donald Duck at the time of his visit, and he couldn’t have been more excited to see Donald in person, play hide and go seek with him and then hold Goofy’s hand right next door. He may not remember it, but the smile on his face is something us adults will never forget.
Tip #5: Use Rider Switch for the “Big Kid” Rides
So many rides at the Disney theme parks are available for babies or kids who are joining their parents, regardless of their age or height. (Magic Kingdom alone has over 30 attractions without height requirements!) If you or your older kids want to go on a ride that your smaller children aren’t tall enough for, this is where rider switch comes in handy. Just like it sounds, one person or a small group (typically up to 3 riders) can ride the rides while the other group stays with the child. Then they can switch without the second party having to wait in line again. Before using rider switch, the whole party has to show up at the line queue and inform the line attendant that they’re using ride switch. Note: If you use a FastPass+ for the first group, the 2nd party does not need to use a FastPass+ to ride, which is a great way to make the most of your FastPass+ selections for the most popular rides.
Tip #6: Take Breaks and Naps As Needed
Disney can be tiring for adults, let alone a babies or toddlers that can get easily overstimulated. Magic Kingdom was our son’s first theme park and his first time on any rides for that matter. Most outings we had prior to Disney weren’t much longer than a couple hours, so I was a little nervous about how he’d do all day at a theme park as large as Magic Kingdom, but we decided going into it that we’d be flexible and take as many breaks as we needed to. Below are some things to consider:
- Nap On-the-Go: If you only have one or two days at the parks and your child isn’t able to easily skip a nap (like ours) definitely consider having them nap in the stroller. Our experience with napping on-the-go would have gone much better if we didn’t forget our son’s stroller at home (you know, the one that is lightweight, reclines and he’s slept in so many times before.) After initially fighting us on napping in the rental stroller, he gave in, only to wake up tired and cranky an hour later and fall back asleep in my arms. Fortunately, he eventually woke up rested and ready for more rides! If you opt to do this, try to find a quiet spot away from the screaming children to get them to first fall asleep. At Magic Kingdom, for example, there’s area in Liberty Square behind the cafe ironically called Sleepy Hollow. It was slightly away from the crowds and was a great spot of us all to sit and relax for a bit.
- Consider leaving the Park mid-day for a break if you have multiple days in Disney and/or are planning to be at the Park later at night. This is also a good idea if your child doesn’t easily nap in a stroller. My most vivid memory of my first trip to Disney at 4 years old, aside from a few character meetings, ironically was taking breaks in the afternoon to go to the pool. (Which, I’m sure my parents loved spending all that money on Disney for me to only care about going to the pool!)
- Baby Care Centers are great if you want to feed your baby or young toddler at a high chair, nurse them privately or just take a break from the overstimulation at the parks. There is a Baby Care Center available at each of the Walt Disney World theme parks, and you can find more information here.
- Break for Meals/ Snacks:
- Eating an early lunch is probably already part of your routine with little ones, but it turns out getting lunch around 11:30am means avoiding long lines to order food or waiting for a table. Because who wants to stand in another long line to eat when you’re already waiting in line all day for rides? Not me! For as overpriced as Disney can be, the children’s meals at the quick service restaurants are surprisingly reasonable with several meal options plus a yogurt smoothie, applesauce pouch and drink for around $6.
- Bring your own snacks and drinks or stop and grab one of the many Disney’s specialty snack options for your family. If you like Pineapple, the infamous Pineapple Dole Whip at the Aloha Aisle snack bar in Adventureland was everything I hoped it would be!
- Find some shade to get a break from that hot Florida sun. Aside from riding on “It’s a Small World” and meeting Donald Duck, I’m pretty sure the highlight of my son’s day was chasing the birds while we were sitting in the shade after lunch.
Tip #7: Catch a Parade
While some of the nighttime shows can be a little too late for the younger kids to actually enjoy, the afternoon parades are a must-see. Typically all of the main Disney characters are present, there is music and dancing the entire time, and they’re just the right length of time to keep your child’s attention. Note: If you have a parade you definitely want to see, be sure to factor this in with any afternoon break. I always loved the Disney parades, and after catching glimpses of the Festival of Fantasy parade at Magic Kingdom, I almost wish we would have woken our son up for it!
Tip #8: Commemorate the First Disney Experience
If it’s your child’s first visit, be sure to get one of the “My First Disney Visit” buttons that are available at any park. They’re free, and you can pick them up at Guest Relations in either the Walt Disney World parks or Disney Springs, plus most gift shops throughout the Parks have them as well. I’m also not usually big on souvenirs, but we also had to get our Donald Duck obsessed son a stuffed animal of his favorite character at Disney Springs later. Thankfully, that overpriced duck didn’t just end up in the corner and he sleeps with it every night, let’s us know he’s awake by quacking at Donald in the morning : )
Tip #9: Take Tons of Pictures
Take lots and lots of pictures! This doesn’t just apply to Disney but it’s especially important to catch those memories at the happiest place on Earth. I was terrible about remembering to take pictures before starting this blog, and while I’m still no expert with a camera, I’m super thankful to have more documented memories to look back on our trips. And even though our son may not remember the details of his first Disney trip (and he looks far less amused than he actually was in pictures like this one) he LOVES looking at pictures and videos, which is an amazing way to share the memories with him after the fact. Note: If you want the professional “Memory Maker” pictures Disney takes throughout the park and character meet and greets, they will scan your band/ticket or provide a card for you to purchase and download your chosen pictures.
Tip #10: Travel with Reinforcements
Disney with a baby or toddler can be so tiring (but so worth it.) We were originally planning to go by ourselves and were so excited when my husband’s family decided to join us. Aside from getting to experience the magic with him, they were a huge help with the holding and entertaining while we were waiting in lines. Plus, we actually have good pictures of the 3 of us, yay! That said, it’s totally doable if you don’t have family or friends to join you. Just take more breaks!
Please share in the comments if you have any tips or experiences from visiting Disney with little kids. And if you’re currently planning your trip, we hope you have any amazing time!
Will’s Trip Stats: Orlando & Walt Disney World/ December 2018/ 19 Months Old
Children’s Book Inspiration: Disney It’s a Small World Hello, World! by Disney Book Group
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