Disney World and Toddlers: 5 Things You Need BEFORE You Go
Ah, Disney World. There's nothing quite like it. I've visited Disney World many times before kids thanks to having friends who worked at the park, but my husband and I recently returned from our first trip with kids. Since we lived to tell about it, I'm here with a few tips that may help you out if you're about to embark on your Disney World adventure with a toddler in tow.
1. A Stroller
We debated back and forth many times on whether or not we wanted to take a stroller. Along with our 2 and a half year old daughter, we also brought along our 10-month-old girl, and my husband's original plan was to wear the baby and let our toddler walk around, “to run off steam.” The very thought of that scenario gave me nightmares. I nixed his thoughtful idea and told him we were taking the stroller. Best. Decision. Ever. Yes, they have “strollers” there, but the kids riding in them always looked so uncomfortable. Bringing our stroller meant the girls were cozy and contained. Going to Disney World sometimes means nap schedules will get way off, so I loved having a place where they could fall asleep easily. The crowds, even during the off season, are massive, and I loved plopping her in her seat and knowing where she was at all times.
Tip #1: Personalize your stroller handle somehow. Buy a bright ribbon, or put some balloons on it. When your stroller is next to 20 that look exactly like it in the stroller parking lot, you'll be happy you can spot yours immediately.
2. Dress Up Clothes.
There's no denying that Disney World will swallow your bank account whole if you don't have a good plan, and that starts with buying things before you step foot inside a park. Pick up some much cheaper Disney princess dresses from places like Target, Amazon, or Costco (or after Halloween when they're on sale), and when your littlest princess starts begging that she wants to look just like all the other girls in their pretty princess dresses, you'll have one for her to wear, but you won't have to shell out the big bucks for them.
Tip: Hide the dress(es) in your luggage and give them to her the morning you're going into the park. That surprise is a magical way to start a day in Disney.
3. Autograph Book.
Don't make the same mistake I did: buy an autograph book before you go to your first Disney World park. I figured my toddler was too young to care about getting autographs, but boy was I wrong. The first night we were there, we stood in line to meet the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse gang (i.e. Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy), and every little boy and girl had an autograph book to get their signatures. Mom fail. My daughter still had a blast, but she constantly asked me where her book was. Needless to say, but after that meet and greet experience, we bought an over-priced Disney autograph book so she could get it signed during the rest of our trip. She coveted that little book and still looks at their signatures.
Tip #1: Save money and buy one on Amazon before you go. If you forget to buy one before you arrive, then pick one up at any of the gift shops before you see your first Disney character.
Tip #2: Get a book with a spot for photos so you can put their picture with the characters in it later. It's a souvenir they'll actually keep and look at for years to come.
4. Dining Reservations
Long gone are the days of just flying by the seat of your pants and doing “whatever” each day you're at Disney World. Now you need to have a plan, and a somewhat solid idea of what you want to do each and every day before you arrive. If you have one of their dining plans, it's highly suggested that you make reservations 90 days in advance. Here's the tricky thing: plans change, and unless you're a meticulous planner (I'm not), you may not even know what park you want to hang out at that far away. My suggestion is to make a list of where you definitely want to eat while you're at Disney, and then plan around your days around those parks since dining reservations are extremely hard to change, especially during the peak season.
Another thing to keep in mind: even the more expensive restaurants don't guarantee better food. With the exception of two places, we picked everything based on the characters that we'd get to see while eating, since that's a sure-fire way to get a “personal” meet-and-greet with Disney characters.
Tip: Our favorite character dining experiences for our toddler were eating at Cinderella's Royal Table (in Magic Kingdom) and Hollywood & Vine (in Hollywood Studios).
5. Fast Passes
These are tricky, because you can only have up to three Fast Passes per park, per day, and you have to use them all up before you get any other passes for any other park. Basically, you need a solid plan for your must-do/see attractions, and stick to it, because once a time slot is filled, it's really hard to get it back. Since our oldest daughter was still too short to ride most of the more exciting adult rides, we made it a point to use our Fast Passes on meeting princesses since the wait times for those lines can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 90+ minutes (I wish I was kidding). The magic of Disney came through every single time she laid eyes on a “real” princess, so those Fast Passes were definitely worth it. We did ride some rides, but we just picked those attractions with shorter times. Figure out your priorities before you get your Fast Passes, so you can have a clear plan of action when you arrive at the park.
Tip #1: If there's a ride you really want to go on, but your vertically challenged little one can't ride with you (or if you have a baby with you, too), use something called a Rider Switch. Basically, you go on the ride while your partner stays and watches the kids. Then, when you finish the ride, you can swap places–the other person stays with the little ones while you enjoy the ride!
6. The My Disney Experience App
Remember those dining reservations and fast passes that you had to make early otherwise you'd be spending your time on the merry-go round and eating popcorn for every meal? Well, your plans will change, because you're traveling with kids, and kids don't always fit with our perfectly-thought-out schedule that we made six months earlier. This app, though, this app will save you. Have it on the front screen of your phone, because you may find yourself using it quite often.
You can see your schedule for every day you're at Disney World, and you can change things in real-time. Be careful when you change/cancel anything since the chances of getting it back if you need to may be slim to none. I used the app mostly to switch around Fast Passes based on what other attractions opened up while we waited in lines.
Tip #1: Use Disney's dime and connect to their WIFI.
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