One of the most exciting vacations a family can take is a trip to Walt Disney World! A question I see asked a lot though is “Is my child too young to visit Disney”. Although many of the rides are geared towards older kids and adults, there’s still a lot for your littles to do at the parks. Plus, with kids under 3 being free, it’s always nice to make a trip to the parks with them before you actually have to pay for them. So how should you visit Disney with toddlers?
Strap in guys… this may be a long one
Plan before you go
The most important thing that you can do when you’re thinking about visiting Disney with anyone, is plan. Finding the best hotel, figuring out nap/rest times, where to eat, etc are all very important to making sure that your trip goes as smoothly as possible. Working with your child and her/his abilities will really make or break your trip.
One of the great things about Disney World is the amount of hotels you can choose from right there on property and when you stay on the property, the fully immersive experience not only adds a little more magic to your stay but it also comes with some pretty awesome perks.
No matter which hotel you choose to stay at, if you stay at a Disney Resort, you will have free transportation to and from the parks. The type of transportation depends on which resort you stay at but you’ll either have the ability to take a bus, a ferry, the monorail, or very soon the new sky lifts to and from the parks and some resorts don’t even require transportation… you can just walk straight into a park. This is important because you won’t have to worry about paying to park each day (which is $25 at the parks) or having to walk or take a tram from the parking lots. When you stay at a resort, the hotel transportation takes you directly to the parks. This saves a lot of time and hassle. Just put it this way, if you drive to Magic Kingdom and park in their parking lot, you have to pay to park, park in a very full parking lot, take a tram to the transportation station, and then finally take either the ferry or the monorail over to Magic Kingdom. This can take an hour or more depending on crowds and how quickly you can get out of the car and on the trams. When you stay at a resort, you bypass the tram and the monorail or ferry and the bus just drops you off right at the bag check area for Magic Kingdom. Convenient right?
Also, Hotel are an amazing way of extending the park magic into the rest of your stay. If I’ve said it once, I know I’ve said it a million times, Disney Resorts have this certain magic to them. From the special themeing at each resort to the hotel cast members, there’s just something special about them. But which ones are good for taking a family to, much less one with toddlers? The answer to that depends on what you’re looking for. Disney has a verity of hotels to choose from.
Best Value Resorts
1. All-Star Music
2. All-Star Movie
3. All-Star Sports
If you’re looking for cute hotels on a budget, I highly recommend checking out the newly renovated (they are still working on some of them) All-Star Resorts. We always stayed at the All-Star resorts when I was a kid and we loved it. It’s close to the parks, you’ve got the free transportation, dinning areas, and great pools. The hotels offer a lot of fun activities for the family throughout the day and at night too, including poolside movies.
Only downside to these hotels is that they are the value resorts and because of this you get a lot of big groups there for things like band competitions and cheer leading. So these resorts tend to be a little more noisy than some of the others.
You also have the option of staying at the Art of Animation and Pop Century resorts as well for the value range. Although, these two resorts are a little more expensive than the All-Stars and I’d honestly place them at more of the moderate levels than value for prices. These two hotels are much more immersive though. The actual rooms are themed on the inside as well as the outside and overall it’s just a much more fun experience. But again, these can be pretty noisy as well.
Moderate and Deluxe Resorts
If you’re looking to stay in a little more quiet hotel and have a little more money to spend on your trip, I highly recommend staying at either a moderate resort or, if you can swing it, a deluxe villa. I personally love the Villas. They offer more room, tend to be much quieter, have great transportation, and some even have a full kitchen with a full size stove, oven, and fridge so you can cook in your own room. This is great if you have a picky eater, you can go to the parks and still manage to fix the foods you know your child will eat.
1. The Cabins at Fort Wilderness Lodge
2. Caribbean Beach
1. Old Key West
2. When should you go
Don’t try to plan your trips for a non-busy time. Non-busy doesn’t really exist at Disney. You pretty much have busy, crazy busy, and OMG. Instead of trying to find a not busy time, I’d plan more on weather. Disney World is in central Florida which can be very hot, humid, and have some pretty turbulent weather depending on the time of year. If you are going to Disney World between June and November, plan on temperatures getting as high as 100 plus degrees. It is going to be hot! and for a long period of time. You’ll wake up at 80 and it’ll be 90 plus by 10 or 11 in the morning. On top of that, it’s going to be humid. There’s never a time that Florida isn’t humid but during the summer, this humidity can make the feels like temperatures feel as much as ten to twenty degrees higher than the actual temperature outside. If you’re not used to humid weather, imagine walking outside and being immediately slapped in the face with a soggy hot gym sock… it’s sort of like that. And it will storm. Yes, it is going to storm, most likely daily. I don’t mean a little rain, I mean major Thunderstorms daily. Normally this happens in the mid to late afternoons, so if you don’t mind planning meals or maybe taking a break at the hotel to ride out the storms for an hour or so, then you’re fine. But it’s something to plan for.
And don’t forget that June to October is Hurricane season. Now, we don’t normally get bad hurricanes ( the last couple of years are the exceptions) and central Florida hasn’t had a direct hit in something like a hundred years, but it is something to plan for. If you happen to be flying down to Florida in late September or October (when we normally get them) there may be delays or cancellations of flights. Trains may not run, and driving may be hazardous depending on where or if one comes in.
If heat and hurricanes aren’t you dish… you may want to look at coming in the winter or spring. The weather in Florida is actually pretty nice from November to about May. You can still comfortably swim in the pools here until easily December and then start back up in April. For the most part, it’s not too rainy and the temperatures are pretty nice. Though don’t believe the rumors that it’s warm all year. We were getting temperatures in the thirties at Disney in February. Yes, even Florida can hit freezing and stay that way for a few days at a time. But honestly it’s pretty nice at the parks during that time.
Side note, again it’s Florida… it most likely will rain, even in the winter on your trip.
3. Plan to go during the “Off-Season”
Now again, there’s never not a time that Disney isn’t busy but there are peak travel months here in the States and then there are non-peak times. Your peak times are going to be the summer (generally from June to August), Spring Break (April), and Holiday’s (Christmas and Thanksgiving). This is going to be when you pay top dollar for your trip. Rooms most likely are going to be more expensive, flights will be more expensive, and there may not be as many perks. Plan to go in those off months instead. You’ll most likely get a better price for a hotel and flight.
Bed rails and Pack ‘n Plays
When you are booking your resort, make sure to add on that you need bed rails or a crib in the room if you have a wiggly sleeper like myself. If they have them, they will be more than happy to supply them for you. My experience has been that the crib provided to you is a Graco pack n’ play. These are great because they fold up and don’t take a lot of space in the room. Only downside is that they can be kind of hard to sleep on for the kiddos. So make sure that you bring a comfy blanket or use the extra comforter in the room to soften the bottom. If the hotel is out or unable to provide a crib for you, I always recommend bringing your own collapsible pack n’ play with you to let you toddler or baby sleep in. If you don’t have one, you can always find them for pretty cheap in second hand stores.
Measure Your Child
Everyone wants to ride the rides at Disney but some of the rides aren’t exactly suited for little bodies. The best thing you can do is download the My Disney Experience app on your phone and see what rides have a height requirement and measure you child before going to the parks. This way you can grab any available fastpasses for rides you all can do together or make plans to hit up the rider swap option. Also, if you measure your child before going, you may save yourself some tears of disappointment if your little mouse isn’t able to ride on certain rides.
Take in Some Live Shows
One of the things I absolutely love at Disney are the live shows and parades. If you can find one of the indoor shows, they can provide some amazing entertainment as well as a much needed break from the sun and heat. The shows are also a nice way to let yourself, and the little ones, rest without being board. Nemo and Friends, The Lion King, For the First Time in Forever- a Frozen Sing Along Celebration… these are all great options to sit in a nice air conditioned darker room and enjoy a good show.
Insider Tip- if you go to Hollywood Studios and want to see the Frozen Sing Along, see if Ben is there… he’s AMAZING!
Take Advantage of Baby Centers
I’ve talked about the Baby Centers before here, but make sure that you are taking advantage of those awesome baby centers while you’re at the Parks. There will be one baby center per park and they are normally located next to the first aid center.These are a great place to take little ones to unwind, change diapers, eat, or just cool off and take a nap. If you happen to need anything like extra clothes, diapers, food or snacks, medicine you can also pick those things up while you’re in there.
Build in Down time
One of the best things you can do is build in a bit of down time for you and the kiddos. Disney is huge, crowded, and very stimulating, at some point everyone will be thankful for a bit of downtime. I always like to build downtime around my kids natural nap time, so sometime between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. I take the kids back to the hotel for a quick lunch and then let them lay down and rest for a few hours. They don’t HAVE to sleep but it is highly encouraged since we head back to the park and close it out after our rest time. This time period for us is perfect for a couple of different reasons, if we leave around 1pm, it gets us back to the hotel just when the kids are starting to get fussy and hangry. So we get to someplace without people just before the kids start to breakdown. This also helps us beat the most intense heat and sun of the day. By 4 or 5 o’clock, the heat is starting to die down a little, so when we get back to the parks, it’s not as unbearably hot.
Downtime doesn’t just mean nap time, it means just taking a short rest here and there. Trust me when I say that your feet and legs will appreciate this just as much as your kids. Take time to go see shows for a quick rest or maybe check out a restaurant for a quick snack. Allow yourself time for bathroom breaks between rides and just give yourself some time to explore without being rushed.
How do I discipline while at Disney World?
It’s inevitable, at some point a child is going to become fussy, not listen, or throw a tantrum. Heck, I know I’ve wanted to throw a tantrum or two when I’ve been at the parks myself, so it’s completely understandable when a toddler or small child does it. When this happens, don’t panic, Everyone around you understands and if you listen hard enough, I’m sure you’ll hear another little kid screaming their head off in another location in the park at the same time… solidarity!
There are a few things you can do to help prevent too many meltdowns though…
- Don’t overdo it.
- Make sure they aren’t hungry or if your kids are like mine…hangry.
- Allow everybody enough time to sleep.
- Try to limit lines as much possible… Fatspasses will greatly help this
- Prepare for the weather.
- Try to stick to routines as much as possible.
- Leave if necessary don’t try to force things because everyone will just end up being miserable
If and when the tantrums start or someone just starts to breakdown, I always try to offer food and drink first because this seems to be a big part of it. You may notice yourself and your kids eating more in the parks… that’s normal too. You’re doing a lot of walking and a lot of stimulating activities, your body needs fuel to keep up and if you aren’t eating enough you’ll likely experience some small drops in blood sugar. So snacks are a big help. When the above tricks don’t work though, and food isn’t the issue, it may be time for a timeout.
Yup it’s completely possible to do timeouts in the park. Find a chair, a bit of sidewalk, a lamp post, or head to one of those childcare centers and have your little one take a break until they’ve settled. Remember to talk to them and let them know that whatever behavior was happening isn’t acceptable and so we are just taking a little break to reset. Hopefully everything will be better after that.
I hope that these tips help you plan your next trip to Disney with your toddlers. Disney can be a really fun place for everyone when you do it right and take your time. Remember that you don’t have to do everything all at once and just have a magical trip.
Do you have any tips for taking kids on vacations? let me know in the comment section below! Also, don’t forget to join the G&G fam before heading out. Just hit that follow button over to the right! Make sure you’re following us on facebook and Instagram as well.