Going to Disney World is every kid’s – big and small – dream vacation, but while the under 3 crowd gets in free, it can be difficult to manage a trip to Walt Disney World with toddlers and babies. Here is a comprehensive and realistic guide to a relaxed and stress-free trip to Walt Disney World with little kids.
Last month, we took the boys – then 2.5 years and 10 months old – to Walt Disney World. It was a last minute decision, and I spent a good chunk of the 16-hour drive down from New Jersey to Florida Googling tips for going to Walt Disney World. I came across a bunch of great resources, but I quickly learned that most of them were unrealistic. I love a detailed list as much as the next momma, but the reality is, when you’re traveling with 2 kids under 3, an hour by hour “do this next” guide can be both overwhelming and disheartening.
Since we definitely take a more ‘relaxed’ approach to traveling with kids, I knew I wanted to share the tips and tricks we learned on our first Disney vacation with kids of our own. Here you’ll find tips for not losing your mind at Disney with littles – from souvenirs to how to handle rides, I’ve covered it all. No, really, all of it. This post is my longest post to date, hitting over four thousand words but it’s because I didn’t want you to miss out on any little bit or to have to read 8135020 different posts to find all of the information. Make sure you PIN THIS POST (use the widget to the left or hover over any image and click the Pinterest logo in the top left corner) and save it into your bookmarks to read later!
Before I get too far into this, I just want to put a little disclosure: I am not an expert. I have been to Disney twice – once when I was 7, and once three weeks ago. We are so, so blessed that we were in a position where we could take a last-minute, unplanned Disney trip and also know that it wouldn’t be our last trip. I know that some people plan for months and months because, financially, it’s not in the cards to come regularly. A good bit of this guide will be written with the mindset that this is not a once in a lifetime trip.
That being said, if you can swing it, highly recommend it. Kids under the age of 3 get free admission to the parks which definitely swayed our decision to go before the boys were old enough to “get” Disney and be really excited for it since we could dip our toes into it and get a feel for how Disney is when you have kids of your own without going ” all in”.
This guide is not in any particular order – it’s seriously just the order that it all came out of my head and onto this page, so bear with me – I’ve made the headings larger so that you can skim and find what you’re looking for. I hope that this guide to Walt Disney World with toddlers and babies helps you plan a reasonable and stress-free trip to the most magical place on Earth!
The Ultimate (Realistic) Guide to Walt Disney World with Toddlers and Babies
Disney obviously offers tons of kids meals at every food spot, and even places off site offer kids options since they assume there might be some tourists. If you’re at a Disney spot, the menu will show you “Disney Check Meals” which are the kid’s menus that meet Disney nutrition guidelines if you choose no substitutions. Most come with apples or grapes and either milk or water. I’m not going to lie – we ordered that once before realizing it was a bust. On average, they were bland options like grilled chicken or shrimp skewers with carrot sticks.
After struggling a few nights with homesickness, we decided that just getting Ryan comfortable and eating a good meal was more important while we were on vacation than eating perfectly healthy. I knew I’d be able to get him to eat tortellini quicker than I could convince him to eat a grilled chicken breast and carrot sticks, so we would order that. Ideal? Probably not. But we have plenty of time to eat healthy when we get home, and also putting ourselves in control of his snacks made me feel a little better about that decision. Which brings me to my next point…
Snacks. Bring snacks from home. Lots of them. If you get too many, you’ll probably eat them at home, so I would venture on the side of extra cautious and get too many, especially if you’re driving. This serves a few purposes. One, you’ll be saving money. It’s no secret that Disney can be pricey and one of the biggest expenses is food. Not to mention, when you’re in the parks the snacks you’ll really want aren’t necessarily the healthiest. You can bring your own food into the parks, so definitely roll with it and toss some food into your bag. We brought granola bars (these by 18 Rabbits are our fave lately) as well as pea crisps, pouches, fresh fruit (apples and bananas travel well) and these individual bags of Annie’s snacks.
The other reason you should consider bringing food from home is the familiarity of it. The fact that they’re being served snacks they would normally eat at home is comforting, which might help to ease homesickness in littles.
Lastly, let’s do some math: kiddos + extra sun + excitement + walking a LOT = extra hungry. Extra hungry + kiddos who may or may not skip their nap from excitement + overstimulation = Hangry. Hangry + the inability to give them something to eat right.this.second = a really, really bad place to be in. <– mom math for ya. Don’t race around the parks/resort/wherever looking for a snack and/or waiting on a long line to buy it. It’s just bad. You want to have food on hand for your kids at any given moment because we’re trying to keep with the “Happiest Place on Earth” vibe, amirite?
SO, I mean. About nursing. It’s obviously different for everyone. I have little to no shame when it comes to nursing in public, mostly because 3/4 of the reason I nurse(d) my kids is because it’s way more convenient (for me) to just whip out a boob at any given moment than it is to make a bottle. If you’re like me, here are some tips:
If you nurse to sleep, try a carrier. We have the Ergo 360, and I nurse Owen in it in hip hold and he can fall asleep easily that way. If your kid is more normal than mine, try a normal inward hold to nurse – it’s what I did religiously with Ryan and it worked out great. Definitely experiment nursing in a carrier before you leave, because while it’s much easier than you might think, it does take some practice.
Put sunscreen on your boobs. Like, all of your boobs. SOMETHING I DIDN’T THINK OF. After our first sunny day, I came home to realize that while the kids and I were all sunburn free, the underside of my boobs were niiiiceee and pink. If you’re going to be nursing out of a carrier and walking around (guilty) make sure ANY exposed skin – like the extra skin that the sun sees when you nurse – has sunscreen on it. Okay PSA over…
If you’re not into nursing out in the open, each park does offer Baby Care Centers that, in addition to real changing tables, highchairs, microwaves, places for baby to roam, and backups of essentials you can buy, offers private nursing rooms with rocking chairs. I thought this was SO cool and so baby-friendly (as a family theme park should be, TBH). The only downer is that there is only one per park and it’s towards the entrance, so depending on how often your kiddo nurse, it could get super annoying.
Ah, strollers. Spoiler alert: we didn’t bring a stroller. We have a huge BOB that Ryan refuses(?) to go into and I had no desire to pack (because it’s huge). So we figured we would carry Ryan as needed and wear Owen. <– bad choice. Not because of Ryan – we’re used to carrying him a lot since he’s never been willing to sit in a stroller once he could walk well – but because of Owen. I love wearing Owen, but he refuses to face it – he’s super nosey and wants to see the world/what we’re doing. Totally fine when he’s in the carrier or an hour or two max. But add in more time, sun, heat, sweat, drool, and he started to get a real nice rash all over his poor little face our first day. So I left the carrier at the hotel the second day and we rented a stroller.
Here’s the down low – they’re not the comfiest strollers in existence, obviously, since they’re the kind that need to be wiped down every night, and the wheels definitely jolted the kids if we rode over a rough patch. A single cost $15 a day for a one-time shot and $13 a day if you were pre-buying multiple days, while a double was $31 a day and $28 (I think?) for multiple. We went with a single and just switched out. If you can bear it, do that since they’re bulky and hard to navigate. But they did the job and for that I am thankful.
Apparently, there are also services where you can rent nicer strollers for a set amount of days and they will deliver and pick them up from a prearranged spot (hotel, I assume) so that could be a good option as well. We did look in the store to try and find a cheapy umbrella stroll to just buy and be done with, but they were legit $50 and I knew Target had them for $20. Next time, we’ll either bring our single BOB (maybe with a kickboard for Ry) or buy a cheap double umbrella stroller like this.
Our first day there, I stuck to changing the boys at the Baby Care Station. Seriously, the place it legit. The changing tables are actual, padded changing tables your have at home (with little paper to put on top for sanitary reasons) and there is an attendant there overseeing everything. It’s super chill and calm and if you forget some diapers or wipes (GUILTY. Second day there was not a SINGLE diaper in my bag…) you can buy them. Heads up, it’s sponsored by Huggies so everything there is obviously Huggies brand. Also, it’s not cheap. The pack of diapers I bought (12 size 4 diapers) was almost $11, which is expected considering a. things like that prey on you being in a tight spot and b. it’s Disney, soooo….
That being said, the normal bathrooms have a changing station as well, though it’s 100% not as nice, obviously, and it’s just a normal bathroom changing table. I’m not going to lie- by park #3, I changed the boys on a secluded park bench twice. But that’s my style.
If you have the luxury of being able to travel any time of year, I’d suggest traveling in the ‘off season’. You probably won’t save a bunch of money (hotels might be cheaper, but I can’t confirm or deny that) but you will have smaller crowds to endure, which is definitely ideal with toddlers and babies. We traveled down to Florida the last full week of January and while a few people did tell us that the hotels were ‘unseasonably’ booked up, we found the crowds tolerable and the weather a total treat considering the hottest day was 80 and NJ was hovering in the 20’s.
When traveling anywhere with littles, the timing of your day is so important. If you have kids who need to nap in a crib at a specific time each day, you need to make sure that you’re in your hotel room at that time. Seriously, don’t mess with it – it just leads to grumpy kids and stressed out parents. We were lucky that for the most part, Owen was willing to nap in my arms at the parks and Ryan has aged out of naps for the most part. (I know, I hate it and it’s insane.)
That being said, remember that Walt Disney World with toddlers and babies will take a lot out of everyone. It’s exhausting, so keep in mind that your kids might need earlier naps or more ‘down time’. I suggest getting to the parks as they open – rides will be less packed, your kids will have full bellies (feed them at the resort/hotel before you go!) and the temperature will be lower. Don’t worry about staying the whole day – seriously, by 1 PM we were ready to head back to the hotel and relax. Remember that you can return later in the day – your park passes are good for the entire day,
Look, the reality is that a lot of the ‘cool’ rides are going to be for kiddos taller that a toddler. Roller coasters and log flumes, for the most part, are not toddler-friendly. That being said, there are a bunch or rides that have no height limit and that the whole family can even ride on at once – like the classic It’s a Small World. If you’d like to check out THIS SITE before going to see what rides are reasonable for your family.
With that in mind, instead of choosing every single ride you can, go into each part with your ‘must sees’. 3-4 ride or attractions that you’d be bummed if you didn’t get on them. This helps create reasonable expectations (remember, chances are your kids are going to burn out quicker than you expect) and ensure that you’ll leave satisfied. We went to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot while we were there, and here were mine:
MAGIC KINGDOM: It’s a Small World, Dumbo, Riverboat
ANIMAL KINGDOM: Kilimanjaro Safaris, The Dinosaur playground area, and the Petting Zoo in Rafiki’s Planet Watch
EPCOT: The Finding Nemo Ride, the Aquarium,
I think if push came to shove, I might switch out Hollywood Studios with Epcot with littles just because Disney Junior is at Hollywood Studios. Epcot was a last minute decision and more for the parents than the kiddos.
It’s also good to note that a lot of the time we also saw rides as ‘breaks’ – we look a ride on the Riverboat in Magic Kingdom not only because we figured Ryan would love the boat ride in a real steamboat, but because it was a solid 10-15 minute ride where we could sit and relax. (We even let Owen do a little crawling around to stretch his little legs which he loved) While you’ll need to weight the cost/benefits if waiting in line versus the short break, each ride is a small opportunity to get the kids distracted and off their feets as well as giving Mom and Dad the chance to not stand while holding a kiddo.
If you plan ahead (unlike us) pre-purchase your park tickets and hook them up to your My Disney Experience account. Using this, you can get Fastpasses for popular rides and shows up to 60 days in advance. You can choose up to three at a time and essentially pre-select your ride time. We got pretty lucky and didn’t need any Fastpasses for the rides we really wanted to go on (partially due to heading to them soon after the park opened) since when I checked for ‘open’ Fastpasses to claim, none were available to times that worked for us.
I should also note here: Download the My Disney Experience App. You can manage your reservations, Fastpasses, tickets, AND it has a Google Maps style guide for each park that will direct you to a specific store, ride, attraction, or restaurant as well as show you how long it will take AND the estimated wait time. It’s pretty awesome.
AAALLLLLLL of this to say: if I were to do it all over again, we would probably stick to shows for Ryan. Rides are fun and whatnot, but at 2.5 he was much more enamored and drawn in by the shows. Not to mention, for the most part, he loved the rides until he was ON them, cried the whole way through and then wanted to go back on. So there’s that. My suggestion: pick a ride in each park you’ll go to and then stick to shows, adding in any other super fun, no-line rides you find. Also, if you’re in Magic Kingdom make sure you go to the street dance party – I think it was the most enamored and amazed I saw Ryan the whole time.
Souvenirs – I know I’ve read about buying Disney themed toys and shirts back home (read: online, Target, Walmart, whatever) and secretly packing them to give to your kids while on vacation as souvenirs which I think is genius – if you have kids that will ask for something. Any souvenirs we bought the boys were truly more for my benefit than theirs, so keep that in mine. We ended getting Ryan a pack of diecast Disney Transportation buses since he was OBSESSED with the buses while we were there (surprise, surprise) even though we offered him a stuffed animal. For reference, a pack of 3 buses about the size of a normal Matchbox car or something similar was $15. So there’s that.
I really was on the lookout for a sweatshirt for Ryan (it was chilly in the mornings) but I’m picky and the only Disney one I liked didn’t come in 2T, just XS which was too big. the only clothes in 2T or under were in the Infant section and very clearly intended for babies, so if you have a smaller toddler, it’s another thing to keep in mind. PLUS the hoodie that I was “Ehh” about was still $40. We ended up getting a super cool Gatorland hoodie for $25 which I was much happier with.
Water – Now, I’m super weird with water, so I thought it was just me but after asking Alex and doing a quick Google, the consensus is that the tap water at the resorts is horrific. I HIGHLY suggest either bringing water with you, stopping to grab a case, or grabbing/bringing a pack of water flavoring like Crystal Light to cover the taste. Seriously, it’s not good. The tap water in restaurants isn’t bad since it’s filtered, but if you tend to rely on tap water in hotel rooms, come prepared.
Drinks – Speaking of which, there are fun cups you can buy at the resorts for about $17, I think, and get free refills for your stay. If you plan to get a good amount of fountain drinks, juice, or COFFEE, it’s a good deal. I didn’t since I knew I would only get coffee and only in the mornings, but it’s a good choice.
Coffee – In the same vein, the only iced coffee that is offered throughout the parks is ridiculously sweet – like sugar water. Near the entrance of the park (inside) there IS a Starbucks though, and you can use your Starbucks card. If you’re like me and need a cup daily, remember to stop on your way in.
Character meals – Character meals are SO cool – I mean, dining with Mickey Mouse!! – but they are pricey and from what I understand they’re all buffets. (I could be totally wrong, though) From what I saw, they cost $35-50 for each adult and if you’re not a buffet fan (read: Alex) that’s a ton of money. But if your kids enjoy it, I don’t think it could get much cooler. That being said, I would have your kids meet a character and gauge their reaction before taking the plunge and spending all of that money. Little kids scare easily, and it would really suck to spend all of that money and everyone be miserable. Yes, you’ll be able to better tailor reservations around your day if you make them far in advance, but who cares if you’re spending $200+ once you factor in kids, drinks, and tip for your kids to eat a waffle in tears. Personally, I think character breakfasts might just (for our family, at least) be something for 3 or 4+ kiddos.
Staying – Where to stay. That’s the real question, yes? Obviously, stay wherever your budget allows! Disney resorts are nice for a bunch of reasons – they have food that is kid friendly, they offer transportation to all of the parks for free, and they’re very understanding of traveling with kids. They have a few different ‘tiers’ to fit your budget, but here is the mindset we used:
Take the money you would have spent by jamming in a park each day and add it to your hotel budget. Stay at a slightly nicer hotel with cool amenities and spend a day or two at the hotel. We did a ‘pool’ day at Wilderness Lodge which was amazing – they had a splash pad/mini waterpark which may have been the highlight of Ryan’s trip. Two nights we spent at the Animal kingdom Lodge which in and of itself is an amazing experience – waking up to giraffes and zebras is probably up there on the top 10 experiences of my life. Scope out Hotels.com and other travel booking sites to get the best deals – all of our rooms were $100 or more cheaper per night than the ‘standard’ rate. Treat the resort as an extension of your vacation and fun, rather than a place to just crash since with little kids it’s nice to have a spot that’s semi-familiar and low-key.
Packages – if you have the foresight to plan your trip out, you might want to look into their money-saving packages which include hotel, food, and park tickets, but I don’t know how worth it it is. Like I stated earlier, I think a park every single day with littles is just a bad choice and setting yourself up for stress and tantrums. But it could be a great option for someone who doesn’t feel like a half day in a park is enough. (PS it’s not, we missed a ton in Magic Kingdom but were okay with it. )
If there’s one suggestion I can give you for a trip to Walt Disney World with toddlers and babies, it’s just to not go into with crazy high expectations and go with the flow. Your kid might cry in utter fear the second he sees a character. They might be worn out by 11 am and need to head back to the hotel. It might be too cold, too hot, or too rainy. All of the rides might have 60+ minute-long waits.
It’s fine. You’re in a magical place. It’s amazing. Just roll with it. The moments that you’ll hold onto the hardest might not be the exact ones you thought they would be. Instead of your toddler staring slack-jawed at his Disney idol, you might go home remembering how he finally warmed up to petting goats at the petting zoo in Animal Kingdom, or how enamored he was when he watched a semi-creepy animatronic bird show.
Try to go into it with an open mind and a blank agenda – remember that while you’re spending a pretty penny and it might be a ‘dream’ or ‘bucket list’ trip for you, you’re there for the kids. Don’t push them too hard or long – your memories will be tainted by exhausted and cranky kids and overwhelmed and stressed parents.
If you can’t justify or stomach the idea of spending all of that money and not doing ~all the things~ (which I TOTALLY GET.) it might be a better idea to wait a couple of years for your kiddos to grow up a little so that you can amp up the excitement, plan and schedule your day, and your kids will have more endurance for a long day or walking and sun. Again, this isn’t to say that a trip to Walt Disney World with toddlers and babies shouldn’t be done – we had an AMAZING, memorable time – just that you might want to take a second to evaluate the kind of trip you want before booking your ticket.
All in all, going to Walt Disney World with toddlers bad babies was a magical experience that I would definitely do again and would 100% recommend others to do – so long as they do it smart. While a well thought out day by day hour by hour plan sounds great in theory, anyone with toddlers and babies will tell you that that plan will go out the window beofre you can even say Bippity Boppity Boo. So go with the flow, don’t get overwhelmed and keep the KIDS and their limits in mine – you’ll have a wonderful time and an experience you’ll neer forget.
Okay so tell me: Disney with toddlers and babies – yay or nay? What are your best Disney tips? Let me know in the comments!
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