When we decided to take our young daughters (ages 18 months and 2.5 years at the time) to Walt Disney World last fall, the reaction was basically the same across the board: lots of confusion! "Why would you take them so young?" "How will you do it?" "What can they even DO there!?"
If you are contemplating a trip to Disney, but are second guessing yourself, I hope that this advice will help to ease your mind. Disney with toddlers is completely do-able, (and encouraged!!!). In my opinion, this is one of the best times for them to experience the Magic. And, did I mention that kids under 3 are FREE? That's right - Free. Not only is admission free to the Parks, but they can eat free at all buffets as well!
If the free thing didn't immediately have you sold, read on! ;)
I think one of the most important things to remember is: Disney was created for families. You will see people there from weeks-old babies to grandparents who may be pushing 100! There are (many) others there in your same situation.
So first, take a breather! :)
Next, remember - you absolutely cannot do it ALL in one single trip. So, where is the best place to start? Consider your top priorities. What characters do your children love most? What restaurants are you hoping to take them to? What rides are absolute must-dos for you to hit?
Make a game plan.
A little planning before your Disney vacation can go a LONG way. Make sure you utilize the 3 Fastpass+ passes that are initially allowed per day. These can be used on rides, character meet and greets, along with shows (which I don't usually recommend, but that is a different story for another day!) When you stay onsite at a Disney resort, you are able to book those Fastpass+ experiences 60 days prior to your check-in date. Dining reservations can be made up to 180 days out, and those Character meals fill up FAST. I always recommend planning your trip around the 6-10 month mark to make sure you get what you want.
Once you arrive at Walt Disney World:
Get to the park early.
Ideally, you will want to get to the park at opening (referred to in the Disney-sphere as "rope drop"). We found our smoothest-running days were when we got to the park early, took a mid-day break around noon or 1pm (swim and nap at the hotel), then returned to the Parks around dinner time.
Take those breaks!
Mid-day breaks with toddlers are crucial. Everyone (including parents!) will be ready for a little downtime. The middle of the day is the hottest and most crowded time at any of the Parks, so it is a perfect time to slip away for a bit. If you want to plan a couple of days where you want to go a bit harder and not nap - consider a nice table service lunch somewhere, and a little ride around the Monorail loop.
You do not have to plan out your days minute by minute. In fact, I don't recommend that at all, since life with toddlers is often unpredictable. Just book those Fastpass+ reservations (late morning is ideal - we try for 10AM, 11AM, and !2PM), take your time to relax, and most importantly: be flexible! Moods will change, things will come up, and it is important to not get stressed, but rather roll with it. Try to pick just a handful of things you "need" to do per day, and anything above and beyond that will be extra *pixie dust* for your day.
Know your kid.
You know your child's likes and dislikes. Only you know how much your child can handle. So, do what works for your family.
If your child is terrified of characters - character meet and greets may not be the best choices for your Fastpass+, and character dining may not be where you will dine while there.
But, if they love say, trains - maybe your day will be spent riding around on the Walt Disney World Railroad, and all of the other slower moving rides Disney has to offer.
If they can hang 'til midnight for park closing - all the power to ya! But if they turn into (adorable) little gremlins by 8pm, consider planning to end your nights a little early to allow for that nightly downtime.
Let them lead at times.
These next photos were taken on a day that we had nothing but an Akershus breakfast planned. It turned out to be my most favorite day of the trip. We met as many characters as we could, and let the girls just run around and lead us. We went on every ride they wanted to that had a decently short wait. We sat and ate ice cream BEFORE lunch. We hung out and stared at the beautiful Castle. While we were standing there, the Photopass photographer in front of the Castle just kept snapping photos of them playing around the Hub grass. I love how she captured their pure joy in this moment.
*Speaking of Photopass photographers- be sure to check into Disney's Memory Maker. This is a photo service, where you can stop at any and all of the photographers around the park, and at meet and greets, and then will get to download ALL of your photos from your trip. It is $149 if pre-purchased 3 days in advance, and $169 after that. We left our last trip with over 800 photos!
So - plan that trip! And when the next person tells you "They won't remember it anyways" - rest assured that YOU will, and these will be memories you cherish for your entire lifetime.
As someone who has traveled to Disney with toddlers, and made it through the few melt-downs, but many smiles, I can tell you that how you feel when you look back on those times, is truly one of the best feelings in the world.
I'll leave you with the quote that is written on my kids' Disney Parks growth chart that really pulls on my mommy-heartstrings:
"Your kids are growing up way too fast,
now is the time to make memories that last."
PS - Epcot at night is the perfect place to put the kids in the stroller and have a nice peaceful stroll around the World Showcase <3
*Stay tuned for Part II on preparing for a day inside of the Parks! :)
Whitney is a Vacation Specialist with Coasters and Castles Travel, and lives in Upstate NY. Her passion for Disney began when she was a little girl during her family's yearly WDW vacations. She takes great pride in her knowledge and love of Disney and would love to assist in helping anyone she can in planning vacations that are perfect for their own family. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.