This year, I was able to convince my husband (after considerable persuading) on a trip to Disney World with our *almost* 3 year old. Although it was hardly my first trip to Disney, when you add a toddler to the mix, the plans change. Here are my best tips for other parents (and non-parents, too!) based on our experience.
- Remember, a toddler-centric trip is NOT a see all/do all trip.
We started small. Due to time, we weren’t able to visit all the parks. We considered getting a park hopper pass, but we’ve used that option in the past and didn’t really feel it was worth the extra price. It takes A LOT of time to get between parks (seriously Disney, get on that). So, although you may think you can squeeze two parks into one day, it’s not really that practical. Well, I shouldn’t say that. It’s doable, just not easy… and with a toddler, it’s really unrealistic. So, with that said, we settled on the Magic Kingdom (obviously) and Animal Kingdom because we felt those parks offered the most for little ones. Even if you do have longer and are able to really “do Disney”, you still might not get to everything, especially those “big kid” rides, and that’s okay. Disney will still be there years from now and you’ll have an excuse to go back.
- Get to the parks early.
Kids seem to be early risers, my kid is at least (which is so annoying on most mornings). Take advantage of that and get to the park first thing in the morning. By the way, apparently “first thing in the morning” at Disney ISN’T when the park opens, but rather 30 – 45ish minutes before it opens. At the parks, you’ll have to park, unload, take a tram to the gates (add a monorail/boat for Magic Kingdom), and go through security…phew, so that definitely takes a hot minute. Plus, Disney has a “rope drop” ceremony which I *hear* is a must-see… **full disclosure: we’ve never actually gotten there in time for the rope drop because somebody (maybe me…) can’t get her ish together. I know getting up that early doesn’t seem appealing, especially when you’re on vacation (!!!), but it’s worth it, promise. Most of the crowds don’t get there until around 10am, so getting there at opening will give you a couple of hours to practically walk on most rides.
- Take a mid-day break.
In an earlier Disney post, I shared a pre-parent Disney memory about watching a toddler have a full on meltdown in a princess gown. Yeah, I’m learning that’s how a three-year old deals with exhaustion. I mean, I get it. I’ve been known to have a too-tired-to-deal meltdown myself, I just wasn’t lucky enough to have a Belle dress and tiara. Even if you think your kid can hang, don’t chance it! Spend the cooler, less crowded morning hours getting in as much as you can, and then when the heat rises and the crowds push in, skip out for a few hours. Take a nap back at your hotel, go for a swim, or at the very least, find a shady spot in the park and let your little one have a little R&R. That break will give them the fuel to make it through the fireworks. In my opinion, Disney World is the most magical at night and I would hate for us all to miss out on that because my kid was d-o-n-e.
- Take advantage of the fast pass system.
Disney allows you to make three initial fast pass choices per day prior to your trip. Definitely reserve these for popular rides, character visits, and your personal must-dos. There are TONS of people out there that know WAAAAAAAY more than me and have suggestions for the best use of your fast passes, so definitely check those out as you’re planning. Most people would suggest, and I would agree, that you shouldn’t waste your fast passes on anything during the first two hours. Remember, that’s when crowds are still relatively low, so save your fast pass choices until later in the afternoon when the wait times are longer. We scheduled our 1st choice at 11:00 a.m. and then tried to schedule our next 2 choices shortly after that because once those are used up, you can get on the app and add another, and then another, and on and on. With that in mind, if your 3rd choice isn’t until later in the evening, you won’t have as much time to add more. As soon as we scanned our 3rd fast pass, I was on the app choosing our next one while I was walking in line to board the current ride. By doing that and wasting no time getting our next fast pass, we were able to line up one after another up until we left the park.
- Don’t go crazy with what you bring in the park.
Disney may charge outrageous prices for pretty much everything inside the park (and technically outside of the park, because, hello….parking.); however, they are pretty awesome in that they will let you take a lot into the parks. Food, drinks, toys, etc. Knowing these things are allowed and Disney prices are hella high, you’ll be tempted to load down that stroller. My advice… don’t. Bring some snacks, sure. Some refillable water bottles, yeah. *Disney gives free ice water* Throw a few little toys or odds & ends under there, fine. But don’t go overboard because you’ll have to take everything out to fold up that stroller on the parking lot trams and possibly monorail and put everything back in when you get off. That got old fast. And p.s.- don’t be that jerk that doesn’t fold up their stroller and keeps other people from getting on board. They suck.
- Bring glow sticks!
Nighttime at Disney is my absolute FAVORITE! I love the ambiance, the way the lights set a glow upon the parks and music is playing overhead. As I was in Dollar Tree picking up small toys & trinkets to bring, I decided to grab some glow sticks as a special nighttime surprise. Best $3 I spent! Not only did my little one enjoy wearing the bracelets (and swinging them around dangerously close to strangers…), we also wrapped them around the handle of our stroller to help identify it. You see, at the parks you’ll leave your stroller in a specified area while you’re on the ride. At night, these areas are often in dimly lit spots over to the side, and your stroller may also get moved to make room for others. By having the glow sticks on our stroller, it helped us spot it much easier in the dark than simply tying a ribbon of some sort.
7. If possible, bring reinforcement!
I know that this might not be an option for everyone, but having extra hands on deck was a saving grace for us. For our trip to Disney, we were joined by my mom and dad. To our little one’s credit, he did great throughout the trip; however, he’s still a toddler and has the attention span of a baby squirrel. When he got antsy during the shows, it was so nice to pass him down the line. When we were all tired towards the end of the evening and he was refusing to sit in his stroller, having four adults to bear the load of carrying around a 30 pound tired little boy was a blessing. Of course, selfishly, it was an added bonus to have my parents- who don’t ride “thrill” rides- along to entertain while my husband and I were able to sneak in the big kid rides.
8. Don’t discount Disney because you think you’re child is too young.
Our time at Disney is one of the best memories I have and it was just as much of a joy to my parents, husband, and myself. I went back and forth for months wondering if this trip would be worth it. Many people had their opinions on when the best time to take a Disney trip would be. Some thought it was crazy taking an almost 3 year old… and I used to be that person. But, it was so worth it. The excitement in his voice as he squealed with delight pulling into the parking lot, the pure joy on his face riding the stinkin’ carousel (his favorite ride, go figure), watching my dad holding my sleepy son like he did for me almost 30 years ago. Yeah, it was worth it.
Looking for more family friendly ideas? Check out the post I wrote on the Stone Mountain Christmas in Atlanta, Georgia!