Have you ever experienced the dark side of a Walt Disney World vacation? I don’t mean meeting Kylo Ren at Launch Bay at Hollywood Studios, I mean the actual dark side of a toddler in melt-down-mode as his Mickey Ears ice cream bar melts down his arm.
I’m talking about sweaty, tired, grumpy kids and their frazzled adults working hard to ensure that their little ones are having fun. Pushing, pulling dragging them from attraction to attraction trying to fit everything in and see all the things.
Disney can be magical experience.
Or…it can be a complete nightmare, it depends on whether you’re prepared or not.
Tired kids and frazzled parents do not gel in any situation. Add to the mix lots of money spent on the trip, extended travel-time and off-kilter daily schedules and in the Summer, excessive heat some parents vow to swear off the entire Walt Disney World experience entirely.
These 8 tips for visiting Disney with toddlers will help you get the most magical experience for your family with little to no stress.
this post contains affiliate links
Opt for Character Dining with Toddlers at Walt Disney World
A large part of visiting the Disney Theme parks is getting the chance meet your favorite characters.
When I first took our older kids to Disney World in 2005, they were 5, 6 and 7 at the time. We purchased (at home) Disney themed autograph books and spent a great deal of time tracking down meet and greet opportunities.
Another fun option for collecting autographs include using the Disney Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters
Bringing this into the park and stashing it in a stroller pocket works well enough if you don’t mind having yet another thing to keep track.
My kids LOVED the idea of ‘getting autographs’ their favorite being lunch with Winnie and Friends at The Crystal Palace.
Periodically throughout the meal, Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Tigger lead the kids on a dance party parade around the dining area!
It was a relaxed pace, fantastic buffet and since toddlers are most likely not going to be the most patient when it comes to waiting in line for character meet and greets, I highly recommend character dining instead!
My youngest, when he visited Disney as a toddler at 2 years old was happy to meet the characters and eat Mickey Mouse waffles. At 5 years old he enjoyed Donald’s Safari Lunch at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom.
To me, the cost beats waiting in long, lines for 30-60 minutes with the added benefit of food and entertainment.
Split up Your Disney Days When Traveling with Young Children
Splitting up your days at Walt Disney World helps if you want to stick to a fairly normal routine; especially when your children are still on a nap schedule.
Doing the parks this way of course takes some planning; you’ll want to check park open and close times and familiarize yourself with the myriad theme park crowd calendars online that show busier days vs. less crowded ones.
When my youngest was a toddler, I would usually plan which park we visit based on the crowd calendar information.
We would all wake up relatively early to arrive in the parks between 9 or 9:30 a.m. We would stay in the parks until about 1:30.
At that point we would go back to the condo, have lunch (I bring and prepare a meal to be cooking in the crockpot and set it before we leave in the morning) and rest while the toddler naps.
Around 4 or 4:30 we would head back into the park and stay until closing; generally around 9 or 10 p.m.
This option saves money on food, especially important when traveling to Disney with a large family.
When we went back for lunch and a nap, this also allowed us to have a table service dinner as well as a snack or two as needed.
These snack breaks consist of finding a snack and a cozy spot overlooking the water and was imperative for our trips to keeps spirits high and eliminate over-stimulation.
EPCOT is GREAT for Toddlers Despite What You May Have Heard
I always recommend Disney EPCOT for toddlers and young children. It is not boring for little ones just because it’s educational.
There’s so much to see and do, and as any parent of a toddler knows, they find delight in the most basic of things most of the time.
Each country in World Showcase has a dedicated Kidcot FunStop where kids can interact with people from that particular country; they’ll collect stamps from each country on their Duffy Bear passport.
(Disney World recruits representatives from native countries to do contract work in their native World Showcase ‘country’.)
It was fun for Zach to interact with cast members and have his Duffy Bear signed and stamped; we particularly enjoyed seeing how they wrote his name in Japan, China and Morocco.
Consider Special Event Tickets for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
On our 2014 Disney trip we knew that we didn’t want to go to Animal Kingdom. (big mistake because Animal Kingdom is now one of our favorite parks)
At that point though, for my toddler, Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios were definite, given the 2 year olds interest in all things Mickey Mouse and Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
We opted for tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This “hard ticket” allows you into Magic Kingdom with a special wristband at 4 p.m. and access to special events and shows, plus free hot cocoa, cider and cookies at various locations throughout the park.
The Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is another Special Ticket Disney event that you don’t want to miss. Kids of all ages are invited to dress up and go Trick or Treating throughout the park. Check out my Toy Story Alien DIY Costume
We had a relaxing morning around the condo and then ventured out around 3:30; Zach took a nap prior and we had all eaten by then so we hit the park around 4 and managed to stay until 11:45.
The best part of these parties are the special events throughout. We stumbled upon the Club Tinsel Dance Party with Goofy Santa and Pluto at Starlight Cafe after we had a quick dinner at Cosmic Rays! Save up to $10 on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Ticket!
The hard-ticket events can be a great way to test out the waters with your toddlers and Walt Disney World. They’re usually smaller crowds, low-key and relaxed.
Travel to Walt Disney World in the Fall or Winter
As someone who has lived in Central Florida in the summer, and having visited Walt Disney World in July, it is not the ideal time to go.
In 2005 I took my (at the time) school-aged kids to Disney right after school ended in Massachusetts. It was far too hot for us!
We prefer the week after Thanksgiving through the first 2 weeks of December. Check crowd calendars and be aware there are several sports groups, band groups and cheer teams traveling to Orlando at that time of year.
Apply for a Disney Rewards Chase Visa and receive an offer to earn a $200 Statement Credit after you spend $500 on purchases with your card in the first 3 months from account opening.
Don’t Try to Fit in All The Things at Walt Disney World When Traveling with Young Children
Whether you’re going to Disney with a toddler for the first and only time or if you go several times a year, try not to get overwhelmed.
You will not be able to see or do everything. There is no way around it.
Do what you can, enjoy it for what it is and you’ll look back on the experience with fond memories. Consider purchasing books to help you map out what your ‘musts’ are so that you can go into the parks with a general idea of your families priorities.
Some books I recommend include, first and foremost, fellow Super-Mom content creator and Disney guru, Lynne Wiltse of Always Moving Mommy wrote The Ultimate Unofficial Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide.
The Ultimate Unofficial Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide will help you plan your family’s practically perfect Disney vacation. This 50 page guide will walk you through each step of planning your vacation if you’re doing it yourself or enlisting the help of a travel agent.
Perfect for first time Disney guests, you’ll start off learning Disney lingo and by the end you’ll have your entire vacation planned out for you.
- Birnbaums 2109 Walt Disney World for Kids helps kids join in on the vacation-planning fun, with kid-friendly descriptions of all the theme park shows and attractions, including maps, photos, colorful illustrations, and more.
Take Advantage of the Free Things to Do at Walt Disney World
There are so many free things to do at Disney both in and out of the parks. In Magic Kingdom, with theme park admission, you can play Sorcerers of The Magic Kingdom.
Sorcerers of The Magic Kingdom is an interactive game in which you collect cards to help Merlin defeat Hades. School-aged kids will have a good time with this one and is likely a great way to disctract them when a toddler needs some downtime or time away from the hustle and bustle of Main street.
If your young child does need to nurse or have some downtime, the Baby Care Center at Magic Kingdom nearby at the First Aid Station near The Crystal Palace. The baby care center has a quiet sitting room with a sofa and armchair and features items for purchase like Huggies diapers and wipes, bottles and nipples and Carnation Good Start Formula, Gerber food/juice.
Additionally you’ll find a nursing room with rocking chairs, outlets for breat pumps, changing rooms and an eating area with highchairs, a television, table and chairs for your other children to use while you’re nursing.
In Adventureland at Magic Kingdom, you can also play A Pirates Adventure – Treasures of the Seven Seas and take on missions from Captain Jack to help bring home the treasure.
There are also several free boat rides all around Walt Disney World Resort.
Guests can take a boat to Magic Kingdom, Contemporary Resort, Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness or visit the Polynesian and Grand Floridian.
While you can’t get into Magic Kingdom without tickets, you can get off of the boat and hop on the monorail.
The monorail from Magic Kingdom will take you on a loop through Contemporary, Polynesian and the Grand Floridian. You’re able to get off and explore each resort (grab a Dole Whip inside Polynesian)
If you’re at Disney Springs you can get on the Friendship Boats to Port Orleans or Old Key West and back along the Sassagoula River.
Coming in Fall 2019, the Disney Skyliner Transportation system will debut; once it does we’ll let you know!
Another interactive experience, free with Animal Kingdom admission is the Wilderness Explorers.
Build up your badge collection like Russel from Disney Pixar Up! and complete fun, educational missions through the theme park.
Purchase Disney Souvenirs for Your Kids in Advance of Your Trip to WDW
The dollar store is a great place to stop in on a weekly basis leading up to your trip.
You’ll be able to find several Disney related items that you can stash away until you leave.
I was able to get pencils, crayons, puzzles, books, an on-the-go chalkboard and so many other things for the trip.
They make great surprises to pull out when waiting in a long line, driving or when waiting for your food to arrive to assuage any impending meltdowns. Check out my other tips for budget-friendly Disney Souvenirs.
Have a Plan for Your Walt Disney World Vacation But Be Flexible
Check crowd calendars and find out the best parks for the days you’ll be attending, plan out your “must do” activities/shows/rides and stick to your plan as much as possible with a toddler.
I’ve heard of so many people with young children going into the parks not knowing what to expect or just expecting to waltz in and immediately begin having fun.
You really have to know what you want to get out of each individual park in advance especially if you don’t travel to the theme parks often.
Do your research and create an itinerary based on your family’s interests but allow for some flexibility.
Disney World with a toddler is so much fun, you don’t have to necessarily wait until they’ll remember the trip; taking photos and talking about the “remember whens” will keep the memories alive forever and isn’t that what it’s all about?
What are your top tips for traveling to Walt Disney World with a Toddler? Comment below and let me know if I missed anything!