I have to admit, I was both super excited and kind of nervous about taking my toddler to Disneyworld. My husband, my mom and I planned a trip there for my son’s second birthday (after our first trip got cancelled, but that’s another story), and we had an excellent trip.
First things first, to save my sanity and keep my expectations in check, I really made the goal of the trip to just have a leisurely, relaxing, fun time doing whatever my little guy wanted to do. This didn’t have to be the all out, non-stop trip it can be when he is a little older and appreciates every detail more. That being said, it was 100% worth it to go as he loved it! At first my husband was a little skeptical if he was old enough to appreciate it, but he definitely was. For this trip I really made my objective just to introduce him to the world of Disney, so we didn’t have to hit every single ride and attraction, didn’t need to feel rushed, and could make an easier decision on what to hit and what to skip. Maybe not everyone is as crazy of a planner and traveler as I am, but I point this out because since he is so little (and frankly this trip will be something I remember much more than he does), I didn’t want to be disappointed we wasted money on stuff he didn’t get into or that we didn’t “do enough.”
That all being said, I learned a lot from friends before I went and had several things that helped me prepare in advance. Here are my tips for traveling to Disneyworld with a toddler, but a lot of these apply to Disneyland and even Universal Studios, too!
Pack your own snacks.
Disney prices for snacks (that’s lets face it, your kid may just throw on the ground) can be a bit overpriced, so before you leave, stock up on favorites like fruit snacks, granola bars, goldfish, applesauce pouches, etc. If nothing else, you may eat them yourself! Plus sometimes hunger hits while you’re waiting in line so having plenty as a back up is a lifesaver. That goes for a water bottle too! Don’t forget you need to hydrate.
Get Fast Passes and Rider Switch Passes
If you stay in a Disney resort you can sign up for three passes per day per person so you can skip a long line for a shorter one (I believe this only applies at Disneyworld, not Disneyland, but I could be wrong). If the wait time is 60 minutes, the Fast Pass wait line may only be 20 and when you’re traveling with a toddler, skipping that wait is vital. They also have a rider switch option so if you have a child that is too small to ride on the ride, you simply go up at your fast pass time with your kid with you, then they’ll give you a ticket or a badge so that you can swap out and ride again. For instance since we had myself, my mom and husband, we would all go up to the entrance with my son, they would give us a ticket, and one of us would stay with my toddler. The other two would ride, get off and then the person who stayed out would go with one of us that already went. You need three people old enough to go (so invite Grandma and Grandpa or Auntie), but at least that way you can experience rides together still.
Stay in a Disney Resort for convenience.
You might think staying in the park would be pricey, but it was a great value and convenience for us with a toddler and less expensive than I would have thought. 1) We got Fast Passes which saved us time so we got to do more with a child with a small attention span. 2) We got shuttled to and from parks so we didn’t have to hassle with where we were going, didn’t need to rent a car (more savings!), and didn’t have to haul his car seat on the plane across the country. 3) It was really extra magical! For us, since we traveled in the off season it only ended up being $95/night most nights we were there, which I thought was totally reasonable, especially since we didn’t need a rental car.
I didn’t do the best at this because I thought it would be warmer in Florida in February, but you forget that you’re not just out in the high temps of the day, but also the chilly morning and night. Brrrr! It got cold. Think of the time of year and bring light/heavy clothing and blankets with that in mind. Even in the summer you may want layers since being in the AC when you’re wearing shorts and a tank top can get chilly too.
Bring a carrier.
Even though my son is two and likes to walk or ride in his stroller most of the time, I was really happy to have my sling to pop him on my hip while we were in line. There’s a spot for stroller parking by most rides, so carrying your kid in line can get heavy and putting them down and expecting them to stay by you isn’t always realistic either, so that helps. Which brings me to…
Don’t be afraid of the toddler leash.
I’m going to be totally honest — before I had kids I judged parents with children on leashes. I said I would never be one. My child would learn to stay by me. Ha! Well, he is pretty good, but at a big place like Disneyworld I didn’t want to risk it and I’m sooo glad I didn’t. He actually (mostly) liked wearing a big boy backpack and the leash part just helped keep him by us in line or while walking. We got the Skiphop bee backpack which has a detachable leash and also has a handle up top so even if I tucked in the leash part, I could grab it up top to keep him by me. THIS IS ESSENTIAL.
Buy souvenirs in advance.
That may sound weird because that’s the opposite of a souvenir, right? You can still get a thing or two there, but if you buy Disney shirts, toys, etc outside the park it’s so much cheaper for essentially the same or similar stuff and your kid won’t really know the difference. I bought my son Mickey Mouse shirts to wear while we were there for $6 and $7 at Ross and Amazon (compared to similar ones there for $25+) and a stuffed animal for $8 versus $30 in the park. I just gave it to him at opportune moments and he had no idea where it came from. There still may be stuff you want specific to your trip, but you can save by thinking ahead what your kids may want and buy the more special stuff you can only find in the park.
Plan to have stroller naps.
I wasn’t really sure how naps would work out, but my son was great sleeping in his stroller. Unless you know your kid will really not tolerate sleeping there, make sleeping in the stroller on the go your plan. We planned our best so we wouldn’t be transferring on the shuttle between parks during naptime (they have to get out of the stroller on the shuttle), but otherwise he was so exhausted from all the fun he just conked out.
Have a plan, but be flexible.
I feel like that’s sort of the motto of most parents with toddlers, but it’s most definitely true for a trip to Disneyworld. I think with Disneyland you can sort of just go with the flow, but Disneyworld is so big with its four parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot) you need to decide what is your priority, what days you want to hit what, and time out your Fast Passes and which rides you want to hit at naptime versus when your kid is awake. That way you can make the most of your time. You obviously still have to go with the flow and not have crazy expectations you’ll hit it all because with a toddler in tow, because that just isn’t going to happen.
Prioritize your favorite rides and parks.
Since my son is 2, Magic Kingdom was his favorite, but all the parks offered stuff exciting for his age. His favorite rides from each were the following (though we didn’t hit everything available):
Magic Kingdom: Flying Dumbos, Winnie the Pooh, Prince Charming Carousel, Mickey’s Philharmagic, Aladdin’s Flying Carpet, It’s a Small World, and Peter Pan. Also the fireworks show is an obvious favorite, but if you have more than one night there, I suggest doing one night in the front of the castle with the huge crowd, and another night over by the carousel behind the castle. That’s the spot in between the places they shoot them off, so not only is it fairly deserted, it also is super cool to be surrounded by fireworks in every direction of you!
Animal Kingdom: Petting zoo, Flying Triceratops, the Lion King show, and the animals on the Tree of Life. And from an adult perspective, don’t miss Expedition Everest! That’s worth the Fast Pass wait.
Epcot: The Seas with Nemo and Friends, Finding Nemo Aquarium, Journey into Imagination with Figment (which took me right back to the early 90s…ha), and the Gran Fiesta Tour. The World Showcase is also great as it basically takes you through mini representations of countries all over the world showing off cultural features condensed into a little area and it’s a pretty walk. I highly recommend the crepes and gelato over by France and Italy!
Hollywood Studios: Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure (which I actually remember playing on as a kid!), Toy Story Midway Mania, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. Also I have to say I think this probably had the least in terms of stuff for my 2-year-old, but it also probably had the most characters wandering around the park which made it easier to get pictures and meet and greets.
Overall, really just focus on letting your little one(s) enjoy the trip and don’t stress hitting it all. Seeing them take in the magic is so fun!