Traveling to Walt Disney World with young children doesn’t have to be stressful! Here are our best tips for traveling to Walt Disney World with toddlers.
I know just the thought of planning a WDW vacation can seem overwhelming. By the time you’ve booked the resort, picked your tickets, made dining reservations, FastPass+ selections, etc, you just want to get there already and enjoy a magical trip! But traveling with kids, especially those under 5, can leave you wondering if the trip won’t feel a little more mess than magical.
The Godfather and I have been very blessed to take our princesses to WDW several times. And it’s AMAZING! I *definitely* recommend going with young kids because EVERYTHING is magical for them! Disney makes it so easy to travel with young children too, especially when you know what to keep in mind as you plan.
The right strategy can not only prevent some tantrums, but it may even save you a bit of money and make sure the vacation is enjoyable for everyone! You don’t want to be that stressed-out parent on the verge of your own meltdown in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. That’s not fun for anyone! But it won’t be you, because you’re here, and these are my top tips for traveling to Disney with toddlers… parent to parent (or aunt, uncle, grandparent, etc).
1. Stay on property.
Primary reasons: Ease of transportation to/from resort and Extra Magic Hours.
If you can book a hotel on property, it helps. Not only do you have buses, the monorail, or boats available for transportation so you don’t have to worry about parking, you also have access to extra magic hours (EMH). Depending on your child(ren)’s personal schedule, you may not use EMH every day, but they can be helpful, especially if you want to park hop.
For example, our last trip, we started one day at EPCOT, knowing full well that the girls would be ready to leave by about 2. We returned to the resort, let them rest a little, made some FastPass reservations for the evening on the MyDisneyExperience app, and then headed over to Hollywood Studios to finish the evening with the Toy Story Mania ride, Star Tours for my oldest, a Muppets show (classic!), and fireworks. Hollywood Studios had EMH that evening, so we didn’t have to rush!
2. Plan breaks, but be flexible.
We always plan a break in the middle of each park day. A morning-to-night marathon doesn’t always work for our kids (or us!). But, we are always willing to adjust based on the day. When it’s very hot outside, a break is a must, but on cooler days, we find the baby will nap pretty comfortably in a carrier or stroller. The oldest may or may not take a brief snooze, but it’s not long enough to leave the park, so we just stay. Just be ready with enough diapers and snacks for the day if you find a “leave the park” break just isn’t going to work that day.
3. Choose kid transportation equipment wisely.
You can rent strollers at the parks or through some local agencies, but if possible, I recommend bringing your own. Not only is it less expensive than renting, but you’re already familiar with your particular stroller model. Personally, we are huge fans of our City Select double stroller. We have the light grey color, which stays pretty cool, even in Florida sun. The girls like the multiple seat configurations, and we like that it’s narrow. The basket is also a generous size for carrying the diaper bag and other essentials.
My only gripe is that it’s kind of a pain to get on and off buses because you can’t fold the stroller without removing one of the seats. If the reclining seats weren’t such a huge plus for helping the kids recharge on the go, we might go with a compact double umbrella stroller like this one. We probably won’t be making that investment though as Princess #1 is outgrowing strollers. We have 1, maybe 2 trips left where she may need a regular place to sit.
If we will be waiting in a few lines or walking through areas where we can’t really take the stroller (i.e. – the dinosaur playground at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park), I bring along my carrier. Both girls really enjoyed being worn as babies, but carriers can get hot! With Princess #2, we purchased a Lillebaby and it’s my go-to for most of our WDW trips because of the mesh vents.
4. Find ways to keep everyone cool!
Plan ahead and bring your own mister fan spray bottles or stroller fans (if they fit on your stroller). Since we live in the South, and it’s HOT here almost all the time, a warm-weather staple in my diaper bag are a few of these cooling tech towels. They’re really handy since all you have to do is wet, pull, and place around your neck or over your head. The girls really like them and having one for each has averted many a heat-induced meltdown. Literally.
Of course, drinking lots of water is a must, as are hats, sunglasses, and breathable clothing and shoes.
5. Get familiar with the baby care stations in each park.
They’re one of the best “secrets” for parents of young kids. Look for them on your theme park map or ask a cast member. The care stations provide a quiet place to warm a bottle, change a diaper, or nurse in peace, quiet, and A/C.
6. Pack lots of snacks!
Trips to WDW definitely involve enjoying some park treats, and we allow our children to pick 1 each day. But since the days are a little more active than usual, kids will likely need to consume more calories. And if your little ones are like mine, the day’s food consumption goes something like: breakfast, post-breakfast snack, elevensies, lunch, post-lunch snack, tea, pre-dinner snack, dinner, dessert, request for post-dinner snack. While you can (thankfully) find a good variety of healthier options around the World these days, it’s still a good idea to pack your own.
Some options we pack usually include: applesauce pouches, grapes, refillable water bottles for everyone, granola bars that don’t have chocolate, graham crackers, and munchie mugs with pretzels, goldfish, or another crunchy snack. This helps limit the sugar consumption because too much sugar causes spikes and crashes in energy that just stress mom and dad out. Nobody wants that!
If you have a cow milk drinker, be aware that at this time, Disney World does not have organic milk available for purchase anywhere. You can find plenty of conventional milk, but if you need organic, bring a good small cooler or small thermos and fill baby bottles as needed from the cooler or thermos during the day. All on-property hotel rooms have a mini-refrigerator.
7. Prioritize your park days!
This tip is generations in the making. My dad is an engineer and loves to plan things. When I was a kid (way before smart phones, darlings), the first thing we would do when the family arrived at Disney World was pick up a map for each park we planned to visit. As soon as we got to our hotel room, my dad would spread out all the maps on one of the beds and my sisters and I would look over each one carefully to pick our “must do” items. Each member of the family was allowed one.
Then, my dad would mark those “high priority” rides and attractions on the map and we would schedule our “route” for the day based on the most efficient way to get from one to the other. If one of us wanted to ride something like Space Mountain, we would plan to be at the park at opening (early risers), and go there first for a shorter queue. Then we would go from there to make sure we got to all five “must do” items of the day.
Do you know how well this worked? We ALWAYS got to do everything and then some. So while we never rode every ride in any park we visited, everyone was happy at the end of the day because we all got to choose an activity.
The Godfather and I do the same with our girls now and it’s GREAT! The baby doesn’t really care yet, so we just make sure we have a ride or two that we know she will enjoy. But with the oldest one, we let her pick 2 rides. If we can get FastPass+ reservations in advance, we do that, but if not, we try to make it work anyway. And we’ve always ended up riding lots of rides, even with a break in the day.
Traveling with little ones is great because they’re usually still too short to ride the thrill rides with the very long wait times, so it keeps the “must do” list manageable. If Mom or Dad want to ride, book your FastPass+ reservation, and use the parent swap option.
8. Book a character meal if possible.
The lines to see the characters in the parks can get outrageous and it’s hard to get FP+ reservations for the Character Stations. If you can, and a meal is offered for the characters your children like, book a meal. You’re guaranteed to see the character you want during your meal, and you can take lots of great photos. Character meals are typically on the louder side, and they are very kid friendly.
9. Plan a park-free vacation day.
We did this on one of our trips, not sure how it was going to work out, and really liked it. Because we stay on property, even the resorts are exciting and “Disney” enough for the kids! Our oldest loves spending time at the pool, playing outside at the Boardwalk (especially if a stop for ice cream in involved!), or riding the carousel and little train at Disney Springs. A preschooler (3 or 4 years old) might also enjoy a round of mini golf at one of the themed courses. We took our oldest at about 3 years old to Winter Summerland and she had a great time.
The Godfather and I also get a chance to recharge with a “go with the flow” kind of day. If we are planning a character meal at one of the resorts, this is a good day to do it. The kids still got a little of the interactive Disney Magic associated with theme parks, but there’s less rushing around.
One trip, we booked a horse-drawn carriage ride at Fort Wilderness. Next time, I’d love to take our ride around Port Orleans Riverside, but the experience was great. We had a chance to chat with our driver and take pictures with the horse after (a highlight for Princess 1). Resorts are magical too, just different. 😉
Oh, and ride all the Disney transportation. When we stay at Saratoga Springs, the boat ride to Disney Springs is one of the girls’ favorite activities. The monorail is also super fun, and an exciting way to tour other resorts. You can grab a Dole whip at the Polynesian, listen to live music in the lobby at the Grand Floridian, zip through the Contemporary, and get a beautiful view of Bay Lake.
10. Keep your “why” in mind.
Whether this is a “once in a lifetime” trip, or a “we’ll come again soon” trip, don’t get so wrapped up in the details you forget why you chose Disney as your vacation destination. We all go wanting to create beautiful memories with our kids at a place that’s fun for them (and us) too. We know the under-5 set can be a little emotional, especially when facing so much exciting stimulus. And that’s okay! Take a few deep breaths, be ready to adjust plans as needed, and make the most of the moments as they are and not as you expect them to be.