Bringing a small child to a theme park can be challenging to say the least, but it’s not impossible if you have a decent (but flexible) game plan beforehand. I’m an adult and I still get tired walking around Disney all day; especially sautéing in that Florida weather. There isn’t a lot of shade at any of the parks and being outdoors for hours can suck your energy away faster than a child. Having a toddler can be stressful and a little overwheming, especially for first time visitors so I thought I’d put together some helpful suggestions so you don’t feel the need to pull your hair out or have your own (inevitable) tantrum.
First of all, plan to go for as many days as possible. I’ve done 4 Disney parks in 1 day, but am also a veteran and know exactly where all my favorite rides are in each one to beeline and avoid stores and character meets. Allowing 5-7 days is optimum because you can split up some of the days with downtime at the pool or Downtown Disney or even just napping and relaxing at the hotel. Park hoppers are a great addition to your base tickets because they allow you to break up the day with (ALL IMPORTANT) naps and snacks; and that’s just for the parents. With a park hopper, you can go early (let’s face it; you’ll be up that early anyway) and getting to the park when it opens ensures you’ll get on at least a couple rides without fastpassing everything. Then as the day gets hotter and the parks get more crowded, you can bail out for a bit, head back to the hotel, and stay inside for a few hours. Head back to the park in the late afternoon when everyone has time to regroup and is happy again. Use your dining plan to enjoy a lovely dinner without being sweaty and exhausted from being outside all day.
Mmm, now that sounds like vacation.
I would definitely recommend bringing a stroller with you. Maybe your child has been walking independently for a long time and you think a child leash would be sufficient, but trust me- if I was with a group that had a stroller they would be pushing ME back to the hotel. With all the excitement, he/she will probably crash early or at least need a place to get away from the sunlight for a while. It also helps to have something to carry the inevitable souvenirs you’ll be toting back, along with your sanity.
For rides, your best bet will be in Fantasyland; there are several attractions that are safe for kids at two. If you’re like me and have older rides you just HAVE to do before you leave, Disney offers “trading off” for parents. When you approach the ride, let the attendant know you want to switch off / trade off and they’ll give you instructions. Basically, the family stands in line together and when you get up to the front, one parent can ride while the other monitors the kid(s). When the other parent gets back, the one waiting can hand over the kids and take his/her turn. The downside is riding alone, but the positive is only having to wait in line once. Hollywood Studios has several shows to entertain and there is a Toy Story that is a blast. Keep in mind it’s one of the most popular rides and typically has wait times over 60 minutes. If you can’t Fastpass it, I would skip it altogether. I can’t tell you how tough it was when my husband and I stood in line for over an hour and watched parents slowly lose their minds due to restless children, potty breaks, crying, etc. Over time, they began dropping out of line like flies with equally as upset children, cursing their Disney trip and everything and everyone else in sight.
Be smart. 60 minutes is a LONG TIME to stand in a small, cramped area, even for older kids. Toddlers are like the Terminator; there’s no reasoning or bargaining. Once they begin a meltdown, it’s going to be all downhill from there and no one wants that to happen in a queue line. Be sure to check out the character dining in the parks- most of them take the dining plan and usually one of the best memories for the kids.
Resort wise, I would recommend the value resorts first; most of them are decorated and themed for younger kids, plus they’re great for new families without a lot of extra income to spare. If you want to spring for something a little more expensive, check out the deluxe resorts. Villas have kitchens to wash out sippy cups and keep toddler snacks, the Animal Kingdom Lodge has safari animals in the back and rooms with balconies to view the area, and the Polynesian is only a short monorail ride to Magic Kingdom. For the families traveling with a little royal, make sure you head to Downtown Disney where you can sign her up for a princess makeover, if she is at least three years old. Prices range between around $60-200 based on the different packages they offer.
Any other tips for me? I’d love to hear them!!