Planning, planning, and more planning
When you are traveling to Disney there is so much to consider and plan. Throw a toddler in to that mix and there are so many things to consider! I am a mom of 3 kids. I have planned the Disney trips. I get how overwhelming it can be. So I have put together a list of ways you can plan ahead, make it special for your kids, and not pull your hair out in the process.
Make it fun and exciting!
Depending on how old your kids are, you might want to hold off on telling them until it is closer to your departure date. If your kids are anything like mine, they don’t have the best concept of time. I've made the mistake of telling my kids a little too soon, and was bombarded with “How many days? Now how many days? How many more days? Are we leaving yet?”
On our last trip we found a fun solution to that. On our chalkboard wall (Yes, we have a chalkboard wall) we had a Disney World Countdown. Every morning after breakfast we updated the countdown. The kids loved it, and I didn’t have to answer when they asked “How many days” every 5 minutes.
The last time I took my kids to Disney we decided to make the months before our trip a part of the fun. Saturday night became Disney movie night. We watched Disney movies and familiarized ourselves with characters we wanted to meet or movies that had connections to rides. Up until recently there was not a ton of Pixar representation at the parks. While that is slowly changing, there are still a ton of classic rides and characters that your child might not be terribly familiar with. Watching the movies will get them excited to meet the characters and go on those classic rides.
Should we fly or should we drive?
There are pros and cons to both flying and driving with little ones. Check out my post dedicated to traveling with a toddler for tips on surviving the trip!
When you drive your child has the comfort of their own car seat and familiar car. You can load your car with all of the diapers, and food, and snacks, and your pack n’ play, and everything else you can think of that might make your little one happy on your vacation. You also will have your car and wont have to worry about using Disney transportation. I know how stressful it can be to see the park bus coming and then have to yank your little one out of the stroller, fold it up, pick up your child and your stroller and HOPE to find a seat on the bus.
The cons to driving? Well depending on where you live you might have quite the drive ahead of you. I live outside of Chicago. I can do the drive in about a day and a half. BUT… and this is an important but…. small children can be unpredictable when it comes to road trips. I have done several road trips with my kids, and it means frequent stops for bathrooms, feedings, and tantrums. If you’ve never been on a road trip with a little one, plan to stop way more than you would on any other road trip. Also, with the frequent stops, gas, and the need (for me coming from Chicago) to stop at a hotel for the night, driving to Disney World ends up costing more money than flying.
For most of the country flying will get you there faster. Also, Disney offers complimentary transportation from the Orlando Airport. This can be a huge time and money saver. And it gives you more time at the parks!
The cons of flying are that getting through security, and sitting on an airplane with a little one can be stressful. But the good news is that the odds are you aren't the only one flying to Orlando with a baby or toddler. Babies will sometimes cry. Toddlers will sometimes have a fit. People will understand. Especially on a flight to Orlando.
What hotel is best for small children
There is no wrong answer when it comes to Disney World resorts with small children. No matter which hotel you chose, Disney does an amazing job of making your stay magical. But that doesn’t mean that your toddler might be more comfortable in one hotel versus another.
In my experience the best bet for families traveling with small children are the value resort hotels. These hotels are themed for kids. The Art of Animation is my personal favorite. The rooms are themed after The Little Mermaid, Cars, The Lion King, and Finding Nemo. The best part? All of the rooms (except the Little Mermaid rooms) are suites! If you are anything like me, you NEED to have space that is adult only when traveling with kids. These rooms have 2 bathrooms, and a kitchenette area.
If you are looking for something other than one of the value resorts, I would pick one of the resorts on the monorail line. The Contemporary is a fantastic option. Chef Mickey’s is in this resort, making meeting the Big Guy fun and easy. Also, seeing the monorail glide right through your hotel will amaze your kids! And the cherry on top is being able to walk back to the hotel after a day at Magic Kingdom. I have tried to take a sleeping toddler on a bus back to my resort. It’s not fun.
If you want to look at more options you can check out mylist of resorts. This will give you a better idea of where resorts are located, what kinds of transportation each provide, and price points. Keep in mind that Disney World guarantees connecting rooms if one family has two rooms with minors. One adult needs to be on the reservation for each room, and you have to have small children, but they will make it work for you.
What Parks Should We Visit?
Once you have decided where you are staying you’ll want to plan your touring schedule. You know your family better than anyone, but depending on how many days you plan on spending at the parks, you might want to take a look at ourlist of ridesand height requirements for each park (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot) and decide how many days you’ll be spending at each park. I couldn’t possibly tell you which parks you MUST visit, but if your time is limited I suggest the following:
Once you know what parks you want to spend your time with, you’ll want to decide on what touring plan works for you. I have sample touring plans for toddlers (for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios) that have worked for me and my kids that are a great resource to at least get you started. I also have recommended restaurants andcharacter mealsfor little ones.
Handling Weather and Lines with Little Ones
The first time I went to Disney World with my daughter I was standing in line at Disney Springs waiting for a boat to take myself and my baby back to our resort. She was DONE. And I don’t mean she was a little sleepy. I mean I made the mistake of keeping her out way too long, and she was having a meltdown. Screaming and throwing a fit as I stand alone with her in a long line. I was totally unprepared. Then a magical thing happened. A woman I don’t even know became my savior. She was also in line with small kids. She had packed glow sticks and bubbles to keep her kids happy. And she handed me a glow stick to give to my daughter. My daughter immediately calmed down and began to play with the glow stick. This woman saved my life! And I will never make that mistake again. When standing in line I suggest having a few distractions at the ready.Bubbles, stickers andglow sticks are always winners! And buying them off of amazon ahead of time will save you some serious cash.
Having a handheld fan can also be a lifesaver, especially in the summer months. We used thesefans clipped to our stroller, and then we also had these handheld fan to carry around. I also bought this great stroller cover. It folds up small. You unhook it and velcro it around the stroller for sun or rain coverage. There is nothing worse than coming off of a ride and finding your stroller soaked in the rain. This will keep your stroller (and baby) dry. It can also be pulled down to keep it dark when baby needs a nap.
If you decide to fly into MCO (Orlando International Airport), and you are staying at one of the resorts on property, you have the option for Disney’s Magical Express. I personally love this service. It is a free bus shuttle to your resort. The buses are large and comfortable. They even play cartoons during your ride. You do not need to have a car seat for your little one on the bus, but if you have a car seat you do have the option of installing it on the bus seat.
Buses, Boats, and Monorails
Depending on what resort you are staying at, you will need to use Disney transportation to get to the parks if you decide to use Magical Express. Check out ourlisting of resorts to see the transportation options at each resort. If you stay at a resort that only has bus transportation to the parks you will need to keep in mind that strollers must be folded up when on the bus. If you have boat or monorail transportation you can keep your child in the stroller as long as you are with them.
If you decide to drive or have a rental car, you won't have to worry about the hassle of Disney Transportation, but you will have to pay for parking. Resort guests pay the following parking fees:
You pay the fees to your resort, but when you drive to the park you will be able to park there for free since you are a resort guest.
The last time I went to Disney World we discovered Minnie Vans. They were an absolute lifesaver. We were staying at Port Orleans Riverside Resort. It is a gorgeous resort, but the only transportation to the park is the bus. And more than once my little one fell asleep in her stroller as we were heading back to the buses. It only took one crying fit on the bus for us to decide that we didn’t want to do that ever again. The next time we had a late night we decided to use a Minnie Van. They are operated like a ride-sharing service (Think Uber and Lyft), but they are run by Disney Cast Members. Each Minnie Van has 2 car seats, and they will take you anywhere on Disney property. Prices are based on how far you are traveling and can be expensive.
When it comes to strollers at Disney you have several options to help you do what is best for your family. I have an entire article devoted to strollers so you can figure out if you should bring your own, rent one, or buy one.
Bring your Own
If you know your child will be napping in the stroller on your trip you may choose to bring your own. Your child will be comfortable and you will know the ins and outs of folding and carrying your stroller. You also will have your stroller walking through the airport. Depending on your kids' age you might need the stroller to get your kid through the airport before and after your flight.
Renting at the Park
You can rent a stroller at the park for $15 a day (Or $31 a day for a double stroller). These strollers are a hard plastic and are incredibly durable. You could even use them for an older child who might not use a stroller anymore, but the walking is too much for them on this trip. The downside? The fact that they are hard plastic, and they don’t recline means that naps for little ones might be a little more difficult. You also have to rent when inside the park. So walking around the airport, the resort, or to the bus or boat will be without stroller.
Third Party Rental
There are many options for third-party rental:
For more information on all of your stroller rental options (including price, types of strollers available, and more) please check out my post on strollers at Disney World.
Buying a Stroller After I Arrive
You can also buy a stroller at Disney World. Don't expect a fantastic deal if you buy a stroller at the parks, but if you are in a jam, umbrella strollers can be purchased. You can also order a stroller online and have it delivered to your resort. Sometimes that is a cheaper option than renting. And if you don't want it at the end of your trip, hang out by the stroller rental and give it to an unsuspecting family to pass along the Disney Magic!
No matter what you chose, you will want to make sure you make your stroller stand out. Use ribbons or balloons or anything you can put on your stroller so that you spot it. The stroller parking spots can get crowded. And often cast members move strollers around to make room for everybody.
Probably the most important tip I can make for your Disney trip with your baby or toddler is to be flexible. You can plan your itinerary perfectly. Grab all of those amazing restaurants and hard to get fastpass+ rides. But at the end of the day, your baby doesn’t care about your planning. I planned my last trip perfectly. Until my daughter suddenly decided that afternoon naps were no longer her thing. Her thing was now 10 am naps. It threw a wrench into all of my planning. But we went with the flow and worked around it. We moved a few rides around. We ended up having to skip a few things. But everyone was happy. And having a fun and magical Disney vacation is far more important than going on every single ride or meeting every single character. And I wouldn’t change any of it!
See you in the parks!
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See you at the parks,