My family just got back from taking our almost-three-year-old to Disney World for the first time. We did some things that really helped make our vacation go smoothly, but there are also some things I learned along the way that I will use next time!
For context, our traveling party included me, my husband, our nearly three-year-old, and my parents.
I want you to have the best vacation ever with your little one, so here are some things I learned during our vacation!
1 – Visit Before Three
Visiting before your little one turns three years old means big savings!
Children under three get into the parks for free! Just pay for the adults, and ride all day! We planned our vacation just weeks before our son turns three, so he was tall enough to ride almost everything.
They also eat for free! Lots of people would say that this is a good time to get the Disney Dining Plan; I hardly ever think the Disney Dining Plan is worth the cost, and this trip is no different. We did not have the DDP and our son still ate free during our trip. While we had to order some extra sides with our meals, we still spent less than what we would have spent on the DDP. We ate mostly quick-service meals though because our little guy doesn’t sit still very long. If table-service meals work for your family, the DDP might be worth it especially if you choose buffet style restaurants.
2 – Consider accommodations
When I first booked our vacation, I reserved two traditional hotel rooms at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. However, I realized that a suite might be more appropriate for us.
We decided to stay in a one-bedroom Lion King Family Suite at Art of Animation, and it worked really well for our family. The room offered a living area, a dining area, two full baths, and a large bedroom.
We requested a complimentary pack ‘n’ play, and what they brought us was very nice. The pad on the bottom offered a little extra pillow than a normal travel bed, and they even brought a sheet. We brought his nap roll from home and some stuffies to provide some familiarity. We put the pack ‘n’ play in the bedroom, which worked well for afternoon naps and bedtimes. We were able to put him down for nap or bed and use the living area to watch television or enjoy an adults-only dinner before quietly sneaking into the bedroom ourselves. My parents slept comfortably on the Murphy bed.
3 – Plan your Play and Play your Plan
Until now, I had only visited Disney World with adults, which requires much less planning than visiting with children. When my husband and I visited by ourselves and when I visited with friends for spring break, we booked our FastPasses and planned our meals, but were pretty open to spontaneity throughout the trip.
While there has to be some spontaneity with your kids (like when you stumble on a playground or a character meet and greet), you want to be a little more careful about appropriate planning.
The first step to getting to the parks is taking transportation. All forms of transportation get busy. If you want to get to the parks at a certain time, like for Magic Kingdom’s Let the Magic Begin opening show, you’ll want to get to the bus with plenty of time to spare not only so you can get to the park on time but also so you can get a seat. Our little guy wanted his own seat on the bus, but there was more than one instance where all the seats were full and we [meaning my husband] had to hold him for the entire trip. (As a side note, please give your seat up on the bus for children or parents holding children!)
Most kids are early risers, so plan to get to the parks as early as possible. You’ll avoid the crowds and get your first FastPasses out of the way early in the day. While I would suggest later FastPasses for adults-only vacations, kids don’t like to wait in line, so booking early FastPasses (back to back if possible), means less waiting in line and more opportunity to book additional FastPasses later in the day.
When it comes to FastPasses, its important to know how tall your child is. When I booked our FastPasses, our little guy was measuring at 38.75”. I optimistically scheduled FastPasses for 40” minimum rides like Soarin, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain and hoped for a short line on Test Track. I told him about all of these rides, but when we got there, he was just under the arrows. He was disappointed, and so were we. If I would have planned better, we could have scheduled different FastPasses. Instead, we had one disappointment and avoided 40”+ rides from then on.
Whether your child is potty-trained or not, the Baby Care Centers, located in every park, are definitely something you’ll want to be aware of.
There are private nursing rooms for babies, rocking chairs for bottle feeding, high chairs for spoon feeding, and stools and tables for older children to have a snack. They sell a variety of baby food, formula, and snacks, and there’s even microwaves for heating (or reheating!) food. There are also changing tables and a supply of diapers and wipes if you need it!
If your family just needs a minute to decompress but you don’t want to take the time to go back to your hotel, this is a great place to do it! It’s not busy, it’s very clean, and there’s a television playing Disney Junior all day!
Right next door to every Baby Care Center is also a First Aid Center. Kids are prone to scrapes and cuts, so stop by whether you need a Mickey Band-Aid or an ice pack!
5 – BYOS
That’s Bring Your Own Snacks! Our little guy eats Nutrigrain bars every morning for breakfast, so I packed them in our suitcase (along with his favorite stuffies) so I could be sure that he would have some familiarity when it came to eating. We also packed Mickey Mouse Gold Fish crackers, fruit snacks, and his water bottle. We took these into the park with us everyday and had no problem getting through security. When he got hungry while waiting in line, we pulled out some snacks, and he was much happier!
We supplemented what we brought with what we could buy in the Landscape of Flavors food court including three-packs of Cuties and juice boxes.
This isn’t to say that we didn’t buy anything extra. We obviously bought meals in the parks and at our resort, and our little has an affinity for Mickey Ice Cream Sandwiches, Doritos, and Soft Pretzels.
6 – Use Rider Switch
Even while our big boy was tall enough to ride his first rollercoaster – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – and many other rides, he wasn’t quite tall enough for some of our favorite rides like Soarin Around the World and Splash Mountain. Since my parents were with us, we were still able to ride together. We got FastPasses and let them ride, and the Cast Member tending the FastPass queue scanned our MagicBands and gave us a return time. E was able to stay with us (and eat a bag of Doritos) while my parents rode then stay with my parents while we rode. This service is called Rider Switch, which allows adults and older children to ride while shorter family members or those who don’t want to ride stay with a responsible adult then switch without waiting in line again!
7 – Take a Mid-Day Break
It’s no secret that the mid-day break is highly recommended especially for kids. Even if they don’t nap, it’s good to rest a little or have some unstructured play time.
My husband was gracious enough to take our little guy back to the resort during our park days for a little R&R – if we’re being honest, I don’t think he minded taking his own nap.
On our two non-park days, which I always plan on our travel days, we allowed for some downtime for everyone. This is a great time to explore the resorts, all of which have a lot to offer. Disney’s Art of Animation has an awesome main pool and two smaller pools, playgrounds, and lots of larger than life figures from Disney and Pixar movies. Check out my review of Art of Animation for more info on this!
8 – Get the MemoryMaker
Since this was our son’s first Disney vacation and perhaps the only time my parents will visit with us, we wanted to get some great photos! Disney PhotoPass makes this easy. They can take photos with your phone, but you can also get the MemoryMaker and get some magical photos plus ride photos and videos.
One of my favorite pictures is of three generations – my dad, me, and my son – plus my husband riding Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. This would otherwise not be documented!
9 – Pack for the Unexpected
I’m fully aware that weather in Florida can fluctuate wildly. I was prepared, but not quite enough. Our first day there was in the upper 70s, but the next day was a monsoon. The temperatures dropped dramatically with highs in the lower 50s. I packed plenty of pants, but not enough clothes for layering, and I was surprised how difficult it was to find warm clothes for kids. Adult hoodies were available everywhere, but I was only able to find one hat and gloves set in his size and no long-sleeved shirts. On the day that it rained, we bought rain ponchos, but the ones they had for children were too long for him, so we just had his rain coat, which got soaking wet, and a hoodie.
10 – Order the essentials
One thing we considered but didn’t do was place a grocery order. I stuffed diapers in the suitcase, but I could have saved a lot of space if I would have had diapers delivered to our hotel. We also could have avoided packing as many snacks and spending money on breakfast by ordering snacks and certial through a delivery service.
Amazon Prime Now delivers to Disney World in two hours or less, and we saw lots of Prime Now bags sitting outside of hotel rooms. You can order when you get to the airport, and it would be at the desk by the time you get to your hotel! You can also place a regular prime order two days in advance and have it waiting for you. If you’re ordering Prime Pantry items, you’ll have to order a little farther in advance, but you might save on shipping especially for heavier things like water bottles. I will definitely use something like this next time we visit!
11 – Schedule a Character Breakfast
Perhaps the best thing we did was schedule a character breakfast. Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort was our final stop during our vacation. Our son loved meeting the characters, and it was nice that he got to spend more time with them than he would at a regular meet and greet.
We didn’t expect him to eat much, and we were right. Fortunately, he ate free (refer to #1 on the list), so we didn’t waste money, but he was hungry later in the day. If your little one is over three and won’t sit still for a meal without being distracted, wait until they can. Otherwise you’ll end up spending a lot of money and getting some very expensive character signatures.
12 – Consider the Stroller
There’s a lot of stroller controversy when it comes to visiting Disney World. Should you take your own? Rent one? Avoid it all together?
We decided to take our own. It was very convenient in the airport since we don’t like to check bags, and it was nice for Disney Springs and taking walk around our resort. However, we took it with us on our Magic Kingdom day, and it was kind of a headache. Stroller parking was always full, and when we got off of Pirates Of The Caribbean, I found that our stroller was moved. Fortunately, a nice man standing nearby was able to tell me where a Cast Member had moved all of the strollers and I found it pretty quickly, but the stroller was not as helpful as it was inconvenient. Instead, when little legs get tired, head back to the hotel for a break or pop into a quick-service restaurant for a snack.
If you do decide to take a stroller, be sure that you know how to break it down quickly. I can’t tell you how many parents I saw struggling to collapse their stroller while herding their kids onto the bus. Have your stroller folded up and be ready to board when it’s your turn. And, in the words of an entertaining Cast Member, it works better when the child is out of the stroller!
13 – Bypass Security
I don’t mean to actually avoid security, but you can reduce your time spent in line with this simple tip.
It’s impossible to avoid bags when taking kids into the park. When it just us adults, we pack light- since we can pay with our MagicBand, we need little more than sunglasses and chapstick. With kids, you need diapers, wipes, snacks, a sippy cup, etc. Pack one bag and send one parent through bag check. The other parent can walk in with the child and get to enjoying the park then the other parent can catch up.
This is a great way to avoid a line meltdown before even entering the parks.
What’s your best tip for visiting with young children?