Disney Tips for Families with Babies/Toddlers

We were shocked to learn recently that some parents think going to Disney World is torture.  We love Disney, and have made many trips with small children (ranging in age from 4 to 9 months).  Here is a collection of some of my favorite tips for going to Disney with babies/toddlers.

  • Plan your trip well ahead.  Depending on the age of your children, you should consider character lunches/dinners/breakfasts.  The most popular ones (Cinderella’s Royal Table, Chef Mickey’s, etc.) book up months in advance.  Also keep an open mind about the character experience – if you can’t get into Cinderella’s Royal Table, try Princess Storybook Dining at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall – we met all the princesses there, including Cinderella, and the girls even got to participate in a parade around the restaurant with the princesses.
  • Assuming you do the character meals or meet and greets, bring or buy an autograph book.  It’s a good way for shy kids to warm up to the characters.  Obviously, have the camera ready – I love some of the faces I caught on film when my girls saw their favorite princesses.  You don’t need to spend $$$ on a meal to meet characters, but you would otherwise have to wait in a pretty long line at the parks.
  • Stay on property at the Walt Disney World Resort, preferably at a monorail or Epcot based hotel, if you can afford to.  We like to travel during the spring when there are often sales on rooms for 30% or more off.  Our personal fave is the Beach Club Resort, mostly because of the awesome baby-friendly sand bottomed pool.  Other families swear by the Polynesian.  The point is that you want to avoid taking the bus as much as possible.  Think about it:  all your gear, strollers that you’ll need to fold, and multiple children who may not be independently mobile.  The benefit of staying at the Epcot resorts is that you have a ton you can walk to if you have a fussy baby or after park hours (around the lagoon, Disney’s BoardWalk, Epcot/Hollywood Studios).  There are also nightly outdoor Disney movies and other activities.
  • Take advantage of morning Extra Magic Hours – you’ll be up early anyway, so why not get to the park and attractions ahead of the crowds?  I created a spreadsheet noting which park had Extra Magic Hours, and built our itinerary around those, including all sit down dinner reservations.
  • Plan your day in advance as much as possible – for each park, decide what your “must haves” are, what you’d like to do, and the things that are less important.  Obviously, you won’t do everything.  But, also have a backup plan.  Rides are unexpectedly down, sudden downpours can happen frequently (in which case, you will need to buy those big plastic ponchos, and extra for the stroller).  Also, be flexible.  Sometimes, young kids have more fun just exploring an interesting-looking area.  I remember one time walking through Frontierland with my two year old son while his big sisters were riding Splash Mountain.  We grabbed a bucket of popcorn and watched a show by the Notorious Banjo Brothers and Bob.  It was so much fun for both of us, but nothing that was planned on an itinerary.
  • Research the park well beforehand, reading descriptions of the various rides.  Babies and young toddlers can ride many rides/see many shows, but some might be too dark/scary.  Do the research upfront to avoid any surprises.
  • Go back to your hotel at some point.  My kids mostly napped in the stroller, but loved coming back to the hotel for a swim in the pool, and we loved being able to freshen up before heading back out.
  • Bring your own stroller.  They do have strollers for rent in the parks, but we found that having our own was crucial for the airport and sometimes even the long walk back to your hotel room.  I recommend lightweight umbrella strollers with good sunshades – easy to fold, pick up and store.  Also, bring lightweight, gauzy blankets (Aidan & Anis are great!) to drape over the stroller for extra sun protection, especially for a sleeping baby.
  • Bring your own costumes – Target sells all the princess dresses for $20.  Much cheaper than the Disney store/parks.  I prefer the “toddler” sizes as they are shorter and more comfortable in the Florida heat.
  • Nursing moms – they have Baby Centers at each park, with private/semi-private places to nurse, changing tables and bathrooms.  It’s also a great place to give your kids a quick break in the shade, and they sell baby items in case you’ve run out (diapers, formula, etc.).  They also have books and movies/shows to entertain older kids while they are waiting for you.
  • Bring Pull Ups for younger toddlers, even if they are toilet trained.  Once we went when our girls were 4 and 2 1/2 and mostly toilet trained.  I insisted that they wore these given the long lines we encountered in the park (either for rides, or just walking to/finding the nearest bathroom).  They saved us from a lot of outfit changes at the park!
  • Bring glow in the dark bracelets/necklaces/wands.  ….the parks can get dark during parades, fireworks, etc.  Be sure to bring extras to offer to the kids around you.  This really allows you to share the Disney spirit!
  • Bring snacks – you are allowed to bring food into the parks…load up on things that store easily and can be eaten on the run…cheerios, crackers, etc.  These can come in handy in a pinch.
  • Bring small diversions – waiting in line is tough for little kids, so it’s great to bring little things that pack easy – bubbles, small magnadoodle boards, or even a smartphone.
  • Speaking of smartphones, download the free Disney Parks app.  It will give you times for all the events, interactive maps of each parks, when and where you can meet the characters, and even wait times on all the rides.
  • Wear buttons – you can get these at Guest Relations, and they have buttons for “First Visit”, “Birthday”, “Anniversary”, etc.  The staff tend to do nice things wherever possible when they see these and/or give extra attention.  This is also a good tip for sit down meals – when you make your reservation, you can note if you are celebrating a special event.  We received the best table in the house, complimentary champagne, and lots of attention at the California Grill on our anniversary.
  • On a hot day, buy the motorized fan with the spray/waterbottle attached.  It has a strap you can sling over the stroller, and is worth every penny!
  • Another tip for beating the Florida heat: bring light colored umbrellas to use as sunshades.  These kept my kiddos from melting in the hot sun during an afternoon parade.

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