Disney resorts and theme parks are the happiest place on Earth for me. While I wasn’t a toddler during my first visit to Walt Disney World, I was still fairly young. I remember every moment as if it was yesterday. That trip is when I developed a love for photography, but that’s for another post.
When I had my daughter in 2011, we started planning her first adventure to the theme parks. We ended up bringing her before she hit the terrible twos (which, for us, weren’t terrible at all. Now ask me about the threes and fours, though). I knew two things: she needed costumes and I needed to take a lot of photos. Beyond that, though, I didn’t really think about anything else. By then, we’d traveled with our kiddo fairly extensively. Her first cruise was taken when she was one year old. Her first beach trip was as a baby in the Bahamas. A theme park? Something I’m a pro at navigating without kids? This will be a cake walk!
Well, it ended up being a steeper learning curve than we expected. Toddlers can equal parts melt your heart and also drive you absolutely bonkers. Below you’ll find my top ten tips for heading to Walt Disney World with a toddler.
1. Under 3 Is Free
People will always have a lot of opinions about younger kids at theme parks. You’ll hear you should wait until they are older. Obviously, there are many factors that go into kids and Disney. Are they old enough that they’ll remember their trip? Are they walking? Are they potty trained? Now, I’m not here to tell you that under 3 is the perfect age for Walt Disney World, but I am here to tell you there are definite perks.
One of the biggest perks for me is that kids under 3 are free (as of 2022)! We definitely took full advantage of that benefit. This also means that kids under 3 do not need to purchase Genie service and can join the rest of their party in the Lightning Lane (as of 2022). They also get free dining at any of the all-you-can-eat meals you might partake in during your trip. Finally, there are so many toddler-friendly activities at Walt Disney World. My daughter still has memories from her earlier trips to Disney that we all love reliving together.
2. Buy Your Disney Gear Ahead of Time
Let’s be real. Disney costumes and souvenirs are pricey. And kids grow rapidly, but especially toddlers. So many articles of clothing in their closet will likely go unworn with tags still on them.
Instead of stressing and blowing your budget while at the parks, or having to deal with a cranky toddler while in a packed store, do some of your shopping before hitting the parks. If you have a Disney Outlet near you, it’s a great opportunity to look for costumes, shirts, and small toys at a discount.
I put together a Disney goodie bag full of Disney merch purchased at a better price so my kiddo can open their treats before or during the trip and get excited about all the treasures they have to play with. This will include sippy cups, some Disney snacks, activity sets, crayons, markers. Whatever your kid is into. This is something I continued doing with my kid well beyond toddler years, as well.
If you’re into autographs (and autographs are available at the time of your visit), grab an autograph book and pen before visiting, as well. You’ll find much cooler books and pens available outside of the parks and can help make those memories even better by having it be more OOAK.
Basically, try to avoid as much on-site souvenir shopping as possible. If you do shop, which you will shop, take advantage of having your bags either held at the front or delivered to your resort. And remember, lockers are also your friend. Just don’t forget about them.
3. Plan to Bring a Stroller
Rented strollers can’t be brought from park to park and are a bit bulky. A collapsible umbrella stroller was a godsend. I’ve seen so many parents say they’ll baby wear or carry their little one. Believe me, that small umbrella stroller will make a huge difference.
Not only can it help by being an always available seat for your toddler, it is also great for holding small bags or cups as needed. When it comes to transportation, it’ll also be easy to take on monorails or buses or even in cars as needed.
Additionally, by bringing your own umbrella stroller, it’ll likely be much easier to recognize in a sea of strollers. When you park your stroller while going on a ride or seeing a show, it’ll probably end up being moved by a cast member since they actively condense the strollers over time to organize the stroller parking areas and account for empty spaces from folks who have taken their strollers back.
4. Research Your Schedule Ahead of Time
Being prepared is always going to be a recommendation on any list involving a toddler. Look over all the attractions available, determine your must-sees, and then figure out what is YOUR toddler-friendly. What do I mean by that? Just because they are old enough or tall enough, doesn’t mean they are mature enough. It’s important to try to make that determination prior to getting in a line or sitting in a crowded theatre to avoid unnecessary stress for all of you.
Also, don’t overlook slower rides, inside rides, shows, or meet and greets (if available). They are great opportunities to force some cool down time, and needed break time.
One you figure your to-do list, map out the best trajectory to everything you want to do, being mindful of seating areas, rest areas, baby centers (I’ll chat about them soon). This will also help you figure out smart opportunities to grab some snacks or sit down for a meal.
Most importantly, though, be OK with these plans changed or completely not working the way you intended. Research and planning is all about being able to think on your feet when your plans inevitably have to change due to unforeseen circumstances or things totally out of your control. Be prepared but also be prepared to be flexible.
5. Buy the Memory Maker Photopass in Advance
The Memory Maker Photopass is a must purchase for me, but especially when my kiddo was younger. First, what is the Memory Maker Photopass? From Disney:
Enjoy all the Disney PhotoPass photos and videos from your vacation—plus special extras—for one price.
Memory Maker gives you more than unlimited downloads of your own Disney PhotoPass photos and videos. You can also view and download those of up to 25 members of your Family & Friends list who share media with you.
Tell your Disney story with one-of-a-kind photos taken at iconic park locations, Magic Shots and attraction photos.
With Memory Maker, you don’t have to decide which of your vacation photos you want to keep. You’ll get them all—to share now and cherish forever.
Tell your Disney story with one-of-a-kind photos taken throughout Walt Disney World Resort, including:
- Professional photos taken by Disney PhotoPass photographers in iconic park locations and beyond
- Photos and videos taken at select theme park attractions
- Professional photos taken in picturesque park locations during a Capture Your Moment photo session at any of the 4 theme parks: Magic Kingdom Park, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park
- You can also ask a Disney PhotoPass Photographer for a Magic Shot – featuring a little extra pixie dust.
Sounds amazing, right? This is a great opportunity to get photos of the whole family, including a 20 minute photo shoot, if you want! In the end, these memories will be so cherished. And if you book Memory Maker in advance, it’s cheaper!
6. Pack Snacks and Schedule Food
Remember when I mentioned packing Disney snacks and planning meals? Well, that’s important enough that it deserves its own callout.
First, Disney will let you bring in snacks and meals, as long as they don’t require any heating (unless for a toddler – keep reading to understand more). They also let you bring in bottles and cups of liquids as long as they aren’t glass and do not contain alcohol. Truly, their policy is fairly relaxed. Now, you can generally find Disney snacks at prices that fit into most budgets, but we all know toddlers can be picky and why risk not having something that will work for them? Take advantage of Disney having a more relaxed policy and bring snacks and drinks you know will work for your toddler (and you!).
Additionally, if you do want to eat more at Disney and take advantage of their quick service or sit down options, look at options ahead of time and take advantage of their Mobile Food and Beverage Ordering. All you need is your phone and the My Disney Experience app. It will tell you what food options are near you, using GPS, and then will also give you their wait times, so you can pre-plan your food options based on location and time. Scheduling any onsite meals in advance can help avoid long delays and possibly meltdowns, as well.
7. If You or Your Toddler Have a Disability, Look into DAS (Disability Access Service)
If you or your toddler has a disability that you feel requires accommodations, go to Guest Relations and discuss it with them while in the park. If your disability qualifies for any accommodations, I highly recommend you use these services. It will require that you have the My Disney Experience app on your phone.
I won’t go into the specifics for how to qualify, because people without a disability have used that information to cheat the system and really take advantage of a service created for those of us who need it. Instead, I will just stress that if you do have a disability that requires accommodations, please look into the appropriate accommodations. Being mindful of your needs will truly make your trip more enjoyable. Don’t worry about what other people might think, or where your disability “ranks” in comparison to other people, or what the optics look like if you have what some call an invisible disability. Think about you, your family, your toddler and ensuring that you are having the best experience you can have. If your disability means it will lessen your experience and these accommodations can help you have a better overall experience? Do it!
8. Plan Toddler-Friendly Activities That Aren’t As Schedule Dependent
We’ve talked a lot about planning, preparing, but also being flexible. Some of my favorite toddler activities are ones that aren’t as schedule dependent, like Kidcot Fun Stops and Wilderness Explorers.
What is Kidcot Fun Stops (as of July 2022)?
Participate in a fun discovery experience collecting activity cards at each country throughout the World Showcase!
Pick up a memorable memento with facts and activities featuring the culture and traditions of each country.
You’ll find a Kidcot Fun Stop in every international pavilion at Epcot.
Where to Find Kidcot Fun Stops
- Mexico Pavilion (near Mexico Folk Art Gallery)
- Norway Pavilion (at The Puffin’s Roost)
- China Pavilion (near the exit of Reflections of China)
- Germany Pavilion (at Volkunst)
- Italy Pavilion (outside, near La Bottega Italiana)
- American Adventure Pavilion (outside, near Art of Disney)
- Japan Pavilion (in the Bijutsu-kan Gallery)
- Morocco Pavilion (at the Marketplace in the Medina)
- France Pavilion (at Souvenirs de France)
- United Kingdom Pavilion (at The Toy Soldier)
- Canada Pavilion (at the exit of Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360)
What is Wilderness Explorers (as of July 2022)?
Set out on a series of fun, nature-themed challenges on your way to becoming an official Wilderness Explorer.
Self-guided activities range from animal observation to learning important wilderness skills. Collect over 25 badges and earn the right to echo the Wilderness Explorer call: Caw! Caw! Roar!
Complete the activities on your own, or take on each task as a group.
Get ready to experience Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in a wild new way! To begin, pick up a Wilderness Explorer handbook from headquarters – located on the bridge between the Oasis and Discovery Island – or drop by Wilderness Explorer Troop Leader locations in Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia, Dinoland U.S.A. and Pandora – The World of Avatar.
Both of these activities are self-paced, as interactive as you really want them to be, education, and totally fun. My daughter has enjoyed them since she was a toddler and still does them today. Truth be told, I was doing Kidcot before I had a kid. It really is a lot of fun and a great way to explore the World Showcase.
9. Baby Care Centers Are Key
When I was first researching traveling to Disney with a toddler, too few bloggers talked about these Baby Care Centers. Truth be told, too few bloggers talk about them now. They are an amazing option extended to folks with kiddos at all four theme parks of Walt Disney World.
So, what is a Baby Care Center? These are facilities that offer foks a bit more privacy, if needed, as well as many amenities that parents or guardians of infants and toddlers might need, such as private nursing areas with rocking chairs, changing room with table, restroom facilities, feeding areas with highchairs, kitchen with microwave and sink, as well as a little shop for you to purchase some infant and toddler specific items you might’ve forgotten or need more of, like formula, baby food, diapers and more.
These facilities are fully staffed, open during regular park hours, and completely complimentary (except for the shop area). We used these Baby Care Centers for breastfeeding since our kiddo really needed a calm environment to have the best latch. But it was also a great spot to snack in peace, change diapers, or just decompress and escape the heat or crowds. Whatever the reason may be, definitely take advantage of these facilities.
10. Bring Comfy Clothes Just In Case
We love costumes. My family always dresses in some sort of Disney thematic outfits. Typically either full costume (kiddo) or Disneybounds (me). That being said, if you are considering spending a full day at the parks in your costumed Disney finest, bring a comfy change of clothes just in case. I promise you will thank me in the end.
Every Disney trip, my kid goes 100mph until she passes out. And by the time she is passing out, her costume is pretty messy, she’s sweaty, and she doesn’t look the most comfortable. That change of clothing will come in handy for all of you.
It’s not just for a change of clothing later. Messes, as I mentioned, will happen. Or an outfit just won’t be long term comfortable even though it seemed like it would be. Having backup comfy clothes will help save you all from possible meltdowns, as well as save you from overbuying on Disney clothes when you didn’t really budget for it, too.
Have more Disney tips for enjoying the parks with a toddler? Mention them in the comments!