A good friend asked me the other day for advice on doing Disney World with toddlers. As a frequent guest of WDW with small children I had too many little “tips and tricks” for Disney with toddlers that Facebook could allow as a comment so I thought this would be a good forum for it.
Before I get into specific park advice, let me share some general tips. Even though I appreciate you are on vacation I will always recommend getting to the park 20 minutes before rope drop. Be one of the 1st guests through the door. Kids will wear out no matter how excited you think they are and they will need to take a nap. Get them while they are fresh and get them in before the masses are there by 11am so you have a little breathing room in the parks. Each park also does a little “preshow” at rope drop that is cute.
Take your time. Don’t go commando unless your child is driving it. There is no worse sight then a parent dragging a child around the park. Don’t ruin the fun for them. If they need a break, take one.
Use the child care center in each park. This little known gem has been a savior for April and I. These are quite places for feedings, changing t he kids’ diapers, getting emergency supplies and really just decompressing for a few minutes. Your park maps will have them marked. Personally I liked the Magic Kingdom’s the best.
Bring your own stroller if you can because Disney’s are wicked expensive.
If you are unsure how your child will deal with the characters, start with a face character before you go the fully masked ones. I am 30ish years old and I still remember breaking down on Main Street USA after Captain Hook approached me. I was convinced he was going to kill me. Start with Jasmine and Aladdin before you go to Genie.
Along those same lines, if you don’t want to spend you day character hunting, try a character meal instead. See if you can knock out a bunch of the favorites at once, all while eating a meal. Here is a good link to research who to dine with.
Work the photopass system. Everywhere you go there will be photographers happy to take photopass pics. These pictures are $10 per print or $150 for unlimited digital images on a disc. A fact not advertised is that after they take the pictures with their camera they will take a picture with yours. Get a card, take the photopass pics and then let them take the pic with your camera. It’s a nice little cost saver and you actually get family pictures with the whole family in it. Those photographers are in every park, at every landmark, and usually with the characters too.
That being said, let’s look at each park and identify some great attractions for toddlers as well as some other park specific tips. Keep in mind all these suggestions are under the approach of being at the park at rope drop. I am not mentioning the grown up rides on purpose because these suggestions are for toddlers. For those rides that your kids are not eligible for, use riderswap.
Entering on Main Street I am sure you want the family picture on Main Street USA with the castle in the background. There are photographers all up and down Main Street so you don’t have to grab the 1st one you see, BUT if you break to the left at Casey’s or break to the right at the hub toward Future World you can get really nice pics with the castle really prominent without crowds behind you.
Obviously Fantasyland is the best land for toddlers. As soon as you get there go right to Dumbo. It’s iconic and very popular and the line moves very slow. Knock it out before the park fills up. Everything else in Fantasyland for toddlers is great, BUT I caution Snow White. The attraction’s full name is “Snow White’s Scary Adventure” and it is dark and loud and some of those images may be just too much for small kids.
Other attractions that are must do for toddlers…
Jungle Cruise, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Tiki Room, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion (but you may have to hold them for these two),Country Bear Jamboree, Goofy’s Barnstormer (if tall enough), Speedway, Astro Orbiter, Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, Buzz Lightyear and of course Fantasyland. CHECK THE KIDS HEIGHTS AGAINST THE RESTRICTIONS FOR THE THREE MOUNTAINS… DON’T GET THEIR HOPES UP ONLY TO GET TURNED AWAY RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE RIDE. IT CAN RUIN A DAY!!!
Attractions I recommend for rest/naptime/air conditioning… The People Mover, Carousel of Progress, and the Hall of Presidents
Stitch’s Great Escape is a time suck and can be really scary for small kids… avoid it.
Another trick we use is this… the park opens at 9am, but you can make breakfast ressies at Crystal Palace at 8am. You have breakfast, meet Pooh and the gang and are inside the park before it opens. You have Main Street to yourself and you are the first ones on the rides.
You may want to check out the parades and show in front of the castle… your call. We always have the best luck watching the 3pm parade on the Frontierland/ Liberty Square border. When you want a snack head to Aloha Isle in Adventureland and grab a Dole Whip. You will be hooked. I cannot stress this next fact enough… DO NOT MISS WISHES!!! Wishes is the fireworks show at the end of the night. The castle is a focal point of the show so the first time you see it make sure the castle is centered in you line of sight. In the center of Main Street by Casey’s will be perfect. Hold your kid if you can and you may want to grab a tissue… I’ve seen a person or two need one.
When it comes to toddlers, Epcot is a crapshoot. Some may like it, some may be bored. Personally I think there is a lot for toddlers in Epcot, but you will be disappointed if the only thing you are looking for is rides. When it comes to attractions, you are thinking about Future World. When in Future World, spend time in the Seas with Nemo and Friends. Check out the fish as well Turtle Talk. If tall enough ride Soarin. If not tall enough, riderswap so you can still ride it. Soarin still blows me away. As soon as you enter the park head right to Soarin and get your fastpasses. The Imagination Pavilion has Journey Into Imagination With Figment and Captain EO (back from the dead and great in all its 80’s glory). Ellen’s Universe of Energy is a 50 minute time suck and Mission Space and Test Track will be too much for toddlers. Innoventions is nice to walk around and cool off. Don’t forget about Spaceship Earth either.
You may not know this, but you can go to Ice Station Cool on the way to World Showcase and sample free coke beverages from around the world.
I personally love World Showcase. Take your time and wander the countries. Utilize the performers (drummers in Japan, Acrobats in China, Off Kilter in Canada, Beatles cover band in England, etc). Shop in the stores and sample the food. If your toddler really likes princesses go to Akershus in Norway for dinner, all the princesses will be there.
World Showcase has a few attractions as well and they are kid friendly. The American Adventure is a tough call. For adults it is great and the end can be very moving for some, but it is long and a question mark for toddlers. Try for naptime so they can sleep and you can enjoy the show.
Do not miss Illuminations. At all. Period. It is my favorite night time show. I like it better then Wishes. Folks will line up an hour early so be prepared. Around 8ish grab a snack and sit down and relax after a long day. Good viewing spots are all over World Showcase Lagoon. Italy, behind the store as you cross from Future World to Mexico, strait on facing American Pavilion from Future World, Canada and England have always treated up well as viewing spots.
This may be the best park of all to character hunt. Check your guide when you get there but there are character meet and greets all over the park.
As soon as you get to the park head right to Toy Story Mania and get your fastpasses. They may be gone for the day in the 1st half hour and the lines will consistently be over an hour to wait. This is the most popular attraction in all the parks right now. Other great attractions for toddlers are Beauty and the Beast (cute show), Voyage of the Little Mermaid (another cute show), Playhouse Disney Live on Stage and Muppet Vision 3D (get there early and enjoy the best preshow on property). The Honey I Shrunk the Audience Playground is a great way to burn energy and decompress.
The next two attractions are up for debate. Lights Motor Action Stunt Show is loud and full of action, but I don’t go out of my way to see it anymore. If it’s a first visit then check it out. The same goes for Fantasmic. I personally think it is way overrated. The kids will like it, but as an adult be prepared to sit for an hour waiting for a show that as it’s over you find yourself going… “really?” They only offer the show two days a week now so also keep that in mind for your touring plans.
The parade here is not your usual parade. It is a “block party” and they will actually stop and perform for 10 minutes before it moves on. It is wild and “seizure inducing” as April once said. It is a lot of fun so check it out.
Just about everything here is good for toddlers. Everest’s height restrictions will rule them out and Dinosaur will most likely be too scary. Just about everything else is ok. Don’t miss the safari. Don’t miss the Festival of the Lion King and especially don’t miss Finding Nemo the Musical. Nemo is the best show on property.
There you go. Have a good time. Message me if you have questions or want more details. Included are some links to small clip from our 2007 and 2008 trips for you to see some of the fun you can have with toddlers on a Disney trip.