This post is catered towards walking 1,2 and 3 year olds and their parents who want a quick overview of things, and don’t have time to go in-depth.
The guide is obviously subjective, but having gone to Disney about 15-20 times with a baby and toddler, I have a pretty good handle on things.
general tips and guide:
what to wear
For adults, it’s a personal decision. While many choose to wear shorts and tennis shoes, there is a decent number of people who make Disney a special occasion and like to dress nicely. I belong to the latter camp. Because we go to Disney so often, I don’t always put on nice clothes, but I do like to make it feel more special than just a family going to local Six Flags for the day. Disney isn’t like going hiking, it has plenty of stops, shops, rest areas, so chances are you won’t be walking as much as you think, so I don’t see the need for activewear 😉
For kids, if you’d like to take it from the special trip standpoint, I ADORE Right Banks Babies – the outfits are whimsical and special, yet don’t cost $100 or get all scratchy and hot or scream “Disney“. It’s the perfect balance of classy and fun. Same with Matilda Jane outfits for girls. For boys, Mamas and Papas is fun, or Lourdes (while they don’t have a shop, they are often on Zulily). These are just my personal opinions- obviously everyone has a different idea and style of what Disney outfits should look like.
For nursing ladies, there is NOTHING better than Boob Design. They are finally breaking into the US market and Nordstrom’s carries some of their stuff. Since it’s usually hot in Florida, stocking up on their great fitting tanks for the summer trips and supermodel hoodies for the winter trips is essential. I’ll write more about Boob Design’s new line and their fit for some of the nursing items, but they are like nothing else out there and are well worth the price. The tank tops and hoodies I mentioned have an unreal slimming effect and the nursing part couldn’t be easier. You can check out my old post about them here.
Regardless of that though, the key is to be comfortable, so fashion aside, remember that it gets really hot end of April though end of October and it can get sort of chilly (not always, but once every 2 weeks maybe) and you might need a sweater November through March.
where to stay
This is going to shock you if you’ve been following me for a while. I used to be all about staying on Disney property. Value resorts for quick trips, moderate resorts for yearly trips and deluxe resorts for special trips. I still stand by it, IF it’s your FIRST Disney experience. Do book a resort at Disney, if you’re going there for the first time.
However, if you’ve been to Disney a couple of times…..
I discovered a brand of resorts that I love and have been staying at since. Marriott Vacation Clubs. It started with a feature on Daily Mom and after that experience, neither my husband nor I want to stay anywhere else. You can read a detailed review here, but in short, if you have a toddler, and you’re not crazy about all the bad park food (or spending money on restaurants), if you hate small rooms, and having to trip over your suitcases to get to the bathroom, if you want to have a home-away-from-home experience, then you will love this too. (Note: I am not getting paid to say this, neither am I getting anything for free. I am just THAT sold on Marriott Vacation Clubs)
Marriott Vacation Clubs are ownership resorts but they have resort rooms open to public. There are a few of them in Orlando, but my two favorite ones are Cypress Harbor and Grande Vista. You can rent a 1 or 2 bedroom suite with a full kitchen, washer, dryer, dinning room, high chair, crib, living room, balcony, a 4 person jetted tub for under $180/night (rates vary depending on season). That just can’t be beat. When you have a toddler on your hands and you’re used to cooking wholesome food, being able to wash your favorite outfit after a day at the park, or (my favorite) relax in a seriously MASSIVE Jacuzzi in your bedroom, if you stay there, nothing else will do. I am talking from personal experience, because unless they are all booked up, we stay there every time now.
what to bring
You need the thinnest most maneuverable stroller you can find. We have visited with 3 different strollers: Babyhome, Baby Jogger and Kiddy Usa. When crowds gather for the fireworks or parades or if you’re visiting during the busier times , it’s going to be impossible to get through to go anywhere with big wheels, or strollers. Small wheels, small base and thin is what is going to do it. At the same time you gotta make sure your kid is comfortable, since at that age, they still might not walk a whole awful lot in the grand scheme of things. Keep in mind that you will most likely have to fold it several times during the day and drag it onto the train or a bus, so it has to be light too. Unless your husband is going deal with it exclusively AND you’re visiting during the dead times. In which case bring that huge luxury stroller and let your baby enjoy the ride. So I guess the point is, yes, you can visit with ANY stroller, but it is going to be less of a paint in the butt, if it’s a narrower, smaller, but still quite comfortable stroller with a good canopy.
A stroller tray
A must for 2 year olds, unless you’re visiting for 2-3 weeks and have all the time in the world to take relaxing food breaks every couple hours. What we did is bring some food with us ( because the counter service food at the parks is not healthy at all), and as we go running from one show to another (which is often the case because of the times that they are at and how big the park grounds are), we serve the food for Lexi on the tray, so she could eat while we rush to wherever we are going. Then we sit down to eat for lunch, and go to a restaurant outside the park for dinner.
Babyhome doesn’t have a tray so we take Baby Jogger with a tray during the dead times.
Again that’s not crucial if you have the time to sit down and eat. But if you only have a few days to a week and very ambitious plans, you will be surprised how long everything takes there. Many hours will pass and all you’ve accomplished is meeting a character or two and riding one ride.
HEAT AND SUN
Dealing with heat and sun can be tricky for people not used to dealing with that level of heat.
4 Must-Haves for heat management
An absolute lifesaver of a product. Brand new on the market and one of a kind, this gel pad keeps your child’s body several degrees cooler than the outside. It gets put on any stroller with straps threaded through it, and using a unique cooling gel, it keeps the pad cold to touch. This is one of my essentials for living in Florida. And when we are talking about a whole HOT HOT day at a busy park with your little one, this is just a no-brainer. The Geleeo pad just got released to public, so it’s very exciting. It’s a much needed product, that’s for sure.
You have no idea how many fans I had to go through to find one that is:
- battery operated
- clips onto the stroller
- actually moves air
I was buying fan after fan just trying them out until I found the perfect one: O2COOL fan. It actually cools you down, unlike most child-safe fans that barely move air. It runs on huge batteries so there is a lot of power to it and can be clipped onto a fan relatively easy. I’ve been buying this one ever since. Our first one got lost, second one -fell and broke and we are on a third fan. Keep in mind that VERY tiny finger can get through the slats.
This is crucial. Sun is brutal, applying sunblock every 30 minutes isn’t realistic when you have a wiggly toddler, so a good canopy is important. If your stroller has a small canopy, get an extender for the trip, like this Diono. Your baby will be less fussy and a lot more comfortable. And don’t forget Babiators to protect their eyes
This must be pretty obvious, but load up on hair ties for yourself and your daughters. We have loved and used Emi-Jays at Disney forever now. They hold so well and look so cute on both kids and adults.
If you pay attention to our Disney pictures coming up soon, you’ll see that Lexi’s pigtails are always held up by Emi-jays.
This is a perfect swimsuit to bring for the Disney waterparks, if you’re planning a trip there. It has floaties built in, so you can give your toddler the freedom of riding water slides and playing in the water without having to hover and yet it’s not as bulky as most vests are that prevent them from moving or enjoying themselves.
Battery extender for the iPhones and iPads.
If you are relying on using your devices at the parks, DO NOT forget a battery extender. There is no place to charge those phones, so having a fully charged extender can save lives. 🙂 I love my Jackery Bar.
what to buy there
Who doesn’t like going back home with a souvenir? We’ve bought many things at the parks in the past and the number one item has proven to be MUGS. Disney has several series of mugs for everyone in the family with different characters but the same theme and we’ve taken to collecting all of them. They make a great gift and a great memory, more than a t-shirt, or a toy or another msc item. If you’re really looking to shop, the two best stores to go is the Emporium at Magic Kingdom and the store at Downtown Disney.
which parks to visit
Magic Kingdom is obviously the best part for toddlers- it has more to offer for the under 5 crowd. Unless you have extra days, I wouldn’t bother with Hollywood Studios. Epcot is sort of a must for adults and has a few cute things for toddlers. And Animal Kingdom is a great half a day park for toddlers.
how to prepare children
I have seen first hand how important it is for children’s enjoyment to prepare them for parks’ visit. It’s even more important when it comes to toddlers because that will determine how excited they are about it, how much they understand, how they react and how scared they get of the unknown. And depending on your child’s personality, getting them used to characters will mean the difference between being scared of rides or enjoying them.
Listening to Disney music months beforehand is a must. I never thought that Lexi would pick up on it, but listening to “It’s a Small World”, “Peter Pan”, “Ho-ho-ho, the pirate’s life for me” and all the songs from the rides meant that she felt more comfortable riding them because there was a familiar element. She would get so excited and sing with the song the second she’d hear any of them. You can buy a CD here.
Introducing them to Disney characters is just as important. The parks are based on the characters and if your child doesn’t recognize them, then you might as well save the money and go to a state fair- you’ll get the same result and level of excitement. That doesn’t mean watching Disney cartoons (believe it or not, but growing up most of the stories I learned from books, not cartoons, so that I didn’t even know that Disney cartoons came first). In fact, I would advise against showing most Disney movies to the preschool crowd and they can be pretty scary and negative. Mickey Mouse clubhouse is a great show to introduce kids to Mickey and his friends and totally age appropriate. Books featuring Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, Tinkerbell, Peter Pan, Winnie the Poo and a few others tend to skip over the scary part and show beautiful illustrations if you get the right ones.
IPads and iPhones have great storybook apps with Disney stories that are just as colorful and fun to read as books.
Ride the same rides several times. Rather than rushing to a new ride, realize that toddlers love repetition and will get the most out of the ride if they have been exposed to it 3-4 times.
Little Disney tricks
These are little tricks that you can use to make your trip more pleasurable:
- If a Disney/Disney resort restaurant is booked for the times you wanted, you can still stop by and go on stand-by, usually the wait is less than 30 minutes even for a fully booked restaurant. (Edit: Effective fall 2014, they have temporarily stopped allowing stand-bys during certain busy times. So check with the resort to find out if they are seating without a reservation and they will tell you what time it standby seating opens up)
- If you have plans for lunch or breakfast before visiting Magic Kingdom, go to one of the resorts on the monorail line and have your meal there. Once there, all you’ll have to do is board a monorail to the park, rather than having to park at the transportation center and make your way to Magic Kingdom.
- Resort monorail line goes the same path as the transportation monorail line, except for it stops at all the resorts. If the line is too long at the transportation line, the resort monorail line is usually a much quicker way to get where you need to go.
- Speaking of resorts, take your time to explore them. Most deluxe resorts have amazing restaurants that are worth visiting and dining at, and great themes that make for good sightseeing. In fact, when deciding where to have dinner, you should consider resorts’ restaurants before you consider parks’ restaurants (except for Epcot). The quality difference is HUGE. Non-guests are allowed to visit the resorts and eat at resort’s restaurants or stop by resort’s shops. Just present your ID at the gate and tell them that you’re going to eat at (restaurant name). Our favorite places are Garden Tea room, Boma, Citricos, Kona Cafe.
- At Magic Kingdom, upon entry, take the train from the beginning of the park straight to the back where all the toddler attractions are and then make your way towards the castle.
- If you have AAA, you can park in the Diamond Parking lot at the Transportation Center ( which is how you would get to Magic Kingdom). That parking area is much closer to the monorail and most of the time doesn’t require having to go on a tram to get there (you have to fold your stroller to get on a tram which is a huge pain)
- You could also have your partner drop you off by the walkway to the transportation center and then go park while you make your way to the park with all the kids and strollers.