Aaah, toddlers. These fickle little people swing wildly between melting your heart and making you want to pull your hair out. It can be a challenge to make it through the day with them at home. Yet, throwing all caution to the wind, you bring them to Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Disney with toddlers- such brave parents! Read on for expert advice!
Disney with Toddlers: Things You NEED to Know
Disney parks can be a magical experience for your toddler-to-preschool-age child. They are at the age where princesses are REAL and everything is so very MAGICAL. Take advantage of photo opportunities! The pictures you take will create a lifetime of memories and your little chatterbox will relive every detail of every encounter for years to come. But before you venture off to Orlando, Florida with visions of Hidden Mickeys and character breakfasts, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1) Costumes are abundant at Disney.
I’m not talking about the characters. It’s the kids. One out of every five kids you’ll see in the theme parks will be in costume or sporting a Mickey Mouse or Minnie Mouse shirt. Of course, once your kiddos see this, they’ll want to join the club. Think about this ahead of time to do Disney on a budget! Princess dresses in the parks run close to $60. Do yourself a favor and hit a Walmart or Target prior to your Disney-bound flight and pick one up.
I was able to find a Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) dress and tiara for $27 total. I packed it as a surprise into our luggage. (Hint: Keep it in a bag or your clothes will take on that glittery princess look as well.) Once there, we had the princesses leave it as a “surprise” in our hotel room one morning. She wore it every day we were there. In retrospect, I should have bought 3 dresses and forgone packing normal clothes.
2) Consider your toddler’s mobility.
Strollers are great and many kids end up utilizing them for rest during the day. Take into account what your child-to-adult ratio will be, how many kids you’ll have with you and your kiddos’ rest needs. If you do bring a stroller, you’ll need to park it outside of rides, which cuts down on the speed that you make it through the line.
On one of our trips, my daughter was barely 3. We brought a baby carrier and she walked a lot of the time with small periods of rest riding on myself or my husband. On our next trip, we had more kids with us, so we utilized a stroller and were thankful we did.
Keep in mind that strollers rented in the parks from Disney cannot be taken to other parks. You’ll need to grab a new stroller at each park. So depending on whether your park tickets are hoppers or not, you may want to consider renting a stroller from off site.
3) Take advantage of the Baby Care Centers.
You may be saying “Wait, I have a toddler, not a baby”. Yes, but the Baby Care Centers are still amazing. The entire Walt Disney World Resort area can be hot. Getting out of the sun and into some AC can do wonders for parents and kids alike. The Baby Care Centers are decked out with restrooms, changing tables, movies, rocking chairs and nursing areas. My husband loves that you can buy Pedialyte there, which we always give to our kids to prevent dehydration. Be sure to pay the center a visit. Each park has a baby care center.
4) Plan out kid friendly rides in advance.
Toddlers won’t be able to go on everything (sorry kiddo- no Space Mountain for you!). There are height restrictions, and you’ll want to keep fears and attention spans in mind. We have an entire series of articles on kid-friendly rides for doing Disney with toddlers. Here they are sorted by park:
We also cover our favorite parks to hit with toddlers here. While our lists include classic fan favorites like It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, we also cover some fun new rides you shouldn’t miss!
5) Just because they’re tall enough doesn’t mean they’re old enough.
Have a tall kid? So did I. She could ride almost everything at a very young age. I made the mistake of bringing her on DINOSAUR at Animal Kingdom. Oops. As almost everyone who has been on it can attest, it is not very kid friendly. She was horrified. It was dark and bumpy. Dinosaurs jumped out. There was a threat of our annihilation. Above where I mentioned those great articles we have on the kid-friendly rides in each park? This is your warning. Go back to them and bookmark them! I wish I had done more research on the “fear factor” of some rides.
6) Do you want to meet a princess?
Princesses are a little more scattered than they used to be, so we’ll spell out exactly where they are for you.
At Disney’s Magic Kingdom princesses can be found at:
Princess Fairy Tale Hall- Currently one line features Cinderella and Elena, while the other line hosts Tiana and Rapunzel. Fastpass reservations are available.
Hint: If you are staying on site in a Disney resort and there are late night extra magic hours, character lines are short! So if your kiddo is a night owl, take advantage.
Merida’s meet and greet can be a tricky one to find but I highly recommend it because you get to do a little archery with her. There are no Fastpasses available for Merida. She is located to the right of the Cinderella Castle. You have to walk on the bridge like you are headed to Tomorrowland and look for the path off to the left.
Ariel’s Grotto in Fantasyland- Your kiddos can meet the Little Mermaid here. Bring a dinglehopper for a fun photo opp!
Princess Jasmine can be found in Adventureland near The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
At Epcot princesses can be found in:
Morocco. Princess Jasmine can be located near the Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco.
Anna and Elsa now reside at the Royal Sommerhus in Norway. You can also make dining reservations at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. They are not always included in the lineup there. Morning diners have reported them coming in frequently and it puts you right where you need to be to queue up for Royal Sommerhus.
Mulan meets kiddos near the entrance to the China Pavilion in the World Showcase. It’s the only place to catch her.
Belle and Aurora both have meet and greets in France. The best way to find many of your favorite Disney characters is to check the My Disney Experience App while on site. Many of the “pop up” meet and greets in Epcot don’t have Fastpass available.
In Animal Kingdom meet princesses here:
If it’s Pocahontas you’re looking for, you’ll find her at Animal Kingdom. This is another tricky location. She’s technically located on Discovery Island trails. Follow signs to Dinoland. Before you enter the bridge to Dinoland there is a trail on the right that leads up to her. This meet and greet is outside so try to plan it for early in the morning or later in the day when the heat isn’t as bad.
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
There aren’t any current princess meet and greets at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. However, there are tons of fun characters. Disney Junior characters like Sophia the First, Jake, Doc McStuffins, Vampirina and Fancy Nancy hang out in the Animation Courtyard.
In Toy Story Land, you can meet Woody and Buzz Lightyear.
7) Don’t judge a ride by its cover.
Frequently I see folks overlooking shows or quiet rides in favor of thrill roller coaster type attractions. Going to Disney with a toddler forces you to look past that thought process. Remember, every ride at Disney has a story behind it, so even some of the slower ones can be enjoyable.
If it hadn’t been for my toddlers I may have skipped some of the fun sing-along shows at Disney like the Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studio’s For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration.
Even play areas like the Storybook Circus near Dumbo the Flying Elephant have hidden details if you slow down and look.
8) Budget for the Memory Maker PhotoPass option.
A must for Disney with toddler. You’re at Disney, you’re herding around your family. Moods fluctuate, you feel like a hot mess. Do you really also want to be responsible for all of the photo memories of this trip? No! You want to be in the photos too! Memory Maker allows you to tap your Magic Band every time your picture is taken. They are added to your My Disney Experience account where you can download them later. You must add this option no less than 3 days before your trip starts. The pictures we were able to download exceeded any that we took. These are trained professionals clicking a mile a minute and they may capture the moments in between funny face and scowl that are pure perfection.
9) Think about a trip before your kiddo turns 3.
Before your child turns three, his or her admission to Disney is free! Some folks think that Disney should be a trip you do when your kids are older and will remember. That’s great! For us, though, we’ve brought most of our kids before we had to pay for their ticket. They still loved it and while my daughter at 28 may not be able to articulate her trip to Disney at 2, right now at 8 she can. She can tell us about what she saw, what dress she wore and what we ate. Memory fades over time, but to her right now? That experience was worth it.
Remember, above all other advice you get, have fun! Breathe deeply. Perfection will not happen and is unrealistic. However, you can have a memorable time that will stick with your little one for years. Then you will get to be the fun grandparent when they bring their kids to Disney years from now in their flying car.