What’s a Walt Disney World Resort vacation like? Well, it’s scheduling Advance Dining Reservations pre-park opening, reserving FastPass+ selections to perfectly fit into the Touring Plans itinerary and cramming as much Pixie Dust and magic into every moment of each day, right? That’s definitely how we used to go about it. Our Disney Parks vacations were about strategically planning each and every second–if you didn’t have to use the bathroom on the scheduled break from 11:45-11:55, well, you were out of luck until the next break at 2:05. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but somehow, no matter if it was a 10-day vacation or 5-days, we always returned home feeling full of Pixie Dust, but sometimes like we needed a vacation after our vacation. While each visit was always fun and full of cherished memories and magical moments, as our family grew and we were blessed with two little ones just under two years apart, the way we started visiting the “Most Magical Place On Earth” drastically changed. Pregnant trips, baby trips and toddler trips not only made me familiar with restroom locations and the in-park Baby Care Centers, but they also introduced us to the need to slow it down! Tantrums from tired, overstimulated, hungry children (and adults) aren’t magical for anyone and with a few adjustments to your Disney planning practices, they’re easily avoidable.
Bonus Tip: Leave room for extra magic, you never know when Pixie Dust will appear. Many of my favorite Disney family memories have come from the most unscripted and unplanned magical moments.
Now, I’m not saying this is how every trip should be. I still look forward to the busy, jam-packed adventures with my tween and I love them, but when traveling with little ones especially, these tips and tricks have certainly aided in the whole family having a much more enjoyable experience.
1. You don’t have to visit one of The Parks to have an incredible day.
I don’t know how many times I have been in a park and asked one of the kids, “What do you want to do next?” and their response, “Let’s go swimming!” I laugh thinking, wow, we flew all the way to Florida to go swimming, but it’s because Disney’s attention to detail transcends the theme parks and is equally as prevalent in the resorts. Some of our favorite days are spent at the pool, where we can spend time together as a family and each person can find something they enjoy. My oldest loves the thrill of the slides or the older kid-oriented pool games. My little ones could splash all day in the shallows, play in the splash zones, or have fun at the Disney Junior Pool Parties. As for the hubby and me, we love spending family time together, enjoying the sun and maybe even a cocktail or two. Resorts such as Disney’s Contemporary Resort or Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa even offer Cabana Rentals. We rented one on our stay at Disney’s Grand Floridian last year and it was incredible –well worth the money! The family had a place to get out of the sun and enjoy cool air. The little ones napped. We had snacks and drinks–it was perfect!
In the evening head to Disney Springs for an enchanting night of dinner and shopping. Many of the restaurants are themed and my kids can never get enough of the Lego Store, World of Disney or Once Upon A Toy. I was always a fan of the previously known Downtown Disney, but wow, the new, beautifully redesigned Town Center of Disney Springs is now open and I can tell you from my sneak peak just a couple of weeks ago it is gorgeous.
2. Use the in-park services and amenities such as Rider Switch and the Baby Care Centers
Although you’re traveling with little ones not quite tall enough to experience a few of the bigger rides, you don’t have to miss out! The Rider Switch Service offers such peace of mind for our family. Either my husband or I ride with our oldest while the other waits with the younger kids and then, we switch. Using the Rider Switch Pass allows the one who waited to ride without having to wait in the regular line and BONUS: each pass allows 2 Guests, so we each get the experience of riding the attraction with our oldest! If you happen to have more than one older child, you can simply switch who gets to ride with who at each participating attraction.
Even though the name Baby Care Centers implies only the youngest of Disney Guests, I encourage you to visit them even with toddler-sized mouseketeers. The centers offer quiet nursing rooms, high-chairs for feeding, microwaves, sinks, restrooms, even a couch and television plus onsite shopping for any items you may need to take care of little ones. They are the perfect place to cool off and refresh tired kiddos and parents.
3. Plan only what you have to and be flexible
I am an uber-planner. I like to have everything planned down to the last minute, but some of my favorite Disney Park memories have been totally random, spur of the moment ideas. With Advance Dining Reservations (ADR) and FastPass+ selections, yes, there is a lot to plan ahead of time so you can be more “in the moment” on your vacation, but each moment doesn’t have to be filled with Pixie Dust. We like to plan a late breakfast or an early dinner for our ADRs (unless we’re saving for a perfect fireworks spot at certain locations.) This way, if it’s a day the kids sleep in (yes, you can do that too) we can start the day with a big meal and avoid a “hangry” meltdown later or if we’re up early we’ll eat a quick snack and break for a late morning meal. Often times we will take a mid-afternoon break and head back to the parks later, so an early dinner is the perfect way to fuel up for an evening full of fun. Plus, non-peak times are usually less busy making it easier to get an ADR.
Flexibility is key. I can’t stress this tip enough. No one has the power to control everything, so remain positive and flexible.
A family member may get sick, an attraction may unexpectedly close, there may be a Mickey Bar melting mishap or you may be having so much fun splashing at the Casey Jr. Splash N’ Soak Station you missed your FastPass+ selection for Dumbo the Flying Elephant. It’s O.K.! Inevitably something is going to happen to mess up your idea of a practically perfect Disney day, but don’t freak out! Roll with it, remain flexible, adjust your outline and you will be surprised at the magical moments you will still be able to make. In fact the very thing that befouled your plans, may just be one of those unscripted, Pixie-Dusted moments I was telling you about.
So, while I am not saying packing every second full can’t be incredible, it definitely isn’t for every one and in my experience is best left for those not traveling with toddlers or little ones. We’ve found slowing it down has made each visit truly enjoyable for everyone. Our toddler-trip tips allow us to end our vacation refreshed and relaxed, eager to return soon to make even more magical memories.
Check out the Walt Disney World site, Planning for Preschoolers & Little Ones for extremely helpful tips from the Disney Parks Moms Panel, sample itineraries and even a list of toddler friendly attractions and experiences.