Ever since I was a little girl, Disney has made my heart beat. No matter how old I get, it has always been magical. But I never knew just how magical it could be until I saw it through the eyes of my little girl. Happiest place on earth, is right. But in speaking to so many other parents most people had the similar opinion that Disney was rough with littles. The smaller they are, the larger the hassle. After experiencing it with a baby, and now toddler, I have to disaffirm that opinion.
Here are ten tips for a successful trip.
Here’s the deal. If you’re prepared, not over prepared but prepared, you will be ABSOLUTELY fine! There’s no need to overload yourself with things on your journey to Orlando/California or to the parks. The key is to MINNIE-MIZE (haha, see what I did there?). Disney Resorts, and most hotels, have pack and plays. Disney resorts also provide high chairs. If you’re renting a car, which can be avoided if you’re staying close enough to the parks, you can also request a car seat. Worst case scenario, you could always rent a stroller for the day from Disney. PS. Disneyland strollers look like this and seem to only be available in one-seaters:
Disney World provides rentals for single and double strollers. Singles start at $15 ($13 if you rent multiple days but, the stroller can’t leave the park). There are also a few stroller providers around Orlando: Orlando Stroller Rentals, Kingdom Strollers, and Magic Strollers.
My suggestion is to bring your own umbrella stroller that has room for storage (it helps you avoid the line for renting and will be more comfortable for your little). We LOVE our UPPAbaby g-Luxe. It reclines, has a foot rest that folds up, has an extended UV sunshade, is light weight, and stores a cooler plus some underneath. Review to come.
2. Water, water, water, water, and more water. Plus snacks.
Pack a cooler. Water seems like a no-brainer but, it really is the easiest thing to forget. And if you forget, you could end up paying a ton just to stay hydrated. Go one step further and bring refillable water bottles for you and your littles (Contigo‘s are our favorite). Make your little’s easily accessible so as to remind them, and you, in the mix of the madness, to drink water. I love to pop into the restaurants/food stops around the park and refill them with ice and water. I also bring some extra bottles of water, orange juice (my babe’s favorite), and a small bottle of milk in a cooler. Try to at least pack a couple water bottlers per person in your cooler. Make sure your cooler fits in your stroller’s storage space, lugging that thing around any other way can make anyone miserable, even at the happiest place on earth. If you don’t have a fridge in your hotel room to keep bottles cold overnight, use the trash can and line it with the laundry bag that the hotel provides. Throw in the drinks and toss in some ice from the ice machine. Voila, homemade cooler.
Then there are snacks. Fruit snacks, pretzels, goldfish, things that wont melt. Stop at a nearby grocery store or target and buy the big bags, bring along Ziplocs, they pile into a backpack better and it’s easier for your little to eat from (it’s also easier for you to reseal the bag when they’re done). No need to overdo the snacks though. Your kid isn’t going to eat ALL throughout the day. You can also save a pretty penny by packing them a PB & J for lunch instead of paying for park food.
3. Shades and accessibility
We love our Mickey ears BUT sometimes a baseball cap can save your little’s nose and eyes a world of damage. Bring a sun cap and sunglasses for your little (and yourself). Keep them accessible (we hang our hats on the handle of our stroller). Sunscreen face sticks are also a dream and the spray bottle sunscreens are great to bring if your little crisps easily. If they don’t, you can get away with spraying them down before the park so you only have to bring along the face stick for touch-ups. If you really wanted to, you could bring a thin blanket to drape over your babe for extra shade but, in my experience, if they’re awake they like to look around regardless of age. It also prevents the breeze from reaching your babe, which might be a good thing, depending on the weather.
Another thing to keep accessible, is your autograph book and a pen. (If you forget a pen, there are people hanging around the characters that will lend one to you). I wouldn’t go out of my way waiting for characters unless they’re a MUST for your little. If you bump into them, and the line is short, go for it. If not, plan a character breakfast so your little isn’t overwhelmed and you can see several all in place while you devour some bacon (everything is all the more magical when you add bacon).
You should only need one but it’s the easiest way to carry things around all day. The smaller the backpack, the better. I pack my snacks (unless they fit in my stroller storage), an extra T-shirt for my little just in case she stains her shirt so she doesn’t look homeless in photos, boogie wipes and sanitizing wipes (Wet Ones), hand sanitizer, a sunscreen face stick, and our camera.
All the rest fits in the stroller. The cooler, the hat, the diaper clutch loaded with diapers and wipes, some snacks, a spray fan (which is a MUST for warm days — bring one along with you as they’re roughly $20 at the parks), and depending on the weather, our sweaters.
Just make sure all valuables are in your backpack. When you park your stroller, you can just bring along your bag without worrying about having to rush back.
5. Lines & safety
Your toddler will find ways to entertain themselves in lines. They’ll meet new friends, hang on ropes, run ahead, and be corralled back. Expect it and be okay with it. Just be alert. If you have a wandering toddler, there are personalized temporary tattoos that you can put on your little’s arm that will have your name and phone number. There are also child GPS tracking bands that alerts you when your kid gets too far (with a range you set yourself).
No need to do crazy things to entertain your littles. Point out the views and play games. Most rides have tons of cool things to keep your little occupied. If your kids are older and can read, the Heads Up app on the iPhone is a perfect game. If you have a little babe, try baby wearing (bring your Bjorn!).
6. Quiet Places
Map out your quiet spaces. Some kids need down time during the day. If yours ends up being one of them, you’ll want to know where to go in the event that you don’t want to travel back to the hotel for a nap (sometimes going back to the hotel for a couple hours of down time is a great idea and will allow you to return to the park later for some more fun and less meltdowns). If you’re at the Magic Kingdom, try the Carousel of Progress. If you’re at California Adventure, the Aladdin show is dark and stationary. Hollywood Studios has plenty of shows you can sit in on. As does Epcot (Canada shows a movie and it’s almost always empty). If all else fails, try Child Services. Not the Child Services that takes your child away. Disney has these set up at all parks. There are microwaves to heat your milk, high chairs for feeding, a rocking chair blocked off by curtains for breastfeeding, some books and toys, changing tables, and some staples that you might have forgotten that are for sale. Ask any Disney employee where it is, they’ll direct you.
7. Timing is everything.
First things, first. When should you visit Disney parks? Well, if you only have particular dates you can get off of work or school, do it then. If you have flexibility then you’ll want to go against the flow on this one. The time when I’ve seen the park MOST empty was actually Superbowl weekend, believe it or not. February is a hit. Christmas time, Thanksgiving weekend, New Years, any long weekend, and summer time — avoid it. Weekdays are always better. Late January, March, April, September, all great choices. If you’re going to Disney World, remember Florida has TWO seasons – wet and dry. May-October is wet season so pack a poncho (side note, it ALWAYS rains throughout Memorial Day weekend).
If you have an early-riser, get to the park a half hour early. Studies say that most people head to the right when they enter the park, so head left. If your little hates the morning or doesn’t mind sleeping in (like mine) pop into the park around lunch time. Once it hits 8pm most toddlers are heading home for bed and the lines dwindle. We hit (easily) more than double the rides we do during the day, when we stay later.
I’m not one to plan my day at the park to a T. I can’t handle that kind of pressure. If you can only function with a plan, great. If not, just go with the flow and have a bullet list of things you want to hit. The more popular attractions with larger wait times will have shorter wait times during parades, fireworks, and lunch and dinner time. If your little is flexible, go rogue on your schedule to take advantage of shorter wait times.
8. Rider Swap
Ask about it and take advantage. I’ve had different experiences with ride swap. Some rides function differently than others. In all scenarios you let the person attending the line at the entrance know that you have a child. At Disneyland we were told toddlers could not wait in the line if they didn’t meet the height requirement, other times we’ve been escorted to the exit of the line where we hopped on with our +3s or 4s and then rode from there. Most times you’re given a pass and you can go through fast pass once the first round of people jump off and grab your kid (assuming you know who they are. Please, know who they are) or you’ll get to skip the line altogether. There have also been times that I’ve been handed a single rider pass which takes me through that line. Either way, it’s a great way to enjoy a little thrill that might rid you of the It’s a Small World theme song that has begun to eat your brain.
Try to make reservations ahead of time if there’s a restaurant you HAVE to try. Otherwise, just pick a restaurant that is not a sit-down restaurant as your little might grow impatient waiting for food and will be eager to get back on the rides.
10. Be flexible
If you’re in a big group and there are a variety of ages, be okay with splitting up for a ride or two. Don’t try to stress trying to please everyone one at a time. Your toddler might be just as thrilled to ride the merry-go-round or chase the birds as they are to ride Peter Pan. Just let them enjoy themselves. Don’t push them to see every corner of Fantasyland, especially if it becomes overwhelming for you. Just enjoy yourselves. The success of your trip isn’t about how much you see but how much you enjoy your family, the amount of smiles you see on your littles faces, and the smile on yours at the end of the day.
You might think that a trip to Disney is biting off more than you can chew but, it’s the exact opposite. It’s the break you need for the bonding time you want with your family. Share your favorite Disney tips and tricks and stay tuned for our park reviews that are to come!