There is no more magical time to bring children to Walt Disney World than when they are toddlers and preschoolers. Children at these ages are simply awestruck that their favorite characters have come alive and are interacting with them. It’s difficult to describe the look my then one-year old had when he met Pluto and Winnie-the-Pooh for the first time but it is one I will never forget. His eyes shined with the brightest light as he reached out to touch their noses, as if to double-check that they had really and truly stepped out of one of his books.
Along with the magic comes some extra challenges when traveling with small children. When asked what my top tips for traveling with small kids are, they aren’t so different from tips for traveling with any age group, but I find they become more necessary when young children are part of the travel party. It’s important to really plan a Walt Disney World vacation to get the most value for your dollars and to ensure the trip goes as smoothly as possible for the entire family. After you have a solid plan, I’ve found that it’s crucial to be flexible with preschoolers. Nothing will derail the most carefully planned vacation that a little one with a different idea of how the day should go. Beyond these overarching tips, there are a great many things you can do to have a more successful Walt Disney World vacation with preschoolers. I thought I would share ten of my favorites.
Strollers are a Must
Most parents with toddlers wouldn’t dream of touring Walt Disney World without a stroller but if your kids are four or five, chances are they’ve long outgrown a stroller at home; they’ll most likely need one at Walt Disney World. The average guest walks 5+ miles a day at Walt Disney World and a stroller is one of the best ways to save your kids’ legs and help them make it through the day. If you’ve passed your stroller on to a friend, you can either rent them at Walt Disney World or from a local company such as Orlando Stroller Rentals or Magic Strollers.
The Early Bird Gets the ADR
ADRs or Advance Dining Reservations do not guarantee a table at a particular time. They are reservations for the first available table for your party size around your ADR time. Due to the popularity of the Disney restaurants and the Disney dining plans, it can be extremely difficult to find an empty table at a sit-down restaurant without an ADR. If you don’t want to eat dinner at 4:00pm or 8:30 pm, be sure to make your ADRs as far out as possible, especially for some of the more popular character dining experiences. Reservations can be made online or by calling Disney Dining at 407-WDW-DINE, 180 days prior to your check-in date.
Baby Care Centers
The Baby Care Centers are an amazing resource for families with young children. They contain a nursing room; restrooms with child-sized toilets that do not have automatic flushers; changing tables; and an area in which to feed children, complete with high-chairs, bottle warmers, and more. Don’t be shy about stopping in!
Ship Bulky Items
Times have changed and airlines charging their customers for each checked bag are becoming the norm. Travel with toddlers includes lots of bulky items such as diapers, wipes, sippy cups, and toddler utensils. If you need to bring disposable items, ship them to your Disney resort. The shipping costs will likely be less than baggage fees for a round-trip flight and you’ll have less baggage to juggle to and from the airport.
Bring Layers to the Park
Even on the hottest days, I throw a lightweight sweater or sweatshirt for the kids into the bag I bring to the theme parks. Moving from the sweltering outdoors into a very well air-conditioned restaurant or theater can be too much of a temperature fluctuation for my kids. Adding a layer makes them more comfortable and more comfortable children means less whining and more magic!
Zip lock Bags make for Smoother Mornings
Let’s face it, mornings can be hectic in a hotel room with a single bathroom and four people trying to get ready for the day. Packing a complete outfit for your child in a zip lock bag can make things a whole lot smoother. There’s no more rummaging through the suitcase or a dresser drawer looking for an errant sock or the shirt that matches with that cute pair of pants. Instead, hand your child or your spouse the bag and you’ll be ready to hit the parks in no time.
Make Time for Playgrounds
Sometimes I think our little ones each have more energy than my husband and I combined. Carve out some time from your busy day of touring to visit the playgrounds in the Walt Disney World theme parks. These are no ordinary playgrounds and your kid will burn off some steam in a unique setting.
Earplugs can Save the Day
The nightly fireworks displays at Walt Disney World are spectacular. However, some children have a fear of the loud, booming noises that are part and parcel of fireworks. Stop by Guest Relations at the front of each Disney theme park and ask for a free pair of earplugs.
Harmony Barber Shop instead of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
When you’re at Walt Disney World, you cannot help but run into a few little princesses fresh from their makeover at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. This unique experience starts at $49.95. For a more affordable alternative, stop by the Magic Kingdom’s Harmony Barber Shop and have your child’s hair styled with colored hair gel and pixie dust for under $10.
Bring a Sharpie for Autograph Book
Having Disney characters sign an autograph book is almost a rite of passage for many families. Autograph books can be purchased in many of Disney World’s gift shops or they can be the product of a home craft project. In either case, a writing implement is in order. With their costumed hands, many of the characters cannot easily grasp a pen. Bring a hefty pen such as a Sharpie to help them sign their “John Hancock.”