A toddler-centered Disney World trip plan

by Shannon Albert 76 comments Like the Facebook page

(Article last updated: September 1, 2014)

How to do Disney World with toddlersOne of my favorite things that I've ever done was have a Disney World trip focused entirely on my (then) toddler son.

One of the luxuries of taking multiple trips is knowing that even though I didn't get to ride Tower of Terror one trip, I'd be back and get to ride it someday.

Toddler son grew up and now rides all of the same rides that we do and enjoys the more mature attractions like The Hall of Presidents and the various movies in the World Showcase.

And I'm so grateful now for the times I let him do toddler things because those days come and go so quickly.

Here's how to have a Disney World trip focused on your toddler.

Before you leave on your trip

When to tell them?
While you're waiting for your trip to begin, it's good to get your toddler involved so they can get excited and know what to expect.

One dilemma for parents of little ones is knowing how far ahead to tell them because every day could become "when are we leaving? are we leaving now? how about now?"

When my son was little, I opted to talk about Disney World (the rides, the hotels, etc.) but without telling him a trip was planned. That way he knew what Disney World was and what you can do there but couldn't nag daily about if it was time to go yet.

You could decide to tell your child just before the trip begins and use a countdown to count down the final days before your trip.

Here are some ideas I've found on Pinterest:

Follow Shannon, WDW Prep School's board Counting down to Disney World trips on Pinterest.


 What to watch
There are a lot of things you can watch to get your toddler prepped and excited.

  • Order and/or watch the free Disney planning video online
  • Watch ride/attraction videos on YouTube (each of my park guides includes videos of each attraction)
  • Disney World-related videos on Netflix (many of the videos available on Netflix sell for over $20 when you buy the DVDs)
  • The Destination America channel has several Disney theme park shows and AT&T Uverse channels 87 and 1087 do as well

What to read
Although toddlers can't read yet, I recommend the Birnbaum's Walt Disney World for Kids book for all ages. It has big pictures and ratings by kids to give you an idea about what kids will like.

Toddler-friendly trip itinerary
I like having trip itineraries for all kids so they know what to expect. For little ones, that means using more pictures than words to show the daily plans. Check out my itinerary templates which include pics (especially the second one which might be easier for a toddler to understand).

Where to stay

When choosing an on-site hotel that your toddler will love, I'd recommend looking in the Value and Deluxe categories. Moderate theming is just not super toddler-friendly.

For Values, I'd recommend Pop Century or Art of Animation. Art of Animation is especially fun (and maybe worth the extra $$$ compared to other value resorts) if your toddler happens to be really into Finding Nemo, Cars, The Lion King or Little Mermaid.


Cars section of Art of Animation



 
As a bonus, most of the rooms at Art of Animation (all of them except for the Little Mermaid rooms) are suites, allowing you to have separate rooms, 2 bathrooms and a kitchenette which could be really handy (and the suites allow up to 6 people - a rarity when staying on-site).

For Deluxes, you can't beat The Polynesian with toddlers due to the location. It's super easy to catch the monorail right at the hotel to Magic Kingdom, just a short walk to the monorail to Epcot, in a location to view Magic Kingdom fireworks from your hotel and has on-site child care for ages 3-12.

Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge are 2 other good options in the Deluxe category, especially if the animal/nature theming is more appealing to your family.

General park touring advice

Before I get into the specifics of each park, I wanted to talk about some general park touring advice first.

How many days to spend in each park?
Step 3 in my 6-step process is to make a daily plan. That includes deciding how many days to spend in each park.

It's really hard to tell people how they should spend their days but I'm going to give you my advice and you can adjust based on your family.

For people who want a toddler-focused trip, this is how I suggest splitting up your days.

  • For a 3 day trip, do 2 days at Magic Kingdom and then either Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom.
  • For a 4 day trip, do 2 days at Magic Kingdom, 1 day at Hollywood Studios and 1 day at Animal Kingdom.
  • For a 5 day trip, do 2 days at Magic Kingdom, 1 day at Hollywood Studios, 1 day at Animal Kingdom and 1 day at Epcot.
  • For a 6+ day trip, do the same as a 5 day trip but with a break day (or days) in the middle to rest at the hotel, visit Downtown Disney, swim, etc.

What to do about strollers?
Your toddler may not use a stroller any more but they will very, very likely need one at Disney World (unless they're ultra toddler marathoners who can go 50 miles a week). Be sure to read my comparison of stroller options to decide how you want to handle them for your trip.

What height requirements affect toddlers?
Since this trip plan is focused on little ones, I won't be recommending any of the thriller rides which have most of the height requirements. However, there are a few of the non-thrillers that have height requirements and I've indicated those below within my discussion of each park.

How do I discipline while at Disney World?
Ahhh, that nasty subject that comes up a lot with toddlers. Believe it or not, they will not magically be perfectly behaved at Disney World so you'll need to plan ahead.

  • Prevention is sooo important. Don't overdo it, make sure they are fed, allow everybody enough time to sleep, try to limit lines as much possible, use sunscreen, etc., etc.
  • Leave if necessary. I was always willing to remove my kids from a location if they were acting up.

    Screaming at the grocery store? We'll leave the cart and go home.

    Crying at a restaurant? We'll get up from the table and head out.

    (We've done both of those things.)

    But at Disney World...notsomuch. It's difficult to leave a park and get back to your hotel room. It often takes an hour and includes a lot of waiting. That's really hard to do with a toddler in meltdown mode.

    Instead, you might want to consider "leaving" in a different way - leave the line you're in (or the gift shop you're shopping at or whatever it is) and head somewhere more private for a little downtime.

    You can head to a restroom but you can also find a baby care center which can be a great option because they are clean, air conditioned, have some seating, private rooms, sink, microwave and changing tables.


  • Baby Care Center at Magic Kingdom



     
  • Use positive reinforcement. Using rules attached to positive things like Tinker Bell gifts or an afternoon treat can often work the best.

Let them lead (kinda)
Although this site is all about planning, it's really important to be flexible. Your toddler wants to ride Buzz Lightyear over and over again? Do it!

Have a tot that really likes parades? See them all!

That's the benefit of having a trip focused around them: you can do the things they like to do.

Using FastPass+ with toddlers
I've included touring plans for each of the parks below which include the use of FastPass+. The FastPass+ system is a bit of a challenge for people with toddlers because it's hard to know what they will want to do before your trip. The plans below include all of the attractions that I think most toddlers will enjoy, as well as suggestions for which FastPass+ reservations to get.

For parents who want to ride bigger rides
Although each of the touring plans is focused on doing just things that toddlers would like to do, adults may still want to enjoy some of the bigger rides as well. Disney provides a perk called Rider Switch which allows adults to take turns riding which can help you do that.

Characters
For incorporating characters into your touring, be sure to check out KennythePirate.com (and I'd suggest paying for his app so you have current character times to use during your trip).

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom is tot mecca! So much for them to do and this is the perfect age to do it.

Note: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain and Space Mountain all have height requirements of 40-44" so they aren't included here. If you want to ride those, get FastPass+ reservations for those ahead of time.

Get FastPass+ reservations ahead of time for Enchanted Tales with Belle, Peter Pan and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

  • Arrive at Magic Kingdom about 30 minutes before the park opens
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (38" height requirement)
  • Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
  • Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • It’s a Small World
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Lunch (Quick Service suggestion: Columbia Harbour House or Be Our Guest - but arrive by 10:30 to avoid lines at Be Our Guest or use a FP+ for lunch there)
  • Rest of the day:
    Use FP+ for Peter Pan (suggested FP+ time: early afternoon)
    Use FP+ for Enchanted Tales with Belle (suggested FP+ time: early afternoon)
    Use FP+ for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (suggested FP+ time: afternoon)
    Dumbo
    Barnstormer
    Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor
    PhilharMagic
    Carousel of Progress
    Mad Tea Party
    Tomorrowland Transit Authority

Epcot

It pains me to say this, but Epcot is the least toddler-friendly of all of the parks. It happens to be our family's favorite park now, but it wasn't as fun with younger kids.

The 2 main attractions here – Soarin’ and Test Track – both have 40″ height requirements and they’re fairly mild and non-scary (as long as your child can handle a car traveling at a high speed for a lap around the track on Test Track). If your child is at least 40″, I would suggest including Soarin' and Test Track but maybe skip Mission: Space (which has height requirement of 44″ and could scare some kids).

If your child is under 40″, follow a touring plan like the one below.

There isn’t a big need to show up early here if you're just doing the things listed on the touring plan below (especially if visiting during a less busy time of year) so you could use this as a late arrival day if you’re touring with little ones. The earlier you show up, the easier everything is, but it’s not super important in this case. I’ll assume a park opening arrival for this plan but feel free to adjust as necessary.

Get FastPass+ reservations ahead of time for Turtle Talk with Crush and Spaceship Earth (during less busy times, you will likely not need any of those and could tour Epcot with a little one without any FastPass+ reservations).

  • Visit Character Spot if interested in characters
  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends
  • Explore The Seas pavilion
  • Use FP+ for Turtle Talk with Crush – may not be needed (suggested FP+ time: the first hour you’re at Epcot)
  • Living with the Land
  • Journey Into Imagination with Figment
  • Taste sodas from around the world at Club Cool
  • Explore Innoventions East and West
  • Lunch (Quick Service suggestion: Sunshine Seasons)
  • Rest of the day:
    Gran Fiesta Tour
    Use FP+ for Spaceship Earth – may not be needed (suggested FP+ time: any time in the afternoon or evening)
    Ellen’s Universe of Energy (takes 45 minutes)
    Explore the World Showcase
    Illuminations (night show)
  • Hollywood Studios

    Hollywood Studios is the hardest park to plan because of all of the show times but it does have a lot of toddler-friendly things to do.

    Note: Rock N Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror are way too scary or have too high of a height requirement for little ones so they aren't included here. If you're interested in doing those, do them right after Toy Story Mania and then continue with the rest of the plan.

    Get FastPass+ reservations ahead of time for Toy Story Mania, Star Tours (40" height requirement) and The Great Movie Ride (Great Movie Ride has a shooting scene in the middle which scares some little ones but if you tell little ones ahead of time, I think they'll be able to handle it).

    • Arrive by 8:30 so you can be toward the front of the line when the park opens
    • Ride Toy Story Mania without FP+
    • Voyage of the Little Mermaid
    • Disney Junior – Live on Stage
    • Use FP+ to ride Toy Story Mania again (suggested FP+ time: 10:00-11:00)
    • MuppetVision
    • Lunch (Quick Service suggestion: ABC Commissary)
    • Use FP+ for Star Tours (suggested FP+ time: 11:45-12:45)
    • Rest of the day:
      Use FP+ for The Great Movie Ride
      Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage
      Lights, Motors, Action
      Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

    Be sure to check WDWent.com for all of the show times for your trip so you can fit all of the shows into your schedule.

    Animal Kingdom

    Animal Kingdom is usually a short day and since you can eliminate many rides when touring with toddlers (Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur and Primeval Whirl), you can expect the day to be fairly short.

    Get FastPass+ reservations ahead of time for Kilimanjaro Safaris, Festival of the Lion King (allows you to get inside the theater before people in the standby line and choose one of the front seats which are the best view), Kali River Rapids (38″ height requirement).

    • Ride Triceratop Spin (multiple times, if you like)
    • Visit the Boneyard (may not open until 30 minutes after the park opens)
    • Use FP+ for Kali River Rapids – if standby is short, skip the FP+ line and just ride standby (suggested FP+ time: 9:15-10:15)
    • Flights of Wonder
    • Use FP+ for Kilimanjaro Safaris (suggested FP+ time: 10:30-11:30)
    • Take Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki's Planet Watch for the petting zoo and animal exhibits
    • Have lunch (Quick Service suggestion: Pizzafari or Restaurantosaurus)
    • Rest of the day:
      Use FP+ for Festival of the Lion King (suggested FP+ time: early afternoon)
      Finding Nemo - The Musical
      Flights of Wonder
      Maharajah Jungle Trek
      Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

    Dining

    I've already mentioned dining suggestions for dining in the parks. Here are some other suggestions for places to eat at Disney World outside the parks:

    • Chef Mickey's - located in The Contemporary, this buffet character meal is just pure fun. The fact that you get there by monorail makes it even better.
    • Beaches and Cream Soda Shop - located in The Beach Club, just outside the International Gateway entrance/exit at Epcot, this place offers cheeseburgers and ice cream, always a hit with little ones.
    • Whispering Canyon Cafe is located at The Wilderness Lodge and serves down-home style food and a rowdy atmosphere. Ask for some ketchup and see what happens!
    • The T-Rex Cafe Restaurant is located in Downtown Disney and is perfect for a dinosaur-loving tot.

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