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 then have an advent calendar-style countdown. This idea uses the Mickey-shaped paint chips from Home Depot with numbers put on top of them. (Update: the Mickey-shaped paint chips are no longer available but you could cut Mickey shapes out of card stock for a similar effect.)
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 (my suggestion: videos from OnlyHDVideos)
- Disney World-related videos on Netflix (many of the videos available on Netflix sell for over $20 when you buy the DVDs)
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 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
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 stroller rental article 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.
- Use positive reinforcement. Using rules attached to positive things like Tinker Bell gifts or an afternoon treat can often work the best.
Baby Care Center at Magic Kingdom
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.
Arrive before the park opens and then head to Fantasyland. Do things in roughly this order:
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, grab FASTPASSes for those when you’re in the area so you can ride without a line later.
Magic Kingdom 2 Day Touring Plan for Little Ones
If characters are important to you, be sure to check out KennyThePirate.com for schedules and character touring plans so you can add those to your itinerary.
If your trip is long enough that you can fit in some time at EPCOT, do these things with toddlers:
EPCOT Touring Plan for Little Ones
Arrive by 8:15 because it’s been opening earlier than the official time and that will allow you to get in to beat the crowds.
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.
Hollywood Studios Touring Plan for Little Ones
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 is usually a short day and since you can eliminate rides when touring with toddlers (Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur and Primeval Whirl), you can expect the day to be fairly short.
Arrive before the park opens and then head out for these rides/attractions:
Animal Kingdom Touring Plan for Little Ones
- 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.
That wraps up my thoughts on doing Disney World with toddlers. Please leave any questions or thoughts you have in the comments.
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