(Article last updated: April 18, 2017)
One of the best things you can do while kids are still young is to plan a trip based on what they are into. Though the days may seem long with toddlers, the phase passes quickly, and before you know it, they are doing all of the grown up things in the parks.
Here's how to do Disney World with toddlers...
In this article
Before you leave on your trip
When to tell them?
While waiting to go to Disney World with toddlers, it's good to get your little one 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?"
You might want to talk about Disney World (the rides, the hotels, etc.) but without telling your tot a trip is planned. That way they know what Disney World is and what you can do there, but can't nag daily asking if it's 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 countdown ideas 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. Check the schedule to see if any theme park programming is coming up soon.
What to read
Although toddlers can't read yet, the Birnbaum's Walt Disney World for Kids book is great 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
Trip itineraries are great for helping kids 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 at Disney World with toddlers
When choosing an on-site hotel that your toddler will love, you might want to look in the Value and Deluxe categories. Moderate theming is beautiful, just not super toddler-friendly.
For Values, Pop Century or Art of Animation are our top recommendations. 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.
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.
The Contemporary Resort is another Deluxe worth considering. With the monorail going right through the building and the ability to walk to Magic Kingdom, it's hard to imagine it not being fun for anyone, especially families with little ones. It also has Chef Mickey's restaurant located right inside - a popular choice for families at Disney World.
General Disney World with toddlers touring advice
Before getting into the specifics of each park, let's talk about some general park touring advice first.
How many days to spend in each park?
Step 3 in the 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 here's some advice and you can adjust based on your family.
For people who want a toddler-focused trip, this is how you might want to split 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 Disney Springs, 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 the 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, the thriller rides aren't included. However, there are a few non-thrillers that have height requirements which are indicated on each of the touring plans. You can also check out the overview of attractions with height requirements for a complete list.
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. At home, you might be willing to leave places if your toddler starts acting up, but at Disney World...that's not so easy. 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.
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
There are 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 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.
Touring plans for families with little ones
Magic Kingdom is tot mecca! So much for them to do and this is the perfect age to do it.
With the addition of Frozen Ever After, a meeting spot for Anna and Elsa, and other fun attractions, Epcot has become increasingly toddler-friendly in the last few years. Check out the plan below for the best way to cover it all with little ones.
Hollywood Studios is the hardest park to plan because of all of the show times, but it does have several toddler-friendly things to do.
With so many animal attractions, great shows, and some interesting rides, Animal Kingdom can be an amazing place to visit with little ones. Check out the touring plan below which incorporates the new family-friendly Pandora attraction.
Best Disney World dining choices for toddlers
Here are some fun places to eat in the parks with little ones:
- Magic Kingdom - Be Our Guest, Columbia Harbour House, Crystal Palace, Cinderella's Royal Table
- Epcot - Garden Grill, Sunshine Seasons, Teppan Edo
- Hollywood Studios - Hollywood and Vine, ABC Commissary
- Animal Kingdom - Pizzafari, Restaurantosaurus, Tusker House
Here are some of my favorite places to eat with little ones 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 Disney Springs and is perfect for a dinosaur-loving tot.
Some of the dining options listed above are character meals. Be sure to check out an overview of all Disney World character meals for even more info on all options for your trip.
WDW Prep members have lots of features that come in handy for people doing Disney World with toddlers.
Level 2 WDW Prep Members can use the dining tool to filter by restaurants that are good for little ones.
The touring plans for little ones are built in to the touring tool.
And as you build your touring plans, they are grouped by hour (for the first 3 hours) and then your whole plan is plotted on a map at the bottom of the page so you can see how it all lays out.