A trip plan for doing Disney World with toddlers

(Article last updated March 30, 2018)

All the extra challenges might make you think it would be crazy to attempt a trip to Walt Disney World with toddlers, but it really shouldn't.

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.

We can help you with the logistics so you can stick to the fun. Here's how....

Before you leave

Counting down to the 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 child that 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 fun countdown to count down the final days before your trip. Depending on your child's age you might want to keep the countdown short (10 or fewer days).

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.

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.

If this is going to be your first time in a plane or on a long distance road trip, you might also consider reading books about flying or traveling by cars.

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 the itinerary templates to put together your own.

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.

Best Value Resorts for toddlers

For Values, Pop Century and Art of Animation are our top recommendations.

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.

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).

Pop Century

Pop Century is another great option. Unlike the All Star Resorts, Pop Century doesn't share its transportation with any other resorts. This is a nice bonus when you're trying to get a sleeping toddler back to your resort.

Rooms at Pop Century are also in the process of being refurbished, and the new layout will likely appeal to many families.

At the completion of the refurbishment, the standard rooms at Pop Century will all have queen-sized beds, one of which is a Murphy Bed that folds down from the wall.

Many guests have reported that they really like the ability of being able to fold the one bed up when it isn't in use because it gives them more floor space, which is nice if you have little ones that need some room to play.

Another nice feature of the refurbished rooms is a sliding door between the sink area of the bathroom and the sleeping space. This makes it a lot easier for people to get ready in the morning without disturbing those that might still be sleeping.

The room refurbishment project at Pop Century should be completed Summer of 2018, so if traveling before then make sure you request a refurbished room at check-in.

Best Deluxe Resorts for toddlers

Polynesian Village Resort

If you are considering a Deluxe Resort, you can't beat staying at The Polynesian with toddlers.

It's super easy to catch the monorail right at the hotel to Magic Kingdom, just a short walk to the monorail to Epcot, and it's in a location where you can view Magic Kingdom fireworks from your hotel (which is nice if your little one likes the look of fireworks but not the sound).

Contemporary Resort

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.

Bed rails and Pack 'n Plays

With all the families traveling to Walt Disney World, Disney is prepared when it comes to beds.

To help make bedtime easier, Disney has both bed rails and Pack 'n' Plays available to borrow.

You can request one when you get there or, even better, you can call (407) 934-7639 to have the request added to your reservation.

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.

Packing with a toddler

Traveling with a toddler usually means you'll be packing some extra stuff.

We have an Ultimate Disney World Packing List of items to help you out, but some of the must-have items you'll want to make sure you include:

  • child-friendly sunblock
  • stain stick or Shout wipes, etc.
  • backpack or diaper bag that you can carry into the parks
  • large Ziploc bags (for holding wet clothes, snacks, etc.)
  • multiple pairs of shoes (in case one pair gets wet from rain or playing in splash zones)
  • Post-it Notes to cover the toilet sensor if auto-flush toilets are scary to them

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 10+ miles per day).

Strollers are very handy for not only providing your little one with a spot to rest their feet, but they also provide a place for you to store some of that extra stuff toddlers need.

You'll have lots of options when it comes to strollers - renting offsite, renting from Disney, bringing one from home, shipping a new stroller to yourself, etc.

Be sure to read our comparison of stroller options to decide how you will want to handle strollers for your trip.

Whatever stroller you decide to use we highly recommend you also consider bringing along, renting, or purchasing a rain cover.

Going when the temperatures are predicted to be hot? If you're using a stroller, you'll likely want one of these stroller fans, too.

Transportation with toddlers

When visiting Disney World and staying onsit,e you'll have access to lots of different transportation options. The monorail, buses, and boats are all free to use and can be a fantastic choice for many families.

If you have your own car, however, sometimes it might make more sense to drive than it does to use Disney's bus transportation.

When you drive your own car at Disney World, you are guaranteed that everybody in your group will have a seat. With the buses in particular, that isn't always the case. During busy times like mornings and evenings, you might find that some people in your party will need to stand and that can be tricky if you have little ones.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that recent Walt Disney World parking changes means you'll pay to park at your resort, so make sure you factor that into your budget when weighing all the pros and cons.

Minnie vans

Disney also offers a premium transportation option called Minnie Vans. These adorable polka-dotted vehicles operate much like Uber or Lyft, but are driven by Disney Cast Members and come equipped with convertible car/booster seats.

If you are running short on time or are planning to go from resort to resort (like for a dining reservation), Minnie Vans are your fastest option. They are a little pricey at $25 per ride, but they can really cut down on the stress.

Using a stroller on the ferry, buses, monorails, trams, and resort boats (launches)

Some transportation options allow your little one to remain in the stroller, but most do not.

  • Monorails and ferries - strollers can stay open and a child can stay in them
  • Buses and trams - strollers must be folded up. Even if your little one is sleeping and the bus is totally empty, you'll still need to fold your stroller.
  • Resort launches and Friendship boats - strollers can be left open if space allows, but your child must be seated with you

When traveling with a toddler, when should you drive and when should you leave the driving to Disney?

Folding and unfolding a stroller multiple times can be a hassle, especially at the end of the day when all your stuff has multiplied.

Because of that, whenever possible, we recommend that you choose the mode of transportation that allows you to minimize all the folding and unfolding.

If buses are your only transportation option, just make sure you are prepared to fold up your stroller before you board. Having an extra empty bag you can toss things into can make that process easier and less stressful.

If you have a car available and you plan on getting to the parks at least 45 minutes before they open, we recommend driving. Guests that arrive in plenty of time for Rope Drop often park close enough to the front of the park that they can walk to the entrance without using a tram.

What height requirements affect toddlers?

Since this trip plan is focused on little ones, the thrill rides (which all have height requirements) aren't included in our touring plans for families with little ones. However, there are a few non-thrillers that also have height requirements, and those are indicated on each of the touring plans.

You can also check out the overview of attractions with height requirements for a complete list.

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.

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. Ideally the more you can prevent the things that cause meltdowns the more you'll be able to avoid needing to discipline.

    • Don't overdo it. Unless your little one is used to going non-stop don't try to go from sunup to sundown. Schedule lots of down time and allow them to just do their own version of relaxing. Being overstimulated is a common reason for meltdowns in people of all ages - including toddlers.
    • Make sure they aren't hungry. Being "hangry" is a real thing, and when your toddler gets hungry, you may see that manifest in bad behavior. Be proactive and ready with snacks to help avoid situations where an empty stomach causes a meltdown. You can bring food and drinks with you into the parks (just no alcohol or glass containers) which makes it very easy to always have your child's favorites with you.
  • Allow everybody enough time to sleep. Even adults could use a nap daily at Disney World. The heat, extra activity, and excitement wears you out. Be sure you allow everybody the opportunity to get the sleep they need which sometimes may mean early nights or sleeping in.
  • Try to limit lines as much possible. Our touring plans are optimized to keep you moving and out of lines. Whenever possible, try to make sure you stick to those to help avoid long waits.
  • Prepare for the weather. Weather extremes can make even the most pleasant of people cranky. Be it rain or heat or cold, make sure you know what to expect when you go and how to handle the weather when you are there.

Try to stick to routines. Even adults like routines, and toddlers are especially sensitive to changes in theirs. Whenever possible, try to make sure you'll have the necessary items to keep major routines in place. Things like having a special blanket or pillowcase from home can help at bedtime, and familiar snacks (and snack times) can also help keep everybody smiling.

If you don't want to worry about packing all your favorites, you can order groceries and snacks for when you are there. If you have little ones still in diapers or Pull Ups, you can also order those supplies as well.

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, a quiet bench out of the way, or even one of the Baby Care Centers.

The Baby Care Centers 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.

Want to learn more about how to avoid meltdowns at Disney World? Check out the WDW Prep to Go podcast episode #116 - How to avoid being one of those parents for lots more tips and suggestions.

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.

FYI - if your child is over the age of 3, they will need their own Walt Disney World ticket. Children under the age of the 3 do not.

Touring plans for families with little ones

Magic Kingdom

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

Epcot

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

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.

Animal Kingdom

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 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.

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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.

⇢ Become a Level 2 member ⇠

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