Ahh.. the happiest place on Earth. It’s pretty ironic that they call it that when it can feel totally overwhelming and stressful.. even from the beginning stages of planning your trip. I’m here to help. I’ve always lived in Florida & traveling to Disney has been a part of my life since my early childhood. Now that I have a couple trips with children under my belt, I wanted to share my experience and tips to help anyone in the midst of planning their own trip.
We first went to Disney as a family when Henry was 18 months old, and we just went again now that he’s almost 3 and Evan is 7 months. Three totally different ages and experiences! Obviously every age comes with its own schedule, needs and.. personality (if you toddler mamas know what I mean!). I’m breaking this post up into tips for booking your trip, hotel pointers, and some good tidbits for your actual time in the parks! Stayed tuned for another post coming soon about items you shouldn’t forget to pack!
Booking Your Disney Trip
I’ve read all the blogs, the books and the reviews. I’ve joined all the helpful Disney Mom Facebook groups. I’ve been to Disney during all the seasons. I’ve stayed inside the park and outside of the park. I’ve used the Disney transportation and have driven myself. My advice? Stay inside the park.
The benefits to staying in the park are worth it, in my opinion – especially if you’re traveling with kids! Disney has different “tiers” or categories of hotels – deluxe, moderate, value, and villas. The deluxe are going to be the hotels with the nicest amenities and the value resorts still give you the benefits of staying within the park but at a more affordable price point. Villas are for large families wanting to room together (it’s almost like having an apartment with a full kitchen and they’re pretty awesome).
What are these benefits I keep mentioning?
- Use of Disney transportation to get around via bus, monorail or boat
- Magic bands
- Early access to Disney dining reservations & fast pass selection (this is worth is alone for me!)
- Extra magic hours
- The option to purchase a Disney dining plan
- Airport transport on the Magical Express
- Closer to all the magic, obvi!
Each hotel is themed, fun for the whole family and will have a few dining options, pools and activities on the premises. I’m staying at the Contemporary later this year so I can’t speak for that hotel yet, but my favorites are the Animal Kingdom Lodge & The Polynesian! I also enjoyed our recent stay at the Dolphin (the little market downstairs was a total lifesaver), aside from a few random hiccups beyond the hotel’s control.
As far as when to go, Florida is HOT HOT HOT (especially during the summer!). If you’re traveling with kids, I’d recommend avoiding summer if you can. Autumn is great because it’s also the Epcot Food & Wine Festival and the weather isn’t so brutal. Still expect some major warmth anytime you go!
Tips For Your Hotel Stay
When deciding which Disney property hotel is best for you & your family, there are a few things to consider (besides cost, of course):
Some hotels only provide bus transport to the parks, some are on the monorail and others you can take a boat to and from (soon there will be a sky tram!). Boats & the monorail are a fun novelty for toddlers, the monorail is the fastest, but some of the cool hotels like Animal Kingdom Lodge ONLY offer busses. Consider your pros and cons.
Sharing a hotel room with a baby/toddler on a specific nap and bedtime schedule can be tough since it can often mean sitting in the dark silently just so your baby can get some rest. What we’ve done on our recent trips is either get adjoining rooms that connect in the middle or we’ve booked one of the villas with multiple bedrooms. This way, when the babies are asleep, you don’t have to go to bed too or tip toe around praying you don’t wake them! If you’re booking on a budget, the value resorts have family suites with different sleeping arrangements. The extra space in the suites is also really helpful with kids!
If you live somewhere with a colder climate, the best pool might be important to you. If you’re breastfeeding, pumping, or making your own baby food, a room with a kitchen or fridge/freezer might be what you need. If you like nightlife, a hotel in Disney Springs or on the BoardWalk might be right for you (ps – I love the BoardWalk!). If you need to take frequent breaks in your room, a hotel on the monorail line would be worth looking into. Figure out what’s important to you and your family before booking – there are so many options!
Tips For The Parks
Disney World can be overwhelming for everyone, especially kids and babies who get overstimulated pretty easily. The reality of doing theme parks with kids is not to expect too much. This is my biggest tip:
Don’t try to accomplish too much
All this will do is disappoint you. Kids are unpredictable – it’s best not to overload your day with tons of plans, park hopping, multiple dining rezzies, etc. Keep it simple. Make good memories.
Who wants to pause their day and take a break? No one. Especially not your excited toddler. BUT, a break is good for all parties involved and a nap in the crib will provide much more quality rest than a stroller nap. It’s also a good time to refresh – Disney is VERY overstimulating, even for adults.
Utilize what’s available
Disney has a lot of “amenities” that you might not be aware of. The parks all have a Baby Center where you can nurse your babe in peace, change their diaper in air conditioning, warm up a bottle or just take a breather. You can also get a free pin to proudly wear if you’re celebrating something (first Disney trip, engagement, birthday, etc) and keep it as a souvenir! There’s also an app, “My Disney Experience,” that can act as your virtual tour guide, reservation manager & FastPass planner.
Book Your Fast Passes & Dining Reservations
This is SO important! If you’re staying on Disney property, you get to book your Fast Passes a whole month before the general public (Fast Passes are FREE, make your line waiting times much shorter, and each person in your party gets at least three for the day, btw). That is MAJOR for all the popular and newer rides that you’re obviously just dying to experience! You can also book passes to meet characters, which is so fun and such a photo op.
Dining reservations, on the other hand, can be booked 180 days before your trip. And trust me, they DO get booked up quickly. If your tot loves the princesses, you better set an alarm to book your meal with Cinderella!
Bring Your Own Snacks & Water
I’ll go more into detail about packing in another post, but you should know that you can bring your own food and drinks into the parks! We brought a whole case of water to our hotel and never had to buy any. Win!
Yes, it’s annoying to stop and take photos. Yes, it’s annoying to wrangle your children for pictures. Yes, it’s annoying to ask a stranger to use your camera/iPhone. However, these are lifelong memories! DO IT! You can also sign up for Disney’s Photo Pass or “Memory Maker,” which is a photo service where you can keep all the photos that the Disney photogs take throughout your trip!
Disney is a “vacation” of sorts.. and you should enjoy yourself! Spend time relaxing at the pool (you absolutely don’t have to spend all your time at the parks), browse Disney Springs or the BoardWalk, and EAT/DRINK ALL THE THINGS. Dole whip, LeFou’s Brew, and the iconic Mickey ice cream are all personal faves. The drinks/cocktails at Epcot (especially the Mexico margaritas) are also a good time (& can make any trip with kids easier, ha!).
I hope this little guide helps you plan your Disney trip with kids! Stay tuned for a post on what to pack. Have any questions? Let me know! XOXO.