When I started this series, I talked about how there is so much to absorb when going to Disney and that I was looking forward to figuring things out. As a parent of a toddler and an infant, over the course of the week we learned some things that I thought might be useful for parents of young children going to Disney. Hopefully you can learn something new like I did!
Kids under 3 are free
With the news of the ticket price increase on Sunday, here’s your friendly reminder for what you should already know: kids under three don’t pay anything to go into the parks. I’m not sure if this information is outdated, but if you’re staying on site and your child is 2 at check in apparently their park visits are free for the length of stay. Anyway, I was happy getting M into the park before she turned 3, and she had a blast. So if you think under 3 is too young, you have at least one data point that says otherwise!
There are nursing centers in every park
If you’re traveling with an infant and need to breast feed (or just someplace quiet), every Disney park has a nursing center. We found that they vary in quality (and they all have different types of chairs for feeding, if you’re worried about that sort of thing). When we were there, we never had to wait, found the areas to be clean and comfortable, and really appreciated having a quiet place for Jess to feed H. I even planned our days around being near the nursing center at the right times. While there are other good places to feed in the park, it’s good to know there is always some place to fall back on.
Disney’s kindness towards kids is meant to be taken advantage of
It’s pretty tough to describe how nice and thoughtful Disney cast members are towards kids, especially little ones. They are pretty nice and thoughtful to all humans but they seem to go out of their way to make kids feel special.
I specifically wrote “to be taken advantage of” because the way I was raised and am wired, I generally either am cynical about people’s intentions or avoid feeling awkward when people are extra nice to me. Well, Disney is not the place to be that kind of curmudgeon.
If your child (or anyone in your party) is celebrating something special like a birthday, you can get a pin from the ticket center. Then that person will get treated even better throughout the entire trip. Characters are super friendly – EXTRA friendly – towards kids. Yes, they are all acting but when you have a toddler it is real to them. Let them experience and enjoy the magic and go out of your way to let that happen. M still sings happy birthday 5 out of 7 days a week reminiscing about when Mickey sang it to her.
Be flexible with naps, but go in with a plan
Everyone knows that overstimulated toddlers are the bane of every parent’s existence. Since Disney World likely be the most exciting experience of a young toddler’s life, they will probably never want to sleep. And of course since they are so overstimulated they will get tired even faster.
Obviously every toddler is different and you know their schedule. The general recommendation is go home after lunch and go back to the park at night, which mostly works. But be flexible – we made game time decisions on stroller naps, on not returning to the parks, etc. etc.
Really the whole sleep situation will be in flux on your trip especially if you are trying to do a night in the park. My suggestion? Consider the entirety of your trip when planning out naps. Negotiate some stroller naps, some return naps, etc. etc. with your toddler. Build in days to sleep in, days to stay out late, etc. Then be prepared to roll with the punches when your whole plan goes to crap!
Don’t bother with FastPass+ for the rides your toddler will enjoy
If you have a normal toddler, they probably wake up pretty early. What that means is you should be able to rope drop with them – get into the park before park opening (even 8:55 is good enough).
At that time of day the rides your child will want to go on are wide open. If you get into the park at 8:55, for example, you can go Winnie the Pooh, Mad Tea Party, Tomorrowland Speedway, Astro Orbiter, and Buzz Lightyear all before 10:00 with little to no lines. We managed that with no issue on our first day in the Magic Kingdom (on Touring Plans the crowd was assessed as an 8/10 that day so it’s not like the park was empty).
Name a toddler ride (I’m assuming your less than 3 year old is too short to ride any of the roller coasters) – you can probably get on it with a pretty short line all the way up to 11:00, aka close to your child’s lunch time. If you are in the Magic Kingdom multiple days and get there at 9:00 each day you will not miss a single ride your toddler wants to go on.
The only toddler ride I think really needs a FP+ is Peter Pan. That ride has crazy wait times all day, though if you get there before 10:00 I think you’ll be fine anyway. Buzz Lightyear and Enchanted Tales with Belle might warrant FP+ every once in awhile, but other than that if you’re getting into the park early you should be good.
If you only have like, one day in the Magic Kingdom, then consider using your FP+ in the afternoon for toddler rides if you must, but even then you’ll probably be okay. Or you can FP+ in the afternoon and take your toddler on the rides for a second time (if you didn’t already loop in the morning, which you’ll have time to do with the line situation!). We found we rarely used that fourth FP+ for rides for our kids – after 5:00 PM a lot of the little ones have already cleared out. A better use for FP+?
Use FastPass+ in conjunction with rider switch to create the greatest date night ever
If you can find a babysitter, this is what you do:
- FP+ Seven Dwarves Mine Train and two other height restricted rides (Big Thunder, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, etc.).
- Walk with your child and spouse to the ride. At the FP+ desk, ask for a “rider switch”, they will give you this big placard to put around your neck.
- Send spouse 1 on the ride, when they get to the front of the line you will exchange the placard for a rider switch ticket – good for a FP entrance to that ride for any THREE people.
- Send spouse 2 to the closest toddler ride nearby, you should be done at the same time if its early enough in the morning
- Rinse and repeat until you have three rider switches in hand
- Find a FP+ kiosk and add a reservation for something like Pirates of the Caribbean of Haunted Mansion (or a fourth coaster if you can swing it)
- Abandon your children at 5:30 PM
- Arrive at park by 6:30 PM
- RIDE RIDE RIDE RIDE RIDE! NO LINES WITH YOUR RIDER SWITCH PASSES!
- Watch parade and fireworks, go home happy
One added note: the rider switch passes we were given in early January said they were good until the end of January. This was true for both Space Mountain and Rolling Thunder. Man, if that’s the case and you are at Disney for a week or something, you can build up rider switch passes all week and then go INSANE one night. WHEE!
(In case you’re not totally familiar with rider switch, feel free to read this primer by Leslie. It’s about Disneyland but the concept is exactly the same. But really all you have to do is drag your kid to the place where the line starts, blurt out “rider switch”, and then watch as magic happens).
There are plenty of eating options, both healthy and unhealthy
There is not much to add to this statement, but we never really were wanting for healthy options for our daughter when we felt like she really needed them. That’s important when planning a trip.
Budget extra time for character meet and greets, or just make dining reservations
This one really surprised me. As I have stated elsewhere, M got obsessed with meeting like everyone. That meant I had to pivot mid-trip to start making our plans revolve around meeting the most characters in the least amount of time.
Make sure you set clear expectations and hold up your end of the bargain. Dining reservations are a great way to kill two birds with one stone, and they are plentiful. Watching toddlers meet characters is wonderful, since like I said before, they think everything is real.
Just do it
Is it worth it to take a young toddler “who will never remember the trip?” H to the yes. That doesn’t just apply to Disney World, but it does apply doubly for that magical world of wonder. I also have a child who is living proof that they do remember, at least for awhile! And pictures do a great job of filling in the gaps. So my last bit of advice? If you’re thinking about it, just go!
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