Planning a trip to Disney World with Toddlers

Last week we went to Walt Disney World for what will likely be our last vacation as a family of four before baby #3 arrives early this summer. Although we’ve vacationed with Disney on a cruise last year, this was our first experience with the parks and it was nothing short of magical. Now that we’ve recovered from the miles of walking and have settled back into a mostly screen-free, sugar-free routine with the kids, I thought it would be perfect to break down our 5-day trip and answer some of the frequently asked questions we received from those following along on Instagram. Planning a Disney trip can be overwhelming because there are so many attractions, dining options, and resorts to choose from so we hope that by sharing our itinerary and tips, we can make this process less intimidating and stressful for you. 

Our Stay

With resort options ranging from $100/night to $1,000/night (even more), choosing where to stay can really make or break a vacation budget. We stayed at the All-Star Movies Resort which had a 4.3 rating on Google and was on the lower end of the range for Disney resorts. It wasn’t anything fancy but it did the job and was definitely family friendly with a large food court, two swimming pools, a playground, jogging trail, and arcade. The kids enjoyed the themed statues from Toy Story and 101 Dalmations and we loved that there was on-site laundry so that we were able to return home with clean clothes in our luggage. 

The best part about staying at a Disney resort is that there is no need to rent a car (and car seat)s or worry about transportation. A Disney shuttle picks you up from the airport and drops you back to the airport at the end of your stay. On top of that, there are round the clock shuttles from the resort to all of the Disney parks. Not only does this translate into savings but the peace of mind that comes from not having to worry about strapping toddlers into a car, GPSing to the parks, and parking is priceless. We can’t stress that enough.

Attractions
In this next section, I’m sharing all the rides and shows we experienced at each of the parks. With me being pregnant and having two kids aged 2.5 and 3.5 meant we were limited with what rides we could go on so everything listed is friendly for all ages. A few weeks before our trip, we went through the map of each park and checked off potential rides and shows we would hit. Traveling with toddlers means you have to be very flexible and work around their needs so our itinerary served more as a guide rather than a strict schedule but we highly suggest you do the same before you travel as it takes much of the guesswork out of what comes next.

Disney’s Magic Kingdom
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Jungle Cruise
Peter Pan’s Flight
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Mickey’s PhilharMagic Show
Mad Tea Party
Princess Fairytale Hall
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade
Happily Ever After Fireworks

Hollywood Studios
Disney Junior Dance Party
Alien Swirling Saucers (must be 32″)
Star Wars Launch Bay
Muppet Vision 3D
Beauty and the Beast-Live on Stage
Star Wars: Path of the Jedi

Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Na’vi River Journey
Festival of the Lion King
Kiliminjaro Safaris
UP! A Great Bird Adventure
Maharajah Jungle Trek
Rivers of Light
The Boneyard
Finding Nemo-The Musical

While these lists may seem small, our days were completely booked once you include ride wait times, bathroom breaks, nap time, and grabbing a bite to eat. We definitely felt Hollywood Studios had the least to offer and we were a bit disappointed with Toy Story Land after all the hype so we left in the afternoon and did not return. Instead we spent the evening at the resort pool and we are so glad we did! It was a nice way to wind down with the kiddos after two days of walking around the parks.

My Disney Experience
Disney has a free mobile app that we highly recommend you download. It is an invaluable tool for managing every aspect of your vacation from checking wait times on rides to securing FastPass+ and even ordering food. Mobile ordering was a lifesaver for us when the lines were long and the kids were fussy and wanted to eat. The app also had a map of each park with detailed information about rides and restaurant menus along with the option to map directions to the next attraction on our schedule.

FastPass+
This deserves it’s own section just to emphasize how important it is that you reserve your FastPasses as far in advance as possible. With your purchase of Disney park passes, you get to reserve 3 FastPasses per person per day as early as 30 days in advance (60 days if you’re staying at a Disney Resort). This allows you to skip the stand-by line wait time for your selected attraction as long as you arrive within the designated arrival window time. Although it was our first time attending the parks and we weren’t sure what was worth reserving, we did a pretty decent job with our selections. Here are the attractions we highly recommend securing a FastPass+ for after witnessing their very long wait times: Kiliminjaro Safaris and Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom, Disney Junior Dance Party at Hollywood Studios, and Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin at Magic Kingdom.

Food
We tried to be as pragmatic and realistic as possible when it came to planning meals with kids. While we are major foodies and would have loved to experience some of Disney’s fancier restaurants, it was just not logistically possible to dress up mid-day and sit down with the kids for a long period of time. Before our trip, I scoured through the menus at each park and narrowed down a list of restaurants that were mostly quick service and had vegetarian/seafood options to accommodate our food restrictions (halal). To be fair, Disney does offer you the option of reserving table dinning ahead of time and selecting a halal (or kosher) meat option but let’s face it we all need to eat less meat and sticking to a dinning reservation was just not realistic for us.

Park snack food is not the healthiest and the cost can add up quickly so the smartest thing we did was Amazon Prime groceries from Whole Foods to our resort room on the first day. We ordered grapes, strawberries, bananas, tangerines, and baby carrots along with milk, cereal, bagels, and cream cheese. We had also packed with us non-perishable snacks like granola, puffs, fruit pouches, apple sauce, date bars, and “healthy” vegan fruit snacks. All of these ensured we had a nourishing breakfast and snacks for the kids as well as incentives for waiting in line patiently. Of course we still had to eat lunch and dinner outside so I’m including a list below of what we enjoyed and recommend at each of the parks. Although our kids ate mostly what we ate, my sister’s children were a little pickier and stuck with pizza so I’ve also included those places where we stopped to get a slice for the kids.

Magic Kingdom
Aloha Isle: Dole Whip soft serve and floats
Columbia Harbour House: Grilled salmon with rice and veggies, tuna sandwiches, fried shrimp and fish, and Harbour salad (minus the bacon)

Hollywood Studios
Fairfax Fare: Vegetarian Chili Rice Bowls
Catalina Eddie’s: Cheese pizza with milk and yogurt
Hollywood Scoops: Ice cream sundae, apple crisp a la mode, hand-scooped ice cream

Animal Kingdom
Pizzafari: Cheese pizza, milk, and Lion King cupcakes 
Harambe Market: Corn on the cob, Roasted vegetable bowl, Frozen flamingo drink
Yak & Yeti Restaurant: Ahi Tuna nachos (substituted shrimp for tuna), coconut shrimp, fried wontons, mango pie, Shanghai lemonade

Although we mostly ate breakfast in our room (courtesy of our Amazon Prime order), we did have breakfast at the resort on the first morning where the kids enjoyed a Mickey waffle while the adults had omelets with potatoes. We also had dinner at the resort one of the nights and opted for the build-your-own pasta which had vegan, vegetarian, and seafood options. Lastly, a Disney experience wouldn’t be complete without a Mickey pretzel and Mickey bars for the kids but the good news is you can find them at many stands throughout the parks.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Pack Reusable Water Bottles: Aside from the obvious environmental reasons to do this, plastic bottled water at the parks is expensive. It’s so much easier to have water on hand especially when thirst hits. Every morning, we would fill all three of our canteens at the resort food court with ice and cold water and would restock at water fountains around the park throughout the day. 
  • Take your own cutlery and straws: As a family that strives to reduce our negative environmental impact, I was really disheartened with the amount of waste that is produced at these parks. Thankfully, I remembered to pack my stainless steel straws and two sets of cutlery which meant I could refuse the single-use straws and utensils. It’s not a significant waste reducer but it’s better than nothing.
  • Don’t waste FastPass+ on shows: With the exception of The Festival of the Lion King, we regretted wasting FastPass+ on the other shows because the stand-by lines weren’t long at all. Plus, with toddlers, we didn’t mind sitting in the back because it was easier to sneak out when we were hit with the dreaded “I need to go potty.” Next time we would reserve FastPass+ for rides and take our chances on the shows since they have several viewings throughout the day. 
  • Consider doing two parks and spending one day to recoup at the resort: This advice really depends on what you want out of a vacation and while we loved everything we did; we did feel a little exhausted at the end of it because we pushed ourselves to hit as much as possible. Looking back and knowing what we know now, we would probably skip on Hollywood Studios and spend a day just relaxing at the resort. 
  • Pack Lightweight Ponchos & Stroller Rain Covers: It’s a given that you should check the weather forecast a few days before your trip and while we did, there were some unexpected showers that we wish we were prepared for. The rain came and went and it wasn’t hard to find shelter but our stroller did get stuck in the rain and I wish we had the foresight to come a little extra prepared. It doesn’t hurt.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen, sun hats, and sunglasses: This maybe more relevant if you’re traveling in the spring or summer but either way it’s important to bring sun protection especially if you’re spending the whole day at the park. We could definitely see the effects of the sun beating down on the kids and we were grateful we had sunscreen, protective gear, and plenty of water to keep them safe.
  • Travel with family or friends: Traveling with toddlers isn’t as bad as people make it out to be but it was super fun and helpful to have my sister and her family with us. Her kids are fairly close in age to ours and it was nice to have an extra pair of hands and eyes to rely on when the need arose. If my kids were acting up, a gentle reminder from their aunt went a long way and vice versa. 

I think we’ve covered a lot of ground in this post so I’ll wrap it up here. We hope that you’ll find our recommendations and reviews helpful for planning your very own Disney World vacation. If you have specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below and if you’ve planned a similar trip and have advice for other readers, we would love to hear from you as well. If you found this post informative, we would appreciate it if you would like it and share it with others. And as always,

4 thoughts on “Planning a trip to Disney World with Toddlers

  1. Liz

    Thanks for sharing about your disney experience. We have never been to disneyland. Maybe one of these fine days we shall plan a trip, Glad to know you’re concerned about waste disposal. Can you imagine what difference it would make if everybody carried re-usables? Canada now boasts the fastest, tallest and longest dive roller coaster in the world-the yukon Striker. I am not much of a thrill seeker though. Wish you all the best with schooling and baby-3!

    Liked by 1 person

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