I’ve been wanting to write this post ever since we returned from DisneyWorld last November.  #1 was 13 months old during our trip and we’ll be returning in 2012 with a 3.5 and 1.5 year old. I did a lot of research online and using the best of the best, here are MY tips for taking a toddler to DisneyWorld (these would probably work for a smaller child also!).

In no particular order:

Bring Snacks

The great thing about DisneyWorld (and probably Disneyland, though I haven’t been there) is that you can bring your own snacks and drinks into the parks.  We followed this rule sans kids also.  A water bottle you can refill at drinking fountains, plus a few packs of drink mix to shake in – great for adults! But for kids?

I packed a vitamin/medicine box; one of those that has different compartments for different days, or times of day, etc.  Into each compartment I put a different, non-melting, snack.  Then, when we were in line for something and #1 asked for something to eat – Shazam! Instant snack. 🙂 Just enough to get her by until we were out of the ride and could grab something to eat.

We also packed a very small cooler with a couple of bottles filled with milk for her. And when they were gone, we purchased milk.  It was 2%, but it got her by until we were back at the room (where we had a fridge with whole milk, etc.)

Bring a Stroller, Carrier or Harness (or all three!)

I am not a huge fan of strollers at Disney, just because you can’t take them into any line, so you are ALWAYS parking them and leaving them somewhere. But we did bring one just in case.  Here are my recommendations:

  • Magic Kingdom – Carrier
  • Animal Kingdom – Carrier
  • EPCOT – Stroller
  • MGM Studios – Skip it with toddlers

For a carrier, we had two: a backpack carrier and a wrap carrier.

The backpack carrier my husband wore and she was very high up then (he’s 6’3″) and could see everything. This was especially nice for maneuvering through crowds or waiting in lines (wore the pack in the lines!), or watching the parades.  When we went on a ride, he wore her through the line, then just before we got on pulled it off, and put the pack down on the seat – giving her her own built-in, raised seat. This worked really well for Small World, Pirates, any of the boat rides.  #1 even sleeps in this carrier, so as we were headed into the Hall of Presidents, she nodded off. We just slipped the carrier off as we got to our seat, set it down between our legs and she napped while we enjoyed the show.

The wrap was nice for when she wanted to be held. She was nearing 25lbs, so gets very heavy after a while and the wrap takes some of that weight off.  Every day, especially the day we took the stroller, I threw this in, just in case.  A sling would work just as well, if you’re used to that.

Also, unless you are morally opposed to this, if you have a child who is walking, be sure to pack a harness or “kid leash”. #1 did want to walk from time to time and would NOT hold our hands.  With the harness, we could keep her close by and she still felt like she had some freedom.

Easy Rides First

Because we had never taken #1 on any type of ride, we decided that It’s a Small World would be the best option to do first. This deviated from our normal “Disney routine”, but we wanted to be sure she would have a good 1st experience on a ride.  And we were right. She LOVED it – the music the colors, etc.  A lot of people do Dumbo first, but we weren’t sure about the up and down factor. And other boat rides, like Pirates, were much darker.  Small World was a perfect first stop. Another option might be the Train.

Glow Sticks Are Your Friend

When we did take her on a dark ride, she would get a little frightened, whimper and cling to me or DH.  I packed a bunch of cheap glow sticks just for this purpose. I would snap one out, snap it and hand it to her. She clung to it like a life raft! Her own little lamp.  As long as she had this, she was perfectly content in Pirates, El Rio del Tiempo, Snow White, Pooh, etc.

Gauge Naptimes to Your Advantage

We usually do not stay on property, so our time in the park is precious. If you do stay at a Disney resort, you may be able to go back to your hotel for naptime a bit easier than we could. For us, the trip to the park, then from the parking lot to eh park was easily 1 hour one-way.  We didn’t want to waste an hour getting back to the hotel to only have #1 wake up and be ready to go.  So, we started timing naps for the longer, quieter attractions.  Here were some good places for her to nap and for us to still have a good time.

  • Carousel of Progress
  • Hall of Presidents
  • Tomorrowland Transit Authority
  • The American Adventure (Epcot)
  • Tiki Room (yes, she actually slept through the whole show!)

A lot of these don’t have long lines and sometimes you can talk a cast member into letting you “go around again” or see another showing, so they can nap longer.

Also, if you have a carrier or stroller, sometimes they can nap there just as easily.  Then you’ll want to take advantage of the Child Swap (see below) or find a quiet spot (some great ones just as you cross into Frontierland on your right).

Use Child Swap

Child Swap is something that was created so adults could continue to ride the rides when they have a child who isn’t old enough/tall enough to ride on it with them, or who is afraid of the ride.

Child Swap is available on any ride that has a height restriction, and even some that don’t.  A complete list is available here.

How it works is, as you approach the attraction, you tell the cast member that you want to do a child swap.  They give you a special fast pass. The rest of your party boards the ride or gets in line and away they go. When they get done, you get to go through the FP line w/ your child swap pass. 🙂

Bring Baby Leg/Arm Warmers

Sometimes, the backpack, or whatever you are using, gets pretty full with all the stuff you want to pack for the day.  This is where I found a way to reduce bulk.  USUALLY, you do not need a jacket in DisneyWorld (raingear not included), unless it’s evening.  For #1 I packed a pair of leg warmers/arm warmers and when it got a little chilly, I put those on her arms and she was good to go!

Take Advantage of the Disney PhotoPass

Disney offers a little credit-card type thing called a PhotoPass. You can have your picture taken all over the parks in front of icons, with characters, and more and they’re stored on the card. You can then purchase individual prints (expensive) or a CD with all the images.  We opted for the CD option and planned to use the heck out of the photopass during our trip, since it was #1’s first trip.  We ended up with some great pictures that we wouldn’t have had normally. And some unique ones with her holding a digital Tinkerbell, etc.

Use the Baby Care Center

Lastly, and most importantly, take advantage of the Baby Care Centers in each park. These are an absolute lifesaver!  The first two days in the park, we changed #1 in the public restrooms.  Let me talk about those first.

In the public restrooms, they have ONE changing station. ONE.  Now, think about how many babies and children in diapers there are in the parks at any given time.  ONE changing station per restroom. So, you will wait in line to use it.

And this is not your normal station you usually find in a public restroom. It is a HARD, COLD, metal, ceramic or stone slab. There is no cushion, no cover, nothing.  And no amount of changing you pad you throw in your bag makes it more comfortable.  #1 did not like to lay on it at all.   So, changing her was not a fun experience.

Second, she was eating table food for the most part, but the idea of having to cart baby food and then something to warm it and try to feed a child either in a stroller, high chair (no tray) or in DH’s arm was not a fun idea. When we ate at a restaurant, we usually ordered 1 or 2 things from the Sides menu (not the Kids menu).  These were usually small enough, and just enough, for her and good for our budget.

Now, let me introduce you to the Baby Care Centers.

There is one Center per park and these are clearly marked on the park maps.  Now, just having the one is a bit of an inconvenience. But I took advantage of them every time we were nearby.  The Center consists of a Nursing room (separate from the rest of the center, closed doors, dim lighting with rockers), a Lounge, a Restroom, a small Kitchen, and a Changing Room.  Since #1 was on table food, we didn’t use the kitchen much, but I did check it out. It had a microwave, a bottle warmer, a sink and countertop. As well as a few items to purchase (diapers, juice, sippy cups, etc.) in case you had forgotten (or lost!) something.  The lounge had some high chairs (with trays), small table and chairs, “big people” chairs, and a TV with Disney cartoons on.  The Changing Room had 6 changing tables. And these were full crib-size changing tables with a foam-like mattress covered with a piece of paper (like you’d find at the doctor’s office). After each change, there was a Care Center attendant who would change the papers and sanitize the table.  The bathroom was small, but was labeled a “family” or “dual-gender” bathroom and was a great place if you had one who was potty-learning.

You want to know the best part? All of you going in the summer will love this: the place is fully air-conditioned.

A place to relax, get away & decompress, cool down, change and feed a child in peace? Sign me up!  I will never again visit the parks (if I have a child in diapers) without using the Care Center to my full advantage.

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Was there anything you think I may have missed? Leave a comment.

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