Our first trip to Walt Disney World was in 2004 when my children were four, two, and 13 months. While Walt Disney World is a family vacation destination, many people thought we were crazy for taking our very young children to Disney World. Mid-week we wondered if we were crazy too, but we really enjoyed our time and bonded as a family.
The magic of Disney took hold of us, and we came back year after year with our small children. Over the years, we learned a lot of lessons and picked up tips on traveling to Disney World with young kids. Here are our top eight Disney World survival tips for families with young children, ages 0-4.
8 – Try to Keep a Consistent Schedule
Humans are creatures of habit and children are even more so. Many children thrive on being kept on a schedule. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be spontaneous, but what it does mean is that as you plan your overall vacation, you are going to try to keep what we like to call a “vacation routine.” Try to keep mealtimes around the same time as the children eat at home. Do similar activities in the same order every day. Attempt to keep their nap times consistent (see tip #6).
7- Take Advantage of Early Mornings and Plan Late Nights with Caution
Many young children wake up very early. Take advantage of that by getting to the parks by the time they open. Take advantage of morning Extra Magic Hours! Try to keep their bedtimes reasonable and consistent. Decide what fireworks displays you absolutely don’t want to miss. Plan those late nights when you don’t have an early breakfast reservation the next morning. We usually saved our late night out for the last day of the vacation. That way they would (hopefully) sleep in the car on the way home.
Editor’s Note: During the phased reopening of Walt Disney World in 2020, Extra Magic Hours are temporarily suspended.
6 – Let Them Nap in the Park
Napping is very necessary for young children. You may be lucky and have a child who can sleep wherever and whenever. If that is not your child, then plan ahead on how you will handle naptime. Skipping naps for a day may work. Skipping it for a whole week is a bad idea. While going back the room may be necessary, you will lose a lot of time in the park if you do. (If the napping child has older siblings, that might be a perfect time for those older kids to go to the pool with one parent-see tip #3).
We decided to stay in the park for naps and what worked very well for us was laying a towel over the stroller. This blocked the visual distractions and was a signal to our child that it was time to sleep. For windy days, we used laundry line clips to keep the towel in place. And for hot days we maneuvered the towel so that there was plenty of airflow.
5 – Be Prepared
For young children, a stroller is necessary because there is just way too much walking during the day for little legs. Thankfully, strollers are perfect for carrying all the extra supplies that young children require. Since Disney World allows outside food and drink, feel free to bring in your child’s favorite and familiar food snacks or even meals. You may also find it helpful to bring in small toys for table service meals. Insulated bags or even small coolers are a great way to keep water and other snacks cold for the day.
Also, take advantage of Disney’s Baby Care Centers. These are located within all of the four theme parks, and they provide a place to feed, change and nurse your children. These centers offer private nursing rooms, changing rooms, feeding areas with high-chairs, kitchen with microwave, oven, and sink. They also have formula, baby food, juice diapers, wipes, sunscreen, over-the-counter medications and clothing available for purchase.
4 – Know Your Child, Know the Attractions
You know your child best so plan ahead of time what attractions you think they will enjoy and what attractions might need to be saved for the next trip. Even if older toddlers reach the height requirements, you may need to decide to wait if you think your child will have a hard time with it. Some rides have complete darkness and very loud noises. Your child may not be ready. That’s ok. Take the time ahead of time to do some research. There are plenty of good planning books, and of course websites like DisneyLists.com.
3 – Let Them Be a Kid
It can be very difficult for parents, who are spending a lot of money on a Disney vacation, to let their children just be kids. We’ve been there. You want to keep going, but the child just wants to swim in the pool. It may seem like a waste of time to let your child play on a playground when they can play at a playground anywhere, but there are many benefits to allowing your children some downtime. First, kids spend a lot of time in a stroller. Allowing them to run around on the playground or pool is an excellent way for them to get rid of pent up energy. Second, they get to have fun – their kind of fun. Smiles and laughter will usually follow, and happy kids make happy parents. Finally, it’s just another opportunity to bond as a family and play together. Swimming in the pool with young kids is hands on. Maybe at home, you don’t get to spend as much time as you would like holding and playing with your child. Vacation gives us the opportunity to really connect with each other and every family member benefits from those connections.
2- See the Magic Through Their Eyes
Our family trip in 2004 was my first time at Disney World. It had been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. I didn’t know what to expect, so it surprised me that while I loved the experience, it meant so much more to see the wonder and excitement through my children’s eyes. My oldest daughter at the time was four, which I think is just about the perfect age for Disney World. She was old enough to understand all that was going on but young enough to just accept the magic around her as real. She had pure joy and excitement when she met Mickey Mouse for the first time. I cried I’ll admit, the moment touched me. I was personally thrilled to meet the big cheese for the first time, but her joy meant so much more, and it helped me have a better experience.
1 – Have the Right Expectations
You’ll find we say this a lot. Having the right expectations about your vacation will make a profound difference on your experience. I highly recommend families to vacation with young children, but I always tell them to expect problems. Kids don’t magically become perfect angels when they come to Disney World (we wish). They get tired, cry, argue with their siblings, get overwhelmed, cry, they refuse to try new foods, cry (did I say that already?). Knowing this ahead of time and not worrying about what other people are thinking (who probably just dealt with a meltdown of their own) will help. We can try to manage their day with schedules and naps, but we must know that even with the best planning, things will go wrong. By deciding ahead of time to not let it ruin your day, or more importantly your vacation, you can move past the crisis, deal with it, and move on to the next moment. Everyone will be happier for it.
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