Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation with your toddler, What to do Before you Go

You decided to book a trip to Disney World with your toddler, congratulations! Now the planning begins.  I went with my daughter to Disney World when she just turned 1.  Click here to see how that trip went.  Now my daughter is 2 going on 3 and being an avid Mickey Mouse Clubhouse fan she has been asking me every day to go again.  I decided book another trip and go before she turns 3 as children under 3 are free to get  into Disney Parks.  Planning a Disney trip can be fun but also overwhelming, which so much to do where do you start?  I am a planner and I love to plan events and trips.  I decided to put together a list of my planning recommendations and tips for Disney.  Since I will be returning to Disney at the end of this month check back for more updates.

Familiarize your child with Disney Characters:

If you have a toddler this is one of the first steps you should take once you have decided to plan a Disney vacation.  Familiarizing your child with Disney characters before you go can be extremely helpful.  If you have a young child chances are they only know a couple of Disney characters and as parents we can sometimes forget this.  A 2 year old isn’t going to know who Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs or Jasmine and Aladdin are.  Show them some classic Disney movies.  Explain that the characters live in Disney World.  Take them to the Disney store, talk to them about the characters.  This way when they see them in person they will recognize who there are.   You can do all this without telling them you are going on the trip.

Hotel Planning:

I was lucky enough to go to Disney World a number of times as a child, however we never stayed at a Walt Disney World Resort.  Two Christmases ago my mother surprised our family with a trip to Walt Disney World. It was my first time returning in over 15 years and for the first time we stayed at Disney Resort.  We stayed at the budget resort Pop Century.  What a world of difference.  It is so much more convenient staying at a Walt Disney Hotel. I highly recommend staying at a Disney Resort, I would never stay outside of Disney again.

Advantages:

No luggage hassle: They send you luggage tags so you bring your luggage to the airport and then you don’t see again until you get to your hotel.  No baggage claim!

The Magical Express:  You can book the Magical Express (free) to transport your family from the airport to your hotel.

Extra Magic Hours: On certain days you can get extra hours at the parks, just for being a guest at one of the resort hotels.

Early Fast Pass:  For being a guest at a Disney Resort you can book your fast pass 60 days in advance (when you have purchased park tickets).  If you are not staying at a Disney Resort you can book them 30 days in advance.  Believe me you want that extra 30 day advantage.  A big mistake people make is not utilizing fast pass or understanding how it works.  With a fast pass you can book your time to a ride or show in advance, this way it is a lot shorter of a wait in line.  You are allowed to book three fast passes a day in advance.  When your fast pass time for a ride passes you can book another fast pass. For example say you schedule a fast pass for It’s a Small World at 11AM.  After you get off the ride you can now book another one.   You definitely want to take advantage of this free feature that Disney offers.  When you are traveling with a toddler you want to stay in line a little as possible.

Transportation:  If you stay at a Disney resort your always have transportation to and from the parks.   Depending on the resort you stay at this could be by boat, bus or by monorail. This will save you the expense of renting a car and paying parking fees.  Some local hotels do provide transportation to the parks, but it may  be only to certain parks and it may only be certain times.  If you do plan on staying outside of Disney, make sure you check our hotel’s policy before your book.

Customize Magic Bands Free:  Magic bands are free for all those staying at a Disney resort.  The magic band is wonderful.  You can link all your park tickets, fast pass, reservations, credit card, room key and other Disney experiences to your magic band.  Simply wear the band and you don’t need to carry money, keys or anything.  You can even customize and pick out the colors of your magic band 30 days before you go on your trip and Disney will sent them to you free of charge.

These are all reasons on why I recommend staying at a Disney resort.  Check with airline companies as many offer great Disney packages.  I booked my last trip through Southwest. Our package from New York was $750 for two including airfare and 5 nights at a Disney budget hotel.  Jet Blue also offers great packages.

Dining Reservations:

Character dinning is one of my favorite things that Disney has to offer.  You can book reservations 180 days prior to your trip.  I highly recommend doing this.  Reservations fill up so quickly and it really is a great experience.  I learned a tip from my last Disney trip that if reservations are full check daily as they open up.  After reading reviews I wanted to eat at Chef Mickey’s and each day I check and it was full, until the week before my trip and I was able to get in.  My daughter was one then.   This time as soon as I knew I was going to Disney I booked my character dining. I wasn’t sure which week I was going, but I knew the month, so I booked character dinning very day for 3 weeks.  When I picked my actual week I canceled my other reservations.  You can do this without a fee until 2 days before your reservation.

Character dining is a wonderful experience for so many children and adults, however with babies and toddlers it can be tricky.  If your child is fearful of characters you probably should skip character dining.  If you are not sure how your child may react, you may want to save the money and only book one character dining.

Clothing:

Last time I was in Disney I noticed that many of the little girls were in princess outfits and Mickey attire. Boys were dressed in Mickey shirts and like pirates.  Plan ahead, dress your child as their favorite character.  It makes for a great photo.  I purchased princess outfits and Minnie clothes for our last trip and for this upcoming trip. This time I am going the last week in September, so I was able to find some low price Disney princess Halloween costumes.  She is so excited about wearing them.  If you know that in the next year you will be traveling to Disney, I recommend finding some after Halloween sales to purchase costumes.  Also, It’s hot in Florida, even during the day in the winter.  Last time, I went in February and we wore short sleeves and light clothing with a sweatshirt (it’s chilly early and late in the day).  So you may want to shop those end of summer sales racks for some Disney attire.


Download the My Disney Experience App-  It’s great to have.  It lets you keep track of your reservations and plans, see where the characters are located in the parks, see your fast pass reservations, lets you know what entertainment is and even where the restrooms are in the park.

Research the parks before you go on your trip

Disney World is an extremely large place, with that, it can be overwhelming.    Do some research on each park to find out what they have to offer.  I guarantee that you will come across something that you didn’t know.   Make a general plan before you come, this way you can make the most of your trip.  Don’t forget to add breaks in your plan.  You know your child best.  Plan things around their schedule to keep happy and in a good mood.  If your child takes a nap every day at 1PM make sure you schedule around that nap time.  Forcing your child to do to much may cause a meltdown later on.  The Disney web-site has a lot of detailed information on what they offer.  Still not sure.  Contact Disney and speak to a customer service agent who will be more than happy to help you with your planning.

Consider Disney Memory Maker

The Disney memory maker allows you to download every Disney picture and video you take at the park for one price.  If you buy the memory maker 3 days in advance the cost is $149, if you by it while at Disney it cost $169.  It is a little pricy so you have to consider all your options.  I purchased the memory maker for my upcoming trip.  On my last trip I found out that Disney does let you take your own photos at character meetings and if you ask, they will take a picture for you with your own camera.  This is a nice feature.  However, it is nice to have your pictures taken for you and chances are you will purchase some pictures on your trip.  On my last trip I purchased a couple of pictures even though I took a bunch with my own camera.  Some pictures were just too cute to pass up.  I spent nearly $100 purchasing pictures, so I figure I try the memory maker.  The nice thing about it is that once you download the pictures, they all yours to do what you please.  This year I was thinking about sending my pictures to Shutterfly to make photo gifts for family.

Things to Bring to the Park

Autograph book – You can purchase one when you first get to the park.  Then bring it to the parks everyday so your child can get autographs of all the characters and princesses.

Sunscreen (even in winter)

Stroller – Stroller rental is expensive, bring your own

Bag- Bring a bag to the park so you have somewhere to keep your toddlers things.  Store it in your strollers under compartment.  Bring diapers, Sippy cups, extra wipes, something to keep your toddler busy while waiting in line, sunscreen, extra clothes, towel from your room (wiping down seats after it rains, save your place at the parade).

Band-aids

Anti-Bacterial Gel

Sunglasses

Jacket or sweatshirt

Extra battery for your cell phone

Poncho-It rains a lot in Florida, you want to be prepared by bringing ponchos for everyone in the family and stroller covers.

Disney Mickey & Minnie Parts Rain Poncho (Youth, Minnie)

Marrywindix Umbrella Stroller Clear Waterproof Rain Cover Wind Shield Fit Most Umbrella Strollers Pushchairs

 
Hope you have a Magical time in Disney World! Check back soon to find out our Disney vacation went with a our 2 year-old.