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 had just turned 1. 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 to 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; with so much to do, where do you start?
I am a planner, and I love to plan events and trips. I put together a list of my planning recommendations and tips for Disney.
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. A 2-year-old may not know who Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs or Jasmine and Aladdin are.
Character encounters can be scary for some children. Familiarizing them with characters can help calm fears.
As parents, we want to remember these special memories forever and want to take lots of pictures. It’s important never to force your child to meet a character; doing so may make your most magical day into a nightmare.
Show them classic Disney movies, watch cartoons, and read Disney books. Explain that the characters live in Disney World.
This way, they will recognize who they are when they see them in person. You can do all this without telling them you are going on the trip.
I was lucky enough to go to Disney World several 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 to stay at a Walt Disney Hotel. I highly recommend staying at a Disney Resort; I would never stay outside of Disney again.
Advantages of staying at a Disney Resort
There are so many advantages of Staying at a Disney Resort.
Staying in the Magic
When you stay at a Walt Disney World Resort, you are staying right in the middle of the magic. Many resorts feature Disney-themed rooms or decor and have wonderful amenities, including pools and activities for families onsite.
Extra Magic Hours:
you can get extra hours at the parks just for being a guest at one of the resort hotels. You can enter the park before it opens to guests staying off-site. If you are an early raiser, I recommend this. It is a great way to get on rides with shorter wait times.
If you stay at a Disney Resort, you always have transportation to and from the parks.
Transportation varies from resort to resort. Depending on your resort, this could be by boat, bus, skyliner, or 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 at certain times. If you plan to stay outside Disney, check our hotel’s policy before booking.
These are all reasons 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 five nights at a Disney budget hotel. Jet Blue also offers great packages.
Magic bands are Disney bracelets that can unlock your hotel room and enter theme parks; once a credit card is linked, you can use it to pay for everything on Disney property and connect your photo pass images.
The new Magic Band + adds interactive features around the park and during fireworks. My daughter and I loved the Magic Band+ because it lit up during fireworks shows.
Lightening Lane: Staying at a Disney Property allows you to make your Lightening Lane passes at 7 AM each morning. Guests staying off-property cannot make your Lightening Lane pass until the park opens.
Character dining is one of my favorite things that Disney has to offer. You can book reservations 60 days before your trip. I highly recommend doing this. Reservations fill up so quickly, and it is a great experience.
I learned a tip from my last Disney trip: 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 checked, it was full until the week before my trip, and I was able to get in.
Character dining is a wonderful experience for 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 unsure how your child may react, you may want to save the money and only book one character dining.
When visiting Disney World, you may want to consider dressing like you’re at Disney World! Many families wear matching shirts; little girls wear princess dresses, and little boys wear Disney or Marvel attire.
It adds a little magic by dressing your child as their favorite character. It makes for a great photo.
I purchased princess outfits and Minnie clothes for our last and 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 warm 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.
Amazon and Etsy are also great places to find Mickey ears and clothing. On Etsy, you can purchase PNG files to download and iron onto a shirt. They have so many great pictures.
We made some great shirts this way. Images are cheap, usually around $1, and iron-on paper can be purchased on Amazon. I like this brand of iron-on paper: T-shirts can be purchased at Walmart. I also found solid-colored shirts for my daughter at Children’s Place.
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, 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, and 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 to your plan. You know your child best. Plan things around their schedule to keep them happy and in a good mood.
If your child takes a nap every day at 1 PM make sure you schedule around that nap time.
Forcing your child to do too much may cause a meltdown later on. The Disney website has a lot of detailed information on what they offer. Still not sure. Contact Disney and speak to a customer service agent who will happily help you with your planning.
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 three days in advance, the cost is $149; if you buy it while at Disney, it cost $169.
It is a little expensive 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 figured I would try the memory maker.
The nice thing is that once you download the pictures, they are all yours to do what you please. This year, I was thinking about sending my pictures to Shutterfly to make photo gifts for my family.
Things you must bring to Disney World if you have a toddler or small children
Autograph book – You can purchase one at the park or before your trip at the Disney store or Amazon. Bring it to the parks every day so your child can get autographs of all the characters and princesses.
Sunscreen (even in winter)
Stroller – Stroller rental is expensive; bring your own. Don’t want to lug your big stroller to the parks? You can purchase a cheap umbrella stroller to take on your trip. There is a lot of walking even children as old as 6 may need a stroller.
Backpack or Bag- Bring a bag to the park so you have somewhere to keep your toddler’s things. Store it in your stroller under the compartment. Bring diapers, Sippy cups, extra wipes to keep your toddler busy while waiting in line, sunscreen, extra clothes, and a towel from your room (wiping down seats after it rains, save your place at the parade).
Jacket or sweatshirt
Extra battery pack for your cell phone
I hope you have a Magical time at Disney World!