My husband and I recently fulfilled our parental duty :: a family trip with toddlers to Walt Disney World.
And, we survived! It’s interesting returning for the first time as a parent. I recall a magical experience meeting characters for the first time and taking my first roller coaster ride. As a parent, you see the same expression and feelings on the faces of the other thousand parents right alongside you – physical and emotional fatigue from walking miles around the same area, handling tantrums, emergency potty runs, “Where did they move our stroller?” and “The line to see Elsa and Anna is how long?!” moments. But, somehow, parents with kids of all ages, and surprisingly those without, enter these park gates every day determined to make the best of this magical experience.
Why we took our toddlers
Our oldest, and princess obsessed, toddler had been asking for months to meet her favorite characters. Apparently in the PreK-3 classroom it is a hot topic, and going to Disney World for family vacation, despite the long driving distance, is a common family vacation destination. So, the pressure was on to book a trip to this character and ride mecca. Between both my husband and I’s growing businesses, family and school schedule, the week of Mardi Gras become our only option…as it was for many other families in the New Orleans metro area.
Why we drove to Walt Disney World
We decided to drive considering we had already made a long drive with the kids. Also, since our schedule was flexible, we were fine with stopping if the need arose. We also decided to spend a few days in Tampa to visit family and this very family friendly city, only an hour west of Orlando. We even took a day trip to Legoland, which was very well worth it, considering I was a past obsessed Lego maniac. It was there that I saw my kid’s love for my once favorite pastime; Legoland is another park close to Orlando for your children to explore their imagination!
Accommodations with toddlers
Our family purchased a five day pass and experienced both staying on a Disney affiliated resort with the dining plan as well as off the official resort area, in the Downtown Disney area, without the dining plan. With toddlers, we preferred the off Disney resort and no dining plan experience since we enjoyed staying at better accommodations for less, a quieter and less chaotic atmosphere while still having access to chartered buses to the parks and healthier and more upscaled casual dining experiences within walking distance of our hotel.
How we spent our time at the parks
Because of our children’s ages, 3 and 2, we spent three of our days at the Magic Kingdom. Their favorite experiences included interacting with their favorite Disney characters, Dumbo the Flying Elephant®, The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin®, Tomorrowland Speedway, Mad Tea Party rides, Enchanted Tales with Belle and of course the train throughout the kingdom. Their favorite eating experience was Be Our Guest and is included as an option under the quick meal dining plan. Did you know that Belle stayed up all night cooking? And, of course, our daughter ate every green bean and has been asking for them for nearly every meal since then. This is what I call, “Disney Magic.” Also, I highly suggest meeting Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater, on Main Street, until the end of your stay. This is the only character that speaks and interacts with you and your little ones. Since he was the first character we met, our overly observant toddlers kept asking why all of the other characters were not talking. Apparently there was a bad case of laryngitis around Walt Disney World and every morning the kids woke up asking if they were feeling better.
Epcot and Animal Kingdom were considered slow days for us considering they close earlier and are less toddler friendly. However, it is a good break for adults including foreign eating and drinking experiences at both parks. There are a lot of character sightings, so I highly recommend not leaving their autograph books at home. Their favorite experience at Epcot included The Seas with Nemo & Friends® and visiting the aquarium. At Animal Kingdom, Kilimanjaro Safaris and It’s Tough to be a Bug were our young family’s favorites.
Download the Disney App on your phone for updated ride wait times, character sighting locations, and your agenda within easy access. Also take advantage of Fast Passes. Once you have completed three, visit a fast pass kiosk within the park to add one additional experience at a time. Note, during our stay, they updated the fast pass option to include choosing from four preplanned available two to three experiences to choose from.
Preparing for the trip
Traveling with toddlers is not for the faint at heart. The best purchase I made in preparation for the trip included a lightweight fold up double stroller. However, after talking to a fellow New Orleanian, of course, in line waiting to meet Princess Aurora, they rented theirs from a local service. They delivered and picked up their double jogging stroller from their hotel. At $75 a week, it is truly a service I would consider on a future trip. Also, forget about naps; your regular routine will fly right out the window the moment you start your trip. Our youngest luckily would nap thanks to the cobbled streets throughout the parks for at least an hour. By the time you leave the park, settle your little one down and actually take a nap, you have missed three to four hours of precious park time. Also, you can bring water bottles, food and even small coolers in the park in preparation of food and toddler meltdowns. And, if this is their first visit, a family reunion, birthday, etc. speak to any employee at your Disney Resort hotel’s gift shop or at any other gift shop throughout the park to proudly wear their/your special event pin.
What I learned
I did learn a lot about my family during this trip, though. Apparently our son likes tall blondes, especially one by the name of Cinderella. Our daughter has learned on her own the art of posing for pictures. And there is not enough coffee to get my husband excited about standing in line to meet princesses. As for me, no matter how much I plan as a mother someone will always be “missing” something, you do not have to see and do everything, I can’t control the weather or when the kids will finally settle down for bed. In retrospect, we could have waited a few more years for our first experience, despite saving on our youngest’s park pass. (Children under 3 are free.)
Between nap deprivation, torrential rain, record low temperatures, tantrums, and many, many stops to and from, we survived our first family trip to Walt Disney World!