So, when we told everyone that we were going to Walt Disney World with a four year-old and an almost-one year-old, a lot of people said things like:
“But they won’t remember it.”
“I’d of gone when they were older.”
“Is there even anything for little ones there?”
And I understood them in part. I mean, it’s notorious where we live, in the UK, that most of the rides and attractions are built for children over a certain height. There isn’t much in the way of babies, toddlers and the under-fives.
But I also thought it was a shame too. The under-fives are a brilliant bunch. Why? Well, they are usually quite portable if they aren’t walking yet (which always helps!) but they believe. They look around them and see magic. They don’t have that accepting logic that Pluto is actually a man in a dog suit. And their faces light up like nothing you wouldn’t believe. Having said that, when I met Minnie, the noise I made was a sound only dogs could hear. It really is perfect for everyone.
But the magic for the tiny ones, is the sort that makes you want to cry. Because for them, it’s as real as they come.
We’ve only been to Walt Disney World once. And I hope to change that one day. But already, I have plenty of advice for people going with little ones. And I wanted to share it in this post so that you a) come away feeling prepared and b) realise that Disney World really is for any age. So if you’re on the fence about booking, book – life is too short not to eat Mickey Pretzels and cry with joy every day!
So, if you’re going with a baby, toddler, or an under-five, then here are our tips.
Plan your days in halves
When we were planning our trip using the My Disney Experience app, we really thought about what the kids would be like at certain times of day. We only went to Orlando for a week, so we wanted to see as much as we could in our time there, but also not scar ourselves for life because our baby was having a tantrum and our four year-old just-couldn’t-walk-anymore.
We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside, and it had so many great amenities and things to do in its own right, that we chose to split our days into halves most of the time. So, often, we would rise, eat breakfast and then spend the morning down at the pool. This would wear our little girl out to the point that, on the walk back to our room, she would fall asleep in her buggy, which left the rest of us time to get ready for the rest of the day.
I liked to dress up, as we’d usually leave then and not come back until bedtime. So this gave me time as a mum to relax and get ready in peace. My other half would relax on our bed, and my son would watch the iPad, or the telly in our room, or play with his toys and have some quiet time.
Using these half days also means that seeing things like the firework displays or the evening parades are actually possible. Because your children aren’t completely burnt out. And so you can actually enjoy these experiences, rather than missing out completely, or trying to micro manage an ensuing meltdown.
Take a sturdy reclining buggy
So, while we did half days a lot of the time, which suited us perfectly, we did also have some long, full-on, full days at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. We wanted to stay and watch Wishes at Magic Kingdom, and so we didn’t get home until late. And then, given that Bill, our little boy, is animal mad, there was no choice other than having a full day at Animal Kingdom. We also watched the River of Light display, so this was another late night for us too.
We wouldn’t have been able to do these things without a sturdy buggy/stroller. We took our Graco Metro Stroller, which we actually keep in the boot of our car now, or use specifically for holidays. It’s got a great-sized basket, isn’t flimsy at all, and actually can hold either child in it if we need to. At one point, after Magic Kingdom, Bill fell asleep and we had to put him in the buggy and carry Daisy as it was the only way we were going to get them home.
Walt Disney World does have strollers you can rent, which are great if you need to travel light, for whatever reason, but they are quite basic. I really liked having our own to use, as we always knew which was ours, and it helped us get from hotel to park, whatever the day, and whatever the way.
We were also able to let our little girl recline in it and sleep – and this was a blessing on those hot days, especially as the hood offered plenty of shade too. It’s probably an obvious tip, but it was the best decision we made, and it was great for the airport too, as we could load the buggy up with bags and get around much more easily too!
There are plenty of spots to park up your buggy safely when you go on a ride or watch and attraction. And a member of the Walt Disney World team will be there to help you, and will line all the strollers/buggies up nicely so that there’s plenty of room. So don’t panic if you come back and find yours in a different spot! They just like to keep everything organised as people come and go. And, rest-assured your buggy or stroller will be safe too. We often left our changing bag underneath and just took basic valuables with us and everything was fine.
Mini Tip: Always pack a rain cover under your stroller. The weather in Orlando is incredible. But there was a rain storm on our first day and we were glad we had packed ours!
Forget routines for a bit and be flexible
I think, when you get to the stage where your kids are in a great routine, you become a bit fixated on it don’t you? It works. And “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That reminds me of Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast. But anyway! Try not to hold on to your routine too much. As we actually found it easier going with the flow while we were there, and it also meant that we were able to make the most of our stay.
We made a lot of plans before we left for Orlando, and stuck to about 80% of them. But we used the My Disney Experience app, to change times of our Fast Passes, or cancel/book restaurants as it suited us. You can’t tell the future, and if you get caught up in times and deadlines, it becomes less of a holiday I found. So let that routine slide and just enjoy the moment. And be spontaneous. If there is ever a place to be adventurous, it’s Walt Disney World.
I promise you – you will all sleep well after such amazing fun-filled days that everyone will get plenty of rest. So let that routine slip.
Do your research and plan ahead
The My Disney Experience app is absolutely brilliant when it comes to planning your stay, and making the most of your time at Walt Disney World. If you’re new to Walt Disney World though, it’s sometimes quite surprising how much it pays to plan. It’s not like your average holiday – it’s the trip of a lifetime, and if you have a Walt Disney World Bucket List, preparing and researching means that you have plenty of change to tick everything off.
A new website has launched as well this week – Disney Holidays For Kids – and it’s basically devoted to travelling with little ones and covers everything from suitable attractions, to where’s good to eat. Life-saver!
We travelled with a four year-old and an almost-one year-old, and we wanted to make sure that we knew what rides and attractions were suitable, as well as finding the best places to eat, or pay a visit to.
My son, the four year-old, is a huge animal fan, so we made sure that we spent most of our time at Animal Kingdom, and searched for every animal-related ride/restaurant/experience available. This obviously meant that anything related to The Lion King and The Lion Guard was high-up on our list. He also loves the true classic members of Disney – Mickey, Minnie and co. So we searched for a character dining experience so we could see his dream come true. Some of these experiences aren’t ones that you can just turn up to, and planning all of this meant that we could see several of his dreams come true. I would definitely book a character dining experience as soon as you are able to (you can do this far in advance via the My Disney Experience app), because it they go like stardust, and they were one of my son’s favourite memories – I know this because I asked him!
Mini Tip: If you have a Lion King fan, make sure you head to The Festival of The Lion King, not only is it absolutely incredible, but, if you manage to sit on the front row, you’ve a high chance of your little one getting chosen to join in at the end. This happened to Bill and I don’t think he has ever been as happy in all of his life.
Book fast passes
This is quite an obvious tip in a way, but the fast passes are there for a reason, so make good use of them. They are free for everyone, and they make enjoying Walt Disney World, stress-free, an absolute breeze. We planned each of ours – you get three selections per day – with an hour or so between each one, and we also made a note of how far apart each ride or attraction was too. It meant we had guaranteed opportunities to tell the kids about, and get them excited for, but we also had time to eat, explore, play and all without any rushing about too.
Mini Tip: I would personally save your fast passes for rides, rather than attractions or shows, as from our experience, the shows were much easier to walk into. We just walked into The Voyage of the Little Mermaid and the Frozen Sing-along with very little wait. The shows are incredible – and don’t get enough of a mention I think – and they are a great way to cool down from the sun, and have a break with your little ones, while they dance and sing along.
Don’t be afraid to explore
Our holiday to Walt Disney World was our first ever holiday there, and as a newcomer, I didn’t really know what to expect. I assumed it would be a mass of characters, and rides. But what I didn’t realise – something that came as a brilliant surprise – was how much other ‘stuff’ there is to do. Things that don’t require queues, or tickets, and can be found just by exploring.
I worried that there wouldn’t be much chance of us being able to experience as much as an older family would, because, yes, younger children aren’t exactly known for being great at queuing up. But every single second of our day was full of fun and excitement.
In Epcot, we spent a good hour playing by the fountains, cooling down from the sun. And we spent the most glorious couple of hours exploring the World Showcase, and smiling at how England was represented largely by thatched roofs and ale. Our little girl fell asleep actually, so Mark, Bill and I just walked around, us with a cold beer, and him with an ice cream, and chatted and enjoyed the sights in the sunshine. It was so relaxed and so lovely at the same time, and it remains one of my favourite memories there.
At Animal Kingdom, we found a little area where you could walk down into a mini aquarium, and watch the fishes swim by. We must have spent a good half hour there, and then we returned a couple of hours later at my son’s request. It was a little hideaway and perfect for a quiet pitstop, just to enjoy the fish and the shade. We also caught a little show, that was essentially a big dance in the street, later on, and we just walked right into it and laughed so much, especially when one of the dancers dragged us into the centre. Again, something we never expected to experience.
At Hollywood Studios, there always seemed to be something happening. You’d be walking along and music would start up and you’d find yourself in the path of a troop of stormtroopers. There was also a lovely lake and fountain, which was lovely just to sit at and watch with a Mickey pretzel or two. And I found the shows here – Voyage of the Little Mermaid and the Frozen Sing-along to be the best ones we saw. Even more so because we just walked right into them without even planning to.
And at Magic Kingdom, the parades are what you want to keep an eye out for. Everyone gathers around, the music starts up, and your eyes feel like they will never stop growing wider, and wider, as you watch the sights, the dancing, and the characters even you dreamed of as a child.
Just explore! You’ll be grateful that you did!
Stay at a Walt Disney World resort
We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside, and while we’ve only ever experienced staying here, we can’t recommend it enough when it comes to enjoying Walt Disney World with young children. Everything we needed was right there. A comfortable room. Great views. Air con. Food whenever you need it, with plenty of choice. A store for treats, gifts for family and necessities (someone might have forgotten her razor and they had one!). A swimming pool, or two, with plenty of space to have a relaxing day in the sun. A play area to entertain them after breakfast. Movies Under The Stars, when you fancy stretching out those final nights of holiday. And great, regular bus transfers to whichever park you want to visit that day.
For us, it was just so easy. We never had any issues, and we found that it was such a relief not to have to find our car at the end of a busy day, and queue to leave. We couldn’t recommend it enough.
Our trip to Walt Disney World really was one of those experiences we will never forget. You know how everyone says that? It’s a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip? It’s magical? It’s better than anything you could every imagine? Well, they say it because it’s true. It’s everything I could have hoped for, for my little family, and, after a really tough year, we needed that magic.
But more on that in my next post…
If you’d like to see more in the meantime, pop over to my YouTube channel to see my Walt Disney World vlogs.
*Thank you so much for Walt Disney World for partnering with me and my family – you made our dreams come true.