Taking A Toddler To Disney World: My Honest Experience As A First-Timer

blogger Ayana Lage and family outside of Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom

I’ve lived within two hours of Disney for most of my life, but it’s never been my thing. I always knew having a kid would probably change that. Once Nora fell in love with Frozen and The Princess and the Frog, I knew it was time to plan a trip. Taking a toddler to Disney World seemed like a lot of work, but I got so much great advice ahead of our trip. I’m far from an expert — you can find thousands of blog posts from people who are much better at Disney visits than I am! — but I thought an honest account of our trip might be helpful.

We only spent a day at the parks and had a ton of fun — Nora is still talking about meeting the princesses! — but when we go again, there are things I’d do differently. I’ll share them below, along with a few things that went smoothly for us.

Where To Stay

We stayed at The Disney Swan hotel, which we picked because it was on the property. The hotel offers a shuttle to the Disney parking lot, which is convenient — but we didn’t realize the shuttles only ran every 20 to 25 minutes. Resort guests get in 30 minutes early, so we planned to take advantage of that. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to the park until the official open time. When we go again, I’ll probably stay at a non-Disney hotel and pay for parking or stay at a hotel closer to the parks.

Scheduling The Day

Nora has been a consistent sleeper for months. The night before our trip, she didn’t go to bed until midnight and woke up at 6 a.m., because of course! We didn’t get started at the park till 9 a.m., and she was rubbing her eyes by 10. She’s never been a stroller napper, and I could tell she was exhausted. We made it until noon before heading back to our hotel room. I hoped to return to the park after she woke up, but she slept for a long time. We had conflicting dinner reservations (as mentioned above, getting to the parks was more of an ordeal than we anticipated).

I briefly considered pushing her to maximize the day, but her comfort is my priority. If she’d rather be sleeping, I’ll let her sleep — even if that means money down the drain. When we go again, I’ll probably skip the hotel because she sleeps better at home and drive over in the morning. If we stay in a Disney hotel, I’ll make sure we’re at the gates 30 minutes early to enjoy the perks of being a resort guest.

Genie+

Genie+ is a service that allows you to pay to skip the lines at the parks. It isn’t terribly expensive — when we visited, it was $17 a person — but I don’t know that I’d purchase it again. You can read more about how the service works on Disney’s website, but you can only reserve one ride at a time, and you don’t get to pick the time frame. Many of the rides we wanted to do in the morning with Nora didn’t have Genie+ availability until late in the day, so we didn’t take advantage of it.

Eating At Disney

Nora is both dairy- and gluten-free, so I packed a ton of snacks for her. I recommend bringing food even if your child has no allergies because the food at the parks is predictably expensive. One pleasant surprise is that Dole Whip fits into her dietary restrictions, so she could have “ice cream” like all the other kids. Disney is way more accommodating of nutritional restrictions than I expected. I didn’t realize how expensive it is to have a sit-down meal at Disney, either! We didn’t opt for any restaurants with table service, but my parents and sisters paid $60 a person for lunch. When in Rome, I guess.

princess rapunzel meet-and-greet at princess fairytale hall in magic kingdom when taking a toddler to Disney world

Rides & Shows

Deciding the right age for taking a toddler to Disney World is hard! I didn’t want Nora to be too young to have fun, but I also wanted to get her in before her third birthday (when she’d no longer be free). Thankfully, she had a blast, and I know it’ll only get better as she gets older. Nora loved Mickey’s Magical Friendship Faire show and the Festival of Fantasy Parade with all the characters. She adored meeting the princesses at Princess Fairytale Hall. Her second favorite ride was It’s A Small World in Fantasyland — hilariously, what she loved the most was a carousel we stumbled upon. She insisted on riding it twice and is still talking about “riding the horseys.” If parenting has taught me anything, it’s to not be surprised when the Disney attraction your kid remembers is one you can find at any mall. 

Rapid-Fire Final Thoughts

  • Download the My Disney Experience app. It made it much easier to track wait times and figure out when shows were. A map feature also makes it less confusing to get around the park. You can also plan out your day ahead of time in the app.
  • Pack food and drinks! It’ll save you money, and you’ll be able to spend on things you’ll enjoy. I’d also accept that you may spend more money than expected on food — it’s super convenient to eat at the park.
  • Bring ponchos if there’s any chance of rain. My mom packed a few extra, and I was very grateful once we were hit with a rainstorm. 
  • The most important tip when taking a toddler to Disney World: set low expectations. My only goal was to do one ride and one show, and we did way more than that. I followed Nora’s lead and just tried to have fun. 

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