Having a new baby is hard for the entire family. As a mom, you have to physically recover from childbirth, while dealing with some crazy emotions. As a dad, you have to bond with a new baby, while dealing with your crazy wife’s crazy emotions. And as a kid, you have to learn to share your attention with a tiny new human invading your space. Our house turns into a giant pile of chaos those first weeks postpartum; so several years ago, my midwife suggested we go on vacation once we all feel healthy enough (and once our pediatrician is 100% okay with baby flying), to break up the funk. That’s how we ended up starting the tradition that six weeks after we bring a new baby home, we take the kids to Disney World for a week and tell them it’s a gift from their new sibling. We use the trip to help us all bond as a family (and secretly because it’s also a week where we don’t have to cook or clean!), and so far, it’s been amazing for all of us, every time we go. But you guys, tackling Disney World with a bunch of tiny children is NOT for the faint of heart, just saying.
But, that being said, after all of these babies, Tom and I are still brave enough to take the whole crew to Disney World every year! Every time we go, we find a new tip or trick that makes everything easier that we wish would’ve known before; so I decided to compile them all into one definitive list of “HOW TO SURVIVE DISNEY WORLD WHEN YOU ARE MASSIVELY OUTNUMBERED BY TINY CHILDREN”. 🙂 Keep in mind, I’m not a Disney expert or fanatic or anything–I’m just a totally normal mom who has had a handful of completely amazing trips with an armful of tiny travelers.
1. Strollers Are Completely 100% Necessary
There is so much walking at the parks that your kids (no matter the age) will be exhausted by the middle of the morning on Day One, and you will be exhausted from carrying them if you didn’t bring a stroller. Lennox is seven, and he rode in our stroller about 30% of the time; there were a TON of kids older than him riding around in strollers, too. Heck, there were certain points where I wanted to hop in, too. This trip, we opted to bring our double stroller for the girls, wear Leif in the Boppy carrier, and Lennox walked alongside with the Tagalong Handle. Sometimes, Lela or Luna wanted out of the stroller, so we’d let them trade off with Lennox. And sometimes, if Leif was sleeping extra hard, we’d use a snuzzler insert in the stroller and lay him down, while we wore Luna. I kind of wish we would’ve brought our triple stroller, just because I didn’t realize how much Lennox would still want to ride.
We’ve always gate checked our double stroller at the airport and had it waiting for us in Orlando, but sooo many people at the parks use a stroller rental service booked through Disney or their resort. I could never figure out why they didn’t just bring their own strollers until this visit…when the airport pretty much mauled our Jeep Stroller! The grips are missing from the handlebars and the front wheels are so loose that they squeak now. So, unless you’re ready to shell out cash for stroller repair, renting one might be a good idea!
For transportation around the parks, your kids don’t even have to get out of the strollers to get on the monorail, but if you are riding the bus or boats, you have to fold up the stroller and put the kids in seats, which is a TOTAL hassle. Monorail is definitely your best mode of transport with the stroller!
2. Keep The Same Nap Routine
This saved our vacation, y’all! Every day at noon, I made sure both girls were strapped in the strollers, no Fast Passes or experiences were booked, and we walked in circles around the park until they fell asleep. While they were sleeping, Tom would take Lennox on the rides that the girls couldn’t do (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain, Tomorrowland Speedway, etc) while I found an air conditioned spot to park the stroller while wearing Leif in his carrier. In Magic Kingdom, the Tomorrowland Terrace is an amazing, air conditioned spot to park the strollers for naps! In Epcot, we parked it on a terrace in Italy and enjoyed a wine tasting while they all slept in the stroller next to us–it was basically like an amazing two hour date at Disney World. Your child is going to be so tired by the middle of the day, I promise that it will be SO easy to get them to close their eyes; if I could take a nap at Disney, I totally would, too.
3. Don’t Over-Schedule
This is something we started back in our 2016 trip–don’t plan on doing long days at the parks with young children…unless you love tantrums. Our kids always wake up at six, so we would head to the parks as soon as it opened and make it a point to leave by three every day. If your kids are late-risers, then adjust your schedule to that. Even by leaving at three every day, we still had seven solid hours in the park, and no one felt exhausted. When we got back to the resort at three, we would head to the pool and lounge around the hotel until dinner–the trick was being close to our hotel room in the event of a meltdown!
Make it a point to leave the park while the kids are happy–if you wait until they’re already throwing a tantrum…you’re going to have a LOOOOONNNNGGG commute back to the resort, just saying. Three o’clock is this weird magical hour where every kid in the park turns into a pumpkin and starts screaming and throwing tantrums…so be warned. There are TONS of activities during the evenings at your resort: campfires, movies, pool games, luaus, everything. Stick to those during the afternoons–totally worth it!
Also, if you are one of those people that makes three dining reservations a day, you are going to be STUFFED (I’ll go more into this later)! I live by the rule of one dining reservation a day, and play the rest by ear. There are SO many amazing quick service restaurants (Casey’s Corner in MK is my favorite with great plant-based options!) and room service–there’s even Disney pizza deliveries!
4. Expect Tantrums
Toddlers are crazy, y’all, and we have never had a vacation that was 100% perfect without meltdowns. You can have the cutest, most well-behaved kid in the world, but if you overwhelm them with the craziness of Disney World and throw off their schedule with a vacation, they are going to throw at least one riot. Luna threw a HUGE tantrum at Animal Kingdom on the second day of our trip–I mean, RAGING TANTRUM where people stared at my tiny daughter clawing my face while she screamed to the top of her little lungs. Tom and I fully expected to have one “not so perfect” day on a seven day trip; so we recognized that she wasn’t happy at Animal Kingdom, regrouped, and headed back to the resort early that day to play in the pools. The bigger your family is, the bigger the chances that someone is going to be tired, sick, hungry, grumpy, etc at any given point in the day, and you need to work around it. You will see SOOOO many parents screaming, grabbing, and pinching their kids at Disney parks, and it’s heartbreaking. I know it’s a lot of money, and it took a lot of planning–but at the end of the day, you are there because you want your kid to be happy…so let their feelings lead your trip. If they aren’t happy, have a Plan B.
5. Resort Pools Make Everyone Happy
Speaking of Plan B: your kid would SO much rather be in the pool at the resort than being forced to walk around in giant crowds at the parks in the sweltering heat. I promise you. Every resort we’ve stayed in has had amazing water slides, splash pads, shallow pools, etc; so plan to spend part of your trip there. My favorite was Animal Kingdom Lodge because of the real flamingos that are by the pool! I see so many Disney first-timers try to do too much in the parks that they forget the resorts have a ton of activities to enjoy. Also worth mentioning: every pool also has their own life jackets, so no need to pack yours!
6. Minnie Vans are Amazing
Remember that tantrum that Luna threw? It all started because we had to ride the bus to Animal Kingdom. The buses are way too crowded in peak times, even at the Deluxe resorts, and we were being smushed into one tiny bus seat with four other total strangers. It was awful. For an extra fee, we chose to avoid the buses completely after that and utilize the Minnie Van service. It’s basically just a polka-dot Uber that has certified drivers and complimentary car seats that can be forward or rear-faced. Our driver was so sweet and even played a Netflix movie on his iPad for the kids and helped fold up the stroller and strap them in. It was amazing to not have to wait for a bus or share our ride with strangers!
The moderate and economy resorts apparently have an even worse bus system than the deluxe resorts do…so definitely consider this when you’re making reservations!
7. If Club Level is in Your Budget, DO IT!
If you’re already staying at a Deluxe Resort, go ahead and pay the extra fee for a Club Level room. I had never even noticed it before this trip, and once I found out what all it offered, I knew it would be cost-effective for us. With Club Level rooms, you’re given access to a private lounge where free drinks, snacks, desserts, etc are served throughout the day. The free breakfast every morning was amazing, especially considering breakfast at the park is usually $30 a person. At night, Hawaiian themed appetizers, as well as beer, wine, champagne, and mixed drinks were also complimentary. They have a little sitting area where they play Disney shows and serve the kids, too (the picture above!).
The Club at the Polynesian also gave us an AMAZING indoor view of the fireworks and Electric Boat Parade every night, while they served awesome free desserts and champagne. For the kids, there were free juice boxes, uncrustables, fresh fruit, nuts, chips, cheese, crackers, vegetables, etc to snack on, which totally saved us a ton of money in the long run because, well, kids LOVE snacks. If you ask the servers in Club Level for extra snacks to take to the parks with you that day, they’ll load you up with them, too!
There’s also a DVD player in Club Level rooms, so we would put the kids to sleep every night watching Disney DVDs that you can rent for free at the concierge desk. That was Lennox’s favorite part of the trip: going up to the concierge to flip through their books of movies every night!
8. There are SO many great Photo Opportunities…But Don’t Force Them
I love taking pictures of my kids, don’t get me wrong…but when you’re on family vacation and you’re trying to avoid tantrums, try to steer clear of posed pictures. I stuck to mostly candids or one-on-ones on the trip, and we avoided the lines for Memory Maker like the plague. On the last day of our trip, we arrived at the castle at 8 AM for Extra Magic Hours and it was drizzling rain outside; so we were the only ones there, and the kids were in great moods. I knew I wanted to take advantage of the moment– so we snapped about five pictures, and before I even looked at my phone to see if they were good, we kept it moving.
Keep in mind, there are HUGE crowds at Disney (especially right now!), so if you want good castle pictures, you have to think fast and seize the moment when you get it. Some of the biggest tantrums I saw at the park were right on Main St and in front of the castle because parents were forcing their kids to stand there for ten minutes at a time while a professional Disney photographer was yelling at them to smile. Nope. Just avoid it–I promise that the picture isn’t worth the tantrum. Stick to candids of your child actually being happy–those are the moments from your vacation you’ll want to remember.
9. There’s No Magical Age to Go
I totally understand where people are coming from when they say “Oh, well I’m going to wait until my kid can remember this…” as a reason to not take toddlers to Disney. It’s a pretty expensive vacation, and there’s a lot of rides and experiences that are geared toward older guests. But I have to be honest–toddlers, as crazy as they are, happen to also be pretty magical Disney visitors. They still believe in the costumed characters, they still think the place is magical, and the looks on their faces when they are on the rides make you want to take them every day forever. There’s no magical age–it’s just going to be a different experience depending on the age of your kid.
But here’s the thing–make sure your child enjoys costumed characters, big crowds, and rides before you start throwing out the cash for your trip. There were SO many toddlers screaming their heads off because they were terrified and overwhelmed, and I can’t tell you how many kids I saw that were actually playing games on their parent’s phones on the rides, just because they weren’t into Disney World AT ALL. Do a trial run at a Chuck E Cheese or small local theme park and see how your kid responds to the characters and chaos.
10. The Fireworks are Way Too Late for Little Kids
I love the Fireworks displays at Disney, but unless you want a meltdown, you gotta avoid them if you have young kids. Magic Kingdom fireworks can be viewed from the beach at the Polynesian (they even have the soundtrack playing!); so I would sneak out there with Lennox (sometimes Lela too) and leave Tom to watch the littles while they slept, instead of dragging everyone to the castle at 9 PM, like we used to do. It is just way too late to have young kids in the parks; plus, the fireworks at Hollywood Studios, as glorious as they are, are actually pretty terrifying because they center around the Disney Villains. If your kids have an 8 o’clock bedtime at home, keep your 8 o’clock bedtime on vacation–trust me, it’s worth it.
11. You Can Wear Your Baby on a Lot of Rides
For the last three years, we have gone to Disney with a newborn, so I’ve gotten pretty savvy at identifying which rides you can babywear on and which ones are great for breastfeeding. Here are my favorites at Magic Kingdom and Epcot:
Magic Kingdom: It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, Prince Charming Carousel, Mad Hatter Tea Party, Under the Sea, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, WDW Railroad, People Mover, Carousel of Progress, Magic Carpets, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Liberty Square Riverboat.
Epcot: Living with the Land, The Seas with Nemo, Frozen Ever After (WATCH OUT, there are some pretty steep drops on this one that they don’t warn you about!), Gran Fiesta Tour
12. Baby Care Centers Are Great
In each park, there are amazing Baby Care Centers that have changing tables, nursing rooms, and baby items for sale. The nursing rooms are all private (except Epcot–it is a group room, but I actually enjoyed being able to talk to other moms, instead of feeling quarantined!). The baby items that they have for sale are surprisingly not marked-up in price, which I thought was great of Disney. Bottles are two dollars, and packs of pacifiers are three dollars. They also sell rain covers for your stroller, in case you forgot one (remember, it rains a lot in Florida, totally sporadically).
I loved being able to nurse in the baby centers, but because there is only one center per park, if you are on the other side of the park and your baby gets hungry…good luck making it to the care center in time. There are a ton of dimly lit rides and corners to tuck away in to have some quiet feeding time, though. At Magic Kingdom, I love using the Carousel of Progress as a 20 minute nursing break; it is weirdly my favorite ride now. Lol
13. Skip the Dining Plan
We have never done the dining plan because, personally, I think it’s a lot of food that you would have to eat to make it worth the price. Walking around in the hot sun all day does not really scream “let me go eat three giant meals and a snack real fast!”, and when we do Disney, we only make ONE dining reservation a day and use quick service for the rest of our meals. I promise that if you are traveling with tiny kids, they don’t want to be cooped up in restaurants all day just because you want to get the most of your dining plan. Stick to one reservation a day, and play the rest of the meals by ear. There are SO many great snacks in the parks that you might even find yourself snacking most of the day and not want a giant buffet dinner.
My absolute favorite dining experience with kids was Garden Grill at Epcot. It was a character lunch with Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale, and the meal was all-you-can eat family style. We let our server know that we were vegetarian, and they brought us the most amazing meal I’ve ever had at Disney: vegetable “meat” loaf, rice pilaf, butternut stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and on and on and on. ENDLESS FOOD. The characters also took PLENTY of time to sit and actually interact with our kids, instead of just posing for a picture and leaving. Cannot recommend it enough.
My least favorite dining experiences have been at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall and Be Our Guest. Both of them were incredibly overpriced for not-so-amazing food and not-so-great service. The character meet and greets at both places seemed really cold, as well. And again, kids don’t want fancy meals in the middle of the day–they want french fries.