The Magic of Disney (even with a toddler)

As we were boarding our plane to leave Orlando earlier this week, a mom in line in front of me was lamenting to her husband about their Disney World vacation. “At least we got THAT out of the way,” she said.

I’ll admit: it wasn’t the most relaxing vacation I’ve ever taken, though we’re definitely not an all-inclusive, lie-on-the-beach type of family. Several of my friends actually laughed when I told them I was taking a 2 1/2 year old to Disney when I was twenty-eight weeks pregnant; but after watching the other families around us – many with slightly older children than our own – I’d argue there were more smiles and less crying in our little party … but not by accident.

Surviving Disney World with a Toddler

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1. Take your time. One benefit of being seven months pregnant is that I waddled – about the speed of a toddler who refused to sit in a stroller for fear of missing something amazing. We bought five-day Magic Your Way tickets meaning we had five days to see four parks. If he was tired, we sat down. When we could tell we were hitting the empty stomach danger zone, we ate ice cream. We definitely missed some rides – but Disney will always be there, and we will most certainly be back. Seeing everything wasn’t worth the exhaustion or the potential for epic meltdowns.

2. Budget, but don’t sacrifice comfort. The great thing about kids under three at Disney is that they don’t require park tickets and there is no charge at character meals – a savings of at least $400. We were able to use points for our hotel, but there are a lot of value hotels both on Disney property and off. Both times we’ve gone to Disney World, we chose to stay off property for better deals, free breakfasts, and suite set ups. This time around, we rented a stroller and paid for the nice one instead of the hard plastic Disney strollers; however, the Disney transportation system perks are what we sacrificed and sometimes that’s not worth it.

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3. Buy groceries. The Disney Dining Plan can offer a pretty good deal for large families looking to cut back on food costs. That said, Disney food stinks. Unless you’ve reserved (180 days in advance) a good dinner, you’re mostly stuck with french fries, cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets and hot dogs, especially in the toddler-friendly Magic Kingdom. Several town car companies offer free stops from the airport to the grocery store, or you can even have food delivered to your hotel. Having granola bars, cheese sticks, cut veggies and bread and peanut butter saved us the additional dollars and calories.

4. Get there early, and use Fast Passes. The days we did the best were the days we got to the park before it opened (hello, more waiting). I made fun of those crazy Disney people in forums who waited hours in line before the entrance “rope drop”; but arriving just thirty minutes before opening and going directly to the Fast Pass line meant we could not only do a few grownup rides before the lines got long but we also got reserved times for the rides we wanted most. (Tip: Peter Pan and Dumbo are popular.) You’re limited to three Fast Pass attractions per day, but since toddlers don’t get a ticket, we could ride Dumbo three times in a row with different adults in the same hour.

5. Expect waiting. There’s a lot of it. It was much easier to do this on our honeymoon when we could just make googly eyes at each other and wait for an hour to get our 45-second meeting with Mickey. It’s much harder when you have a hungry, impatient toddler who doesn’t understand why these other people are between him and a hug with Buzz Lightyear. Plus, there was waiting for buses, waiting on buses, waiting in lines for rides, waiting for the parade to start – and this wasn’t even busy season!

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6. Bring grandparents. We had four adults to one toddler; those were pretty good odds. It eliminated fights between my husband and I because we weren’t as tired as we would have been if we’d gone alone. There were four people to hold, distract and entertain our son. It meant adults could go on big kid rides and take bathroom breaks without leaving one person out to dry with a squirmy toddler. Seriously, grandparents are the best.

Disney World truly can be the happiest place on Earth for a week – with a lot of patience, planning and grandparents.

So – what are your keys to Disney magic?

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One Response to The Magic of Disney (even with a toddler)

  1. Julie February 28, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    This makes me want to plan a big fun family vacation to Disney. Thanks for the tips Sarah!