Planning a Disneyworld holiday with babies and toddlers can feel a little overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time, and the wealth of information available online may be intimidating.
As a self-confessed Disneyphile who’s now visited every Disney park in the world (!), I’ve done a lot of the legwork for you, and put together this guide to try and consolidate all the information you might need to help you plan your trip, without having to spend hours trawling the internet yourself for the best information.
My first and top tip for travelling to Disneyworld with small children is to KEEP IT SIMPLE & TAKE IT EASY. This guide will help you maximise your time and avoid epic meltdowns, but at the end of the day, you’ll want to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the magic in the happiest place on earth.
Let your little ones be immersed in the sounds, characters and enchanting environment. However, if your child starts having a sensory-overload, resulting in a tantrum mid-queue/restaurant, remember it’s ok to leave, go get a snack or read a book in a quiet place. Let them unwind and reset their energy.
This guide will cover several points to make your holiday go as smoothly as possible and to make it easier to skip to the section you’re looking for, I’ve created a contents table so you can easily navigate the guide.
This is probably the first question that pops into your mind, and I don’t blame you! With so many themed events throughout the year, plus busy holiday times both in the US and around the world, trying to figure out the most fun or quietest period to visit the resort can be tricky.
Luckily, the weather is pretty much glorious year-round in Florida, though the hot and humid summer months should be avoided if you have a young baby as you’ll need to spend most of the time in the shade.
My personal favourite times of year to visit Disneyworld, Orlando are October for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Festival and December (or early January for a bargain) for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Disney’s Halloween event paints the parks bright orange and purple, and in my opinion it is probably the most enjoyable time of year to visit.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on the other hand transforms the parks into a winter wonderland of its own, magic peeking through every corner and you’ll struggle to keep all that emotion inside. Quite possibly the best Christmas present you can ever give anyone (although I’m a little biased!).
A very helpful tool to find out when all the resort’s events take place, as well as identify any other busier times of year, is the Undercover Tourist’s Crowd Calendar. With it, you can plan your holiday to make sure you don’t end up stuck in 2 hour queues all day!
Where to stay and eat at Disneyworld
I’m a big fan of self-catering accommodation, and Orlando is an absolute dream for this. Being able to stay in a villa is always the best bet for our family as we’re able to fully relax at the end of the day, without having to worry about where we’re going to eat or getting cabin fever if it’s raining.
We were kindly asked by Top Villas to have a look on their website, and I have to be honest and say that I was so impressed with their villas that it really made me want to grab my family, jump on a plane and get back to Disneyworld asap! They have elevated villa-holidays with their modern, luxurious accommodations, which are located in some of Orlando’s most renowned resorts (including the prestigious Reunion Resort), and will make your family holiday truly memorable. These contemporary villas are beautifully decorated and offer all the amazing amenities of a resort hotel, including kids’ clubs, golf courses and several shared pools, but with the added bonus of having your own personal pool, hot tub, games room or even cinema-room, so you can screen classic Disney movies in the evenings if you’re not all popcorn-ed-out.
We have picked a few that we dream of staying in, but if you’re planning a family holiday to Orlando, do visit Top Villas’ website as their range of family-friendly villas is absolutely outstanding.
Disneyworld Resort has a wide variety of restaurants in each park, ranging from fast-food to sit-down meals. I’m a bit of a foodie so I do struggle a little with theme-park food, however people all over the world absolutely love it and some of their special dishes are now legendary. As a compromise, we usually end up bringing our own packed lunch and having dinner at one of the sit-down restaurants.
But what Disney restaurants sometimes lack in food quality they certainly make up for it in ambience. Most restaurants are decorated with a real sense of fun, and will enchant your children, and if you’re very lucky you may even surprise them with a character dining!
If you’re planning to eat at a sit-down restaurant, I highly recommend you pre-book a time as it’s near to impossible to catch a table without reservation. The easiest way is to book it on your app, or by calling or visiting the restaurant in the morning. Tip: Try eating early or late, as the queues tail off sharply during main mealtimes.
If you have a special dietary requirement, you can request a special meal when booking your sit-down restaurant. For some more information, and for any relevant contact number see here.
Which parks should you visit at Disneyworld?
Magic Kingdom® Park
The main park in the resort is very baby/toddler friendly and is where you’ll be welcomed by Cinderella’s Castle, meet classic Disney characters and go on popular rides like Madhatter’s Tea Cups & Dumbo!
A visit to Hollywood Studios will take you on some of the resort’s best and most thrilling rides, but don’t worry, there’s plenty for younger kids to do too!
A more educational experience and geared towards older children, Epcot will provide delightful activities for budding astronauts and explorers.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Park
The ultimate experience for nature-lovers that will take you on an epic journey through the African savannah, or an Everest expedition.
All parks are baby and toddler friendly, though I think Magic Kingdom® Park and Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Park are where under threes will probably have most fun. If you’d like to mix adult thrills and toddler-friendly rides, then Hollywood Studios® is perfect, as it effortlessly combines white-knuckle rides with fantastic live shows and Toy Story rides.
If you’re wondering how long you should stay in Disneyworld for, consider how ticket prices decrease as you extend your stay. To put this in numbers, one example is that the price for a 10 day ticket is just $60 more than a ticket for 5 days. I mean, if you’re able to stay for the whole two weeks, I say do it – why not!
How long are you staying?
2-3 Day Holiday
When having a short break in Orlando, it’s always difficult to choose where to go, but if you’ve only got a couple of days to play with, I’d stick with Magic Kingdom® & Hollywood Studios® as together they’re a great mix of both classic rides and atmosphere featuring Pixar’s fun films and all the familiar characters.
If you have four days at the resort, I’d try to attempt to visit one park a day. Saying that, and as it will be pretty fast-moving, I’d recommend taking it very easy, with lots of snack breaks and time away from the sun. Animal Kingdom closes earlier than other parks, so it makes a perfect ‘last day’ or middle of the week park, then everybody gets an early night and plenty of rest for busier days.
5-14 Day Holiday
A longer Disneyworld holiday means that you can take your time exploring each park, take part in the hidden Mickeys scavenger hunt, etc, without having the feeling that you’re missing out on something else. As mentioned above, tickets become much cheaper too, with the price difference between a 5 day and 10 day ticket only $60, giving you an extra incentive to book that longer holiday!
One of my favourite things to do at Disneyworld is take a break from the heat and cool off at one of their fantastic waterparks. Our day at Typhoon Lagoon was actually my son’s favourite experience of our whole Orlando holiday! Great slides, and the wave pool is a lot of fun. Plus I should point out I have never been to a water park where the lifeguards were so focused – if I needed to ask them anything, they would happily chat with me, but they never took their eyes off the pool the whole time.
+ BUY TICKETS & LINK THEM TO DISNEY’S APP
Once you’ve decided which park to go to, you’ll need to buy the tickets and then you can link them up with Disney’s My Experience App (download here). This will help you plan your itinerary by start thinking about what rides you’d like to go on.
BEST TICKET PRICES
I’ve spent countless hours trying to figure out which website has the cheaper tickets, and I still couldn’t find deals better than at the park itself. So that’s what I recommend – save yourself a lot of hassle and just purchase your tickets online, or via the app.
+ PRE-BOOK YOUR FastPasses+ BEFORE ARRIVAL
Pre-booking your FastPasses+ before arriving to the park is a wise move, as busy rides will fill up very quickly and you may end up with a teary toddler. Keeping in mind that you can only use up to 3 FP per day, try to identify which are likely to be your family’s favourite rides and save your FastPasses+ for afternoons and early evenings as it’s when the parks are at their busiest.
+ ARRIVE AT THE PARK AT ‘ROPE DROP’
If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll be waking you up at the crack of dawn, so the getting up early part should be a doddle. Do try to have your bags packed and clothes laid out the evening before so that the morning goes as smoothly as possible and you’re able to arrive at ‘rope drop’ to make the most of the first two hours which are usually much quieter. Don’t forget to take into consideration travel times within the resort as during peak periods it can take up to an hour to reach the park from the parking (from parking to train/boat and then to the park’s door). Bringing snacks and coffee for Mum and Dad is a good idea for this bit.
+ UPGRADING TICKETS TO A ‘HOPPER TICKET’
If you decide to visit two parks in a day, you can upgrade your normal ticket to a Hopper ticket by visiting Guest Relations. I do find though that although Hopper tickets are very useful in smaller resorts like Paris, in Orlando you really need to spend a full day in each park to make the most of it.
+ STROLLER RENTAL
If possible, I’d always recommend travelling with your own buggy, but if you’ve got an older child who doesn’t use one anymore, it may not cross your mind to take it along with you. If your child is crashing and needs a nap, Disneyworld has strollers that can be hired and they are a brilliant way to help kids get a rest. I’ve had to do it with my (very tall) 4 year-old and it saved us from a chaotic afternoon! Plus a stroller is handy for storage too. There are so many toys, balloons, books and costumes available that the emotional blackmail can be hard to resist (not that I try too hard to resist). Also, don’t forget to bring your baby carrier, as baby may not be happy about being in the stroller all day long, especially if it gets crowded.
+ BABYCARE CENTERS
The Disneyworld Baby Centers can be life-savers for parents with infants and toddlers. If you forget your sunscreen, or need to pick up some extra nappies or baby food, just pop to your park’s baby center to grab them. With a room dedicated for breastfeeding mothers, they are also great as a quiet space to feed and change your baby, and for your child to relax away from the buzz of the park’s streets. Find out more and where they’re located here.
+ RIDER SWITCH
It always surprises me how many people aren’t aware of this fantastic service offered by Disney. Parents who want to get their adrenaline fix on one of the parks’ many white-knuckle rides can use rider-switch to avoid having to queue up separately. One has to queue (make Dad do it, haha) then after he has finished riding, Mum can go on straightaway, without having to queue again. Make sure you see a cast member before queuing up to get your rider switch ticket.
+ HIDDEN MICKEYS
Go on a scavenger hunt to try and spot all the hidden Mickeys at Disneyworld. The Hidden Mickey app is very helpful.
+ FIRST VISIT TO DISNEYWORLD?
Make sure you get a ‘First Visit Badge’, it’s a lovely souvenir and cast members will pick up on it when speaking to your children.
+ DOWNLOADABLE PARK MAPS
If you’d like to download each of the park’s maps so you can start planning, have a look at WDW Info website.
+ VIP TOUR FOR YOUNG FAMILIES
If you’re looking for the ultimate Disneyworld experience but are a little time-poor, then the VIP tour for young families will make all your Disney dreams come true. For $299 pp/day (plus park entrance, plus tax), you can have VIP access to some of the most popular children’s rides at Magic Kingdom, access to Hollywood Studios and Animal Park. Straight to the front every time – unbeatable.
Give your holiday an extra bit of sparkle by eating with characters like Mickey, Donald and Buzz Lightyear! I confess we haven’t done this, as my son gets quite shy near the characters, but they do look like a fantastic experience!
Want to celebrate your birthday on board of one of Disney’s cruises? Want to be able to watch Magic Kingdom’s or Epcot’s fireworks without the crowds (and with a drink in hand!)? No problem! Disney’s cruises are the perfect way to add a bit of luxury to your holiday or if you’re celebrating a special event.
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nb: This post has been written in collaboration with Top Villas, but all opinions and recommendations are my own.
Find out more about Top Villas’ family-friendly villas in Orlando and follow them on social media to drool over their photos.