Toddlers in Walt Disney World: A Parent’s Survival Guide

By: Leslie Clevenstine

She spent the first 3 days of the trip clinging to my leg and whining non-stop. She was afraid of many of the tame attractions. And what did she want to do more than anything? Swim. We had flown 1,000 miles to swim!

After speaking to a lot of other parents, my story’s not unusual. So, what’s the moral here? Well, it’s not “don’t take your toddler to Disney World." Because despite a rocky start, we had a great time. And you can too, with a few helpful strageies:

Leave your expectations at home. Every child is going to react differently to a Disney World vacation. If your child has not traveled much, being away from their familiar surroundings is completely overwhelming, even in a child-friendly place like Disney World. Your hope of spending long days in the parks hitting all the rides won’t work with a child who is tired, hot, and out of sorts. Having a “go with the flow" attitude will serve everyone in your group much better.

Move at a more leisurely pace. Disney World is one of those vacations where you can come home feeling more tired than when you left.

You’re up early to go the parks, walking all day, rushing to get to dinner reservations on time… This type of pace is more than most toddlers who are away from home can bear. Plan a morning or two to sleep in. And don’t try to see everything—choose the top five attractions you’d like to see at each park and see them first. Anything else you get to experience in addition is gravy.

Take a break from the parks every day for swimming and naps. Not only does it give your toddler a great time swimming and some much needed rest, it’s also a good strategy for dealing with the Florida heat. Get to the parks when they open, tour until noon or 1:00, head back to your hotel for a break, then hit the parks again around 4:00 or 5:00.

Stay in a Disney resort. In addition to their superior theming and service, the Disney resorts provide the best locations for easy commuting to and from the parks. You’ll also find large swimming pools (some spectacularly themed), kiddie pools, playgrounds, and on-site laundry facilities. Several of the Disney resorts also have child care centers if you’d like to have a grown-up night out.

Take advantage of what Disney World offers beyond the park attractions. Most of the Disney World resorts have facilities for boating and bike riding, in addition to elaborate swimming pools. Visit Downtown Disney to shop for kids of all ages. Go miniature golfing. Even inside the parks, there’s much more to do than wait in lines for attractions. Watch the afternoon parade, take in the evening fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot or Disney-MGM Studios, or take in the live entertainment throughout the parks.

Go to a character meal. Disney World has almost a dozen different character meals where you can meet your favorite Disney characters as you dine. If your child is afraid of the characters, try going to a character meal with the “face characters" like the Disney princesses, which don’t wear the large head masks that frighten many little ones.

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