I’m a Disney World fanatic, so it’s always been my dream to someday bring my own child to my happiest place on earth. This May I got to do just that, and it was such a fabulous vacation we can’t stop talking about it!
My love for Disney World started early with lots of awesome trips with my own parents. Then when I was 21, I did the Disney College Program which allowed me to live and work in Walt Disney World for a whole summer. (Hello best time ever!) As a frequent visitor and even former cast member, I already knew a lot about WDW, but I still hadn’t experienced WDW first-hand with a little toddler.
At 2 and a half, we felt Jack was at a great age to head to Disney for the first time. It was also his first time taking any real vacation… first time flying, first stay in a hotel, etc. We felt he was ready and boy was he! This nonstop toddler is always ready for fun adventures; it’s like having our own little cruise director!
We’re Disney Vacation Club Members and our home resort is the Grand Floridian Villas. I can’t say enough about how much we love this place. The elegant but homey atmosphere, pristine decor, gorgeous lobby, awesome staff, incredible “sprinkler pool” for kids, and especially the monorail access and proximity to the Magic Kingdom!
I’m so excited to share our awesome trip with you here, and tell you about all the tips and secrets we learned bringing a 2 year old to Disney for the first time. I’ve picked the best of the best across the resort and given you some hints and pics here so you can plan your kids’ trip more easily. Note: although I’ve been to Animal Kingdom and the water parks many times, we did not visit these on Jack’s first trip, so my reviews are based on his experience in the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and EPCOT as well as the resorts.
Read on for our best tips, favorite rides, character experiences, and even restaurant reviews for Disney traveling with littles!
First, My Favorite Disney Pointers:
⭐️ Kids get tired…and want to nap… or be CARRIED! One word: STROLLER! If you don’t want to lug your own, you can buy a cheap one at a nearby Target (if you have transportation) or rent through KingdomStrollers.com. They deliver to and pick up from the Disney hotels and the rental is about $45 to $65 for an average trip. If you haven’t brought or rented your own, the parks rent strollers daily but they’re pricey, not super comfy, and just for use at that park.
⭐️ Little ones may be hesitant about attractions for the first time. If you or your little is unsure about a ride my BEST TIP is to look up a video on YouTube beforehand. Once my son watched certain rides on my phone he wasn’t afraid to try them!
⭐️ Buy bottled water for your room! You can’t avoid all the high prices of Disney food, but bottled water is one place to save because it’s the biggest hike. Dasani bottles sell in park for about $4 but you can get a small package of Dasani for about the same price in the general stores many Disney hotels have, like the Contemporary and the Boardwalk. (If you can get to Target or the gas station across from Disney Springs, it’s even cheaper.) Keep the water in your room and bring a couple of bottles with you when you go to the parks.
⭐️ If you can spring for it, buy the Disney Memory Maker photo package on the site before your trip (saving about $20 than if purchased after.) I don’t always recommend photo packages at theme parks but this one is worth it because there are lots of photographers throughout the parks and if you buy a few pics without the package they’re very expensive. So get the Memory Maker and stop 50 times for pics in front of Cinderella Castle and every other picturesque spot you see to get your unlimited professional photos! There’s nothing better than being in the pics together and downloading them on your phone or computer up to 2 months after you’re home!
⭐️ Do NOT expect to get into all the cool Disney restaurants without a reservation! So if you have a princess with her heart set on eating with her fellow royals at Cinderella Castle, get on DisneyWorld.com 6 months in advance of your trip and find a time that works for you.
⭐️ Plan your trip. Sure, traveling with kids requires flexibility, but if you don’t plan certain shows, attractions, and meals ahead of time you may not get to do them. Set up an account on the My Disney Experience section of DisneyWorld.com or download the My Disney Experience app. There you can plan what parks you want to visit each day and make dining reservations and Fast Passes around that itinerary.
⭐️ Book your Fast Passes! FAST PASS basically allows you to save your place for an attraction in advance. Fast Passes may be reserved in the parks at special kiosks but the best way to reserve them is ahead of time online, which you can do 2 months before your trip. Like the hot dining spots, getting on the most popular rides are only guaranteed if you plan ahead.
Here’s what you need to know about FAST PASS:
- You make a reservation for a particular attraction on a particular day and you select a 1 hour time window in which you will arrive. Simply go to the Fast Pass entrance to the ride and scan your Magic Band (resort guests get these with their Disney park tickets, otherwise you’ll have a card.) The Mickey ears light will flash green if you’ve arrived in your correct time frame and you’re all set!
- Not every ride or attraction has Fast Pass, so plan which you need and which rides you can schedule at quieter standby times during the day (read on for more great tips on that in this post!) 👍
- Arrive at your ride anytime within the 1 hour window you reserved for your Fast Pass. Give yourself travel time! Even if traveling just within the same park, budget time for eating, walking, diaper changing, cute gift shops etc 😎
- If you are a few minutes late, there is a 15 minute grace period that isn’t widely advertised 😉 The Fast Pass scanner will let you in within 15 minutes after your reservation.
- When reserving in advance, you may only select up to 3 Fast Passes at a time per person per day. After you use each Fast Pass, it will be removed from your queue.
- Once all 3 Fast Pass appointments pass, you can select additional Fast Passes for that day, one at a time.
- These additional Fast Pass appointments must pass before you can reserve further ones.
- Fast Pass appointments are removed from your queue in one of the following ways: by showing up for your scheduled ride and scanning at the entrance, manually canceling online, or if the time frame passes and you missed it.
- If you decide not to ride DO cancel! If someone in your party decides not to ride and you’re at the attraction, have them scan their band anyway! You always want to clear your appointment from your queue so it frees up your ability to book another Fast Pass that day if you wish.
Ok, now onto the fun stuff! Here are my reviews for our favorite toddler-friendly attractions and dining spots in the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot!
Main Street, USA: This picturesque street which Walt himself designed to resemble his own hometown is my true happy place. This is the entrance to the happiest place on earth and your pathway to all the fun and fantasy your heart desires! Don’t underestimate the value of this “main attraction,” especially with little ones! Sure you can buy great souvenirs and yummy treats here, but there’s also entertainment right under your nose. There are nostalgic shows every morning, trolleys, and horse-drawn carriages. Plus every inch of the storefronts are points of interest not to miss… and toddlers are great at knowing when to stop and smell the roses when they notice those interesting details.
It’s a Small World: (Indoor) Jack is obsessed with this awesome ride. I mean, he learned the entire song and is still singing it every…single…day. This timeless attraction is in the heart of Fantasy Land and takes guests on a slow, relaxing boat ride through adorable scenes of anomotronic children of the world who sing about world peace. It’s indoors but not dark, the music is super cheerful, and the pace of the ride is suitable even for babies. It’s so relaxing that one afternoon it helped start a much-needed nap for Jack… as well as the woman in the row behind us. 😋 It’s our #1 ride for littles and a not-miss for every age! It’s a popular classic though so the lines get long… to avoid long waits, be sure to get a Fast Pass or go first thing in the morning or during the Main Street parades. Parades do NOT run through Fantasy Land so it’s the quietest time for rides like Small World and Peter Pan!
Peter Pan’s Flight: (Indoor) Right across from It’s a Small World is one of my mom’s and my favorites since I was little (and to this day.) This ride in a flying ship through the London night sky is very friendly to littles (fine for babies too) but crazy popular and over SO quickly! I wouldn’t waste an hour on standby for something that’s over so fast. If you want a Fast Pass, book it in advance because I’ve found the fast passes for this one fill up quicker than others! If you can’t get a Fast Pass, try standby first thing in the morning OR better yet, during a Main Street parade.
Prince Charming Regal Carrousel: (Outdoor) This beautiful, ornate carousel is located in the heart of Fantasy Land right behind Cinderella Castle and across from Small World and Peter Pan. It’s big enough to accommodate lots of guests at a time so there is no Fast Pass option. Sometimes lines form, but it’s often pretty quiet and the line moves. What we love about it: 1) there are several sizes of horses so little kids can ride on a tiny horse while right next to them is a bigger horse for mom or dad, and 2) This carousel is centrally located so one adult can take kids on it while another checks out (or waits on) the line for closely attractions like Peter Pan, etc. 👍
Under the Sea/ Journey of the Little Mermaid: (Indoor) This slow ride in a seashell takes you through the classic movie with all your favorite songs and characters. This was Jack’s very first ride ever anywhere, so it’s special and he did great! 😀
Dumbo the Flying Elephant (Outdoor) and The Bigtop area (indoor): Dumbo, located in Fantasy Land close to Tomorrow Land, is a slow-flying ride in your own individual Dumbo which moves in a circle like a carousel but has the option of flying. If you don’t like heights, just don’t press the button. This is one of the most popular rides in Fantasy Land but also over the fastest. I wouldn’t recommend waiting an hour on line for something that you’ll miss if you blink… so try to hit this hot item early in the morning if you don’t want to waste a Fast Pass, or schedule a Fast Pass for it ahead of time.
BUT, there is a cool circus-themed big top area around Dumbo (a newer thing since I was a kid, which even includes a second Dumbo ride accommodate the many guests who want to ride.) The bigtop area is a must-see for everyone, and perfect if you do have to wait for the ride, as it even features an indoor toddler playground! You can also meet characters here (like circus-themed Minnie, Donald etc) and there is theeee cutest circus gift/refreshment shop which features the prettiest Disney baked goods and all the twinkling splendor of a real bigtop!
Winnie the Pooh: (Indoor) Preschool-friendly ride in a “hunny” pot through the classic storybook, located in Fantasy Land. There’s a couple of brief “chapters” featuring Pooh’s strange dream, a rain storm, and a few moments where your honey pot bounces (I remember not liking this pregnant!) I probably wouldn’t take a tiny baby or a little one who gets too easily scared, but generally speaking it’s friendly for toddlers. Super popular so Fast Pass it to avoid a long line!
Walt Disney World Railroad: All aboard at the Main Street, Fantasy Land, or Frontier Land stations! This classic train is adorable and fun, and you can ride it round trip or as a way to get you from one side of the park to the other. Another one of my favorite photo tips: the top level of the Main Street Railroad Station offers amazing views of Main Street and the castle for awesome pics! 👍🏻
Pirates of the Caribbean: (Indoor) This classic boat ride in Adventure Land is still fun and has a catchy tune the whole family will be singing. It’s not made for preschoolers so it’s not as baby-friendly as, say, It’s a Small World. But, my son was fine on it and I wouldn’t consider it scary. The lighting is darker than other rides though and it has one “drop” that dips a bit quickly.
Meet Mickey at the Town Square Theatre: (Indoor) This is such a cool opportunity to meet the Mouse behind the magic… and talk to him! That’s right, he talks! And blinks and moves his mouth and holds a conversation with you. My toddler was in awe and you will be too. Fast Pass this magical photo op and video it too!
Eating with Kids at the Magic Kingdom:
My Disney Dining Reviews post is full of detailed info about where to run (and where to just saunter) for Disney fare! But here’s a quick list of some of our Magic Kingdom go-to eateries:
- Pinnochio’s Village Haus good quick service with a fun view of It’s a Small World
- Sleepy Hollow counter service with snacks, funnel cakes and waffles
- Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe the largest quick service where I worked in college!
- The Crystal Palace a fun Winnie the Pooh character buffet
- Be Our Guest pricey but ok food with better ambiance; a must-see for Beauty fans
- Cinderella’s Royal Table reserve in advance to dine with the princesses!
- Aloha Isle the only place in the parks serving the iconic Dole Whip (the Polynesian hotel is other spot!!)
Meet Disney Jr. Friends: (outdoor, covered) Hollywood Studios is great for little ones because it’s home to the Disney Jr. gang. The Animation Courtyard is a must for toddlers. You’ll meet pals like Sofia the First, Jake, Doc McStuffins, and Pluto and get your photo taken in front of cute themed backgrounds.
Disney Jr. Live on Stage: (indoor) This musical stage show is about 25 minutes long and features a live host and super cute puppets from your favorite Disney Jr. shows. There’s great interactive special effects like bubbles and confetti, but be ready to sit on the floor the entire time (so much easier for kids than parents!) This is popular so I recommend a Fast Pass and try to plan meeting the friends at Animation Courtyard as you wait since it’s right next door!
Disney Jr. Play & Dine: (indoor) This is a character meal but I have to include it because it’s like an attraction and such a favorite of ours. If your kids are Disney Jr. fans you have to book this character breakfast at Hollywood & Vine. It is THEE best buffet in the parks and adorable to see the extra attention Sofia, Jake, Doc, and Handy Manny pay to the little ones at your table! Make reservations ahead!
Pixar Place/Meet Buzz & Woody: (characters indoor) Meet your favorite heroes together but two notes: there is NO Fast Pass for this and the lines are usually long, and these characters are LARGE. So tall and big that my toddler got scared. You can see them in the window from outside before you go in, so if you’re unsure about your little one have him/her watch the characters from outside first.
Cruz Ramirez is also on Pixar Place and although she doesn’t talk she takes cute pictures! After the Disney photographer takes your picture with Cruz, your little one may even be on a cute billboard in a animated clip you’ll get in your Disney Experience.
Toy Story Mania: (indoor) I was hesitant about this being too fast or frenetic but it’s just plain fun! This interactive 3D ride is like a trip through an old-fashioned ‘shooting’ arcade. You get to shoot the targets and score points. The spinning just turns your car around and isn’t too fast. The best for me was the great decorations and props as you wait on line, like giant board games and huge crayons and blocks! This ride is SUPER popular so Fast Pass it!
“Toy Story Land” is Coming Soon! Since Hollywood Studios did away with its New York backlot and Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground, that space near the current Pixar Place is being transformed into a whole land about Toy Story! It was under construction during our trip but we are so excited to see it open in summer of 2018! Hollywood Studios has been needing more rides, and especially things for little ones, so this will be the perfect addition to the park!!
Eating With Kids at Hollywood Studios:
My Disney Dining Reviews post has more info but here’s a quick list of some of our favorite Studios snacking:
- Hollywood & Vine is the best buffet in Disney! It’s also a great character experience with the Disney Jr. friends during breakfast. At lunchtime and dinner, the character experience changes to Minnie & Friends (at most times during the year.) Book reservations for this popular spot in advance!
- ‘50’s Prime Time Cafe is right next door (in fact it’s connected by the shared bathrooms in the hall.) This theme restaurant is designed incredibly to look like a ’50’s kitchen! The servers play the role, classic sitcoms are on the black and white TVs, and the menu is full of old-fashioned American comfort food.
A lot of people see EPCOT as the “grown up park,” but there’s still plenty to do for little ones if you know where to go. Here are some popular toddler spots from Future World as well as some hidden gems within the World Showcase!
The Seas with Nemo and Friends: (indoor) Nemo and Dory call EPCOT home! This ride through the Finding Nemo story is popular among families with little kids so definitely Fast Pass it. Word of caution: the lineup area inside is very dark, to create an underwater feel. My toddler did not like that, so if your kids are afraid of the dark try to prepare them for the ride with my YouTube idea (in pointers above.) Whether or not they ride, The Seas Pavilion is full of interest like a giant aquarium at the ride’s exit.
Turtle Talk With Crush: (indoor) Inside the Seas Pavilion on the first floor is Crush’s little theater. Here everyone’s favorite surfer dude appears on screen in an interactive comedy show that may have you laughing even more than your kids! Crush answers questions from the kids and spots members of the audience and strikes up funny conversations… including my husband who Crush pegged as a “slooooow swimmer, dude.” 😁 You’ll all enjoy this and everyone will be talking like surfers for the rest of the day. Try a Fast Pass for this that coordinates with the Nemo ride since it’s in the same building.
Journey Into Imagination with Figment: (indoor) This classic ride introduced me to our purple little friend Figment back in the 80’s, but he’s still just as cute. Whether or not you ride there’s a fun interactive “lab” at the exit perfect for littles to run, play, and learn about things like light and sound.
Living with the Land: (indoor) The Land Pavilion features one of our favorite rides, Living with the Land, a relaxing boat ride through the greenhouses of EPCOT. You’ll see Mickey-shaped pumpkins, lettuce grown in a Mickey pattern and more! Then taste what’s grown there by dining at Sunshine Seasons or the Garden Grill Restaurant in The Land Pavilion, which serve produce grown right there. The Garden Grill is a character restaurant and ride in one! The restaurant spins very slowly (no nausea here, I promise) as you watch the Land ride below! BEST part? Chip, Dale, Pluto, and Farmer Mickey visit you at your table! Fast Pass this popular ride and make reservations for The Garden Grill in advance!
Playground: (outdoor) I think this playground is EPCOT’s best kept secret. Tucked away between Future World and the World Showcase, this playground has slides, jungle gyms, and musical chimes that my son loves. It’s a nice break in the day for kids and parents, and you’ll feel like you’re playing in a (really nice) park at home!!
- Mexico: This cool indoor Pavilion is made to look like Mexico outdoors at night, and features a great marketplace and a relaxing boat ride. The Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros follows that wacky Donald Duck and his feathered amigos as they tour the sights of Mexico and sing.
- Germany: Our train fan loves gazing at this large outdoor model train village which spans two sides of a walkway as trains whistle through the country
- USA: Yankee Doodle bands perform peppy music and offer opportunities for good American history lessons
- England, France and more: Character meet and greet locations with favorite friends like Pooh Bear and Belle in the countries where their stories take place
Eating With Kids at EPCOT:
My Disney Dining Reviews post has much more, but here’s a quick list of some of our favorite EPCOT eats:
- The Garden Grill is Future World’s character dining served family-style in a spinning restaurant!
- The Land Cart is one of the healthiest snack carts around with hummus, raw veggies, and fruit
- Funnel Cake stand in USA
- Via Napoli in Italy is a bustling trattoria where kids don’t have to be quiet! And, there’s pizza
I hope this provides you with lots of useful info for your trip to Disney World with little ones! This is truly our favorite place and we love the magic and happiness it brings to guests big and small. Check out my other Disney posts for helpful pointers and feel free to contact me with questions.
As they say in Disney World, “Have a magical day!”
Dumbo and It’s a Small World pictures courtesy of DisneyWorld.com