It’s an age old question…or is it a question of age? Should you take your baby or toddler (say, ages 0-3) to Walt Disney World? Will the kid remember it? Will it be worth the money? Will you drive yourself nuts trying to take care of the child instead of having a good time? I am here to provide the answers, at least as much as I can based on my experiences. After all, I have two darling children, ages 10 and 5 now, who both ended up taking a trip before they were a year old.
First things first, if you don’t enjoy Walt Disney World, then there is absolutely no reason for you to take your toddler. None at all. Don’t even think about it. Even if you think you have the world’s smartest 15-month-old child, he is not going to remember every detail of Pirates of the Caribbean. So, if you are looking into a trip for your toddler but you are not interested in Disney, figure out something else to do.
If, however, you were a Disney devotee before your little bundle of joy came along, and you enjoy what the parks have to offer, then you have cleared the first hurdle towards taking your toddler. The trip should be about two things – a vacation that you can enjoy that will also allow you to entertain your child with some of the best visual stimuli in the world. Your toddler, no matter the age, will enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of Walt Disney World much more than almost any other vacation you could take.
Second, if it’s a question of money, you probably don’t want to go to Disney, anyway. A Disney vacation can be more expensive than most other vacations, no matter whether the toddler is with you. However, depending on how much time you take and what you are doing, money might not be as big an obstacle as you think. Consider that kids under age 3 do not have to pay for admission to the parks, and your food bill will be minimal. So the real cost is your hotel and the meals and tickets for adults in the party. This is a big reason I say that any trip with a toddler needs to be about what the adults want to do rather than trying to cater to the toddler.
Right after I say that, however, I will take you to my third point, which is that your pace when taking a toddler is going to be much slower than if you are touring by yourself. There are stops for diaper changes, feedings, and general rest. Kids of this age have to take a break during the day. They can’t make it through a rope drop to park close kind of schedule. To be honest, neither can their parents. Fortunately, Disney is one of the best places to take a child of this age, since every park has a Baby Care Center that is relatively nice, and transportation back to the resorts is easily accomplished with Disney transportation.
If none of those three things scares you off, then I would say you are ready to take a trip with your little one. As I mentioned above, I took my kids before they were a year old. My son went when he was 11 months old because my wife and I needed a break. We had a fantastic time and were so convinced of the fun of it that we then took my daughter when she was six months old. Again, no issues to speak of on that trip. Here were some tips that we learned along the way that will help keep you sane if you choose to follow the same path that we did.
1. Keep the schedule – Before you go, you will probably know your child’s nap schedule, as well as preferred feeding times. While you are at Disney, you should keep the same schedule. If your child is a late sleeper, don’t bother with rope drop. If your little darling takes an afternoon nap at 1 p.m., then make sure you grab an early lunch and head back for nap time. Keeping the kid on schedule keeps him from being majorly disrupted by the craziness that is Walt Disney World.
2. Schedule table service meals – On both of the aforementioned trips, we were told by the “experts” that our kids were too young for sit down meals. We ignored this advice and scheduled table service meals for dinner, similar to how we would do things at home. The respite from the heat was just what the doctor ordered for a fussy child, and enabled us to enjoy a nice meal wherever we wanted without worrying about the baby.
3. Use a Touring Plan – I know, I know, it sounds like I’m just promoting what you can find here on the site, but it’s the honest truth. Using a touring plan is important with a full family, but with a child it’s essential. Smaller children do not mix well with lines. Using a touring plan and FASTPASS is the best way to keep things moving and keep the child entertained while not losing your mind.
4. Know your child – This is the most key. If your child can’t handle characters, don’t force him to approach Goofy on the street. If your 2-year-old watches Disney Junior every day, make sure you go see the show at Hollywood Studios. Plan ahead, know the things your child should enjoy and the ones you should avoid, and tailor your touring to that, while squeezing in things that you really want to do.
Those are my overall tips on heading down with a small child. As you can see, I’ve done it many times. One of my best trips was taking my daughter when she was just about to turn 3 years old. So it can be done, and you can have a great time. Do any of you have that experience? What did you do with your young children?