Twenty Tips for a Disney Day Trip with Toddlers

Last month we went on a week-long family vacation to Florida. We stayed in Orlando at a great vacation property owned by friends.

It is a two-bed, two-bath unit with full kitchen, family room, and private balcony. The gated community has an amazing pool with a zero-edge entry, large splash pad with small water slides, and an additional set of three-story waterslides. There are multiple playgrounds within the neighborhood, sand volleyball courts, basketball courts, tennis courts, and walking paths. Needless to say, there are plenty of things to fill a week of fun in the sun without ever leaving the property.

We knew we could swim, take walks, play at the playground, and go to the beach for a day while we were visiting.

Canaveral National Seashore is our favorite beach for a day trip when we’re staying in Orlando.

With the unit being so close to Disney we wondered whether we should attempt to take the kids to the parks.

We were skeptical because they are SO little–two and one at the time we went. We knew they would never remember the trip. But when we checked ticket prices we found out kids under three are considered “infants” and get in to Disney parks for FREE.

Since we were going the week Garrett was turning three we knew it would likely be the only time we would be able to get two kids into a Disney park for free and we decided to go for it.

Magic Kingdom seemed the obvious choice for toddlers so it was an easy decision which park to go to.

Confession time: I did minimal reading and planning for our day in Disney. We aren’t those people who have been to Disney as adults, order personalized and themed Disney attire for our trip, or spend months planning and researching. I’m talking maybe one hour of online browsing just three days before we left. We made a decision early on that we weren’t going to stress over this trip and our entire goal was to make it fun for the kids.

Somehow, with what little planning that went into our Disney trip, we ended up having the perfect day. Here are our best tips for a low-stress, magical day trip to Disney’s Magic Kingdom with toddlers. 

Twenty Tips for a Disney Day Trip with Toddlers

  1. Download the Disney app

I didn’t bring my computer on vacation so we booked and managed our entire Disney trip on my phone. You can purchase your tickets, reserve your fast passes, check wait times, make dining reservations, and more all within the Disney app.

2. Purchase your tickets online

We didn’t purchase our tickets until we were actually in Florida because we wanted to make sure we went on a day with ideal weather conditions. If it was raining all day or extremely hot we knew the kids would not be down for it. Waiting until we were in Florida to purchase our tickets gave us a better handle on what the weather was going to be like and we picked a day with no chance of rain and a high of 75 degrees.

Kids under three do not need tickets. I called to verify this. I assumed they would need some kind of infant ticket or wrist band. Nope. I also assumed I’d need to have their birth certificates as proof they were actually both under three. No again. If your kids are under three you just purchase the adult ticket(s) and bring the kids with you.

3. Reserve your fast passes

Every ticket has three fast passes that “come with it”. You can reserve your fast passes in one-hour windows and reservations can not overlap one another. (Ex: if you have a fast pass from 9-10 a.m. you can’t book another one until 10:05-11:05 a.m.). I didn’t know if we would use all of the fast pass reservations we made, but I saw it as an opportunity to guarantee we could definitely get on a ride or meet special characters with minimal wait time at different points throughout the day. Fast pass reservations can fill up quickly, but we were still able to get all of the slots we wanted 24 hours in advance. I would not wait any longer than 24 hours ahead of time to make fast pass reservations–the earlier the better.

4. Make a lunch reservation

I was worried about having somewhere to sit down in the middle of the day. With a lunch reservation we were able to sit down in the air conditioning and eat without waiting. Dining reservations fill up quickly, so the earlier you can book, the better chance you have of getting a table in the restaurant you want (a downside of waiting to purchase your tickets until the day or two before). So again, as soon as you have your tickets, book your dining reservations!

We ate at Tony’s Town Square and it was a great place to catch the MousekeDance parade at 11 a.m. and then go in and eat. Bonus: one large pizza and two fruit cups were enough for all four of us so lunch was less than $25.

Waiting for our table at lunch. Even with dining reservations and fast passes there is still some waiting!

5. Pick up your magic cards the day before you go to the park

The day before we went to Disney, Levi kept the kids at the condo while I drove over to the park to pick up our magic cards. Magic cards are essentially your tickets–you use them for entry to the park and for your fast passes on the rides. You have to go to the actual park to pick up your magic cards. You can park your car in the “15-minute” drop-off parking zone, go through security, and then stand in the Will-Call / Ticket Purchase lines.

These are not separate lines–whomp whomp. It took me almost 45 minutes to get our magic cards. Luckily, my car was still there when I got back! It was a bit of a headache but this was 45 minutes we didn’t have to wait with the kids at the very beginning of our day at Disney and it helped start things off on a positive note. **Only Levi and I needed magic cards–kids under three do not need magic cards to get into Disney or ride the rides. **

6. Go early!

When I picked up our magic cards the day before, I left the condo at 10 a.m. and it only took me about ten minutes to get to the security gate. However, we learned the hard way about the morning traffic when the park first opens! The park opens at 9 a.m. so we left the condo at 8:15 a.m. Despite already having our magic cards we still were not in the park until 9:30 a.m. If we do is trip again we will plan to leave the condo at 7 a.m.

7. Take your own stroller, if possible

I know Disney is changing the stroller rules but we were lucky enough to go when we could take our own double stroller. We were used to pushing it, the kids were used to riding in it, and that was a big bonus for a long day. It was comfortable for all of us and Laine took a mid-day nap. Disney has strollers for rent but these are essentially plastic carts with no sun shades that can be hosed down and disinfected at the end of each day.

8. Regular parking

Regular parking was $25 for the day while premium parking was $40. We decided to try regular parking and parked around 8:45 a.m. in the Simba Lot. We were still close enough to the premium lot that it was an easy in and out of the park and we saved $15.

9. Wear comfortable shoes

I feel like this is a no-brainer but socks and tennis shoes are a must. You’re walking a lot but there are also lots of strollers / scooters / other walkers that are bound to bump into you (I had someone drive a motorized scooter up the back of my leg-ouch!).

10. Take the ferry over

After you park, you have to go through security. Choose a security line all the way to the left and you’ll breeze right through. The trolleys unload on the right so everyone queues there. Since we already had our magic cards, after we made it through security we could go straight to the ferry or monorail. The ferry ride over is a nice slow ride and the castle is coming into view the entire time.

11. Snap your castle shots early

Levi hates taking pictures but I asked someone to take ours as soon as we got in the park. The earlier in the day it is, the less crowded it is and the less tired the kids are. Stopping for a quick minute right when you arrive to get the shots guarantees you’ll have them and there will be a greater chance everyone is smiling.

12. Toddler-friendly rides

The following are the rides we picked for our fast passes and the they were all great for our one-year-old and two-year-old.

It’s a Small World – This was hands-down the kids’ favorite. We had our fast pass reservation for 9:05-10:05 a.m. and we could walk right down the line and step into the front row of the first boat. Zero wait and front row seats–can’t beat it!

Dumbo – The kids enjoyed this one but I personally felt the pay-off was not worth the wait. We had to wait about 15 minutes to ride this one and it lasted about two. We had a fast pass reservation for this ride from 10:30-11:30 a.m. and headed over to it right after It’s a Small World.

Jungle Cruise – The kids really liked this one too! We had our fast pass reservation for 12:30 – 1:30 so it was starting to get warm and they were starting to get a little cranky. We waited about 20 minutes even in the fast pass line but somehow we got a front-row seat again. The cruise is about a 10-15 minute ride with “jungle animals” to see along the way which the kids loved. The boats are also covered with shades which is a bonus in the middle of the day!

13. Use mobile ordering for snacks and treats

Had to get a dole whip. The kids love soft serve and I love pineapple. As with most things Disney, there was a long line at this stand. I spotted a mobile pick-up line, hopped on my Disney app, and placed the order there. It was ready in less than 10 minutes. When you mobile order take a screenshot of your order confirmation so you can show it when you go to pick up. Cell service was slow and sticky, like it is at sporting events or concerts, and you don’t want to not be able to pull up your order confirm when it’s your turn.

Dole float from Aloha Isle

14. Catch the parade

Magic Kingdom has a Move It! Shake It! MousekeDance It! Street Party parade that typically runs at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 5:45 p.m. We caught part of the 11 a.m. parade in front of the castle on our way to our lunch reservation and we watched the beginning of the 12:30 p.m. parade after our lunch reservation on our way back through the park. It wasn’t difficult to get a front row spot for either.

15. Dum dum suckers and fruit snacks

I’m convinced these are two of the great secrets of motherhood. Sorry, Shiela if your kid doesn’t drink juice or eat anything with corn syrup. Kudos to you. Suckers and fruit snacks got us through some longer wait times with no tears and minimal complaining throughout the day.

16. Bonus fast pass 

If you use all three of your fast passes you get a bonus fast pass. The kids loved It’s a Small World so much we booked our bonus fast pass for 2-3 p.m.

17. Go with the flow

When we got back to It’s a Small World around 2:15 p.m. even the fast pass line was pushing 30 minutes. We knew the kids weren’t going to do well with that long of a wait during peak nap time and we also wanted them to see the 3 p.m. parade. We abandoned our fourth fast pass to keep the peace.

18. Stake out a spot for the 3 pm parade

Around 2:30 we started to walk back towards the park entrance and noticed they had the streets cordoned off. Laine was finishing up a nap so she and I grabbed a spot right behind the rope with the castle in the background and Levi and Garrett went to walk around for 30 minutes (and saw Mary Poppins!). It becomes near impossible to find a good spot for the Festival of Fantasy parade quickly and by the time the parade started people were packed 4-5 rows deep behind the cordons. The double stroller made it easy for the kids to have a guaranteed front row seat without anyone trying to push them out of the way. Laine even got to meet Snow White!

19. Go with the flow

This one gets a double mention because we felt it was so important. After the 3 p.m. parade our kids were done so we called it. We were at Disney for them and if they were tired and ready to head out, we weren’t going to force them to stay until fireworks. Remember, this is about the tiny people! If they aren’t having fun, is anyone really having fun? By the time we got out of the gates it was close to 4 p.m.

20. Take the monorail out

When we left we were all hot and tired but the kids were excited for the monorail ride. It also went a lot faster than the ferry ride in which was fine with us! Taking the ferry in and the monorail out gave us the opportunity for the kids to do both with an exciting entrance and a quick exit. We were back to our car by 4:30 p.m.

We felt like one day was the perfect amount of time to take our one-year-old and two-year-old to Disney and have major respect for families who take toddlers on extended Disney vacations!

If I were to add a 21st tip to our list it would be to have whiskey at your condo for the evening after Disney. Levi and I were happy for a stiff drink when the day was over and the kids were in bed. The biggest challenge for us on our day trip to Disney was the crowds. We aren’t used to vacationing with large crowds and the sheer amount of people and constant level of stimulation in Disney is overwhelming in and of itself.

We’re glad we decided to go for it and take our toddlers to Disney. We had a great family day and will definitely be back in a few years. Likely when we won’t need to bring a stroller :).

Yoga makes me a better parent

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For the past seven or so years when I’ve had an opportunity to work out I’ve gone for a run. Aside from the solid exercise and post-run high, running has been a great metaphor for life.

That “push-through-the-pain, show-up-and-get-it-done” mentality can be applied to just about any situation.

Except parenthood.

In parenthood you show up (everyday), but that doesn’t mean anything is going to get done. With toddlers and infants there is no pushing through the pain. You actively sit in the pain. There is lots of smiling through gritted teeth and swearing in your mind while you enthusiastically encourage them (for 30-minutes) to eat a cup of yogurt on their own…. and then watch as they wipe their yogurt-covered hands on the table, through their hair, and across the bottoms of their feet in one fluid motion.

Small children cry for inexplicable reasons. They love certain foods one day and act like they’re tainted with poison the next. When you don’t let them go outside on a 20-degree day or make them wear shoes on a splintery boardwalk you might as well be throwing their security blanket through a wood chipper in front of them.

I know, I know they’re growing at lightspeed and getting teeth and trying to make sense of the world around them and the emotions they’re feeling. But that knowledge doesn’t always make it easier at 9 p.m. when they refuse to go to sleep after getting up at 5:30 a.m.

Parenthood is a high-rep exercise in patience.

For so many years showing up and gutting-it-out worked well in whatever I did. Even if I absolutely dreaded the thought of doing something, the job would get done. There was a goal, a finish line.

In parenthood, sometimes the job doesn’t get done. And sometimes it gets done and you have to redo it. Twenty times. In a single day.

Parenthood has no finish line. It’s from the moment those two lines show up until, what I can make of it, all eternity.

And this is why I’ve found such an outlet in Power Yoga.

Power Yoga is based in Ashtanga but it moves more quickly. You lift and hold your entire body’s weight constantly, making it a great strength training exercise, but there are also poses you hold that are extremely difficult, whether due to a balance element or strength element, and breathing through some of these intense poses is what it’s like to remain calm and composed and breathe through inexplicable toddler tantrums, or 11 p.m., 1, 3, and 5 a.m. nighttime infant feedings.

And did I mention the room is heated to 90 degrees? Which to some sounds awful, but I Live. For. The. Heat.

Being able to step out of the house, by myself, and get in a solid workout, mentally and physically, makes me feel better and gives me a perspective shift when I need it most.

Running is an exercise but yoga is a practice. You start every class with an intention and carry that through. Usually at least once during class I will side step, or even fall, while trying a new pose but I hop back in the pose and keep going.

In running success is measured by completion. You finish the run, you get a PR.

In yoga—and parenthood—success isn’t measured in outcomes, it’s measured by how you handle the situation.

 

 

The Last Bottle

 

When Garrett turned one we transitioned him from formula to whole milk and once that seemed to settle we started the process of switching him from bottles to sippy cups. To our surprise, as we replaced the bottles with sippy cups and condensed the number of feedings, he started to eat more solids and in turn sleep better through the night. In hindsight it makes sense, but in the thick of first time parenting every change and new process seems like a puzzle.

Over the course of a few weeks we had whittled him down to a single bottle a day, given at bedtime, and we knew he was probably ready to trade that out for a sippy cup as well.

Last Saturday we spent a banner summer day playing outside, reading books, taking walks, swimming, and eating watermelon. Levi and I gave Garrett his evening bath and I carried Garrett up to his room, his arms draped around my neck, his still slightly-damp hair curling, and his sweet, soft skin smelling of soap.

I rocked him and  gave him his bottle and after I laid him in his crib I padded down the stairs and started rinsing out the sippy cups from the day and the bottle I had just given him and I realized that I had probably given him the last bottle I would ever give him.

Steam from the hot water in the sink filled the air and I thought about the hundreds of bottles Levi and I had given him over the past 14 months and the daily routine of putting a kettle on to boil each evening to wash the mountain that grew throughout the day.

No more bottles, to me, meant he was really out of the baby phase.

I felt silly for being so sad over something as simple as giving him a bottle. But I think the weight of knowing I’d never give him one again–and that I didn’t realize that before giving him the last bottle–was at the core of it.

How many lasts will I miss and not know it to be the last?

Parenthood seems to be this joyous and tiring march towards our children achieving milestones, and celebrating and being so proud of them (and ourselves) when they hit them, but what no one tells you ahead of time is that is also combined with waves of grief for the passing of each previous stage our child was in.

Maybe the feeling is something you learn to expect and know. Maybe it’s not. As I already said, in the thick of first time parenting every change and new process seems like a puzzle. But as I pack up the bottles this morning I know that Garrett is healthy and growing and thriving, and that there is so much more to celebrate on the horizon than there is to be sad over.

 

Thank You

IMG_4300Mothers are seen in the everyday moments we take for granted. Their love and sacrifice last decades after the countless diaper changes, scraped knees, bruised egos, and stomach flus tended to.

The endless weekends spent on gym bleachers, late nights pouring over math homework, and hugs and kisses given every single day.

The meals cooked (and sometimes ordered or picked up), the clothes cleaned, and the homes tidied day after day after day.

Those billions of small tasks and moments that are never seen or celebrated are what has made each of us who we are today.

The women who carried us for 9 months and were there from the beginning, and the women who cared not because they had to but because they wanted to, have made each of us who we are today.

A woman who has freely given her time and energy and love to someone else with no expectation of a return is a mother.

While mothers can be seen in their children in the slope of a nose, waves in hair, or a dimple in a chin, they are also seen in their children’s actions. We act based on what we learned from those who came before us.

Thank you to all the women who selflessly give guidance, love, and support to those in need. Thank you for lasagna and clean underwear and band-aids on scrapes. Thank you for confidence, patience, and empathy. Thank you for raising the next generation. Thank you for believing in a bright tomorrow and doing everything in your power to make it happen.