Disney With A Toddler – Managing Expectations

I’m so glad I ignored the people who told me not to do Disney with a toddler and tried to convince me to wait until Vivi was older.  It’s true, she doesn’t remember the magical moments from her first few trips, but I do!

Seeing Disney through the eyes of a toddler will make you believe in magic again.

We were living in the Coachella Valley at the time, so it’s about a 2-hour drive if traffic isn’t awful.  We got up early so we could make the most of the day.  It was a drizzly Saturday in January, with a high of 68°F, so we dressed in layers, and wore comfortable shoes for walking and standing in lines.

Free Disney Tickets for Toddlers

Kids under the age of three get in for free! That’s a big break, and we took advantage of it twice.

Managing Expectations

Even though kids under 3 are free, your ticket isn’t so you may be tempted to try to get your money’s worth.  It’s more important to manage your expectations based on what your toddler can handle.  I was really lucky and had a two-year-old who didn’t get the memo about terrible two’s until she was three.  Two was a breeze – three made me grind my teeth.  I also learned really early on that her “wild mood swings” were 98% a result of being overtired, something I was in control of, and needed to manage better.  Once I stopped being so spontaneous, and made sure she got her sleep, life was bliss again.  So, the first time we went, I wasn’t determined to make it to the fireworks.

When she was tired, in the early afternoon, she told me she was ready to go home, and we did. By leaving before she was exhausted, we avoided any meltdowns, and even though the weather didn’t cooperate, the whole experience was delightful.

tired toddler at Disney
She’s just about wiped out.

You know your kids better than anyone, what they can handle, when they’re starting to look like they might snap.  Stay tuned into their cues, and it will be a fun day for all of you.

I’m sure it’s different if you’re staying nearby, because you can go home, have a nap, and then come back later for more fun.  My sister stayed nearby with her kids and her kids went home to rest, ended up in the pool and decided not to go back to the park.  If you are staying in Anaheim, check out my post on other kid-friendly things to do.

The other expectation I had to let go of was that she would love all the things I love about Disney.  In fact, one of her very favorite things was a water fountain!

One of my favorites, Star Tours, was the only one that scared the crap out of Vivi. She was fine until the end. It made me jump and made her burst into tears!

What we packed

I was never the super organized mom who carried a massive diaper bag.  I was the mom who bummed wipes from the organized moms at the playground. So, we packed light, snacks, our water bottles, and a sippy cup, sunblock, a hat, a change of clothes for her, diapers (and yeah I remembered the wipes), a camera and a small backpack that we could take with us when we parked the stroller.  It’s Disney, but they still recommend you don’t leave any valuables unattended. I didn’t bring a purse, so my essentials like chapstick and my wallet were in the pack.  

I loved loved loved babywearing, but my daughter was 3′ tall and 40 pounds on her second birthday.  My back just couldn’t take it any longer.  We took the good, comfortable stroller, a hand-me-down Bugaboo Frog that we didn’t retire until Vivi was 5 or 6.  It has a big space underneath for stowing snacks, and jackets, anything else you’ll need for the day.  I had a big carabiner clip that I ordered from amazon to clip my small pack to the handle of the stroller.

More Tips for Visiting Disney With a Toddler

  • Get a map and daily schedule when you arrive so you can plan to see parades and shows.
  • Check this link to see which rides your toddler is tall enough to ride.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to buy souvenirs.  At night after the fireworks the shops are mobbed.
  • Get the Disney App – it’s the best way to find the characters and see which rides have short lines.
  • Use the Disney FASTPASS® Service – it’s basically a free reservation system so you can avoid waiting in long lines, not many of the little kid rides use them, but the lineups for those aren’t usually bad anyway.  We once rode the teacups 6 times in a row without waiting.
  • Book Character Dining – up to 60 days ahead of time – for a fun experience and amazing photo ops.
  • If you are able to make it back in the evening for the fireworks, make sure you have a cozy blanket for your stroller, it can be quite chilly at night.
  • visit the Baby Care Center – find the pacifier on the map.  Check out the video below.

Disney With A Toddler - Managing Expectations

17 thoughts on “Disney With A Toddler – Managing Expectations”

  1. Great blog..! Seems like you both had a great time.. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience.

  2. Disney sounds like a great destination to take a toddler. However, traveling with little ones is always a challenge! These are great things to keep in mind.

  3. A Disney trip with a toddler is not easy but worth it I think. They will still enjoy it and have fun.

  4. Our next road trip (after Alaska) is taking the family to Disney World. With 5-year-old twins we definitely need to prepare!

  5. That looks like so much fun. I would love to take my kids some day. I have never been to Disney before.

  6. I remember our first visit to Disney with our little kid. It was the most beautiful trip ever for our family!

  7. My daughter’s first trip to Disney was when she was 3. I took a ton of pictures and now that she’s almost 10 we still love to go back and look at the photos together. She may not really remember everything but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still a special experience. Kids don’t remember their first couple birthdays but that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate them anyway. It shouldn’t be any different with Disney!

  8. Oh boy do I agree that 3 was way harder than 2! I kept my kids on nap times for the very reason that things would spiral once they got tired. I’m glad you got to take advantage of her getting for free!

  9. I love how you wrote this post. Managing expectations is EXACTLY IT. I loved that you remarked on how even though your ticket isn’t free, it isn’t the time to get the most out of YOUR ticket. Well done.

  10. I’ve been taking my kids to Disney since they were babies. Lots of breaks was the key for us.

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