If you’re a Disney newbie or are planning your first trip to Disney with a Toddler, you’re in the right place. I LOVE vacation research and I really wanted to make sure our daughter had a great time at her first trip to Disney World. Since we’d never been, I felt like I scoured the internet trying to figure out how to make the parks successful and find a Disney itinerary with a toddler.
If you want to check out how to plan for your trip to Disney, read this.
This article is full of all the tips and tricks of having fun at Disney with a toddler, including our Disney itinerary with a toddler for three different parks. Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and Animal Kingdom. We also went to Orlando to visit Harry Potter, but that’s a separate post! If you have any questions, feel free to hit the contact button and send me an email. I’m always happy to help!
Epcot with a toddler
I’m going to start by saying that we have a daughter and her goal in life was to meet Anna and Elsa. Therefore, we had to do Epcot. I did find it to be a more “adult” park but there were still tons of things to do with a toddler. However, if you’re only going for one day and you have a toddler – it’s Magic Kingdom or bust. Out of the three places we went, Magic Kingdom hands down had the most options for a toddler.
At Epcot (and every park) you’ll want to use your Fast Passes on the rides you really want to go on, that typically have long lines. Fast Passes are “reservations” that allow you into shorter lines during your time window for each ride. Since some of the lines at Disney World get crazy long, you’ll definitely want to make your Fast Pass reservations in advance. If you can’t make them in advance, no worries. There are kiosks available in each park so you can make reservations the day of. However, you run the risk that a ride you really want to go on won’t have any Fast Passes available.
Our three Fast Passes at Epcot were on:
- Frozen Ever After*
- The Seas with Nemo and Friends
- Turtle Talk with Crush
We also did The Character Spot, Royal Sommerhaus with Anna and Elsa, and The Land without Fast Passes.
*This is a “must” Fast Pass if you want to go later in the day. However, at 30 days out our only available option was 4 p.m. One day later none were available. Lines were 80 minutes mid-day on a “yellow” crowd calendar day. If you don’t get a FP, you’re still in luck. Go at the VERY beginning of the day –we only waited for about 20 at 9:15 a.m.
There is no Fast Pass to meet Anna and Elsa at Sommerhaus. The line was 20-45 min the entire day. Lucky for us, we walked in after lunch and it was no more than 15 minutes.
We were able to get morning FP reservations for Nemo. We went to Turtle Talk with Crush right after The Seas with Nemo and Friends and didn’t even need to use our Fast Pass.
The character spot lines were longest for us, but since she hadn’t ever met Mickey or Minnie we didn’t mind waiting 25 minutes. The great news is that there are cartoons in line at the character spot so your kiddo stays entertained while you wait.
I was exhausted and hot so we took an afternoon break because we had dinner reservations at the Nine Dragons. We came back to the park and went to “The Land” right before dinner at 5:30 p.m. and walked right on without even waiting for a boat.
The Nine Dragons may have been our best meal at Disney. If you like Chinese – it’s a great option!
Disney Tips for Park Success
Before I go any further, here are some general tips we learned about Disney:
- So many of the lines said 10-15 minutes and we walked right on. You can’t always trust the timer.
- Put on sunscreen even if it’s cloudy and cold in the morning. My husband and I both got burned on a day that had very little sunlight.
- Bring snacks! You can bring in food to all the parks (in plastic containers, no glass) and we saved ourselves a bundle bringing snacks for our daughter.
- Tie something to your stroller handle so you can find it in the crowd. The stroller parking at Disney gets nuts, and they sometimes move your strollers around. We tied a pink ribbon to our handle, and it was a lifesaver. The hot pink stood out really well in a sea of black strollers.
- Bring ponchos. Florida rain is unpredictable. You can get stuck in a torrential downpour even if rain wasn’t predicted that day. Don’t be caught unprepared and have to buy an expensive poncho in the park. You can get them at the dollar store. We got ours at Target for $2 each, and I still thought it was totally worth it.
- There are a lot of debates about bringing a stroller or not. We couldn’t have survived without ours and frankly, I’m not sure why anyone with a kid under the age of five would even want to try.
- You can refill water bottles at water fountains but sometimes they’re a little harder to find. However, it’s worth scouting them out if you’re not into paying $3.50 for a bottle of water.
- Many restaurants have stands quite close that offer a few items off the menu at a much cheaper cost. But the food still isn’t cheap. Definitely strategize your meals so you aren’t paying $200/day for the family.
- At Epcot, we spent $100 for a family of three, splitting everything all day. We ate at The Nine Dragons for dinner and had the fried rice and honey sesame chicken. Little lady ate off our plates and while it was delicious, without alcohol still ran ~$60. Lunch was at a stand in Mexico and hubs and I split guacamole, two tacos, and a margarita, running ~$30, plus an $8 gelato we all shared.
- We brought in a peanut butter sandwich, pirate’s booty, crackers, and granola bars for little one’s lunch and snacks. She housed it all (along with half the gelato) and was a happy camper.
- Take your own pictures! My husband kept saying the pictures the photographers were taking were coming to his Disney account. Somehow it didn’t register that we’d need to pay for them. They were $70 a DAY and $200 for the vacation. No way was I paying that, so we don’t have pictures with Mickey and Minnie or Anna and Elsa in Epcot.
Magic Kingdom Tips
In the Magic Kingdom there are tons of choices for a toddler. However, some of the lines are really long. For instance, if you want to go on the Dumbo ride in Fantasyland, use a fast pass. It was a 45-minute wait by 9:15 a.m.
Our three Fast Passes in the Magic Kingdom were on:
- Winnie the Pooh
- Under the Sea (Little Mermaid)
Winnie the Pooh was one of our daughter’s favorite rides, but my husband and I hated it. It also lasted approximately 2 minutes. The standby line was 40 minutes. If we hadn’t used a fast pass, I’d have been VERY disappointed
The Under the Sea Little Mermaid ride was awesome. We did use a Fast Pass here, but the line wasn’t as long. We were also able to meet Ariel after waiting less than 20 minutes. I’d recommend waiting to meet all the characters if your little one is young. She seemed to like the rides ok, but her favorite part of the trip was meeting the Disney Princesses. She talked about it the ones she met each day.
Magic Kingdom Dining
We ate at Tony’s Town Square for lunch on our way out before squeezing in a nap, and I wouldn’t recommend it. In general, we did a good job splitting all our entrees at Disney and this was a little ridiculous. At Tony’s we ordered an entree that was supposed to be a big portion of three things to share, along with an appetizer. Our daughter had been eating the food we brought for her all day, so I knew she wasn’t super hungry. The entree, app, and one soda were about $60 once we included a tip – and no one left super full. I was envisioning something like Olive Garden’s tour of Italy, and the portion we got was closer to half that size.
Of course, Cinderella’s Castle or Be Our Guest restaurant are the traditional fancier restaurants you won’t want to miss. The caveat here is that you can’t be on a budget and you need to get reservations in time. Be our Guest lunch is much less expensive, but we couldn’t walk in. We didn’t have many reservations available when we went to look a few weeks before the trip.
For reference the Be Our Guest adult buffet was $60/person, and for kids, it was almost $40. I think I read on another blog when we were planning our trip that character breakfasts at Cinderella’s Table were $70. Prices aren’t listed on the menu and I couldn’t find it referenced again so if I’m wrong here please let me know!
Magic Kingdom At Night
We wanted to get in a good nap at the hotel since I knew we’d be out late watching the closing fireworks show. Since we were already off property, we ate an early dinner on our way back to the park. This was one of the main reasons renting a car was huge for us. We really wanted to be able to come and go as we pleased, and not have to trek across all the Disney transportation. As an off-property hotel, we only got shuttle drop off in two locations.
In the evening we were able to go meet Belle in the library. We didn’t realize the attraction was a skit at first, and both my daughter and husband were able to participate. They loved it and that evening was one of the most fun things we did on the trip. Even though we had been waiting in the rain, Belle still hugged our girl, and she was impressed.
Finally, the fireworks show at the end of the day (at 8:00 p.m.) was amazing. It rained the entire time and we all ended up soaked – but it was awesome. Our daughter asked who was singing in the castle about 45x and now every time we watch a Disney movie, we can tell her we went to the castle on the front of the screen. Highly highly recommend. Bonus points if it’s not raining.
A Magic Kingdom Watch-out
The downside: Ok, here’s a big downside. It took us nearly 2 hours to get home after we saw the firework and light show. About 15 minutes of that was due to user error putting in the wrong information in the GPS. The biggest downer was that we were waiting for at least 40-45 minutes trying to get on the Ferry back to the parking lot. The monorail lines were insane, and people directed us toward the Ferry.
I’m not sure what would have been a better call. Luckily for us, we made it under the awning to wait but it was brutal, and there were TONS of people who were stuck fully outside in a pretty serious rain. I wrapped our little in a poncho around her raincoat and laid her down, but she never fell asleep. It was probably close to 9:30 before we got back to get on the tram to our car.
The good news is that experience taught us that we weren’t willing to do the parks in the rain, and we’d planned to alter our schedule since it was projected to rain the following day. Luckily, the weather held so we went to Universal the next day, but barely made it to our car before an actual torrential FL rain. We are all for theme parks but standing in a downpour and then trying to walk around in soaked clothes and shoes is not my idea of fun. Check out our review of Universal with a Toddler, coming soon!
So Animal Kingdom was our least favorite park. We went on a “green” crowd calendar day and it still felt way more crowded than the other two parks, probably because it’s smaller. We reserved our fast passes 30 days out (to the day) and were only able to reserve times in the afternoon starting at 3 p.m. If you’re traveling with a toddler, you know this isn’t ideal.
Get to Animal Kingdom Early
We thought we’d use the same strategy we used in Epcot and Magic Kingdom. We’d get to the park when it opens (meaning before 9 a.m. so you can get through the lines and park) and would just hit the Kilimanjaro Safari first so we wouldn’t have a crazy line. Nope. Didn’t work. Just after 9 a.m. the standby time was 65 minutes, where it remained all day. We strolled over to Pandora for the Avatar rides and those were already long as well. Apparently, they just get worse throughout the day. When we made it to Pandora for our Fast Pass close to 6 p.m. the lines were 120 min+ on both rides.
I’m sorry, but there is almost nothing on earth I’ll wait in line for two hours for with a toddler.
We stayed about a 10-minute drive away, and it took us about 45 minutes to get into the park every morning from the time we left our hotel. When we left by 8:15 we were in at 9 when they opened. Magic Kingdom took about an hour because of the extra transport into the park via Ferry/Monorail from parking. Apparently, people wait outside the Animal Kingdom at 8 a.m. to get through security, etc. and then run to the rides so they don’t have to wait. The hottest attractions are in Pandora and the Kilimanjaro Safari in Africa. That really wasn’t our style, but since I heard that was the way to beat the long lines, I thought I’d leave that here as food for thought.
What to do in Animal Kingdom
We regrouped and realized we could watch the Festival of the Lion King show that began at 10 a.m. We DID wait in the standby line beginning at 9:30. However, I don’t think it sold out so we could have showed up way later and still gotten in. The attendant did tell me that they fill up every show but occasionally the first one isn’t totally full. We didn’t want to risk it and just took our place in line. It was a great excuse for me to take little lady to the bathroom and lather up with sunscreen while daddy waited in line. Win win.
We LOVED the show. It’s a must-do and will entertain both the adults and kiddos, and the best part is that it’s 30 minutes! What other Disney ride lasts that long for the wait? Highly recommend, unless your toddler wouldn’t be entertained by a show for that long and can’t sit still.
We then walked the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. It was great to be able to stop in and show her the monkeys, gorillas, zebras, etc. She loves looking at animals, so this was a great way to spend some time when we didn’t have a fast pass lined up.
We’d planned to let her blow off some steam at the Boneyard (a playground in the park) but didn’t actually have time to do this. We’d also wanted to check out Finding Nemo the musical, but because we left the park for lunch it really wasn’t possible to squeeze in anything else.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge Experience
We decided we wanted to eat outside the park and headed to the Animal Kingdom Lodge since we’d heard you could see safari animals from the lobby. This was true, but unfortunately there were no giraffes or cool animals in view when we went. We had a nice lunch and were ready to head back for our afternoon activities. However, the one hang-up is that our little one still hadn’t napped. The shuttle to the lodge is via bus, so of course, we had to pack the stroller up both times.
We left the parks to nap two days and left for lunch one day (so three of our four Orlando park days) so I have no experience with taking a toddler on a marathon 12-hour park excursion. Getting to the lodge for lunch still took us about an hour between the transport time, getting to the bus, waiting in line, etc. We didn’t stay on property so I didn’t know how long Disney transport would take. While it was convenient to be able to hop on a bus and just end up where we wanted to go, it didn’t really cut out that much time for us.
She didn’t have time to really relax between the transfers and rushing back and forth so by the time we were in line at the character spot she was exhausted. And slept the entire line and through meeting Mickey and Minnie.
Yes, we tried to wake her. No, it didn’t work. She then slept an entire hour in the stroller, and we had to wake her so we didn’t miss our next Fast Pass and could go on the Safari!
Animal Kingdom Fast Passes
Our three Fast Passes in the Animal Kingdom were on:
- Meeting Mickey and Minnie at Adventure Outpost
- Kilimanjaro Safari in Africa
- Navi River Journey in Pandora
Mickey & Minnie at Adventure Outpost – We used a fast pass here in the afternoon and still waited 25 minutes. Per above, this wasn’t an issue since she slept the whole time. However, I don’t know if I would have waited to meet Mickey and Minnie again (we met them at Epcot) for more than 30 minutes if we hadn’t had a Fast Pass.
Kilimanjaro Safari – Would recommend if you’re into animals. This is also a longer ride, so it feels “worth” the wait. You go on a safari truck and get to see all the animals in Africa in the wild. It’s probably one of the only times you’ll be able to go somewhere without fences between you and wild animals – so it’s pretty cool.
Navi River Journey – The special effects here were cool, and I will caveat by saying I haven’t seen the entire Avatar movie. It was our last ride of the day and I do feel like the effects on some of the other rides were just as good in the Magic Kingdom. I 100% would not have waited two hours to take the five-minute raft ride, but to each his own.
Here’s a great site with lots of info for planning your trip to the Animal Kingdom: https://wdwprepschool.com/disney-world-parks/animal-kingdom/attractions/
I know this was a TON of information, so feel free to reach out if you need more clarifications. I hope this helps if you’re planning to go to Disney World with a toddler.