How we did Disney with a baby and preschooler

Living in Minnesota for ten years I’ve learned that a winter getaway is sorta mandatory. We have loooooong winters that even Frosty the Snowman would find brutal and unbearable at times. While we revel in the warmth of the gorgeous Minnesota summer it might be hard to even consider that snow will again fall, but now is the perfect time to plan that winter getaway.

With people thinking about warm destinations for future family trips I’ve been getting a lot of questions about our 2017 winter escape. We braved taking a 6 month and nearly 5-year-old to Disney World. This was my third trip there and our daughter’s second trip. Right away I would say if you anticipate Disney World being a once in their childhood experience wait until they are older – at least 10 – so they can fully enjoy all the park attractions. If however, you are taking them at a young age and headed back once they are older there are a few tips I’d like to share to make your trip that much more enjoyable.

Stay on-site

We have stayed off site (pre-children) and on-site and after staying at a Disney property we won’t go back to off premises. Save yourself the hassle and stress of getting everyone organized in the morning, driving to Disney, finding parking, shuttling to the entrance, and finally making it into the park after waiting in line. Instead, stay on site and get access to the parks early and late as scheduled, take a quick boat ride or shuttle to the park of your choice, and get your day started.

Fort Wilderness might be the least known of the Disney World resorts, but it should be top of the list for families. This fun property is a throw back to the Disney of old and a world away from the chaos of the parks. The cabin option is perfect for families – kitchen to eat breakfast and have a slightly slower morning, separate room to watch TV in while the kids sleep in bunk beds in the back room, a deck to enjoy a little calm outdoor time. There are also swimming pools and other activities for the afternoon when the kids (and parents) need a break from the crowds. The other great part is the evening entertainment. Enjoy a campfire with sing along and s’mores with Chip and Dale.

Chip and Dale sing along at Fort Wilderness, Disney World

Plan ahead for little one’s meal times

If you have a really little one who is just switching to solids, like our little man was, make sure you pack a few appropriate spoons. Throughout the parks and at the resort shops we were able to find baby food, plastic bowls, even baby tylenol and diaper cream, but no soft plastic spoons.

If you are breastfeeding the parks do have great mother’s rooms/nursing stations. They have comfier chairs usually, more privacy, a TV to keep older kids appeased, and changing tables.

As for older kids, have an idea of where you want to be at lunch time (or a few options) so Mickey pretzels don’t become the entree of choice. We did the dining plan and used our quick service options for lunch most days so we could get back to the rides ASAP. We used our sit down meals mostly in the evenings when we were all ready to crash anyways. You can easily make reservations and look at menus on the park site and even on the app, which I highly recommend downloading.

Do: Download the Disney app, scope out menus before leaving home, make reservations when possible. 

Characters, characters, characters

One of the best of parts of a trip to Disney is getting to see your kids’ faces when they meet Mickey, Minnie, or any of the dozens of characters that are found throughout the park. Not gonna lie, I still get a little gidy when meeting them. The app now lets you pinpoint times and locations of characters so you can plan ahead and be sure not to miss a favorite.

Character dining Disney World

We found the best way to see characters was through the character dining options. Book in advance! These were great because rather than standing in a long line waiting to see one character you can keep the kids busy eating or with an activity at the table while they wait for the characters to make the rounds. We also found you tend to get a little more time with characters during the dining experiences versus at the parks.

Our favs were Minnie’s Beach Bash Breakfast at Cape May Cafe in Epcot and the Tusker House Restaurant character dinner in Animal Kingdom.

Do: Book character dining in advance, bring activities to keep the kids busy while they wait for characters. 

One final tip

We have been lucky enough to travel with other family members who can watch the kids for a few hours. If possible, travel with other adults so can sneak away to enjoy a some of the fun just the two of you. You are never too old to enjoy Disney World!

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