For Christmas this year, my parents generously gifted our family a trip to Disney World (which was amazing, because it meant we got a magical trip AND time together in the process), so the day after Christmas we headed to Orlando. Our group consisted of two toddlers (Maggie and my nephew, Benjamin, both about 2.5) and six adults (my dad, my mom, my sister, my brother-in-law, Kevin, and me), and now in reflecting on our trip, I wanted to write about it to share our experience (especially from the perspective of traveling with two toddlers and a vegan — ME!).
(Oh, and before I jump into my tips, I wanted to be sure to share a link to this blog, which was written by MUCH more of a Disney expert than me. He’s Susan and Marty’s brother-in-law and has great advice to share if you’re planning a trip any time soon.)
Okay, let’s talk Disney World!:
- First and foremost, do yourself a favor and work with a Disney travel agent! They make the trip extra amazing because they handle everything from booking your hotel to coordinating travel to and from the airport to reserving your Fast Passes (often waking up early on a weekend to do so, which means YOU don’t have to!). My cousin, Kayra Alt, works with The Traveling Mouse and she planned our trip. I can’t recommend her highly enough! She had us so well taken care of, and since she travels to Disney often and is far more familiar with the parks, hotels, restaurants, etc. than we were, she had wonderful advice to share. (She’s also mama to three kids, so she totally understands traveling with littles and needing to accommodate for strollers, reserving pack and plays in the hotel, etc.)
- Stay at a Disney on-property hotel if possible. (We stayed at the Wilderness Lodge and LOVED that experience.) This makes things so easy — especially with toddlers! It means you don’t have to worry about a carseat or rental car (because you take a shuttle bus to and from the airport and then travel by boat, monorail, or bus to go between hotels and parks) and makes things far more immersive, too. Our favorite mode of transportation was by far the boat! Oh, and a Disney hotel means your meal plan applies there, you have a great pool area and kid-friendly splash pad, etc.
- Finding vegan options at Disney World is SO EASY. I found it simpler to follow a plant-based diet at Disney World than I do in Winston in the sense that every menu item was labeled, so it was incredibly easy to see which options would be perfect for me. Every restaurant had at least one plant-based option, and vegan options were in abundance at the parks as well. This is a great resource, too, if you want to do some research beforehand. (Get excited, fellow vegans: Dole Whip is vegan, and it’s remarkable.)
- Pack raincoats (even if there’s no rain in the forecast). This is Florida, people — who are we kidding? (This is advice I wish I’D had before our trip, because our little family of three neglected to pack raincoats and when it POURED on us during our day at Animal Kingdom we ended up spending something like $36 on three Disney ponchos out of desperation. So yeah…pack raincoats.
- Toddlers (under age 3) don’t need to wear their wrist bands. This is great news, because I’m confident Maggie would absolutely have lost her band if she’d needed to wear it the whole time, or I’d have ended up wearing two bands (and she would have been upset that I was wearing hers). If you haven’t been to Disney in a while, the bands get you access to EVERYTHING: the park, rides, food, your hotel room — they’re very essential.
- Kids under age 3 don’t show up on your meal plan (but no one will go hungry!). Because children under age 3 are free to take to Disney (wahoo!), they don’t show up on your meal plan. This is totally fine, but just be aware of it. Everywhere we went, the food portions were generous and we had plenty to share with Maggie and Benjamin (and when we ate at buffet dinners, the kiddos were able to get their own plates, so that was nice).
- Speaking of buffets…if you have toddlers, dinner at Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Hotel is an absolute must. It’s a buffet dinner where you’re guaranteed to get to meet and take photos with five classic Disney characters: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. We weren’t sure how Maggie and Benjamin would react to seeing their favorite celebrities in person, but they had a blast, weren’t at all scared, and wanted to hug and interact with each one. It was one of the biggest highlights of our trip. (I’m not sure if this helped Maggie be excited rather than intimidated by the characters, but in the weeks leading up to our trip Kevin and I showed her videos online of other kids’ experiences meeting the characters in person. That helped her know how big they’d be, that they wouldn’t talk but would definitely interact, etc.)
- Bring a backpack. Having the hands-free option is SO helpful. I love this one and have been using it for years now as a purse, diaper bag, plane carry-on, etc. depending on the situation.
- A stroller is non-negotiable. If you’re the parent to am under-3 kiddo this is probably a no brainer, but I wanted to be sure to mention it: You will most definitely need a stroller. There’s so much walking and waiting (not to mention kiddo napping) involved at the park, plus having the extra storage below the stroller comes in handy. (Oh, and there’s convenient stroller parking in all the parks that ends up looking similar to a car parking lot!) Quick tip: Add a brightly colored bow to your stroller to help spot it more easily among a sea of others.
- The parks have playgrounds (and they’re usually not all that crowded). Seek them out when your littles need a bit of unrestrained time to run around and get some energy out. (It’s a good break for parents and grandparents, too!)
- Bring your own straw. My sister thoughtfully gifted me a portable silicone straw for Christmas (it folds up into this adorable little carrying case, making it purse friendly) because she’d read the parks use paper straws. (This is such a pet peeve of mine. I’m all for environmentally sustainable options, but can we all just agree that paper straws don’t work?) I was so glad to have my own straw, especially because when we checked into our hotel we got free cups we could refill at any hotel property, and they were convenient to take into the parks as well. (The cups come with a meal plan.)
- Pack snacks and leak-proof water bottles for the kids. Yes, you’ll have access to snacks galore with your meal plan, but you’ll also be waiting in line for rides or be far from a snack you want many times, so having snacks on you is critical. Some of our favorites for the trip: Mini Lara Bars, raisins, squeezy applesauce, and Goldfish. Also, the kids didn’t get the reusable cups I mentioned above from the hotel, so be sure to pack water bottles for the littles. (Side note: Orlando has very sulfuric-smelling tap water. Not a fan.)
Bottom line: We had a completely magical time at Disney, and were so impressed by the service we encountered throughout our whole stay. This is a company that truly makes it a priority to value children and make it juuuust a little easier to travel with them, which goes such a long way. As Mickey says, “see ya real soon,” Disney World!