When I outlined the posts for my month-long series 31 Days of Disney, I included one post titled “Tips for Doing Disney World with a Preschooler.” That was BEFORE our family of five vacation to Disney World! Once we arrived on the ground, began our first Disney vacation with a three year old (and two older children, ages 10 & 12), and began taking notes, I realized there was no way I was going to fit ALL the tips in one post. There’s just SO much to say about taking a week-long Disney World vacation with a preschooler. So I’ve decided to do a two-part preschool series. Today’s post, Tips for Doing Disney World with a Preschooler. And tomorrow’s post, Tips for Feeding Your Preschooler at Disney World. If you’ve landed on this post and plan to take a Disney vacation with a preschooler, I highly recommend reading BOTH posts. My greatest hope for these posts is that they will help families plan and execute a Disney vacation that’s as smooth and successful as possible when traveling with preschoolers!
Let’s get right to it! Today, I‘m sharing all the love, all the lessons learned.
Tip #1: Be prepared to split your family for the sake of everyone’s sanity.
We’re experienced Disney travelers. However, our most recent vacation to Disney World was the first time we’d taken a three year old. She was the youngest we’ve ever brought a child to Disney World. It was also our first trip to Disney World with three kids, so it’s possible that was a new challenge as well. Anyway…on this most recent visit to Disney World, we ended up splitting up our family nearly every day, every case because of our preschooler. We started most days together. But most days, we split our family at some point in the afternoon or evening. To give you hope, in ALL cases, we reunited after the split. It was the mid-afternoon, early-evening break that was needed for our preschooler.
In split family #1 scenario, we sent one parent with the big kids to do “big kid rides” while the other parent visited characters and did “little kid rides” and attractions. This works well because everyone’s needs are met and it’s not a long-term commitment. The split might be as short as an hour, or as long as a few hours. Please note, in this type of split, EVERYONE stays at the Disney Park, you’re just doing different activities for a short period of time.
In split family #2 scenario, we sent one parent back to the Disney Resort with our preschooler so she could get some much needed rest and rejuvenation while the other parent stayed at the Disney Park with the big kids. I can’t stress this enough. If you’re going to Disney World on a week-long vacation, you should expect that you might need to split up your family for part of the day in order for everyone to have a positive experience. We resisted this at first, as we wanted to be together as a family. By day two of our seven-day vacation, we realized we might as well surrender, split and bring her back for a NAP every day. We took turns accompanying our preschooler to our Disney Resort, which helped relieve the parental burden.
Tip #2: Even if your preschooler is older, don’t go on a “scary” ride early on in the vacation.
We brought our three-year-old daughter on “The Barnstormer” ride at Magic Kingdom on our first day of vacation. Our daughter was tall enough to go on the ride. Before we got in line, I asked the Disney cast member if kids her age go on the ride and the cast member said yes, so we went ahead and got in line! The roller coaster looked slow enough from the ground, so we figured it’d be fun. But she screamed the WHOLE. WAY. THROUGH! Then she was afraid to go on rides for a while because she was worried they were going to be “scary.” My suggestion? Save the “scary” kid rides for later in your vacation. P.S. Kid rides are never that scary, but still. Better be safe than sorry.
Tip #3: Find and visit as many characters as you can.
Your preschooler may or may not engage with the characters, but they’ll love seeing them! Later in the series, I’ll be writing a post titled “10 Tips for Meeting and Greeting Disney Characters.” I highly recommend checking out that post for tips on where and how to meet your preschooler’s favorite characters!
Tip #4: Buy an autograph book!
Your preschooler will love seeing and greeting Disney characters, and that means they’ll want some sort of autograph book. An autograph book gives you more time with characters, great photo opportunities, and great memories to bring home and show friends at preschool! You can purchase autograph books at Disney Parks and Resorts, but you can also bring something from home. I saw kids with Disney notebooks from the Target $1 section, big pieces of rolled up cardboard, picture frame mats, and hats. There are many creative ways to get autographs. Just have something ready and be consistent in its use so your preschooler knows what to expect! Super fun!
Tip #5: Surrender to the Stroller.
This tip is incredibly, incredibly important! If you’re traveling with a preschooler, surrender to the stroller. There are seas of strollers everywhere. Your life will be SO much better with a stroller. Believe me. On our recent 7-day Disney World vacation, we didn’t rent a stroller the first day, but broke down and rented one the last six days. Strollers are a lifesaver for parents of preschoolers at Disney World. You can bring your own stroller, or you can rent one from Disney Parks. Rental cost for a single stroller is $15/day. You can purchase “Length of Stay” passes which are discounted for multi-day use. For example, renting a single stroller for 7 days at the regular rate would have cost our family $105; renting a single stroller for 7 days with the “Length of Stay” pass would have been $91.00. When you purchase “Length of Stay” passes for stroller rental, you’re given a set of tickets that they stamp when you pick up your stroller at the Disney Park every day. They will reimburse unused tickets at the end of your stay, but expect to use all your stroller tickets.
Tip #6: Get in some swim time.
As much as it’s tempting to want to stay at the Disney Parks day and night, it’s also a good idea to try to get in some swim time. We admittedly didn’t get in enough swim time on this most recent vacation; we had one child who wasn’t able to go swimming until the end of our trip because of an injury to his face. But when we did get in swim time, our daughter loved it. She ran around the zero depth splash pools as happy as lark! Highly recommend swim time. You can even catch a quick swim before or after your preschooler’s daily nap.
Tip #7: Reinforce normal bedtime a couple nights during your vacation.
A few days during our week-long vacation, it was clear that the only thing our preschooler needed was a regular bedtime and a full-night’s sleep. I’m pretty sure we got close-to-normal bedtime at least two nights of seven, maybe three, and it helped a TON! If there’s any way to send one parent back and get that kiddo to bed while the other members of your family stay at the Disney Parks, I highly recommend doing so. Our philosophy was this…there’s no reason for the WHOLE family to revolve our vacation around the preschooler’s needs. Part of the family can stay late and have fun at the Disney Parks. One parent and the preschooler in need of sleep can go back to the Resort and catch an early night!
Tip #8: Make sure you visit rides and attractions that are designed specifically with preschoolers in mind.
I highly recommend the following rides and attractions for preschoolers and their families. I promise these are enjoyable for preschoolers, older children, parents and extended family of any age. Enchanted Tales with Belle at Magic Kingdom. Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh at Magic Kingdom. Turtle Talk at Epcot.
Tip #9: Carefully manage trips to the bathroom with your preschooler!
I experienced three major meltdowns with our toddler in bathroom stalls during our week-long vacation to Disney World. I’m not sure why. Perhaps the confined space and pressure to “perform” highlighted the chronic fatigue she was experiencing by being out of routine all week. It wasn’t until meltdown #3 that I realized I could probably have prevented some of the trouble, or made it a little easier on myself, at least. First of all, if you can help it at all, do not go into the bathroom with ANYTHING. If your preschooler is potty trained, do NOT bring in a bag, do not bring in a purse, do not bring in a camera or wear a camera around your neck. Just go into the stall, you and your toddler. That’s it. Keep it simple. You’re in there to use the bathroom, you don’t need anything hindering or complicating the experience!
Tip #10: If you have the opportunity to travel with grandparents or extended family, take it! If you have the option to bring a nanny, go for it!
On this trip to Disney World, more than any other, we realized how amazing it would be to travel with grandparents or have a nanny to utilize in the evenings when our preschooler was overly fatigued. I realize both of these suggestions are complete luxuries that 95% of people don’t have access to. But I’m just saying…if you have the opportunity or can afford it. Do it! An extra set of hands when doing Disney World with a preschooler would be absolutely amazing!
Tip #11: Expect crying, disastrous children.
On day five of our most recent 7-day vacation to Disney World, I engaged in conversation with another mom in a restaurant waiting area. This was their first visit to Disney World, and they had four children. (It appeared the oldest was around 7, the youngest was an infant.) I asked how it was to travel with a baby, a toddler, a preschooler and a young school-aged child. She gave me the BEST piece of advice that you MUST know! She said that they came into this trip “expecting crying and disastrous children, so anything better than that was great!” Hmmm…what amazing advice is that?! That mom didn’t seem stressed out or disappointed or frazzled at all! She was just rolling with the punches because she didn’t set sky-high expectations for their Disney vacation. She’d set low, perhaps realistic expectations, and guess what? Her children were doing much better than she expected! So there’s the key, parents! Set realistic expectations, implement the tips from this post and the next about feeding your preschooler at Disney World, and you should have a successful and positive experience!
This has been a tremendous amount of information, so I’ll end the post abruptly here! This is one of the most valuable and content-rich posts I’ve written for the 31 Days of Disney series so far. I’m hoping and praying it lands in the hands of parents of preschoolers traveling to Disney World for vacation! Don’t forget to check out tomorrow’s post, Tips for Feeding Your Preschooler at Disney World. It’s a MUST READ for parents doing Disney World with preschoolers!
Thanks, y’all. And please leave questions for me if you have any. Happy to answer.
This post is part of a month-long series titled 31 Days of Disney! If you’d like to read more posts from the series, click here and you’ll be directed back to the 31 Days of Disney landing page. ALL posts from the series are linked within the body of that post. Find a title or topic that intrigues you, click on it, and the post will pop up for your Disney reading adventure!
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