My husband, Leap, and I are longtime Disney fans so we've been visiting Disney World since before the tadpoles hatched. Now that we are a hoppy family of four, we've adjusted our expectations and interests in the parks to suit our kids' needs. Honestly, it's a whole new world preparing to visit Disney World with kids — let alone kids in very different age groups. Whether you have infants, toddlers, school-age kids or teens and tweens, we have some hoppin' tips to help you prepare and schedule your day.
How to Prepare to Visit Disney World with Kids
Enjoyable for both the young and young-at-heart, Walt Disney World is the perfect vacation for the whole family. While Disney World caters to little ones, it can still be a challenge tackling the parks with your kiddos joining in on the fun.
It's important to prepare as much as you can in order to have the awesome trip you've dreamed of, complete with tons of amazing memories! Before we dive into it, be sure to save this post! You’ll want to use this guide as a reference as you’re planning your trip. Now, without any further ado, here’s everything you need to know to prepare to visit Disney World with kids! Ribbit!
Bring a Backpack
If you are visiting the parks when it is cool in the morning but warm in the afternoon, it works out well to have a backpack for holding light jackets. Our tadpoles wear shorts with sweatpants and a T-shirt with a jacket to keep warm in the morning. After the day warms up, the kids shed layers. If we are at the park long enough, the kids can add an extra layer again when it cools off in the evening. This has worked out well for us. If we do not want to carry the backpack, we get a locker to stash the warm clothes until evening. But a stroller also comes in handy for storage.
Traveling with teens or tweens? Let them carry their own backpacks! This will save the parent frogs from having to haul around all the things. The older froglets can also use their backpacks to store any souvenirs or snacks that they pick up throughout the day. No need to worry about where to store these either — regular-sized backpacks, diaper bags or cooler bags can be carried onto the rides with you! (The one exception is TRON Lightcycle Run, but there are free lockers to use for the duration of the ride.)
Bring or Rent a Stroller
When traveling to Disney World with a baby or toddler, you'll definitely need a stroller. But even with slightly older kids, you'll need to be realistic about how much your kids can be on their feet all day. If you do not regularly take your tadpoles on 5- to 10-mile hikes in the heat and humidity from early morning to evening, you'll need a tadpole transportation plan. That means a stroller or being prepared to carry your kids on your back or shoulders. Strollers provide a safe barrier between your toddler and the rest of the world. They make for a secure nap on the go. Plus, if you are keeping track of a few kids, a stroller keeps little ones from wandering off in a crowd.
The fun and excitement of Disney can be overwhelming for some, causing them to be worn out easier. Plus the view from your shoulders is just better! When Tad was 5 years old and out of the stroller, he almost immediately complained that his frog legs had no more kick in them and wanted a froggy back ride. Fortunately, he was not overly heavy for Leap and me to take turns hopping him around.
If you have several days of theme park hopping, a stroller can save your back. I don't know about you, but when we visit Disney World with kids, we parents feel a bit like pack animals. With reusable water bottles, sweatshirts for cooler winter nights, snacks, souvenirs, sunscreen, umbrellas and more, our backpacks can weigh us down. And they certainly do not free up our backs for carrying tired tots. A stroller with underneath storage is a back-saver! Just do not leave any valuables, park tickets, cameras or phones in it unattended. Fanny packs are back in fashion (when worn cross-body and over your outerwear, according to our tween), so keep small valuables on your body or in a smaller bag that you take with you.
Another beautiful part of having a stroller is it gives you a place to tie your balloon. You can attach popcorn buckets to it as well. All the Disney stuff you collect throughout your day can be attached to or stored in the stroller rather than being added to your body.
Do Park Research by Letting the Kids Watch Their Favorite Disney Movies and Park Videos
We love making the most of the excitement when we visit Disney World with kids. There's no easier way than letting them watch all of their favorite Disney, Star Wars and Marvel films, from classics to new ones! A subscription to Disney+ toadally saves money over buying all these movies. Watching movies allows your kids to get more familiar with characters, rides and shows. For example, we watched "Swiss Family Robinson" several weeks before our trip so that the kids would be familiar with the story and the tree house. When we saw the Swiss Family Tree House at the Magic Kingdom, the kids immediately recognized it. They had a greater enjoyment walking through the tree house than they otherwise would have. Likewise, Lily is toadally obsessed with the new Disney+ series, "Magic of Disney's Animal Kingdom," which follows the animal care specialists at both Disney's Animal Kingdom and EPCOT. It's led to her asking more questions from the cast members and even remembering the animals' names! Your kids might also help prepare for the trip by opting to pack clothing that favors a character or movie.
Another way to do park research is to watch some of our Disney World YouTube Channel videos. It can help you as a parent choose appropriate rides for your kids. You know better than we do what may scare them. If you have a child with autism or sensory needs, they can prepare themselves for a new ride by watching videos of that ride. Knowing what to expect seems to reduce anxiety about the unknown.
Factor in Height and Rider Switch When Choosing Rides
There is nothing like the disappointment on your tadpoles' faces when they get excited for a ride, only to discover that they do not quite measure up to the height requirement. Familiarize yourself with the Disney World Rider Switch service and attraction height requirements before you visit.
If you do have smaller tadpoles, take advantage of Rider Switch. One adult can watch the baby while other family members ride, then the baby watcher can take a turn without waiting in line and can bring a guest with them. That means older siblings just might get to ride a second time!
Height can be more important than age in deciding when to make that first visit. You do not want to miss out on any must-do rides. But if you have multiple children, you likely have kids of various heights. We discovered that there are a decent number of rides that had a minimum height requirement of 44 inches, but only one that is more than that (48 inches for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster). And, of course, Disney World has many rides without any height requirement at all.
Have a baby tadpole in the family? Then be sure to bring along your baby carrier! Attractions with no height requirement or that are labeled appropriate for preschoolers are perfect for wearing your baby while riding the attraction.
Consider Taking the Kids Out of School for a Visit
We wanted to visit during a less busy time of year, so we chose the week after Thanksgiving. It's a great week to visit due to fewer crowds and all the festive Christmas decorations and activities. Our children, of course, missed school for the week. Here are some considerations before you decide to take kids out of school (this a judgment-free space!).
If your kids have a more flexible schedule or are able to utilize remote learning, you might take advantage of that. It's admittedly much easier to pull younger kids from school than middle or high school students. You might also consider asking for assignments in advance and using the travel time in the car or on the airplane to have your tadpoles work on some of those assignments.
While we know some parents and teachers aren't advocates of taking kids out of school for vacation, we find that it's worth it. Crowds AND prices are typically much lower when kids aren't on break, leading to a much more enjoyable experience. Our kids learned a ton during their trip! If, however, you have an older kiddo or a particularly studious froglet who doesn't want to deal with a mountain of makeup work, it may not be the right decision for your family.
Help Keep Tabs on the Kids with Ear Hats, Costumes or Matching Clothes
A child can wear iconic ear hats and headbands to help you keep track of them in the crowds. There are a large variety of styles for Mickey Mouse ear hats and headbands. Distinctive headwear makes kids easier to spot.
We see many families wear matching Disney shirts or color schemes each day. It makes it easier to scan the area for "the shirt of the day." Plus your kids can feel like they are part of a toadally cool Disney family. Note: We cannot guarantee your child will feel the same way we do about matching clothing being cool.
Tadpoles under 14 can dress in costumes at Disney World for extra fun!
Make Sure to ID Younger Kids
For a younger child or one with limited verbal skills, a basic ID tag with the child's name and your cell phone number will be a big help in case your child were to become separated from you at the parks. For our visit, we made metallic pet tags engraved with this information and attached them to our children's shoes.
You can find do-it-yourself pet tag machines in most pet stores. The metal is weather/water resistant, will not peel off like a label, and is worn on an item that the child will most likely wear every day... perfect for preparing for Disney World with kids. Runner's shoe tags also work well for this! (We have some tips on how to prevent your child from getting lost at Disney World ... plus, some tips on what to do if your child with special needs does become separated from you.)
Bring Snacks and Budget Money for Treats and Souvenirs by Giving Each Kid Their Own Disney Gift Card
So many rides exit straight into gift shops. Your kids can go overboard with excitement when they want everything they see. The grandparents generously give our kids Disney gift cards as gifts before a trip so they can purchase what they want, within budget. We also set a treat and souvenir budget with a gift card so the kids are "paying" for it. Instead of parents saying, "no," the kids might decide for themselves to save their money for something better rather than purchase a third popcorn that day. There's a lot less whining and a lot more thoughtful souvenir and treat choosing this way. You can also save a lot of money by bringing snacks and water with you into the park. There are water refill stations around each park.
Slow Down and Say, "Yes"
We all feel that pressure to pack our day, get it all in and press on. But try to budget some free time when planning so you can slow down and let your kids engage with the park elements on their terms. If they see something that catches their eye that they want to explore, let them do it. There are so many toadally cool experiences kids love to take the time to do at Disney World. One example is Wilderness Explorers at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Your family can embark on a self-guided tour of activities that range from animal observation to learning important wilderness skills. Your tadpoles can collect over 25 badges and earn the right to echo the Wilderness Explorer call: Caw! Caw! Roar!
If you’re staying at a Disney resort or another resort that offers swimming pools, don’t froget to schedule some downtime. The Disney swimming pools and waterslides are our kids’ top favorite activities. After a busy and typically hot day in the parks, they can’t wait to get back to the hotel for a cool swim. This makes for a perfect break in the day, especially if combined with a little cat nap and a light meal. Then they are rearing and ready to get back to the park in the evening for the fireworks and a few more hours of fun.
Warm Up to Characters
Sure, every kid is overjoyed to meet their favorite character ... but reality may not exactly match up with expectations. Little ones can get overwhelmed when coming face to face with their favorite Disney characters. The "face" characters, such as princesses, are a bit easier to interact with since they walk and talk like normal people! The "fur" characters, such as Mickey, may be a bit daunting for a child who has only seen them on TV. They are so much bigger in real life! We recommend pointing out the characters from afar, such as spotting Pluto or Chip 'n' Dale in Town Square, before committing to a meet-and-greet. Watching the interactions take place while you wait in line is helpful too!
Bring Entertainment Options for Long Waits
Nobody likes to wait in line. It’s never any fun! But the reality is that lines are just a part of the Disney World experience. Even on days with lower crowds, there will always be some aspect of waiting whether that’s for the afternoon parade, your lunch order, or for Disney transportation. We find it hopful to chat with our tadpoles in advance about wait times, practicing patience and learning to be OK with having to wait.
On the same token, we parental frogs have learned a few tricks to help our tadpoles deal with wait times. Having a few toys, bubbles or books in the diaper or park bag has been a lifesaver to help pass the time. Simple snacks such as goldfish, breakfast bars, fruit and cool drinks also make for great distractions. We’ve pulled out simple games or played interactive games such as "I Spy" or "Would You Rather" as a group while waiting. Lastly, technology always seems to work too! Let your kiddo use their phone/tablet or yours to take photos, play online games or watch videos for short periods of time to help when waiting just can’t seem to be avoided.
Our tween enjoys taking photos with his Polaroid camera (apparently these are THE thing again) or we’ve been told that the old-school disposable cameras are back in vogue too! Not to mention that the photos make for fun mementos of your trip.
Remember, Every Child Reacts Differently
I remember riding Haunted Mansion when I was 4 years old. I was fascinated with the dancing ghosts in the party scene, although I was convinced a ghost would follow me home when it ended! So I thought our kids would be fine on it because we made a point of telling them that the ghosts were pretend and were friendly. Even though we tried to downplay anything that might be scary, Lily did not like the ride at all and was frightened by it. Tad loved it and wanted to ride again.
Similarly, when Tad was 5, he loved Big Thunder Mountain Railroad during the day. But he found it too scary when we rode it at night. Keep in mind how various factors may contribute to your child's reaction to better prepare you for the real deal.
Consider Your Older Kids' Interests
Even though so much of Disney World is accessible to younger children, your teens and tweens have a lot to excite them at Disney World too. Prepare them for their trip by letting them know what thrills they have to look forward to. Disney's Hollywood Studios is going to be a hit with Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, Tower of Terror and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. Toy Story Mania may spark your gamer's competitive side! Animal Kingdom has Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, Avatar Flight of Passage and the toadally cool bioluminescence of Pandora at night. Magic Kingdom rides that are popular with teens include "the mountains" such as Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Teens also love Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. At EPCOT, Test Track and Soarin' are good bets.
If you do have kids who are always on their phones, set up the Play Disney Parks app before your trip. They can engage with the parks through their phone. The app transforms into a Data Pad once you enter Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Your Star Wars fans may want to build a lightsaber at Savi's Workshop so be sure to make a reservation. And then allow some time for posing for photos with the lightsaber in front of the Millennium Falcon!
Some teens enjoy wearing Disney ears, shirts or a character's colors or designs. Others do not. Talk to them and ask if they have any shopping they need to do before the trip so they can invest in the trip and are prepared to dress their part. Or not. Just be like Elsa and let it go if your teens have a different idea of how they'd like to dress at Disney.
Have a Plan for Picky Eaters
When Tad was a toddler, he was an extremely picker eater! If it wasn’t french fries, mac and cheese or pizza, he wouldn’t eat it. And even then, it had to be a certain type or he would not even touch it. As a mama, it was stressful at first trying to navigate meal times at Disney World to accommodate all of us. And I know this is the case with other families, even more so if there are special dietary and/or allergy concerns.
The great news is that all the Disney World menus can be found online! Take the time to learn which restaurants are in each park, peruse the menus in advance and make your dining plans accordingly. Disney World is also very accommodating when it comes to special requests. If there’s something you’re looking for, always ask! We were pleased to know we were able to get chicken nuggets and fries for the tadpoles at Trails End, even though they weren’t listed on the menu for the family-style dining option. Both kids were so happy and we parents were relieved that we didn’t have to sit and listen to whiney kiddos because they didn’t like the sauce on the chicken! Disney might not be able to accommodate every request, but it's worth asking.
When in doubt, feel free to bring your tadpole's favorite food items into the parks with you. We like to load up our park bag with PB&J sandwiches, chip or crackers, simple fruits, veggies and our refillable water bottles. There have been times when we've even brought a small cooler and picnicked right in the Disney parks. You'll just want to consider bringing items that don't need refrigeration or heating.
These are our tips for preparing to visit Disney World with kids. What works for you? Share your tips for visiting Disney World with kids below. You’ll find more information on our Planning Pages.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About Disney World Characters
Related: Overview of Disney's Disability Access Service