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 and 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. As we live in an ever-changing world these days, we also have a few new tips to guide you through visiting Disney World during the pandemic.
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!
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 sweatpants and 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 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.
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 to be 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 outer wear, according to our tween), so keep small valuables on your body or in in a smaller bag 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. 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 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, 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 usually bring up to two guests with them. That means two 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.
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 smaller crowds and all of the festive Christmas decorations and activities. Our children, of course, missed school for the week. Here are some considerations before you decide to do it.
If your kids have a more flexible schedule or are remote learning during the pandemic, you might take advantage of that while capacity is limited. It's admittedly much easier to pull younger kids from school versus high school students.
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 during those times 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 the 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, although they must wear proper face coverings with the costume during the pandemic.
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 everyday ... 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 the 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!
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! The good news on this front is that, at least temporarily because of new health and safety measures, all character meet-and-greets are not hoppening and must be viewed from a safe distance.
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, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain. Teens love Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. At EPCOT, Test Track and Soarin' are good bets.
You'll definitely want to read our tips for joining a Boarding Group (a spot in the virtual queue) for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Tad is our family tech support expert. Your teen may also be pretty good with apps and phones too. Have your teen do the research and get the family set up and ready to join the Resistance at specific times of day that Boarding Groups are available. We're not going to lie: The spots usually fill within a minute, so set reasonable expectations that getting a Boarding Group would be great, but if it doesn't work out you can still pilot Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
If you do have kids who are alway on their phone, set up the Play Disney Parks app before your trip. They can engage with with parks through their phone. The app transforms into a Data Pad once you enter Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. You 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.
Tips for Preparing to Visit Disney World with Kids During a Pandemic
Traveling with kids always requires extra prep and planning, however, COVID-19 means taking a few extra precautions. Here's how to prepare to take kids to Disney World while COVID-19 health and safety measures are in place.
Practice with masks.
In order to protect everyone from COVID-19, all employees and park guests 2 and up must properly wear approved face coverings. Disney World does not make exceptions. People who do not wear their masks properly can be removed from the park. That means you need to purchase masks your kids will actually wear and to practice, practice, practice everywhere you go.
Our own toddler, Lily, was not a fan of wearing a mask. That is until we bought her some Disney masks and had her practice wearing them while playing at home. We told her that wearing the mask was Mickey's house rule, and if we want to be at Mickey's house, we have to play by his rules. We know it can be tough for little ones to understand! Now Lily's a trooper with the mask in theme parks. Whew! What a relief! We have a post with a ton of hopful tips for wearing masks in theme parks. Picking a mask with a favorite character, or in a favorite color, can make all the difference to a tadpole. During our most recent visit, we bought a large box of disposable, brightly colored masks from Amazon and let the kids pick their mask of the day. For Lily, we also purchased some Disney-themed ear savers from Etsy to help take the strain off of her ears.
Bring these extra items.
You'll want to travel with a few extra items during the pandemic. Bring additional masks for everyone, because they can get sweaty. Even though you won't have any trouble finding hand sanitizer or a hand-washing station in the parks or hotels, bring your own wipes and hand sanitizer just in case. You want to have fun and stay healthy. Hop over to our guide to practicing good health and wellness in theme parks for some advice on keeping your kiddos safe. In addition to health and safety add-ons, Lily is not a fan of the parks' paper straws, so along with our reusable water bottles, we attach a reusable straw (in its case) to her bag. While First-Aid Stations will have any medication or medical supplies you may need, we bring some basics along, including bandages, tissues and pain relief and antacid for both adults and kiddos. And don't froget about that Florida climate! Sunscreen, bug spray, a poncho or rain coat and extra socks are good to have.
Follow new park plans and touring advice.
We frogs have had to do a lot of adjusting during this new time of visiting theme parks in a pandemic. Mostly we are learning that it is important to remain flexible. With changes to dining reservations, along with temporarily eliminating park hopping, FastPass+ and Extra Magic Hours (though park hopping will be returning Jan. 1, 2021!), we have new strategies for maximizing time in theme parks. Instead of parades and character meet and greets, you'll see characters from safe distance and passing by in character cavalcades. You'll need to make a park reservation through the Disney Park Pass reservation system. That means you'll need to decide well in advance which parks you'd like to visit on which days.
We've created new guides for each Disney World theme park during the pandemic. Each post tells you exactly what to expect in that park right now:
- What to Expect Before Your Trip to the Magic Kingdom
- What to Know Before Your Visit to Animal Kingdom
- Planning a Day at Disney's Hollywood Studios? Here's What You Need to Know About This Popular Park
- What to Know Before Your Visit to EPCOT
Consider driving rather than flying.
If you live within a reasonable driving distance, this might be the time to take a longer road trip with the kids rather than a flight. Not that we deem flying to be dangerous, but you can control your environment better with your own car. On property, you can avoid some of the public transportation options and any long waits associated with physical distancing measures by driving to the parks. Disney World Resort hotel guests park at the theme parks for free!
Teach kids to have reasonable expectations.
While we still find Disney World magical during the pandemic, we prepared our kids before our visit after the parks reopened. We talked about keeping a safe distance from others and wearing masks in the parks and hotel, of course. But we also prepared them for not being able to give Mickey a hug and how we could instead wave from afar. We discussed how our favorite shows may not be available and how characters would keep their distance at character dining. We talked about watching for floor markings, listening to cast member instructions and when it was OK to remove their masks. For our tadpoles who are used to snacking and drinking freely in the parks, we talked about the current policy — guests must be stationary when eating or drinking — meant they'd need to give us a quick heads up so we could all stop when they wanted to take a sip or eat their snack.
Lily was looking forward to her first visit to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, but that princess makeover experience is not available for now. So we made sure to pack a princess dress. Plus we brought a few extra hair accessories, nail polish and sparkles to dress her up ourselves. When Anna and Elsa passed by in their EPCOT cavalcade and saw Lily's Anna dress (and our own version of princess makeover), Lily stood out because she wasn't lost in a sea of other little princesses. Anna and Elsa got excited and called out to Lily, complimenting her on her outfit. That toadally made her trip.
Kids are pretty resilient, so they seem to accept the changes as long as you prepare them. After all, a socially distanced Disney World at times can mean thinner crowds, shorter lines and better views for those shorter guests. And being at Disney World sure beats sheltering at home! We're sure your kids will have a magical time at Disney World!
These are our tips for preparing to visit Disney World with kids, but in normal and pandemic time. What worked for you? Share your tips for visiting Disney World with kids below. You’ll find more information inside our Planning Pages.
Related: Fort Wilderness Camping