Disney World with preschoolers: highlights and tips for a magical time

STUDIO_REDCARPETBCHAR_20170426_400914135391We’re back. We actually got back last Sunday morning (our flight left at the ungodly hour of 7:20am and we had an hour drive to the airport. I’m still not caught up on sleep). While we were gone our area experienced some pretty crazy flash flooding. We are thankful our flight back wasn’t on Saturday, because so many roads were closed we wouldn’t have been able to make it home! So crazy.

So how was our Disney experience? In a word, magical. 🙂 Especially for Charlotte, who celebrated her fifth birthday at the Magic Kingdom with breakfast at Cinderella’s Castle and then riding all her favorite rides. Those memories we made together truly are priceless. I’m tempted to write out a blow-by-blow account of each day of our trip, but I know that’s probably not what you want to read. 🙂 So instead I’ll just give a few tips and tricks for how we made our vacation more enjoyable, and share a few highlights. Before I left I posted that I was going to try to make this vacation low-stress and not exhausting. I don’t know that I really succeeded, but I think we did better than we could have thanks to the following tips that we followed the best we could:

  • Plan ahead where you will save and where you will splurge MK_CRTLOBBYCHAR_20170424_8016478448

I’d heard that Cinderella’s Royal Table is by far the best character meal in all of WDW, so I knew I wanted to do that for Charlotte’s birthday. It was her present, in addition to the trip itself. I had to get up at 5am six months before our trip in order to book the reservation for six of us, but I’m so glad I did it. It truly was unforgettable to get to go inside the castle itself. We took pictures with Cinderella in the lobby, and then when our name was called (The Royal Baran family) we all traipsed up a spiraling staircase into a very authentic banqueting hall. The food was delicious and the service impeccable. C was too distracted by princesses to eat (we got to meet Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, and Jasmine as each came by our table to say hi, happy birthday, and pose for photos) but the rest of us enjoyed a delicious selection of hearty breakfast fare and all-you-can eat pastries. This was definitely a splurge, but completely worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience.

Another popular “add-on” is the Bibbity-Bobbity Boutique where your princess can get all dolled up – hair done, tiara, make-up, nails, etc. Charlotte has no interest in any of those things, won’t wear costumes, and hates to have her hair done. So instead I bought a gorgeous tiara on Amazon, personalized a birthday dress, and did her hair before we left the hotel. It turned out great, she loved it, and our DIY version saved us over $60. Score.

  • Get there before the park opensEPCOT_BACKSIDE1_20170425_8017466401

I know, everyone says this. But it really is the most important thing you can do to make your trip enjoyable. Our breakfast reservation at Magic Kingdom was at 8:55 with the park opening at 9:00. We left our hotel at 7:30 and were right on time. Moral of the story: Allow at least an hour to get from your resort into the park, more for Magic Kingdom because you have to park at the TTC, go through bag check and a metal detector (that was new) and then take a ferry or monorail over to the actual park. Whew. (I won’t lie, I was fighting panic while we waited for the ferry, terrified we were going to miss our reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table. We made it in plenty of time, but man.)

It is hard to get everyone up and going in time to leave before 8:00am, but it was absolutely worth it. I wasn’t able to get fast passes for Frozen Ever After (#hottestrideatwdw) but because we got to Epcot before it even opened we were in line by 9:00. There was still a 30 minute wait, but it sure beat the hour or more we would have waited later in the day. Same story for Hollywood Studios; we were in the park when it opened and got to walk right in to meet Minnie and then Mickey with no wait. We also met Olaf and walked onto Star Tours, all within the first hour of the park being open.

  • Plan mandatory down time/nap breaksIMG_3452

It was so hard to tear ourselves away from the park after lunch and face another hour long commute back to the hotel so that Tessa could nap, but we were all happier when we did. On the days when we did stay in the park we found a quiet spot for Tessa to take a stroller nap while we all rested our feet and enjoyed some snacks. In Magic Kingdom we camped out in Frontier Land on the shady side of the street to eat a Mickey bar and wait for the parade. T slept great until a pre-parade band marched by #thanksdrummers. (The parade was super fun, Charlotte loved it). At Epcot we walked around the World Showcase until Tessa fell asleep, then parked near a little playground where Charlotte played happily and the rest of us rested out of the sun. The rest of the week we went back to the room after lunch. Our feet and aching legs thanked us.

  • Know your prioritiesSTUDIO_REDCARPETACHAR_20170426_8018287752

Have a short list of priorities of rides, character meets, and/or shows to see at each park. You won’t have time to do everything, (even after spending two days at Magic Kingdom we couldn’t fit everything in) so knowing ahead of time what is really important to you definitely helps. Fast passes will kind of set an itinerary for you, but it’s good to know which shows and characters you or your kids love the most. Charlotte wanted to meet Mickey, Minnie, and Rapunzel, so we made sure to see those characters. It was no big deal that we didn’t get pics with Daisy or Goofy this trip. At Hollywood Studios we could either see the Frozen Singalong or the Beauty and the Beast show. We chose Frozen, and I’m so glad since C often says that was her favorite thing we did.

  • Have realistic expectationsAK_TRPLAZARIGHT_20170428_8020392427

By this I mean hope for the best but expect the worst, especially when it comes to toddlers. At five Charlotte loved every single minute of the trip and soaked up the magic until she glowed. At two, Tessa was less impressed, especially as the week wore on and she got more overstimulated and overtired. I’m so thankful to my parents, especially my mom, for being willing to stay with her and let her run around while we rode rides. Still, we had multiple meltdowns and lots of tears and stroller fits (she really hated it by the end). But hey, we were at Disney, the most kid-friendly place on earth, so we were met with nothing but sympathy and knowing nods from other parents. This trip was definitely for Charlotte, and little sister was just along for the ride. Still, we tried to respect her limits and do what we could to help her have a good time too. I’m already looking forward to our next visit, which will be all about Tessa. 🙂

In case you’re still reading this, I thought I’d end with a quick list of our favorites just in case you are looking for some guidance on which experiences to put at the top of your priority list:

Magic KingdomMK_CRTLOBBYCHAR_20170424_8016478445

  • Cinderella’s Royal Table (a favorite of the kids and the adults)
  • Dumbo (The girls loved the indoor play place that is built into the line…you get a buzzer like at a restaurant and the kids play until the buzzer goes off and it’s your turn to ride. Genius.)
  • Seven Dwarves Mine Train (C’s absolute favorite ride, another hard FP to score but so worth it)
  • Winnie the Pooh (this one also has fun, interactive things to do while you wait)


  • Frozen Ever After (obviously)
  • Soarin’ (C got a little scared, but this was by far my favorite)
  • Turtle Talk with Crush (even Tessa giggled the whole time, she loved it)
  • Test Track (for the adults – we did the single rider line and just walked right on)

Hollywood StudiosSTUDIO_SUNSET2_20170426_8018470932

  • Disney Jr. show (Tessa’s favorite experience)
  • meeting Mickey and Minnie (we got some extra attention I think since there was no one waiting behind us)
  • Tower of Terror (always and forever my favorite ride. There are lots of shady places to wait near this ride so we ate lunch while my parents rode it, then switched. It’s in a quiet part of the park too if you’re looking for a stroller nap spot)
  • Frozen Singalong Show (a must do if you have a Frozen fan in your group. C didn’t used to be one, but that changed on this trip 🙂 )

Animal KingdomAK_EXPEDITIONEVERESTRIDE_20170428_8020290628

  • Expedition Everest (for adults – definitely my favorite Disney roller coaster)
  • Kilimanjaro Safari (try to ride early if you can…I could only get a 12:45 FP and a lot of the animals were asleep, including C’s beloved lions)
  • Festival of the Lion King (we picked this over Finding Nemo the Musical, which is also super cute, but we are total Lion King fans. This was Tessa’s favorite thing here)
  • Bone Yard playground (I know it seems silly to let your kids play on a playground at Disney World, but this one is pretty epic. Charlotte was looking forward to playing her since our last trip, and it didn’t disappoint)

All in all it truly was the trip of a lifetime for my big girl, and I’m so so thankful we got to all go together. Priceless memories were made, and we are already planning our next trip (2021, assuming we can wait that long).STUDIO_CELEBRITYACHAR_20170426_8018341950

How about you? Any tips I missed for making a Disney trip more enjoyable with young kids along? I’d love to hear your Disney stories!

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