By Anna Totty, PassPorter Guest Columnist
Taking a toddler to Walt Disney World. To some it sounds like a great adventure, to others it sounds like a nightmare in the making. Should you rent a stroller or bring your own? How will you get out of the hotel in time for Extra Magic Hour? How can you ride Space Mountain when your child can't? What is there to do while you wait in line? I've taken toddlers to Walt Disney World and it is wonderful. Your trip can be too, with a little advance planning. Here are some of the tips we've learned through trial and error during our Disney trips.Before Leaving Home -- There are several things to do before leaving home to ensure a smooth vacation. First you will need a stroller. I've heard parents with two- and three-year-olds say they don't need one because their child walks everywhere at home. But Disney World is the size of Manhattan and the walking you do here is much more than an average person does at home. Toddlers need to conserve their energy and need a place to rest and perhaps even nap while touring the World and a stroller is perfect for both. Plus, if you're planning on doing a child swap at some of the big rides, you will need a comfortable place for your child to wait.
To Bring a Stroller or Not? -- Should you bring your own stroller or rent one? I recommend bringing your own. There are some disadvantages, but in my experience, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. A lot of it depends on how you explore the parks. If you travel light and only need a stroller when your toddler needs a break, bringing your own stroller might not be the way to go. But most toddlers don't travel light. Your toddler, the toddler gear, cameras, snacks, drinks, and other stuff can be quite a load. Your stroller can be the perfect pack mule. And if you stay on property, your cargo-moving needs don't end at the park gate. You've got quite a load to get to the bus stop and then to your room. Some of the Disney resorts are rather sprawled out. When we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge it was over a quarter of a mile from the bus stop to our room. That's a very long way to carry a tired, probably sleeping child at the end of the day along with everything else.
Another plus to bringing your own stroller is that yours is probably made out of a comfortable material and your child likes it. (Or at least is familiar with it!) Disney strollers are made out of hard, molded plastic and are too big for babies and are difficult for some small toddlers to sleep in comfortably. You also know what your stroller will hold, the best way to pack it for the day, and probably have those oh-so convenient cup holders. If you bring your own and will be using Disney transportation, make sure your stroller is lightweight, compact, and can be folded quickly to get on and off the buses easily.
If bringing your own isn't an option, don't despair. Disney strollers are very convenient and functional. You can rent one near the front of every park and at Downtown Disney by the day or for the length of your stay. They will give you a paper ID tag to place in the plastic sleeve on the stroller to identify it as yours for the day. If you decide to park hop, keep your ID tag. Use it to get a stroller at the next park at no additional charge. If you decide to rent for multiple days, they will give you vouchers to use for the other days. All you have to do is show the voucher at the first park each day and place your ID tag on the stroller and you're ready to go.
Whether you bring your own or rent, you'll need an easy way to ID your stroller in a sea of others. You may think you're the only person who has a green striped stroller with white wheels, but believe me -- you're not. And to make it even harder, Disney has cast members whose job is to move parked strollers so that everything stays looking neat. You may have left it next to the entrance of Kilimanjaro Safaris, but by the time you come out, it could be wedged way back in the back of the stroller area. Tie something personal to the stroller's handle. It doesn't have to be big or fancy, a simple bandana will work. Just make it something you can spot easily.
Luggage Decisions -- After the stroller decision is made, you'll need to decide what bag to take to Disney. Toddlers never travel light and a trip to Disney is no exception. You'll need a place to carry all those little things: diapers, pull ups, wipes, extra clothes, sunscreen, sippy cups, etc. On our second trip, I learned an invaluable lesson just by chance. I took a clear backpack instead of a regular diaper bag so I could easily find what we needed in the parks. I had no idea that it would actually be a big time saver as well. When we came up to the security bag check, the guards just glanced at it and waved us on through. No having to spend time unzipping all the pockets and having all our stuff searched. Security can see everything you have in it in a glance and you can just zip through the line.
Packing -- Now that those two decisions are made, you need to think about ways to make it easier to make it to the bus stop for Extra Magic Hour or those great character breakfasts. A little advanced planning goes along way here too. First, when packing, put each complete outfit in its own zip lock bag (shirt, shorts, underwear/pull-up, socks, hat, hair bows for girls, etc). That way, all you have to do is grab one thing out of the suitcase and you have everything you need. Doing this, our girls could get their own clothes each morning. Plus, you can easily grab a complete change of clothes to take to the parks with you in case of accidents. And if anything gets wet during the day, you can pack it in the plastic bag to take back to the hotel.
Another tip to make it easier to get going in the morning is to go to a discount store that sells things for $1 before your trip and buy a shoe holder with pockets that will hang over the bathroom door or on the closet rod. Put each person's toothpaste/toothbrush in its own slot as well as hairbrush/comb in one, makeup in another, etc. It makes it easy to see and get to everything you need in the morning. Plus, your kids know where their toothbrushes or hairbrushes are all the time.
Label Everything! -- To keep arguments down to a minimum and to be able to find these quickly, bring labels you make at home and label every thing. This helps in case you lose something. And it also helps if the kids have two of the exact same thing such as autograph books, sand buckets that come with the kid meals at Blizzard Beach, Epcot passports, etc. You will be able to see whose is whose if it has their name on it, cutting down on lots of arguments. Our youngest can't read yet, so I let her pick out a character to be for the week. All of her things get a Cinderella label so she can quickly pick out her own refillable mug or disposable camera as we're running out the door.
See the second part of this article: Doing Walt Disney World with a Toddler
This article originally appeared in our June 23, 2005 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!