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The Hilliard Clan's Guide to Disney World...with a toddler.

It's no secret that our family loves Disney World. We were lucky enough to have gone three times in the past year. Every trip we learn new tips and tricks that make our vacations more enjoyable and less hectic. Traveling with a toddler to Disney can be hard and stressful, so here is the Hilliard Clan's guide to Disney World with a toddler!

From our most recent Disney trip at the end of April 2019.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Adventurers Outpost

When to go:
There used to be "sweet" spots in the year where Disney was just less crowded, but Disney has done a great job with year round special events that keep the parks relatively busy all year long. Of course the summer months when kids are off of school are still the busiest times to go to Disney World. Here are some things to take into consideration when figuring out when to travel to Disney.
-Go when flights are cheaper.
Pay attention to flight and hotel costs. I check flight prices literally everyday and that's when I base when my family goes to Disney. Of course this requires the ability to book a trip "last minute" or only a few months out.
From Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party November 2018
-Go when the weather is less brutal.
It's not in Florida, but summer heat is on a different level. Even in September when crowd levels seem to be lower, it's still HOT.
-Go when there's special events you want to attend.
Like I said above, Disney has special events or festivals basically all year long. We love Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, so if possible go to one of these! During the parties ride times are shorter, you can trick or treat or get cookies for free, and they have special firework shows and parades!

Where to stay
Staying on Disney property
There are many perks to staying onsite when going to Disney like the ability to make FastPass selections 60 days in advance instead of 30 if staying offsite, not having to rent a car, and early magic hours to name the top few. I always recommend that people stay on site at least once to get the whole Disney Experience.

Staying off Disney property.
We love to rent a house for the week when we stay longer than a few days. I recommend Florida Spirit Vacation Homes, because most of the homes are within twenty minutes of Disney and have private pools. Not only is it very affordable to rent a home, having a full kitchen can save you a ton of money on food.

You've book your flight and selected your accommodations now what?

First of all, download the My Disney Experience App! This will be your best friend while at Disney, because on the app you can make all of your dining reservations and FastPass selections, along with see wait times, park hours, etc.
At the Garden Grill eating breakfast from our September 2018 trip.

Make Dining Reservations
You can make dining reservations 180 days in advance whether your staying on or off Disney property. I recommend doing a character meal as it's a great way of seeing many characters in one place. We love to do breakfast at the Garden Grill in Epcot with Mickey, Pluto, and Chip and Dale. Pro tip: Make your breakfast reservation for before the park opens. At the Garden Grill you can basically walk on to Soarin' after breakfast and if you do this you won't have to use up a FastPass.

Also from the Garden Grill September 2018
Make FastPass Selections
If staying onsite you can make your selections 60 days in advance and if staying offsite you can make your selections 30 days in advance. Take into consideration that sometimes with a toddler your pre-planned FastPasses don't always line up with the behavior of the toddler. Be flexible and remember that FastPasses can always be modified, though you may have to settle for a less popular attraction. Pro tip- After you have used your 3 FastPass selections that day, you can make a forth FastPass selection, and after you use that one, you can make a fifth, and so on. DO THIS!

Purchase the Memory Maker
Memory Maker is wonderful especially if your going to Disney for a week or longer. You can link up to 25 other people to your memory maker purchase on the My Disney Experience App. You will be able to download all of those persons photos also! I especially love not having to worry about getting my phone out to capture pictures and never having to ask a stranger to take a family photo.

Other things to take into consideration when planning a Disney World trip with a toddler.

Don't over plan!
Toddlers are unpredictable and you will need to take more breaks and change plans to accommodate their needs. Try not to stress over having to switch up plans.

Don't skip naps!
Seriously, I know you don't want to take the time away from the park to let your toddler take a decent nap, but believe me when I tell you, EVERYONE will do better if you take a break. Just the heat alone will be exhausting and add in miles of walking, you my friend WILL be tired.

Plan to see the Fireworks at the Magic Kingdom at least once.
Yes, I'm telling you to keep your child up past their bedtime. It's so worth it to see how mesmerized they are with the show!

Plan to bring your own stroller.
A very tired out little boy on our September 2018 trip.

You can rent strollers at the parks, but they don't recline and are just hard plastic. I personally think Disney strollers are better suited for older children who just need to give their feet a break. We loved that if our son wanted to take an extra snooze, that we could lay him back and he could be more comfortable.

Getting to Disney World

Airplane travel tips.
For me the airport seems to be my biggest stressor. Between folding up the stroller to go through security, wrangling a busy 2 year old, taking off shoes, unpacking large electronics, and then gathering all the stuff at the other end, it's a work out. Once through security you then have to keep that busy toddler occupied in a bustling airport. By the time we get on the plane I'm a ball of emotions just hoping my child isn't going to be the kid screaming the entire 2.5 hour flight. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Hey, it beats a lengthy car ride and it was the cheaper option when my son could ride on my lap. Oh, and it's all worth it in the end, I promise!

*If your staying at a Disney hotel you will receive luggage tags that give you the ability to check your bag at your home airport and not have to mess with it until it arrives all the way to your room at Disney. This is really helpful when you already have your hands full with a toddler.
We got a good 40 minutes of entertainment out of these window clings.

How I keep my toddler busy on an airplane:
-window clings (the gel ones)
-sticker books
-new toys ( they don't necessarily have to be new, but toys they haven't seen in awhile, also keep the noisy ones at home)
-Ipad with headphones (remember that airplanes require headphones, though we were without them our first trip and everyone enjoyed baby shark.)
-Their favorite blanket/stuffed animal
-Most importantly, SNACKS!!!

While at Disney World!

Disney World can be a pretty overwhelming place, especially if it is your first visit. I recommend picking a top few or so things you want to accomplish each day and if your able to do more, great. We usually talk about what rides we don't want to miss and snacks/food on our must get list.

A typical park day for the Hilliard Clan goes like this:
Eat breakfast
If we are staying on site we usually eat at the park unless we have a dining reservation at another resort.
Breakfast at Ohana April 2019
Get to the park before rope drop
At the Magic Kingdom the park is open all the way down main street before the actual park opens fully. This is a great time to get pictures without a ton of people in the background and sit enjoy breakfast with a view. At Epcot we usually have a dining reservation for before the park opens.
Ride rides
It usually works out that we have two morning FastPasses, so we base which part of the park to start at on where our FastPasses are. Then we fill in the time with other rides in those "lands."
Taking an extra long nap!
We usually just have snacks for lunch, whether that be a Mickey Pretzel, Dole Whip, Cheeseburger Spring Rolls, etc. Until our son is a little older we focus most meals at quick service locations.
Usually between 12-2 we have made our way back to our resort or vacation home to put Carson down for a nap and take a break. Sometimes we will also hit the pool! We try to get back to the park between 4-5pm.
Again we usually eat at a quick service location like Cosmic Rays or Pecos Bills.
More Rides
Most of the time I have moved a FastPass to the evening for us to use. Once we use that third FastPass I make the next one and so on after that, filling in gaps of time with other rides!
If we are at the Magic Kingdom we always stay for the entire firework show, but if we are at Epcot or another park we leave before the show is over to beat the crowds.
Epcot Morocco Pavilion September 2018 

Below are some things to remember while at Disney.

Take advantage of Baby Care Centers
The A/C is flowing, the bathrooms are less full, clean places to change diapers, and a quiet place to feed your child, and/or just take a break.

If staying on site plan to have to wait for transportation.
Sometimes waiting for Disney transportation can be lengthy.

Get FREE ice water at every quick service location.
Seriously take advantage of this and save money not buying bottled water.

The Hilliard Clan's Disney World favorites.

At the Magic Kingdom:

Space Mountain (Stephanie)
The People Mover (Family favorite)
Under the Sea~The Journey of the Little Mermaid (Family favorite, because Carson loves it!)
It's a Small World ( A Carson favorite)
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (Carson loves to keep us spinning the entire time!)

Alex also enjoys the Carousel of Progress, which we think everyone should do at least once!

Cheeseburger Spring Rolls at the Adventureland cart. (Stephanie)
Corn Dog Nuggets at Casey's Corner
Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe for burgers and the toppings bar.

At Epcot:

The Garden Grill serves you family style!
Soarin' (Stephanie)
Living with the Land (Alex)
Frozen Ever After (Family favorite)

The Garden Grill for breakfast
La Cava del Tequila for margaritas and queso
Kringla Bakeri
Carson loves all the various non alcoholic slushies around World Showcase

We've spent the least time at Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom and I happened to be pregnant the only time that we've visited these parks, but here is what we liked!

At Hollywood Studios:

Toy Story Midway Mania (Family favorite)
Alien Swirling Saucers (Carson)

We went mainly just to see Toy Story Land and we loved it!

At the Animal Kingdom:

Kilimanjaro Safari (I got the okay from my doctor to ride this)

Carson enjoying his slushy from Goofy's Candy Co
At Disney Springs:

The Chicken Guy
The Polite Pig
The Boathouse
Sprinkles Cupcake ATM
Carson also loved a slushy from Goofy's Candy Co on our last trip.

Traveling to Disney World with our son has been some of the greatest times of our lives. Yes, sometimes it's stressful, but it's always been so worth it. Often I hear, "well, he will never remember this," and that is such a silly statement. To me, having my memories of taking him to Disney at this age is what makes it worth it. I will never forget how his face lights up and how he says "WOW" the whole time the fireworks are going off. I will always remember how excited he gets when he sees the characters and the giggles when he's riding rides he likes. I can tell him all of this one day! Oh, also kids are free under 3!

September 2018. A perk of getting to the park before rope drop. NO ONE in the background!
I hope that this will help in one way or another if you plan to go to Disney with a toddler! I LOVE to talk about Disney, so if anyone has any questions I'd be happy to answer them.

♡ Stephanie


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