When I would bring up to family and friends that we were taking our 19 month old son to Disney World, people had a lot of negative things to say. The most common was, "Why are you wasting your money? It's not like he will remember it! Do you REALLY think he will even enjoy it?"
Taking Cole to Disney at 19 months was hands down the best vacation decision we have made thus far. He was completely thrilled to be around all the bright colors, the dancing, the signing. Watching his eyes light up on rides or when a parade was coming down Main Street was pure magic.
As for the, "But he won't remember it!" part, WHO CARES! He had a so much fun in that moment in time that it doesn't even matter if he will remember it 5, 10, 15 years from now. His dad and I made so many wonderful memories with Cole. WE will remember it. We have pictures and videos that we can look back on to show him. My husband went to Disney when he was 7 and I went when I was 12. Guess what? We don't remember a damn thing. Age doesn't matter, people!
It literally took me over a year to plan this vacation. I wanted to eat at the best restaurants and have a full blown, unforgettable Disney experience. I did extensive research and talked to very helpful moms & dads in Disney Facebook groups (links to these life saving groups will be at the bottom of this blog post). After much research and asking a million questions, we decided that two days at Magic Kingdom would be PLENTY for our first trip. We wanted him to have fun, but didn't want to overwhelm Cole either.
Drive yourself. Preferred parking is worth every single penny.
We opted for staying off site as we only planned for 2 full days in Disney, so we got our self a rental car. Honestly, even if we were to stay onsite for our next trip, we wouldn't rely on Disney transportation to take us back and forth from the hotel. We like to be in full control of our day and hate relying on other people.
Sure Disney transportation is free for on sight guests and if you are on a really tight budget, it may be the best decision for you. As far as convenience goes, a rental car is where it's at. No waiting for the bus. No dealing with a cranky toddler when you are hot and cranky yourself. No dealing with collapsing and re-opening a stroller a million times. Plus if you are staying onsite and have your own car, they will give you free parking at the parks. (We only paid $135 for a weeks rental. See link at the bottom of this post!)
Parking at Disney is $22 per day for anyone staying off-site, free if you are staying at a Disney hotel. Preferred parking is $42 per day for off-site visitors, $20 if you are staying at a Disney hotel.
Preferred parking is 100% worth it.
You literally get front row parking. The parking lot at Magic Kingdom is GIANT. Chances are unless you are there an hour or more before rope drop, you will have to take a tram from your parking spot to the entrance and then back again at the end of the day. You will have to fold your stroller for this tram which means you now have to juggle a stroller, cooler (yes - you will want a cooler with drinks), diaper bag, and your toddler(s) just to get to and from the ferry/monorail. In my opinion, the extra $20 is worth it to NOT have to endure this chaos.
Oh -- and they also have employees in the preferred parking lot handing out (free) ice cold waters. Added bonus.
Skip the ferry and take the monorail if you can
We were forced to take the Ferry on day 2 of our visit (the monorail was temporarily out of service), and it was pure torture. It seemed like it took us over a 1/2 an hour to get from the ferry to the park entrance. People were impatient and will push you out of the way just so they can be the first ones off and on that boat.
We never had any issues with the monorail. It is MUCH faster and less people to a car = less of a chance of getting into a confrontation with an extra pushy park guest. Oh and the monorail is air conditioned. Enough said.
Book an early dining reservation to get into the park before the crowds set in.
One of the best decisions we made was to book an 8:10 A.M. breakfast reservation at Be Our Guest (inside the Beast's castle). When we went, the park opened up to guests at 9 A.M. but because we had an early reservation, they let us into the park at 7:40 A.M. This was prime time for getting photo's in front of the castle. Low crowds = the best pictures.
If you book an early dining reservation, make sure it's not a day where they are offering the extra magic hours! Extra magic hour = everyone is let into the parks at 8 A.M. So your early dining reservation is useless.
Eating at a Quick Service Restaurant? Order ahead to save time.
I pre-ordered our breakfast at Be Our Guest and it saved us SO MUCH TIME! At BOG, you have to enter your meal choices at a digital kiosk. Where we ordered ahead of time, we got to skip this step and were seated immediately. The line to order at the kiosks were very long, and I was VERY glad we didn't have to wait in that line with our hangry little toddler. We sat down at exactly 8:10, our food was brought to us about 5-10 minutes later and we were roaming the park by 8:40. This let us get right in line for Peter Pan's Flight ( a ride with notorious long lines and it's even hard to get a fast pass for). We were about 10th in line and had zero wait!
High chance of rain in the forecast? Pick that day to visit the parks!
I know - sounds crazy, right? The first day we spent in the park called for an 80% chance of rain & thundershowers. I'm pretty positive this is the reason why day 1 of our trip was so glorious. We never waited more than 25 minutes in line for any of the kiddie rides. We were able to see the parades on Main street without being crowded out. Over cast & cloudy = a lot more enjoyable day temperature wise.
And you know what? It rained for a total of 5 minutes all freaking day. We used that time to stop for a frozen treat at the Starbucks on Main street. A lot of people ran for the hills, so wait times on rides was even shorter after that spurt.
Fastpass musts for toddlers: Peter Pan's Flight, It's a Small World & Haunted Manion
Surprisingly Haunted Mansion was my son's favorite ride. I don't think he understands the concept of ghosts and all things creepy yet, so to him it was just super cool to see these ghosts everywhere. We saw Peter Pan's flight get up to an 80 minute wait, Small world was 45 minutes, and haunted mansion at 40 during our first day.
Save the indoor/air conditioned rides for the afternoon
We traveled to Disney at the end of May. The mornings were beautiful but once noon time hit the heat was unbearable. We had fast passes at 2:00 for Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride and we skipped it. It was way too hot to be sitting in the beating sun.
My suggestion is to conquer "open air" rides such as Aladdin's Magic Carpet, Flying Dumbo, etc first thing in the morning. Leave all the air conditioned rides for the afternoon hours.
Parents -- PLEASE don't force your child to dress up in costumes.
When your kid's are hot, sweaty, and exhausted for the love of god don't force them to dress up in hot, scratchy costumes just to get a good photo! The saying, "Do it for the Gram", does not apply to children! Let kids be kids.
My mind was blown by the number of people forcing their children to dress up (ok so some little girls just love dressing up as princesses, but I saw a lot of children being forced). Countless times we saw kids in line (mostly little girls) to meet their favorite Disney character. These little girls would be sweaty, red faced, and crying as their parents were shoving them in a huge Cinderella type dress OVER their shorts and tank tops that they were wearing. Would you want to be forced to wear a huge polyester dress over your current clothes when it is 90 degrees and humid outside and you are exhausted and drenching in sweat?! No?! I didn't think so!
Boys are not excluded from this either. We saw a red faced, sweaty boy about 7 years old crying because he didn't want to wear his Peter Pan costume anymore (yep, tights and all). PLEASE if your child doesn't want to dress up -- don't force them!
Looking for an ice cold adult beverage? Head over to Liberty Tree Tavern for an ice cold beer.
Beer and wine is hard to find in Magic Kingdom. It is not readily available like it is in Epcot, and we had to do a little searching. We found that Liberty Tree Tavern has a small selection of beer and wine. Let me tell you what, an ice cold adult beverage was a great way to relax and unwind while having lunch. The food was decent, too!
Bring a backpack leash.
Before I had children, I used to make fun of parents who would put their kid on a leash. Now this leash is our BFF. When our son was getting antsy, we would let him walk around with his little backpack on and he was as happy as a clam. It's also excellent for when you are waiting in line. Our son is pretty independent and only likes to be held in short spurts. Plus it is a sure fire way to make sure your little won't run off on you.
Join the memory maker share group on Facebook to get a steep discount on a Disney Memory Maker package.
I got a memory maker package for $30. Yup -- I have access to download EVERY photo taken of our family in Disney for just $30 (I believe it is $169 if you buy it on your own).
Before I get any negative Nancy's telling me that I must be breaking the rules by sharing a Memory Maker: I can 100% assure you that it is within Disney's terms and conditions and is 100% kosher.
I found other mom's and dad's who were taking their families to Disney the same time I was. Disney allows family and friends to share access to one Memory Maker account. We split the cost between our families and saved a boat load of money! Here's the link to the group.
Buy the $12 Mickey balloon.
My son's eyes lit up when he saw a cast member walking around with a huge bouquet of Mickey balloons. I nearly fainted when I was told they were $12. I reluctantly handed the cast member my credit card. Our son played with this balloon more than any other souvenir we bought. Oh -- and the thing was still fully inflated when we left our resort 5 days later. The length of time it stays inflated makes it worth the money.
Don't forget about Sea World!
We took our son to Sea World and honestly, he had more fun there than he did at Magic Kingdom. The crowd levels are way lower so there was a lot less commotion. The whole environment was more relaxed. You weren't constantly bumping into herds of people.
We found that Sea World also had a lot more shaded areas than Magic Kingdom. The best part? They serve beer almost everywhere. They even have their own bar! I'm talking a fully stocked bar where you can order tropical frozen drinks. And all the mama's said amen!
Disclaimer: before I get emails about the fake documentary "Black Fish" (sorry folks -- it is not 100% a documentary as people who participated in making the film have admitted they made up and twisted facts to get the outcome that they wanted), I support Sea World and their efforts to help wild sea creatures. They have announced that they are no longer going to breed Orca whales. If you go to Disney's Animal Kingdom, you have no right to criticize the Sea World we know and love today. Sorry to break it to you, but Animal Kingdom is a glorified zoo. Here are the real facts about Sea World:
Facebook groups to help your Disney planning:
Ways to Save for Disney
Taking Tots to Disney
Memory Make Share Group
If you decide to rent a car, plug your reservation into into Autoslash. They will email you when prices drop and you can re-book at the cheaper price!