Disney World with a 3 Year Old
I must admit that one of my biggest motivations in becoming a mum was to one day take my child to Disney. Judge me if you want but it’s true and I still feel equally excited about it.
Now that I’ve just been there with my three year old, I can say that yes, becoming a mum for this reason was totally worth it and I’m already looking forward to our next Disney holiday!
The reason Disney is so cool to me is that it is home to so many stories I grew up with. As an actor, I love immersing myself in different worlds, and that’s exactly what happens when you go to Disney whether you want to or not.
Toddlers are interesting however, and I do think age makes a difference. I was ready to take my boy when he was one year old but it was quite tricky putting him to sleep when he was younger (and even now a bit) so I personally think taking him to Disney at that time could have been awful, though we’ll never know.
Kids (of all ages) (and adults) get exhausted at Disney World so be prepared, meltdowns are just part of the adventure. In my case, we went with my sister (and her family) and my mum and dad so we had some extra hands to help. On our last night there my husband and I were even able to go to Epcot on a date whilst my folks looked after my boy; that was so great as we hadn’t been on a date for months! So if you can travel in a group, I recommend it, although traveling with other relatives also has its challenges as you can imagine.
I predict that going with older children is easier (as they can queue for longer, need less sleep, and can go on more rides), but nothing can beat the face of a three year old meeting the ‘real’ Donald Duck or Pluto or whatever. True, I left feeling disappointed I only hopped onto three adult rides during our whole stay there, but it really doesn’t matter as one day when my kid is older we will be able to hopefully go back!
So below is a sort of list of the things we did prior to our trip, and then I proceed to talk about food at WDW, and things to do. Hope you find it useful!
For toddlers who are exposed to TV and films a lot this may be irrelevant but my kid doesn’t watch loads of TV, so I felt we needed to do a little homework for him to at least recognise some of the Disney characters. What we did:
⁃ His favourite Disney film is Cars, so we built up a lot of the excitement about going to Disney around this movie. We told him that Lighting McQueen would come home on the day we were leaving for Disney. So we got him a medium size Lighting McQueen toy car, wrapped it up and gave it to him on departure day. Priceless. Why not start the magic at home methinks?
⁃ We didn’t really want to suddenly watch all the collection of Disney films so instead we bought story books: one about the classics, another one about princesses and we also got a Pixar book. The best book we bought though was Mickey and Minnie’s Storybook Collection. The stories in this book are just perfect for 3 years olds, fabulous pictures and interesting/good length stories. My boy would just not want to put it down and it was so great because it made meeting Mickey Mouse and his friends much more exciting.
One other thing we did prior to our visit was to download My Disney Experience app on our phones so we could plan our activities, book our fast passes and dinner experiences. I called Disney directly about 30 times with questions and I swear their customer service was always beyond excellent so never hesitate in doing that. You can also ask questions via the Disney Parks Moms Panel (Google it).
IN SUM, a) make sure your kiddos know some of the characters they’ll meet at Disney, it’ll make encountering the characters more memorable. That said, my boy didn’t really go for the princesses storybook that much, yet he enjoyed meeting them at Disney regardless, so you never know; b) download the My Disney Experience app and start planning and booking asap.
We stayed at The Wilderness Lodge Resort and were on a dining plan that included a table service, a quick service and two snacks a day. A lot of food basically. A lot of it was not very healthy but to be fair, Disney also offers some healthy food, you just need to look out for it diligently (if you care). Don’t get me wrong, I think Disney isn’t Disney if there isn’t a heck of a lot of ice cream involved, but when there are little kids involved, balancing the sugar highs is kinda basic. It’s important to remember that you will most definitely fail at this task though. And it’s also definitely not the end of the world I think. That being said, if you’re like me and into healthy eating read on, if not, skip unto the next section.
What we did:
⁃ I went to healthy food shops in the UK and stacked myself with some healthy snacks: banana crisps, date nibbles, oat crisps, rice cakes, and cashews. I bought things that are healthy and that I know my kid would love.
⁃ My son tried pretty much every yummy snack Disney offers: popcorn, ice-lollies, Mickey ice-cream sandwiches, etc. It was a joy watching him eat all that (he couldn’t believe his luck!), but we tried to limit these snacks to only one per day. Normally, whenever he’d say ‘snack’ (6 am), out came my healthy selection. And water!
⁃ As I said though, you can also find healthy snacks in Disney. At our resort, they sold bags of nuts and seeds (with the odd cheeky M&M in there,hmm), mandarines, apples, bananas, and carrot sticks. Not a massive selection but enough which worked pretty well with us to balance the other less healthy food.
⁃ A lot of the meals in Disney consist of fries, burgers, pancakes, bacon, sausages, Mac & Cheese and hotdogs. In some of the dining reservations we had they served massive portions of not very healthy stuff but we also went to some awesome buffet type restaurants where you could pick and choose whatever you wanted and you could most certainly find something healthy to eat. In terms of reservations, I highly recommend booking at least one meal with the characters; it’s so much fun!
⁃ I have to say that we mainly ate at Magic Kingdom though (as this was the one with most suitable rides for for a 3 year old), but I imagine Epcot for example would have more varied meals with so many different countries on display.
IN SUM, if you care about healthy eating: a) just chill and accept your kid’s diet will be all over the place, b) pack some healthy snacks and water (we brought out own recyclable bottles) to give you peace of mind, and c) search and you will find the healthy stuff.
THINGS TO DO
The obvious answer is go to the parks. There are plenty of people who have blogged about this already so I won’t go into much detail here as you can find lots of info out there on what’s best to do/see at Disney World with a 3 year old. This is what we did:
⁃ Magic Kingdom: if I hear those two words one more time, I might shoot myself. That aside, this place is THE one for little ones, as it is indeed magical. Fantasyland has some pretty great rides for little people: my boy’s favourites were Dumbo, It’s a Small World and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
⁃ In terms of the other parks, they all have a few things to offer for little people (although not nearly as much as Magic Kingdom), and in my view, they’re are all more pleasant to walk around at. Magic Kingdom had great rides for young kids but it is overwhelming and can get really crowded. You know your kids of course; mine hates loud sounds for example, so while some kids were loving the fireworks, mine hated them no matter how impressive.
⁃ I have to say that some of the best memories I have of this holiday with my 3 year old boy are watching him run around at random points and in all directions (due to overstimulation and exhaustion), dance to music, chase bubbles like a mad person and meet the Disney characters. Some rides were a hit but it’s true that kids this age in my view, don’t need much to have fun.
⁃ When it comes to specific rides, I think you just have to play it by ear. I was sure my boy would love Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid and rides like that but he didn’t really like them. To be fair, I think that’s got more to do with his dad and I making the fatal mistake of getting him into the Dinasour ride at Animal Kingdom which is loud, dark, shaky and scary. He asked whether there’d be dinosaurs at every single ride we went to afterwards (eeek!) Why did we get him into that ride? Because it was about dinosaurs which he likes and he had the right height so why not. Anyway, you live you learn.
⁃ Something I will say about the rides though is that booking Fast Passes is beyond essential when visiting Disney World with little people. Sure thing, it’s convenient for an adult too but if one thing is certain is that 3 year olds cannot wait in a queue for long periods of time.
⁃ Although going to the parks is the main attraction at Disney World, we definitely needed to slow down some days, avoid Magic Kingdom and just stay at the hotel playing in the pool OR go to one of the water parks if your kids are into it. We went to Blizzard Beach one day and it was definitely worth it. It was super safe and really good fun.
⁃ Other things to do on slow days:
a) Visit other resorts: I appreciate this may sound like a waste of time but it really isn’t. On our first day (feeling pretty jet-lagged) we went to The Art of Animation Resort because as I said my boy loves Cars and they had all the Cars on display there as part of the resort’s decoration. You can’t climb on them but that didn’t matter at all. We were there for at least an hour.
b) Disney transport: I guess this depends on each child but my son couldn’t get enough of all the boats, trains (monorail), and buses one could ride to go to different places. And there’s nothing more pleasant for the parents to just be able to chill whilst the toddler rejoices riding a train. This reminds me of a ride in Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom called Peoplemover (aka. the most boring ride on Earth I’m afraid) which works a treat to wind toddlers down.
c) Mini golf: I think there are two mini golf courses in WDW, we went to the Fantasia mini golf and it was so much fun, so chilled and with not too many people.
d) Get lost: We didn’t plan to get lost but I highly recommend it. We ended up at the Swan Hotel on our way to the mini golf and found an amazing playground where my boy spent a long time playing and exploring, so you never know what you’re going to get when you turn your GPS off.
e) Disney Springs: I didn’t go to Disney to do shopping, but if I had, this place would be IT. Also, it has a wonderful variety of restaurants.
IN SUM, there’s much more to Disney than just the parks, and when you’re traveling with little ones, it’s kinda pointless ticking boxes, three year olds have fun wherever they are with whatever they’ve got.
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The last thing I’ll say is that if you go to WDW with a toddler, be prepared to either not have many plans on or be uber flexible with them. On the day we went to Hollywood Studios, we witnessed a horrible accident in front of our eyes when a 10-12 year old boy cracked his head open whilst swinging on a pole at a queue. This happened whilst we were all annoyed that we had booked our dinner reservation way too late, we were tired and moaning. But when we saw how this family’s magical holiday turned into everything but, we were hit and reminded of what truly matters. We can all survive meltdowns and arguments (only just!)but accidents only if we’re lucky. So relax, let things flow and experience the magic!