If you’ve ever wished you could freeze time because your child is growing up too fast, don’t wait for your family’s first visit to Walt Disney World. “You can see the pure joy on preschoolers’ faces when they get their first glimpse of Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom,” says Kim Milnes, owner of Family Travel Boutique and a mom of two. “They’re also so excited to meet characters from their favorite Disney shows and movies. While they may not remember all the details when they’re older, you will!” (And you’ll have the videos and pics to remind them!) These expert tips will help you swing a trip to Walt Disney World stat.
1 Choose the best timing. When grade school is in session, crowds tend to thin out a bit throughout the Parks. That’s why some of the best times to visit with preschoolers are mid-January through mid-February, the first three weeks of May, all of September, and mid-November through mid-December. You can book your park tickets and hotel together—your budget will likely stretch the furthest at Disney’s Pop Century Resort, which even has a kiddie pool area with a pop-up jet water fountain. For extra space, try the themed Family Suites at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.
2 Take advantage of the Disney FastPass+ service. Building your family’s Walt Disney World daily itinerary in advance, up to 60 days in advance to be exact, just got a whole lot easier. With FastPass+, you can make up to three FastPass+ selections each day to skip the lines and get your family on rides faster. It’s a complimentary benefit that comes along with your park admission, so once you purchase tickets to Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park, Magic Kingdom Park, Animal Kingdom, or Epcot, you can begin mapping out which rides and attractions are most important to your family—and then reserve your spots. Once you’re at the Park and you’ve used your first three reservations, you can go ahead and add one more for good measure. Download the My Disney Experience app on your phone so you can book these FastPasses on the go.
3 Plan around your child’s routine. If your little one still takes a nap, keep to the schedule. Bring your early riser to a park when it opens. On certain days, the park you want to visit might have the Extra Magic Hours benefit in the morning, which allows Walt Disney Resort guests to enter before the park opens to the public (valid theme park admission and hotel ID required). When it’s getting close to naptime, take the complimentary Disney transportation back to your hotel. You can catch a breather while your child is zonked. Then head back to the park later in the day. That little break will make your park time so much more productive!
4 Think about your must-dos. “The perfect vacation is not seeing and doing everything, because that’s impossible,” says Milnes. Instead, zero in on the rides, attractions, and character meet-and-greets that your child would most like to do in each park. In Magic Kingdom® Park, for instance, princess fans will go bananas over Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, Enchanted Tales with Belle, and getting autographs from Cinderella and other princesses in Princess Fairytale Hall. “If you’re starting to feel a little worn out or hot, head over to the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride,” says Milnes. “You receive a pager that holds your place in line, and your kids can play in a circus-themed indoor area while they’re waiting their turn. There are plenty of benches for parents!”
5 Don’t miss Epcot® or Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park. You may think that Epcot, home to the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, is best for older kids and adults, but little ones love it there too. It’s the only place to meet Anna and Elsa from Frozen and experience the Frozen Ever After attraction. Other princesses like Aurora, Jasmine, and Mulan also have meet and greets at Epcot. “Plus, Turtle Talk with Crush and The Seas with Nemo & Friendsare more favorite attractions for preschoolers,” says Milnes. She’s also noticed that some families underestimate how much there is to do at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park and don’t plan enough time there. “The Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo—The Musical are two shows of Broadway caliber, and you’ll want to see both,” says Milnes. You also don’t want to miss Kilimanjaro Safaris® Expedition, where little ones can spy giraffes, elephants, and tigers! “And Wilderness Explorers is just perfect for this age group—kids can complete challenges to earn adventure badges,” she says.
6 Know when to save and when to splurge. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on meals or souvenirs for your family to have a good time. You could pick up cereal and milk and eat most breakfasts in your room—or splurge and make breakfast reservations for one morning at the Disney Junior Hollywood & Vine character breakfast located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios®, which features Doc McStuffins and other beloved Disney Junior characters. Likewise, you can bring your child’s princess dress from home, but book an appointment at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Magic Kingdom® Park for your little one to be transformed into a princess with shimmering makeup and hairstyling or a valiant knight with a mighty sword and shield.
7 Beat the crowds in Toy Story Land. The newest addition to Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park, Toy Story Land, is a preschooler’s jam. Toy Story Midway Mania! attraction and Alien Swirling Saucers are also worth checking out. If you couldn’t snag FastPass+ reservations, keep checking the My Disney Experience app because last-minute slots open up. And if you can’t secure a FastPass, head there first when the park opens.
8 Go on a ride by yourself! Your preschooler isn’t tall enough for all the rides in the park, but if there’s something you, your partner, or your older children really want to go on, don’t hesitate to do it—it’s your vacation too! Take advantage of Disney’s Rider Switch program. One adult waits with your preschooler while a member of your party enjoys the attraction. Then the waiting adult can board the attraction without standing in the regular line again. After all, this vacation is for you too!