Disney with Toddlers: Is It Worth It?

Disney Toddler


It’s that magical place we dream of as children . . . and dream of taking our children to as adults.

Some parents may avoid it like the plague, but most, if asked directly, will admit wanting to relive their own childhood nostalgia through their kids’ Disney experience.

I’m one of those parents. I loved Disney as a kid – and even as a teenager. It was fun to watch my younger siblings run around with Mickie or Minnie ears, delighting over all things Dumbo and tea cups. The more mature, high-voltage rides (think – Space Mountain, Tower of Terror) definitely hold their own, but it was the feeling of the place that I always wanted to bottle.

It’s the land where happiness and joy reign, leaving no room for sadness or pain. Imagination is the fuel Disney runs on. You can literally watch young minds open to everything that is possible in the world.

I could not wait to take my daughter to Disney. I think I started envisioning our experience together as soon as I found out she was a she at about 18 weeks.

But Disney was actually not at the forefront of my mind when I was planning our trip to San Diego about a month ago. I had two main objectives: 1) go visit family and 2) have fun.

My brother has a son a little older than my E, and since we had not seen them in over five months (and I didn’t know when we would see them next), I jumped on one of Southwest’s rare (*sarcasm*) bi-monthly fare sales and scooped up a RT ticket for us to visit them – for under $400! That’s across the country, y’all! Oh, and non-stop.

The toddler-free ticket clock is ticking for me, meaning that air travel will become a little (read: a lot) less frequent when I have to purchase two tickets for me and miss pixie to fly. She’s been on 14 trips (a total of 36 flights) in her 21 months on this planet! And projected to do at least 2 to 3 more trips (4 to 6 additional flights) before turning two. She’s even flown first class a couple of times! (My first time at age 35, hers at age 1! Ha!!) Using miles of course! Not spoiled, I tell you!

Disney Toddler

The experienced traveler. her 36th flight in less than 2 years!

But don’t get me started on that subject. That’s a topic for another post!

So my motivation was to see my brother, sis-in-law, and darling nephew and make a fun vacay of it all – while it was still fairly affordable. Disney – for this trip – actually never occurred to me . . . until I got a text from my sister-in-law asking, “Do you want to take the kids to Disneyland?”

OH>MY>GAH DO I????!!!!  Those words were like cupcakes with cream cheese icing to my ears!! My sweet little girl and my adorable nephew going to Disney for the first time – together! Me and my brother back at it like old times (except it was always DisneyWORLD, but whatevs). This was going to be EPIC! Or so I thought.

What you tend to gloss over when you think about bringing your toddler anywhere, much less a popular and uber crowded theme park, is the logistics of, well- everything! I suppose I could have read a million blog posts to prepare for our visit. In fairness, I did some due diligence, checking in with my family travel blog groups (wellll, maybe that was soliciting advice on Seaworld versus San Diego Zoo… now that I think of it). But I don’t think much can prepare you for the actual experience. In some ways, you’ve just got to do it. Rip the bandaid off.

So, the question you may ask: How is Disney with a toddler?

My answer? It’s not a simple answer. And it totally depends on the toddler (as we all know, every baby is different, right?)

There are many things to factor.

1) Naps.

How scheduled is your child? Can s/he miss a nap or nap in public?

My experience with this is varied. E has missed a nap on a few occasions and seemed to power through OK (just hitting the sack a little earlier that day). Then there are times where it is absolutely game-over if the nap is missed or pushed back.

And sometimes she can fall asleep on my shoulder in public, even in loud places- completely out like a light. But other times, she won’t sleep if it’s a bed she doesn’t recognize. I’m sure most parents reading this have had a similar experience or two. I think it’s called life with a toddler.

That day, she didn’t nap. Her cousin was able to catch some Zzzz’s in his stroller, and seemed pretty content afterwards.

Cranky toddler 1 – Mom 0


Minnie Mouse Ears and… wait a minute! Waiting in lines is no fun!

2) Temperature.

It was hot. Not Louisiana in August hot, but hot enough that a gal in line behind us waiting for Peter Pan passed out. Paramedics came. The line was cleared (right as we were approaching the front of the line – Gah! That stings!) The gal was fine. She was apparently dehydrated. They gave her some water, and she was A-OK.

But you have to take that in to consideration when you’re waiting in lines, and think about going for rides with indoor lines during the heat of day. Stay hydrated. Make sure you have a sippy with water for your bebe. Pretty “duh” – but you’d be surprised at how many people over-look something so simple with all the excitement of DISNEY.

Disney Toddler

Patiently waiting for Peter Pan

3) Lines.

Avoid them. Easier said than done, sure. But seriously. Don’t make the mistake we made and wait in line for the carousel for 45 minutes, followed by the flying Dumbo ride for another 45 minutes (and all of that for a ride that is over in 45 seconds).

The problem with some of the kiddy rides is that they aren’t constantly flowing, like the boats of Pirates of the Caribbean that can be continuously filled as soon as they unload. No, these have a finite number of seats, then you have to wait for the whole ride to be finished. Try catching rides with faster moving lines and waiting until later in the day/early evening, when the lines have started to dissipate, to hit the carousel, Dumbo, etc.

Disney Toddler

We finally made it to the carousel, which was fun… but worth the wait…?

4) Timing.

This sort of hits all three of the above-mentioned points. If you can time the nap, great.  More power to you. You can definitely work with timing on waiting in the heat and waiting in lines. After our experience of waiting in line for 2 hours for 2 rides, a little too hot and sweaty, we wised up and started cruising around the shaded, cooler New Orleans area.

Disney Toddler

stroller + water + shade = perfect components of a day at Disney

If I had it all to do over, I would have saved the Fantasy Land rides – all of them – until late in the afternoon when both the sun and lines fade. It almost seemed like a rat race to get kids on the rides before a noonish nap. Don’t compete with the pre-nappers. Wait it out. Instead, go for fast moving lines on rides like Pirates of the Caribbean or The Haunted Mansion. Another plus, the lines for these rides are usually INDOORS, meaning cooler, and there are plenty of things to look at while you wait. The waiting is an interactive extension of the ride itself.

Disney Toddler

After a long wait for Dumbo, we finally got to fly – for about 45 seconds…

Other Surprises (i.e. Tips)

In retrospect, my (and my daughter’s) favorite moments in our day at Disney were the unplanned -and unexpected – ones.

Unlike many other families that march through those magical gates with determination in their step, and a solid game plan in their back pocket, we were sort of flying by the seats of our pants. That’s our, or rather my, general travel (and living) style. Pretty off-the-cuff. It can be fun, but it can also be a great source of frustration and lead to inefficiencies.

I read other family travel blogs or parent blogs and am often in awe of their meticulous planning and precision in execution of said plans. I think one of the most fun parts of going on a trip is the actual planning of the trip. So it’s not that I’m lazy or indifferent about the process. I just like to maintain a mostly flexible mindset that allows for the inevitable – and often frequent – unplanned surprises. I also find that the experience is more rewarding overall if spontaneity is egregiously encouraged.

So, I kind of let life, and the road, unfold before me, as it were. Admittedly, we might have had some happier moments IF I had planned a little more and taken certain things (like those that I’m writing about in this post) in to consideration. But I sort of prefer to learn by doing. At least in something as innocuous as taking my kid to Disneyland.

Anyway, I digress. Per usual.


So, reading other blogs, and even talking to other people- many parents plan out their days in theme parks somewhat meticulously, as I mentioned.

“The parade starts at 1 PM, so we need to be sitting curbside at the corner of Main and Broad by 12:15 to ensure we have front row seats.”

Yea, that’s never gonna happen in my book. We’ll go with the flow, hit certain “bucket list” rides, and if we catch a parade… great. Even though I had not taken any parade-going into scheduling consideration, we happened to catch two parades during the day: one while waiting in line for It’s A Small World, and one at night. And the nighttime parade, with all the bright, flashy lights, was pretty darn entertaining. E loved it!

Disney Toddler

Watching a parade while waiting in line.

Another highlight, which was so funny and ironic to me, was stopping for lunch at the cafe in New Orleans Square. I’m from Louisiana, and E has been to the actual New Orleans umpteen times. While we were sitting in the shaded outdoor cafe taking a lunch break, the jazzy band started to play “When the Saints Go Marching Inn,” and E just gravitated to the stage.

She started swaying her little hips side to side (she loves to dance), and when the singer handed her a Mardi Gras bead, a little girl who was slightly older shimmied over and helped E put the bead around her neck. It was one of those fun little moments that didn’t seem unique to Disney but more something I would expect on a trip home. You just embrace the moments as they come- no matter how unexpected. And those are always the best ones.


And speaking of expectations…

It’s best to temper your expectations when doing a trip like this. Quite often we have this idea in our head of how something will go… how the day will play out or what we want out of the experience.  Our experiences seldom turn out the way we envision they will. So try to be cognizant of your expectations, often rooted in your own past experiences and nostalgic tendencies.

For example, I had my sites set on two rides. I wanted to take my little girl on my favorite childhood ride, Pirates of the Caribbean. And I also wanted to take her on It’s A Small World, because it’s the quintessential, start your kid off on the right open-minded foot, magical and catchy-tuned ride. (And lest we forget the travel-culture- we’re all one people- obsessed mom).

The reality? She was somewhat interested in both of these rides, at best. But parts of Pirates were a bit frightening because of the dark. And waiting in lines tried a toddler’s patience so that it was hard to sit completely still until the end of the ride. And by that, I mean on both boat rides, she was saying “Get out” before the ride was done…

So yeah, she wasn’t jumping off the boat begging to go “again!” like I’d imagined or squealing in delight like she would chasing her cousin around the dining table (which, I’d prefer, actually). But that’s OK. And it’s probably to be expected, considering the stress a long, hot day in a crowded park can put on anyone, much less a child.  I found the San Diego Zoo to be a better fit for her at this age. But like I said, I’m glad we had the experience together, and with family.

In Retrospect

As with most of my travel experiences, I find the sweetest part of the journey are the memories made. So, looking back on the experience, it’s easy to filter out the tiny frustrations and overlook the less-than-ideal moments. I share them here with you, so that you can perhaps avoid some of the pit-falls that inevitably occur with every and any experience in life. At the end of the day, though, you can’t avoid them all. So you will have to live and learn, like the rest of us. But just remember to savor ALL of those moments. EVEN the not-so-great ones. The tiny nuances in our time here on this planet are what make our moments – our experiences with our loved ones SO GRAND. It’s all the little details that add up to one great life. And we are ALL on that journey together!

So go out in to the world. Take your littles to Disney! Avoid the long lines and heat if you can, but take it all in with the grain of salt that you’ll do your best, and that’s all you can do. Leave it to Mickey to do the rest!!

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