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Walt Disney World: Exploring the Magic Kingdom with a Toddler

Tips and Tricks for Exploring Magic Kingdom with a Toddler
In 2010 when we cruised to the Bahamas, we enjoyed a (very) brief stop in Magic Kingdom.  We had one day when our ship was docked off Port Canaveral and we rented a car, drove to WDW and spent maybe 4 hours in the park – which ended with a race against traffic to return our car before the ship set sail.  We think of that day as our “Disney Drive-By.”

The next trip a year later was much, much different.

During that trip we had time on our side.  We had hours upon hours at multiple parks and were able to just take it all in and enjoy.   This time we also got to visit the parks with a completely-obsessed-with-princesses-Toy-Story-and-many-other-things-Disney 2 and a half year old.  And I have to say, that added to the fun 110%!

snow white magic kingdom

Our trip was originally going to kick off on Friday, 3/18 (early in the morning) with a late day arrival in the Orlando area on Saturday, 3/19.  A couple of weeks before our trip, we changed our departure to late Thursday, 3/17.  This allowed as to drive into the night on Thursday where we stopped a couple hours past Richmond, VA.  We were able to make it to our rental home in Kissimmee (right next to Orlando) by Friday evening.  Check out our typical route to Disney from Pennsylvania.

With an extra day on Saturday, the city was ours to explore.  We decided that we really wanted to spend the day in Magic Kingdom.  Our trip itinerary only had one other day scheduled for Magic Kingdom and we decided that a total of two days in that park might be really fun for us.  It would also give us plenty of time to try to see and do as much as possible.

magic kingdom main entrance
lily magic kingdom
lily magic kingdom castle

Don’t forget about some ways to save money in Disney that I already wrote about – SO many ways to cut your Disney price tag.  You will also want to pick up these 14 things from the dollar store for your Disney Trip.

Toddler/Small Kid Money Saver idea:

:: Grab cheap costumes during Halloween Clearance.  Let’s face it – kids LOVE to dress up in Disney.  Whether a little girl wants to dress the part of a princess or a boy wants to play the pirate while riding Pirates of the Caribbean, taking costumes can add to park excitement.  Be sure to stock up on deeply discounted costumes after Halloween.  Bonus: you bring home the costumes and end up with some cool additions to the family dress-up box!

LJ Disney 1

Magic Kingdom castle belle 2

Magic Kingdom castle belle

Best time savers in Magic Kingdom:

:: Arrive Early. We were already out of our car and hopping on the tram as the park opened Saturday morning.  Crowds were still pretty low and we were able to walk right onto a BUNCH of rides that normally experience longer wait times when the parks are full – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan’s Flight, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Cinderella’s Golden Carousel and Pirates of the Caribbean to name a few.

:: Fast Pass. To be very honest – we did not need to use Fast Pass in the Magic Kingdom once.  All of the rides we wanted to go on that had Fast Pass had wait times of 15 minutes or less, which we were willing to wait.  A couple of rides (Haunted Mansion comes to mind) did not offer Fast Pass and we waited about 30 minutes to get in – still NOT bad!  For the rides in the Disney Parks that offer Fast Pass, you simply grab a pass (one per person per ride at a time – you cannot get a Fast Pass for a new ride until your previous pass for the previous ride has expired).  Enjoy time elsewhere in the park and return during your valid Fast Pass time to get on that ride with little to no wait.  (Note: Since this trip, WDW has rolled out the Fast Pass+ System.  You can make fast pass selections from HOME (online or via the Disney app) up to 60 days before you arrive at the parks!  We definitely take advantage of this tool and pick at least our fave attractions before we ever even set foot in the parks.)

:: Child Swap. Oh.  I wrote an entire post on this FREAKING AWESOME feature – as we used it ad nauseum at Universal.  We didn’t need to use it at Disney because we took Lily Bean on every ride that we went on – with the exception of Space Mountain – which I sat out.  When you enter the line, you tell them you’re doing a child swap and they hand you a lanyard (usually they will ask you to point out the small child who isn’t going on the ride).  When you get to the front of the line you tell the attendant that you are doing a child swap and hand over your lanyard in exchange for a ticket that gains the 2nd rider entrance into the FastPass line.  First person goes on the ride while the 2nd stays back with the small child.  After the first person returns, you swap, and the 2nd person hops right onto the ride – no need to wait in line a 2nd time.  Awesome.  (Update!  We used Child Swap at Disney a LOT during our last trip to the parks.  We had a 1 year old and a 6 year old and it helped us ride lots of rides with the 6 year old while someone stayed back with the 1 year old.  Read a detailed account of how to use Child Swap at Disney.)

:: Rides During Parades. Simple – the majority of the park visitors will want to pack into Main Street and along other spots on the parade route to see the parade (each day offers several parades – check the schedule when you arrive).  If you have already seen the parade (or don’t care to see it) use this time to enjoy lesser wait times at many attractions.

magic kingdom block party

:: Take the RESORT Monorail to Parks. I need to tell you the VERY VERY VERY best little tidbit that we learned.  The 2nd day that we arrived, we were about to get in the longish line for the park express monorail when an employee approached us.  She asked if we had a couple of minutes to take a quick survey.  We said yes, and answered maybe 3 questions about our satisfaction with parking at the park.  When we were finished, she said, “Here’s a tip.  I know that the line for the express monorail (goes straight to the park) looks long.  It moves quick but it will take you a few minutes to get on board.  Instead, head to the left and take the resort monorail.  It stops briefly at 2 resorts and then the Magic Kingdom.  It is much less crowded and there are rarely lines.  Well – we walked RIGHT onto that (very uncrowded) monorail and got to the park in no time.  We took that monorail every time after that and TOTALLY beat some major lines!

Tips for easier travel with small kids:

:: Baby Center. There is a building dedicated to babies, small tots and mamas-to-be located off Main Street back behind Casey’s Corner.  Find changing facilities, supplies, rocking chairs for nursing/feeding and more!

:: Return home for naptime. If you are staying nearby (we were a 10 minute drive from the park – but not IN a Disney resort) consider heading home for naps/quiet time/swimming pool cool-off/rest time during the afternoon.  I know that if we spent all day at the park, our chance of lasting into the night would dwindle.  We would be cranky, tired and wilted.  During our days at Disney, we stayed until mid-afternoon each day.  We then returned to our rental house and Lily Bean had the chance to nap and recharge.  We were then refreshed and ready to hit the parks for a late night – all the way to fireworks.  (There were a couple of days when the kiddo passed out in the stroller while we walked.  We used this time to sit, relax and sip on an iced coffee, just taking in the sights while she slept!)

magic kingdom castle night

:: Bring your own stroller if possible (or rent one outside the park). Disney rents strollers, but from what we saw, they didn’t look to be the most comfortable.  We DID, however, see a bunch of people with rented strollers from companies elsewhere in Orlando.  These actually looked pretty nice and similar to one you might actually own.  We opted for my sister’s Joovy Kooper that she was kind enough to let us borrow.  It was pretty lightweight, easy to maneuver and reclined back enough to her to fall asleep multiple times throughout our trip. (The funny part about this stroller is that Lily Bean knows that it’s her cousin Ava’s stroller.  Therefore, the stroller = COOL and she actually wanted to sit in it.  That was a nice consequence.) Having a comfy, reliable stroller made everyone a little happier during our trip. (UPDATE!! In 2015 we tried a stroller rental from Kingdom Strollers. Check out my detailed review of that experience here!)

Conclusion: To sum it all up, we had an absolute blast during our two days at Magic Kingdom.  The staff and cast members went out of their way to offer us the best possible experience – they were helpful, cheery and added to the overall visit.  We loved the parades, block party and food.  The castle show/fireworks at the end of the night were the COOLEST THING EVER!

magic kingdom turkey legs
magic kingdom main street electrical parade
magic kingdom electrical parade

We lucked out with the weather too – sunny and low 80s all week – not a lick of rain.  The only downer?  Yep – I was sick.  The entire week.  A very snotty, sinus-y, sore throat disaster.  That really stunk.  I consumed more Robitussin than I’d like to admit.  But even that couldn’t dampen my spirits too much.  I stopped multiple times to just take it all in, watch my princess watch her favorite princesses and make memories that will truly last a lifetime.  Be sure to skim my Disney Posts – lots of great info!

magic kingdom fireworks

magic kingdom fireworks 2

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Tips for Taking a Toddler to Disney Magic Kingdom

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  • Kim

    As a Floridian and frequent Disney-goer, (is that a word?), here is another tip. Pack a lunch, dinner or snacks and bring refillable insulated sports bottles. Food/drink prices at Disney are sky high and as the weather heats up you’ll want to sip on something all day long. Also, avoid the gift shops if at all possible. They are choc-full of temptation but the merchandise is shotty at best and 5X what you spend for similar toys /trinkets at a major retailer.

  • Kym O’D

    Hi – so glad you had a great time and excellent weather! One tip for child-swap…use it to your child’s advantage so they can ride each ride TWICE! That’s right – two times in a row! Saves getting back in line later if they want to repeat it, and you each get a turn to ride with her. We did this for every ride – one of us would go on with her, while the other stood and waited for that ’round’ to finish…then she’d come over and jump back on with the other spouse. So fun for everyone, and the kids get double the rides, in basically the same amount of time. Just let them know as you are boarding the ride that you plan to do it – the ‘cast’ is all aware of this and are more than willing to let one of you stand aside and wait!

  • Christina

    Wow, thanks for all these ideas! We have 30 days before we go, and this helps so much! We have a 2-1/2 year old too, can’t wait to see his face light up at the sights!

  • Karen

    1 week till we will be there with our grandchildren! Bringing lightweight strollers, autograph books, pins… And Disney shirts from our local Disney store!!! Ready!!!

  • Regina Elliott

    I would love to take my granddaughter to Disney !