conquering disney & universal with a toddler

Harper is three now and has been to all the disney parks as well as universal studios, islands of adventures and the new water park volcano bay more than once. I wanted to share my own personal tips and tricks that I make sure to abide for her trips as well as tips that I have picked up from my mom over the years. My mom is like an expert at disney and I swear at this point they should hire her to help families. I’ve never wandered the park lost and we always found the easiest way to do our trips to make them the most enjoyable. Before I get into the actual details of the parks, I wanted to mention a few details that I always make sure harper has to make it easier on us. First, I purchased a compact stroller that had a fair recline, was durable, still appealing to the eye and easy to fold. As a baby, Harper had an orbit baby system, if you’ve seen the stroller system you may know it looks impossible to travel with. They sell a travel bag but for a stroller that is near a thousand dollars, I didn’t even want to risk putting it on the plane for the fear of it getting lost or damaged. So, I opted to purchase the Maxi-Cosi Kaia . There are way more compact strollers on the market such as the BabyZen YoYo and the GB pockit currently but unfortunately these weren’t on the market when we began our yearly trips. So the Kaia was as easy as it was going to get. It folds up like a traditional umbrella stroller, it closes by two levers on the handles and also opens with them therefore it’s easy as can be, but it has a nice weight to it that I feel good about it. It has a cupholder but ours got lost on our first flight so if you opt to get the stroller I would take it off before checking it at the gate. Aside from the details, I would ensure to have a stroller that will make it easy on you whether your traveling alone or with a group. Having a stroller that is compact is vital. I also feared an expensive stroller would stand out too much in the parks. Not that I think anyone would steal but I rather be safe than sorry lol. Alongside her stroller that has survived all our trips, I purchased an extended sun canopy. Harper HATES being hot so I know I did not want the Florida sun glaring on my baby. I did my research and decided to purchase the Summer infant rayshade. It folds up and is easy to attach to any stroller because of the Velcro straps. On her stroller it literally blocks out all the sun because of how lengthy it is (photo attached) which comes in handy for park trips during the peak sun hours and when she decides to sleep. Also, when she was still on a sippy cup, I had a sippy cup strap attached to her stroller so that I never had to worry about her throwing her cup, it accidentally falling or even just losing it. Lastly, my favorite thing is a stroller organizer bag. Every time I use it I am so thankful for it. It makes life so easy because everything is so accessible by having a bag that is attached via stroller handles. When she was younger, it would be filled with diapers as well as a wipe case and since its insulated her cups stayed cold. Anything else such as chapstick, SPF, phone chargers and even my phone and card holder sat in it. Because its small it allows you to not have to put anything in the under storage of the stroller which eases stress when folding the stroller and the bag also doesn’t get in the way when folding. It has been a lifesaver, especially  in the summer. The last thing you want to be responsible for is carrying a heavy bag. It makes you prioritize what to take and if anything valuable is in the bag you can put it in your pocket when you park the stroller for rides.  Now that those details are talked about lets move to the actual trip.

DISNEY WORLD: (the harder of the two to conquer)

Starting with the airport departure, I try to make it as exciting for her as possible. She always wears some type of Micky ensemble, has her mickey ears handy and I buy her a suitcase with her favorite characters to tow through the airport like a big girl. Inside her suitcase, I purchase themed pajamas for her to sleep in every night so she has something to look forward to that morning. Gap has always been my go to for good quality disney pajamas and she really does like picking which outfit to sleep in at night. We also purchase disney bathing suits, custom ears, all the bells and whistles to make her experience as personal and memorable as can be! For the airplane, I download her favorite movies that I know she’ll enjoy. Netflix allows you to download movies so that when the device is on airplane mode they can be streamed as well as the xfinity app. Alongside that, Harper always has her own kiddy headphones. Airplane rides can be rough with young children so I’ve always opted to choose to fly when I know she would sleep. Whether it be later at night or a 6am flight, I rather a sleeping child then the child on the plane who is going crazy sitting still. I always pack a blanket and socks for her and a Mickey Mouse pillow pet as well to lay down. If going to disney, from the airport you are given the option to utilize the magic express to arrive to your onsite hotel for convenience as well.

Once we arrive, I learned from my mom it’s best to stay on site at the parks and is worth the extra money. We have never stayed off site at disney or universal because staying on site allows you to catch their complimentary bus service to all the parks. It’s way easier to catch a bus that runs every 5-10 minutes than worry about renting a car, gas, parking etc. Disney and Universal both have an abundance of hotels to choose from to fit every price range so do your research to find what works best for you. Staying onsite also allows for easier access to take a mid-day break for lunch, naps or even the pool. The hotels also just further the experience so It’s worth it. Also get magic bands and load your tickets so you don’t have to worry about locating tickets. While younger children don’t necessarily need them, Harper has always had one so she doesn’t feel left out. They come in different colors and you can also purchase pins to decorate. Lastly, park hopper tickets are the best. It gives you more freedom overall so it is worth it.

My mom reccomends utilizing the Disney experience app, reading fellow bloggers advice before hand, and booking fast passes as well as dining reservations as soon as possible because everything does book up. She also says don’t be ashamed to be the person that creates a disney binder to stay organized. I have seen these binders first hand but they do help because when we arrive we aren’t wandering around lost. She also lives by the rule that rather than stand in line to take pictures with the characters, book character dining. One, it saves you from the heat if you’re there during summer moths but also, the characters come to the tables and interact with the children without rushing. Harper has enjoyed meeting all the princesses while eating her food in the air, aka a very happy baby.

While there (we generally attend during april for birthday reasoning), at magic kingdom you can go to the Main Street post office to receive personalized pins such as Birthday pins, anniversary pins or First visit pins. The cast members look for them and will always mention a happy birthday or special acknowledgement when they do notice it. 

Overall must do’s & do not miss for Disney World: 

1) Magic Kingdom – 3pm main street parade, wishes fireworks at 10pm and main street electrical parade at 9pm.  Take lots of pictures at magic kingdom for obvious reasons. 

2) Animal Kingdom – the Lion King musical and finding Nemo musical. The Avatar flight of passage ride is a must for adults and older children. Harper enjoyed this section of the park because Pandora illuminates when the sun sets. 

3) Hollywood Studios – Fantasmic at 9pm is the best, Beauty and the Beast stage show, Disney Jr Show, and the Frozen show.

4) Epcot – Illuminations is a must. We enjoyed seeing different cultures and if you purchase a passport at the park you can receive a stamp as you travel through Epcot. 

Universal Studio’s: 

Universal is more so geared towards the adults. When Harper was younger, she was too short to get on most rides and wasn’t familiar with the characters under Universal such as shrek and the Simpson’s. She was excited to be there none the less, but would get aggravated that she ended up in the child swap rooms while she knew everyone else was on rides. I often had to cheer her up with snacks, cotton candy and purchasing toys. In hindsight, I would’ve never taken her prior to our most recent trip. Our most recent trip she was tall enough for rides even though some of them may be too intense. Universal does have splash pads to occupy kids as well as a few super kid friendly rides. But if your child is under 4 or is 3 and short for their age, I would just wait.. Universal is worth it to me, but after taking her to disney where she could do everything, I hated the feeling of her feeling left out. Also, Universal is not nearly as massive as disney and all their parks. It’s still a lot of walking but you can cover the parks in 2-3 days with ease. Harper did however enjoy volcano bay. We attended on opening day and they have a few larger pools as well as a wave pool that she refused to leave. While of course she is too small fo the actual rides, it was a nice change from the hotel pool. My advice for Universal is not as a extensive because for a toddler, I think it can be skipped if your main focus is your child having fun. We usually added Universal to our agenda in order to make sure the adults had their fun. 

But for both trips I’ve learned that looking attractive is so unimportant in the summer months. I went from packing denim shorts and cute tops to all work out clothes. I always pack one pair or sandals and sneakers I know I can walk in for hours. Your feet will hurt regardless but do not take on the parks as a fashion show lol. At most I pack one outfit for dinner if we have a free day. Even for harper, at first I would dress her up but now we simply rely on jersey shorts and T-shirt’s and whatever shoes she wishes. This last trip she conquered the parks in crocs because she hates sneakers and how her feet get hot. So overall, it’s really the little details to keep in mind. Comfort, sunscreen and planning your trip are all how you will survive. If you need specific items don’t rely on purchasing them upon arrival. They’ll be expensive or won’t be onsite at all. If you don’t want to pack items such as diapers or wipes or even snacks, utilize amazon and have them shipped to your hotel! (Parent hack lol) I hope our tips and tricks ease your anxiety of the parks. The best thing you can do to prepare however is to look at the crowd predictors to ensure you book when the crowds are not as heavy. It makes all the difference when the park is not crowded. The disney parks also generally have extra magic hours which allows them to close later for those staying onsite so don’t feel pressured to complete everything. Those extra 1-2 hours where the park is filled with only hotel guest makes a huge difference. Universal also will open earlier for hotel guest which as well makes a difference. Most people won’t wake up earlier therefore you can get those rides in that you really want to get on before the lines have long wait times. Other than that, have fun. We’ve enjoyed the parks everytime we go regardless if its every year. We still haven’t rode everything at magic kingdom which were determined to do it. But, we love it. It’s really worth it and all children deserve to go. There is no better feeling than seeing Harper’s face when she sees her favorite characters or the shows. If you have any questions email me, if I cant answer them directly I will have my mom assist. 

Happy planning and don’t get overwhelmed!