Toting a four-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old, our first trip to Disney World with our grandchildren was a hoot. Our children visited Disney World for the first time when they were around four. We knew what a joyful experience it was for us and our children that we had to take our oldest granddaughter and started planning for her fourth birthday.
A Disney World trip for younger kids can be a lot of work, but also glorious fun. Watching the wide-eyed amazement as beloved characters come to life right before their eyes is a moment not to be missed. Your grandchildren’s first Disney World vacation will be filled with princess dresses, tiaras, magic bubble wands, and Buzz Lightyear costumes.
If you plan ahead, be prepared for plans to change, and enjoy the crazy Disney World atmosphere, you will have a wonderful time — and your grandbabies will too.
The Disney World Parks
Each park has its challenges and rewards. To avoid trying to cram all the Disney fun into one exhausting day, choose a multi-day, Park Hopper Pass option. Under the current Disney regulations, Park Hopper hours start at 2 p.m.
1. Animal Kingdom
I think Animal Kingdom is the best park for the first day to ease into the visit. The parks can be completely overwhelming for young kids and exhausting for us grandparents. There are good ride options depending on the age of your grandkids.
The Kilimanjaro Safari opens at 8 a.m. which is perfect if you are an early riser and staying on Disney property. The kids love watching all the exotic animals. They enchant even very small children.
Another child-friendly ride in Animal Kingdom is the Wildlife Express Train. The short train ride, which for the little ones is an adventure, drops you off at a winding path through the “jungle.” Ultimately, you land at a kid-friendly petting zoo and exhibit.
2. Magic Kingdom Must-Do Rides
My best advice for the Magic Kingdom is to plan your must-do rides. There are so many rides to choose from, but you should figure out which are the must-dos for you — whether it’s “it’s a small world”, Mad Tea Party, Dumbo, or something else. When you take your grandkids to Disney World they expect a magical time and this is the park to bring on the magic.
Intersperse wild, tummy jostling rides like the Mad Tea Party — I can only take so much spinning — with rides where you sit. The PeopleMover, “it’s a small world”, and the Marketplace Carousel are calming options.
Watching the fireworks display over Cinderella’s Castle is a time-honored tradition, and everyone wants a perfect view. Magic Kingdom’s Main Street can become extremely crowded during the festivities. If you want a good view, arrive early. Guests start lining up two hours ahead of time and navigating a stroller through the crowds is challenging.
3. Epcot And The World Showcase
Epcot is not just for adults, it is worth spending at least half a day here with young grandchildren. Frozen Ever After is a must-see for any young Disney fan, and Soarin’ Around The World is another wonderful ride. When you are ready to sit, visit The Seas with Nemo and Friends; it is cute and appropriate for all ages.
4. Disney’s Hollywood Studios
I would skip Hollywood Studios if your grandchildren are really young. There is so much to see and do at the other parks. When they are in their tween years, they will love the wild rides here.
Disney Hotel Must-Haves
A Disney Resort Hotel is the best option for a stay. Each themed hotel offers great options, but I like Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The monorail runs right through the hotel, making it easy to get to the Magic Kingdom. Additionally, they host breakfast at Chef Mickey’s. Make sure to get a reservation at Chef Mickey’s beforehand or join the walk-in waitlist the day of by checking if there is dining availability on the My Disney Experience App. The main goal with little ones is to keep it easy and simple.
5. A Great Pool
Mixing in a few pool days is super important. Grandpa wants to go to the park every day, but with little ones, it’s important to have downtime. Nothing gets everyone ready for a nap better than a swim.
6. Stay Close To The Park
If you can’t stay in the park, let’s face it, the on-property hotels are pricey. Look for a hotel that is close to the park. The Springhill Suites by Marriott is close to all the action for a family-friendly price. For other options, browse through this list of hotels that are participating in Disney’s Good Neighbor Hotel program!
Groceries can be delivered right to your condo, hotel, or Airbnb. You don’t want to waste time running around the grocery store. Plan a few meals and healthy snacks before you go. Order them to arrive when you are unpacking and settling into your temporary home.
Getting your babies’ favorite snacks such as the right yogurt, crackers, and fruit will help keep the kids comfy and regular — a very important consideration to keep them happy. Young children can be picky eaters and having your own food will save you money.
Disney parks are designed to process lots of guests. Be prepared for long lines and throngs of people by stashing a few extra surprises in your magic bag of tricks.
8. Fun Toys
You can order popular items like the ubiquitous bubble wands before you go for less than in-park prices.
9. Disney Wearables
Ordering Disney pajamas, character t-shirts, and Disney hats before you go is a fun way to spread the magic without breaking the bank. You may still want to purchase a small trinket or two on the trip for memento purposes.
10. Genie+ Service
Enhance the Disney magic by using the Genie+ Service. You need to set up an account on the My Disney Experience App, but you will want to do this anyway. The service costs $15 per person in your group. You can have all members of your party on the account which makes reserving parks, rides, and more a one-stop-shop.
As of June 2022, Disney has eliminated the pre-purchasing option for Genie+. Guests can purchase the service on the day of their park reservation.
11. Lightning Lanes
The Genie+ Service is the best way to avoid long lines for your most desired rides. You can sign up your entire group for a time window to access the lightning lane for a particular ride. There are a few restrictions; it is applicable for certain rides, but many popular ones are available for an upcharge. Depending on the park and your timing, you can expect to upgrade two or three rides to lightning lane passes — if you arrive at the park early.
12. Order Food
With the My Disney Experience App, you can order and pay for food at counter service restaurants throughout the park using the Mobile Order feature. No need to stand in line for a snack! You will be notified when your order is ready for pickup.
13. Wait Times, Character Meet And Greets, PhotoPass, And More
The My Disney Experience App will display wait times for rides, shows, height requirements, character meet and greet times and locations, as well as PhotoPass photographer locations, and more. It is an invaluable tool that will make your experience less frantic.
Visiting Walt Disney World
14. Buy A Park Hopper Pass
A Park Hopper Pass adds more to the cost of your ticket and adds flexibility to your visit. With Park Hopper tickets, you can enjoy attractions at the Magic Kingdom in the morning, journey through Pandora in Animal Kingdom during the afternoon, then finish the night watching Epcot’s new nighttime spectacular Harmonious.
15. Start Early
Go early in the morning. It is always crowded but aim to be at the park when it opens. Head straight to the must-do ride of the day and enjoy a shorter line, then meander from there.
If you are staying on property or at a Disney Good Neighbor Hotel, you have the advantage of 30-minute early access to the parks. This can make a big difference in wait time for the most sought-after rides.
16. Take A Midday Break
With a multi-day park hopper pass, you have the option to leave the park and enter a different one. Note that if you have a day pass (without park hopper access) and reservation for a Walt Disney World theme park, you can leave the park and re-enter later that same day. Take advantage of the midday slump and head back to the hotel for lunch, a swim, and a nap — not just Grampy, but the kids too. After a refreshing break, you will be ready to head back into the park.
17. Be A Flexible Planner
Finally, be flexible. Pre-plan your days to determine which days will be park days and which will be pool days. That way, you will have a better and more efficient trip.
Funny story: One time when my girls were young, it was our sixth day entering the park. My youngest daughter, five at the time, had a meltdown in the parking lot. She threw herself to the ground and screamed, “No more Mickey — no more Mickey!” We were long overdue for a pool day.
A Perfect Walt Disney World Vacation
It doesn’t exist. Don’t aim for perfection, aim for creating special moments. Going with the flow and having fun is more important than getting on that last ride.
Visiting Walt Disney World with your grandchildren is a magical vacation. I can’t wait to bring them again when our grandson is old enough to remember the experience and make priceless memories.
Pro Tip: With the little ones, bring mom and dad along. Give them a night out, but bring them to the park — little ones are exhausting and those teacups are traumatic for Gigi after the fourth go around!
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