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Challenge: Traveling with Kids

Toddlers & Theme Parks: The Survival Guide

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Our little one's first trip to Disney World. Let the magic begin!

My husband is a theme park enthusiast. No, seriously. There is such a thing. Either that or he’s trying to kill me with sheer exhaustion. Have you seen how huge these parks are? Not to mention lines so long you want a refund and the first flight home. Yet, we’ve somehow willingly taken our son – who’s only 15 months old – on two of these theme park “vacations." Here’s what we learned… the hard way.

1. Test run. Before you book that big trip, try out a smaller theme park near you. This way you can see how your child handles the crowds and rides. It also gives you a test run at what to pack for the park and how much “fun” you can take in one day.

2. Fly Early. We all dread screaming babies on a plane, especially when it’s ours. They may hate waking up in the wee hours of the morning, but you’ll be glad when they’re passed out by the time you reach cruising altitude. Plus, you may even catch some sleep too. Best part, they’ll be rested and ready to go when you get to the park, and most likely out cold by the time you’re back at the hotel.

3. California vs. Orlando. Theme parks in California are smaller and much more manageable than the mega parks in Orlando. There’s a reason why they call it Disney World. There’s no way in the world you’re going to see it all in one day! Your toddler will absolutely enjoy either one, it’s just a matter of how much YOU can handle.

4. Photos First. Take a picture of the section where you parked. Trust me, this will save you time and frustration at the end of a long day. Once you're inside, snap those family photos right away, while everyone is still fresh and excited. Chances are your toddler will be too tired to fake a smile in front of Cinderella's castle minutes before the park closes.


This is what happens when you take a photo at the end of the day!

5. Skip the Park Hopper. Do you really think your toddler will zip through all the rides in one park with enough time to enjoy a second or third park? If so, keep in mind the lines can be so long you could watch 3 episodes of Paw Patrol and still not be in the boarding zone. A fast pass will save some time, but it won’t eliminate the wait. Not to mention, toddlers get distracted. Our little one spent hours going up and down on a random slide at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It wasn’t even a real ride!

6. Pack Snacks. If your toddler is anything like ours, he’ll be so consumed with all the fun he won’t want to eat that overpriced burger you bought. Be sure to pack veggie snacks, crackers, fruit and liquids to constantly keep them snacking and hydrated. Most theme parks allow you to bring in food and drinks for your baby.

7. The Un-essentials. By now it’s second nature to pack essentials like diapers, wipes, and sunscreen. Make sure you also remember to bring a hat for that blazing sun, a swaddle to drape over the stroller during naps, and a change of clothes for accidents or when the temperature drops at night. Also, bring a colorful diaper bag or attach a bright bandana to your stroller so it's easy to find in the sea of parked strollers.

8. Child Swap. While you don’t get to trade in your child, you can enjoy your favorite rides. Most theme parks will allow one parent to ride the “big boy rides” while their spouse and child wait in the Child Swap Room. Once you complete the ride, you swap out with your spouse so he or she can ride without waiting in line again. It’s a beautiful thing after hours of kiddie rides.

9. Kids are King. Yes, it is a family vacation but let’s be honest: It’s really about showing your little one a good time, while making lasting memories. Should you lose sight of this crucial point, toddlers have a funny way of reminding us who’s really running the show. So slow down, skip a few heart-pumping roller coasters, and let your toddler explore and enjoy all the whimsical wonder. (Even if he wants to spend half the day on a slide we could have easily gone to down the street from our house.)

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