Taking Notes

I Brought My Toddler To Disney World For The First Time, & These 6 Things Shocked Me

A Disney adult seeing Disney World in a whole new way...

Minnie Mouse takes center stage at one of the parades held at Magic Kingdom in Florida's Disney Worl...
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Let's just get this out of the way: I am a Disney adult. The term definitely comes with a bit of baggage, with a much higher likelihood of causing cringing than if I were to admit to being a Swiftie or part of the BeyHive. But it's true, I've loved going to Disney World as a childfree adult, and I've been lucky enough to get to visit the parks countless times over the last half-decade by writing about the theme parks full-time. Getting to experience the parks without kids allows you a level of freedom to enjoy the food and drinks Disney has to offer, the thrill rides, and entertainment — all without going by a child's schedule.

But, despite feeling like I know the parks inside and out as an adult guest, I found myself experiencing a very different kind of trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth when I recently brought my toddler for the first time. Suddenly, it was like I had never experienced Disney World before because I was now experiencing it alongside a 1-1/2-year-old who could not have cared less about all the things I loved about the parks.

Despite knowing and loving Disney World for years, taking a toddler to the parks threw me for a loop — and these were the things that shocked me.

Park days can be short days.

I've adapted enough to life with a toddler to know that nowhere is safe from having to make a hurried exit. But this becomes quite a bit harder when you're in a theme park. Our first foray into Magic Kingdom was (unfortunately) on a wildly hot summer day, meaning my husband, my daughter, and I were all feeling pretty burnt out from the heat by 10 a.m.

Despite only getting about two hours in the park, I knew it was the right choice to head back to the hotel to cool off and take a break, even that early into the day. While not everyone is going to deal with the scorching temperatures (though it is Florida, so you should prepare for it), I did learn to set expectations ultra-low on just how much you'll actually get done during a day. I also learned my next point, which is…

You'll realize where you stay really matters.

I've been to Disney enough times now that, more often than not, I'll stay off-property when visiting to save some money. However, I had a feeling that staying on-property would matter a whole lot more when taking my daughter for the first time — and I had no idea how right that would be.

While it's not a hotel we can typically fit into our budget, we managed to grab a great deal from renting points to stay at Disney's Grand Floridian, which is a Monorail and boat ride or an easy walk away from Magic Kingdom. While this isn't a spot that will be feasible for every trip, I cannot stress enough how much easier it made our trip to be able to dip out and be back at the hotel in 10 minutes. It meant we could take a few hours to enjoy the pool, let her nap, and then head back into the park (for another two hours).

All Disney World hotels offer bus service to the parks, but certain hotels are within walking distance or offer the Disney Skyliner or monorail, too. While many of these are deluxe resorts with higher price tags, Disney's Pop Century Resort and Disney's Art of Animation are two value resort hotels that offer Skyliner access to EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios. This easy mode of transportation makes it infinitely easier to swing back and forth to your hotel as needed for your kids' schedules.

You will forget to bring essentials with you.

I pride myself on my ability to pack a park bag when I'm heading into Disney World. I know the essentials, from cooling towels and sunscreen to a portable phone charger and Tylenol. And yet, in the hurry to get out the door for my daughter's first trip to Magic Kingdom, of course I forgot to bring some essential diapers and wipes along with us.

Luckily, if this also happens to you, help can be found in the parks. Each park has a Baby Care Center, where you can find a nursing room, changing tables, and some essentials for purchase. There's even a small TV area where kids who may just need a break and some A/C can chill out for a few minutes.

I cannot stress enough that if you have a little one, you should use the resources provided at one of the Baby Care Centers — they are absolutely essential when visiting with a toddler or baby.

Disney World is ripe for a meltdown (or three).

OK, obviously, a meltdown at Disney World isn't shocking. With the long days, extreme heat, and endless walking, it's basically a rite of passage, no matter your age. However, despite knowing it was inevitable, I was still taken aback by how quickly it happened — and how it happened to the whole family at once.

After a character breakfast and one ride, all three of us were sweating, tired, and ready to call it. And while some meltdowns can be solved with a little food and a bit of A/C, it's also important to know when to call it or take a break. While the price tag of Disney World can put a lot of pressure to "do it all," it shouldn't be at the expense of your family's fun and happiness.

Rides may not be a winner.

Speaking of expectations, you'll want to prepare yourself in advance that all parts of the Disney experience may not be a winner. Before going, we were *certain* our daughter would love the lights and movements of the rides. That was not the case.

While she (thankfully) didn't freak out or get scared on any rides, she kind of just… didn't care for them either way. Instead, the characters she got to meet were far and away the bigger joy and thrill for her.

You will enjoy Disney World in all new ways.

So, yes, Disney World was very different in bringing a child versus not. I spent way more time in the children's pool and far less riding roller coasters than I would have had she not been with us. But, despite only getting a few hours in the parks and dealing with lots of heat and meltdowns, I enjoyed Disney World in an entirely new way than I could ever have prepared for.

Seeing her joy as she met with Pooh or pointed out the Halloween decorations lining Main Street, U.S.A., brought me a level of excitement I don't think I could ever replicate. While it may not be a trip, she necessarily remembers down the line the memories that we made as a family (and the pictures that will forever hold a place on our fridge) more than make up for that fact.