Professional photographer and Monica + Andy customer, Ashley Dilligard, lives just around the corner from the most magical place on earth, Walt Disney World. And she’s a regular there with her daughter, Arielle. We asked her, between her hundreds of trips there, to share tips for parents going to Magic Kingdom with a toddler. Plus, we dressed little Arielle up in our latest Disney collection!
“I’ve been an annual pass holder at Walt Disney World since I moved to the Tampa area in 2014. As someone who has been to Disney both with and without kids I can tell you, hands down, it’s better with kids. The magic is magnified when you’re able to see it through the eyes of your child. Nothing compares to seeing our daughter meet Mickey and Minnie for the first time, or meeting a real princess for the first time, or seeing Magic Kingdom fireworks for the first time!
I want to share all the helpful tips and tricks to getting through a Disney day with maximal magic and minimal meltdowns (hopefully, but I make no guarantees)! These apply to mostly all parks, but this is going to be very Magic Kingdom specific, as that’s the most popular, especially with toddler-age kids.
A little pre-tip: Download the Disney World app and explore it a bit before you go!
- At any dining spot or food cart/kiosk that has fountain drinks you can get free ice water.They will most likely only be able to give you a small cup and they also can’t refill that cup for you, so if you have a 40 oz bottle like I do, don’t be scared to ask for three ice waters.
BRING A STROLLER
- If your child is of an age where there is any doubt they won’t want to or be able to walk around all day or will start crying and whining when 3 pm hits and they’ve had enough of the heat, and probably haven’t had a nap yet, and probably not enough sleep the night before, you’re going to wish you had brought one. (Plus no one wants to carry around their stuff all day when you could have just stuck it in the stroller!)
- Another thing that causes meltdowns? Hungry kids. Especially hungry kids who are not happy with any of the options available at the park.ou are allowed to bring whatever food or drink you’d like into the park.Make sure to keep a couple snacks on hand for standing in lines.!.
CLIP A FAN ON YOUR STROLLER
- It’s hot. Enough said.
You won’t be able to fit in EVERYTHING at Magic Kingdom in one day, so don’t stress out trying to accomplish the impossible. Before you go to the parks, pick out six rides that you want tot try and get those done in between parades, shows and snack breaks.
WHERE TO EAT
For Quick Service
- All the way at the end of Main Street on the left. Place a mobile order on the Disney app for quick and easy pickup. My favorites are the corn dog nuggets and fries. I usually eat the nuggets and a couple fries and my daughter eats most of the fries. My favorite place to eat is on the hub grass; you’ll get a break from crowds, kids can run around and it’s the PERFECT, totally underrated spot to get a photo with the castle. Because of the location and vantage point you can’t even see the crowds surrounding you in the photo.
- Located across from the Tomorrowland Speedway, right between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. They have mac and cheese, chicken tenders, cheeseburgers, fries, (and more) usually at least one of those is a winner with kids! This post has a large indoor seating area which is perfect for escaping the heat, cooling down in the A/C and just taking a breath.
For Special/Unique Dining
Important note: My experience is somewhat limited as I’ve only been to a few. It does require some patience and effort to get these dining options, so either book right at 60 days before your trip (that’s the earliest you can book them) or constantly check to see if any new reservations have opened up.ou can do this on the Disney app or the website!.I’ve found the best luck by checking 72-24 hours before I want to book the reservation, and then I check as often as I remember to.
Be Our Guest
- This is a Beauty and the Beast-themed character meal, but The Beast is the only character who came around. This was kind of a letdown for the three-year-old who was told she was going to Belle’s castle and was terrified of The Beast. But by the end of the meal and his fourth trip around the dining room she was blowing him a kiss, so it all worked out! The French onion soup and filet mignon were delicious, and the desserts were so good, too Would I go here again? Probably not. It was expensive and lacked some expected magic
Breakfast at Chef Mickey's
- This is not at Magic Kingdom but it’s at the Contemporary hotel, which is easily walkable from Magic Kingdom or you can take the monorail there. The food is pretty good, served family style, and is all you can eat. But the best part of Chef Mickeys? MICKEY OF COURSE! Mickey and his pals (Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto) roam around the dining room thewhole time meeting guests, and there is also some singing and dancing. Would I go to Chef Mickeys again? ABSOLUTELY! We’ve actually been there three times because we love the character interaction so much.
Breakfast at Topolino’s Terrace
- This restaurant is located at the Riviera Resort, which you can get to from Magic Kingdom using one of the Disney busses, or if you are at Epcot or Hollywood Studios you can get there using the Skyliner (which is our favorite way to travel). If you’re looking for a character meal that will give you great character interactions AND great food, you have to go here! You’ll get to meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy all dressed up in special outfits. There is a flat rate you pay here for your meal, but you can pick more than one dish and it’s all covered in that flat rate!
You can’t go to Disney without getting at least two quintessential Disney snacks! Here’s a list of my favorites (and where to find them).
- This has been a favorite since I first came to Disney and a Dole Whip Float brings me out of any midday “I’m so hot and tired and cranky” funk. You can find them at Aloha Isle Refreshments right next to Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride. If pineapple isn’t your thing,go to Sunshine Tree Terrace, right after the entrance into Adventure Land and they have more ice cream and float options there.
- I will be the first to admit that Mickey Pretzels aren’t the best soft pretzel I’ve ever had (they’re honestly pretty dry). Theycome with a cheese dip, but also at these stands they usually have churros (another favorite!), which come with a chocolate dip, so I like to ask for the chocolate sauce instead of the cheese. We eat Mickey pretzels because they’re cute and make you feel nostalgic. You can find them literally everywhere in the parks.
- BE WARNED, these are the messiest ice cream bars you’ll ever eat, the chocolate covering this ice cream likes to come off in large chunks, land on your kids (or yourself or the ground) and quickly melt in the heat and create giant chocolate mess! I have to watch my daughter like a hawk when she has one of these to be sure I’m not going to end up with a ruined outfit and a mad kid cause half her chocolate fell off her ice cream. So instead of this, get the Mickey ice cream sandwich —just as good and way less messy!
- If your kid is old enough to have popcorn, and you will be at the parks for more than one day, buy a popcorn bucket. The refills are only $2! And it may seem odd to eat a salty food when you’re trying to stay hydrated but your body needs those salts to maintain an electrolyte balance. There is no better popcorn in the world than Disney popcorn.
So what if you bring your own food? Can you bring things that need to be heated somewhere?!
- Disney's Baby Care Center's
There is an amazing Baby Care Center in every park (at Magic Kingdom it’s right between Casey’s Corner and the Crystal Palace. This post has a microwave (my friends often bring easy mac for the kids for a quick, easy, and cheap meal). They also have lots of changing tables and you are provided with a clean paper before every baby. Plus, expect nursing areas, multiple bathrooms, and even a TV usually playing a movie if you and the kids are needing a little break. First Aid is usually also located right next to the Baby Care Center!
Top Rides at Magic Kingdom
- This is a classic Disney ride, great for all ages, and usually the line isn’t too long. Plus, there is a cute play area inside the line queue where the kids can play in the AC.
It’s A Small World
- Hear me out: I know this ride is long and boring, but it’s super entertaining for small kids because there is so much to look at (it’s one of my daughter’s favorite rides!).! And again, the line usually isn’t too long and it’s a good long A/C break!
- If you’re going to wait in a longer line for more of a thrill ride, make it Splash Mountain (you have to be 40” tall to ride ). It’s a really long ride in comparison to some others, and it’s nice and cool in there! And as you can see the theme of most of these tips is: find A/C!
- The one ride my daughter would say is a must do is Jungle Cruise, personally not one of my favorites, but if the line is under 55 minutes or you have a lightning lane, this is a good one!
- I’m sure I’ll get grief for this, but unless you like riding a roller coaster in the pitch black, feeling like you’re going to lose your head to a coaster beam, and looking like a fool trying to get out of the tiny coaster carts, this ride won’t be for you, haha!
Peter Pan's Flight
This ride for some reason always has an obscenely long wait for what I think is a super overrated ride, but there are a lot of people who would disagree with me.
How to See the Best Characters
Festival of Fantasty
- At Magic Kingdom the best way to just see all the characters is to watch this parade.Seriously, plan your day around getting to see it —! it’s the best!
Meet & Greets
- For meet and greets at Magic Kingdom there are a few options and they are there all day, with queued lines to wait in (at Epcot, characters come out sporadically and are usually there for half an hour or so, maybe longer, and then leave and come back). At Magic Kingdom you can meet Mickey, Tiana and a visiting princess (usually it’s Rapunzel), Cinderella and a visiting princess (usually it’s Elena of Avalor) and Belle!
- After you meet the princesses be sure to stop in the gift shop it opens into and ask a cast member if your child can be pixie dusted. (They have to be older than three.) They say a little wish and get glitter dusted on their heads.it’s super cute and my daughter loves it. (And it’s one of those little free pieces of magic that not everyone may know about!)
Tips for Park Hopping
- To get there, park at the ticket and transportation center and from theru take the monorail or the ferry to get to the park. You can also hop on a water taxi from a few select resorts.
- You can get to Epcot MANY different ways. You can get there from Epcot’s parking lot, you can take the monorail from the ticket and transportation center, you can take the skyliner (which has stops at Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disneys Art of Animation Resort and Disney’s Pop Century Resort), or you can take the boat from a select few resorts. My top favorite ride at Epcot: it’s a tie between Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Soarin (Soarin is my daughter’s favorite!).
- All the same options as Epcot except for the monorail. My favorite ride here: Toy Story Mania. My daughter’s is Slinky Dog Dash.
- This is the hardest park to park hop to and from because the only transportation to and from there is your own car or a Disney bus. Favorite Animal Kingdom Ride: Kilamanjaro Safaris and Kali River Rapids. (The latter is my daughter's favorite!).
I could go on and on forever talking about Disney but I’ll end it here. Remember to enjoy the magic, try not to stress, and find A/C and shade whenever you can!
I’m always an open book and love to talk all things Disney. Feel free to message me on Instagram at @ashleydilligardphotography
Sending you magic and pixie dust on your next Disney trip!
- Ashley Dilligard”
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