Hope these ideas help you in planning a trip with little ones about 6 months to 18 months old. I definitely saw babies younger and older than that, but my experience of taking an almost 17 month old is what I'm sharing today. Hope it helps.
Some have asked when should you take kids to the parks, should you even take a baby? For us, we had no choice, our older kids ages 8 and 5 1/2 hadn't been yet and we wanted to go before they were getting older to lose the magic the first trip. So that meant we took a baby with us. Would I prefer to take a baby? Nope. But if you are going and you have a baby, then great! I will say I worried about what it's like taking a 2-4 year old who just don't understand waiting and standing in line, who want to move move move nonstop. Our little guy was content waiting, he doesn't know any better. But full-on toddler age... eek. I'm nervous about doing that in the future.
Important tip for taking a little one:
One thing to know right at the start is less than 3 years old are FREE at parks. That's awesome! They do not count when making Fast Pass selections. For example, when I'm looking to get us on the Winnie the Pooh ride, I only did Fast Pass for four of us, not five, as baby doesn't count. You don't need a park ticket for baby.
However, when making character meal reservations you DO need to include the baby in your total number for reservations. When getting on rides, they ask how many in your party, and they DO want you to include the baby, as it helps with tracking fire codes and occupancy limits.
- Remember they are little, they have low expectations of what's fun. My toddler guy had the BEST time walking and crawling around the castle, standing in a shady spot waiting for siblings to get off rides while looking at the birds, pushing his own stroller, and waving at the statues. You don't have to do it all on this trip with them. You will come again.
- Figure out which rides they can go on with you. Most rides at Magic Kingdom (MK) littles can go on with you, with a carrier or in your arms. They fit nicely behind the safety bars, no issues. I was so pleasantly surprised. The bigger rides that you'd assume babies cannot go on- any of the Mountains or roller coasters of course, obviously you can take babies on, but most other kid ones are friendly for babies.
- Go to Fantasyland in MK first. It's all baby and toddler friendly and the lines are SO long later in the day, even by noon they are long. So get up early, head out with the stroller and snacks and hit up as many rides as you can before it's busy. Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, Small World, Ariel and the Mermaid Ride are awesome ones to get on at MK.
- Schedule Fast Passes for big kids during your little one's nap times if possible. You can't always choose these things.... you get what you get sometimes with choosing Fast Passes. But if you can, schedule Splash Mountain during the midday nap time for your little one. Kids won't stick to their regular routine, but if you possibly can keep to that timeframe and try to get them to rest while you can't be on the ride anyway, that's great. I did this a few times and it worked great. My husband took the big kids on Thunder Mountain during my son's morning nap time, so we walked around, put on sunblock, had a snack, and he rested in the carrier.
- Map out Fast Passes so you know where rides are and you avoid more walking. There is SO much walking at Disney. It's hard for adults, so imagine how that is for little legs and bodies who lose patience faster than we do. When looking at Fast Passes, have a map of the park handy (or Google it online) so you can schedule your rides in the same area to avoid more walking.
- Stroller must! You need one. It's a necessary evil. It stinks walking through the park with so much stuff, but also it's nice to put your things down so you can have less to carry while carrying a little one sometimes. We took a jogger, it was awesome. Most people had joggers, and probably 10-15% had umbrella strollers. If you take a stroller, mark it somehow with ribbon or bandana, or even a bag that is a brighter color so you know where it is. There are cast members assigned to stroller parking lots (YES this is a thing at Disney, real parking lots for strollers outside rides!). They move your strollers sometimes. It only happened to us a couple of times, not a huge deal, but if you don't mark it you won't find it easily. You can rent a stroller for bigger kids too. We have a 5 1/2 year old and 8 year old and they definitely needed the stroller the last day of park days. Don't rely on using the park strollers through for younger kids who intend to nap in the stroller, as they don't lie back, are plastic and not comfortable. They're good enough for moving through the park with preschoolers and older I'd say, but not for napping. Having a stroller with a tray for food and drink is really helpful.
- Baby carrier. This was a lifesaver with our little man, especially waiting in lines at the airport and the park rides. My baby also napped in here a few times, particularly when we were waiting for a ride. I even went on Epcot's Finding Nemo ride just because it's cool in there and the baby was napping so why not? Carriers are awesome.
- Small bag to carry. You will need a shoulder bag or something smaller to fit a few diapers and wipes, snack and sippy cup to go on rides. You are waiting in lines anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes sometimes, even longer on certain rides. So you will need to bring a few items with you. You don't want this to be a full size backpack. Leave that in the stroller.
- Night time- It's super dark. If you're using your stroller at night get a flash light that clips onto the stroller (husband found these at Dollar Tree cheap) or a glow necklace to distinguish it while you are on rides.
- Pack snacks and water bottles. You need lots of these. Pack extra. I packed a small bag of Cheerios for when we were in lines for rides, perfect for my toddler.
- Go at your own pace. This one is difficult especially with older kids who are go go go to different rides. But if you can slow down and take it easy, it'll be more enjoyable for you and the little one.
- Go back for nap at the hotel. We did not do this, but I've heard it's a great option especially if you are on Disney property. Take the monorail to your hotel from the park, rest in the afternoon, swim, chill away from bigger crowds. Then go back late afternoon for dinner and a few rides, fireworks even.
- It's OK to be off routine. You can't keep them to a regular routine on this trip. You can attempt it... but it's so busy you won't be able to typically. So accept that it's ok. My baby slept when he needed to, the carrier was perfect for that. He slept 30-60 minutes twice a day typically, always within an hour of when he'd normally sleep at home. He usually sleeps 1.5 hours in the morning and 2.5 hours in the afternoon, so typically didn't get all the rest he needed, but it worked out ok. On non-park days we did regular nap routines as best we could and that helped a lot.
- Nursing - There are baby care areas in all parks. These are quiet, air conditioned spaces to get away from the noises if needed. Otherwise, people were nursing all through the park no issues. Do your thing.
- Disposable bibs- These were lifesavers. Nobody wants to deal with washing out your regular bibs later. Get disposable for this week you're away, pack a few in the bag for the parks and you're good to go.
- Diaper changing pad- you need this! I changed more diapers in the stroller or on the ground on the changing pad outside a line for rides than in the actual bathrooms. It's crazy busy there, and sometimes you do what you gotta do with little ones.
- Extra hats. We lost one because the stroller was so packed at night time and it fell off. Pack a couple of hats for baby, they toss things all the time and you miss it.
- Full pack of wipes per park day. We ran out one night because we took a half pack to a park. Bring extra wipes. You are using them more than diaper changes- hand washing before eating, wiping tables and stroller trays, wiping hands after applying sunblock etc.
- Diapers- for a 17 month old we took about 11 diapers a day, give or take. It will vary on each child I'm sure.
- Spare change of clothes. We packed a long sleeve in the morning, and a spare change of clothes for the littlest guy. We needed the spare only two times on our trip, so good to have.
- Sandals or Crocs for baby- doesn't really matter what type of shoes since they aren't walking a ton. Breathable shoes are best.
- Set a timer. I didn't do this and thought of it the last day, it's so needed. You are so busy, lose track of time, and it's hard to keep up with what each kid needs. Setting a timer for diaper changes or snack time and definitely for reapplying sunblock or taking any medication (we had eye drops to give every four hours, ugh) is SO helpful. So set a timer on your phone, you're using it anyway for the Disney app for tracking rides, it's much easier to track this way with a timer than using your tired brain.
- Do the fireworks. Yes, these scare some kids, so you know your child, if they can't do it it's OK. But they are incredible, you deserve to see them! If you can, bring the stroller, get baby to sleep ahead of time, put blanket over stroller- keep checking of course - and hope they sleep. My son slept through 2 out of 3 fireworks shows. It was awesome. Don't rule them out just because you have a little one. The noises aren't terrible either, not super loud.
My biggest tip for taking littles to the Disney parks is something my husband and I talked about the first day at Magic Kingdom: They won't remember, but still take them. I told my husband, "This little guy won't remember any of this trip, but he's having MORE fun than any of us are!" He LOVED every second of it. Every single moment he was waving and saying hi to characters. He was pointing at lights and palm trees. He was mesmerized and so calm, sucking his thumb enjoying the Pirates ride and the Buzz Lightyear ride. He loved the new treats and food at the park, and didn't mind getting sunblock on his legs. He loved looking at birds eating chips on the ground. He loved looking at flowers. The whole thing was amazing to him. He took it all in, even if he won't remember it.
So to me, it is worth taking little ones to Disney World. You will LOVE seeing their faces light up. You won't regret taking them. It's exhausting taking a little one, totally not sugarcoating that. Stopping for diaper changes and strapping on carriers is hard work.
Enjoy the little moments with your little loves!