Need help with no parks itinerary for toddler!

I've found that the kids I take on vacation aren't the ones that I live with. But I once heard on a podcast when traveling with kids, set the lowest bar possible and just accept that if you do X, you'll wish you didn't but if you didn't do X, you'll wish you did.

What i might be inclined to do, because I'm bonkers, is squirrel away the money for the one-day at MK but don't pull the trigger until closer to the trip. But I'm a person who did a one day Epcot trip pre-cruise.
You make a good point that I can change my mind later on the MK tickets and if I've already budgeted for them, it's like the money is already there so...

Thanks for sharing the podcast saying, that's not one I've heard before! I'm on some parenting forums and disaster disney trips are quite common which is where a lot of my hesitation comes from. I remember someone saying the best way they dealt with expectation vs reality was to remember that the money had already been spent so it didn't really matter if they were stuck in a hotel room with a puking kid.
 
As someone who did non-park trips to Disney with a toddler, I have a few suggestions. There is a Hilton property right across from Disney Springs (used to be the Buena Vista Palace) that might have more affordable suites. There is also a Doubletree with suites down the road close to Disney Springs. I know staying on site is nice, but if you don't plan to visit the parks, maybe stay at a nice condo hotel offsite? You can drive to Disney Springs and park for free and do the fun kid things there (train, lego, Ghirardelli, carousel, visit Rain Forest Cafe, take boats). Being off site with a kitchen will give you some flexibility, and you can do some other fun kid things in the area if you want that are outside of Disney. There are a ton of condo type properties in the area that will be much cheaper than onsite. From Disney Springs you could take a bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge to see the animals, or to Contemporary and ride the monorail, or to one of the resorts with access to the Skyliner.
Ahhh...I did look at the Hilton Buena vista palace, the island tower side cuts down on the walking distance. I'm curious...is Disney springs area where you would choose to stay, given that have done non park trips with a toddler?

I'm trying to skip car rental...I also briefly considered it and thought we were better off just going to Legoland if that was the case :)
 
You make a good point that I can change my mind later on the MK tickets and if I've already budgeted for them, it's like the money is already there so...

Thanks for sharing the podcast saying, that's not one I've heard before! I'm on some parenting forums and disaster disney trips are quite common which is where a lot of my hesitation comes from. I remember someone saying the best way they dealt with expectation vs reality was to remember that the money had already been spent so it didn't really matter if they were stuck in a hotel room with a puking kid.
You just have to remember most people won’t get on those forums and talk about the things that went right only what went wrong. You are already a step ahead by reading the boards and asking questions.

Also we have always taken a mid day break even on park days. Everybody rests for awhile and the youngest will nap. It keeps us all sane.
 
You make a good point that I can change my mind later on the MK tickets and if I've already budgeted for them, it's like the money is already there so...

Thanks for sharing the podcast saying, that's not one I've heard before! I'm on some parenting forums and disaster disney trips are quite common which is where a lot of my hesitation comes from. I remember someone saying the best way they dealt with expectation vs reality was to remember that the money had already been spent so it didn't really matter if they were stuck in a hotel room with a puking kid.

I've had some none Disney trips that were absolutely disasters 😂 . I mean just last weekend I showed up at a hotel I booked DIRECTLY WITH THE HOTEL WEBSITE and was told my reservation wasn't on file and there were no rooms available. At least when things go sideways at Disney, you're at Disney
 
Thanks all for the thoughtful responses. I'm going to take another look at the AoA family suite - I was thinking they were the same price point as swolphin but I think that's rack rate.

I realized the mid-day nap is really what's pushing me into the suite and I have no idea if that's actually going to be the case. Alas, my kid is very anti-stroller nap, despite my best efforts.

I think if you are basing the need for a suite on nap time, you might be overthinking it. When your toddler is having all of this new stimulus on vacation with pools, slides, playground, music, activities, skyliner and all of the people watching, naptime and/or bedtime will be more peaceful than usual. It will be exhausting and he will just sleep like a rock! I would suggest (if you don't already) start using a white noise machine. Once you put him in bed and turn on the machine, that little exhausted body will sleep very soundly and then wake refreshed.

If your budget allows, definitely look at AOA if you really want a suite. It's connected to so much via the skyliner. Otherwise, I think CBR offers so much for a resort only vacation. The main pool is geared towards kids and again, great waterplay area. Each island section has its own quiet pool. There is the huge playground on the island bridge across the lake. You can bring some toys and let him play in the beach sand while resting in a hammock. Each day they post different activities at the resort to participate. At night, you can do an outside movie, smores by the campfire, take a stroll around the resort and/or visit Riviera resort. You can hop on the Skyliner (without closing your stroller) and visit Pop/AoA or the Epcot area resorts including the Boardwalk evening entertainment. There are so many dining choices you can access utilizing the skyliner.
 
I can’t imagine taking a 3.5 yo and not actually go
go to the parks. To me, that’s like visiting an ice cream shop and not being able to eat the ice cream😂

I agree. Any child would be HUGELY disappointed to see various Disney related parks/characters just around the corner but never actually get to go there. I wouldn't go to Disney if you don't plan to do any parks. Riding around on the monorail/boats/skyliner/etc. are all modes of transportation intended to get you somewhere else and not what I would consider a vacation.

Staying off-site is generally much cheaper than staying at a Disney property or even renting a local house if that is the main concern. Part of what you pay for is proximity to the parks and associated modes of transportation.
 
Would any of the parties be any cheaper than a one day ticket? I've never gone to any of them and I believe the cost changes day by day. You can enter the park at 4 pm I think. Of course if you have a child that must be in bed by 8 pm, this won't work.
 
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The "magic" is not how many rides you do. The "magic" is seeing your child laughing and clapping and waving at characters. This is not a commando park visit for you but rather taking a stroll through MK and going on rides at his pace, not yours. The photos are your precious memories. I was talking about our first trip with our 3 yo son at Christmas when our DIL whipped out her phone as she keeps photos of that trip - they are absolutely priceless!

There are quiet areas that can be great for naps so bring a blankie and change of clothes. Rather than eating a sit down QS lunch, grab something before nap time so you can eat while he is sleeping. Bring a pb&j or whatever might be a treat for him. Relax on a bench in a shady spot and people watch. A quick change of clothes and you are off again. You can share a Dole whip later on when he needs a breather. As evening comes enjoy a QS in an a/c dining area. You should be able to get in several rides in the afternoon before the sun goes down. I always cry during fireworks as it evokes so many memories of all the trips we've made. He may sleep through it, but you can live in the moment and take it all in. Let the crowd disperse and take your time leaving the park, savoring each moment.

I really hope you will spend a day at MK. It might turn out to be the best day EVER. If you really do not think it is worth it, just wait for a better time.
 
I just can't justify $400 for one day tickets to myself right now...based on past outings, my kid is likely to do one activity...and then want to push his stroller all over various surfaces...or get stuck at the same activity for hours. We WILL do the parks properly when he gets older, I just don't think he is going to get very much out of it right now.
The one thing about spending money at Disney, You have to be all in on each purchase or the second guessing will be a mood killer.
You know your child best.
Thanks all for the thoughtful responses. I'm going to take another look at the AoA family suite - I was thinking they were the same price point as swolphin but I think that's rack rate.
AoA, although the highest Value resort, offers some great perks - Cars decor outside, Fantastic Kiddie splash pad area (only accessible by AoA guests), access to Skyliner ( which is almost a amusement ride itself ). Definitely compare room types with CBR.

I think you can have a great time if you get the right place to base out of. You have time to research "out of park" fun in the bubble.
 
Years ago my wife drug me to Disney (kicking and screaming by the way) with our then 3 year old son. She had done something that got us a few nights free at Buena Vista Palace and we were young, not much money (this was in the years coming out of the great financial crisis), and just figuring out life with our little guy. We had both been to Disney a handful of times when young but otherwise no major connection other than childhood memories. Disney just seemed like one of those things you’re ’supposed to do’ with a child, so off we go.

So we’re there (we did do the parks)… I’m actually having a good time….we decided to tack on an extra night and stay on property (Buena Vista Palace was OK but pretty generic). Drove to the Contemporary assuming we could just walk in and check availability at the front desk, I mean, there have to be rooms available, right? Didn’t realize at the time that’s not how things work. Oppps.

After making the U-turn of shame we pull over in the parking lot of the car care center right there off World Drive and called the number the Contemporary guard gave us - booked a night at AoA and drove right over. An absolutely amazing place for a child that age (and adults too!), in my humble opinion.

12 years later I’m a moderator on a Disney discussion board and we make multiple trips per year. So yeah, life comes at you fast. 😂

Anyway, when it comes to your plans - I don’t mean this the way it’s going to read in writing at all, but your plan seems like it could be dreadfully boring, in my opinion (sorry! I don’t know how else to say it!). There’s only so much resort exploring one can do and you’d be spending a ton of time getting to/from your resort. I’m not going to go as far as saying you should do the parks - you have your reasons, you know your family - but being on property with the theming of the rooms, pools, and quick Skyliner access at least gives you some good clay to work with when there and figuring things out - and maybe even set you up for success for this trip and others down the road.

I remember those days fondly - we frankly didn’t know what we were doing at all and traveling with little ones is always something new. We learned a lot about our kids and ourselves - we still do with nearly every trip (to Disney and beyond). Looking back now I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even if we didn’t do all the things way back at the start.

Best of luck in your planning and I hope you have a wonderful trip.
 
I've had some none Disney trips that were absolutely disasters 😂 . I mean just last weekend I showed up at a hotel I booked DIRECTLY WITH THE HOTEL WEBSITE and was told my reservation wasn't on file and there were no rooms available. At least when things go sideways at Disney, you're at Disney
oh no that sounds like a nightmare...sounds like you have a good attitude about it!
 
Would any of the parties be any cheaper than a one day ticket? I've never gone to any of them and I believe the cost changes day by day. You can enter the park at 4 pm I think. Of course if you have a child that must be in bed by 8 pm, this won't work.
this is a really interesting idea that I had not considered...I'm going to file it away for the future :) I do have a kid that's in bed by 8pm but this would totally work for my brother's 2yo, who is happy having snacks and playing at 11pm!
 
Thinking about doing a 5 day trip next Feb with my husband and son. Son will be 3.5 years old then and after some research, I think we'll all be miserable doing the parks...but he loves the Cars franchise and riding the monorail, skyliner, and boats would be fun for him.

I have no idea if he'll still be napping then but am planning on a mid-day return to the hotel. So activity in the morning and then sticking close to the hotel for playground / relaxing time in the afternoon.

My preliminary plan was to stay at a suite in swan reserve or the drury at disney springs. I'm open to other suggestions too...I just picked these 2 based on location. The most likely scenario is that I'll balk at the price of swan and we'll book the drury. Having 2 separate sleeping areas is top priority for me in terms of hotel stay. Location is second, I would like to keep commute time between hotel and activity to be 30 minutes or less under ideal condition (1hr under worst conditions).

Being able to walk to skyliner/boat is the selling point for me on the swan.

Being able to catch a bus back to disney springs from any hotel is a selling point for me on the drury. Although I'm not thrilled by having to do the 15-20 minute walk back from the disney springs bus station to the hotel.

This is what I have so far for itinerary:

Day 1: Travel day and settle in/disney springs

Day 2: Bus + transfer to animal kingdom lodge and lunch

Day 3: Bus to magic kingdom TTC to get on monorail and stop at Poly for sandpit time and dole whip. Lunch at another monorail resort?

Day 4: Bus to epcot/HS to get on skyliner to Art of Animation to check out the Cars section + lunch

Day 5: Boat somewhere? Thinking Crescent Lake and visiting Boardwalk + lunch. Part of me wants to book a character meal at Cape May cafe but I'm not sure if my kid will be terrified. Probably a visit to beaches and cream instead.

Last random note - my husband thinks disney is lame. His only visit was as a jaded high schooler and he thinks of disney as a giant shopping mall. He's a huge star wars fan but I've not been able to convince him to do galaxy's edge. I have sold this trip to him as practice for travelling with our kid in the future. Pre-kid, we would fly to our destination, stay in a hotel, and use the public transportation in the city. This disney trip would mimic those same elements, in a kid-friendly destination. With our kid, we typically drive and stay in airbnbs and my husband is getting tired of having to navigate all the unfamiliar roads and I'm getting tired of all the extra packing you have to do with an airbnb. So I'm really looking for help to simplify my itinerary so that we're not dealing with a ton of logistics, while still giving my kid a taste of disney magic.

Any feedback welcome, thanks!

If you want to stay in the EP/Crescent Lake area, I would highly suggest pricing out suites or connecting rooms at Swan or Dolphin (not Swan Reserve) - Swan Reserve is located on a very busy street and you would have to cross that street to access the Friendship Boats, Skyliner, Swan/Dolphin main pool, playground and the majority of restaurants in that area.

As other PP's have noted, I would also price out a family suite at Art of Animation and All Star Music. It will give you the space you want and will make transportation much easier than staying at a DS resort.

If your plan is to just stay at your hotel post-lunchtime, I would definitely be looking for a hotel that offers its own activities - playground, arts/crafts, easy access to other areas. Especially if its cold and rainy, you may not want to get stuck in a hotel that offers nothing for your family to enjoy in the afternoon/evenings.

Keep in mind, February weather can be quite cold (sometimes 50's and raining), so you may want to consider making a list of alternate activities should the weather not cooperate.

On the day you are in the MK area, consider taking the boat to Ft. W to visit the stables and go on a pony ride if that would be of interest. They also have a nice playground very close to the boat dock.

I'm not sure what your budget is, but have you considered a Disney cruise? You would get the Disney magic without the parks.

IMHO, you may want to consider using your vacation dollars toward a different trip this year and just wait to do WDW when you are ready to visit the parks. You are going to be paying a premium to stay anywhere in the vicinity of WDW parks - you might get a bigger bang for your buck if you travel elsewhere this year and go somewhere that won't require you to be on multiple modes of transportation just to get to resorts and playgrounds. I have been traveling with DS16 multiple times a year, all over the world, since he was 6 months old. Any travel is practice for future travel.
 
Pre-kid, we would fly to our destination, stay in a hotel, and use the public transportation in the city. This disney trip would mimic those same elements, in a kid-friendly destination. With our kid, we typically drive and stay in airbnbs and my husband is getting tired of having to navigate all the unfamiliar roads and I'm getting tired of all the extra packing you have to do with an airbnb. So I'm really looking for help to simplify my itinerary so that we're not dealing with a ton of logistics, while still giving my kid a taste of disney magic.

The biggest simplification factor for this... stay on-site. Staying off-site you are likely to still need or want a car to get around. Yes many off-site hotels have shuttles but they are nowhere near as frequent or convenient as WDW transportation.

You are right that riding WDW transportation can seem like an attraction in and of itself, especially for kids. So having access to that transportation by being onsite is going to make your visit that much smoother. Bus to Disney Springs for dinner, bus to a park to catch a boat ride or skyliner, etc. Very easy.

Your son loves Cars -- look at the Art of Animation family suites. I don't know how those prices line up against Swan/Dolphin/Reserve or Drury, so if the suite is too much maybe look at another value resort. All Star Music also has family suites that are less expensive than AoA, or maybe a regular hotel room will work and any of the All Stars or Pop Century are great for that age with the larger-than-life icons.
 
I'm Team Staying-On-Property. I've stayed on and off-property multiple times (prior to being a mom and after being a mom). The only time I took my daughter during toddlerhood, we stayed on the property. Mainly, the transportation and proximity to the parks were the most important things at that age because the parks are draining and naps are golden. Even if your kiddo is not a big napper by the time you go on the trip, there's no tired like Disney tired. Even going back to the hotel for non-sleep resting is going to be helpful. I agree with the suggestions of a Skyliner resort like POP or CBR if it's in the budget for you.
 
At 3.5, that's a good age to visit AK and MK. I'd skip Epcot and only do HS if he watches any Star Wars. But I would suggest hitting those two parks.
As others mentioned, getting on the Skyliner from the Swan should be pretty easy - either walk or take the Boats over. Visiting the Cars area at Art of Animation will be a treat for him. Also, if you do decide to do HS, there is a Cars attraction right be the Rock nRoll Rollercoaster that he would LOVE.
 
I would do Disney's Beach Club 1 bedroom villa. The pool area alone is a build-in mini water park. Skyliner or Boat to DHS to Bus to monorail resorts. I would do 1 day at Epcot. Turtle Talk, Nemo, Seas, Journey of Water, Living with the Land, Journey into Imagination with Figment, Gran Fiesta Tour, Remy's, and plenty of food & treats. That way if a park break is needed, your room is right there.
 
I will say I was in the same boat as you last year. We went last fall with a 5 year old and 2.5 year old, and i had all the same reservations about going to the parks. Originally we were planning a resort only vacation, but i was convinced to do Magic Kingdom for 2 days and I’m so happy I did! We booked 2 days because I didn’t want to worry about getting up super early, dragging the kids around to get the whole “experience.” So we went there and did a few rides each day (at 3 they are able to go on more rides than you would think!) and left around 2 when the kids got tired, but it was amazing! My now 3 year old talks about the trip at least once a week!

On the other hand, when we originally were going to do resort only, these were our ideas- Disney mini golf, water parks, character dining, pony rides at Ft Wilderness, Hoop- Dee- Doo Revue, fishing charter, Cirque du Soleil at Disney Springs. There is also the Crayola Experience and Peppa Pig park nearby that I’ve heard good things about.
 
I've had some none Disney trips that were absolutely disasters 😂 . I mean just last weekend I showed up at a hotel I booked DIRECTLY WITH THE HOTEL WEBSITE and was told my reservation wasn't on file and there were no rooms available. At least when things go sideways at Disney, you're at Disney
BUT here is where WDW is totally different than an offsite hotel. If the offsite hotel is booked and they do not have you listed, you are screwed. But at WDW, if they messed up your original reservation and you show them proof of your reservation, confirmation #, screen shot of your reservation etc. they will find you a room and it will most likely be an upgrade.

OP: we have been going since our 1st DD was 6 months old and have never regretted going to the parks. Our DDs LOVE watching the videos that we took during those trips, when they were infants and toddlers. I also never understood needing a suite either, a lot of great memories were us laying in bed at night after a park day and discussing our favorite parts etc. Some of the things our DDs would say had DH and me laughing out loud:) Great memories.
 
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I'm not sure what your budget is, but have you considered a Disney cruise? You would get the Disney magic without the parks.

IMHO, you may want to consider using your vacation dollars toward a different trip this year and just wait to do WDW when you are ready to visit the parks. You are going to be paying a premium to stay anywhere in the vicinity of WDW parks - you might get a bigger bang for your buck if you travel elsewhere this year and go somewhere that won't require you to be on multiple modes of transportation just to get to resorts and playgrounds. I have been traveling with DS16 multiple times a year, all over the world, since he was 6 months old. Any travel is practice for future travel.

My mom also keeps telling me we should just do a cruise :) The reason I haven't pulled the trigger is the logistics on getting to the cruise port and wanting that separate sleeping area.

MCO is an easy direct flight for us which is why I thought it would be a good destination for toddler's first airplane ride. Spouse and I typically go to Florida in February for our anniversary trip/escape from winter and this year we flew instead of driving and it was soooo nice to be in warm weather by 10am instead of dragging ourselves in after dinnertime.

I hear you on considering alternative destinations! Tampa and Miami were on my short list too because they're also short direct flights, I might go take a look again. The beach hotels in Miami are crazy $$$ but I get that's because everyone else is trying to escape the cold too!
 
















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