As I can now speak from experience, going to Disney World with a baby and a toddler definitely takes some planning, but it can be SO much fun. We had the added advantage of Steve knowing Disney like the back of his hand, but we did learn a few lessons along the way so if you are thinking of taking a trip too, hopefully these tips will help with your planning! Remember that we went in December. If you choose to go during the summer, then you are on your own, and you are also kind of crazy.
1) Pack for the weather. And when I say "for the weather", I mean 10 degrees hotter and colder than what the forecast says. Layers are probably the best way to go, because we were warm during the day and chilly at night. And if you gauge the weather wrong, then bite the bullet and buy some new clothes down there, because it is miserable being at the parks and being uncomfortable all day. As we discovered when we showed up with sweaters and the temperature rocketed up to the mid 80's!!
2) Take advantage of the resort gift shop. I was SO impressed with the hotel's gift shop. I was dismayed when I discovered that not only did I forget my makeup for the trip (which, for pictures, it sucked, but I got over it), but I also forgot my contact solution. And my fellow contact-wearers will sympathize with me that the solution is a necessity. I was happy to find that the hotel gift shop had a small section of almost anything you could need - contact solution, medicines (even some infant and children's medicines!), camera SD cards, Band-Aids, and even diapers. You do pay a little premium to buy it there, but I was just thrilled that I didn't have to spend precious Disney time driving out to Walmart to get my contact solution. We ended up having to get a few more things from there throughout the week, and it was definitely convenient!
3) Stick to your kid's schedules and do NOT skip naps. When we were researching tips for taking a toddler to Disney, every single person said to go back to the hotel for a nap during the day. And you know what? They were right. Disney World is such a stimulating and exciting place, and it can be very overwhelming, especially for a 2 year old. We ALL appreciated having that break in the middle of the day, even if it did cost us a little bit of time in traveling. Anna had very few meltdowns at Disney and every single one of them was because she was tired and hungry. Going back to the hotel every day also gave us a chance to change into some warmer clothes, check for blisters (including on Anna's feet, although she never got any), and to restock diapers, snacks and water for the night. You also will want to build in some dedicated break times at the park - stop, sit down, and get everyone fed and hydrated and off their feet for a few minutes.
4) Pack some snacks and lunch options. We packed supplies to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the hotel room, and we also had chips and pretzels and milks for Anna, among other little snacks. The rooms all have mini fridges, so it was no problem to keep the food. We originally brought these supplies as a small cost-cutting measure (even lunch at the parks could run $30-$40 a day), but it ended up being such a nice break from the hamburgers/hot dogs, and it was also really wonderful to be able to skip the lunch rush and crowds. We actually found ourselves looking forward to the PB&Js! It also helped us stay closer to Anna's nap schedule. Also, all of the parks let you take in food and drinks, so if you felt motivated enough, you could theoretically pack a small cooler or a bag of snacks for the kids. The only thing we didn't have in the hotel room, and which we probably should have brought, was a case of water.
5) Breastfeeding at Disney. Guys, it really is a breeze to breastfeed at Disney, even if you are shy about nursing in public. I packed 7 or 8 of my Aden & Anais blankets for the week, and they were perfect - they are huge and great to use a cover, they roll up small to fit in the backpack, and lightweight enough to not be hot. But there were even a few times where Steve had the backpack and I had to nurse without a cover, and it really was a cinch. The employees will NOT harass you (and their websites back that up), there are plenty of benches and shady areas, and it is generally easy to find a place off the beaten path to get a little peace and quiet. Every park also has a Baby Care Center, if you wanted to go there...they sell formula and diapers and bottles and other kiddo essentials, and they have rocking chairs and changing tables. I never cared to go out of my way to get to the center, and I just nursed on whatever bench happened to be convenient. But it really was easy.
6) Have a souvenir budget and take your time with shopping. There are SO many cute things down at Disney World for the kids, so just go ahead and plan to spend some money. I had SO much fun taking Anna into some of the stores and seeing what she picked out! Just don't run into the first shop that you see, because every store has different merchandise and some stores are much better than others. Keep an eye on your receipts, even the food receipts, because you will often get a 20% off coupon printed with your receipt that you can use in the gift stores! If you buy something at the parks and don't want to carry it around all day, you can arrange to pick it up at the front of the park once you're ready to leave. We were told that Disney merchandise is often the thing stolen out of strollers, so you don't want to leave your Disney bags out in plain view on your stroller if you're going to ride a ride or see a show.
7) Make reservations. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with some of the character meals and special events that Disney offers. There are a ton of options for all different age ranges, but you generally need reservations. And if you are particularly interested in eating at a sit-down restaurant, a reservation is generally a good idea unless you want to wait until 8:30 or 9:00 to eat. The thing you do need to watch out for though is if there is a no-show fee. A Disney day can throw a lot of unexpected things your way, and time flies by, so you don't want to be stressed about making a reservation or losing a $50 reservation fee. You can make reservations online at the Disney website, but it's generally more efficient to call if you are trying to get in to a popular event.
8) Familiarize yourself with the parks and make an itinerary for your trip. Study the maps and get a good feel for the general layout of the parks. You will also want to map out what times all of the parks open and close while you are there, and when parks offer Extra Magic Hours for resort guests. If there are specific events or shows that you want to see, make sure to check the schedule so you don't miss them.
9) Be strategic with your Fast Passes. Fast Passes are a way to avoid waiting in line, and they are free to get with your park tickets. Even when the park isn't crowded, these can be invaluable when you have kiddos who have limited patience. Familiarize yourself ahead of time with what rides offer a Fast Pass, and make sure to go get a Fast Pass as soon as you get to the park in the morning. You can get a second round of Fast Passes once the redeem time on the first passes expires. A popular ride might run out of Fast Passes for the day, like Toy Story, so if it's one of the new popular ones, you'll want to get over there first thing in the morning to get your passes. These passes are SO easy to get - you just scan each ticket card in the machine and it gives you the pass. Don't lose the pass, and come back within the hour window indicated on the pass and you skip right to the front of the line. I seriously don't know why you wouldn't use these!!
10) Experience the park on your kid's level. We were used to experiencing Disney World as adults, so it was a fun new game to explore Disney's parks on a toddler level and a baby level. The pace needs to slow WAY down, obviously, but you also need to help your younger kids connect things that they are seeing to things that they are familiar with, so that they can become comfortable and process all these new things more quickly. I had great success helping Anna relate things at the park to things that we had read in her books, or to compare new objects to items that she already knew. There were also times that both kids became overstimulated, and our best "cool-down" trick was to get them focused on something more on the macro level. For example, when we pushed our luck with a second safari ride and Anna started having a melt down, we stopped trying to get her to admire the animals and the sweeping views, and instead we had her count the screws on the back of the train bench. It worked like a charm and helped her focus her attention.
11) Strike a balance with a stroller and your carrier(s). We brought our double stroller and a carrier for each kiddo (we brought our Ergo carrier and our Lillebaby Nordic carrier). Although Anna generally refused to sit in the stroller, we did wrestle her in there a couple of times, and even when she wasn't in it, it was great to have the extra room for our bags. We did not take the stroller every single time we went to the parks - it was nice not having it at Magic Kingdom, and we also skipped it a few times at the other parks, but generally, it was definitely worth the hassle to bring it. If you are using the carriers though, be sure to make sure that the straps are properly adjusted, or you will be in quite a lot of pain after a day of walking around with a 15 lb weight strapped to you. As I discovered!! The other thing you can do is take the stroller to the park, and then just ditch it in one of the stroller parking areas. Just don't leave anything valuable in there, obviously. We had two backpacks - one that had all the valuable stuff in it and that stayed with us at all times. The other backpack had baby/kid essentials like diapers and blankets and jackets, and that stayed in the bottom of the stroller. That system made it really easy to grab the important bag when we went on rides, and it also helped limit the weight that we had to carry around with us at any given time.
Those are the main tips that I can think of off the top of my head. I know the thought of taking a baby and a toddler to Disney can be overwhelming, but really, just a little bit of planning and thought can go such a long way, and it was seriously such a fun trip with minimal meltdowns and so many great memories :-). If you are planning a trip and I missed something or if you have a question, feel free to ask!!