Going to Disney as a family is kind of like an American’s birthright. Fortunately we’ve checked this off our list…I say that now but I know we’ll be back. We decided to visit Disney World in Orlando, Florida when my daughter was two years and 11 months old…because it’s free for kids under three. I’ve often heard people say they’re waiting to take this trip when their kids are old enough to remember. I don’t really put much weight into this philosophy. I think it’s important to expose our kids to many different experiences, including when they’re very young. Even if they can’t remember spinning in the tea cups two years later, the joys and happy moments do make imprints in their minds. Our trip happened to be in July, yup, the peak of the summer in hot, humid Orlando, Florida. This is not advisable. It was hot, hot, hot. Look at my sweaty little girl!
Reunion Resort & Spa – Kissimmee, Florida
We decided to stay off Disney property where hotel rooms with nicer amenities and better prices are widely available. About 30 minutes from Disney, we found our oasis: Reunion Resort in Kissimmee, Florida. Although there are many alternatives to Disney Hotels, I can’t imagine one being a better fit for us. We traveled with a friend and her son, so there were 3 adults and two toddlers in our party. Upon arrival at Reunion Resort, they had a lot of availability so upgraded us into a much larger villa for no additional fee. This was seriously awesome. We had a two story condo with three bedrooms, three baths, a kitchen overlooking a large living room and two decks.
This resort is known for their golf course and spa however we didn’t take advantage of those features. Instead we pool hopped in several of their pools throughout the property. Hands down our absolute favorite was their water park which ended up being a highlight of the trip. In my opinion it’s the best hotel with water park for little kids in the Orlando area.
Walt Disney World – Orlando, Florida
We planned to spend only one day during our Florida trip at Disney. Although our tickets were Park Hoppers, which allowed us entry to more than one theme park per day, we knew this would be too ambitious for our two year olds. The Park Hopper ticket is actually pretty cool, you can go to and from all four of the Disney World Parks but it all has to be done same day- Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Disney Epcot. Water parks are not included in this pass. Anyway, we chose Magic Kingdom based on it being the most age appropriate Disney experience for toddlers and a classic. Our tickets also included a ‘fastpass’. The FastPass allows you to reserve rides, entertainment and character greetings in advance (so shorter lines). There is no cost to use FastPass ―it is included at no extra charge with your theme park admission but you can only reserve three attractions at a time.
We arrived at Disney around 10am, parked our car and took a shuttle to Magic Kingdom. This journey was fairly easy and the excitement builds the closer you get to the actual park. Shortly after we entered we headed to the Magic Kingdom Castle and watched (and danced) in the Dream Along with Mickey Show. This was a great way to kick off our day and I recommend trying to catch this show if you go. Many Disney icons made an appearance on a big float along with a small cast of entertainers who encouraged audience participation. It was super cute.
For our FastPass attractions we decided to book: Jungle Cruise, It’s a Small World and a meeting with Mickey Mouse. After our fast pass attractions we waited in the standard line over an hour to ride the 90 second Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
- Jungle Cruise
The Jungle Cruise is a cute 10 minute outdoor boat ride that takes you through a fabricated jungle with gators, elephants, hippos and other surprises. There’s a chance to get splashed by a waterfall and spraying elephants, we didn’t but be prepared. Our two year old loved the ride – there was nothing scary.
- It’s a Small World
It’s a Small World is a classic, it’s also a 10 minute boat ride, but indoors. You cruise past dozens of fabulous magical sets featuring different cultures from around the world. This is the kind of ride where you’ll notice different details each time you go. We loved it. There are some dark parts and lots of changing scenery. You’ll definitely get the song stuck in your head (I’m actually humming it right now).
- Mickey Mouse Meet & Greet
To meet Mickey Mouse we went to the Town Square Theater, behind the curtain to his rehearsal room. The kids truly believed they were meeting Mickey and it was quite charming. He warmed them up by asking them to touch his nose. They quickly went in for hugs after that. They allow you to take photos with your own camera. This was cuter than I expected.
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
The design of this attraction is really playful and circus themed. After waiting about 30 minutes in the heat (although shaded from the sun) we were led into the Big Top circus tent where the kids were allowed to run around in an indoor playground. The air conditioned space was a much needed retreat from the 90 degree heat. It was also well managed and not over populated so I didn’t lose sight of my daughter yet she had freedom to run around. They give you a buzzer when you enter the tent which goes off as your turn to ride gets closer. Although this was a great way to spend the waiting time, we still did spend much time standing in the que. There are actually two Dumbo carousels right next to each other, so you ride on the one that is available first. If you use your FastPass for this attraction you skip the Big Top and head straight to the ride.
At this point our kids were HOT, HUNGRY and TIRED. We headed to a cafe on Main Street called Casey’s Corner where we refueled and scored great seats to see the highlight of our Disney experience, the Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade. This parade was absolutely spectacular. The pageantry involved in this production is out of this world. The kids ended up on our shoulders to see above the crowds which line the streets. I’m pretty sure the adults enjoyed this even more than the kids as we could appreciate what was involved in pulling off such a show. Once the parade wrapped up we all had enough Disney and heat for the day. We headed back to our hotel for naps and refreshing water park time.
Tips for Disney World with Toddlers:
- Magic Kingdom is a good choice for little kids. Lots of characters and easy to enjoy with strollers.
- Kids under 3 years of age are free at all Disney parks. If you child is big for their age bring their birth certificate or ID if you have one.
- You can rent strollers at the parks, we brought our own.
- Bringing your own food and drink into the park is permitted, even coolers smaller than 24″ x 15″ x 18″.
- We spent $20 each on spray bottles w/ battery operated fans to help cool us off, if you’re going in the summer bring your own.
- Download the My Disney Experience Mobile App.
- Dream Along with Mickey Show is a really nice way to start your visit.
- Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade is a perfect way to end your visit.
- The week before Thanksgiving is the least crowded week to visit.
- Disney is a unique experience to each family, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and over do it. Have fun, for us it was a 1/2 day at Magic Kingdom.
Kelly Park – Tubing down Rock Springs Run
There’s tons to do in Orlando even if you’re not looking for Disney entertainment. In search of something unique to Florida, we took a drive to Kelly Park and tubed down their springs. The 50 minute drive from our hotel felt a lot longer thanks to our squabbling toddlers but the clear fresh water springs made it all worth it. We paid $5 for our vehicle and 5 passengers to enter the state park then drove to the area of the park that offers camping, a concession stand, playground and access to the springs. You cannot rent tubes to float down Rock Springs Run inside the park so we secured ours before arriving from a Bar and Grill just up the road, rentals were $5/day. (It was interesting getting these in our car for the short drive to park entrance). The park has a lot of hiking trails but the highlight for us was definitely the springs.
The head of the springs is a 5 minute walk from where you leave your towels, we left ours on a sandy beach area at the end of the spring run. We headed up the path with our tubes and toddlers, ready to see what this was all about. It was absolutely stunning with vibrant turquoise water so clear you could easily see fish and the bottom of the spring. The water was cold, but it was refreshing from the Florida heat. The current runs fast so we helped each other get in the tubes with our toddlers on our laps. There are a lot of rocks, getting in wasn’t exactly easy. But it was well worth it. Floating down and seeing the heavily wooded trees lining the side of the spring with interesting rock formations and stunning colors made a very memorable experience. It took about 15 minutes to float back down to the sandy beach. We did this several times.
We had the unfortunate experience of having our tubes stolen. My cave man instincts kicked in and I ‘borrowed’ some back. Only to have them stolen again. This happened throughout our stay. We were fortunate to leave with tubes and able to return them and retrieve our security deposit. So beware of this and keep any valuables locked in your car.
Kelly Park – Rock Spring Run is located at 400 E Kelly Park RD Apopka, FL 32712
Summer: 8 a.m.- 8 p.m.
Winter: 8 a.m.- 6 p.m.
$3 per vehicle for 1-2 people; $5 per vehicle for 3-8 people; and $1 for additional person/walk-ins/motorcycles/bikes.
Tips for Kelly Park – Rock Springs Run
- The park fills up quickly on summer weekends and closes when it reaches maximum capacity, so plan to arrive early or there is a chance you’ll be denied entrance.
- Bring cash for the concession stand, it was cash only when we visited.
- You can borrow a life jacket from the life guard station if you need one.
- Bring your own towels.
- Leave valuables locked in the car.
- No tubes over 5 feet in length are allowed in the springs.
- Tube rentals are only available from vendors outside the park.
Beware of tube thieves.
Here’s a video of our trip highlights: