How to have a magical time at Walt Disney World with a 3 year old

How to have a magical time at Walt Disney World with a 3 year old

So, cards on the table, what’s it really like at Disney with a pre-schooler? Is it a totally magical experience? Are they just the right side of excited all day? Does the day fly by with a smile, guaranteed to build ever lasting memories that you’ll recall with a sigh and make you reach for the computer to re-book as soon as your holiday ends? Well… Honestly, no. I’ve pulled together 9 reasons our days weren’t quite as magical as they might have been, and 8 ways you can learn from our errors.

walt disney world with a 3 year old

The days at the theme parks are long

Those tickets cost a bomb, and you (as an adult) want to make the most of your money by staying all day, seeing the fireworks at night, and by cramming as much in as possible. Unfortunately, your 3 year old is used to a nice, gentle routine, generally in which they don’t stand in a line for an hour (or more) to ride on a 3 minute attraction.

Which brings me on to number two –

Those lines at Walt Disney World are hellish

We have visited Walt Disney World in Florida in January when we were able to run round the queueing area, go on the ride, then run all the way back to the beginning to repeat, ad nauseum. Seriously, we made ourselves feel sick on the Rock’n’Rollercoaster 5 times in a row. However, (unless you are visiting in January) those lines are going to be long. And you’re sort of moving all the time, so it’s not really appropriate to settle your child down with a colouring book, because you’d have to keep disturbing them. We found that some people are ok with kids playing in a little group like a mini school playground at a different part of the line than you are, while other people (particularly some Disney cast members) do not like it. When we were there in March of this year, the lines were around 40-110 minutes, depending on the rides.

walt disney world florida with a three year old tips

The weather in Florida is humid

The Disney parks are built in swamplands, surrounded by water, and the sun is warm but there is lots of rain. There’s a good chance it’ll rain whatever time of year you visit. Pre-schoolers don’t always love to wear coats on the just in case, puddles are all around but they can’t jump in them because they’re not wearing wellies, and being hot, sticky and damp kind of makes everyone a tiny bit grumpy.

You want them to be excited

But not too excited. You don’t want a full on sugar rush for 9 hours but you do expect a bit of enthusiasm when they see Arial (after all, see point one – those tickets cost a bomb). And 3 year olds do not always comply. Actually the whole day can be a little overwhelming, and seeing Mickey Mouse, trying to figure out why he’s enormous and not the little guy they see on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse might be a little bit puzzling to say the least. That having been said, James still talks about meeting Tinkerbell because he loves her so much.

how to have a magical time at disney with  three year old so you actually enjoy it!

Three year olds at Walt Disney World can’t always ride on things they’d like to

In our case, James was 98cm when we visited in March. The height limit for a lot of rides is 100cm, and he was just that bit too short. One cast member (helpfully) told him that if he eats his cookies he’ll be able to go on next time. Alas, that was our second day and all the cookies in the world wouldn’t have made him grow 2cm in less than a fortnight. So (even now, a few months later) James asked to go on the dinosaur ride so many times and (frustratingly) we couldn’t help him out. That does not make for a happy, magical, experience!

You don’t always get the chance for regular meal times

Sometimes you’re stuck in a queue while Mr Hangry appears. Mr Hangry does not want to go on the boat ride and see It’s a Small World – Mr Hangry wants to scream and lie on the floor because They. Are. Starving. And. Need. Food. An. Hour. Ago. Noah is amazing at putting away food, and we often under estimated that ability when putting together our snack bags for the day (yes, you are allowed to take food and drink into the parks) and by the time James asked for food we’d occasionally ran out. Being in the middle of the line for Winnie the Pooh, when you’ve missed out on a FastPass+ for the past couple of days and finally have one… That’s a bit frustrating for adults to have to leave the line to grab something (expensive) to eat! Our own fault, you may say, but a cautionary tale for you.

Three year olds at Walt Disney World want a present but they don’t know which one they want, or they want more than you’ll be prepared to buy

(those tickets cost a bomb after all, you don’t want to be shelling out extra on Disney Parks Official Merchandise). All around there is a giant Disney Store, filled with merchandise. Rob point blank refused to buy a toy James really wanted because it wasn’t very expensive and therefore probably not the thing he actually wanted (cue: endless crying and upset from James and confusion from all other adults – just buy him the cheap thing and be done!)

You are walking a lot

We covered about 8 miles in one of the days we were in Walt Disney World. A tired three year old is not a pleasant 3 year old. Unless they’re asleep.

The days at the parks are long

I know I’ve said that already but it really is worth saying it twice. All the guides you read if you’re planning your trip to Disney suggest that you leave part way through the day to have a nice time by the pool, or go shopping, or whatever. But often we’d kind of peaked around 3pm, put it to the vote and decided that if we left now we’d not come back and see the fireworks, use the FastPasses, or meet the character we’d planned to. And so “for the sake of the kids” we’d stay. Not necessarily the best move!

two happy preschoolers having a magical time at walt disney world in florida

So how can you avoid all these pit falls to actually have a magical time at Walt Disney World Resorts with a 3 year old?

  1. Plan your days – book the FastPasses before you go. Ours was a last minute trip so we didn’t have time to book them in advance so I can definitely see the benefit of doing this.
  2. Be prepared – pack more than enough snacks.
  3. Go to the dollar store before you visit the parks and get little toys that you can give your 3 year old when they’re flagging or need a pick up.
  4. Take breaks in your day. If you’ve hit the parks early, go out for lunch early so you can relax and be back later.
  5. Take pac-a-macs! If it doesn’t rain, they didn’t take up too much space; if it does rain, you’re vindicated in taking them – winner, winner.
  6. Load up your phone with apps they can play during the long lines.
  7. Discuss what they’d like to do – show them the map and talk about what is available in the parks.
  8. Consider taking a stroller. You walk a lot in each of the parks and your 3 year old is not used to walking 8 miles in a day (maybe you’re also not!). You can hire them or pick one up for about $20 in Walmart.

And you can always go back! Maybe…

magical time at walt disney world with a 3 year old
Mini Travellers


  1. December 27, 2016 / 5:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Helena. You know I’m desperate to take the kids to a Disney theme park but I’m torn between wanting Lena to be old enough to enjoy it but not wanting to leave it too long for Arlo. It’s tough. I can totally see lots of what you are saying. I think we will do euro Disney first but honestly I’m uncomfortable travelling to Paris at the moment! What age do you think is ideal to take them to Florida?

  2. babyfoote
    December 27, 2016 / 6:51 pm

    I don’t think there’s an upper cut off. As adults we’ve enjoyed Disney in Florida 🙂 I’m going to guess that the cut off to thoroughly enjoy Disney is around 10. After that you begin to encounter pre-teen moods. And then as teenagers your best bet is Universal.

  3. December 29, 2016 / 12:51 am

    We have taken the kids to Disneyland Paris but would love to take them to Florida. I have said until they are older there is little point though due to the extreme heat and queues.

  4. January 4, 2017 / 9:04 pm

    Fab tips, we took both of our boys at 2, then 7 then 10 it was so different each and every time, it worked for us to do half days up early and back for an afternoon swim and dinner or lazy morning and out after lunch. Its all about being super organised isn’t it? Thanks so much for linking up and have a great 2017 #MondayEscapes xxx

  5. January 5, 2017 / 8:03 pm

    That does sound like and exhausting trip for a 3-year old 🙂 Did you just do 1 day? Our little is almost 3,5 and the other day I was wondering if it would be worth it to take him to Euro Disney. I’ve never been there myself, so have no clue. It was enlightening to read about your experience and the lessons you’ve learned. #MondayEscapes

    • babyfoote
      January 6, 2017 / 10:09 am

      We did 2 weeks at Disney in Florida with our 3 year old.

      • January 6, 2017 / 10:13 am

        Oh wow, two weeks! I guess you can take it a bit slower if you have so much time. Did you go to the park every day?

        • babyfoote
          January 6, 2017 / 10:19 am

          No, we did some other trips into different parts of Florida, but the second week we went every day for at least some of the day because we were joined by our friends, who’d never been to Disney before.

          • January 6, 2017 / 10:23 am

            Makes sense if you fly all the way to Florida. I’m just now seeing that you guys are from England. Euro Disney is only a 6 hour drive for us, so the easier option. Have you been there too? What did you think?

          • babyfoote
            January 6, 2017 / 2:14 pm

            No, we haven’t been to Disney in Paris, sorry.

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