Orlando Bound? How to Do Disney World with a Toddler or Big Kid

As a travel writer and Disney World fanatic, I've visited Disney World many times with my children. And if I've learned anything, it's this:

Lesson #1: You can't do Disney without a plan!
Lesson #2: That plan will change as your kids grow.

The secret to a perfect Disney World vacation is knowing the attractions that best suit your kids' ages and developmental stages, and then taking in just enough to leave your family enchanted, not exhausted.

This age-by-age guide to Disney World will give you and your family the kind of insider information that's hard to find elsewhere, whether you're looking for places to chill out or ideal areas for greeting your favorite Disney characters. I'll help you find the best rides, resting spots and attractions for kids of every age. And, I'll share tips on when you should go and what you should avoid -- so your first Disney experience isn't your last!

Things to Know Before You Go...
• Be prepared. Study the guidebooks (and don't leave home without one). Be aware of park hours and that some attractions run on limited schedules. Use the age-by-age articles that follow to help you plan your itinerary, but also get a park map at your hotel so you can review the schedule beforehand.

• Go during the school year, if possible. Crowds are thinnest in January, October, November (except Thanksgiving weekend) and December (before Christmas week).

• Be realistic.The younger your child, the less ground you can expect to cover. During the high season (Spring break, Presidents' Day weekend, the summer months, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays), you may conquer only a few attractions per day.

• If you're a single parent, consider traveling with another adult who has kids of similar age to yours. Your kids will be happier, and you'll have adult companionship, as well as an extra pair of helping hands.

• Hit the parks early. Get there at least 45 minutes before official opening time. Bring snacks and toys to amuse little ones while waiting. Guests staying in Walt Disney World Resorts are entitled to Extra Magic Hours, where certain parks and attractions open early or close later on designated days.

• Use the "FASTPASS," a system that's available for the most popular rides and attractions. When a certain ride has a long line, the "Fast Pass" allows you to return later at a specified time, when you'll get to ride without a lengthy wait. (But you can't get a second "Fast Pass" until the time frame on your first one has expired.)

Track wait times from your smart phone. Download free apps like Disney World Wait Times (for iPhone) and Disney World Lines (for iPhone, Android and Blackberry).

• Take a daily break. Having a nap or going back to the hotel for a midday swim can prevent meltdowns.

• Eat in at breakfast. Bring along cereal or breakfast bars, plastic bowls and utensils; then send a family member to the hotel food court for milk and fruit.

• Save "Character Dining" for departure day. Several of the Disney hotels and theme park restaurants have them, and it's a great way to celebrate before heading home.

Find everything you need to craft your perfect Disney trip for your kids age-by-age below.

Read more about:
Babies and Toddlers (Birth to 2)
Preschoolers (3 to 6)
Gradeschoolers (7 to 10)
Preteens and Teens (10 and up)

Plus, watch our series in :90 on Creative Ways to Entertain Your Kids on a Road Trip

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