Research age and height restrictions
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It's incredibly frustrating to invest a lot of time and money into planning a trip to an amusement park with your tot only to get there and find out she needs to be 36 inches to ride the Teacup Twirl, and she's currently measuring at 33 inches. Most major parks list height and age restrictions on their websites. Take a few minutes to check these out before hitting the road.
Take a practice spin
Whether it's as simple as a carousel at your local mall or a more involved playspace with a small selection of rides, like the Legoland Discovery Centers and Crayola Experiences around the country, it's a smart idea to take your toddler to a small park before hitting a big one. This will get him used to the idea of waiting in line and some experience with the flashing lights and noises that can be overwhelming for some children.
Hit a park geared to the toddler set
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Some parks, including Sesame Place in Middletown Township, Pennsylvania, and Thomas Land at the Edaville Family Theme Park in South Carver, Massachusetts, were built exclusively with the younger set in mind and are easier to handle than larger parks. They have age-appropriate rides, shows, and entertainment, plus all the characters your kids adore (Big Bird, Elmo, and other Sesame Street favorites, and Thomas the Train, Sir Topham Hatt, and all the other trains, respectively), minus the crowds of older kids and fun-loving adults. And if you're headed to Anaheim, check out 24 mind-blowing facts about Disneyland.
Dreaming of Disney? Work with a vacation planner
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A trip to Disney World is a dream come true for kids of all ages—yet planning a trip for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. To make sure yours doesn't disappoint, consider working with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. An agent can help you navigate character breakfasts and get a fast pass, and can recommend ideal routes through the park. Best of all, their services are completely free! Here are eight tips to make your Disney vacation one they'll never forget.
Consider hitting the high seas
Many first-timers to Disney, especially those with young kids, rave about Disney Cruise Lines. They give kids the option to interact with beloved characters, including Mickey and Minnie, and have phenomenal kids clubs—all in a confined, structured space that can be a lot less overwhelming to navigate than the entire Magical Kingdom in one go. Here are 28 secrets the cruise lines won't tell you.
Try going during an off-peak time
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Everyone knows that parks are usually less crowded in the off-season or during the week vs. on the weekends. So even if it means taking a precious vacation day, it's worth it when you consider the minutes saved standing in line with a restless toddler. Try to go to major parks earlier in the season, at the end of the season, or in the middle of the week. Learn 20 more secrets amusement parks won't tell you about saving money and avoiding crowds.
Pack your stroller
This tip is just as much for you, Mom and Dad, as it is for your little one. A stroller is a lifesaver for when your kid inevitably needs a nap, well before you're back in your car or hotel room. Plus you can pack in your own purse, diaper bag, and other essentials in its pockets. Most theme parks allow strollers and have ample stroller parking areas, but it's always a good idea to double check before you go.
Bring snacks and other essentials
It goes without saying that you should pack diapers and wipes, but you may want to consider tossing in a spare change of clothes for the kids and you (especially if the park you're hitting has water features). Also add sunblock lotion, hats, refillable water bottles, and favorite snacks. Again, check particular rules and regulations about bringing in outside food and drink before you go.
Buy souveniers ahead of time
Inevitably, your toddler is going to want that stuffed Elmo or Mickey Mouse hat. A great money-saving idea is to purchase these items at-home ahead of time, where you won't have to pay any inside-the-park markups. It can also be handy to bring these treats out when your tot is getting restless—say you're waiting in line for a ride or waiting for a table at lunch.