For a long time, a Disney vacation meant a trip to a theme park. For families with young kids, the choice between Disneyland or Walt Disney World was often simply made based on what was closest to home.
Of course, a destination that is closest to you is often the smartest option, since traveling long distances isn’t always easy with a baby. Cost is similarly limiting for most families and closer destinations tend to reduce travel costs, although not always. Many other factors, however, can go into a vacation choice that might make families look a little farther than their closest theme park. Amenities, what type of vacation a family is looking for, and other activities in a specific destination beyond Disney all can come into play.
Here is what each Disney destination has to offer for travel with a baby or toddler.
Walt Disney World
Most parents are probably already familiar with Walt Disney World in Florida. With four theme parks, two water parks, numerous hotels, and even more activities and dining at Disney Springs in beyond, it’s possible to spend weeks there without doing it all. There’s nothing quite like seeing your little one soar on Dumbo or catch a first glimpse of Cinderella castle to see Disney magic come to life.
Walt Disney World might be the right first vacation for your baby if you have closer to a week’s time for a trip. Anything less, and all the activities and logistics can be overwhelming, especially when traveling with a baby means less park time due to naps and early bedtimes.
Walt Disney World is also often the best option for family travelers on a tight budget. It’s within driving distance of many major East coast cities and there are often quick and inexpensive flights to Orlando from many of these same cities too. With Walt Disney world offering a variety of price points among its value, moderate and deluxe hotels, there’s is a lot of room to customize a vacation with a family’s exact cost limitations.
The original Disney theme park in Southern California offers much of what Walt Disney World has but all within much smaller footprint. Disneyland has two theme parks and three Disney-owned hotels on-property adjacent to Downtown Disney, and all of it is within walking distance.
Disneyland is often best for families with little ones who have a shorter vacation. The two parks can be reasonably tackled in two to three days. Being able to walk everywhere without the hassle of transit eases the burden on families bringing strollers and needing mid-day breaks for Baby’s nap.
Disneyland is also a smart vacation choice for families looking for travel beyond theme parks. Both Los Angeles and San Diego are nearby for urban adventures and the plentiful Southern California beaches offer a chance for families with little ones to relax.
Disney Cruise Line
With four cruise ships in its fleet and several more on the way, Disney Cruise Line vacations are being discovered by more and more families. Disney Cruise ships offer many of the amenities of a theme park vacation, such as Disney character meet-and-greets with additional activities and port adventures in destinations all over the world. Disney Cruise Line ships also offer a nursery that will accept all babies who are old enough to sail (6 months on most itineraries; 1 year on Panama Canal and Transatlantic trips), offering parents the chance for a break on vacation for a small additional fee.
Disney Cruise Line vacations can be the right first choice for a vacation with a baby or toddler for families who might be a little intimidated by all the logistics of a theme park vacation. Cruises are also an ideal fit for stressed out parents who just need a date night knowing their babies are in safe childcare hands. The Caribbean itineraries (most of which sail to Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas) are an especially relaxing vacation for families with little ones who will enjoy the sun and sand.
Disney Aulani Resort and Spa
Disney opened its Aulani resort on the island of O’ahu in Hawaii 2011 with the goal of offering a Disney vacation with island service and style. Like with Disney Cruise Line, the smaller footprint of the resort makes for easy logistics with babies and toddlers. There’s a splash pad just for toddlers, Menehune Bridge, and plenty of pools in addition to the beach and lagoon. Activities like character dining, Disney movie nights, and a luau make it as fun for little ones as it is for their parents and even grandparents.
An Aulani vacation is best for families looking for beach rest and relaxation with Baby with a Disney touch or two. Aulani’s location is also perfect for day trips around O’ahu to Waikiki, the North Shore, or Pearl Harbor. Aulani does not take children in the childcare facility, Aunty’s Beach House, until they are three and potty-trained, so plan accordingly.
Adventures by Disney
Adventures by Disney is the only Disney vacation option that isn’t right for a family with babies and toddlers. These organized tour groups led by Disney cast members all over the world require that children be at least 4 or older, depending on the specific itinerary. So get your Disney fix at other Disney destinations first and file this one away for later!
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort & Hilton Head Island Resort
These two lesser known Disney properties are Disney Vacation Club resorts in two popular beach resort destinations. Disney’s Vero Beach Club is on the Atlantic coast of Florida, about two hours from Orlando. Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is on the coast of South Carolina. Both offer a few of the same touches and experiences as Aulani but without the flight halfway across the Pacific. Hilton Head doesn’t have character meet-and-greets or character dining, so it may be a better choice for younger babies who don’t know any better. Toddlers who are obsessed with Mickey and friends may enjoy the more noticeable Disney touches of Vero Beach. And parents will just enjoy a relaxing beach vacation!
Disney Parks Abroad
For families finding themselves traveling to international destinations or already living abroad, don’t forget about the Disney parks in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Paris, and Tokyo. For Americans, the long flight to any of these destinations makes the trip a challenge with a baby or toddler. But if you just happen to be in one of these locations with your little one, they can provide a little taste of home while still offering some unique opportunities for cultural exchange.
Editor’s Note: Some of the information in this post may have changed after this writing. Please visit Disney Parks Moms Panel or any of the Park websites to confirm current policies.