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Disney for Littles: How To Plan Your Arrival Day

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You’ve done it. You spent weeks packing, drove two hours to the airport, wrangled your little ones through TSA, survived a 4-hour plane ride with a toddler, collected your luggage, stroller, and car seat from baggage claim, and endured Orlando traffic to finally arrive at the Most Magical Place on Earth.
You’re ready for a week of fun and by the time you get to your resort, it’s inevitably nap time for your baby or toddler. There’s only one problem: your room is not ready yet.

I’ve always found the arrival day at Disney to be tricky. You’re never quite sure if your room will be ready when you arrive or if you’ll have to try and manage with a stroller nap on-the-go. The official check-in time at the Disney resorts is 3:00pm (and 4:00pm for the Disney Deluxe Villa resorts).

While sometimes you can get lucky and the room is ready early, it’s best to plan for your arrival day as if your room won’t be ready until then. A solid game plan for your arrival day can help ease the uncertainty of when your room will be ready. Here are some of the tips I use with my littles on the first day of our Walt Disney World vacations:

Visit the front desk when you arrive

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Even if you’ve already completed the online check-in and let the resort know when you’ll be arriving (which I highly recommend doing), it’s always a good idea to check in with the front desk in person to let them know you’ve arrived. You can make sure your requests for a pack n’ play or crib are on your reservation, get your charging to the room privileges set up, ask about any activities your resort might have going on for the day, and check on the status of your room.

The front desk will likely not be able to tell you an exact time when your room will be ready, but they may be able to put in a request that you’d like to take the first available room. Just note that if you do this, it may override any previous room requests you have made.

Store your luggage with bell services

All Disney resorts have bell services cast members available to help make your check-in and check-out experiences easier by assisting with your luggage. On your arrival and check-out day, simply drop your bags off with bell services and enjoy your resort’s amenities or head to the theme parks. When you return to the resort and your room is ready, bell services can bring up your bags to the room if you’d like or you can go and pick them up yourself.

When traveling with littles, I always like to keep a smaller carry-on or diaper bag with me with all the essentials I’ll need for the day, such as diapers, a change of clothes, sunscreen, snacks, bottles, a portable sound machine, etc. I also like to keep swimwear and swim diapers in that bag in case we decide to opt for some time at the pool.

Hit up the pool

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One of my favorite things to do an on arrival day is to hit up one or more of the pool areas at my resort. Disney specializes in creating accessible pool areas and splash pads so that guests of all ages and swim levels can enjoy the water.

Many resorts feature at least one pool with a zero-entry depth that are great for babies and toddlers and many also offer a dedicated splash space for littler kids. My personal favorite water play areas for littles are the Schoolyard Sprayground at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, the Fuentes del Morro Water Play Area at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Alice’s Splash Zone at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, and Kiki Tikis Splash Play Area at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

For my toddler, playing in the water helps calm him and forget about the long travel day he’s had, and it’s also a great way to start acclimating to the Florida heat that we aren’t used to in Oregon. We often eat lunch or grab snacks from whatever quick-service location is closest and then head into the water. If you’re lucky enough to find some shaded pool chairs, a visit to the pool can also provide an impromptu nap to recharge your little one for the rest of the day.

I highly recommend bringing your own swim diapers for use at the pools. They are required in all Disney pools and while they do usually have some in the gift shops, sizes are limited, and you’ll pay a lot more than if you purchase them at home.

Hop over to the parks

If you have park tickets planned for your arrival day, don’t wait until your room is ready to start experiencing the magic. Hop on a bus, monorail, boat, or the Disney Skyliner to your desired park and try to get in a few rides or character interactions.

My toddler personally loves sleeping in his stroller while we’re in transit. If you can’t get in your room yet, try getting a 30-45 minute nap as you make your way to the parks.

Enjoy some time at Disney Springs

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If you don’t have tickets for your arrival day, but you’d still like to do something outside of your resort, head on over to Disney Springs for some entertainment, shopping, and eating.

Certain Disney Springs dining reservations can be easier to snag at the last minute, which is great if you haven’t planned ahead. Disney Springs also offers a lot of activities to entertain your little ones including the Marketplace Carousel, the Marketplace Train Express, and two Splash Pad locations.

When in doubt, visit the front desk again

I generally believe that the Disney resorts are working as efficiently as they can to get your room ready for you. It also never hurts to check back in. While there’s no guarantee that the cast members will be able to make your room ready faster, I have on multiple occasions returned to the front desk several hours later with a crying, tired child and was able to secure a room. It all depends on their inventory for any given day, but Disney likes to accommodate guests with littles whenever they can.

If you’re planning a trip to Disney with littles and would like help navigating all the challenges that come with that, I’d be thrilled to assist you. When you book with Dreams Unlimited Travel, our services are always free to you. We are here to answer any and all of your planning questions!

Mel Dupell is a Dreams Unlimited Travel Agent who lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband Hayden and toddler son, Micah. She has been a lover of all things Disney since she was a little kid and has experienced the magic of Disney as a baby, a little, a pre-teen, a teenager, a young adult, and now as an adult with littles of her own.

Join Mel as she shares tips, tricks, and insights on traveling to Disney Destinations with littles.


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