Taking a toddler to Disney makes the most sense financially because Disney does not charge under 3 for theme park tickets and for some dining venues. This can be a considerable savings when you think about the price of tickets. At all character meals and buffets the under 3 crowd can eat free! Consider that these meals are often over $20 per child and this savings adds up. If you book a resort package, toddlers and infants will still get to pick a Magic Band so they don't feel left out, but they are really just for show. No tickets or fast passes will be linked with them, because they are not required. Even if you go to celebrate your child's 3rd birthday, as long as you check in while they are still 2, then they are charged as a 2 year old the entire trip. No one ages at Disney! No future promotion will compare to this discount!
At other theme parks around the country you will find a heavy concentration of rides with height requirements. While Disney does have some thrill rides that have these requirements, they have so many other attractions for kids of all sizes. Magic Kingdom has the most offerings with popular rides such as Dumbo, Peter Pan's Flight, Winnie the Pooh, Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, It's a Small World , Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Jungle Cruise, Under the Sea with Ariel, and so many more rides, character meets and shows. The other 3 parks have plenty to do for toddlers as well, but Magic Kingdom has always been the favorite for our toddlers. Our last couple of trips we have gotten Park Hopper tickets so we could spend part of every park day at Magic Kingdom. Toddlers love reading the same books over and over, seeing the same TV show over and over and the same goes for rides at Disney. We rode It's a Small World about 5 times last trip because our 2 year old was enamored with the song and seeing the kids in each room. Watching her experience the ride was the most fun for us as parents!
Each of the 4 parks have a Baby Care Center complete with changing tables, high chairs, nursing (or pumping) rooms, and they have a small store complete with anything you might have left at home such as diapers, wipes or baby food. Check your park maps and know where this center is in each park. It's worth seeking out for a diaper change as it's much cleaner and less crowded than your standard bathroom. The nursing areas are quiet and private with comfortable chairs. These areas are a sanctuary for moms of littles and I am always surprised how few people know about them. Each park also has family friendly companion bathrooms, so Dad can bring baby sister to a private bathroom to change her or Mom can pile in the bathroom with all 3 kiddos and not worry about losing one.
If you are bringing older siblings who enjoy thrill rides, or mom and dad want to get their roller coaster fix on Space Mountain then you need to get to know and understand the Rider Switch program- it's your friend! Your whole family arrives to a ride and tells the Cast Member at the standby entrance that you want to use the rider switch program. The Cast Member will give the parent staying behind a Rider Switch pass, which is a paper ticket (don't lose it!) to return to the ride at a later time and go through the fast pass entrance with up to 2 other people/ kids. This way you don't have to wait in the stand-by line twice and both parents get to experience the ride with the older kids. The older kids get to ride twice and the younger kids don't have to hang around and wait, but can go on a nearby attraction. Everyone is happy! You can use this program with fast passes as well. The first parent and kids can have a fast pass so they don't have to wait in the stand-by line either. This can get complicated when making the fast passes, but it's something I often do for my clients and I'm happy to help them get the most out of this program. Also, check the Rider Switch pass. It often won't expire for several days, so as long as you don't lose it you can wait and use it later in your trip.
As a Disney travel agent one thing I hear so often is "We aren't going to leave the park, they can just sleep in the stroller. We'll power through and make the most out of our day." I can't discourage this enough! While it's true you may check more rides off your list and see more shows by staying in the park from open to close, chances are that by the time fireworks come around the day isn't going to feel nearly as magical as it did when you first entered the park and saw the castle for the first time. Without exception we ALWAYS take a midday break. This includes our 10th Anniversary trip when it was just my husband and I. That afternoon rest time to head back to the hotel and enjoy a nap or pool time and then shower and change for the evening is CRUCIAL to the enjoyment of our trip. It's as much needed for us as the parents as it is for our kids. This is also why we now always stay on property. The one time we didn't stay on property we spent several hours in transportation time per day using shuttles and then even trying to park and take the tram and monorail to the Magic Kingdom. Staying on property really helps to make it so easy to work in afternoon rest time and make the most out of your trip. When thinking of what's important for your vacation, you should think quality, not quantity!