Epcot with Toddlers: A detailed itinerary

We almost skipped Epcot when we were planning our first trip to Disney World with our toddler twins. I thought the park was geared toward adults and they wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything there—I was so wrong! We all had so much fun at Epcot.

If you haven’t already, read my first post with 7 Tips for Disney World with Toddlers.

As an event planner, nothing brings me joy quite like an airtight, efficient timeline. Sometimes we deviate from the schedule, but it’s always nice to have a plan to fall back on. There’s nothing worse than wasting time at the park trying to figure out what to do next, especially with impatient toddlers.

Disney blog pic 2 epcotThe below itinerary worked great for us on a moderately busy day at Epcot and we never waited in line for more than a few minutes. If you go on a day with heavy crowds you might experience some longer waits. Epcot is very large and spread out, so this plan minimizes walking by splitting the day into two parts: Future World in the morning and World Showcase in the evening.

  1. Arrive at Epcot 15 minutes before opening. (A lot of guide books tell you to arrive 30-45 minutes early and that will definitely get you to the front of the line to enter the park, but we found on a less crowded day that was too long to stand around with toddlers. 15 minutes was just about right for us.)
  1. As soon as the park opens, ride Soarin’ in the Land Pavilion. (Note you’ll have to park your stroller outside the building before entering.) This is the one ride toddlers won’t be able to go on with you because of height restrictions, but you can use the Rider Switch option which allows one adult to ride while the other waits with the children. Then the second adult can ride any time in the next three days with a special pass to skip the line. There are lots of tables and chairs in the Land Pavilion for the parent who is waiting with the toddler(s), or you can walk right across the atrium and take them for a ride on Living with the Land.
  1. Ride Journey Into Imagination with Figment (There’s an interactive play area after the ride that’s fun for kids.)
  1. Meet Mickey and friends at the Epcot Character Spot using FastPass+ (10:00-11:00am recommended time). Or better yet, if you are a Disney Visa cardholder, you can meet Mickey and Minnie with almost no line at a special location in the Imagination Pavilion. (It doesn’t open until 1:00pm, though.)
  1. Take a quick break at Club Cool to try the free soda samples. Our toddlers loved trying the all the “juice!”
  1. Ride The Seas with Nemo. (Note that this ride is dark and my toddlers both got a little scared when the piranha and shark with bared teeth appeared.) Check out the fish and dolphins in the Sea Tanks after the ride.
  1. Ride Spaceship Earth using Fastpass+ (11:00am-12:00pm recommended time).
  1. Eat lunch. Sunshine Seasons in The Land Pavilion is a good option for quick food.
  1. Leave the park by 12:30pm for an afternoon break. We usually let our toddlers swim for a bit, then put them down for a nap while we rest.
  1. Arrive back to Epcot by 4:00pm.
  1. Head to Mexico in the World Showcase. Ride the Gran Fiesta Tour if you have time.
  1. Ride Frozen Ever After using a FastPass+ (4:30-5:30pm recommended time). If the wait is short, meet Anna and Elsa nearby in Norway after the ride. No FastPass+ is available, but if meeting them is a must, sometimes the line lessens during lunch and dinner.
  1. Finish touring the World Showcase. You’ll find interactive “Kidcot Fun Stops” at each country with tables for kids to color and do crafts, and there are lots of other fun distractions as you walk around, like drums to bang on near the China pavilion and a model train near Germany that my son could have watched for hours. You can also find special characters to meet, like Snow White in Germany. If the Wine and Food Festival is happening, mom and dad can grab a glass of champagne at one of the kiosks.
  1. Eat dinner. (You’ll need an advance reservation for a table service restaurant.) We’ve had good luck taking our toddlers to Rose & Crown (United Kingdom), Via Napoli (Italy), and La Hacienda de San Angel (Mexico).
  1. Grab ice cream for dessert at L’Artisan des Glaces in France.
  1. We aim to leave the park by 7:30pm so we can get the kiddos to bed. But if you feel your toddlers can handle a late night, stay until the park closes to watch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.
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7 Tips for Disney World with Toddlers

I haven’t blogged since our trip to Paris and London three years ago, and I have two good reasons why:

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Not long after we returned from Paris, we found out we were expecting twins. So for a while we didn’t do much traveling as we prepared to double the size of our little family. After the twins turned a year old, we were eager to resume traveling even though we knew it would be different with two babies in tow.

When they were 14 months old, we took a quick trip to Washington, D.C. (lots of fun!) and a few weeks later we really dove in with a 10 day trip to Maui (really challenging).

Just before they turned two, we took a family trip to Disney World. Scott and I loved Disney before kids, but going with our children was so special and fun. We had such a wonderful time that we bought annual passes. We just got home from another fun Disney vacation.

A lot of people wonder if the twins are too small to enjoy Disney, but I think it’s the perfect place to go with toddlers. It’s true there are a lot of things they can’t ride, but there is so much they CAN do. Plus, children under 3 get into the parks for free, so that can be a big savings.

I read so many helpful articles and blogs while researching for our first trip to Disney, so I wanted to share our experience in case it helps anyone else thinking of taking little ones to the most magical place on earth.

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  1. Go in the off season. Take advantage of your kids not being in school yet by going to Disney when school is in session. Waiting in long lines with toddlers is not fun for anyone, so you really want to find a time when the parks aren’t packed. There are lots of online crowd calendars that can help you find the least crowded times. During our trip in early September, we never waited in line more than 5-10 minutes.
  1. Arrive at the parks early. This is the single most important advice you’ll find in every guide book. The crowds are lightest when the parks first open and you can experience more in the first couple hours than the entire rest of the day. It isn’t always easy getting out the door but it is definitely worth it. Our little ones usually wake up really early on vacation anyway so that helps.
  1. Take an afternoon break. Our toddlers can’t handle 10+ hours straight at the park. We find the best strategy is to arrive a few minutes before opening (usually 9am), ride as many attractions as possible, eat lunch, and then head back to our hotel room or rental house by 12:30pm. We put the kids down for a nap which gives us time to relax as well. Then we head back to the park for a couple more rides and dinner. We are sticklers for early bedtime, so we do our best to have them back and in bed by 8:30p. It means we miss the fireworks, but we’d rather have well-rested kids, especially since we start the day early.
  1. Consider renting a vacation home. With two 2-year-olds still sleeping in cribs, we find it much more comfortable to rent a vacation home where the kids can have their own rooms. Having your own private pool and hot tub feels luxurious, and a full kitchen means you don’t have to eat every meal out. Just make sure you get a place that’s not too far from Disney—think 20 minutes or less. We’ve had great luck using homeaway.com. A lot of homes come with a crib, stroller, and high chair, but if you need more than one like we do, you can rent equipment from ababysbestfriend.com.
  1. Create a detailed itinerary. Having a touring plan is key to an enjoyable day at Disney. Know in advance the rides you want to go on and when you’ll go on them. Make sure you book your Fastpass+ reservations in advance. I love using TouringPlans.com to help with creating a plan. And soon I’ll be sharing the Magic Kingdom and Epcot itineraries that worked great for us!
  1. Set realistic expectations and plan to be surprised. If your toddlers are like mine, there will be occasional meltdowns. There’s so much for them to take in and at times they get overwhelmed. My kids also frequently surprised me with what they enjoyed and didn’t. My daughter acted terrified of Elsa and Anna, but she was completely star-struck by Mickey and Minnie. They absolutely loved open-air rides that go fast and high (they’re JUST tall enough for the Barnstormer, a mini roller coaster—they laughed and squealed in delight when we dropped and turned) but some of the milder rides like Finding Nemo scared them at times because they were dark and loud.
  1. Download the My Disney Experience app. Using the app will help make your Disney visit seamless. You can use it to check wait times, find the nearest restrooms, view your photos, book FastPass+, and make dining reservations. One trick that has worked great for us is checking the app for hard-to-get dining reservations the night before you want to go. The deadline to cancel a dining reservation without charge is midnight the day prior, and even the most popular restaurants have cancellations. Twice we’ve snagged lunch reservations at Be Our Guest (a restaurant that books up 6 months in advance) by checking the app the night before.

Bonus tip: Children under 3 eat free at Disney World buffet and family style restaurants, so definitely take advantage of that! Liberty Tree Tavern, Boma, Tusker House, and O’hana are a few of our favorites.

Paris Apartment Rental

I’ve already sung the praises of our cozy little apartment we rented in Paris—it was a great value, conveniently located, and had a charming Parisian feel. As much as I do love luxurious hotels, I think staying in an apartment provided an entirely different vacation experience.

Our apartment was in a very quiet residential neighborhood. We were the only vacation renters in our building and at night it was so quiet it was hard to believe we were in the middle of a big city. During the day the main sounds we heard were the bells from the nearby church and children playing in a park behind our building.

Because we cooked a lot of our own meals, every day we would drop by the boulangerie down the block for a fresh baguette. We visited cheese and chocolate shops, and tried to act like we weren’t clueless at the grocery store, reading labels in French.

Having a “home” to come back to also made us feel like it was okay to not spend every minute sight-seeing. We’d usually return to our apartment for a little while each afternoon to escape the cold, make coffee, and rest our feet.

I’m sure there are tons of charming Paris hotels and I’d love to stay at one some time for different Paris experience. But for this trip, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect place to stay!

I found this apartment by searching through homeaway.com, but the rental company is called Paris Perfect.

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Parisians

The most common question we’ve received since we returned from Paris was: “How were the people?”

Parisians seem to have a reputation among Americans for, if not rudeness, then maybe being a bit frosty. I listened to podcasts before we left to learn more about the local culture and heard many warnings to not expect the kind of friendliness Americans are accustomed to. So I went to Paris expecting to be charmed by city, but not the people.

But to my surprise, we only encountered one person during our time there with a bit of an attitude—and she was American!

When we first arrived at the Gare Du Nord train station, we waited in a rather long line to buy a metro pass. When I got to the window, I said to the harried looking woman the one phrase I knew in French: Parlez-vous anglais? Do you speak English? And she actually smiled kindly and said, “Yes, a little.” I figured it was a good sign when the public transit worker was pleasant.

A few minutes later we were transferring at a Metro stop and had no idea where we were going. We had stopped in a tunnel with our luggage and were agonizing over a map, looking like the picture of confused tourists, I’m sure. And that was when a nicely dressed man approached us. (Of course, nicely dressed describes most Parisians.) Paranoid of pick pockets, I clutched my purse—but it turned out he was just being helpful. Even though he spoke little English, he was able to point us in the direction of the right train platform.

And that first hour in Paris turned out to be a harbinger of nearly all the locals we met: courteous, patient and kind, in their own unique Parisian way. Maybe we were lucky. But it seemed that just being polite and respectful of the fact that we were visitors went a long way. Scott and I speak about 10 words of French combined, but we did make an effort to exchange pleasantries in French: bonjour or bonsoir and merci. Nearly everyone we met spoke at least some English and was willing to use it.

One afternoon we were in a chocolate shop picking out flavors. I would make an attempt at pronouncing each flavor I chose, and the woman behind the counter would repeat it the correct way. After butchering one flavor particularly badly, I said, “I wasn’t even close!” and Scott joked, “Par-don!” in his best French accent. She got a real laugh out of us poking a little fun at ourselves.

With the terrible news out of Paris yesterday, my thoughts are definitely with the Parisians and their beautiful city.

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The Louvre

We arrived at the Louvre right after it opened at 9am on a Wednesday morning. There were no lines and the crowds were surprising light. We were even able to get right up front for an unblocked view of the Mona Lisa. We used the Rick Steves audio tour to just hit a few of the museum’s highlights—I’m sure if we’d had the time we could have stayed all day exploring the various wings and exhibits.

When we left the museum a little after 11am it was starting to get really busy. I can’t imagine how the heavy the crowds must be in the summer in the height of tourist season. A cold winter morning seemed like the perfect time to enjoy the Louvre! When you’re done, head over to Angelina for some hot chocolate and croissants.

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Angelina Paris

It’s impossible to pick a favorite meal during our trip to Paris. From cheese to chocolate, we didn’t have a bad meal out.

But one meal that stands out is the breakfast we had at Angelina near the Louvre. It was a bit on the pricey side, but so worth it. From the gorgeous dining room to the freshest orange juice I’ve ever tasted, it was such a memorable Paris meal.

Of course the star was the hot chocolate, which has ruined all other hot chocolate for me for life. It’s so thick and decadent, without being too rich. Add in perfectly flaky croissants, sweet pastries, and fruit spreads, and it was the perfect Parisian experience.

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Travel Light: Packing for Europe in winter in a carry-on

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Before we left for our trip to London and Paris, I told Scott I wanted to bring only carry-on bags. He was skeptical we could do it—after all, we were going in winter and pants and sweaters take up way more space than shorts and tanks.

I spent a long time writing out packing lists and whittling it down to necessities. And when the time came to fill the suitcase, everything fit right in.

So why bother packing in a carry-on only, especially when international flights have free checked bags?

One day on the Metro in Paris, we saw a couple with two HUGE suitcases plus carry-on bags. The husband was hauling the two big bags through the crowds down a flight of stairs and the wife was juggling everything else. We took public transportation everywhere around London and Paris, which is convenient and saves a ton of money. But it definitely would have been a hassle with a lot of luggage. So unless you have a personal driver or car service that will be taking you door to door, you will be SO thankful you packed light.

Here’s a summary of what I brought:*

Packing List for Europe in Winter--Carry-on only

*The one notable exception is that I brought a pair of flats instead of walking shoes. I thought my boots would be comfortable enough to walk everywhere in. But after just two days (walking at least 8 miles) my feet were in real pain. My biggest packing mistake was not bringing sneakers. A few other tips:

  • Make a list. Don’t wing it, or you’ll end up with too much or too little of something.
  • Wear black, neutrals and solids that you can mix and match. This will help you blend in in Paris anyway, where you don’t see a lot of loud colors or prints.
  • Make sure your coat is both practical and stylish–it will be in the large majority of photos you take.
  • Since tops will usually be covered by your coat, mix up the look with different scarves.
  • Bring a small crossbody purse with a zipper compartment for your cash and credit cards. Not only will a crossbody be easier to carry around all day, it will protect against pickpockets. Just be sure to your purse is in front of you and don’t put anything valuable (like your phone) in your outer coat pocket.
  • Pack warm but non-bulky fabrics, like merino wool. For extra warmth, pack a couple tanks to layer under your shirts.
  • Instead of packing a thick guidebook, copy or take photos on your phone of the key pages you need.
  • If your trip is longer than a week, bring a bit of detergent and hand wash some items to re-wear. Or better yet, stay in an apartment rental where they have a washer and dryer. (As I recommend in this post about ways to save money on your trip.)
  • Stuff your socks into your shoes before packing them.

So how does all this stuff actually fit in a carry-on? First, wear the bulkiest clothes and shoes on the plane. For everything else, use the rolling technique. It not only makes the most of space but prevents wrinkles. Here’s a photo of how it works (this is from a beach vacation we took last year, but you get the idea). I group items into similar types (shirts in one pile, pants in another) and then tightly roll them up.

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Put the rolls into the suitcase. I use shower caps to cover the yucky bottoms of shoes and then lay the shoes on top. Then fill any empty nooks and crannies with items like scarves and underwear.

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Voila! (As they say in France.) You’ve just packed for Europe in winter in a carry-on bag. Here we are about to leave for the airport with all of our luggage. Notice how good-sized my personal item is—I was able pack my toiletries, ipad, kindle, and a small crossbody into that bag. It has a shoulder strap and can also be hooked to my roller bag.

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Along the way, we picked up a few items like jam and mustard which can’t be carried on. This is when it’s helpful to have an extender on your bag. If you need to, unzip the extender, pack in your souvenirs, and then check the bag on the way back.

I received a SwissGear bag seven years ago as a wedding gift. I’ve carried it all over the globe and it has held up so well. SwissGear is sold at Target and really reasonably priced—a great value. Here’s a similar version to my bag.