(If you missed the first two parts of the big Disney series, you can read about when to go here and about staying on property vs. off here). Basically, I’m writing a series this summer with tips that folks planning their first (or first with kids) Disney trips might find useful.
Before I get into tips on making traveling with baby a little bit easier, there’s the whole question of whether you should take your baby at all. People have very strong feelings about this. Other people do. Me, not so much. Bring your baby; don’t bring your baby–I don’t care! But if you read discussions about this topic on various Disney message boards, you will feel very judged no matter what you ultimately decide. Your worth as a human being has a lot to do with whether you travel to Disney with an infant or not. It doesn’t really, though, so you needn’t worry overmuch. Either way, it will be okay.
Now. Your baby will probably like Disney World just fine. But s/he probably won’t like it any better than a trip to the local zoo or, say, a bowl of applesauce. It is colorful and exciting and there’s lots to look at and you’re always moving. But it’s also hard to get a good nap in, and it’s often hot, and there aren’t many good places to get down and stretch your legs. So your baby can probably take it or leave it.
You don’t really take your baby to Disney World FOR your baby. So, then, why might you do it?
*Because you want to go Disney World, and you happen to have a baby.
*Because you want to take your older kids to Disney World, and you also have a baby.
Yeah, that’s pretty much it. If you think your Disney trip is going to be a once in a lifetime sort of experience, you’ll probably want to save it until your kid is older and will get more out of it and make precious lifelong memories and all that. Of course, the problem with that is that it’s hard to say whether it’s going to be a once in a lifetime thing until you’ve done it. You might decide once is plenty, or you might want to go back over and over. If you have a choice in these things, I’d actually recommend a pre-kid Disney trip to check it out and see which kind of person you are. But sometimes we fail to plan ahead, we humans. In short, I pretty much think the presence or absence of a baby in your life should have little impact in your decision to Disney or not to Disney. (and babies are free until they’re 3, so there’s little to no financial downside to bringing one).
Okay! So you’ve decided to bring your baby to Disney World. Yay! Now–WHEN? I’ve traveled with 2 different babies at three different ages (I’m classifying “baby” as under 2 for the purposes of this discussion). We took Gus when he was 9 months old and again when he was 1 year, 9 months, and we took Abe when he was 4 1/2 months old. I’m sure personality plays a role in this, but 9 months was by far the easiest of these ages. Nine month olds are old enough to enjoy and be actively interested in their surroundings, but they’re generally not walking yet and are more content to be confined to a carrier or stroller than an older kid. My 4 month old was fine, but he really didn’t much care that he was surrounded by magical excitement, and he had a hard time getting to sleep with so much going on. My close to 2 year old was all over the place, and we spent a lot of time trying to keep him from running off in every direction. I think older but still pre-walking baby is kind of the sweet spot. I wouldn’t let the fact that I had a young toddler stop me from going, but if I had a choice, I’d plan my trip for either pre-walking or post 2 years old, when they start to get little bit of sense to go with their mobility. At this point, we’re thinking we’ll try to get a trip in at some point between when Abe is 2 (or at least very nearly 2) and 3, but we’re happy to skip the year he’s 1.
Now–tips! And just kind of random thoughts, I guess.
1. Be flexible. Be very, very flexible. And take your time: Our first Disney trip with a baby was also our first Disney trip, period, so for a long time I didn’t know anything different. But this time around I had a couple of strollerless trips under my belt, and it was a bit of a shock to realize just how different a trip with a baby is. Babies slow you down. A lot. You have to park the stroller, you have to do parent swaps if you want to ride everything, babies need to eat and sleep and have their diapers changed. You won’t do nearly as much with a baby as you would without one. Accept it and be okay with it, and this is no problem.
2. Strollers: You can either bring your own or rent one from Disney. I am, historically, a big fan of the Disney strollers and not worrying about hauling my own around. But this last time we brought our own for a few reasons: we were staying off property and driving everywhere, so we didn’t need to worry about folding up a stroller on the buses and all that. Also, Abe wasn’t really big enough for the Disney strollers yet. They don’t have any padding, and the seats aren’t adjustable, so they don’t really work for babies who aren’t sitting up well on their own. Another reason to bring your own stroller is that it costs a gazillion dollars these days to rent Disney strollers. Single strollers are $15/day, and double strollers are $31/day (MUCH more expensive than we started going….I know we paid well under $20 for double strollers then). So you can easily BUY a stroller for the cost of renting one for a week. Another option is renting a stroller from a private company in Orlando. I’ve never done this, but I hear good things. Perhaps an option to consider if you fly in instead of driving, so you don’t have to haul the stroller on a plane.
One thing that I had forgotten about over the course of our stroller-less years is just how often you have to get your baby into and out of the stroller. Actually, I think it was less of an issue with Gus, because he was stroller averse and wanted to be in the baby carrier the whole time. But Abe was fairly content in the stroller much of the time and napped well in it….except that we constantly had to get him out of it to take him onto a ride or into a building. In general, your stroller has to stay outside when you go inside. There are cast members hanging out outside the buildings to stop you from bringing your stroller in. This is true even in many of the big pavilions at Epcot with multiple rides and shows inside (you can bring a stroller in Innoventions, though, and I highly recommend you do…air conditioning!). So a baby carrier as a stroller backup is essential. Gus rode everywhere in the Ergo when he was 9 months, but we hadn’t started using it much with Abe yet when we went, so I wound up using the Maya Wrap a lot, which was not as happy for my back.
3. Taking breaks: all the guidebooks tell you that, particularly if you have small children, you must take an afternoon break. On our first trip, with a 5 year old, a 3 year old, and a 9 month old, I dutifully attempted to follow this advice for the first couple of days. We’d go to the parks early, get out right after lunch, and go back to hotel for our relaxing afternoon naps. Then we’d spend an hour trying to force the older, not used to napping, kids to nap before giving up (“but the books say that even if you don’t nap at home, you’ll be so tired that you’ll do it here!”). Meanwhile baby Gus had been napping in the Ergo whenever he felt like it all morning and was perfectly well rested. Then, just as the books instructed, we’d attempt to stay out late, taking advantage of the relative cool while our napless, out past their bedtime older children melted down over and over and made us all (except the dozing baby) miserable.
On this trip? We totally rocked the afternoon break. We went back to the rental house where the older kids swam or watched TV while the baby took long naps in the quiet bedroom. Then we stayed out late with perfectly happy older kids and a baby who could snooze in the stroller.
All of this to say? Refer to tip #1. Afternoon breaks are great….except when they’re not. Maybe your normally non-napping children will sleep like stones all afternoon and wake up ready to shut down the Magic Kingdom with the late parade and fireworks. Maybe not. Maybe your baby will be so overstimulated s/he won’t be able to sleep at all until you get him or her back to the hotel. Maybe she’ll sleep anywhere and everywhere. Be ready either way, and be prepared to alter plans based on how your kids react.
4. Rides: If you’ve never been to Disney with a baby, you might be surprised by how much there is for them to do there. Babies can go on any ride without a height restriction which means there are far more rides they CAN go on than ones they can’t go on. In Magic Kingdom, for example, the only rides you CAN’T take your baby on are Goofy’s Barnstormer, Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Stitch’s Great Escape (you don’t want to go on that anyway), and Tomorrowland Speedway (no babies under 12 months). That leaves, by my quick count, 18 rides babies of all ages can go on, plus all the shows and other attractions.
For the rides you can’t take baby on, you can get a parent swap (just go up the cast member at the entrance, produce your baby or toddler for their inspection, and ask for one), so that one person can go on while the other person waits with the baby, then the other parent (plus up to 2 other people) can take their turn without waiting in the main line. This is a time suck, but you don’t care because you’re following tip #1.
5. Feeding Babies: I have nursed babies all over Disney World, and I have never had a bit of trouble. Each park has a baby care station where they have things like private nursing rooms, diapers and formula available, and all that, but I’ve never seen the inside of one. I can’t really imagine that anyone hauls their hungry baby across the park to get to a particular location, but, if you’ve forgotten some essential baby paraphernalia, or you happen to be near one and want to duck inside for some quiet, I’m sure they’re lovely.
It’s generally pretty easy to find a bench to plop down on to feed your baby, but there are also some nice spots in each park where you can enjoy a leisurely show or something and feed your baby at the same time. There are long shows in each park that are perfect, and some of the longer lasting rides, like the Peoplemover in Magic Kingdom and Spaceship Earth in Epcot, are great, too.
Mostly, though, it all comes back to tip #1. Stay flexible; have a great time!
Next week: Big(gish) family specific advice
And now, the more self-indulgent portion of the post: Day 3 of our trip: Hollywood Studios:
1. When to go? As in, time of year
2. Where to stay? Off property vs. on
3. Disney with a baby
4. Big(gish) families and Disney
5. Saving money
6. Food: dining plan, favorite restaurants, plus bonus gluten free fun