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Visiting Disney World with a Baby: Everything You Need to Know (Part 1)
“Are they crazy? I would never do that!” I used to think when I saw parents with infants on my trips to Disney World.
Well… add that to the list of things I said I would never do as a parent and now have. Twice.
There are many people who share my opinion of babies at Disney World and wonder why families bother schlepping them along. As they pass those “crazy people” they murmur to each other about how it would definitely ruin their vacation to take a baby.
Not so! I can tell you this as a fact, as I’ve taken two babies to Disney World, in two different years, with two completely different personalities, one that breastfed and one that bottle fed. I have magical memories of both Hope and Violet’s first trips to Disney World.
This isn’t to say that taking a baby with you to “the most magical place on earth” won’t require some foresight and planning, but with the necessary preparation, this can be one of the best trips you’ve ever taken to Walt Disney World.
How to Prepare
First, when is the best time to travel with a baby to Disney World? It’s debatable, but to me, it’s the time after they can sit up, but before they can walk. Reason being, they are able to sit comfortably in high chairs and in your arms, but are not yet so mobile that they want to move independently, i.e. not sit in a stroller. I took my oldest when she was nine months old, and the second at a little over eight months old. Granted, it may not be possible to fit your trip in this frame of time, but this is not a rule, just a suggestion.
One way you can prepare your baby for a trip to Disney is by taking walks. I have worn a pedometer on trips to Disney World, and we average about five miles of walking a day! Of course, this is in short spurts as you go from ride to ride or restaurant or transportation; but nevertheless, your baby is going to spend a lot of time in their stroller. Take a half hour to hour walk at least every other day to prepare yourself and your child. If it’s not warm where you live as you’re preparing to leave, head to the mall twice a week for walks. As a bonus challenge, see if your baby will sleep well in their stroller; possibly even take a full nap. This will come in handy on your trip!
A second, more random, way you can prepare your baby for Disney is to introduce them to a few of the humongous characters you will undoubtedly want them to meet there. I mean, face it, is there any better photo opp? It is possible your baby will be terrified of these larger than life, colorful, moving cartoon characters (note: neither of mine was). To find out, you could test the waters by taking your child somewhere local that employs a similar costumed creature, such as Chuck E. Cheese or Red Robin. Afterward, you’ll know whether to schedule that character breakfast, or avoid the characters altogether.
How to Get There
Where to Stay
I may be biased in saying that you should undoubtedly stay on Disney World property, meaning, one of their twenty-five resorts (even campgrounds), but every piece of advice I’ve come across online seems to confirm that opinion, biased or not. Disney World has hotel rates as low as $79 a night (this is non-peak season at one of their “value” resorts). Staying on Disney property offers the perks of free transportation to and from the airport, with luggage service that translates to you not seeing your bags from the time you depart your airport until your arrive in your hotel room. Nice. Disney also provides free shuttle service from all of their resorts to all of their parks. No matter where you are or where you’re headed on Disney property, you will rarely wait more than fifteen minutes. These transportation perks nullify the need for a rental car and paying for parking every day.
Staying on Disney property will also enable you to get a better package deal with your tickets, and even a food package, if you choose to take that route. You’re also able to take advantage of “Extra Magic Hours”, times each day when a park will open an hour early or stay open up to three hours late. Only Disney resort guests are invited.
Now, if you’re willing to pay more than $79 a night (and above that, the sky’s the limit!) there are further numerous Disney benefits you can take advantage of. Disney has rooms that can sleep up to twelve people. If you book one of Disney’s “Deluxe Villas” you can stay in a studio, or one, two, or three bedroom suite. Studios include a kitchenette, but beginning with the one bedroom and up, they also offer a full kitchen and a washer and dryer in your room- a great bonus when you’re traveling with an infant who may need to change two or three times a day. Villas come equipped with a pack and play and high chair, but all Disney rooms will provide you with a pack and play upon request. (Mini refrigerators can be rented for approximately $10 a day at value and moderate resorts.)
When deciding where to stay, on or off Disney property, you may want to consider the advantages of having a kitchen or kitchenette. This will especially come in handy if your baby is bottle fed. If a kitchenette is not available, a mini refrigerator may be enough to get you by. A hotel that includes laundry facilities is also important when you’re traveling with a baby (all Disney’s resorts have these facilities available). Another factor to consider is how long it will take you to travel to and from your room to the parks. When you’ve been at MagicKingdom all morning and you have a baby who is tired, hungry, or needs a fresh outfit, every minute counts.
What to Take
Be ready to pack as you’ve never packed before! Packing for Disney World is a feat in itself, packing for an infant results in gasps at how much “stuff” they need; combine the two, and you’re in for a packing marathon.
It’s not possible to cover everything you need to take on a trip with an infant, so let’s talk about what you specifically want to take for your baby on a trip to Disney World.
First on my list is a stroller. Yes, Disney rents strollers at each park, but they are currently priced at $15 per day for a single stroller, $31 for a double. Yikes! You would also be left stroller-less at your resort (all of which are huge) and any other sites you may hit, such as Downtown Disney. (A small comfort is that if you’re staying for multiple days, rental prices go down to $13 and $27 respectively.) It would be more cost effective to buy a second hand umbrella stroller with a canopy (try Once Upon a Child) and leave it behind when you’re done!
I highly recommend taking a stroller that can recline completely. This will provide your baby a comfortable place to lay and nap (especially if you were able to follow the stroller nap training advice above!) Again, if you don’t have one, buy one secondhand. (I don’t recommend borrowing one because when traveling, you can’t absolutely guarantee in what condition the stroller will return.) Other features to look for in the stroller you choose to take to Disney World would be a basket big enough to hold your diaper bag or backpack with baby supplies, a canopy to block that Florida sun, how easily it folds, and a light weight- since you will be lugging it on and off of busses every day.
If you fly with your stroller, most airlines do not count a stroller as part of your baggage. You shouldn’t have to check it in with your luggage, normally you can push the stroller with baby all the way through security and to the gate where the airline employees will store it for you and have it waiting when you get off the plane.
One final note on strollers: be aware that Disney’s cast members do move and organize strollers while you’re in an attraction. When you enter a ride or show, there will always be a central location where everyone drops off their strollers. While families flow in and out, certain cast members’ sole responsibility is to keep the strollers lined up and close together. So when you exit an attraction, you will have to take a moment to locate your stroller, now in a different spot. You may find it useful to tie a bright ribbon or other marker to your stroller so you can find it more easily.
You may also want to take a baby sling or carrier to Disney World with you. This will come in handy standing in lines, waiting for busses, or even loading on the bus or other attractions if your baby is asleep.
If you are breastfeeding, a light blanket or nursing cover is all you’ll need for baby’s mealtime. But if you’re bottle feeding, a lot more equipment comes into play. When I took my bottle-feeding baby, I went with the Playtex Nurser System (see right) with “drop-ins”, plastic liners that can be slid in and out of the bottle with each feeding without having to wash the entire bottle. I allowed my daughter to get used to the bottle and nipples a month or two before we left for our trip. With this system, I only needed to take into the park each day: one bottle, three liners, and one or more nipples. (I carried a small vial of dish soap to wash the nipples if I was only carrying one.)
Some parents recommend carrying bottled water for your baby’s bottles because of a baby’s immature digestive system’s difficulty adapting to different tap water. I didn’t do this; my daughter was eight months old on the trip and didn’t seem to have any problems with gas or diarrhea. Baby’s digestive systems do balance out a little bit a few months into life. Weigh the pros and the cons of carrying water (weight being a major con) and decide what’s best for your child. Due to the weight of carrying pre-mixed/liquid formula, it makes more sense to carry powdered. We used a wonderful product that dispenses only one serving of formula that you’ve premeasured. I highly recommend a powdered formula dispenser.
A few other items you will want to bring on your trip to Disney World with your baby are some finger foods or snacks- if your baby is old enough- such as Cheerios, small toys you can carry in your diaper bag or backpack, one or two board books, a comfort item such as a special stuffed animal or blanky, and definitely sunscreen. You may also want to take some small containers of bubbles to distract baby while waiting- of which there is ample amounts at Disney World. If your baby uses a pacifier, a clip may also come in handy.
What to Carry in the Parks
Carry your baby gear to the park in a bag that easily organizes your supplies and is comfortable to carry. Make sure it fits in the basket of your stroller as well. You don’t want to be carrying those extra pounds on your back with five miles on your feet.
In your bag carry enough diapers and wipes to get you through that day, even half of the day if you plan on heading back to your hotel midday. It’s true that Disney’s Baby Care Centers have these supplies available for purchase, but as with everything at Disney World, it won’t come at a bargain. Also carry plastic baggies to dispose of dirty diapers.
For bottle feeding babies, take the necessary bottles and formula. To keep supplies to a minimum, try Playtex Nurser System as I described in the previous section.
If your baby is beginning to eat solids, take enough baby food for that day and a baby spoon (in a baggie). If they are eating finger foods, small baggies or snack cups of Cheerios or Goldfish will come in handy. Graham crackers are a great food for babies to chew on. An empty sippy cup that you can refill at water fountains or from your water bottle is a must as well.
Carry your baby sling or carrier for those moments when you need to fold up the stroller and carry baby for what may be an extended period. Make sure you have an extra outfit and a bottle of sunscreen, as well. A thin blanket may come in handy for nursing or if baby gets chilly. And if your baby takes a pacifier, make sure you have at least one along with you. This will definitely come in handy if baby gets fussy at an inopportune moment, such as during a show. An extra item to consider is a stroller cover in case you get caught in the rain. Short, violent rainstorms are common in Orlando.
Keep in mind as you pack your bag that it will be searched as you enter the parks. So have it well organized and be prepared to open and unzip all the pockets for the security guards to peak in. (They will not have any issues with you carrying in drinks and snacks for baby.)
For a copy of the checklist I used each morning to make sure my bag was packed for the park, click here.
You can have a great time at Disney World whether you’re bottle or breastfeeding. There is great flexibility available to accommodate a baby’s needs. The only game plan I wouldn’t recommend is attempting to pump and bottle feed your baby your entire Disney vacation, maybe you have a discomfort breastfeeding in public. There are not enough quick, convenient places to pump and store your breast milk nor the time to fit pumping between running between attractions. Disney World is a place full of families, the vast majority of these are supportive of breastfeeding mothers and are used to seeing a baby being fed in public. If you’re still uncomfortable with this, snag a nursing cover or even a lightweight blanket, and practice covering up with this before your trip.
For breastfeeding moms, there are of course, the Baby Care Centers at each park where you can sit in a private room and nurse your baby. There are even changing tables and baby supplies available. (Bonus- air conditioning!) However, it’s doubtful you want to rush to the BabyCareCenter every time your infant wants to eat, so there are always plenty of cozy corners and out-of-the-way benches you can nurse baby on. My personal tactic was breastfeeding at restaurants while waiting for our food. Another great place is at longer shows, such as Hall of Presidents at MagicKingdom or in Finding Nemo: The Musical at Animal Kingdom. Each park has at least two such shows or performances that are at least twenty minutes long and great opportunities for nursing.
I addressed a great method for bottle feeding babies in the What to Bring section. The only other suggestion I would add to that is if your baby is not used to drinking formula at a variety of temperatures, you may want to practice doing so. This eliminates the need to carry a cooler with bottles of cold water to be mixed with formula. I only carried one Playtex nurser bottle, two to three liners, one or more nipples, a travel sized bottle of dish washing detergent, and a travel container with pre-measured formula. Then I could mix the formula with water from a drinking fountain, a glass of water at lunch or dinner, or a purchased bottle of water. It was extremely quick and easy.
Eating at restaurants can become an adventure of its own when a little one is in tow. But there are useful tips to make the experience as smooth as possible. Click here for great advice on eating out with kids.
Overall, with feeding and sleeping, it can help on vacation to stick loosely to your baby’s routine. If they normally take two naps a day, try to make it possible for them to nap at those times, be it in a sling, stroller, or back at the hotel. Make sure they’re getting meals and snacks when they’re used to it. But also know when to throw the schedule out the window and make the most of your vacation, such as keeping your baby up late one night to see the fireworks or skipping a nap to visit the characters and then going to bed earlier that night.
Many babies are very flexible with when and where they’ll sleep, but you know your baby best, be aware before you go as to whether your baby will need encouragement falling asleep. My oldest daughter would not fall asleep being held, she preferred to lie down. Knowing this, we took plenty of “practice” walks in advance so she could get used to falling asleep in her stroller. This worked like a charm while meandering through the parks at Disney World! There is even an unadvertised exception Disney cast members will make to allow strollers in a restaurant if a baby is sleeping inside. (However, you may have to wait longer for a table that will allow for the extra space a stroller takes up, it cannot block any walkways.)
Vacations at Disney World can be a very tiring experience. Be prepared. Take supportive tennis shoes for the miles of walking each day. Pace yourself- know you probably won’t be able to do everything, so decide what’s most important to your family. Drink plenty of water.
Experienced Disney vacationers often follow a common strategy to keep going strong. They head to the parks early in the day, when they’re often less crowded, then head back to their hotel after lunch or after watching the afternoon parade. After a nap in the room or even just a leisurely swim, they head back to the park around dinner time refreshed and energized to last well into the evening.
All Disney World resorts will provide a pack and play in your room for baby to sleep in, free of charge. I personally always pull the sheet off my baby’s crib before we leave home, and wrap it around the mat in the bottom of the pack and play, so they can have the familiar feel and scent of home even in their new room. It’s also not a bad idea to bring baby’s favorite blanket and one or two of their stuffed animals to put in their bed so they feel more at home.
To proceed to the second half of Visiting Disney World with a Baby, click here. Part 2 topics include: Attractions, (What) Not to Miss, Characters, Keeping Baby Happy, and "Other Random Tips".
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