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Visiting Disney World with a Baby: Everything You Need to Know (Part 2)
This is the second half of a two part article on Disney World with babies. To read the first half, click here, which includes How to Prepare, Where to Stay, What to Take, What to Carry in the Parks, Feeding and Sleeping.
“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.
When Walt Disney first dreamed of building DisneyLand, and later, Disney World; his initial motivation was to create a place where families could all be involved in the fun. And he succeeded! Unlike many theme parks, where the majority of rides are designed for adults, with a small children’s section; the majority of Disney’s rides are built for the whole family to ride together, including baby. Very few rides have a height restriction when a parent is accompanying a child, making it possible for your family to experience literally dozens of attractions together.
Disney World can be overwhelming for many adults, so for a baby, whose nervous system is still developing, being at Disney World all day can be downright unbearable. Keep this in mind as your plan your trip and go through your days. Again, don’t try to fit too much into your vacation. Look at Disney’s website and guide books in advance and decide which attractions are most important to you, than make it a priority to at least see those. Keep your days flexible enough that you can accommodate baby’s needs, be it a snack or a nap or just a break somewhere out of the way and quiet.
Every single day of the year, when you exit a Disney park you’ll inevitably see a variety of children suffering a meltdown. And while some of this could be attributed to mom or dad refusing a request for candy or a toy on the way out of the park, the greater part of this group are children who are simply over stimulated. They’ve had too much of too much and have no other way to express their overwhelmed senses except by throwing a fit. Do your baby a favor and do your best to prevent them from being part of this group.
A great feature Disney offers parents is called Rider Swap or Parent Swap. If there’s a ride both you and your spouse would like to ride, and baby is not allowed, such as a thrill ride, simply enter the line and tell the cast member standing at the entrance that you would like to use the Parent Swap feature. They will allow you both to walk to the front of the line. One of you will hold baby while they other rides the attraction, then you will simply “swap” places without having to stand in line all over again.
Lastly, be mentally prepared in advance to walk out of an attraction if your baby gets fussy and is inconsolable. You may even want to sit near the exit in shows and theaters. If, when a theater’s doors open, you walk towards the back and all the way to the end of the row (as instructed), the exits will always be easily accessible.
Not to Miss
While your baby will be able to experience most of Walt Disney World’s attractions, there are a few rides and shows that should definitely not be missed. Their simple sights and sounds make them especially appealing for little ones.
At MagicKingdom, most of the attractions your baby will appreciate are in Fantasyland and Toontown Fair (where Mickey and friends “live”), but make sure you seek out Cinderella’s Golden Carousel, Small World (both my babies’ favorite ride of all), and Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
At Hollywood Studios, babies will love Playhouse Disney Live On Stage and Voyage of the Little Mermaid (a stage show). When you head to Epcot, your baby may enjoy looking at all the marine life in The Seas With Nemo and Friends. And oddly enough, both my babies enjoyed The Land, a slow moving boat ride about agriculture. Lastly, at Animal Kingdom, hit TriceraTop Spin and Kilimanjaro Safari. Your little one may also enjoy the trails for animal watching, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek.
I have to admit, the first time I met “Mickey Mouse” face to face, I was giddy with excitement. And I was twenty-four. You’ve seen the pictures, maybe taken them already, and can’t wait to capture your sweet baby with Mickey and all his friends. Hold on!
Depending on your baby’s age and personality, they may be thrilled, apathetic, or completely petrified when it comes to meeting these larger than life cartoon characters. As stated in Part 1: How to Prepare, you can test your child’s reaction in advance by taking them to an establishment that employs characters like these. Based on their response, you’ll know whether to spend two hours in line waiting to meet Mickey and Minnie- or save yourself the time.
If you aren’t able to visit a full body costumed character in advance, at least let your child see the characters from a distance before you approach one. Stand to the side of one of the lines to meet characters and see how your baby responds as they watch other people greeting the characters, hugging, and getting autographs. If they look frightened or overwhelmed, don’t make them suffer by forcing them to take a picture in a situation they’re unsure of. The end result will be a photo of your child screaming as you hold them next to Mickey.
However, if you know in advance that your child will respond positively to the characters, or won’t care one way or the other, schedule a character meal rather than standing in line at the parks. (These lines are often over an hour long wait.) Make a “priority seating reservation”, sit down and eat, and the characters will come waltzing up to your table one by one. They have time to interact with you and will take multiple pictures. Just be aware that if you would like to partake of one of these character meals, priority seating reservations can be made 180 days (six months) in advance- and the restaurants do begin filling up that early. You can make your own reservations by calling 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463). Perhaps the best breakfast to meet Mickey and Minnie is at Chef Mickey’s in The Contemporary Resort (next to Magic Kindgom). The princesses can be found at Cinderella’s Royal Table (upstairs in Cinderella’s Castle in MagicKingdom) or the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Norway in the World Showcase at Epcot. You can also dine with Winnie the Pooh and friends at The Crystal Palace restaurant in the MagicKingdom.
Keeping Baby Happy
The amount of supplies you will need to entertain baby depends a lot on their age. A five month old who is just learning to grasp objects and pass them from hand to hand is not going to need as much as a one year old. But once again, know your baby and act accordingly.
Bring a double (if you have it) of or something close to your baby’s security item. You may need it in all the upheaval of traveling and the shake up to baby’s usual surroundings and routine.
A few small, sturdy toys and a two or three board books will work wonders in restaurants or at a long show. Changing these distractions each day is a plus. Bring along a few toys that baby has never seen before, just little trinkets or gadgets from a dollar store or clearance section. When you sense a major meltdown coming, one of these may perform a mini-miracle for you. A small container of bubbles (carry these in a sealed plastic sandwich bag!) are great for entertaining baby before a parade or while waiting for the bus.
One of my favorite sayings is- never underestimate the power of snacks. This holds true for Disney World too! If your baby has started on finger foods, a small container of Cheerios, fish crackers, or graham crackers may stop a cranky baby in their tracks when you’re watching a show or waiting for your food at a restaurant.
If your baby will take a pacifier, this can be a lifesaver as well. Don’t let baby use it constantly, but hold it in reserve for those needed moments.
Other Random Tips
I’ve already addressed the Baby Care Centers at each park. These are centers sponsored by Carnation Baby Formula that offer rocking chairs, a private nursing room, changing tables, family restrooms, and high chairs. They even offer supplies you may have forgotten, such as baby food and diapers. Be prepared that these items are also extremely overpriced- but still there in case of an emergency. For older babies who just need a little break from the heat and activity, these centers also offer a large screen television playing nonstop Disney cartoons.
Diapers, wipes, formula, and baby food are also available at each of the resort gift shops.
In addition to being prepared for characters, know how your baby will react to various stimuli such as loud noises and fireworks. (Some of these you may have to guess at, of course.)
Disney has a great feature to help guests avoid a few- not all- of the long lines, called “FastPass”. What you approach a popular attraction, and the line is over thirty minutes, often you’ll see a small set of ATM-like kiosks to the side. A sign above will announce these are for FastPass, and show you the time you will be able to return if you use the system. Simply run your park ticket through the machine and receive a receipt telling you an hour time slot that you can return to the attraction and proceed to the front of the line- no wait. Your return time may be one to four hours later in the day, so you’re free to take that time to squeeze in some other attractions or a snack.
In case you didn’t read it under the Sleeping section, Disney offers an little known, unadvertised perk to parents with babies. If your baby falls asleep in their stroller, cast members will allow you to bring your stroller into a restaurant so you don’t have to wake your baby up. However, you may have to wait longer for a table as fire codes prevent restaurant walkways from being blocked.
It may not be possible for you, but consider visiting Disney World in the fall, winter, or spring. You will avoid the heat and crowds that summer brings. Disney categorizes their prices, as all resorts do, by peak and value season. Basically, peak season is any time U.S. schools are out, namely summer and spring break (which varies widely across the country, do your homework). If you want to enjoy shorter lines and lower prices, visit Disney World anytime U.S. schools are generally in session.
One last option to consider before your trip to Disney World is taking someone along to give you a break from constant childcare duty. After all, this is supposed to be your vacation. You could take a responsible teen with you, a friend, or another couple. You just need to be up front with the person that one of the reasons you want them to join you on vacation is to help with your baby. My husband and I took what was, for us, the perfect baby helpers by inviting both of our parents on both of our trips with our infant daughters. They loved being with us and their grandchild(ren) and we loved having four sets of extra hands.
Here's wishing you a handful of pixie dust and a whole ton of magic on your own trip to Disney World with your baby! If you have any tips of your own to offer, or any questions I can help you answer, feel free to comment below.
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