I cannot tell you how many people have said to me that they want to wait until their babies are old enough to remember their Disney Vacations before they plan a trip. While I understand the sentiment, I also want to reply with “you do things for your babies every single day that they won’t remember” and, “If YOU want to go to Disney, GO!” A vacation to Disney with an infant can still be mostly what you want to do! The little one is just along for the ride(s). Now, I am not so naïve to think it’s necessarily EASY to vacation with an infant. But, it CAN be done and it CAN be enjoyed. A little planning ahead and a flexible attitude will help. Plus, you can plan some special firsts for your child like Baby’s 1st Haircut at Magic Kingdom! I’ve already to traveled to Disney 3 times, overseas for a month, and numerous road trips with my 1-and-a-half-year-old. I’ve taken notes along the way and learned some lessons as we traveled.
This is the second in a series of blogs about traveling to Disney with infants/toddlers. Last month we looked at Choosing the Right Disney Hotel. This month I compiled some of my best tips for traveling to Disney.
- Plan for naps – try to stick to the normal nap schedule for your child. When ours was 5 months old she was napping 3-4 times/day. She could easily nap on the go and so we carried her in a baby carrier during the normal nap times. That gave her some snuggle time, down time, and time to rest up and sleep a bit while we shopped or ate. When she was 14 months and 16 months she really needed that long afternoon nap so we took a break, went back to the hotel and let her nap in her bed. It really made a huge difference to let her have that quiet time even if she didn’t nap as long as she does at home. An overtired baby or toddler does not make for a fun vacation. The parks are overstimulating as it is, make sure they get the rest they need so that everyone enjoys the trip.
- Online check in– I have mixed feelings about online check in but if your first priority is getting a room as early as possible on check-in day, then checking in online can be helpful. There is a preference you can list that lets the resort know that getting a room as soon as possible is your top priority. It would trump any other preference you have for location or room type so be aware of that. Driving in or flying in from a long day/morning of travels can wear everyone out. We have found if the baby can rest well that first day, it sets the tone for the rest of the week. We usually do online check in and then still stop by the front desk as soon as we arrive to let them know we are here, with a baby that needs a nap, and ask for the first available room.
- Bring a carrier and a stroller. Not every baby will nap in a stroller but it sure is helpful to have one- and Disney can really wear the little ones out. Your child that never naps in a stroller at home may very well doze off in the stroller when needed at Disney. Our Lillebaby carrier has been invaluable for our travels. We can easily carry our daughter in the front or on our backs and she really enjoys the view from up higher as opposed to the stroller. This last trip, our toddler spent more time in the carrier than the stroller, but the stroller was nice to have to ‘carry’ all of our other park “stuff” and purchases.
- Eastern time– remember that Florida is in the Eastern Time Zone so the first day or two may be a little off schedule. This can work in your favor if coming from another time zone since it means you can stay out a little later without the kids getting too sleepy at their regular bedtime. I have found that our little one adjusts quickly to a new time zone and usually doesn’t even notice it. But, it’s good to remember if your child is on a schedule that some adjustments may be needed for naps and mealtimes/snacktimes those first few days of the trip.
- Shop and eat while baby sleeps. If baby will sleep in a carrier or stroller, plan to shop and/eat during those times. We all know shopping and eating with a baby or toddler is tricky. It’s been a much more pleasant experience for me in a gift shop if I can peruse quietly while the baby is sleeping in the carrier rather than trying to wrangle a curious toddler wanting to touch everything.
- Get some rest for yourself. I never really needed naps at Disney before having a baby. We would go all day from open to close to Extra Magic Hours and only need some short meal breaks. After a few hours in the parks with a toddler, the nap is a welcome break for all of us. Take some time to rest while the children nap. You may not be able to rest everyday but try. It’s also a good time to do laundry at the resort or take turns lounging peacefully by the pool.
Expectations – I feel as a mom that I am constantly combatting expectations. When planning a Disney trip, it’s so easy to envision everyone being happy the entire trip and having all the ideal Disney experiences. You must set realistic expectations and not put too much pressure on yourself, your spouse, or your children.
- Baby might sleep in pictures. That family picture in front of Cinderella’s castle that you have been dreaming of for your Christmas card? The baby may be asleep on your or in the stroller when you get there. They may be tired or confused or having to stare into the sun. I’m guilty of expecting perfect pictures and then being disappointed when they don’t turn out great. But, in hindsight, some of my favorite pictures at Disney are the ones wear the baby is sleeping or looking the wrong way … it shows what life at that stage was really like and I’m thankful for the snapshots in time.
- Baby might be frightened or not interested in characters. Our daughter is just to the age where she has some favorite characters. I had high hopes for her meeting Donald Duck at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom and having the time of her life. When Donald rounded the corner and headed straight for her while she was peacefully eating lunch; it completely freaked her out. My first thought was “what a waste of money for her to not even want to see the characters”. She never warmed up to them coming to her table but when Mickey and Donald invited the kids to play follow the leader around the dining room, she was the first to jump up and follow them around. Not at all what I expected, but we learned a lot about how she wanted to interact with the characters and that helped us the rest of the week with character meet and greets. It also helped us prioritize shows and rides over character interactions. She ended up having a great time and I loved watching her do something so independent and have a blast doing it.
- Travel bed – I’ve mentioned this before in previous blogs but one of the best purchases we ever made was the Delta Travel Bed. If you are driving – bring something for the baby/toddler to sleep in that is comfortable and include sheets, blankets, etc from home that are familiar. If you are flying, you can usually gate check your baby gear so as long as you have enough hands to help you get it to and from the gate, do it! A well-rested baby makes for a happy family vacation.
- Sound machine– white noise REALLY helps drown out the sounds of a hotel. We have had the travel bed set up right next to the door before, and with the sound machine on, the baby slept fine even with people walking past the door and the sound coming from the hallway. It helps us sleep better too!
- Diapers/wipes –if driving, go ahead and bring these from home. If flying and you can fit them in, go ahead. You will create more space in your bag as you use the diapers. You can also use some local grocery services that deliver to your Disney Resort Hotel. Your travel agent can make suggestions for grocery services. Always bring more than you think you will need. We end up going through wipes MUCH faster on vacation because we use them for EVERYTHING and to clean hands and faces. Diapers and Wipes are available for purchase in the Baby Care Centers in each park.
- Food for Baby/Toddler -again, if driving, bring these from home. If flying, try to use a grocery service. Even though food at Disney, especially kid’s meals, are very kid friendly. It’s not what we usually eat on a normal basis at home. So, I try to bring A LOT of snacks and breakfasts that I know my toddler will enjoy. It also helps keep her happy in the stroller or waiting in lines to have a snack to munch on. Every morning at Disney I pack the daypack with more than enough snacks and sippy cups for the day.
- Ponchos- It rains often in Florida. Be prepared.
- Stroller cover– like a poncho for the stroller, this can be a lifesaver. Put it over your stroller when using Stroller Parking. If it rains, your belongings and stroller will stay dry. If it doesn’t rain, it will still be easier to find your stroller in the parking area since the Cast Members often move strollers around to make enough room for more.
- Toys- I never pack many toys. Hotel rooms and parks have plenty of new things to see and explore. I do usually pack a few stuffed animals or comfort things for familiarity and a few books. I know a lot of moms will go to a dollar store and stock up on cheap toys for the trip. This can pique the interest of the children for a while since it’s new plus if it breaks or gets lost, it’s not a big financial or emotional loss.
Planning Your Days in the Parks
- Use Fastpass +/Rider Switch strategically. Read more about Rider Switch here. And be sure to have your Travel Agent help you with this part.
- Meals We have found it much easier to do quick service meals most the time during the infant/toddler years. Table Service meals take up a lot of time (plan 1.5-2 hours) and children at these ages are unpredictable-especially on vacation. So being able to eat when/where we want or need to is much easier than trying to plan sit down meals months in advance. We do, however, plan a few special meals but we plan them on arrival or departure day or for a “safe time” when we know the baby should be awake and happy.
- To Park hop or not? There are 2 kinds of Disney people. Those who park hop and those who do not. I am a park hopper. Even with a toddler. I just love the flexibility. We typically spend the morning at one park, nap and rest at hotel, then head to another park in the evening. Every park has a nighttime show/experience and nighttime in the parks is my favorite. Magic Kingdom and EPCOT are my favorite nighttime parks so we try to do multiple evenings there. When Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios close early, we can still hit another park in the evening. That being said, with a bigger family, you can definitely save some money (about $50-$70/person depending on number of days) by skipping the park hopper option and sticking to one park per day. A lot of my “mom friends” only do base tickets and enjoy focusing on 1 park per day. Most people with young children will end up doing multiple days at Magic Kingdom so plan for that when choosing how many days of tickets you will need. Children under 3 are free so with a small family that includes children under 3, the park hopper option is relatively affordable.
- Baby care centers. These special areas are a lifesaver! Always located next to the first aid stations at each park, the Baby care centers offer quiet places to nurse, clean changing tables, TV’s with Disney movies for kids, sinks and microwaves, and a respite from the noisy crowded parks. We have used them on every trip and they have been lifesavers on multiple occasions. When I was nursing, it was the best place to relax and nurse. Rocking chairs, low lighting, and semi-private or private nursing areas (with air conditioning) made the Baby Care Centers my top nursing spot. With a toddler, they are great for diaper changes and snack time/downtime. They are free to use and always have at least one attendant on duty along with diapers, wipes, and other necessities for purchase. Stay as long as you need to! Once you use the Baby Care Centers, you will seek them out at each park and appreciate the oasis that they are for your whole family. They can get crowded at peak times of the year and the day, so be mindful of others.
These are some of my favorite tips to share for families traveling with small children to Disney. With some planning ahead, realistic expectations, time for naps, and packing smart, a trip to Disney with your infant/toddler can and will be full of memories for your family to enjoy for years to come.
I’d love to help you book and plan a magical vacation for your family and help you customize your itinerary to include your toddler and/or infant.
Aleshia Sokoloski, Travel Planner affiliated with Travel with the Magic
Specializing in Universal and Disney Vacations including Universal Orlando, Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Adventures by Disney, and Disney Cruise Line.