Well, Monkey, Frog and I just returned from a long weekend trip to Disney World. We are very lucky in that we can visit a lot, as we have a family member who works there. It helps us enjoy the parks without feeling the pressure of doing and seeing everything each trip. This was Monkey’s first visit to Walt Disney World, and we made sure that he got his “First Visit” button, and attached it to his stroller—after taking the token picture of him wearing it.
Now, I know that there are hundreds of websites dedicated to Disney travel, with or without kids. However, I think I’ve gotten to know the ins and outs of the parks pretty well, and have heard a lot of tricks and advice from my family member who works at Disney. Even though I know the parks pretty well, this was the first time going with an itty-bitty infant. I had to learn new things to accommodate Monkey. Plus, I overheard a couple of families complaining about things that I thought were generally known to most visitors. If my experiences can help one family save a little time or reduce their headaches, then perhaps it is worth sharing what I’ve learned.
#1 Trust the Mutually Beneficial Program Called the Dining Plan: Disney is a company that wants to make money. I get it—it’s a business. However, one of the things I love about Disney is the fact that they genuinely care about the quality of the customers’ experience. They want you to have a magical experience. When I first heard about the Dining Plan, I thought it was scam by Disney to get you to spend more money at the parks. After two long trips to the parks where I stayed on the property and a number of short visits staying with family, I’ve decided that the Dining Plan is a win-win for Disney and visitors to the parks. You can’t get the plan without staying at one of the Disney resorts, but if you do stay in a Disney resort, get the Dining Plan.
When I was there this past week, I was enjoying a lunch with my family, and at the next table over, a father and mother were complaining about their lunch costs, and how much the dinner the night before cost, and other expenses. They had a school-aged child and a toddler. I’m sure their lunch ran around $80. If they had the dining plan, the cost of the plan wouldn’t have been much more than that lunch, and they would have been able to get drinks at their hotel, a dinner and a snack included in that same price.
The reality is that if you are making Disney your vacation, you aren’t going to want to leave the parks for meals. It’s a lot of walking and wasted time, and even if you pack a meal in, you will want to eat at some point. It’s cheaper than paying for all your meals as you go, and it will reduce your stress while you are there.
#2 Make Dining Reservations for a Leisurely Lunch: I would have made this recommendation before taking an infant to the parks, but I’m even more convinced now that I’ve travelled there with a baby.
There are a lot of “quick-service” restaurants at Disney. These are the kind of restaurants where you order food, and the carry to a table that you’ve found, either outside or, if you are lucky, somewhere air-conditioned. You don’t need a reservation to eat there, and they give you flexibility. However, they are more crowded, more likely to require scrambling to get enough seating for everyone, and more likely to be outdoors. If I’m going to spend the entire day in the Magic Kingdom, I am going to make a lunch reservation for a “table-service” restaurant. Yes, these restaurants cost more, but you get to have a guaranteed table, and a server who will bring everything to you.
To test my theory and because we weren’t sure of our plans, I didn’t do this one day when we had Monkey at Magic Kingdom last week. I sorely regretted it. With a reservation, we got unlimited soft drinks for everyone at the table, a server who was happy to bring me extra napkins when the baby spits sweet potatoes all over himself, a comfy chair for nursing, and air conditioning. This makes lunch a peaceful, relaxing experience, rather than a scramble.
Another word of advice, make your reservations now, if you know when you are going! They fill up fast, so as soon as you have your trip dates, start making dining reservations. You can start making them six months ahead of time. I have been trying to find a time to go to the new “Be Our Guest” restaurant for our trip this summer, and the slots are already full.
#3 Bring Your Own Water Bottles: Did you know that Disney allows you bring in food and drinks? I was surprised when I first learned this, as so many theme parks don’t allow you to do so. Most parks make exceptions for babies, but bring snacks and drinks in for the kids, not just the baby! When we were there last week, I took a soft cooler filled with a few small containers of freshly pumped milk along with oatmeal and sweet potatoes. For Frog, we took his insulated water bottle, full of ice, and several packages of crackers. Frog got to have iced tea with lunch—his favorite, but except for that he filled up his water bottle at the water fountains located all over the park. If your infant or toddler has special snacks or treats, bring them along. You don’t have to hide them, as they are perfectly allowable.
(BTW, when I’ve stayed on the property, I bring breakfast with me, and we pack breakfast into the parks, so we can get there during the extra magical hours.)
#4 Smaller and Cheaper is Better! I have a love-hate relationship with strollers. They are a pain to everyone, and I get annoyed when people are pushing excessively large strollers and blocking paths. Besides, the are hard to control and maneuver. Of course, you can carry lots of stuff in them, and they are a great ride for the baby.
Bring a small stroller to the parks. I have a large lovely “touring” stroller that I left at home, and took our smaller umbrella stroller for Monkey. Yes, you are entitled to bring the largest, swankiest stroller that you have, but it’s not considerate of others and you’ll end up regretting it. While I was there, leaving my stroller in one of the many parking areas, there was a mother who was distraught over the theft of an expensive double stroller. She was bemoaning the cost to everyone around her, but the irony was, her children weren’t that small. The younger one was about 4-years-old, so I suppose a stroller could be used, but the older one was school-aged. If she had just left the stroller at home, or brought a small umbrella stroller for the younger child, a thief might have been less tempted.
#5 Bring a Baby Carrier: If you are traveling with an infant, who can’t walk, bring your Bjorn, Moby Wrap, etc. This is one thing that I didn’t count on. You see, there are so many strollers at Disney, and the vast majority of them are being used by families with older children. Children who can walk and stand on their own, so strollers aren’t allowed in most lines. Monkey weighs 16 pounds right now, and one of the lines that we stood in was for 35 minutes. He got heavy. A baby carrier would have been a wonderful solution. An important note– if you mention to the cast members who are monitoring ride lines that you have a non-ambulatory child, one who can’t walk, they may let you keep your stroller for a longer period of time than those families with older children.
#6 Invest in Some Good Nursing Tops: Monkey loved “It’s a Small World,” but it was nearly lunch time, and he was getting hungry. He had been expecting a his “lunch,” but the line had run a bit long. He loved the lines, as he could socialize with all of the children around him. He loved the ride too, until the end when there was a brief pile up of boats needing to be unloaded. He lost it. Thankfully, I had my trusty nursing top from Milk Nursingwear, which meant that I could nurse him instantly and discreetly. In the darkened tunnel, not a single person noticed. I was very thankful to have good nursing tops at Disney, as we were always a bit off schedule and Monkey was clambering to nurse. Plus, with the heat, it was one less layer of clothing over Monkey while he nursed.