We've decided to start writing a weekly Disney World post...mostly because we're starting to get emails from people we've never met asking all sorts of great questions.
The question we get most frequently is...
"Why and how do you go with such small children?"
"Why and how do you go with such small children?"
The why is easy. We go because we want to. Joshua and I love Disney World. We love that it's such a unique vacation spot with thematic elements that envelope you and take you back to a more simple time. People are friendly. The customer service is extraordinary. The food and drinks are second to none.
Also, we bring our children because we want to. We enjoy their company and to be honest, as a military family, we're separated enough. Plus, until they're three, they're free so why not bring the little boogers along?
Our son's first trip was when he was 14 months old, our princess first went at only 2 1/2 months (more due to the Army and Joshua's schedule than anything else) but both trips were great and we wouldn't have changed a thing.
The how takes a little more work. The first thing you need to do when considering a trip to Disney World with an infant and/or small children is ask yourself what sort of temperament your child/ren have. Both of our kids sleep well and have had no problem sleeping in their strollers even with lots of activity going on. Even if your kids aren't sleepers, don't count a Disney World trip out-you'll just have to expect and plan more breaks into the schedule. Staying at a resort on Disney property will really help because you can hop on a bus, monorail, ferry boat or drive your own vehicle back to the resort for a quick nap.
The next big thing you need to know is that Disney is designed to make your trip as easy as possible if you plan ahead. There are "Baby Care Centers" in all four parks that make a trip with little ones so much easier.
Each baby care center has the following...
*air conditioning/heat for a nice break from the weather
*a nursing room-a group room where ONLY nursing mothers are allowed (except in Animal Kingdom where the nursing rooms are private individual rooms-my favorite because I prefer to use a nursing cover even with just other nursing mothers)
*a tv room with Disney movies playing for toddlers who need a break or who are waiting with one parent while the other is taking care of baby
*ALMOST everything you could need for baby and toddlers...baby food, medicine, extra clothes, diapers, wipes (the only thing they didn't seem to have available was mylicon so be sure to bring some from home)...also, the prices are really reasonable-they could charge anything but it's fair and even comparable to what you might pay at Target or Walmart
*a changing room...basically just a room FULL of changing tables...they have paper disposable covers so if you forget your portable changing pad, don't worry, they got you covered
*a feeding room...basically just a room FULL of high chairs...they have microwaves and sinks so you can prepare the food or bottle and then clean up so you're not stuck having to carry dirty bottles and dishes around
All of the baby care centers are staffed by really kind, loving, grandmotherly types. The kind of ladies that just love to be around babies.
As great as the baby care centers are, there's only one in each park. They're clearly marked on all the maps and any of the park cast members can direct you to the fastest route. If you're on the opposite side of the park from the baby care center, don't worry, all the bathrooms have changing tables...most have diapers and wipes in a vending machine and you can always hop into a store if you need a break from the weather.
The only real disappointment to the baby care centers is that because of their size, strollers are not allowed inside. As a result and because I'm a minimalist and didn't want to have to pull out the whole diaper bag from the stroller basket every time we changed a diaper, we became pros at keeping diapers, wipes, butt paste and my cover in a detachable fabric parent console which came with our stroller. My husband and son either stayed with the stroller/camera bag/extra clothes or Joshua grabbed everything and followed me inside to let the boy have some down time with a Disney movie.
Speaking of strollers...having the right stroller at Disney World can make or break your vacation when you have little ones. We always opt to bring our own stroller...we have the Britax B-Ready which can be a single or double stroller. I cannot recommend this stroller highly enough! We have used the infant car seat in conjunction with a toddler seat, just a toddler seat or two seats...depending on the year and our family's needs that trip.
If you're worried about flying with your own stroller or just don't have one that you think would work well in the parks, you have two rental options...
The first: rent from Disney World either just for a day or at a discounted daily rate. Personally, we don't recommend renting the Disney strollers if you have very young children.
A-they're expensive $15 for a single $31 for a double for one day ($13 & $27/day respectively if you opt for a multi-day rate)
B-they're hard plastic...no padding whatsoever and a baby or small toddler just can't sit in them
C-you pick them up at guest services and so if you park hop to another park midway through the day, that park may or may not have any strollers still available (though it is one price per day and hops with you if you park hop)
D-you have to leave it at guest services so if you have a sleeping child at the end of the night, you get to carry said sleeping child from the park to either the bus line or to your own vehicle to go back to your resort rather than letting them sleep up until the last possible moment
The second rental option is the one I recommend: rent from a local company like Orlando Stroller Rentals where they offer high end single and double strollers delivered directly to your resort for a reasonable rate (you're still in a tourist hot spot so it's not exactly cheap). They have different packages up to 14 nights of stay and also rent out rain covers. At the end of your vacation, you just drop it off at the luggage room/baggage claim area of your hotel/resort.
There are some people who recommend just bringing an umbrella stroller because they're easier to fold down for the internal Disney bus system. We don't agree...at least not for a family with very small children. You'll see parents hunched over with the front wheels of the umbrella stroller kicked up so the baby/toddler can lay back and sleep easier...meanwhile Mom and Dad are lugging the diaper bag because it doesn't fit under the stroller.
The next big thing you should know about Disney World with Infants/Young Toddlers is Disney's Rider Swap option...often just called the baby swap but it is applicable to any member of your party who either is unable or unwilling to go on an attraction.
Here's the big secret...having a baby doesn't slow you down...actually, if you're smart about it and use the Rider Swap, you can do MORE with a baby than without. Here's how it works...
(side note: fast passes are a great way to skip over the long stand by lines and unlike other theme parks, Disney doesn't charge for them. They are tickets which enable you to return at a specific time-a one hour window and go through a faster line rather than wait in the stand by line. You may only have one fast pass at a time per person, so...if you have a fast pass for Splash Mountain which has a window of return from 10:10-11:10...you can't get another fast pass for it or any other ride until after 11:10. You get a fast pass by inserting your park entrance ticket into a fast pass booth, it will spit out your park entrance and your fast pass tickets. The fast pass booths are usually located just to the side of the attraction...not all attractions have a fast pass line but most of the popular ones do)
When you get to an attraction which doesn't allow infants or your toddler isn't tall enough or brave enough to ride, you go up to a cast member (usually at the fast pass line) and request a rider swap. The cast member will ask you who is staying with the baby/toddler and who is riding first...the parent/adult who is staying with the kid/dos will be given the rider swap and those who can and want to ride can get in the stand by or fast pass (if they have fast passes) line and enjoy the attraction. When the first rider/s get off, the adult or parent who stayed with the little one/s uses their rider swap ticket to go through the fast pass line. The rider swap is actually good for up to three people so if an older sibling or two rode with Dad and then wants to go again, he or she can ride with Mom using the one rider swap. But if it's just Mom, Dad and little one/s the trick is to split the fast passes. For example, in Magic Kingdom Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Railroad are right next to each other so what Joshua and I do is simple. He gets a fast pass for Splash Mountain and I get one for Big Thunder Railroad and then we eat, shop or do an attraction we can take the kids on like Haunted Mansion while we wait for the fast pass windows to open up. Then, we'll go to one...say, Splash Mtn and I'll get the Rider Swap from the cast member and wait with the kids while Joshua jumps into the fast pass line. He gets off and I go through the same fast pass line with the rider swap and then we do the same thing with Big Thunder. So we've both ridden both rides in the amount of time you would normally only be able to do one. Granted, you're not riding together but that's what happens when you want to ride roller coasters and you have small children...unless, of course, you bring a nanny (or Grandma).
The last tip I want to give you is to be aware of rides that offer a single rider line option. In Epcot, Test Track has a single rider line. In Hollywood Studios, Rock N Roller Coaster has a single rider line. In Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest has a single rider line. Whether or not you have small children, the single rider line can cut your wait time from 75 minutes by stand by to nearly walk on but with small children, it's the only way to go. You're going to go on separately anyway so take advantage of it.
In the end, a trip to Disney World with small children and babies takes more planning and will require you to be more flexible but it can be a great trip. We've loved it.