Yep, that was me. Because who in their right mind would do this? I came to this conclusion while strolling through Fantasyland in WDW one afternoon in 1982. A baby, maybe sixteen months old, was having the meltdown to end all meltdowns. You know the kind…screaming at the top of her lungs, lying on the pavement, flailing wildly, and when mom tried to pick her up to stand…wet noodle legs that wouldn’t hold her weight.
“That will not be me,” I said to my friends, with all the smug self-righteousness that only a teenager can muster. “I will never bring a baby to Disney World.”
Fate remembered my pronouncement that day. And laughed.
Fast forward twenty years. My husband and I were the proud parents of a beautiful son and daughter. When my daughter was seven, we were blessed with another son. Surprise! We were thrilled beyond belief, but being the Disney addict that I am, I soon realized two things. We would no longer fit into a standard Disney hotel room (a topic for another day), and unless I wanted to wait until my oldest was fifteen, I would have to break my solemn vow, and bring a baby to a Disney park.
Fine. I could do this. I would do this. There was no way I wanted to wait until my youngest was a preschooler before we went to the parks again. So, I set out to devise a plan that would make bringing a baby (and by this, I mean anyone two and under) to Disney easy. Or at least as pain-free as possible. And you know what? It was. We had so much fun on our first “baby” trip. Zach was nine months old, and had a wonderful time.
1. This trip is not about you. It’s about the baby. Meet his needs first, and everything will go much more smoothly. This is the best overall advice I can give. If your toddler is hungry, do not attempt to go on “just one more ride” before you stop for a meal. Pirates of the Caribbean will still be there waiting for you. Your good humor will not.
2. Stay on property. You will save yourself much grief and aggravation if your hotel room is close. This is especially true at WDW, but I also recommend it for Disneyland. Our first trip with our baby was to Disneyland Resort, and having a hotel as welcoming as the Disneyland Hotel, only a quick monorail ride away, was a lifesaver for us on multiple occasions.
3. The lovey/blanket/teddy bear stays in the hotel room. Period. The distress of a child who is headed out the door without a beloved blankie or stuffed animal is nothing compared to the distress of a child in a strange hotel room at 3 AM without that beloved blankie or stuffed animal. Besides, the parks are full of distractions and lots of brand new stuffed animals who can accompany your toddler through the park that day. Buy one and leave the lovey safely tucked away at your hotel.
4. Bring two extra outfits to the park each day. Baby outfits are small enough to pack a few spares…and you’ll need them. Unless you want an excuse to purchase a cute, new outfit on the spot after a diaper blowout. Not that I’ve ever done that. Nope.
5. If you have a binky baby, you cannot bring too many of those with you. They disappear faster than you can say “Mickey Mouse” in the park. Especially with toddlers, who open their mouths to exclaim at something they’re seeing, toss them aside in a moment of excitement, or leave them on the table in the restaurant while you’re hurrying to eat before that next FastPass expires. They do sell pacifiers in the park, but nine times out of ten, they’re not the kind your child uses, or likes. Be prepared. Bring a dozen.
6. Have multiple modes of transportation to manage the tiny ones in the park. Especially if you have a baby and a toddler. We used a stroller and a backpack type carrier when my son was nine months old. Strollers get boring for the little ones. They’re riding around staring at people’s legs and rear ends all day long. The backpack carrier put my son at adult height, and he absolutely loved watching everything happening around him. It was easier for us to use the backpack than push that stroller through the crowd as well. Front carriers and slings might work best for very young babies.
7. Be patient with character interactions. Please don’t force your child to pose with a character if it scares the pants off him. As a nine month old, my son was fine with the characters if he could watch them for a while first, then approach them on his own terms. This was great at Disneyland, where characters roam the park at random, and can spend a lot of time with your child. This obviously won’t work with the whole Anna and Elsa meet and greet cattle drive that’s happening now. Some toddlers are fine with characters as long as Mom or Dad is holding them, and some don’t want anything to do with any of them. Take your cues from your child and let them lead.
8. The Baby Care Center in each of the parks is your new best friend. Oh, how I love them! My favorite is the one on Main Street in Disneyland. It dates back to the earliest days of the park, and is still in the same location. Every Disney theme park has a Baby Care Center, and they are clearly marked on your park map. These centers are a quiet, cool, respite in the middle of your overcrowded busy day. They provide rocking chairs and a private place to nurse, changing tables, toddler toilets (all of which are immediately sanitized after every use), high chairs, a play area with couches and a TV (for older kids who might need to wait while mom nurses a baby), a kitchen area with a microwave and sink for preparing baby food or formula, and an area with commonly used baby necessities for sale (diapers, baby food, formula, etc.). They also provide outlets so that you can pump. The Baby Care Center cannot store the milk for you (no refrigerators), but the first aid stations next door to all the Baby Care Centers will be happy to keep your expressed milk refrigerated while you’re in the park, or give you ice packs if you prefer to take it with you. The Baby Care Centers are also a great place to take an older special needs child for a few moments of decompression time. The staff here is always very kind and eager to help. The Baby Care Center services are free (except for the baby items such as diapers and baby food that are available for purchase) and it is generally open from around 9 AM to park closing.
So, there you have it. See? Taking a baby to a Disney theme park doesn’t have to be the nightmare you might have imagined. I was very pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to take my youngest at age nine months, and again at age two. By keeping his needs our main focus, our vacation went very smoothly, and we had a terrific trip with priceless memories. Please share your best baby and toddler tips in the comments section. I’ll be taking notes…for when I bring grandchildren with me someday.