After years of adult-only or someone else's child visits, at the beginning of May this year, my wife and I visited Disney with our own child for the first time.
She was 7 months old during our visit. We weren't sure what to expect but had an amazing time! Seeing the parks we love through her (albeit very small) eyes was incredible.
Despite all the park experience we have together, my wife and I learned new things during our recent visit, especially pertaining to bringing an infant.
1. Include the little one on reservations
My first tip seems obvious but can easily be missed (especially for new first time parents) is to add your little one to your hotel booking and all dining reservations. One cast member we spoke with indicated that this was for the capacity regulations set by the fire marshal; each head must be accounted for even if they are not eating.
Even though they are too young to actually use it, your little one will still get a MagicBand when they are on your hotel reservation. :D
We booked a Magic Kingdom After-Fireworks Dessert Party for my wife's birthday and the online reservation system knew that our little one was young enough not to be charged, but still needed to be included on the reservation.
If you have forgotten to add your little one(s), do not worry. Give the Disney Dining Reservations line at (407) WDW-DINE. Or check online frequently starting the week before. Reservations must be cancelled before midnight the day before to avoid the no-show fee. Typically, you can find a suitable reservation for an additional party member day-of.
2. Take advantage of the Baby Care Centers
An often unknown FREE perk for families with small children at each of the parks are the Baby Care Centers. These are tucked away and can easily be missed by most visitors. However, the free resources they provide can be essential to a great day at the park with little ones.
Not mentioned in the link above are free to use bottle warmers and hot & cold filtered water on tap. These are great for preparing formula or filling up water bottles. Additionally, there is a main room with small tables and chairs. We saw savvy families bringing their lunches in so their little ones (who can sit in a chair) could eat at a table designed for them (and catch up on the latest Disney Jr. programming on the TV).
We visited Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom on our visit and the less trafficked Animal Kingdom baby center was slightly better than at Magic Kingdom. The nursing room at Magic Kingdom is shared. There are a half dozen or so rocking chairs in one dark, quiet room for moms only. However, at Animal Kingdom, there are three private nursing rooms where dad, or companions, could be together in private. The private room had a rocking chair and a changing table with two levels of lighting for quite nap time feedings.
We definitely recommend checking the centers out for a quiet, midday nap or feeding and avoid the long bus ride back to your resort.
3. Allow more time for everything
When compared to life without a little one, everything takes its own time when you have your bundle of joy with you. This can be maddening to a do-it-all go-go-go type of Disney fans that we typically are. Easier said than done, but coming to terms with the fact that you won't be able to do everything or put in 14+ hours days before you leave will let you make more magic while you are there.
Having done a lot of adults only trips before we had our own child, we grew accustomed to a certain way of tackling a day at the park. We, obviously, knew this would change with a 7 month old. Because we planned not to do every ride and every parade and every show, we were able to enjoy the moments instead of worry about rushing off to the next thing.
Another big help here was that because my wife and I are avid Disney visitors, we've done everything before. This was surprisingly helpful. We've all seen our fair share of struggling families at Disney; tired tots and overwhelmed parents. “We paid $120 each to be here today and we're going to have fun!” I used to think that meant riding every ride, using half a dozen FastPasses, and filling every second from rope drop to goodnight kiss. Taking our little one showed me that there are many ways to experience Disney. It doesn't have to be about how much you do, but who you do it with and taking the time to appreciate being in the most magical place on Earth with the people you love.
4. Embrace the unexpected
Some of my most fond memories of Walt Disney World vacations are times spent in line with friends and family. That time spent just hanging out and being together (before smartphones were ubiquitous) were some of the most magical. It's tempting to try and plan your visit down to the last minute and squeeze every last ounce of fun for your (many) bucks. This whole blog (any many others) is dedicated to planning and being prepared to make the most of your trip. However, we always encourage you to allow for spontaneity and live in the moment. This is especially true with little ones.
We were worried about some meet-and-greets because of the potential of a meltdown due to the larger than life characters (I'm lookin’ at you Goofy ;) ). It turned out that she loved meeting them and was not scared at all. We ended up adding more meet-and- greets to our plans than anticipated because she liked them so much. Did we need to meet 4 different Mickeys? Probably not, but we had a blast each time. Being open to spur of the moment experiences can lead to some of the best and unique memories of your trip. Check out this super sweet moment between Mickey and Minnie we caught toward the end of our Chef Mickey meal.
5. Get out of the stroller
In the hot Florida sun, it can be tempting to keep your little heat generator out of your arms and in their stroller; cooler for everyone. However, we got ours out of her stroller as much as possible when we weren't on the move. This allowed us to have some truly one-of-a-kind moments with characters and cast members.
Having an infant at Disney World certainly isn't unique (they have a whole center dedicated to babies), but they are on the rare side; and everyone loves babies! :D Getting them out of their stroller gets them up to our level and allows interactions not only between characters and cast members, but also between you and your kid. I was fortunate enough to hold our daughter through the Festival of Fantasy Parade and had a blast pointing out the characters and floats. On top of that, the performers were able to come over to us and interact with her as they passed by. It took a really good parade on its own to another level.
6. Dress to impress
The matching t-shirt is a staple at Disney. While planning our first trip with the little one, our excitement and eagerness led us to go all out. Matching shirts for the plane ride down, matching shirts for Animal Kingdom, polka dot bathing suit for the off day, and coordinating outfits for Magic Kingdom. Even I was tempted to think we might be overdoing it. However, I couldn't have been more wrong. People, including cast members, were stopping us throughout the trip commenting on our outfits and dress.
Having a conversation-starting ensemble can be the difference between a friendly good morning wave with a cast member and a day-making interaction. We first experienced the fun of standing out at Disney on our honeymoon. Coming back from Jamaica, we turned a 2 hour layover in Orlando into a two night unexpected stay with a full day at the Magic Kingdom. Our first stop of the day was to the hat shop to get our bride and groom Mickey ears. All day long, cast members and guests were congratulating us and even being serenaded by the greeter at Columbia Harbor House.
Taking the time to stand out is a great way to get a little extra from your day.
What are some of your best tips for tackling Disney World with infants?
- Chris Marshall