Monday, March 2, 2015

Thoughts on Bringing Babies to Walt Disney World

I am a nervous person.

I try not to let it show, but I am. In fact, it's part of why I ended up experiencing a bout of mild post-partum depression after our son was born - I was nervous to go just about anywhere because he might cry/need to nurse/do anything that wasn't sleeping. It's part of what sometimes makes me a "wet blanket" - I play out the many scenarios of whatever it is and decide it's better to just avoid it rather than risk anything bad happening.

I'm a nervous person.

So when faced with the idea of heading to Walt Disney World with a still-nursing infant and a toddler, complete with their needs for scheduled naps and constant diaper changes - you can imagine that I took some time to pause and really think about whether or not it was a good idea. After talking with some friends of ours that went when their youngest daughter was 9 months old and doing a bit of research, we decided to book the trip.

Yeah, I was still a little nervous.

I did lots of research into what parks were best for toddlers, I bought bathing suits, I did a mental fit of all of our luggage PLUS the double stroller (because like heck I wasn't bringing the portable nap mobile), I way overpacked clothes for the kids and ordered half of a month's worth of diapers to be delivered.

And I was still nervous... and excited. As time passed I became excited for our son who LOVES Mickey Mouse and all the Finding Nemo characters, and continued to stay nervous about our 10-month old daughter who would be just as happy staying home for a week with a cupboard full of pots as she would be going to Walt Disney World.

It turned out that bringing our infant daughter to Disney was a lot more fun and easier than I was anticipating. Here are a few of the reasons why.

1. She was Free. Kids under the age of 3 do not have to pay for admission into the parks nor do they have to pay for a plate at a buffet. As far as the buffet goes - joke was on Disney there, since she eats as much as I do some days - but that's besides the point. At any rate, since it costs about $100 to get into a Walt Disney World park for a day and anywhere from $25-60/person to eat at a buffet - this cost savings was nothing to sneeze at. Incidentally, since Will isn't quite 3 yet this applied to him as well. This made us feel better about Evie not doing much in the parks or eating as much as an older kid because we didn't pay for her - so we clearly got our value.

Meeting the characters is something that our baby girl loved - not all babies will be as willing to check these guys out though, and in fact Evie wasn't at first either. But you never know - so give it a whirl!
2. So Much to See! Babies LOVE bright colors, music, things that light up and blink and move, and new things/places to explore. Everywhere we went was something new to see, and for our little Evie girl who LOVES music there was always a new show to see or music to hear/dance to. Even some of the longer shows like Finding Nemo: The Musical or Festival of the Lion King were great for Evie because there was enough to see and enough that changed that it kept her attention for the majority of the performance. I'll admit that entertainment of the baby and boredom were things I was worried about - and it turned out that this wasn't an issue either.

3. The Amenities. Every single restroom was equipped with a changing table, and for the first time ever we were out in public and Steve didn't mind taking the kids to the men's room for diaper changes. Why? Because he was blown away by the fact that they were immaculate - at least in the changing area (seriously, he's complained to management at restaurants before because their changing area in the men's room was horrendous). As if that wasn't enough - every park has the wonderful accommodations of a Baby Center. These are spots that have a big, clean changing area, a quiet nursing room, a spot where your kids can take a timeout and relax, and a sort of gift-shop full of baby-related items incase you find you have run out (think diapers, formula, changes of clothes, etc.). For me this was amazing because Evie still nurses twice during the day; it gave me a place I could just nurse her without distractions or needing to find a discreet place to whip out the old milkbag and feed the babe.

The Baby Center at Epcot. Clean, well stocked. I was impressed.
4. The Cast Members are There to Help. I cannot say enough about how patient, kind, loving, and understanding the Cast Members were when it came to Evie. The Character Spot at Epcot "technically" doesn't want you to bring your stroller through and will move it to the end of the line for you to pick up. As soon as I told them there was a sleeping baby in the stroller - they had big smiles and let me keep the stroller (as long as they could peek at the sleeping baby first to coo over her). Hyper baby at dinner? Server will bring you an empty cup and lid for her to play with - as well as 15 spoons to replace the ones she will inevitably throw on the floor. Need help getting on or off a ride with the baby in your arms because your spouse is chasing the other one? Cast Members will help you there too. I have always been impressed with Disney's staff, but bringing my kids to "The World" really gave me a deeper appreciation for how willing they are to help.

But... In full disclosure I have to say that there was one thing that was kind of a pain but completely understandable. I mentioned in my post about traveling with little ones that our double stroller was the single most useful tool that I brought with us. Having said that, it also turned out to be our biggest inconvenience. A lot of the places in the parks require that you leave your stroller outside of the building/attraction before entering. It's totally a space thing (and you'll understand that once you see the sea of strollers at various locations throughout the parks), but sometimes I wasn't mentally prepared for needing to unload the kiddos. The Cast Members that oversee the stroller parking, however, have it down to a science. As people leave, they move strollers down to fill the empty spaces and have steel trap memories for where they move them to. They chase down birds that try to take up residence in stroller buckets and make sure that no one is stealing things (like lunches and backpacks) from strollers that aren't theirs.

I had to disrupt a nap on more than one occasion... annoying, but necessary. Learn from me and plan appropriately.
So I guess the stroller thing was really a minor inconvenience and at the end of the day it's not like I wouldn't have brought the stroller even if I knew that. It's just one of those things you need to plan for, just like everything else that comes along with bringing a baby anywhere that's not... well... home.

I'll say this - when we left, I realized how silly I was to be nervous about bringing Evie down to Walt Disney World. It was seriously easier to bring an infant and toddler to Disney for a week - for me - than it was to bring them both to the beach for a day. It turned out to be one of the best experiences we've had so far since we've had the kids, and it made me excited to see how much more they both enjoy about WDW as they grow. If you're hesitant about bringing your little ones, let me reassure you - as our friends reassured us - that it is well worth going when they're little. Let them be little, let them explore, let them wonder, and enjoy watching them take it all in.

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