In this third and final post about Disney World, I wanted to write a little more about visiting Disney with a baby. It was something that I was concerned about ahead of time and something that we’ve gotten a lot of questions about. I was concerned that it would be difficult to both meet his needs well and let the older kids fully experience everything. I worried that we wouldn’t have the energy we needed for such an intense week when we had a baby who wakes us up a few times at night. I wondered how we would ride rides and feared that one of us would be left sitting on a bench most of the day.
The most common questions we’re asked have to do with dealing with a stroller and/or carrier, and riding rides. So let’s start there.
Stroller vs. Carrier
As we mentioned in our recent post about our favorite things, we love our stroller and we have a “soft lift” insert for it that we brought from Sweden. I won’t repeat everything I wrote there but we were definitely happy to have this combo at Disney World.
Strollers are everywhere in the Disney parks, except where they’re not allowed. Which is a lot of places: in line, on rides, in buildings, and on buses (where they have to be folded up) to name a few. When you’re going any of these places, strollers should be left in designated stroller parking areas. If you choose to leave it somewhere else, a cast member (all Disney World employees are called cast members) will move it to a parking area and you will begin a not-so-fun game of Find the Stroller. I watched this happen to someone who did not respond well. But stroller parking areas are not hard to find, and they are impressive. With this many people parking and retrieving strollers, the potential for chaos is pretty great. Enter the stroller parking attendants. These are people whose job it is to organize strollers into orderly rows within the parking area. Some will even park it for you, like stroller valet parking. Imagine putting that on your business card. But they are among the unsung heroes of Disney, because without them there would be stroller chaos everywhere, blocking walkways and ruining everyone’s day. There are just that many strollers.
But because of all the places where the strollers are not, a good carrier is pretty important, especially for babies too young to walk. We prefer a wrap-style carrier but anything that helps you carry your baby safely and comfortably will work great. When I think about how much of each day was spent in line, on rides, in buildings and on buses, I get a cramp in my arms just thinking about holding him that much without a carrier.
The trick was to consider where he would be when he fell asleep so we wouldn’t have to wake him to switch from stroller to carrier or vice versa. The carrier was generally a safe choice, since we could go almost anywhere with him in it, but since we were on our feet all day and doing a lot of walking, it was important to take breaks from carrying him. The wrap is also nice and cozy warm for both of us, but that can be a problem in the Florida sun. We also didn’t want to have him in the carrier when we were using Rider Switch (see below).
I’m probably making it sound more complicated than it was. It just took a little bit of extra thought. But the simple answer to the question of stroller vs. carrier is that we were really glad to have both.
The majority of the rides in Disney parks do not have a specific height requirement. It honestly surprised me just how many of the rides we were able to ride together as a family. Most attractions are theme-driven and not thrill-driven, and we appreciated not having to split up too much. My fears about sitting on a bench all day turned out to be unfounded.
For rides with a height requirement there is the Rider Switch system. One parent rides with whoever is tall enough while the other parent waits with the younger one(s). You get a Rider Switch card which is equivalent to a Fast Pass card, so that the parents can switch roles without the whole family waiting in line twice. Since the attractions with height restrictions are typically also those with long wait times, this makes it reasonable for both parents to have a chance to ride with the older (or at least taller) children.
When I read about Rider Switch in advance, one website said that the whole family would have to wait in line to be able to use it. This turned out not to be true in our experience. In fact, we were not permitted to take Micah into a line for a ride he wasn’t allowed to board. Sometimes the Rider Switch cards were given to us by the attendant at the entrance to the line, and other times this attendant gave us a plastic tag that was turned in to the ride attendant who gave us the cards in return. Either way, the parent who was waiting with the baby was free to walk around, sit on a bench, or use a snack credit at Starbucks (purely hypothetically of course!)
Since it wasn’t something we needed to use that frequently, it turned out that none of us minded occasionally riding separately. Sometimes it was nice to rest on a bench for a little while. When we timed it well, the older kids had something to do while Micah was eating, rather than impatiently waiting for the next thing. And they weren’t the least bit sad to get to ride twice! In some cases, they were wishing that Micah would be too small for a ride, just so that they could Rider Switch and get to go again.
Sometimes it feels like the people at Disney have truly thought of everything. The Rider Switch program is one of the ways that they see and meet the needs of their many guests who come with small children. High-five Disney!
Baby Care Centers
Micah was 5 months old during our Disney World vacation. His needs were pretty basic… naps, diaper changes, and food pretty much covered it. He loves being carried in the wrap and napped happily both there and in the stroller. All of the rest rooms have changing tables and we kept our bag stocked with diapers and wipes, just like we always would. I nursed him anywhere there was a bench in the shade, but I’m also not very shy. For those who prefer not to breastfeed in public, there are baby care stations in every park.
Baby care centers are another thing that Disney does well, although I would happily accept a little less luxury if there could be more than one in each park, spaced for easier access. The one in Animal Kingdom was my favorite – somewhat centrally located and with small private nursing rooms that had a rocking chair and changing table in each. I used it twice because it was so hard to find a place to sit in the shade. The one at Epcot Center had a larger nursing room with rocking chairs around the perimeter, facing the walls for privacy. Sharing a room doesn’t bother me, except that I happened to be sharing with someone who was using an electric breast pump and the sounds it made were very distracting for Micah. We went to the one at Epcot because it was raining and sitting outside was less convenient than walking across the park. Both places had an older sibling room with toys, coloring books and TVs to keep them entertained while waiting. At times, it was a much needed pause for everyone and it turned out that meeting Micah’s needs didn’t rob them of any experiences, but actually helped us meet their needs too.
Baby care stations also have resources for warming bottles or baby food and have plenty of extra supplies available for purchase if you forget something or run out. We were never in the ones at Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, since they were always too far away when we happened to need one, but I imagine they’re all similar.
In the end, despite all my questions and concerns, it worked really well having a baby with us at Disney World! In fact, Disney World might be one of the most baby-friendly vacation destinations there is!
Anyone else brave enough to take a baby to Disney World? Were your experiences also positive? What tips would you add that I might have missed?
If you’re planning a Disney vacation with a baby and have questions we didn’t answer here, just leave them in a comment! We’re happy to share our experience if it helps!
Posted in Explore and tagged babies at Disney World, Baby Care Center, Disney baby, Disney family vacation, Disney World, Rider Switch, stroller parking by Christine with no comments yet.