Disney World in Florida evokes images of happy, sunny days spent watching the faces of your excited children light up with each beautiful and magical moment.
However, if your kids are like mine, the reality probably involves stroppy, screaming, hot demon like creatures, overstimulated and overtired and determined to turn every “magical” moment into a scene from a horror film.
Speaking from experience, it is possible to make your holiday to Orlando the stuff of dreams and fairytales.
Follow these 10 rules to holidaying with a baby under the age of 6 months from someone’s who been there and got theT-shirt, and with a four year old in tow!
1. Let the baby sleep!
No matter what time your flight is, or what time of day it is, if your baby is tired let them sleep. Try to avoid keeping the baby awake because you’re concerned they won’t sleep later, sleep breeds sleep! The more sleep a baby gets during the day, the better they sleep at night.
It’s so easy for babies and young children to become over stimulated and over tired at Disney, especially if you’re there in the height of their humid summer! So wherever possible, give your child the opportunity to nap frequently throughout the day.
Carrying a baby in a sling or other similar baby carrier will make life so much easier. If you’re staying at a Disney hotel and plan on using the free transportation to or from the parks they insist on you folding up pushchairs before getting on the bus. This meant us having to wake our daughter Elissa (4 months) to get her out of her chair and fold it up, with a massive queue of passengers waiting to board behind us.
It took me until the second week to decide to carry Elissa in the sling and I immediately wished I had done so earlier. I used a stretchy wrap sling called a Cuddlebug I had got from Amazon and loved it. My hands were free, there was no lugging around a pushchair and because she’s very much a Velcro baby and likes being close to me she was as happy as could be, which of course means mummy, daddy and big brother were happy too! If you breastfeed then there’s the added bonus of being able to feed whilst wearing your baby!
Just ensure your baby is not likely to become too hot, make sure he is wearing light clothing and you are too, and depending on the size and weight of your baby get a carrier that supports your back. There’s lots of walking in Disney so you need to ensure you have adequate support for your lower back.
Any seasoned Orlando visitor will know that two weeks is just not enough to get everything done, you’re looking at 3 weeks + to really cover most bases. With very young children two weeks is most definitely not enough time, no matter how hard you try!
Sorry. But it’s true.
We beat ourselves up for months after getting home as the list of things we didn’t get round to doing grew the more we looked back over our holiday. In the end, the things we didn’t do overshadowed the things we did do, and the memories we were lucky enough to make.
Babies and children get really tired at Disney, or any holiday for that matter, and there is only so much you will fit into a day before it becomes too much. Don’t dwell on this. Enjoy the memories you are managing to make, take loads of pictures, and when you’re all in bed at 6pm pooped from a day at the Magic Kingdom, watch your beautiful angels as they sleep, because they’re only little once.
Appreciate all the things you are lucky enough to do, and if your evening plans go out the window, don’t take it personally. To them, they’ve had the most amazing adventures already!
4. Hire a car
You’ll be forever thankful of your decision to hire a car as you walk past the seemingly never ending line of angry tired kids and their worn out parents as they wait for their bus back to the hotel.
Whether you stay on sight or not, hiring a car will save you when you’ve pushed the kids a bit too far in your attempt to get more done.
No waiting, no cramming onto an already over crowded bus and no long journey with multipl hotel stops.
We toiled over the decision to hire a car for a long time leading up to our holiday, and I was swayed when Eliot suggested we hire a Ford Mustang! I really didn’t want to hire a car, until this moment! The idea of driving in another country terrified me, but the prospect of being able to pretend I owned such a beautiful car for two weeks made me forget my fears and we agreed to hire the mustang.
Best. Idea. Ever.
Driving in the States was so much easier than I had anticipated, and in fact I was a more confident and capable driver than I am in the UK! Don’t think twice about it. Just do it, you won’t regret having a car on your Disney holiday whether you’ve driven abroad or not.
5. Use the baby rooms
In every Disney park there is a baby room, equipped with essentials like baby food, bottles, sun cream, drink, swimwear, nappies and much more. They’re cool, calm and spacious with a friendly cast member to help you out if you need it. There’s a room with a big TV playing Disney cartoons with chairs for bigger kids and another room for mum’s and small babies, and they’re beautiful!
If you’re a breastfeeding mum make the most of these wonderful feeding rooms. They’re air conditioned, with loads of changing tables, and separate closed off feeding rooms so you can get some privacy.
In particular the feeding rooms in Animals Kingdom took my breath away. There were private rooms, each with a changing table, rocking chair, plug socket for pumping or charging your phone, and solid lockable doors so you can really lock yourself away from the madness and reconnect with your baby.
These cool silent rooms are perfect for getting your baby to feed when they are easily distracted or too stimulated and upset to feed and with the added bonus of being able to switch the lights off and sit in darkness, I was tempted to stay hidden in there all day.
I became quite excited, after visiting Animal Kingdom’s baby room, to see the facilities the other parks provided. They were all equally beautiful, but Animal Kingdom definitely remained my favourite.
We dressed Elissa up in cute little Disney outfits for all the Disney parks and a very patriotic USA style dress on Thanks Giving Day. The amount of attention we got as a result was crazy!
Characters would approach us, cast members would leave their positions in their street parades, waiters in restaurants would give us free stuff and photographers were eager to go the extra mile in getting that great shot.
She will hate us when she’s older, but she had everyone melting at the mere sight of her frilly frocks!
7. Utilise the baby swap
The baby swap facility saves you the effort of having to stand in huge lines. It definitely has its downsides, you end up doing most rides alone, but avoiding wasting already precious time standing in line definitely makes up for this.
There is also the added advantage of the second rider having a 1 hour window in which to take their turn, rather than having to run off and do the ride as soon as you’re back.
8. If possible, get baby’s first hair cut in The Magic Kingdom
There’s a small barbers not far from the entrance as you walk into Magic Kingdom, you’ll see the red and white barbers pole. It’s a lovely little room where you can have your child’s hair cut or styled and you receive a certificate if you get your child’s first ever hair cut in there.
What an amazing thing to be able to say, ‘my first ever hair cut was in Walt Disney World in Florida!’ If you go during peak visitor times then you can be in for a long wait and there’s no opportunity to book a time slot, you’re expected to wait your turn and there could be 10 other kids before you. So get to the park early using your magic hours entitlement (if you’re staying on site) and get in there before the masses descend. And take photos!
Oops, did I just say that out loud?
If you want to avoid the huge visitor numbers seen in the summer months and in turn avoiding huge wait times, the pushing and shoving regularly experienced during displays and shows and the stifling claustrophobia of the food halls then go during school terms. That includes school terms for the Americans too.
It’s true that there isn’t any time during the year anymore where visitor numbers are extremely low, but there are times when numbers are extremely high, and avoiding these particular times if you’re going with a baby would be a very wise choice.
10. Eat outside of the ‘usual’ meal times
Basically, eat breakfast very early or mid-morning, eat an early lunch or late lunch and eat dinner earlier or later than you are normally used to.
Food courts and restaurants become crazy feeding frenzies at peak times and you’ll find yourself queuing up (yet again) for ages waiting for your food. Fill your hotel room with healthy snacks to keep the kids happy and eat a late breakfast to avoid the stress of searching for a table.
Starting the day off dragging a miserable baby or toddler around the over crowded food court in search of a table, and then expecting them to wait ages whilst mum and dad take it in turns battling through masses of hungry and equally stressed Disney goers is not going to make your life easy.
Share your tips for other readers in the comments section and prevent world war three for another family about to embark on a Disney vacation.