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A Magical Birthday
How to Enjoy Walt Disney World with Your 1-Year-Old
by Jonathan "the Voice" Dichter
This article appeared in the November 9, 2010 Issue #581 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
On September 30, we began a journey to Walt Disney World with our daughter Elizabeth. We knew from the moment we got on the plane that this was going to be a different kind of trip than any we'd ever been on. But, boy oh boy, did we have NO idea. I want to share some of the highs, lows, and my top 10 tips for traveling with an infant to Walt Disney World.
The best way to do this is going to be just to tell you how the trip went.
After a decent five-hour flight on Alaska Airlines and a smooth Magical Express ride, we checked in at the Polynesian with no issues. Within moments, there was a knock at the door, with our Pack and Play, and the floral items I'd ordered. We unpacked, and really just relaxed into the idea of being at WDW.
Tip 1: Make sure you use your travel planner to advise the resort that you're bringing a baby and get a crib and/or pack-and-play. The DVC rooms even come with high-chairs and pack-and-plays in the room! You might even want to use Goodings grocery order service to have your baby items delivered to you: food, diapers, anything! Less to pack, less luggage to check. Just bring what you need for travel day and maybe a few extras.
Our first morning held some interesting and exciting experiences. We had decided to take the trip slowly and enjoy as many "experiences" as we could, starting with a Supercalifragilistic breakfast at 1900 Park Fare.
Tip 2: Take your child to a Disney Store or a Chuck E. Cheese or somewhere they can see large fluffy characters. Use this to gauge their reactions to characters in the parks. Try this before you make your Advance Dining Reservations (ADR). We didn't. Here's what we learned: Elizabeth is a very happy baby and loved seeing and interacting with people. If you smiled at her and she saw your face and it looked like what she's learned a face is supposed to look like -- for the most part -- she was happy as a clam. On the other hand, if you were a giant yellow bear that came RIGHT up to her -- she was TERRIFIED.
Tip 3: If your child is terrified of characters at meals, warn your server and the characters as they approach. "Goofy, Elizabeth is a little nervous, so can you say hi from there?" or "Come sit with me, so Elizabeth can see you with Daddy, Mickey?" or even consider asking your server to tell the characters to skip your table altogether. Once they were approaching slowly and more gently, Elizabeth seemed to warm a bit.
After breakfast, it was off to the Magic Kingdom to get Elizabeth's first ears!
Tip 4: Tell EVERYONE that you've brought your toddler for her first trip! They LOVE seeing them, and talking to them, and just making your princess feel so special! But DO NOT expect to do rides, rides, rides. We did three or four rides A DAY -- if we were LUCKY -- and rarely together. Expect to slowly stroll, to park the stroller, to see cast members, to spend time with a napping baby, and to just go slowly. Expect to have time to take in everything around you. Expect to enjoy the scenery and more slowly moving attractions. And did I mention go slowly?
Some of Elizabeth's favorite attractions included: The TTA Peoplemover; Carousel of Progress; Prince Charming's Regal Carousel; Dumbo; Spaceship Earth (as long as it wasn't too dark and she could see and hear Mommy); Pirates of the Caribbean (see Spaceship Earth); The Great Movie Ride (as long as the bank wasn't exploding); Seas with Nemo and Friends; Hall of Presidents; Country Bear Jamboree; Kilimanjaro Safari. Are you seeing a pattern?
Tip 5: You must REALLY KNOW your attractions. For instance, Ellen's Energy Adventure -- great place for a nap and some nursing right? WRONG. DEAD WRONG. The big bang (the piggy bank? the ding-dang?) woke her up screaming within three seconds of her nodding off. And you CANNOT exit this ride. So we were stuck with a frightened baby for 37 minutes.
We were very excited about enjoying Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. However, realize that there's not a lot for a baby to do at this party. She can't eat candy yet, and dark gets scary after awhile. Plus it's near bedtime.
Tip 6: Try to keep some semblance of bedtime and naptime schedules. Happy baby. Happy parents. Go back to your resort in the afternoon. Everyone take a nap before dinner. It's not worth a meltdown. In fact, on a bus from Hollywood Studios we witnessed one. A child of about 4 years old was literally wailing in his mothers arms. But the "funny" part was that this meltdown started with the poor child screaming, "Mommy, I just can't TAKE it anymore!" Trust me -- avoid meltdowns. Take breaks. Go slow. Take naps. Did I mention go slow?
But back to the Halloween party. Lowest Point of the party? Discovering that Elizabeth REALLY is afraid of fireworks. So what do you do with a crying baby? One who is just panicked? Or hungry? Or tired? Or wet?
Tip 7: Use the WONDERFUL Baby Care Centers. They are open from 9 a.m. until park closing, and are in the first aid area of EVERY PARK. They are stocked with supplies for sale, have clean changing areas, and quiet nursing rooms. They are QUIET rooms overall, with books, toys and movies -- but you CANNOT hear the outside noise of the parks. And you can stay as long as you need to. The cast members are WONDERFUL.
I can't say enough good stuff about these centers. Use them, know them, love them. Hollywood Studios has the smallest one. Epcot's is out of the way inside the Odyssey building. Animal Kingdom's is HUGE (it's one of the few you can bring your stroller inside). Magic Kingdom is just very warm and friendly. Like I said, I just can't say enough good stuff about these centers. We spent about an hour a day inside them. Nursing, changing, or just taking a break.
We also brought our own stroller, which had lots of room for storage, which made things easy for us... but also it was bulky. A sling or carrier can make touring much easier. Except that ours is BLACK, and would have killed us with heat and humidity. Regardless, we're used to commando touring, and it was really nice getting to sit a little -- and enjoy the parks and people watch -- and watch Elizabeth interacting with her world. Did I mention go slowly?
And when she conked out, I rode Tower of Terror.
Dark rides can be OK, as long as they're not too loud. And as long as you can talk to your baby, or she can KIND of see you, she'll be happy. BUT -- again -- know your attractions, and know your baby. Figment was great. Until the "Imagination is a BLAST!" ka-boom. Then the tears flowed again.
Tip 8: The parent swap (otherwise known as Rider Switch). TOTALLY USEFUL. We only had to use it a few times for long lines on rides we both wanted to do, but trust me -- USE IT. Go to the FastPass guy, tell him/her what you want to do, and one of you hops on, while the other shops. Then meet up after the ride and the shopping parent gets an immediate Fastpass! Combine this with your NORMAL Fastpasses, and you've got a GREAT set of touring shortcuts. In fact, the longest line we waited in was to meet Tinker Bell at Pixie Hollow. And because Tinker Bell and Fawn had big smiles on them, Elizabeth LOVED them!
Tip 9: Princess Storybook Dining in Akershus. NEW FAVORITE BREAKFAST. Hands down. Good food -- a nice Norwegian cold spread -- and GREAT character interaction. Lots of friendly princess time, and a wonderful breakfast. If you haven't tried it, TRY IT. We're going BACK on our next trip -- we've already booked it. Loved it.
Tip 10: In case you didn't already realize this, know that each child is different, and each trip will be different. Just take it easy and let your child explore the World at her own pace --let her make the World her own. And use PhotoPass! A lot! Try out a family portrait session if you haven't yet. We got some great shots at the Polynesian with our photographer.
So, as far as this trip for Elizabeth goes, she was a generally happy-go-lucky toddler for the trip. And she's usually a very happy baby anyhow. But even more so in the parks. So much so that cast members were stopping to admire her -- and she never stopped making friends. Several cast members remarked on her as "The Happiest Baby on Earth" -- which I will proudly claim as her new title.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jonathan "the Voice" Dichter -- the Happiest Daddy on Earth -- is a blogger, podcaster, writer, husband, daddy, and proud DVC owner. For three years he co-hosted the All About the Mouse Disney Podcast as "the Mayhem" to Bryan Ripper's "Magic". He serves on the executive committee for the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet. He has completed three Disney Half Marathons, and will be returning to WDW in January 2011 to complete the WDW Half Marathon. You can read about his race training, weight loss, and charity raising efforts at his blog: http://voiceofmousetunes.blogspot.com -- or email him at Grizzpyre@yahoo.com.
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.