Monday, March 12, 2018

DISNEY PART TWO: Disney with a Toddler

Hi, guys. I am still here reflecting on our Disney trip and feeling the post-Disney blues and wishing I lived in Cinderella's castle.

Not only was it my first race post-baby, but it was ATLAS'S FIRST TRIP TO DISNEY!!! I can not even describe how excited I was about this. I am a self-proclaimed Disney nerd. I have always loved Disney movies, but when I moved to Florida and went to Disney for the first time since high school Senior Trip (2006... holy shit), Disney basically took over my brain. We went to Magic Kingdom with Eric's aunt, uncle, and younger cousins at Christmas time, and when I smelled the delicious smell of Main Street USA, rode the rides, and watched the castle light up while eating a gingerbread ice cream sundae, I was completely sucked in to the magic.

Lucky for us, my good friend, Kelly, also started working there around the time that we moved to Florida, and so we have been to all of the Disney parks on numerous occasions with her. AKA we know some backstage tricks that make doing Disney almost stress-free. You would think that going to the Happiest Place on Earth IS stress-free, but man, unless you are prepared, you will be kind of overwhelmed by it all.

Because we knew what to do, a four-night stay with an 18-month-old was not only manageable, but  FUN. So, here are the things I learned from my friends, my own research, and my experiences over the past few years at Disney, with and without a toddler.

1. GO WITH THE FLOW. My number one tip is to make a Plan A and a Plan B. It is good to be prepared, but you never know what might throw a wrench in your plans, especially when traveling with kids. So, be prepared to change gears. And if Plan A and Plan B both fail... well, just go with it. Make the best of your vacation, because getting stressed and being upset is not worth it. It will be fun no matter what.

2. ASK FOR HELP. Disney "castmembers" are there to help you. They know literally everything, and can give you great advice if you need it. And be nice to them, please. They deal with a lot of shit and really just want everyone to have a good time.

3. YOU DON'T NEED TO STAY IN A DISNEY RESORT. If you have the money, definitely do it, because that is fucking awesome. But there are also some AMAZING, AFFORDABLE resorts just as close to the parks as some Disney resorts! We stayed at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek. They have tons of activities for kids if you decide you only want to do a half-day at the parks, and we rented a two-bedroom suite with a common room, kitchen, and laundry room for a very good price. This brings me to my next point:

4. HOTEL SLEEP TIPS. Only you know if your kid will sleep in a hotel room next to you. Mine will not, because he is a sensitive non-sleeping troublemaker. It was amazing to put him to bed and still be able to hang out, have some drinks, and sit on our balcony. If you can swing it price-wise (which is more doable when you stay off premises!) do it. If not, put your kid to bed in the bathroom, bring a noise machine, hang up a sheet to section off their sleep area, whatever. You are not a bad parent for sticking your kid in a bathroom, I promise.

5. PARK SLEEP TIPS. We decided to see if Atlas could nap in his stroller at the park. He has not done this in about 3498579348 months, but we also know that he can make it through a day with no nap and still sleep through the night, even if he wakes up a bit early the following morning. He DID fall asleep in his stroller for about 30 minutes each day. Disney is different than real life and tires kids out like no other. If worse comes to worse, take a break to go back to the hotel and nap your kid. Speaking of leaving the park mid-day...

6. DRIVE YOURSELF. Disney parking is about $20 for the entire day. You can leave and go back. If you are staying off Disney property, most area hotels have a shuttle to and from the park (might cost money, might only be a couple times a day). We found it less stressful to just drive ourselves. That way, we could leave at a moment's notice and not need to worry about waiting for a shuttle or dealing with a screaming, over-tired toddler on the bus. Luckily, we did not end up leaving mid-day, because Atlas did fine with basically no nap!

7. PARKING. Getting in to the parks is an ordeal, but takes much less time if you are prepared. When you park, usually you will take a little tram to the park entrance. Make sure you can hold your bags and fold your stroller easily to get in and out of the tram with no issues. When getting in to Magic Kingdom, you must take the tram to the entrance, then a monorail or ferry into the park. Pro tip: If the line for the monorail is extremely long, hop in the "resort monorail" line right next to it. It will stop at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian first, but if you are way at the back of a crazy line for the direct monorail, this will be quicker, not to mention less crowded. Boom. Win.

8. BABY CARE CENTERS!!!!! BABY CARE CENTERS!!!!! They are in every park, and they are the best. The Animal Kingdom one is phenomenal. There are changing tables, a sitting room with a TV playing movies, and a private nursing room as well. You can also purchase any baby care items you may need (diapers, wipes, etc.). Everyone in there was so nice. There were many nursing and bottle-feeding moms and dads helping each other out. They are also air conditioned, so it's perfect for a short break. We watched Moana for awhile and let Atlas sleep in there. :)

9. COMPANION BATHROOMS. They are big, and most have big changing tables, so moms and dads can go in together with a stroller to change diapers. It is also nice to have privacy and feel like you can take your time to change, use the restroom, and reapply sunscreen (NECESSARY).

10. BRING YOUR STROLLER. You can rent at Disney, but they are hard. Atlas would have never napped in that stroller. Bring a stroller with good storage, good shade, and put a name tag and luggage tag with contact information on it.

11. FOOD. We got a small cooler/lunchbox and packed snacks and things we KNEW Atlas would eat. Toddlers can be fussy eaters, am I right? It was good to be prepared in this sense, as well as save money. It kept cool water for all of us. In addition, you can fill up water for free at quickservice restaurants, so you don't need to use a water fountain or buy bottled water if you don't want to. My favorite quickservice stop is Gaston's Tavern in Magic Kingdom. It wasn't crowded, it was cool inside, the food and LeFou Brew were delicious, and I got to look at Gaston.

12. FASTPASSES. Make them as soon as possible (a month in advance). You can pick three. Make them for early in the day if you can. As soon as you use all three, you can add one more at a time throughout the day. You can use them for rides and meeting characters.


- Magic Kingdom favorites: Winnie the Pooh, It's a Small World, and The Little Mermaid. Dumbo is great and classic, but it does have a play area in the line, so might not be awful to wait with a toddler. Atlas loved the teacups as well, but I know some kids (and parents lollll) won't. Peter Pan would have been great (get a fastpass for that if you can). Pro tip: Do not go on the Magic Carpet ride and lower the carpet so the camel squirts your toddler directly in the face. It will make him cry. Mean Mommy mistake. There is also a splash pad area by Dumbo, which is fun, so bring a towel and change of clothes or bathing suit. Also, get yourself some Dole Whip while you are there. You deserve it.

- Epcot favorites: Spaceship Earth and Finding Nemo. The boat ride in Mexico would have been good as well, and the Frozen ride in Norway (get a fastpass for that if you can). A lot of parents hesitate to bring their kid to Epcot, but I thought it was great. There are splash pads that are usually open and an aquarium with the Nemo ride (air conditioning alert!). Epcot is also a good place to meet characters. Also, the World Showcase is amazing, because there is room to let your kid walk around without freaking out that they will get trampled, and there is GOOD FOOD AND ALCOHOL FOR YOU. Is this a win-win situation or what? The only downside that I saw to Epcot was that it was difficult to find shade. But there are plenty of shops, restaurants, and indoor rides when you want to get out of the sun.

- Animal Kingdom favorites: The Triceratops ride (like Dumbo), the Safari, and all the animal trails! I was pleasantly surprised by Animal Kingdom. It was like a very shaded, very large zoo with rides. Atlas LOVES animals, so he was never fussy or bored, and we barely had to wait in any lines. If you want to see Pandora, DEFINITELY get a fastpass for those rides. We did not this time, but we might try to next time. Also, you can spike your Dole Whip with either dark or coconut rum in this park. Not bad, Disney. Not bad.

14. CHARACTER TIPS. Make sure you get a fastpass to meet any characters you want to meet, especially Mickey and Minnie at some point if you want to do that. If you get to Epcot first thing at park open, you might be able to meet Mickey without waiting more than a few minutes. Sneaky pro tip: In Magic Kingdom, Talking Mickey and Tinkerbelle in the theater by the front of Main Street have virtually NO LINE when the parade comes by. We literally walked right up to Tinkerbelle. The parade starts at 3pm at the back of the park and works its way to the front, so around 3:15pm might be a good time. Talking Mickey in Magic Kingdom is leaving soon, so do that if you want the experience!

15. RIDER SWITCH. If you want to go on the "big" rides, ask the castmember for a rider switch pass. You can go on while your partner watches the kids, and then switch. It is a good way for you both to get to experience something for yourselves!

16. CARRIER AND LEASH. Okay, controversial tip to end the post. If your toddler likes to be worn, I found it very helpful to put him in the carrier in lines or while hopping on and off the parking tram. I also got a wrist leash for him, although I forgot it on this trip (MAJOR FAIL). It would have been extremely helpful for a toddler who is still not great at listening and staying still. I firmly believe in teaching your child to hold your hand and listen, but in crowded public places (Disney, the zoo, etc.) I have found it very helpful to use the wrist leash as a backup. Atlas has since improved in hand-holding and following direction, but I still had the safety net of the leash if he were to escape. Many, many families at Disney do this. And, as with any other parenting decisions, you know what works best for your family. Don't let other people's judgments make you feel bad.

That's it. That's all I got. If you have any questions, feel free to message me, but also you can just Google and you will see about a million more blog posts just like this one. ;)

First ride ever: Triceratops in Animal Kingdom.

Napping in the stroller in the Baby Care Center

Moana! Make way! Make way!

Saw tons of animals up close and personal on the safari

Disney Springs is a good place to go for dinner if you want to escape the craziness of the parks. This was Splitsville. Good food, good beer, and crayons. Can't beat that.

They were gearing up for the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot. I have been there before during it, and it is THE BEST.

He sat so well on rides! This was Figment.

Need shade and a distraction? Wait in line for Spaceship Earth and tell your kid it is a giant golf ball.

This was one of his favorite rides. He LOVED seeing stars everywhere.

There are lots of activities kids will enjoy in the World Showcase. We watched a mariachi band in Mexico, acrobats do CRAZY SHIT in China, and Japan has a drum show!

The leash would have come in handy, but Kelly was a close second.

First monorail ride to Magic Kingdom

He's not afraid of Heffalumps and Woozles

Feeling the wind on his face on Dumbo

LeFou Brew and Gaston

This ruined him. Do not let your kid try LeFou Brew, or they will only want that forever.

The calmest 10 minutes of my life with Atlas awake was on It's a Small World.

A nice, shady overhang by The Little Mermaid, if you need it!

Good thing I like spinning. He wanted to spin more on the teacups!

Got to see some good friends for a bit while we were there!

Mrs. G. was my piano teacher for many years. She is one of the best people I know.

Keep your hotel doors locked if your toddler knows how to open doors...

Oh wait, one last tip: WHEN IN ORLANDO, MAKE A WAWA STOP. This probably should have been my number one tip, yo.

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