So I did a thing…
I’ve been a content “Disney adult” for a solid two decades. With the exception of a delightful family trip that included my 4-year-old niece, my experience with Disney parks has largely been enjoyed through the lens of a married-with-no-kids fan of the Most Magical Place on Earth.
Well, I went and had a baby…
Those who follow us pretty regularly probably caught hints this was coming when I wrote about 10 Things No One Tells You About Doing Disney Pregnant, but I’m happy to report our little one successfully made her entrance into the world late last year despite quite the storm of challenges—quite literally as she was, in fact, born in a hurricane. She’s living proof of miracles, both a rainbow baby and mighty little overcomer who survived multiple near grazes with death and peril through her earliest days, including a turbulent birth, major surgery, and multiple very-scary diagnoses. I’m happy to report she went from being the baby with the worst prospects in two NICUs to becoming a thriving, healthy little warrior who charms just about everyone we meet. We have many fond names for her, but for the sake of this article, we’ll call her Baby Bug.
Despite my love for Disney parks (and the stubborn determination to not let my annual pass lapse), I hadn’t planned on taking Baby Bug to Walt Disney World any time soon. We’re still getting the hang of parenthood, and I didn’t want to rush her into an environment that might be too stressful or where she might get sick in her earliest months.
Well, something unexpected happened recently, and I wound up with a surprise opportunity to introduce our little one to the Most Magical Place on Earth for the first time. Specifically, I found myself in Orlando with an afternoon to burn and two dear friends inviting me to join them on a mini-excursion to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The circumstances were ideal to test something I’ve long wondered…
What is it actually like trying to bring a baby to Walt Disney World?
My opinion regarding this subject has certainly softened over the years. When I first moved to Florida (and started writing for Theme Park Tourist), I landed firmly in the “don’t-do-it” category. I once experienced some rather spectacular controversy when I took too black and white an approach to the matter. Since then, I’ve listened, and this is an area where our reader-base actually changed my mind. While I do still hold there are some important situations where you should not bring a baby to Walt Disney World (more on those later), if baby is healthy and the family is very flexible, it’s not an impossible feat.
I knew I was treading into uncharted territory from the moment I pulled into the parking lot. These are the top ten things I found that took me by surprise…
1. You’re going to need A LOT of extra time
I always knew taking care of a baby was a huge job, but if you don’t have kids, it’s hard to describe the staggering amount of time it takes to get a baby just about anywhere—or indeed, just to keep them fed, changed, and happy. We’re talking hours upon hours in the best of cases, particularly since babies need to eat anywhere between 6 and 12 times a day depending on their age. The amount of time can easily stack up to the equivalent of a full-time job or more.
Much of the time spent caring for a baby is governed by a sort of feeding loop—the 2-4 hour inescapable cycle of changings and care that takes place from one feed to the next. While some parents may have this flow down to a science, it’s a source of struggle for many, particularly if baby has any feeding complications like latch issues, frequent dozing, reflux, or if mom struggles with over or under-supply or need to keep a pumping schedule. In our case, the feeding loop has proven particularly time consuming as we’ve been fighting for Baby Bug to be able to nurse regularly since her tumultuous NICU visit. We’re current in a season of nursing, followed by topping off with a bottle, followed by pumping. Baby is worth it, but fast, the process is not.
My point is when it comes to bringing a baby to Walt Disney World, you’re going to need an abundance of time and flexibility.
While I had been prepared for a visit to Orlando (our car is something of a mobile nursery as we travel to the city often), I had not originally planned on venturing into the Most Magical Place on Earth. Just getting organized enough to get into the parks took an astonishing amount of time—assembling her stroller, condensing stuff for baby’s bag, getting baby in the stroller, getting past security... By the time I entered the park, I’d circled through the feeding loop and it was already time to change and feed her again, meaning about an hour detour to the Baby Care Center.
You’re going to need to take feedings and changings into account if you plan to bring baby along for a Disney day, which will mean some pretty significant stops in the midst of your exploration. Some bottle-fed or very-efficient breastfed babies might be a bit more portable or low maintenance, but the majority of moms are likely going to experience a large amount of downtime to devote to baby care. This may mean planning regular points where you step away from your traveling party or possibly planning your itinerary around baby’s typical schedule (if they have one, which many don’t).
2. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat…”
I’ve made it a point during my years visiting Walt Disney World to travel as light as possible. I usually only need a small messenger bag for any given Disney visit, maybe with the addition of a few cool pouches if I was dressed up to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Not such a feasible strategy with a baby…
If you’ve ever wondered why so many parents drive veritable tanks of strollers through Walt Disney World, it's because of this issue—it takes a staggering amount of stuff to take a baby anywhere. Diapers, feeding supplies, formula or breast milk, a pump in many cases, and that’s not even considering travel specifics like a sunhat, sunshade, nursing cover, spare clothes, a few toys—makes you wish Mary Poppins’ time/space bending hat bag were available for rental.
I tend to fall into the category of over-preparing when traveling anywhere with Baby Bug—this might be a side effect of being a new parent or just a personality quirk. Our diaper bag is basically a military ruck customized for baby care (shout out to Tactical Baby Gear), and even that felt insufficient to carry everything I thought we might need. Other items ended up in our stroller (a modestly sized Colugo Compact), but you can’t rely on stroller storage too much—despite etiquette, it’s not wise to leave anything you’d be sad to lose in a parked stroller at Disney parks.
I may have over-packed for our Disney day, but it honestly wasn’t by much. There were a few odd items I probably could have condensed or left behind, but others proved very useful, such as keeping my woven baby wrap and ring sling on hand.
My best advice is to condense what you can. Think like a backpacker and look for ways to reduce the amount you need to carry. Many diaper bag staples come in travel size versions, leaving more room for items that you can’t do much about in size like diapers and bottles. Some nursing moms may be able to pack the lightest, while those who pump, bottle feed, or combo feed will likely need a number of extra accoutrements to match baby’s needs. In particular, don’t forget spare clothes in the event of a diaper blowout.
By the way, regarding all that stuff…