Disney with Kids FAQ: Packing and Preparing

Even though we’ve been to Disney many times, each time is a little bit different as the kids get older, and that means I’m reworking our packing list each trip. This is not my favorite part of vacationing. However, it’s SO necessary to prepare for a trip like Disney if you want to really be able to relax and enjoy yourself while you are there. So, I’ve created a bit of a question and answer on all the packing questions I’ve googled in the past.

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Will I need a carseat?

We always stay on property at Disney (in a Walt Disney World Resort hotel) which means we always get to take advantage of some Disney extras which are so worth it. Once you’re on Disney property, you can get to all the parks / other resorts via bus, boat or walking so it’s in your best interest to avoid cars if possible if you have young kids that need carseats. The most awesome service offered by Disney is Magical Express. Magical Express is a service for to/from the airport (assuming you are going to/from your resort). Before your trip, Disney sends you some luggage tags which you put on your checked bags. You then check them as normal, but when you get to Orlando, you don’t have to pick them up at luggage claim. Instead you go straight to the Magical Express bus, and take a bus (with your carry-on luggage) from the airport to your hotel. The bus takes longer than a taxi, but the biggest perk with young kids is…NO carseats required. Once you’re ready to leave Disney, you can check your luggage with a skycap at the hotel (and leave it with them). You then hop back on the bus and go through security as normal with your carry-on luggage. You won’t see your checked bags again until you get to your home airport. It’s awesome, and has definitely streamlined our travel.

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What stroller should I bring?

If you have one kid, definitely bring the stroller your kid is most comfortable in and you are most comfortable collapsing. If you are looking for a recommendation, buy a City Mini. I cannot recommend that stroller enough. It is so easy to collapse, and fully reclines, can hold diaper bags, allows kids to nap in the stroller (absolutely necessity in the parks), and has a huge sun shade which is really nice in the Florida sun (especially if you have bald children like we did!). Just needing a stroller for a one-time visit? You can rent from Orlando Stroller Rentals and guess what – they rent the City Mini. In fact, we have the exact same color stroller as the rentals, so we’ve put a luggage tag on the stroller so we can find it in the stroller parking! It’s much cheaper to rent one of these for the week than to rent them in the parks – and the park strollers are definitely a last resort (hard plastic, no sun shade).

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If you have two kids, then it gets trickier, obviously depending on age and temperament. We went a few months ago with our 1 year old (not walking) and 3 year old. We debated for so long on whether to bring the Double Bob stroller or whether to take two separate strollers. In the end we ended up taking the City Mini and we purchased a Maclaren Volo umbrella stroller because we wanted it to last for many years of trips. It was the right decision for us. We decided that collapsing the Double Bob and then hauling it on the bus rides would have been too much for me in any scenario, and definitely too much for one person with both kids. Having the two strollers allowed one parent to take a kid back to the room, or to another ride. Our 3 year old spent most of the time walking, so it was nice to have a super light stroller which we could collapse and put on our back or just push around empty. Since he is potty trained, we didn’t even need the diaper bag on the umbrella stroller. When the kids were tired, we would put the sleepy one in the City Mini and pull down the sunshade for prime naptime.

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Do I need to bring a travel crib?

All the rooms we’ve stayed in have a pack ‘n’ play in the room, which is super easy. But check the room description just in case.

What about a high chair?

Disney is, of course, very kid friendly so nearly every restaurant had high chairs. If we did a “quick service” and there were no high chairs (looking at you EPCOT England Fish ‘n’ Chips), we’d just feed the baby while strapped in the stroller. Not the cleanest option, but it works, and that’s what wipes are for.

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Most of our recent trips have been as part of the Disney Vacation Club so we stay in the villas, and typically with both kids, we’ve chosen a one bedroom so we can close the door when the kids go to bed and continue to chat and watch TV. Those rooms all have a high chair which is very convenient for breakfast in the room and dinner some nights. If you have a young baby, and you aren’t staying in that type of room, you could try this travel high chair. We used it a few times with Nolan and it worked pretty well.

I have dirty kids. Do I really need to pack two changes of clothes for every day? Is there laundry?

In the one bedroom villas, you actually have a washer / dryer in room which is so so awesome. It’s not the best, but it is functional and means we don’t pack as much, as we usually do a round of laundry about midway through the trip (or more frequently if there’s an accident). If you’re in a normal room, I believe there’s always a facility in the hotel that takes coins, so depending on your dedication, you could make use of that. We’ve used it in the past during a kid’s naptime in the room.

Should I bring toys? How will I entertain them in the room?

Other than the toys you bring on the plane, I’d say bring one or two bedtime books and that’s it. We find that our kids aren’t interested in their old toys on vacation, and you’re rarely in the room anyway unless everyone is exhausted. Oh and speaking of sleeping – don’t forget bedtime “friends” and familiar blankets – they can make the transition so much easier! If you are in the room more, there’s this great “toy” called Disney Junior available on the TV. If you are staying in the Villas, there’s always a place you can check out movies (kid-friendly and more PG13) for the DVD player in your room, and usually another lobby-type area with crayons. Nice perk!

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What about diapers and wipes? Water? Milk?

Diapers, wipes, and really any food / drinks at Disney are expensive, but available. Since we typically go for a week, and we stay in a place with a full kitchen, we go grocery shopping on day 1 or 2. We bring enough diapers for a few days, and some packets of oatmeal to get through Day 1 breakfast (nothing worse than having your kid wake up at 5am starving and have no food available). We then go to the grocery store using a borrowed car of a wonderful family member to get milk, water, breakfast food, sandwich stuff, and snacks. However if you didn’t have that luxury, there is a grocery delivery service which is cheaper than the market stores and reasonable on some items. We haven’t tried it, but would definitely consider it if we didn’t have a car (or didn’t want to take the 2-3 hours out of our vacation).

What do you think – did I miss anything? What questions do you have about traveling with young kids to Disney?

– Stassja

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Walt Disney World: Maternity Leave Getaway

Like most people who frequently go to Walt Disney World, I went there as a kid and have many great memories with family and friends. I rode the roller coasters so many years in a row I could tell you all the variations of “Tower of Terror”. Shortly after marrying Mark, I convinced him of the Disney magic and we went with my immediate family as a group of adults. Going to WDW without kids? That’s crazy! But it was awesome, and he was hooked.

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Now, several years later, we go regularly, and I’m sure we will revisit some of our earlier trips with just Nolan to talk about what we enjoyed and what we learned. But today, I want to revisit a trip that was just for “the girls”. It was shortly after Annelise was born, and I was on maternity leave, when my parents casually mentioned…”you know, we’re going in January, you could just come with Annelise and stay”. I declined of course, as any mother of a 4-week old would do. But then, 6 weeks rolled around and I thought it would be good to get out of the house. So I booked a flight, moved up her first immunizations by a few days, and headed to WDW, 2 month old in tow (leaving behind Mark and Nolan).

It was really a win-win situation as  the only real cost was the flight for me, since I was going later in the year with the family so was able to use an annual pass. Not to mention my parents were thrilled to spend more time with the second baby in a closer way that they couldn’t do with my oldest running around. So let’s get into the details…

Flying with a Newborn

Having already gone through flying with a 6 month old, 9 month old, 13 month old and 2 year old – I was surprised at how amazingly easy it was to fly with a 2 month old. I packed one big bag for both of us, which I checked, gate-checked my City Mini stroller and then carried-on a diaper bag, and the baby in my Ergo carrier. One of the biggest perks of WDW – no need to bring carseats!

Weirdly, FAA doesn’t allow you to have the baby “in” the carrier during takeoff and landing, so I just unbuckled the main part but kept it around my waist. I held Annelise and nursed her on takeoff (using my Aden and Anais swaddle blanket as a cover). When she inevitably fell asleep I just buckled her back in the Ergo and had my hands free. I read a magazine, took a nap…wonderful.

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Disney World with a Newborn

  • Sleep: We are members of the Disney Vacation Club so we were in a studio which has amenities like a mini-refrigerator and a sink so I could wash bottles. They also have a pack-n-play which I used for Annelise. We had four of us in the room and it was cozy but just fine.
  • Feeding: I was nearing my back-to-work date so I was actually in the process of weaning Annelise, so I had a mix of nursing and formula. I’d say the nursing was actually easier most of the time – I usually could plan enough to be either in the room or near a Care Center when she needed to eat, and if not I had a formula bottle ready, though sometimes I’d need to head to a quiet place anyway to get her to take it.
  • Diapering: I read up on some of the “things to do” before going, but what I was most impressed by were the Care Centers in all the parks. Somehow, with Nolan, we never went to these, but now that I know they are there, we always prefer to go there for bathroom breaks. They have toddler size potties, changing tables, high chairs, eating tables, nursing rooms. So great. For in the room, I purchased some disposable diaper bags before going and they were a lifesaver to prevent the room from smelling like baby diapers (newborns use a LOT of diapers).
  • Carriers v. Strollers: Because the City Mini is so easy to use and I had help, I brought the stroller with me most of the time and I would switch between the Ergo and the stroller. Annelise preferred to snuggle up with me when she was napping, but was ok to cruise around in the stroller when she was awake – or when family wanted to play with her while I rode roller coasters. 🙂 Because she was sleeping or just “watching” most of the time, she was just toted around with the adults, which worked out pretty well.

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Some things certainly didn’t change on vacation like the regular wake-up calls at night, or the need to settle into an evening “calm” before bedtime. However, it was a really nice and relaxing time away for me, and really gave Annelise some extra attention before going back to the craziness of regular life. She certainly won’t remember meeting Mickey Mouse but I will remember it as our first “girls trip”.

Anyone else planning an adventure with a newborn? You should, trust me, it only gets harder!

– Stassja

Walt Disney World: Epcot sip n’ stroller

We typically don’t have drinks at home while our kids are awake. I just find that staying on top of your babies and toddlers doesn’t mix well with relaxing with a beer or cocktail. I associate that first drink with not having to be responsible for awhile, and when the cocktail world and diaper world mix it creates stress. So I try to avoid it. But I make an exception for Epcot.

We are heading to Disney World in a few weeks. This will be my 5th week-long trip to Disney in 4 years, after spending 3 days there total in my first 35 years. I guess I’ve been making up for lost time.

My wife’s family took me on my first real Disney trip. It was hardcore for the first 5 days. There was a system. We would be on the first bus. Fastpasses would be had. Rides would be ridden. As I was sprinting through Epcot in my donald duck t-shirt to get Soarin fastpasses at 8am I wondered if it was OK to do that as a 35 year old man with no children. The answer was absolutely yes.

In the evenings, eating and drinking was tackled with just as much enthusiasm. Magic Kingdom was (and for the most part still is) dry. Animal Kingdom closed early. Hollywood Studios was a morning thing for us. But our hotel was a short walk to Epcot, and it was on this trip that I came to see Epcot as the world’s premier sip and stroll (aka bar crawl) destination. The rides and entertainment in the World Showcase were a little old fashioned and not exactly thrilling, but combine them with wines and beers from around the world and it’s awesome – a happy state of calm adult entertainment.

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Guinness at Rose and Crown

Now that we have kids we can’t have the same experience, but the kids do like the rides (Donald Duck boat ride!), and we end up eating in Epcot a lot since we stay nearby, so about once a trip we recreate the adult experience and have a few drinks with the kids as we stroll around Epcot. Here is our guide to drinking at Epcot while still being a good parent and enjoying your kids.

Prepare

  • Pick the right stroller. This is all about cupholders. Make sure you clear out two nice, deep cupholders without any junk in them. Matchbox cars, cell phones, chapsticks, and random cracker wrappers all need to go somewhere else. Adjust any hanging diaper bags so there is plenty of room for a full 16 ounce cup in each cupholder, and make whatever adjustments are necessary to make sure cups sit perpendicular to the ground. You should test this in both “upright” and “full recline” mode.
  • Start later and make the early part of the day about the kids. You will not enjoy adult time if you’re thinking all you’ve done as a parent all day is wheel the kids around while they’re strapped in a stroller. The night will be more fun if you’ve run around Fantasyland all morning and spent the afternoon in the pool with the kids as they do their best to drown themselves for three hours. I’m not saying you want cranky babies, but it will be nice for them to relax and people watch if they’ve already had a full day, and nice for you if you don’t feel guilty that they’re missing out on Mickey while you’re drinking wine in France.     
  • Be extra prepared. If you’re in Disney then you should always be prepared anyway – diaper bags, snacks, sunscreen, etc. This is not the night you want to forget something. Again, stress and drinks don’t go well together.
  • Feed the kids something before you start. This is another big stress reducer. You can always buy snacks and fun stuff along the way, but don’t put yourself in a corner by having hungry children. For that matter, you might want to down a PB&J yourself before walking out the door. It won’t hurt.
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Drums in Africa

Getting started

This itinerary assumes you’re staying over by the Boardwalk.  If you’re coming in/out the main entrance by the monorail then you may have to juggle some things, but I think you’ll get the point.

  • England. I’m thinking it’s about 5 or so, maybe an hour before sunset.  Start with a base of fish and chips outside the Rose and Crown and grab a nice Harp or Guinness to go with it. The kids will enjoy some fries. If you don’t want to eat, just stop inside the bar for a “to-go” beer.  Order a Carl’s Combo (and say hi to Carl, the bartender), and carry it over to see the British Invasion. Without fail our children go nuts for this band. Always a highlight of the trip. One set lasts about 20 minutes, or long enough to enjoy that to-go beer.
  • France. There is a “wine shop” in France that sells to-go wines. You can even do a tasting. One of you can stop in there and grab two pours while the other finds a spot with the kids around the back of France on the other side of the “arcade”. This is a good time to mention that there’s a reason the Beaujolais Nouveau is cheap…it’s “new” and it tastes bad.

With any luck you’ll catch some street performers outside of France or Italy as you continue your stroll. The women who play the drums in Japan are usually a big hit with our kids.  Slowly enjoy your wine as the kids watch. Let them be your guide.  At this point you’ll be feeling the drinks and will be in no rush. Grab a water from the bottom of the stroller, then on to…

  • Germany and America. These are about beer. Germany obviously has good German beer, and America now has good craft beer. But you’re with the kids so you have to choose. Will you follow the Reinhotsgebot and grab a half-liter of Pilsner? Or will it be some intense dark hoppy brew from America? If Germany then take the kids to the caramel shop for a treat, then walk out to see the model trains while they eat and you enjoy the beer. If America then hope that something is going on in the outdoor theatre because the “American Adventure” is probably going to end in a temper tantrum for anyone under 60.  Plus you can’t bring your drinks inside.
  • Africa. Good luck getting past here without your kids playing the bongos for 45 minutes. It’s a modern pied piper. Quite likely this visit will end in tears as you pull them away but don’t worry, here comes…
  • Mexico.  Used to be there was a cool boat ride at Norway as well, but that’s been torn down and a new “Frozen” ride is going in and my guess is the lines for that will be scary long.  Don’t worry – the Three Caballeros are still in Mexico and perfect for all ages. There is also a Tequila bar in Mexico and margarita stands outside. You may be tempted but I’d say relax on the boat ride and see how you’re feeling before jumping into the Tequila.

Rides

Now is the time when you can take a break from the world showcase for some rides. Grab a to-go drink from Mexico if you need it and cross the bridge to Future World.  This is where the kids get to do rides and have fun and you get to tag along. Obviously Soarin’ and Test Track are the two best rides over here but now is the time to make the most of the few drinks you’ve had and go for some short and sweet rides that don’t tax your brain too much like…

  • Nemo. This is great for little kids and good entertainment at this point in the evening.  Rarely a line.
  • Imagination. Ditto.  Really good fun with the kids after a couple of drinks.  If you ride it at 10am then you probably wouldn’t find it nearly as amusing.
  • Spaceship Earth. If your kids will sit through this then it’s a great time to catch a snooze.  You might need it at this point.
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Off Kilter in Canada…hired away by Universal – Disney’s loss

Bringing it home
If all has gone well at this point then it’s getting close to fireworks time and the children’s eyelids are getting very heavy.   Hopefully they are blissfully strapped into the stroller at this point and starting to doze.  Walk back over to the worlds and check out…

  • Canada. This has become one of the best beer worlds in Epcot.  Not only do they have old favorites Labatts and Moosehead, but you can get the whole family of Fin du Monde beers as well. This is a good stop for your final beer that you’ll nurse through the fireworks. They also have popcorn that you’ll have to buy if anyone is awake.
  • Fireworks.  Our kids have never made it this far.  It’s 9pm and we’re usually walking out of the park with two sleeping monkeys as the fireworks start going off, but in theory this is the capstone event of the evening.  The drinks you’ve enjoyed help make the Illuminations show as good as any light show you’ve seen (have done it without kids), and the fireworks themselves are top-notch.  Hopefully this year at least one of the kids will be up to watch with us.
  • Head home. This is where staying near Epcot is awesome.  Otherwise the challenge is to get home without kids waking up and buzzes turning to headaches. Hopefully you know yourself and haven’t overdone the drinking. If you’ve done it right then you’ll have no problem getting to sleep before 10 and getting up bright and early to tackle the next day.

I hope this helps those with youngsters find a way to get out and enjoy Epcot as an adult.  Been there? Let’s hear your tips and tricks to balance adult time with kid time…

– Mark