Before a few weeks ago, the last time I went to Disneyworld was on Spring Break during my freshman year in college. I rode the rollercoasters, didn’t give a rat’s tail about sun protection in favor of a baked “glow,” and visited a movie theater where I’m sure I complained about someone’s baby crying “too loudly.” My most recent trip couldn’t have been any more different. I spent the extended weekend riding around in the rental car past twilight to get my two-and-a-half year old to sleep each night, carried an umbrella everywhere to battle the sun, and the sound of strangers’ babies crying made my head spin faster than Linda Blair’s to locate the source of the child’s upset.
A few things I learned about spending time in Walt Disney World with a toddler:
The toddler will steal your stuff and play upon your weaknesses. When nap time has come and gone without so much as a flighty acknowledgement by affected parties (even those who’d desperately hoped for the timely induction of rest periods, i.e. mom and dad), toddlers move into a time-space realm of “Everything is mine” and “Nothing is okay.” Surely a dangerous plane of existence for anyone, but in the Happiest Place on Earth? The incongruency is mind-boggling at best and emotionally catastrophic at worst. So make it easy on yourself and just expect to give away your shoes (or whatever else) in order to neutralize the effects of a meltdown.
The toddler will damage the hotel room. Why don’t hotels remove pens and other weapons of mass toddler vandalism from their suites before a family settles in? By the time the bags are put away, the phone cord has been ripped out of the wall, the fresh bed linens have become an aspiring little artist’s canvas, and freshly-regurgitated honeydew melon lays about four feet too far from the trash can. Memories to cherish, of course — but preparing for such things is key to maintaining sanity and possibly budgeting for minor damages to hotel property. The toddler will demand that you follow him. And that’s totally okay, because toddlers know where all the cool stuff is hidden. They’re like pigs sniffing for truffles. You never really know what they’re actively tracking/hunting, but it’s always a worthy adventure. The toddler will go to sleep long after the parks close and will spend half the next day in bed. I mentioned something earlier about driving my toddler to sleep each night to the tune of morning songbirds tweeting a wake-up call for creatures across the land. But I’m still too tired to remember the details. The toddler will not be impressed by the exotic wine flight offered at Epcot. You may not be too impressed either at first. Just give it twenty minutes. (Oh, and the bartender will offer your toddler his own “virgin taste” — water or juice is exotic, right?). The toddler will not be fazed by steep prices in the gift shop. But you saved up in advance for a few tourist trap souvenirs, so you came ready to the face the prospect of whether money can buy (temporary) happiness. The toddler will get thirstier and hungrier than usual, like he just hit some vacation-induced growth spurt in an era of great famine. Be aware that healthy fare doesn’t really exist in the parks, so you’ll need to bring lots of extra snacks (and your own water if you don’t drink from plastic bottles).
The toddler will develop a sudden, extreme sensitivity to sunshine. Save 18 bucks by bringing your own misting fan instead of shelling out for the park’s brand name version — and don’t forget an umbrella. The toddler won’t want to wear anything you packed for him. Still, I recommend matching shirts for your group.
A little a lot cheesy, but it helps you keep an eye on one another in the crowds. Surprisingly, nothing is less happy than a lost child in The Happiest Place on Earth. The parade at Magic Kingdom is totally worth waiting around for. And the dragon… Actually. Breathes. Fire. Also, Disney puts on a world-famous fireworks show. It’s (literally) a blast! “It’s a Small World” may be the best ride for the smallest in your crew. Yeah, you’re on a boat riding down an actual river of lost pennies and dimes, but the water’s no deeper than a garden gnome is tall. Danger is minimal. Around the world in eighteen minutes for the cost of a Magic Kingdom pass? All aboard! Though you can easily find plenty of comfortable childcare spots in Disneyworld, it appears that staff training may be lax when it comes to reinforcing employees’ positive attitudes toward breastfeeding. Check out this screenshot of a Disneyworld employee’s recent reaction to, ah, family stuff (feeding, comforting, and bonding with a child counts). The employee claims to be in training for the role of resident “Fairy Godmother.” The unfairest of Fairies, it seems. For Pete(r Pan)’s sake, a child should be able to do one of the most family-friendly things in the world (breastfeed) without his caregiver subjected to public ostracizing for fulfilling that need. I’m genuinely perplexed that the number one family zone in the world isn’t more thorough with training employees in normal care of children. No big deal, though. Moms of breastfeeding toddlers laugh in the face of danger… Mwhaha! (Lion King reference, see). The photo-ops are waiting to be embraced by the flash of your digital camera — don’t miss them. A vacay to Mickey’s town is kind of a big deal! You won’t regret taking “too many” photos. You will all have more fun if you allow open opportunity for magical adventures (and potty breaks, toddler breakdown breaks, margarita breaks…). Save energy wasted on over-scheduling by refusing to weave a complex web of daily activities. Pick one place to BE per day and one main event you don’t want to miss. Everything else will fall into place.
There’s only so much life-size Minnie Mouse a grown person can take. Do something YOU think is fun, too. Stuck for ideas? Karaoke can be fun and family-friendly, so there you go. On that note: Adults can ride in the kiddie strollers, too! If you can fit, why not? Huddle up, cuddle up, and enjoy the sights in repose. Finally, and most importantly, the kids will have tons of fun, no matter their age — that means you, too! Have you vacationed at a major theme park with a toddler? What other tips would you give?