Thursday, March 7, 2013

Disney Travel with a Toddler

A blog post a little off from my normal topics, but I'm feeling informative! :)

We've had a long weekend trip planned to Florida for several months now. So I spent many hours pouring over blogs, reading about the experiences of other moms who took a toddler to Disney World. All this because so many people had told us that The Little One (TLO) was too little for Disney and she wouldn't get anything out of it. I read up on the ideal places to help a child get a nap during the day, things to take to the park, which park was best for a child her age, etc. And here's my conclusion after all my research : there is no right answer for anything! :) Since every child is so different, there is no right or wrong way to plan for your trip. So here's my breakdown of how we did it in the hopes it will help someone else. Since we've traveled quite a bit with TLO I've had a few friends ask me for tips, so I'm going to include those along the way. Hope they help just a little!

First, when packing for the trip, we knew we would be gone 5 days and that should be doable in just 2 checked suitcases. Thanks to my husband's elite status on American Airlines (yay!) we always get to check our suitcases for free, so it wasn't a concern about baggage fees so much as just having too much stuff to be able to handle. I try to keep our luggage as organized as possible to help my sanity level in the trip. This means clothes for me and TLO all go in once suitcase and dad's go in the other, along with my makeup and hair stuff and the extras. We had previously borrowed a carseat bag but decided to bite the bullet and buy our own for future use. We opted for the Britax Travel Bag because of it's size, straps and wheels. We prefer to gate check the car seat so there isn't a question of getting to our destination without a proper seat for TLO and to prevent any damage to her seat if it was checked (have you seen the way luggage is handled???) so the backpack straps and wheels were both major pluses for us. And I even felt like if I was traveling alone with TLO I could still handle the bag plus push her in the stroller. Here's the great thing about a carseat bag, it's like free storage space! I strapped a bag of diapers, blanket and sheet for TLO, her stuffed animals for bedtime and daddy's dress shoes all into the carseat. There's was plenty of room for more, but I would caution to make sure anything you put into a carseat bag is somehow attached to the carseat inside just in case a zipper comes open (or I guess you could fasten the zippers together too, but I didn't want to mess with that.)

The first night we were gone was just to get close to the airport because we live 1 1/2 hours from the airport and we had a 6am flight. Yes, 6am. When you travel on frequent flier miles you learn to be flexible. That night we were just in a regular hotel room, which can always be hairy with TLO. She's so used to sleeping in her own room that if she can see us at night she won't settle down and wakes up frequently. So our morning started at 3am when she woke up and refused to go back to sleep. And since I refuse to let my child be the one who wakes up everyone else around us at 3am, we all got up. And by the time we checked in at the airport, you couldn't tell that she'd had only a few hours of sleep (unlike the way mommy and daddy looked!)

But once we arrived at our resort the short night was forgotten (mostly because we all settled in for naps!) To ensure we ALL got good sleep the next few nights, we took advantage of the enormous bathroom and put TLO's pack n play in there. :) Don't judge. Thankfully the toilet was accessible from the living area and could be closed off from this part of the bathroom or we couldn't have done this. But this bathroom is bigger than her room at home so I didn't feel bad at all! (By the way, I had other people tell me they put the crib in a hotel closet in order to make this work - we do what we've got to do!)

We spent our first day spending time with my aunt and then doing some miscellaneous things around the area and headed to bed early in preparation for our day at Magic Kingdom. Of course the weather turned cool when we were there so if you're traveling in the spring be sure you pack blankets for the kiddos. I saw a lot of unprepared parents spend $$$$$ to buy extra layers for their kids. Also, if you plan to do naptime in a stroller, it's nice to have a blanket to put over their ears for sound muffling and also over the top of the stroller. Thankfully, TLO is usually ok with riding in her stroller. But every once in a while if she had been out of it and we knew she'd need out again soon we opted for Daddy's shoulders. I can't begin to tell you how much I love seeing this!

Sometimes carrying your princess is great...sometimes it's not! 

For us, taking our own stroller was a no-brainer because we wanted it in the airport and for other outings. I also wanted a stroller that I knew TLO would nap in and we would have plenty of storage in. We recently purchased the Graco IPO Stroller upon a recommendation from a friend. So glad we did! It's much more compact than our travel system stroller but still handles great, reclines and has a storage basket. I did purchase an add-on cup holder and stroller organizer. Whether you take your own stroller, arrange one from a rental service or rent one from the park, I highly recommend you do something to it to make it stand out from the mass of strollers. At each ride, restaurant, etc all strollers are left in a holding area and it's much easier if you can spot it easily and not have to go through all the rows. For us, the cup holder helped and we also left one of her blankets wrapped around a bar. Some people had ribbons, name tags, or other identifying features. I was amazed throughout the day that people don't try to "upgrade" and take someone else's stroller or take things out of other strollers, but as my husband pointed out, if you're going to pay the heft ticket price to get in, you can surely afford to not ruin someone else's day!

We did only 2 rides (yeah, I know, but we didn't care!), It's a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean. Both were great for TLO, she clapped, cheered and danced through most of It's a Small World and even "wheeeeee'd" through the small drop during the Pirates ride and had fun watching for the doggies. After lunch we made our way to the Hall of Presidents where a nap began for TLO. We had about a 20 minute wait in the lobby before the show and the quiet chamber music was perfect to set the mood. By the time the show was over we positioned her in the stroller like this and she didn't move for 2 1/2 hours!

My best tips for going to Disney with a toddler? Take disposable bibs, leak-proof cup, cup leash to strap to stroller, small camera (I left my precious DSLR at home to avoid the extra weight/hassle), Tylenol, blankets, a couple of ziplock bags for those "just-in-case" disasters, and change of clothes for your little one. We only visited the baby care center once since the rest of the diaper changes happened in bathrooms, but that place was nice! If you just need a quiet place for your little one to move around on their own, there was a small play area with less stimulation than the rest of the park, a room with high chairs to feeding time, a breast-feeding room, and my favorite the awesome padded changing tables. Go find the baby care center! We also went to the park with no expectations and no set plans. We arrived around 10:00am and left around 5:00pm. That was really the perfect amount of time. TLO was still able to get through dinner without being too weary and crashed hard at bedtime. The key is to leave BEFORE the child is over-tired. Believe me, there were many others on our train out of the park who probably hadn't napped and were way past their limit. Know your child's limits and just make it work. It is not worth ruining a fun day just to get in that one extra ride!

What would I do differently on another trip? That's tough, because we had a GREAT day at Magic Kingdom, but I wish we had gone to Downtown Disney the night before or the night after we went to the park. I also had thought so much about books/toys to keep TLO busy on the plane and make sure she had stuffed animals to sleeps with but totally forgot about things to keep her busy in our condo! Thankfully our condo had a stocked kitchen, which means we had cookie sheets and a cake pan plus some wooden spoons to play with. :) Other than that, the only thing I would change would be my stress level. I was constantly checking to make sure I had everything we needed and it took away a little of my enjoyment. Funny enough though, once we were at the park all my stress went away!

Thank You God for our safe travels. Thank You for the blessing of time as a family away from our normal activities. Thank You for blessing our lives with joy and laughter and relieving my stress when I needed it most! But most of all Lord, thank You for my family! Amen.