As a previously childless millennial who took full advantage of sleeping in in Disney World, followed by walking 15+ miles per day through the parks and staying out for whatever late Extra Magic Hours were offered on a given day, it was a hard no from me when my mom invited me, my fiance (what the hell do i call him, seriously? we are in some weird sort of cancelled wedding but still together limbo here), and our 15 month old son (for those who didn’t read the About JDB page, we will henceforth be calling him Copper) along on her November 2018 trip to the Boardwalk. My family’s WDW mantra for as long as I can remember was that we hate strollers, we hate people pushing strollers, we hate crying kids, we hate people with big bags waiting in line to get in the park, and we hate kids who poop in the pools and ruin things for everyone. Why would someone bring a tiny human to the most magical place on earth? What rides can they even go on?! Don’t they make it hard to weave in and out of the crowd and rush over to ride Splash Mountain just as a parade starts so you get a cool view with no wait? Don’t even get me started on infants on airplanes. Speaking as the old me: when I see moms with crying babies on airplanes I feel two things : 1. annoyance and 2. pity for that poor poor mom who must have been forced into that suffering by some sort of family emergency that required urgent air travel. Then as a new mom I was thinking of all of the other challenging logistics: can kids travel throughout Disney without a car seat? What stroller do we bring that can handle all those Disney park miles and also potentially accommodate naps, yet fold up small enough to be convenient to carry onto a bus several times per day? How do you possibly get a cranky kid to sleep in a hotel room? Speaking of sleep…. if you have a cranky kid who needs to go to sleep by maybe 8pm at the latest, when do you get to see any fireworks or night time entertainment? No late nights in the park? The horror.
So yes, I did the unthinkable, and politely declined my mom’s invitation for a free Disney hotel room for 5 nights.
Declining a WDW trip didn’t sit well with me though. I was thinking to myself, well if we can’t go now, when will we go? What if I get pregnant again? The only thing that sounds worse than Disney with an infant/toddler is Disney pregnant. When will we ever not have infants/toddlers (yea, before this wedding cancelling debacle, we planned to have a lot of kids)? Are we just going to avoid Disney for YEARS?! No way. So I reconsidered and said sure, if you insist, we will use some DVC points to stay in a Boardwalk one-bedroom villa for 5 nights and see how it goes. After all, he was still under 2 and able to fly for free on our laps, and required no park pass in Disney since he was under 3. So we decided to take the leap and book our travel arrangements for 5 nights in Disney World with a 15 month old boy. My thoughts at the time were : Dear lord, pray for us! Then this is what happened:
We prepared for our trip by ordering an umbrella stroller off Amazon with good reviews for durability and collapsed size. We went with this one: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01B4ND6IY/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_image?ie=UTF8&psc=1
We also ordered a “Gate Check” bag for his car seat, since airlines allow you to check strollers and car seats for free, or even bring the car seat onboard, but we ultimately decided against bringing the car seat. We don’t rent a car in Disney, and he flew as a lap child so there was no real reason to lug a car seat around, although I respect those who keep their kids in car seats on planes for safety reasons.
I then went about booking our dining and fastpasses at the designated advance dates (180 days prior to the start of your trip for dining and 60 days prior for fastpasses). This was a puzzle for me (a fun one). Typically I draw out a calendar for our trip, make note of the park hours each day (whichever park has extra magic hours in the morning might indicate that we should avoid that park that day, while late extra magic hours would indicate a park that we would have dinner in and then stay late going on the rides), list our must-do dinner reservations, start allocating the dinners to the different days, then figure out which park we should get fastpasses for on each day, make a note of which rides are the priority fastpasses in each park, and then book the fastpasses for each day (starting at the end of the trip). That system has worked quite well for years now, but Copper threw a wrench in the system. First of all, he wasn’t really dinner-reservation-friendly, I would say. At that point he had had only ever eaten in diners or other quick-service type restaurants, so a long drawn out sit down meal seemed like a bad idea. Disney can run behind too and god forbid we are waiting around to be seated with a hangry little man. He is always in a good mood for breakfast though, so my genius idea was to book breakfast reservations throughout the week and just play it by ear for dinner, either grabbing quick service meals in the parks or microwaving some baby meals in the room. We booked breakfast at the Plaza in MK, Crystal Palace in MK, Bon Voyage at the Boardwalk, and a brunch at Chef Mickeys at the Contemporary. In retrospect, this was all a foolish plan. Even with Copper being free at buffets, those character breakfasts set us back $50 per person, so we were spending $100 on breakfast each day, when I’m not a huge breakfast person, Copper eats about 5 bites of eggs, and DF (we will call him dear fiance, sure why not) might eat a mountain at breakfast, but will still be hungry for a mountain of food again by midday. As far as the restaurants themselves, I’ll get into which ones were good vs great experiences below.
So once dining was booked, I began plotting our park days and what rides we would get fastpasses for. My typical fastpasses pre baby for each park were the following:
MK: Seven Dwarfs, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain (with Big Thunder, Pirates, and Haunted Mansion as alternates)
AK: Safari, Everest, Dinosaur (now obviously Flight of Passage would take the ultimate priority, and Navi River would be in the mix as well)
HS: Tower of Terror, Aerosmith, Toy Story Mania
Epcot: Soarin, Maelstrom (rip), and ? (I don’t fastpass Test Track since the single rider line is quite efficient)
So now with a tiny person in tow, I had to reassess just about every single ride listed above. I did some research and wrote down every ride I thought he would love. I was convinced that it was a bad idea to be trapped on any ride too long with no way out, particularly any ride that was too dark, so I completely wrote off Haunted Mansion, Pirates, and even Imagination. I ultimately chose to fastpass the following:
MK: Day 1: Dumbo, Aladdin, Small World (stupid – no need for a fastpass for this one on our trip). Day 2: Aladdin, Pirates (just in case), and Jungle Cruise (couldn’t get a peter pan fastpass to save my life)
AK: Safari, Navi River, Lion King show (we did a second AK day with a Safari fast pass and Everest and Dinosaur for rider swap – no luck getting FOP)
HS: We actually didn’t “waste” a day on HS fastpasses since there were none that were Copper-appropriate in my opinion at the time
Epcot: Same as HS – wanted to save our fastpasses for MK and AK – looking back I might have done this differently, although it did work out fine for us
So yea, the whole urgency to booking fastpasses at 60 days was lost a little bit since I wasn’t going after any of the real headliner rides, but it still is just so fun to book everything and schedule it all out, especially knowing that every ride we can get a fastpass for is one less ride to stand in line with a potentially cranky little boy (in my head I really made this kid out to be a demon child for some reason, when in fact he is quite angelic, I assure you, but I just assumed Disney would bring out the worst in him for some reason).
So now we were all set. Now onto the real trip. We each brought our carry-on wheely bags, plus we each had a personal item (back packs), and I had a diaper bag. People travelling with kids under 2 get extra allowances for carry ons. You are allowed to bring your own carry on and personal item, plus a stroller that gets checked at the gate, and a diaper bag. With that luggage we were able to pack sufficient clothes for the three of us, warm clothes for Copper just in case, including a jacket, a sheet for the pack n play, a blanket, some toys, some bedtime books, some baby meals, a few snacks, the ipad, our laptops (for whatever reason, we think we can’t travel without them), etc, etc, etc. Fortunately DVC villas have washer/dryers so I am never too stressed about not having enough clothes packed. Although I was pretty stressed about ensuring I had Copper’s monitor, noise machine, and everything else that makes his sleeping arrangements comparable to at home.
Note/suggestion for families travelling with infants/toddlers: we did not pack diapers or wipes (beyond what was needed for a day of travel). I ordered a box of diapers and a couple packs of wipes on Amazon and had them delivered to our hotel the day of our arrival. I think I could have even had them delivered the day prior. The resorts charge a handling fee for accepting deliveries for guests if they have to bring them up to your room for you, but there is no fee if they just hold them at bell services for you and you pick them up yourself. This saved us luggage space and probably saved us from needing to check a bag.
OK, so now for the main point!! Why was it the best week of my life?!?? I kid you not, from the second we got on the damn shuttle to the airport in Newark, NJ (we parked off site, because ….$$), my kiddo’s eyes were SO wide with amazement. He had never been in a vehicle without a car seat. He was like WHAT THE HELL IS THIS!!! He wasn’t as impressed by the plane, since it is so closed in, and he mostly just breastfed and napped for the first hour, and then we occupied him with snacks for the remainder of the flight. He was back to pure amazement on the Magical Express though. Then his mind was entirely blown by Grandma and Grandpa being at the hotel when we arrived. From there on out, everything was pure amazement and joy. I’m not even trying to be cheesy. Sure, he had some cranky moments. He hit me in the face at breakfast at the Plaza. He honestly wasn’t thrilled with any of the breakfasts I planned. He was too excited to sit still in a high chair and wait for food to be brought out. He wanted to see EVERYTHING. So my breakfast plan was a bust. If I could do it again, I probably would skip dining reservations altogether with a kid that age, except maybe one reservation for lunch at Chef Mickey’s or Cape May Cafe one day, because those buffets and character interactions are phenomenal.
Some of the highlights that caused the most wide-eyed amazement:
-Riding that damn buses/boats/monorail. We spend money on a million things and he just wants the free stuff. Oy.
-He was oddly well behaved/chilled out during the Carousel of Progress. That one made me nervous since we were pretty trapped in there and he went into it asleep. I was terrified when he woke up almost immediately, but he didn’t make a peep the whole time.
-The Carousel!!!! This was his absolute favorite. I honestly forgot it even existed. We should have ridden this every day. I’ve never seen such a happy face. I’ll include a picture and spoil my whole anonymity concept just because he was that cute.
-The Playground outside of Test Track. Who knew?
-Walking/playing on the grassy square outside the lobby of the boardwalk on your way out to the ferry dock. Bizarre but this grassy area seems to be every kid’s favorite spot.
-Getting a Mickey balloon. We might as well have given him some sort of crack. I’ve never seen a human being so revved up with excitement, and he is a pretty mellow little boy.
-Playing in the sand at the Yacht/Beach club beach. He had never been to a beach before. He was pretty thrilled.
-Chef Mickey’s. This was just all around perfection. It was late in our trip. It was the one breakfast that we scheduled closer to lunchtime. He was able to see the monorail going through the hotel from our table. He was brave enough to shake the characters’ hands at this point in the trip. The buffet has good kids food (ie chicken tenders). He was just the picture of happiness for that hour.
Then there were a few things that I thought would be big winners, but didn’t solicit the super excited response I expected:
-The Safari ride. Honestly I just don’t think he was old enough to realize how amazing it is to see those animals up close. It also is a bit long/hot/bumpy and it lulled him to sleep to be honest.
-The Magic Kingdom train ride. We rode this the last week before it closed for 2 years for the Tron construction in MK. I thought he would love it. I believe he would have loved it very much on our more recent trip when he was 2, but at 15 months, he was just kind of chilling enjoying the breeze. Not too impressed. We might have just had bad timing when he was sleepy.
So, basically throughout the week I was forced to notice things I had never noticed before, or at least not in decades. I laughed harder on the carousel than I’ve ever laughed on any ride. Monorail and bus rides turned into fun adventures. Seeing Mickey Mouse was as exciting as if I saw Justin Timberlake at Starbucks in real life. Everything was just so much more magical and exciting than anything I’ve experienced before. My little 15 month old late bloomer (he was barely walking when we took him), actually stood up one morning and started to push his stroller toward the door of our room and pointed as if to say “OK, time for the fun, let’s go slow pokes!” No rides/shows made him cry (although we avoided fireworks and rides in the dark, besides Pirates – which he slept through). He was able to nap on-the-go in every park. He doesn’t nap on-the-go at home at all. He is impossible to get to nap actually. He was just so overwhelmed with such a sensory overload, I think, that he was exhausted by lunchtime each day and would fall asleep in our arms or in the stroller.
Long story short, we left that week and knew we’d be back as soon as possible, so up next will be my analysis of our trip one year later, when he was 28 months old in November 2019.
(I will also provide a detailed account of our rider swap experiences on both trips in a separate post – as well as what I’ve heard about rider swap changes online vs what I’ve experienced in the parks)