Experiencing a Disney theme park through my children's eyes have been some of my greatest memories in life so far, but many people feel they need to wait until their kids are older to visit the parks. I know taking young children can be a challenge; naps, meltdowns, breast-feeding and diaper changes were all things I had to work into my day at Disney, but with a little planning the day can go smoothly. Trust me, the memories and priceless moments will be worth it. Here are some things that I have learned.
Let's be honest, one of the number one reasons people go to a Disney park is to go on the awesome rides. With small children, this can be a challenge. When I went with my 6-month-old twins, I was surprised to learn that there are a lot of rides in all of Disney's parks that infants can go on. Almost all Fantasyland rides accommodate infants, which most people know, but the rides that surprised me were Toy Story Mania, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Haunted Mansion.
Another obstacle with going on rides is waiting in line. My kids were never great at sitting still. If any line was longer than 20 minutes, we knew they would not make it. As they've gotten older it has become a little easier to wait with them, but it is still a challenge. I have found playing games like I Spy, giving them snacks and even letting them look through the pictures we've taken during the day on the camera help with the wait.
For the rides you want to go on that your kids cannot ride there is Parent Swap. Parent Swap is when part of your party goes through the regular line (or fast pass or single rider), while the rest of your party is with the kids who cannot ride. While in line ask for a parent swap and you will be given a ticket for up to four people to go on the ride at another time through the fast pass line, so the waiting party can skip the line when it is their turn to go on the ride.
Things to do besides rides
Disney is known for its atmosphere and entertainment, so there are plenty of things to do with your little ones besides going on rides. Along with the popular parades and character meet 'n' greets there are performers on the streets, trains, live musicians and even animals. One of my favorite experiences was taking my kids to Big Thunder Ranch behind Thunder Mountain. There was a petting zoo, games, crafts, live music, a dance party and even characters. It was a great place to let my kids run around while still being surrounded by Disney.
Other options include splash pads at California Adventure and the new Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom, Toon Town which has a multitude of activities for young children of all ages and sizes, and live shows. Playhouse Disney, a live show that includes different characters from Disney Junior, was the highlight of my children's trip, but there are other shows throughout all the parks that will entertain kids young and old.
Strollers, diaper bags and nursing moms
When it comes to kids, they need a lot of stuff. I find the stroller actually helps hold this stuff, but I would not recommend leaving anything in your stroller unattended. I also used my stroller for nap time as the seats laid flat and gave the baby plenty of shade to have a nice rest. I have always brought my own stroller, although Disney does have strollers you can rent. I find it useful to tie a huge Disney balloon around my handlebar so it is easily recognizable and helps it stand out from the other similar looking strollers in the park.
I switch out my regular over the shoulder diaper bag for a bit bigger backpack when I go to the parks. It can hold the necessary diapers and wipes, but also lots of snacks, drinks and changes of clothes. Not only would my kids spill, sweat and mess up their clothes, but it was always nice to change them into a fresh set of clothes mid-day. Snacks are essential for making it through the day; you can also bring as much food and drinks as you want into the park as long as nothing is in a glass container. Don't forget to bring sunscreen and lots of water.
Every Disney Park has a baby center. This is a nice air conditioned area with lots of changing tables, chairs and even cartoons playing. It is a space for moms to nurse if they would like some privacy and also a great area to rest and relax for a bit. If you run out of diapers, every bathroom has a diaper dispenser where you can buy one for a dollar.
Go at your kid's pace
Probably the most important thing I've learned is to let my kids take the lead. The more I pushed the more tantrums they would throw. If they wanted to dance to the music in the middle of Main Street I would let them, while taking millions of pictures, of course. Learn what your kids like and don't like. If your kids are terrified of characters, then it is probably not worth waiting 30 minutes in line to see them. If your kids are afraid of rides, then that is another line you can skip.
Try to go at their pace instead of rushing around the park from ride to ride. Most importantly, enjoy the moment and take tons of pictures. There will probably be a few meltdowns and mishaps, but if you plan and prepare and put your kids' comforts first your trip will be a whole lot better.