Whether you’re a first-time visitor yourself or a die-hard Disney fan whose been to Walt Disney World every year for as long as you can remember, there’s nothing like your child’s first trip to Walt Disney World. The magic, the excitement, and the joy of sharing it with them are sure to make this one of the more memorable family vacations that you’ll ever take. Unfortunately, it could also be one of the more stressful family vacations you’ll ever take, since being in Walt Disney World with a child is completely different than being there with adults.
Here are some tips to make your child’s first trip to Walt Disney World a great vacation that you’ll remember fondly:
(1) Pack it all. Even if you’re used to traveling light, it’s better to overpack than underpack for this particular trip. Depending on how old your child is, you’ll want to bring extra diapers, changes of clothes, sweatshirts, swimsuits, shoes, snacks, first-aid supplies (such as band-aids and aloe vera), and a selection of Disney-themed toys and t-shirts if you’re looking to avoid park prices. It’s true that you can purchase anything on that list somewhere on Disney property, but you’ll be paying out the nose for it and that hardly leads to fond vacation memories.
(2) If you’re going to need a crib, guardrails for the bed, or in-room babysitting services while you’re at Walt Disney World, make those arrangements before you leave home by calling the hotel. You can also request a fridge in advance if you need it for medications or breast milk. The hotel knows that you’ll be traveling with a child because you need to include that information with your hotel reservation, so it’s likely that you won’t have to make special requests in order to be close to the pools or food courts. Families usually get these rooms automatically, while adult-only guests get rooms on the edges of the resort so that they can get a quieter night’s sleep. Note: if your child sleeps with a nightlight, bring one from home. Disney sells nightlights but will not provide one for free.
(3) If you’re traveling with an infant, locate the Baby Care Centers in each theme park as soon as you get there so you can find them again when you need them. The Baby Care Centers offer rooms with rocking chairs and low lighting for nursing mothers, as well as rooms with high chairs, plastic bibs, and spoons for feeding baby solid foods. There are also nice diaper change areas available at the Baby Care Centers and you can purchase items for infants here, including diapers, formula, rubber pants, and teethers.
(4) If you’re planning on introducing your kid to your favorite characters, be sure to temper your intial expectations and tread with caution. Many children are intimidated by the characters, especially if they don’t immediately recognize them. Some children are more comfortable with “face characters” (such as the princesses, Aladdin, or Prince Charming), while others prefer the characters that look like giant stuffed animals. If your child is nervous, go with them as they approach the character and don’t force them to make contact (i.e. hug the character) if they aren’t ready. You may be able to drum up some pre-character excitement by buying them an autograph book and getting them psyched up to collect those autographs, which could distill their initial stranger-danger feelings.
(5) If you and your spouse have a favorite ride, but it isn’t appropriate for your little one (or your kid is terrified out of their mind at the thought of going on it), check with the person at the entrance of the ride to see if the attraction has a “rider swap” program. Rider swap programs allow families with small children to take turns riding the ride while the other holds the child. This keeps the families from needing to wait in long lines separately and usually doesn’t take much longer than riding the ride normally. Although you may be disappointed that you can’t all enjoy the ride as a family, forcing your child to ride it with you is likely to lead to a ride-long screaming session and a life-long aversion to that ride. For the sake of your sanity and that of your fellow park-goers, skip the forced ride and do the ride swap.