Tips On Taking Baby To Disney World
(This is a transcript from my Podcast interview with Katie Swift. Want to listen to our chat? Go here!)
Ready to take your family is Disney World but don’t want to compromise all the sleep training you’ve worked on? I get it! So many families throw sleep out the window when they go to Disney, but you don’t have to! Here’s how Katie Swift, mom to 7 month Owen (Sleep E-Coaching grad) and Disney pro enjoyed fireworks, naps on the go and maintained great sleep!
Becca: Okay, tell me about your Disney World trip.
Katie: Yeah, so I feel like I should start by saying I’m definitely not a Disney novice, so my family probably went to many times growing up and then I worked there for a semester in college as part of a college program, and so I have some pretty good experience there. My husband and I have been three times together and actually got engaged at Disney. So, the actual park and how things work and where things are, I was pretty familiar with, but when we started planning it, and taking a kid, that was a whole other experience. Honestly, if you’d asked me if taking a seven month old baby was a great idea, I probably would have said, maybe not, because obviously the child’s not going to get that much out of it at that point, and selfishly, I was totally concerned about all of the things I wasn’t going to get to do because we were bringing a baby, but my husband had this conference in Orlando and we had my parents willing to go with us to help out, so if you have some grandparents happy to tag along or other people to be helping hands, I think more than one person has said that’s a huge help at Disney World.
We flew to and from Orlando, so we had plane flights on either end which was another thing in my brain with taking a baby and we spent three full days in the parks and stayed on property at one of the cheaper resorts on the Disney property and had park hopper passes which means you can go between the different parks, so you can go to Magic Kingdom in the morning and Epcot in the afternoon. Even though I had all of this Disney experience, I did tons of research ahead of time, and you really can. There’s so much out there on Disney’s website and I mean you can Google it and find a million blog posts of moms talking about what worked well for them, but for us, the biggest concern for me was sleep because when we did the e-training when he was four months old and he’s done great with it, but I’m a rule follower, so I’ve mostly kept to the rules as much as possible, you know, and really try hard to have him home for his naps and things like that and I flex with him as needed, but not for fun, so it was hard to willingly decide that for five days we’re going to totally screw with his normal routine and see what happens.
Our basic day looked like us letting him dictate when the day started because we knew we were keeping him up late, so when he woke up, and admittedly he woke up earlier every day we were there than he does at home.
Becca: That happens when you’re on vacation.
Katie: Yeah, he’d get up and we’d nurse and get ready and do breakfast on the bus, and then every day try to do a ride he could ride first thing when we knew he’d be awake and happy, and then pretty soon after that, get him in a stroller for a snooze and yeah, then ride some more rides and find something else he could ride and have some lunch and take another snooze in the stroller and get a few more things done, and head back to the hotel for a nap, and then go back out for a few more hours. That was the part that I didn’t know if it would be good or bad, and it turned out to be really great for us.
Becca: So, you said you did two little cat naps in the morning, and then did you come to the hotel to do a fuller nap?
Katie: Yeah, so he had fully been transitioned to two naps a day for a while. I think we did that at five months. Whenever you told me to do it, we did that. He was definitely down to two naps, but at Disney, the whole time, it was more than that, so two out of the three days, he took two short naps in the morning. The first one was sort of exactly when it would normally be at home, right around 10:30, is usually when he takes a nap, and so we would see him starting to get tired or we would just know he’s probably going to get tired and so we would get him in the stroller, put the cover over, try to get him somewhere quiet, get him in a clean diaper, and get that first little snooze. It was never very long. The stroller nap kind of maxed out for him at about thirty minutes, so then usually two hours later, we would get him another little stroller nap. I think he took one nap on my dad while we were there, but usually in the stroller. Because they were pretty short, we kind of figured out that getting a longer nap in the afternoon, in the Pack ‘n Play, would make it more likely for him to do okay in the evening. That nap was always later than his afternoon nap would usually be. Usually it was a little later in the day and he would wake up at 5:30 or 6:00 and be able to go for a few more hours after that. It definitely went from two naps a day to three naps a day, and I think even four on the last day we were there.
Becca: I think that’s a good testimony to the fact that you’re always going to have that foundation. You were never having to depend on we’ve got to have naps and the only way you know how to sleep is if you’re on me or nursing. He just knew he needed to sleep and went to sleep. While some kids are a little more picky than others on wanting a Pack ‘n Play always or being okay with the stroller, that’s so good that for three days you just knew even though you’re a rule follower, you could throw it out, and try to do what you do and know that at home you wouldn’t be doing a Pack ‘n Play nap until 5:30 or 6:00 PM, but you wanted to go to the fireworks. Talk to us about how you did Disney, nighttime.
Katie: Yeah, and I will say, going into it, I know several moms who have taken their kids and have told me that afternoon nap at the resort is key, and I was kind of resistant at first because I was like, we don’t get to do as much, we have to take all that time out, and then I think I quickly realized that would set us up for success so much better. I really think getting them back in the afternoon for a quiet place with air conditioning, darker space, and especially when they’ve had such a busy morning, it seemed like for him, he went down pretty easily and was pretty happy to be able to take that nap, so you know, usually it would start around 4:00 or 4:30, and then I think everyday he slept a good hour and a half, maybe two hours during that time. Then we would just get him up and get him back into the routine and get ready and go to the park and I think that’s one of the biggest tips with that, is that staying on property, you have access to those bus systems, and it just takes a lot less time to get yourself back to the park, and so it was pretty easy to take those long naps and then just get him up and ready and we could go back for two or three more hours.
For our family, we had made dinner reservations ahead of time, which as just a Disney tip, if you’re going to go and want to have dinner at some of the places where you sit down, having that ahead of time is good. With a baby it added this whole other complication because we don’t do a lot of dinner reservations these days. But knowing that we had a dinner planned and some night activities we wanted to try out for him, it was definitely only possible because he took that later nap and he could get up and be good to go for another four hours.
We pushed that limit too. I would say, for the most part, in the afternoon, four hours is kind of our max at home, and he probably got up to four and a half at least one of those days. I may just have a social baby, so he was never upset about that. He got a little “baby drunk”, a little bit goofy towards the end, but did great and having had that later sleep was able to go a few more hours than usual.
Becca: I know I have a lot of moms who are going to be like, “Oh, but what was you’re schedule?” So, when did you have dinner reservations and when did the fireworks start and how did the evening timing work out?
Katie: I would say, on the front end, even before we left for Disney, I tried to give him lots of consistent days. We tried to very much stay on schedule and have very normal days leading up to it. The day we got there we got in kind of early afternoon and immediately got him down for a nap at the hotel. Then I had made an early dinner reservation for 6:00 that night. That was a good thing because we were able to get dinner, get back almost by bedtime to start the week. As much as you can start out as close to schedule is good. Then our other reservations were at 7:00. Definitely later. We usually eat dinner around 5:30 or 6:00, here, so definitely later for him, but the good part about that, at least in the summertime, all the night shows at Disney start around 9:00 at night, which sounds crazy when you say that out loud. Owen is eating some solids now, and so a 7:00 at night dinner, he’s interested and excited and happy and meals are a great distraction and there’s lots of activity for him that he’s engaged in, and I think that had him kind of good and awake and happy to be able to watch fireworks after and then go home.
I would say we always purposefully stood towards the back of the park for the fireworks at Magic Kingdom and when we were at the fireworks at Epcot, kind of left as the finale was starting to just get ahead of the crowds a little bit. I do think that’s something you have to factor in, that it’s going to take awhile to get back to your room, even with the magical bus system. It takes a while, so we tried to get him back as quickly as we could after they were over. I think having that meal time leading up to it, and close to it was helpful, because he was good and awake and engaged a little later than usual.
Becca: Yeah because he had that afternoon nap, yeah he was able to carry through a little more and then enjoy that, and I’m all with you, even if it’s myself, this is going to say a lot about my personality, but I’m going to leave when that finale starts because I don’t want to be in that crowd, even if it’s just me. I don’t like crowds, I am not about to do that, so that’s a really good tip.
Any other tips or strategies that you would share with parents, whether it’s babies or toddlers or you’re just taking your kids to Disney, what are some of your best tips?
Katie: Some of this is things I think you’ve said. Having that strong foundation going into it, and like I said, keeping things consistent right before was helpful. He was going to be in the room with us, in a Pack ‘n Play, without his usual schedule, so just knowing all of that was coming for him, we tried to keep it pretty straightforward prior to. Then bringing the bedtime routine with you, as you say, we sped that up a little bit since we were getting there late, but because it was hot and he had eaten, bath still needed to happen, so we did a quick bath, and Disney provides Pack ‘n Plays, all the resorts do that for free, so we didn’t bring that, but we brought our own sheet, and sleep sack, and bedtime books, and his sound machine and Owen’s self-soothing strategy is his fingers, so he had those, and you know, we stuck to our strategy. The very first night, as he sometimes does, he did wake up for a little bit during the night and just cried a little bit, and we let him do that for about ten minutes and gave him a little pat, and then he calmed right back down, and he went to sleep.
Remember the things that you know, how you do bedtime and how it goes well. Having a plan but keeping it flexible. Owen really didn’t dictate the majority of our day, but he dictated the start and end. If he had melted down around 6:00, we would not have stayed for the fireworks. Having some things in mind like that, but really Disney is set up for you to be able to bring kids in a lot of ways. You can get fast passes ahead of time, you can plan those for the morning time when you know you’re going to be able to be at the park for a few hours. You can do a ride share plan, where one person can stay with the baby and the other person goes through the line and then that person doesn’t have to go through the same line afterwards. You can really navigate the in between times. Having and idea of the things you want to do ahead of time, and then flexing as you see how your kids does with sleeping and how exhausted they are. I would day, too, having your own stroller is good. Disney just has some new rules about stroller size, so that would be something I would check if you have a giant multi-stroller, but we have a pretty big stroller that reclines all the way, the cover comes almost all the way down, it’s comfy and we had a fan for the stroller, which I would say is also key.
Becca: I’m going to link that! That is my number one outdoor tip with baby.
Katie: It’s so necessary! Even in April, it was already 90 degrees for us, so that is hot for him. Having a stroller and circulating air. You can rent strollers, but they are plastic, and they don’t recline and they’re more for bigger kids, I think. If you’re hoping to have a stroller nap, it’s just way more conducive to have your own. Bring your own stroller, totally worth it. Afternoon nap, in bed, at the hotel is necessary. Even with older kids, that maybe don’t even nap anymore, they just really need it when they’re at Disney to have good attitudes.
Becca: There is nothing more stimulating than being at Disney World, so yeah, even the older kids where I’ve helped them transition to Disney and back to Disney, they may not normally nap, but can you just go back and have 45 minutes of quiet time, or even just go to the pool and sit at the pool, something to just take away the visual stimulation for a bit is key.
Katie: I felt like for us that three days in the parks was kind of his max. If we had tried to stay longer or if we went back when he’s older we would probably even schedule in a whole day of being at the hotel and being at the pool and being more relaxed to have naps and more of a schedule. I know a lot of friends that have done that, and I can see that would have huge value.
For us, too, having my parents there, we also had requested adjoining rooms. To be able to have rooms that connected so we could put him down for his nap and hang out in their room for a bit and let him settle down and do the same thing at night before going back in. Anything there’s that room share situation, I think it helped to be able to have a little separation while he was settling down and, on that note, don’t be afraid to ask for anything that might help when you’re at Disney, because they are known for customer service and super empowered to do whatever they can to help you. They have baby care centers at all the parks where they’re quiet and clean and have private nursing rooms and changing tables and all these things, so they really have a lot to try to help young moms, or moms of young kids out. When it comes to your room or whatever situation that might be less than idea, if there’s anything they could possibly provide, it’s always worth asking.
I think those are the big things. For us, too, we hadn’t done a ton of naps on the go for Owen since he was sleep trained. There wasn’t a lot of reason too. I was always trying pretty hard to get him home and he would fall asleep in his car seat, but I hadn’t really had him napping on me or on his stroller in a while, so we actually did a trial run with that, and since we live in East Tennessee and Dollywood is here, we went to Dollywood, but I think even if you could take your kid to the park and just put them in their stroller and recline it and see what happens and it gave us more confidence that he knows what to do and he would do it even thought it was a different space and not perfectly dark and didn’t have sound machine. I think as a confidence booster for parents, pre-trip, that was something I thought was good. Create the environment you will be in and see how your kid does. It might teach you a little about what to do when you’re there.
Becca: I like that trial run idea, that’s a good point. Yeah, you are a little lucky, you have a miniature Disney World right in your backyard.
Katie: They can’t quite be compared at all, but still fun.
Becca: That is so awesome. Well, I’m so grateful for you sharing all of this with us. What I’d love to do is link any resource that you personally used, in the show notes for everybody, so if they just want to go down and see your favorite blogs and resources that you have looked at when you were planning your trip but thank you so much for sharing this with us. This was so valuable.
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for giving us a good foundation so we could actually take our kid to Disney World. He will never remember it, but we will tell him about all of his awesome experiences one day.
Katie, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your insight with us. I have never personally taken a baby to Disney World. We’re hoping to take the girls maybe in the next year, I don’t know, keep it on the down low, we have not told them. It’s not even on the calendar, but we’re hoping. I really want to encourage you guys that the number one thing I would share with you before you go to Disney is to sleep train your child. If your baby, if your toddler, has no clue how to independently sleep by themselves, in their Pack ‘n Play or in their bed, guess what? Your Disney trip is not at all going to look like Katie’s because you’re going to be constantly having this stress about you that your child depends on you to go to sleep and you’re trying to have a good time at Disney World. Everything will be in chaos. How do I know that? Because so many families have come back from Disney ready to sleep train because it was so terrible. I don’t want to be your story. Instead, look at your calendar. If you have more than two weeks before you head off on your Disney trip, then grab the sleep e-coaching program that is for your child’s age. Get started so that you have plenty of time to teach them the foundational levels of how to sleep, and how to sleep well, so that you can go and bed the rules and enjoy fireworks and have a great time together, come home, get right back on track, get right back into routine and everything is fine.
I’m excited for you to grab this because as Summer approaches, there is nothing more exciting than knowing that you’re going to have sleep on vacation. If that doesn’t entice you enough, I just want you to know, this is a thing. You can have vacation sleep, and you can have sleep at home. All you have to do is go to www.littlezsleep.com/courses and choose the program for your family. I’m so thankful you guys were here. Thank you again Katie for sharing with us. Sweet dreams, see you next time.