5 Things I Learned on My Most Recent Trip to Disney World

Honestly, there is just something about going to Disney World. Whether it’s the first time, the fourth time, or the fortieth time, each experience is new. Rainy days, park additions, growing little people, time of year, crowd size, my own patience level (there are only so many times I can ask my husband to slow down or my son to sit in the stroller): each aspect of every trip helps shape and mold the experience. This is why we go back. My family and I go at least three times a year. And it’s not just for the littles. In fact, my husband and I are going to swing by for a weekend at Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival this year little person free (yes, we will be accompanied by a bucketload of parent guilt, but it’s a small price to pay to saunter through a park, a beer steadily in one hand, rather than spilling it all over as I try to push a stroller with the other).

True to form, on our most recent trip to Disney World, there seemed to be so many changes and additions since our last visit two months prior. Granted, I live in a world of three little people under five, so I often don’t get to actually look at the world surrounding me. And when I do, I’m usually so mom-brained that I’m pretty much just sleeping with my eyes open. So these “revelations” of mine are a combination of those things that are new to the park and those things that I just discovered myself, even after all these years and all these trips.

  1. There are stand alone carts throughout Hollywood Studios that only serve alcohol. These popup carts have typically been in place in the park only during specific festivals or events like the Christmas lights. But because of the popularity of these offerings, the alcohol carts will now be permanent fixtures (and now all of the sudden Hollywood Studios has become the most popular of the four parks). Also, there is an absolutely amazing grapefruit beer. Amazing. To sip in the hot sun. Just. Amazing. IMG_9907.JPG
  2. The best time to do anything is the time of changeover. Let me explain. We are not morning people. We simply cannot get ourselves together and get out of our hotel room before 9:30 am. And if we try to, at least one of us will collapse into tears (I include myself in this.) Knowing this, we booked our breakfast at Hollywood Studio’s Hollywood and Vine for 10:30. My daughter and I like breakfast. My husband likes lunch. (My three year old eats nothing and my one year old eats anything so they’re out of this competition.) Within minutes of being there, half of the buffet was rolled over to lunch from breakfast. And with that blissful changeover, we were all dinner winners that morning. We had breakfast; we had lunch. But the beauty of the Disney World changeover goes beyond just meals. Usually we hit up Epcot in the Spring for the Flower and Garden Festival, but because we now have a Kindergartener (gasp!) and we refuse to go the week of Spring break (did it once…big mistake…huge) we were forced to miss it. We ended up going the last weekend of the new Epcot International Festival of the Arts (more on that later). And as soon as this passed, the flowers and topiaries started to pop up. So yea, I got a little taste of the Arts and a little taste of the Flower and Garden. Double win. And with that, I have learned never to underestimate the value of the changeover; in fact, look for it.IMG_0133.JPG
  3. Don’t worry if it rains. Go to Animal Kingdom and get on a Kilimanjaro Safari ride. When it rains, the animals are actually more active. We were able to see more animals in this single trip than we have on all our other trips combined (ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but honestly I had never been able to see a warthog before, so there’s that). There were elephants bathing, baby elephants rolling in mud, giraffe babies nursing. The animals were all over. And it was amazing.
  4. There are now Passholder Entrances at all park entrances. For the annual passholder, this is such a convenience. Perhaps this is more of a convenience for the passholder who can’t seem to get out of the hotel room at a reasonable time (just saying, not saying). And, according to three castmembers I asked, they have been trained to turn away any person in line who is not a passholder, which means even people who are friends of passholders. I didn’t ask, but I’m certainly hopeful, that if I didn’t renew my five year old’s annual pass, she’d still be allowed to get in the passholder line with me. IMG_9955.JPG
  5. Along the same line, the Disney Vacation Club has opened a new lounge in Epcot for members. This lounge can be accessed by going into the shop that is at the end of “Journey into Imagination with Figment.” They have soda machines, video games, TVs, computers, and pillows perfectly suited for little people to jump on and crawl on. It creates the perfect little spot for little people to team up and make some momentary friendships. And for parents to drink some caffeine and stare at one another.
  6. Right outside of the vacation club, which is located in the lost corner of Epcot near “Imagination!,” high above Figment, near the entrance to the new “Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival” are two important, yet hidden, spaces. The first is giant water area for littles (and probably a bigger person or two) to play in. It’s filled with water spouts that shoot water into the air in giant arcs. It’s a great place to get away from the crowd, cool down, and let the little people blow off some steam. Right next to this is a Visa character photo spot. Any Disney Visa holder will be allowed into the room to meet a secret, special character. It can be anyone (and, no, I won’t give away who it is so don’t ask).FullSizeRender-3.jpg
  7. Some of the fountains found throughout the parks have been changed from fountains with water to fountains with flowers. We first noticed this in the small fountain that’s typically outside of the First Aid and Baby Care Center in Magic Kingdom. We didn’t think much of it and moved on. The next day, while at Hollywood Studios, we found that the Muppet fountain had also been turned off and filled with greenery. After asking a cast member, I was told that the construction going on in the park made the water a bit, well, less than perfect looking. So, the decision was made to temporarily drain the fountain and fill it with the greenery. (This still doesn’t answer why the fountain in Magic Kingdom was filled with potted plants given there was no construction, but, sometimes I just have to accept what I’ve been told and move on.)IMG_0241.JPG
  8. Jasmine has a high-necked, long-sleeved, full length shirt now! It used to be that when eating at Cinderella’s castle, Jasmine came to greet the guests in the outfit she wears in the movie. Her shoulders are exposed and her midsection is exposed. Apparently, after a number of complaints about her outfit, Disney was compelled to change her outfit into the sad, shiny sack that it now is.

To some people it may seem crazy to keep going back to places again and again and again. It’s been done and has nothing left to give. But that’s simply not the case when traveling with littles. The little people are growing and changing every day. And whether we like it or not, nothing ever stays the same, even in a place as classic as Disney World.

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Why It’s Important to Travel Without Little People in Order to Travel with Them

I rarely manage to travel to the grocery store without bringing my little people with me, let alone anywhere of any significance. (I will admit though, those moments when I’m by myself that feeling of accomplishment is almost like the feeling of accomplishment I have when I get through an entire cup of coffee before having to reheat it in the microwave.) Those brief moments where I slide out the front door and into my minivan to take 60 minutes to myself (grocery shopping, as I said before, it’s just to go grocery shopping) usually come at the end of a full two days of planning. So, the thought of having to plan an entire vacation, perhaps a night or four, away from my children is mind boggling. And certainly if that requires a plane ride that culminates in spending a few days relaxing with my husband and perhaps a friend or two, the effort it seems is required to see these thoughts come to fruition is feels like trying to understand NYC’s preschool registration requirements. (You know the ones I mean, where you have to have your child put on the waiting list while still in utero? Yeah, those.)

But. Here’s the thing. It isn’t hard. Like, at all. We do it. And we love it. And our children are better at wandering this world because of it. Why?

Recharge

I think it’s probably pointing out the obvious when I say that moments spent being a bit checked out as a parent have the ability to fill a cup that’s less than overflowing. Being a parent is hard. Running a household is hard. Put the two together and Bam! Welcome to a world of (rewarding) exhaustion. And I don’t mean it’s draining because we travel; in fact, those are the moments that are perhaps the least draining (there’s no house to constantly upkeep or dry cleaning to pick up or drop off or mountains of laundry to sift through). But the recharge that comes from traveling alone is different than the late night hours after the little people fall into their blissful slumbers. The last road trip we took had us driving seven hours a day for three days at both the beginning and ending of the trip that moved us out of the cold winter and into the warmth of Florida for five days in between. Somewhere along the way to that sun (probably day two of the drive) I caught my oldest little’s cold. Because of my own health issues, I don’t recover as quickly, and five days later I had pneumonia. Even with meds, it got worse on the drive back into winter and home, and I had to be seen again and have my medicines changed up. We had help come in to take care of the middle little and the tiny, but that doesn’t mean I was off the hook. IMG_9596.JPGThere are still obligations, and those little obligations sometimes mean recovery is slow. But the light at the end of the tunnel? Wine. Within two weeks we were on a four day trip to Napa Valley without any little people. I attribute all of my recovery to sitting in the California sun, sipping wine, and watching vines grow. My movement was minimal, my focus limited to myself or others whose lives didn’t depend upon my watchful eye. My cup filled (albeit with Cab Sav, but we don’t judge here). I came home ready to take the next trip (a combo road trip/plane trip) that I had previously started to make plans to push back (I mean I had basically canceled the trip on the flight out to California). Getting out of the house and out of familiar space without my little people allowed me to gain a sense of my physical health back and my ability to keep moving forward to share my world with my littles. (And truth be told, when I feel better, I am a better mother and a better traveler, a win for my little people all around.)

Refocus

There are periods in our traveling life where my husband and I have fallen into the trap of doing the same thing and going the same place again and again and again. (Yep, we visit Disney World three times a year. Guilty. And yep. We’re going to the same beach we went to last summer. Guilty again. And we’ll be staying at the same hotel we’ve always stayed at on our minitrip to Vermont. Guilty guilty guilty.) There is a particular ease in visiting places we’ve already beenIMG_9597.JPG or doing the same basic types of trips we’ve always done. The planning is minimal and life is predictable. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Well, the truth is, sometimes it’s just what we need and just what our littles need. But other times, it is certainly not what we crave. When we travel without our little people my husband and I always get a glimpse of a world bigger than that which we planned or we predicted. We can more easily go to places we’ve never gone. We can talk longer with locals. There is a hint of understanding of how small we are or how privileged we are or how little we understand of this infinitely large, yet wondrously small, world. And this renewed vigor for discovering this paradoxical place calls us to break out of those habits of choosing the easy way when we travel with our little people. It drives us to show the littles the world and their ever-changing place within it. It reminds us we are not just in this to create vacationers; we’re doing it to create explorers.

Remind

Because I am a stay at home mom, my life, whether traveling or spending time at our home, is surrounded by little people and little people accessories. Some times, often times, we fall into habits. In a rush we opt for a restaurant that doesn’t push our little people’s boundaries because we just want them to eat. So we don’t have to work through exhausted breakdowns, we get the littles into their beds on time rather than going to that one last beautiful fountain. Getting the little people in and out of the car is a whole process, so we zoom past the scenic route and opt for the highway. We get mechanical, robotic. And robots don’t explore. Or think. Or wander. Getting away without my little people pulls me from routine. There’s no dinnertime. No naptime. No bedtime. And I like it. And I remember how great it is to stay up later than I want or push myself up that last hill for one final hint of the IMG_6544.JPGsun setting over the ocean. Little people need routine, but they also need to know that feeling of catching lightening bugs late into the evening or skipping a nap to view the world from the top of a mountain. Each time I travel by myself, I am reminded of this. And each time I bring this forgotten knowledge back to them, and we slowly change together. And on our next trip, we will walk down that smaller path to the river or pull the car over to walk out to the middle of that old wooden train bridge (on the walkway only of course…I’m not crazy crazy, just three little people crazy).

Reconnect

“Mommy loves to read. She reads all the time!…Or she did. A while ago. But I promise you, my sweet little pea, I really do love books.” I find myself saying things like this to my little people quite a bit. I am convincing them, and half convincing myself, that Mommy really does like to do things. She has interests, convictions, a life.

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View from the porch of a Napa Valley grape grower. (Not pictured: wine in hand.)

I’d like to imagine that when my little people are big people and traveling on their own they’d see some amazing meadow of wildflowers, an invigorating street mural, and think of me. At this point, I am a little worried that the only thing that will make me pop into their minds is an innovative vacuum. (Let me be frank here. This does not disappointment as much as I’m letting on. I have gotten a new vacuum for the holidays for the past three years. And this year? Oh, this year, I got three. You see, I’m on the hunt for the holy grail of vacuums. You know the one where you can vacuum once and your house stays clean for, at least, two days. This though, is another blog post for another blog…) The point I’m meaning to get to here is that I want my children to know the me that exists beyond my role as their mommy. I am first a mommy, but I am also so much more than that. And I want to present an authentic version of myself to them. But this wears away after time as I start to search out those travel experiences that are solely geared toward the interests of my littles…the easy experiences. The thing is, I want to enter their world, but I also want to invite them into mine. I like warming myself on a sun-filled porch sipping a glass of wine at an inappropriately early time while I watch the worIMG_6148.JPGld move about me. While I’m not giving my littles wine, I’d like them to know the value of sitting on a porch, the morning sun warming their legs as the world makes little changes all around them. Traveling without my little people makes me reconnect with those pieces of myself that I have put on the backburner in order to raise these three amazing little loves. As a result of this rediscovery of self, when we travel together, I help make their worlds a bit bigger by sharing passions they don’t often get to see. And it’s those shared experiences, those moments of seeing each other authentically, that make family travel not just about the travel, but about our family.

Reevaluate

Mommy brain is real. Very. Real. Or it’s a convenient excuse I use to avoid having to pay attention. I will never admit which one it is though. Needless to say, I forget things. (Or do I?) When I’m off exploring this world with no one but myself, I remember things. Most importantly, I remember what it’s like to push boundaries that I’d never dare to push when I have three little people to care for. I can go to restaurants that force me to eat food that I would never have thought I’d eat even two hours prior. I can step into situations I wouldn’t feel comfortable throwing myIMG_9600.JPG little people in. But, I have the ability now to assess these situations, these moments, with the eye of a mother but not the worry of a mother. I can determine if the place, the experience, is manageable for my littles, and I can plan accordingly for their future travel. When I was getting my MS in Education, one of the most helpful pieces of advice I was given was to always look ahead, anticipate any problems before they could occur, and replan accordingly. Traveling by myself affords me this luxury. I know how difficult it will be for my nonseafood eating little person to eat in a country where seafood is a staple. And I can plan for this. I can anticipate this bump. This is the privilege of traveling without my little people. I know what bridges are not ok to cross for my climbing-centric tiny person. I know what historic sites will be too much for my empathetic little. I’ve had time to look, to think, to judge. I anticipate. I adjust. I plan. I can gather information in a way that is greater than mere research. It’s a lived knowledge.  Without my littles I can evaluate and reevaluate to make our family travel road a bit less bumpy.

Let’s be honest. Traveling with kids is hard. It’s like throwing thirteen balls into the air and trying to juggle them when yIMG_9601.JPGou have just two hands and no thumbs. It’s this weird balance of two extremes: overplanning and being spontaneous. Somehow, though, we manage to make those two worlds coexist. Traveling without my little people is an important part of establishing that balance. I can watch so we can anticipate. I can remember so we can relax. It gives me a better me: a better mother, a better traveler, a better friend, a better wanderer, a better teacher, a better student, a better listener, and most importantly, a better guide to my littles as they travel their way through this endless world.

Tips for Flying with an Older (Wigglier) Infant (6-12 months)

 

It really doesn’t matter why I’m flying. If I’m doing it with my infant, it can seem like a dreaded task looming over the unimaginably fabulous vacation I’m surely about to take (isn’t the saying, “Expect the best and get the best”? No? Well then (shrugs shoulders)…). Anyway, infants. I’m not talking about those blissfully sleeping babes of mere weeks old. Not those tinies that spend their moments penduluming between sleeping and eating (ok, and crying, but crying because they either want to eat or sleep (or have that beast acid reflux, which is all too alive and well in this family)). unnamed.jpgI’m talking about those super wiggly, oh-look-I-found-my hands/my feet/my voice/my ability to crawl/my ability to clap/my ability to walk/your mouth/your necklace/your eyes/your phone/your response to my dropping every little thing I get in my hands kind of infant. This is the exhausting infant. And flying with them can be exhausting. They can’t carry their own things (which they need increasingly more of), and it’s questionable whether they even get their own seats. But with three little people under five, we seem to always have one of those types of tinies traveling with us, so we’ve got a few rules we go by.

Choosing a Flight, Timing and Connections:

My husband and I are not parents of little people who sleep on planes or in cars; in fact, they are quite the opposite. Our curse and our blessing is that our children thrive on routine. They like to sleep when it’s bedtime, and they like that sleep to be (Surprise!) in their beds. And this occurs by three months old. So, that means our infant is just as routinized as our big little people. IMG_8238.JPGWe take this into account when booking our flights. I guess it’d be easiest to fly mid day so my tiny person could sleep in as usual and also be in bed on time, thus preventing an epic meltdown the next day. But really. Am I willing to waste an entire day on just sitting on a plane? Nope. Nope. Nope. No. So, it becomes a toss up. Early flights mean a day of adjusting and readjusting (we don’t ever manage to get breakfast on time, naps are weird, if at all, lunch on planes can be hard for tiny people), and late flights mean we’re cutting into bedtime (a sacred time for all parents). With our first little one, we could push her to fly at night and have a fine next day. With our last little one, we can do the same. But the middle one? Oh sweet, sweet heavens, he was a wreck once it hit bedtime. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. The point is, we had to feel it out for each. Just like grown ups, some tiny people are best in the morning, some are best at night. It’s important to spend a little time figuring this out at home prior to trying to figure it out on a plane. Additionally, we usually book flights that are direct whenever possible. At one point, we thought perhaps layovers would be great because our little person could get out some wiggles, but honestly, it never worked. In fact, I’m pretty sure Murphy’s Law states that the only time a tiny person will nap is when the plane descends. If I’m going to wake a sleeping tiny, I’d prefer to do it at my destination rather than just at a random layover in Cincinnati. Also, I don’t want to drag tiny person belongings all over an airport in an attempt to restow them in another plane after I just charged down the aisle throwing elbows so I could get some coveted overhead space. Once I’m in and settled, this tired Momma just wants to stay put. Done.

Getting a Seat (or not):

It is not often we get a seat for our infant. We try to travel with as little as possible, so we certainly don’t want to drag a carseat (or three carseats really) with us, especially if we’re not going to be renting a car on our trip or, super especially, if we’re dealing with a tight connection (there’s nothing fast about dragging carseats around). IMG_8823.JPG(Note: If you need your carseats at your destination, but still don’t want to bring them on the plane, most airlines allow you to check them for free.) There are exceptions, of course, that drive us to bring our car seats with us. When our flight is late late late and is long long long, we may opt for the seat so our little can get some sleep. (This only works if your tiny person is good at sleeping in carseats though. I’d like to say mine are, but I would be lying.) Usually though, if it’s a long flight, my husband works his points magic and snags us seats in first class. If this happens, we usually put the seats in lie flat and trap the tiny between the wall and one of our grown up bodies so the tiny person has a flat play space and a flat sleep space for night. If we’re just taking a short flight and don’t need or care about being in first class, I bring a nursing pillow (which I recommend even when not nursing). This provides a comfy way for the tiny nugget to lie across my lap, snuggled up, without creating a sweatbox by drooling across my chest. It’s also a nice little seat for them to sit on and face me, so we can play all those lovely games, like “Pull at Mommy’s Nose” or the ever popular “Try To Stick All of My Half Chewed Snacks in Mommy’s Mouth.” Good times. (Note: If you have a lap child, don’t change the seat you’re in without consulting with the flight crew as little people in laps are put in specific rows that have extra oxygen masks.)

Scoring a Bassinet:

 If the flight is long, we contact the airline to see if they have any bassinets (or cots) available and request the bassinet. IMG_8789.JPGThey need to be requested as early as possible as most planes carry fewer cots than they do babies. Even if they tell you they have one reserved for you, be persistent. Check. Double check. When you’re sitting parked in the car in your driveway because your tiny fell asleep on the way home from the grocery store .5 mi away, check again (and then spend the rest of the time wondering why said tiny person fell asleep in his carseat when you didn’t want him to, but won’t do it any other time you need him too). We double check that our seat assignments actually match with seats that can accommodate a bassinet (dependent upon type of airplane, so some research may need to be conducted here). In economy cabins, the bassinets connect to the bulkhead walls. They can also be found actually imbedded into a shelf in the wall in some aircrafts. Additionally, in the first class international cabins, they can connect right over the footrest of the seat. These are nice to have, but infants can max out on size pretty early on (approximately 20 lbs). IMG_8814.JPGOr they can just dislike them enough to cry every time they’re placed in them on an overnight flight to Italy, leaving you feeling trapped because they’re attached mere inches above where your feet are lying. And this can make the flight attendants quite a bit upset as they spent approximately 45 minutes putting the thing up because none of them actually knew how to put it up and they had to consult manuals and now this sweet little child does not want to be in the cot they spent an insane amount of time securing, so they effectively did it for nothing, ugh…I’m not saying that happened to me. I’m just saying in theory, it could happen, you know.

What To Bring Along for The Ride:

I’ll start with the easy, somewhat obvious stuff.

Snacks: Infants just entering the eating stage seem to be the hardest to accommodate. IMG_8232.JPGThere are not many places in the airport selling ground, mushed vegetables and fruits in interesting and exciting combinations. And there are not any options on the plane itself. This means all food, milk (whether breastmilk or formula), snacks, etc., need to be brought with the tiny nugget. Generally, I pack as though my tiny person and I had an emergency landing and must stay overnight somewhere and continue our journey the next day. In other words, I pack two days worth of goodies for an infant 6-12 months old (admittedly, the closer to 12 months they are, the easier it becomes to find foods in the airport they can eat).

Toys: There are some favorites. I try to pack something that resembles a phone in case I feel like looking at my phone without little fingers trying to grab at it (I’ve found nothing so far). I bring a lovey because no matter what I still like to keep the hope alive that this tiny child may sleep. I bring a toy to chew on (teething goes on foooorrrrreeeevvvveeeerrrr). I bring a box of tissues.IMG_8690.JPG Tiny people love to pull tissues out of boxes. It’s quiet, and all I have to do is scoop them up, stick them back in the box, and voilà we get another go at it (the bigger littles still love to do it too). What I don’t bring are noisy toys, big toys, fancy toys. This age is still about exploring, so usually, I just use what I find. There’s nothing better than banging some plastic airplane cups around, tearing out some Skymall magazine pages and ripping them apart, or chewing on a coffee stirrer.

Comforts: Wipes. I bring wipes to wipe everything. I know those tiny fingers will be everywhere, and I don’t want to deal with a sad, sick tiny person on vacation (let alone any other day). Medicine. I always pack Children’s Benadryl (I get proper dosing amounts from my son’s doctor prior to leaving) because who knows where an allergy can exist. I pack infant Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen for the spontaneous fever or achy gum. A change of clothes for the tiny is necessary because the other Murphy’s Law while traveling with a tiny person is that they will spill something on themselves or have a diaper accident when traveling (common knowledge, really). I pack an extra set of clothing for myself too because…well…if I don’t I’m pretty much setting myself up for failure. I also always make sure I bring either a muslin blanket or a thin scarf that I can use to wrap my tiny person in if it gets cold or as a nursing cover. IMG_8788.JPGI also use it to wrap around my tiny person if they fall asleep on the nursing pillow (I will never give up hope) or if they fall asleep in their stroller at the airport. I tuck it around them and around myself as an added support in case of sudden turbulence. Pacifiers, bottles of water, smoothie pouches, or really anything my little person can suck on and chew while we’re taking off and landing are with me too. I usually use this time to try to nurse my little into sleep (seriously not giving up on this dream).

Transport: We bring a carrier with us when we have our tiny person along. Often, when trying to get our tiny to nap, we will need to walk or bounce, which can get pretty tiring without a carrier. I just slip the tiny into the little carrier, bounce a few minutes, and then slide myself back into my seat, safely clipping my seatbelt under those chubby legs. The issue here is that some flight attendants have made me wake the sleeping tiny to remove them from the carrier during landing, while some have simply made certain that the tiny person was not clipped into the seatbelt. It’s a hit or miss really. The carrier also comes in handy when we’ve decided against gate checking a stroller, something that is increasingly uncommon now that we have two under three. Although when we have tight connections, we avoid gate checking our strollers. The problem we have run into is that sometimes our stroller is waiting for us as soon as we get off the plane, but sometimes we can wait well over a half an hour for it to be delivered to us, which is a stress we certainly don’t need if we’re trying to desperately make another flight. (Note: Most airlines allow strollers to be checked through to the final destination free of charge.)

Dealing with Diapers:

When dealing with diaper age little people, I always try to save enough time to change my littles into clean diapers right before getting on the plane. While quite a number of planes have changing tables, not all do. And the worst is when I know I need to change a diaper and my options are limited to changing them on the seat and angering an already angry crowd or letting my little sit in their swampy, smelly, soggy diaper. It’s a choice no self-respecting adult wants to make. It’s the choice that I pawn off onto my husband. And let’s discuss those airplane changing tables, shall we? They’re smaller than a tray table and just as rickety. When changing my tiny I have to fight their exploring little fingers to keep them out of the sink and from pushing down the pump to the hand lotion. It’s a mess. And if I don’t want to change my tiny person in a dirty little shoebox of a bathroom, it’s important I change them early on since the changing table folds down to rest right above the toilet (I have nightmares about dropping important things into those toilets while I’m changing diapers). Needless to say, diapers can be a disaster, so I get them done prior to boarding as often as possible.

What to Expect from The Experience:

No matter how many times we’ve traveled, and how on point I think my travel is, that doesn’t mean other people know this. We still get looks of dread, the stink eye, from those who see us roll up to the gate, five thick. People avoid getting behind us in the security line (even though we can get through there as fast as any business traveler). It’s just part of the journey. We let it roll off of our backs and graciously accept the compliments about our “great little travelers” when it’s all over. We try to calm our tiny when he starts to cry, and usually, that act of merely attempting to do something to calm our tiny person is enough for those around us to, at least, hide their own frustrations. I’d like to think people give my tiny person some acceptance too when I can’t get him to quiet down since his communication skills are somewhat, shall we say, limited. Ultimately, some people will forgive me, some people won’t, some will forgive my children, some won’t feel thIMG_8806.JPGere’s a need to, and others will seethe in their own anger. But between my husband, my children, and myself, we remember to forgive each other. I know that I just need to focus on my tiny people, my little people, because this is about them. And about us. And what we’re doing together.

Traveling anywhere with little people of any age means creating memories–strong, searing, sweet (mostly) moments for adults, but nuggets of memories for those little people. Even for tiny people. We plant the seeds of those nuggets of memories when we travel. And hopefully, someday, those seeds will be enough to feed some beautiful, kind, open-minded souls who are strong enough in spirit and in self to imagine themselves anywhere in this world, doing anything in this world.

Tips for Sharing a Hotel Room with Your Infant or Toddler

That feeling of settling my littles in for the night and then relaxing on my own terms is so much more pronounced when I am on vacation. At home, those few childless hours (I’m exaggerating a bit here, it’s really just minutes, mere minutes) before I am too exhausted to move are usually spent frantically catching up on all the things I meant to do that day (or the previous day). I’d like to say that I use that time for getting ahead too, but, seriously, kids. Anyway, on vacation those nights are different. There’s no house to tidy up, no dishes waiting in the sink, no quick late-night errands to run. There’s just me and my freedom. On vacation, those few childless moments after the littles are safely tucked into their beds are spent…in the dark, with the curtains drawn, throwing shade at my husband because the sound of his socks on the hotel floor is a threat to the continued sleeping of those little people. This is the downside of vacationing with an infant or toddler, especially those who are an absolute wreck of a little person if they don’t get some serious sleep (at least now and again). Realizing this issue early on, my husband and I have come to rely on some handy techniques for getting us through the entrapment of early-to-bed littles.

 

Suites/Connecting Rooms:

Probably the most obvious, and expensive, way to combat this issue is to book a suite. In some hotels, this means footing quite an expense (either in points or in money), but it’s important to weigh if the value of that extra space and alone time at night is worth that expense. My husband and I still have the intentions of staying up later than our children and relaxing a bit in just each other’s company when we’re on vacation, so we do place some value on having a different room to be awake in while our littles slumber (we’re not talking outrageously priced suites though–we have kids to put through college). Additionally, we use the extra living space as an “on deck” area for the little people who have not yet gone to sleep: first the tiny one is put to sleep, then the middle one, and finally the oldest wiggles her way into dreamland. If I had to put them all to sleep at once? I can’t even. A disaster really.

If the suite has a kitchen, it means some meals can be eaten in the room to offset a small fraction of the cost (anything counts). FullSizeRender-5.jpgAnd sometimes kids just need a little cereal rather than a giant breakfast, so it makes it much easier. Also, if we’re on a vacation that will basically be spent outside, it’s a relief to have the added space if it rains and we have to spend some extra time indoors.

Finally, if the resort itself is not so important and it’s just a place to rest some heads at night, then we consider alternate places to stay. When we roadtrip, we often stay at assorted chain suites. I used to be of the mindset that these were designed more for the business traveler who wanted a more “homelike” place outside of a tourist area without the necessity and cost of a million amenities. But that just isn’t the case. These hotels can offer the space necessary for a traveling family without the cost.

Connecting rooms will also do the trick in providing an additional room, but they have some drawbacks. For example, I am a tired person. After I put my littles to bed, I am even more tired. (It’s like I’ve just completed a marathon that I’m destined to run. Every. Single. Day.) In a connecting room, the most inviting place for me to rest my old weary bones is a bed. Now remember how I said I actually intend on spending time with my significant other? That won’t happen because as soon as this lady sits on a bed, it’s over. Over I say. I convince myself I will only sleep a second, but deep down I know the truth. Also, connecting rooms are in that realm of “you can request but we can’t guarantee” (like cribs). That’s just not a chance I’m willing to take. I’d be stuck in the room with the sleeping kids and my husband would be living it up by himself in the other room? I don’t think so. Number one rule of marriage is if I suffer, we suffer together. I’m not going to change that now.

Study the Layout of the Hotel:

One way we get out of being trapped in the room with our sleeping littes is to do the same thing we do at home: shut the door and go somewhere else (within reach of our monitor). IMG_6503.JPGFor example, my husband and I always request the same hotel room at a resort we go to in VT because we know that we can lock our door and walk down to the outdoor deck and bar while watching our sleeping children on our monitor. While sitting outside this year, we discussed trying a different room during our next visit, so the next day we took the camera to that area of the resort and checked the monitor. Guess what? It worked! So we’re off to a new room during the next visit (it’s the little things that get us through these days).

We look not just for places to relax in the evenings but dinner as well. At a resort we stayed at in Curacao we ate at the same restaurant most nights because I could get up, put my son to sleep, and come back to our table on the beach. He was sleeping literally yards from me with just a patio door between us (which we left unlocked while we locked the front door to the room). The room was not central to the hotel, but it was perfectly situated next to the kiddie pool, the beach, a small hotel bar, and a restaurant. AND it was in a quiet end of the hotel. It was perfect for both naps and night. But we only landed the room because we studied the layout of the hotel and requested the specific building prior to our arrival.

 Request a Balcony:

If we can’t leave the room out of the front door, we try to go out the back. Our general rule is that if we’re in a resort, we try to book the bottom floor with a balcony that we can walk off of. This way, after we put all the littles to bed, we can slip out onto the balcony and relax. One of us can wander over to the hotel bar or the ice cream shop (or in my case, both) and pick up some treats. Then we just sit outside the room and relax. Some times we talk, some times we just sit with our own books and some reading lamps. If the hotel doesn’t have ground floor, walkout balconies, we still use the balcony to our advantage. One of us slips ever so quietly out the front door and gets the goods, and then we spend our evening on our balcony watching the world.

 Work with What You Have:

One rule we have, regardless of whether we have a suite or a balcony, is that we try to create a physical barrier between our littles and ourselves. Even when we have the added space of the suite, my husband and I still go to sleep in the same room as our little people. The last thing I want is to have my child spot me from behind the bars of the hotel crib.IMG_1686.jpg There’s no putting themselves back to sleep once they’ve spotted my face trying to hide in the covers. And this desire to be awake spreads faster than a cold in a Kindergarten classroom once a little one spots me. Next thing I know, it’s four in the morning and I’ve got three little people jumping around on my stomach and a husband still fast asleep next to me.

So, we use the furniture in the rooms to create small rooms. If there are two bathrooms, we will put a crib in one of them. If not, we will check out the size of the closets. We will tuck a crib halfway in a closet with open doors surrounding it. We will stick it behind a desk, next to a chair, covered by a stroller, in a nook. You name it. If there is space that is even a teeny tiny bit separated from the rest of the room, that’s where one of the cribs is going to go. This way, in those just predawn hours of slipping in and out of sleep, my two year old is not going to spot me, fully rouse himself out of slumber, and cheerfully yell out “It’s good morning now?”

 Bring the Right Equipment:

Even with all of this, room sharing happens. If we know there’s a chance, we come prepared. First, we make the bathroom comfy. If that’s where we’re going to be, we might as well get all our plugs etc. in there. If not, we stake out our little hiding corner and prep it. Here’s some water, here’s an iPad plug, here’s some headphones, here’s a book, here’s a reading light. Before the kids fall asleep we make sure that all of our necessities are out of our bags and where we can find them. Pjs? Check. Toothbrush? Check. Glasses? Check. Medicine? IMG_6489.JPGCheck. Once my tiny’s head hits his bed, the game is over. I don’t want to hear a cough, let alone a zipper opening and closing and opening and closing. My “trapped in room” stash includes a Paperwhite Kindle (it doesn’t give off too much light), my iPhone (so I know what time I managed to stay awake until), and a white noise app (on my iPad). White noise is key. I keep it pretty obnoxiously loud until I slide into that bed, hear my husband’s timed breathing, and sense a general lull in the atmosphere. Then, I slowly turn it down (but just a notch because I’m not trying to have a little person wake up because an even littler person coughed).

 Accept It:

It’s vacation. It’s the one time when it really is ok to just say, “I’m going to bed early” and not regret it in the morning. This is especially the case when dealing with a bit of jetlag. When we went to Japan, my husband and I got into our beds as soon as the kids were in theirs. I read on my kindle, he on his phone, and that was it. We spent the entire trip never fully adjusted to the time zone, but that was okay with us. We slept. We caught up on four years of books we had meant to read and four years of sleep we had wished we had. And we didn’t regret it.

 

Traveling with little people can be a challenge. The logistics can often be painful. These little creatures are creatures of habit, even when traveling, and their routines can seem a burden to our plans. But sometimes these routines are just what we need on a vacation: a reason to slow down and nurture our own selves without guilt and without regret.

 

Three Kids and a Hurricane

We had only halfway been tracking it in the week leading up to our trip to Disney World for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween. In fact, when I called my husband and said we should really keep our eye on Hurricane Matthew, he had the response one would expect from a FullSizeRender-3.jpgman who thinks his significant other is a slight bit paranoid. Which I’m not. Really. (Am I? Maybe I am? What if I am? But I’m not. Totally not.) As the days dripped on though, it became clear. We needed to discuss Hurricane Matthew. It seemed it (he?) would be headed toward Florida some time around Friday morning, perfectly timed with our Friday morning flight into FL. We weighed options: Go later? Cancel? What about school? Finally we settled on earlier. And so our mad rush began.

With three little people tearing through the house, it can be a wee bit hard to pack. I tend to do a handful at a time in the week leading up to our trip (my free time is usually when the two smallest littles are napping, and the clothes I need to pack are in the napping kids’ rooms. Go figure). There it was Tuesday night and I had to have it finished by Wednesday night. So I did a frantic pack. This is my least favorite type of packing. I can’t even manage it for a trip to the grocery store, let alone a rainy, hot, cold, sunny, windy, stuffy trip to Florida. But. I did it. Then when it hit me that we’d be in hotel rooms with the littles for an extended period of time, I had to pack more (I seriously hate bringing more). So I took more. More coloring books, more stickers, more cars, more dolls, more books, more puzzles, more rattling things, more rolling things, more wiggling things, more noisemaking things. More. Every. Little. Thing. And then some time in the middle of the night, I was done.

4:30 am and I hear it. Even though my husband has chosen the most gentle, soothing, sweetest alarm to wake up with, it still brings a solid cold sweat and a shock of denial every time it happens. I managed to pull myself like molasses from bed and started the task of starting the day. The last minute gather, the waking of children. The car ride. The security line. The airport. The airplane. And finally, the arrival.

There we were, tired, hungry, and, after a check in so long it was almost time for our flight home, roomless. Sure we were early, so we understood. The hurricane had travelers coming early, leaving late, not showing up at all, so we really understood (I mean, we were some of those travelers). Some smiles, some nods, and we were finally ready to get ready for the park (and food…there’s no way I was taking the little people anywhere hangry–even a Disney World park).

FullSizeRender-1.jpgWhile frantically inhaling our first meal of the day we were texted: one of our connecting rooms was ready. It was nearly two pm and perfectly timed so we could prep for the heat and the rain, head to Epcot, take the littles on a Nemo ride in a clam shell, and try to ride Elsa and Anna’s new ride before it closed for the hurricane at five (we had fast passes for 5:15…seriously?!?!?!?!). Our connected room would be ready for us by the time we got back. No big deal, or so we thought. We’d still get back in time to set up the littles’ room; unpack; and let them get some of their wiggles out, feel the lay of the land, throw their clothes around, strategically place all their stuffed animals, and evaluate the condition of the room (the five year old fancies herself a hotel connoisseur).

As we made our way through the back entrance to Epcot, the rain slowly started, and since TSA lost one of our stroller rain covers (thankfully meant for the single, not the double), we had to buy an extra poncho and rig a special cover for the five year old sitting alone. It was actually kind of perfect. She rode sitting criss cross apple sauce with the sun visor over her and stuck her sweet little face out of the poncho hood. She stayed dry, and it seemed like there was no barrier between her and the rest of us grown ups.

But that novelty wore off as we reached the Nemo ride and she had to be coaxed to go on fullsizerender-4(Bruce the shark is not that friendly of a guy in actuality). By the time we emerged, the rain had picked up and the five year old felt hot to the touch. She begged to put the stroller back and lay down with the rain cover over her, barring her from the world. We made our way, at her behest, to the Frozen ride in the hopes that the line was short since the park would close in 10 minutes. It wasn’t bad. But the knowledge of those lost fast passes ate at us while we waited with a sad little person who desperately wanted to go on the ride but was too sick to stand on her own. So my husband asked. He told them we have fast passes for after the park’s closing. And they let us in. Imagine that. We just needed to ask.

When the ride was over, the wind had started. We managed to stay dry to this point, but FullSizeRender.jpgwith the rain coming at us sideways, we knew this walk would mean we would get drenched. At least the littles would stay dry. And the five year old slept. Within minutes of being in the stroller, she slept. All the way back to the hotel, she slept. Through the wind and the rain, she slept. In the lobby while we waited to get the key to our other room, she slept. When the concierge realized that someone else was in the room we had been given, she slept. As my husband showed them the text with our new room number on it, she slept. And as we waited, she slept. As they grew more and more apologetic and more and more confused as to what to do with us, she slept. As my momma bear instinct began to wake, she slept. Through my mother in law and I deciding to take the kids up to the room we currently did have, she slept. The ten month old little though? Oh, he didn’t sleep. He hadn’t all day. And neither did the two year old. It was the perfect potion for a toxic night.

My husband appeared at our door much later, defeated. They could offer us rooms across the hall from one another right now or we could wait longer to see what connecting rooms they could put together. With littles as little as ours, we needed the connecting rooms. So we waited and went in search of some dinner, the little people hanging on by barely a thread, overcome with exhaustion from an early morning, a rainy day, a late dinner, the beginnings of an illness, and the knowledge that a hurricane was lurking in the dark. Then it hit me.

I understood when the rooms weren’t ready at first. I understood that it would take them time to get them cleaned. I understood that Hurricane Matthew caused some chaos with people coming early, leaving late, or not showing up at all. But the airports were closed. People weren’t looking to check out and head straight into the heart of a hurricane. FullSizeRender-2.jpgThe rooms were set. It was eight o’clock. My ten month old was sleeping at the table. My five year old was becoming feverish again. My two year old was about to scale walls from sheer exhaustion. They needed their beds, their stuffed animals, their sanctuary, their place away from all the stimulation. And my momma bear stirred again. And I left.

I spoke with the front desk for perhaps five minutes and made my way back to my table. I turned to my husband and said calmly, “Go up to our room and meet the bellmen there. They are on the way to get our things and move us to a two bedroom suite.”

I can’t tell you exactly what happened in those five minutes. I know I did not raise my voice. I was not angry. I was protective. I explained my situation-my little people, my loves. I did not leave room for thought. I explained what I needed. I explained what I expected. And that is what I received.

While it often pays to be flexible when traveling, there are also those moments when you have to be an advocate for your little people, your family, yourself. I wasn’t going to leave with promises that vanish into the air. I wanted action. I requested action. And I got action. (And it totally helped that we had a spacious, calming, three room suite to whittle the day away in while the hurricane swirled around us.)

Hotel Review–The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL–Child Accommodating

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is a hotel (two really) that my family stays at frequently. There is something about hearing the fountains and the boat horn and sniffing the cozy vanilla smell that immediately makes me feel at peace. IMG_7026.JPGIn fact, until we joined the Disney Vacation Club it was the only place we stayed initially for two main reasons.

First, the Swan and Dolphin have the unique quality of being the only non Disney hotel still located on Disney property. Due to this, guests have most (but not all) of the benefits of a Disney hotel (extra magic hours, transportation to parks, and character dining to name a few), but guests also get to redeem points or get points for their stay because the hotel is a Starwood Property (which just happens to be our favorite hotel collection, so there’s no way we would’ve turned a blind eye to these two hotels).

The second aspect of the property that drives us to return is its location. It is situated within a scenic and easy 15 minute stroll to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The walk to Epcot takes us past The Boardwalk area, so we have easy access to all the amenities there (the hotel restaurants, the restaurants, bars, ice cream shops, bakeries, etc), and when we get to Epcot the path terminates at the entrance found quietly placed between France and England in the World Showcase. This lack of line is of significant benefit when we are there for Food and Wine or the International Flower and Garden Festival. It also makes it quite easy to just slip over to Epcot for dinner after a day at another park.

All in all, staying at the Swan and Dolphin was a fairly easy decision for us before we had children. Since kids, we still come back about once a year, but it is not our go to anymore. While the hotel is clearly a part of the world of Disney, it is also distinct in how distant from Disney it can at times feel. The hotels have quite large convention centers that are usually booked. This means that rather than having a family vibe, they often have a corporate vibe with groups of adults running from one meeting to another and signs and tables situated throughout the lobby (at least of The Dolphin). It seems the lobby is less a IMG_7010.JPGplace to gather with a family than it is to be a meeting place of members of a larger visiting convention. When weaving our way through the throngs of convention goers, it feels as though we, as a family, accidentally stumbled into a meeting we were not supposed to be at. It is less than welcoming. In the Dolphin (our preferred property), the bar can become full of people mingling, and since the bar is located in the hallway of the lobby at the top of the escalators leading to the main entrance to the walkways and amenities, it is impossible to navigate at times.

IMG_7002.JPGI think the aspect of the hotel that keeps it from being Child Friendly can best be summed up by our last visit. We were at the Dolphin during Hurricane Matthew and the closure of the parks. We asked the concierge if there were any special activities they had set up for the day to keep kids occupied, and they told us the Children’s Center would be open, as it usually is on rainy days. This small collection of rooms, tucked into the back corner of the hotel was the only amenity set up for children on a day when all children were confined to the hotel. (Disney properties, on the other hand, went so far as to bring the IMG_7004.JPGcharacters into the hotels so children could visit with them while stuck indoors.) Additionally, while the hotel has some great activities like S’mores and parent’s Date Night, they do little to advertise these services and parents must go out in search of them (we chanced upon them listed on an electronic poster when wandering the hotel during the Hurricane). In the five years we had been frequenting the property with children, this information was never verbally discussed with us. In summation, the hotel has much to offer, but don’t be fooled into thinking that because it is on Disney property, it is the equivalent of staying at a Disney hotel.

Pros Cons
Access to Magic Hours Convention center can create chaotic, crowded, corporate atmosphere
Indoor ice ceam parlor Concierge service is not always knowledgeable
Kid friendly eating options Guest Services are slow, often requiring multiple calls (ex: we waited 10 hours for a crib)
Large, interesting pool with kid friendly depths Check in can be time consuming and rooms are not always ready “on time” (3 pm check in time)
Life vests for pool Balconies not in all rooms (always a nice place to escape with a grown up once your trapped in the room because of sleeping children)
Easy walk to Epcot and Hollywood Studios No transportation to/from the airport (no Magical Express of other Disney properites)
Transportation to the parks (bus, boat, and walk) Parking lot gets filled quickly so finding a spot can prove difficult even if it is paid for, and the valet service can get quite backed up
Fireworks visible from both Epcot and Hollywood Studios (from room depending on room, but always somewhere outdoors) Camp Dolphin is small with limited space and not always available
S’mores by the beach six evenings a week Disney dining reservations can only be made at exactly 180 days out rather than 180 days plus the duration of your stay
Swan boat rentals There are no linked Magic Bands for your park ticket, room key, or charges
Two complimentary hours of child care while dining at one of their signature restaurants or during a 75 minute spa treatment  
Character dining at Garden Grove  
Camp Dolphin: supervised activity center for children ages 4-12 (open nightly 5:30-midnight; call for reservations)  
Park tickets can be purchased on site  

Of note, the rooms are undergoing renovations.

Note: Hotels are based on a four level scale: Child Centered, Child Friendly, Child Accommodating, Unsuitable. A Child Centered hotel is a hotel in which the child’s comfort, happiness, etc. is paramount. A Child Friendly hotel has those implements in place to create a fun atmosphere for the child, though it is not the apparent mission of the hotel to continuously do so. A Child Accommodating hotel is that hotel where it will assist the parents in making the child comfortable at the parent’s request only. An Unsuitable hotel is a hotel that has no accommodations suitable for a child or the cons of the hotel make the hotel dangerous for the well-being of the child.

Three Kids and a Change in Plans

We all woke up early. I don’t remember who was first, but it doesn’t matter. We were all just looking for a reason to get out of bed. It wasn’t completely dark out, but it was still that steely cold grey. Except this wasn’t winter. It was summer. In Tokyo. During rainy season. And, having arrived the night before from NYC, it was our first day of two weeks we were going to spend in the country, splitting our time between Tokyo, Kyoto, and Tokyo Disney (don’t judge; we’re a Disney family).

I threw open the window curtains, and we watched the city wake up out of our floor to ceiling windows on the 14th floor. We waited. And waited. People started to fill the streets, but the sun stayed hidden, as it would all day. And the next. And the next. And the next. We dressed. We ate. We thought maybe it was time to get out of the hotel room and check out all the nooks and crannies we could manage to squeeze into our days before we left for Kyoto in five days. We were optimistic. Even my husband, who is more opposed to rain than the Wicked Witch of the West, was ready to take on what we thought was a little bit of drizzly morning rain.

Our first discovery just reinforced that this day was meant to be good. We followed an underground tunnel to an office building next door and stumbled right into the hands of Starbucks. Being five months pregnant, the ice coffee craving that this sweet little spot handled just helped set the blissful pace. Or so I thought. With coffee in hand, we lowered the rain covers on the strollers and crossed the street to the entrance of the long winding walkway to the rail system. No problem though. It was all covered, so stroller covers were up and little people legs were kicking with happy.

Then it happened. We got off the rails at Harajuku Station and were greeted with sheets of water. We waited. And waited. And then we just couldn’t wait any more. So, it was rain covers down and into the fray. We tried to go to a shrine. The path was pebbles, and it was surrounded by dark trees. It was beautiful in the rain, but it was impossible to push strollers through the mud and pebbled puddles. We headed to the streets. And then it got worse. We turned to the closest place we could find. The Gap. Yes. We tried to go in The Gap while in Tokyo. Even that didn’t work. It was so early that nothing was open yet. It seemed Tokyo had given us warm coffee, and then sent us out into the rain. And the littles? They were rapidly losing their minds. Their strollers had quickly become sweat boxes with the plastic rain covers on (did I mention that it was 800 degrees?). My little people couldn’t see out of the foggy, sticky wrapping. For all they could see, they could have been anywhere.

That day it rained on and off (as in the sky exploded. All. The. Time.). We hid out in restaurants and stores. A bank. Places we hadn’t actually meant to see. We tried to wander the city streets, but could barely keep our heads up. Finally, we went back to the hotel early to let the kids stretch their legs before dinner and to let our water-logged skin snap back into place. When back at the hotel, with the help and input from the concierge, we tried to make dinner reservations, offering our own options and options and options to those given by the concierge, but we found that most places wouldn’t allow children. (In fact, the place most recommended to us because we had children was Denny’s. Yes. I am talking about “Moons over My Hammy” Denny’s. You can imagine the pain this caused my husband who considers himself quite the foodie. To be fair, our food issue was not only due to having children with us, but also by the fact that my husband is allergic to shellfish and I was pregnant, so unable to eat most fish. Probably not the best place to travel expecting to eat local cuisine under those circumstances. So, there’s that.) We found one delicious, recommended Italian restaurant (weird I know) that would take us and one great Indian spot as well (that’s weird too, huh?). The rain though, lasted days, but in those few moments it didn’t rain? It was running through gardens and exploring new streets, new stores, new cultures (we fell in love with noodle places). Unfortunately, it was like a deluge most of the time.

On day four we were taking a bus trip to Mt. Fuji. My husband and I offered this as a short-term beacon of hope for the littles (seriously, they had Tokyo Disney coming in a few days). We were going to go from a bus, to a boat, to a cable car, to a final train home. It was a little person’s dream. Except we couldn’t see out of the bus windows because of the fog. And the boat drifted quietly through the thickness. And if it weren’t for the gentle lurching of the cable car, we’d never know it left the ground. We were so close to Mt. Fuji, as far up as cars can go, and yet we had no idea. We couldn’t see up or see down. In fact, we saw nothing. It was like we were behind the veil of a fogged-over stroller cover. We knew we had to make some changes.

That night we decided to leave Tokyo on the early train to Kyoto rathFullSizeRender (3).jpger than spend one more day with the ins and the outs and the rain of the city. We vowed to come back when the kids were bigger. When they cared about good food. When they found new skylines profound. (Sometimes, the thing about living in a city like New York is that while other international cities are exciting, if they are too international, too modern and westernized, they just become a comparison.) My husband and I were excited to get the little people on a high speed train. We were excited to get to Kyoto. We were excited for temples, for the philosopher’s path. We wanted to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. We were excited to slow down and to feel Japan.

One high speed train later, we were at our hotel in Kyoto in a “traditional” room. The beds were on the floor and all the furniture was close to the ground, which is great if you have a four year old and a one and half year old. (It is less great if you are pregnant.) The rain started to lighten, and on our first morning, we saw a bit of sky. A clear sign we made a good decision. An indication we needed to get out and explore. Kyoto was a welcome weather change. While it was overcast, it was only raining 50% of the time. It was hot and sticky, but still, we managed to dry out between showers. This trip was starting to turn around I thought. IMG_6826.JPGThe Temples were beautiful. But in combination with the rain and a bajillion steps, were a slow (think molasses) process. The little people got to be outside without their foggy rain covers. But, the little people were hot, and the little people wanted to run around (on the Temple grounds unfortunately). We took them to the Children’s Center at the hotel, hoping to give them an outlet. We found ourselves lingering in our hotel room a little later each morning and coming back a little earlier each afternoon. And then we recognized that feeling again. It was time to leave. Earlier than planned.

We needed to stop this trip. We needed to make it a vacation, which it would never be if the little people didn’t feel happy too. Too many days of seeing the world from behind foggy stroller covers had made them restless. Too many days of staying quiet. Of sitting still. Of not being a part of the world around them. They felt all give and little take. And we felt helpless to find them their kids space. So we gave. And we agreed to go Tokyo Disney early.

I want toIMG_0315.jpg say I feel ashamed to admit that I left such a culturally significant, spiritually in tune place as Kyoto just to take my little people early to Tokyo Disney, but I would be lying. I learned about Japanese culture sitting outside on a bench at the Mermaid Lagoon and watching parents and children, groups of teens, couples, and generations. I saw values in how people waited in line at Aquatopia. I learned custom in food choices. I watched my children’s faces and saw them grow. I heard their questions about the world because this world with princesses and talking animals was more relatable to them. I talked with my husband, reconnected without interruption, because my littles were soaking in every inch of what was happening around them. And it never rained. And what started as a trip ended as a vacation.