Surviving Disney World with a Newborn: You Really Can Do It

Having a newborn is no joke. I mean it’s all powdery smells and silky baby fuzz heads, but let’s be honest. It’s a job. Like a real, I am working way more than 40 hours a week, job. There is no pattern. There’s sleep and then suddenly just no sleep…at all. There’s diapers and feedings. Don’t even get me started on the constant eating that newborns do. Days become timed to when we feed the baby and when the baby sleeps. Day. Night. It’s all the same. It can be draining. It can suck the spontaneity out of even the most unplanned, freeformed of days. So, what happens when that newborn makes its sweet little appearance months or weeks prior to a planned trip (or really even an unplanned trip) to Disney World? Well, I’ve done it. At least three times. So, hopefully, my mistakes and lessons can be of benefit.

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Yummy newborn snuggles

My husband and I started going to Disney World regularly before children entered our lives. So, with three little people five and under, we’ve managed to make the trip with newborns of varied ages and with their siblings of varied ages in tow as well. Some of these trips have been successful. And, truth be told, some have not (there really is nothing like trying to bathe your tiny little in a small sink in a public bathroom, knowing full well that everyone eyes you with a mix of pity and disgust). But with each of our mistakes, we’ve learned a bit about how to survive the visually and physically overwhelming and exhausting landscape of Disney without completely losing our minds (at least I’m pretty sure I never did, but I don’t suggest you ask my husband whether or not I did…I feel his response may be slightly different and that’s probably not encouraging). Here’s a bit of what there is to know.

  1. Take Advantage of What is Offered: Disney doesn’t try to hide that they’re geared towards families, especially those with small children, so of course they have facilities that are designed to make life better. Each park has a Baby Center. They have quiet, darkened nursing rooms (Epcot and Magic Kingdom are shared spaces while Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios have private areas for each mother), large changing tables, microwaves, rooms to play and relax (for those wiggly little toddlers), and an assortment of baby items to buy (diapers, medicine, clothing, food, formula, pacifiers, sunscreen, among others). They have it covered. And the bonus? It’s air conditioned, so obviously this momma here needed to go to the Baby Center every two hours or so during that late May vacation in Florida. Thankfully it was free; otherwise, I’d still be working off that debt.

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    On the way to the Baby Center at Epcot, located behind Mexico next to First Aid.
  2. Use the Rides to Your Advantage: I’m going to be frank. Some rides are a once in a lifetime experience. Once is enough. For me, that ride is “It’s A Small World.” Unfortunately, my daughter didn’t get that memo. So we rode it. Again. And again. And, well, you know how it goes. The thing about It’s A Small World is that it’s a long ride. And it always stops, and the boat sits in that white room brimming with singing children for chorus upon chorus upon chorus upon chorus. Knowing I had countless minutes (at least 30) sitting on this comfy (relatively) boat, I decided to do what any mother does: I nursed my newborn. No one was looking at me. They were interested in the animatronic little dancing kids. So, while I wasn’t thrilled to be on the ride, I was able to make the best of it. I got to feed my tiny without having to make the rest of my entourage stop their Disney exploration. And this little trick shouldn’t be restricted to It’s A Small World. I go big. I mean, if it’s my fifth time seeing Frozen’s Sing Along Show, do I really need to pay attention? No way. I can feed my baby (and if I’m lucky catch up on a little sleep myself). Those shows are a great place to sit and tend to a newborn. They’re Disney’s gift to mothers of newborns, really.

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    Magic Kingdom’s People Mover is a great ride to take a break with your newborn. Here he rides in a carrier under a muslin blanket, napping the ride away.
  3. Bring Your Car Seat: It’s not often that I’m an advocate of the car seat and the car seat stroller. I find it restrictive, and for some reason I believe my newborn is hot and itchy all moments that he/she is in it. But at Disney? Bring it and use the snap and go stroller with it. Disney doesn’t really appreciate strollers in a restaurant, and many restaurants simply can’t accommodate them. Since tiny newborns can’t sit up in high chairs, they need somewhere to go. That somewhere is the car seat. With baby two we decided to fly down without the car seat. Not our best decision. I ended up trying to lay the poor tiny guy on chairs pushed together everywhere we went, if he wasn’t sitting in my lap (he’s always been a bit of trouble maker, so he was not one of those little people that could sit happily on my lap while I ate). Tiny baby three? We weren’t taking chances. Car seat all the way. And I couldn’t have been happier. The tiniest of my people was comfy and relaxed at meals. And (and this is incredibly important), I did not have to wake the tiny guy up from a nap to take him into or out of a restaurant or a car. Those naps were full and deep. Just the way a tired momma likes them.

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    Doesn’t that car seat look like it can get hot and itchy? But it’s a lifesaver.
  4. Walk as Much as Possible: When we don’t have our car with us, we try to stay at hotels that provide us with as much of an opportunity to walk as possible. While the Disney buses are fine and easy enough, they do require all strollers to be broken down. It’s just one extra step of madness. (Add to that a toddler or two, their accouterments, another double stroller, and the toddler’s general rule-following demeanor and the madness only increases ten fold…at least).

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    Walk whenever possible. This means a lot of trips on the monorails with a newborn.
  5. Bring a Carrier: The carrier’s value is limitless. Even with a cars eat a carrier is mandatory. I mean, I certainly can’t drag said car seat into a twenty minute “Peter Pan’s Flight” line with me. But, I can easily drop that tiny nugget into a carrier and go about my way (hopefully with a lovely cocktail in my hand (just kidding…seriously, Magic Kingdom really needs to get on that though)). The carrier is essential when going on rides that are newborn appropriate. That tiny person doesn’t want to be in and out and in and out of that cars eat (hot and itchy remember?), so I keep them close and let them hang out. Oh, and I haven’t forgotten that it is also every mother’s secret weapon for when she wants her child to sleep. Another reason to have it all times.

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    Meeting Elsa with a newborn in tow (sleeping in the carrier and covered with a muslin blanket).
  6. Prepare for the Elements: The rules are as follows: if there is no rain covering, it will rain. If there is no fan, it will be hotter than the seventh ring of hell. Bring both. Rain covers for strollers are highly important. Florida is required by law to have one random burst of rain every day. Be prepared. The stroller cover will keep the little person happy and dry. And if that tiny isn’t in the stroller, it will keep the stroller dry. No newborn (or anyone really) wants to then be sat in a sopping wet, foam filled, seat. And even though they are less than fashionable, ponchos are necessary. It is impossible to steer a stroller through crowds while holding an umbrella (scientifically proven fact). On the flip side, prior to that rain and immediately after, Florida is required to have insanely hot, sticky weather. Car seats have all that soft cushy padding surrounding a tiny person. It’s polyester. It’s everywhere. And they can’t move themselves because…well…no muscles. Bring a fan. And extra batteries. And a tiny screwdriver. My new born has never said it, but I’m pretty sure those sweet little eyes are filled with tears of thanks. And speaking of heat, we always bring a muslin blanket for the little people (all of them, toddler and big kid included). They’re thin and keep the sun off of their skin. Sunburnt little people are grumpy little people, and I don’t think that’s allowed in Disney World (except around 2-3 pm when pretty much all children under 7 begin to melt). Tip: We bring binder clips to clip the blanket stratigically to the stroller.

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    We were at Disney during Hurricane Matthew. Rain gear is a must.
  7. Relax: One of the most important things I’ve found as a mother of a newborn at Disney is that I am not alone. I’ve never walked through the crowds feeling like I was the only one dealing with the difficult, albeit lovely, job of hanging out with a newborn in Disney World. Women and men are all over the parks with them. And there are glances that say, “I get it.” When I sit outside a ride with my tiny person as my husband takes the other two on it, I am surrounded by others doing the same. Waiting. With tiny people companions. It is reassuring to know that I am not crazy in this endeavor. There is a tribe, and I am a part of it. If I can do it, someone else can do it. And when I hit a low, I see another parent with a newborn and am reminded, that yes, we can do this.

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    The tiniest little and me waiting for the others to finish a ride. Not so newborn anymore…we did it!

Disney with a newborn isn’t always a walk in the park (…see what I did there?). But, with a little planning and a little flexibility, it can be pretty darn close.

I’d love to hear how you make Disney doable for you and your newborn. Leave a comment below.

And if you’d like some more ideas on how to survive Disney World with or without a newborn, check out “How to Turn a Trip to Walt Disney World into a Vacation“.

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Hotel Review–Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas, Lake Buena Vista, FL–Child Centered

Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas is my diamond in the rough. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t falling apart on the outside and it certainly isn’t in a questionable location. In fact, it may be one of my favorite hotels to stay at when we visit Disney World. The reason it’s a diamond in the rough is because it blends so seamlessly into the backdrop of a busy Atlantic shore boardwalk, but it offers so much tranquility at the same time. While well orchestrated chaos surrounds, I can slip off into a bench and watch it swim by, content in the knowledge that my little people are fully partaking in that chaos and I don’t need to do a thing to stop it.

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Map of the hotel and amenities

We are members of Disney Vacation Club, with our home hotel as Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, yet more often than not, we try to book our rooms at The Boardwalk. Why? As a frequent visitor to Disney World, there are two aspects to this hotel that keeps this family coming back to it again and again.

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The walkway between the hotel and Hollywood Studios winds around the lake. The parks can also be accessed by riding on the boat pictured.

First of all, we love the location. As a walking family, we appreciate that we can stroll easily to Epcot and easily to Hollywood Studios from the hotel (there are buses and boats as well, but nothing beats a nice walk). This is even more important since we have to bring strollers (there’s nothing worse than trying to grab all of our junk out of our two strollers, fold them (while keeping the little people from running into the road), throw them over my husband’s shoulder and get the three little people onboard a rapidly filling bus in a 30 second time period, especially when I’m not trying to look too crazy). Also, it’s not so bad getting to Magic Kingdom either, especially now that Disney offers the Express Transportation Option, which means we get to skip the security and entrance lines at MK because we’ve gone through them at Epcot. And what’s also great is that when we get to Epcot, we use the back entrance found quietly placed between France and England in the World Showcase where there is little to no line. This lack of line is of significant benefit when we are there for Food and Wine or the International Flower and Garden Festival. We can get in and out of the park quickly and easily. It also makes it quite simple to just slip over to Epcot for dinner after a day at another park.

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The easily accessed and usually empty back entrance to Epcot.

The second reason that the Boardwalk is on my list of go to Disney resorts is the amenities of the property. To be honest, Disney, in general, does a great job of making sure each resort has enough to do that we’d never have to leave the property, but the way in which these amenities are presented at the Boardwalk are what make it a standout property. As a mother of three littles five and under, I’ve figured out that taking breaks and not pushing too hard are essential to having an enjoyable vacation (for more momma survival tips, see my post “How to Turn a Trip to Walt Disney World into a Vacation”). This was easy when all my little people took naps, but that’s simply (and unfortunately) not the case anymore. So, what to do with a five year old (and occasionally a two year old) who don’t want to nap while the tiniest little gets a real nap in a real bed in a real room (albeit a hotel room)? At the Boardwalk, one of the grown ups takes the non-nappers out to explore the actual boardwalk area. Instead of just roaming the hotel (which they’d actually be more than happy to do as they fancy themselves hotel connoisseurs) they get to feel like they’re going somewhere special. They eat ice cream, get drinks, sit and watch the water, and take millions of photo booth pictures (and the hubs grabs me a lovely little adult beverage and brings it back to the room for me…it really is true love (hello AbracadaBar, I’m looking at you)). In the evening, we can come back to the hotel before dinner and still “go” somewhere for dinner when we eat on the boardwalk. It’s different than eating at a restaurant in the hotel. It feels special and new to the little people. It’s an experience. And the evenings on the boardwalk? They’re filled with caricature portraitists, magicians, face painters, and a slew of other entertainment that helps make it feel like we’re not at just a hotel’s amenities, but at an entirely different place.

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The courtyard outside of the entrance to the hotel off of the boardwalk. This is a great space to let little people run around and play a game of tag. Some evenings this turns into a theater with a large screen and blankets to sit on.

There are so many options to choose from when visiting Disney World, but my family and I keep coming back to Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas. Our days are easier without running to catch buses in enough time to break down strollers. We love having Epcot and Hollywood as options just to swing by to grab a bite to eat. It is the perfect combination of enough to do to entertain little people, but not so much that it is overwhelming and invites meltdowns. It’s a place to sit and watch the world go by without feeling like I’m missing out on that world.

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Patiently waiting for ice cream from Ample Hills, an amazing ice cream parlor that has its home base in Brooklyn (blocks from where the biggest little spent her first years…it always feels a bit like coming home.)

A few other fabulous and not so fabulous aspects of the hotel are listed below.

Pros Cons
The rooms are recently renovated (within past year) The choice of floor is difficult to keep clean (grained wood=little people grime sticks in textured grains)
Variety of room types available (with a variety of amenities such as kitchens, clothes washers, and dryers and high chairs, if requested) Rooms are relatively small (Villas) with no substantial table area (big enough for two only), and limited space for extra cribs/beds in bedrooms (only one would fit)
In the 1 bedroom Villa, the bathroom is split into two sections: shower, sink, toilet in section off of main living area and garden, jetted tub and sink off of bedroom (so toilet can be accessed without waking sleeping little people in bedroom) There are just shutters separating tub from bedroom (rather than a solid wall), so it is impossible to get a bath while little people sleep in bedroom.
The rooms have balconies The boardwalk side rooms can be loud if overlooking a busy section of the boardwalk as well as during the Epcot fireworks show
As a DVC member it is easy to access pool at Yacht/Beach Club The main pool is small overall (though it does have a slide). And the secondary pool is also small
Magic bands provided No on site character dining
Access to Magic Hours No on site Children’s Activity Center
Ample Hill ice cream (we lived blocks from the original in Brooklyn and it is un.be.liev.able.) Bathtubs (Villas) are large garden tubs, not ideal for bathing tiny little people
Outdoor play area
Outdoor grill
Kid activities (outdoor movie nights, smores, bike rental, etc)
Life vests for pool
Easy walk to Epcot and Hollywood Studios
Transportation to the parks (bus, boat, and walk)
Fireworks visible from both Epcot and Hollywood Studios (from room depending on room, but always somewhere outdoors)
Background of Epcot fireworks plays at the Boardwalk so you can experience the entire event from afar (yay for scared littles like mine)
Magical Express Service to and from airport
Resort Airline Check in (no need to drag bags to the airport or deal with lines at the airport)
A variety of eating and drinking options (from formal fish dinners to fried mac and cheese bites from a truck and onto a great drink at the AbracadaBar)
Childcare Services available for children 6 months to 12 years (prices found online)
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The delightful AbracadaBar right outside of the courtyard at the entrance into the hotel from the boardwalk.

What’s important to note is that we are Disney Vacation Club members, so we stay in DVC rooms, which provide us with kitchens and clothes washers as standard (in a 1 (+) bedroom villa). If these amenities are desired, they need to be requested. Additionally, if view is important, then it needs to be taken into account when booking the room. Some rooms overlook the boardwalk, some overlook a pool, while other rooms may just overlook the entrance or the parking lot. It is important to be clear when booking the room as there are a variety of room configurations and amenities available. Be aware of what you are booking when you book. That being said, regardless of the type of room you book, the location of the hotel and its “Coney Island”-like theme create the perfect balance of excitement and tranquility.

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Some Boardwalk photobooth fun (well, most of us had fun…).

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.