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.

Advertisements

Answers to Some Questions You Didn’t Know You Had When Planning a Getaway to Nickelodeon’s All Inclusive Resort in Punta Cana-Updated

NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect additional information provided by the resort’s concierge. Some of the information is in conflict with the information previously provided through the resort’s Facebook contact. (Nov. 16, 2016)

One thing I know about traveling with my littles is that it’s nice to go places where they are entertained by the world around them and I can spend a little less time being just sooooo entertaining. With that in mind, my husband and I set out to book a summer trip that offered our little people a bit more entertainment than they normally get when we travel beyond Walt Disney World or a beach house. My littles are small, we’re talking five, two, and under one. They still haven’t quite mastered the excitement of immersing IMG_6135.JPGthemselves in other cultures and understanding the implications and depths of historical locales and movements. So, our options were somewhat limited.

Then one day it just started popping up everywhere. I mean every single place I looked. It stalked me. Nickelodeon’s new all inclusive property in Punta Cana. So I researched and read. And read some more. And researched some more. And then I sat down to see if this place was really worth it. Most of the customer reviews from last summer were less than kind, but then again, it was a property that just opened last summer and everything was not up and running at the time. So, armed with some questions taken from those reviews, I, in my best explorer mindset, set out in search of answers. The problem was, the website was a bit less than informative. There were descriptions of a sentence, but no details. How important are details? Let me say again, I have three little people. Seriously. Details are ridiculously important.

I reached out to the hotel via their contact info and received no response. I then moved on to Facebook, and within hours I had a response. I spent the next week asking more and more questions and finding more and more questions. And I was getting answers. And when I ran out of answers, I went to the head concierge. Unfortunately I didn’t get any answers there, but I’m still hopeful. And now? I have most questions answered. And so do you.

Are the facilities all up and running? I was told they are 100% up and running. What I figured out though, through asking questions about other amenities, is that while the facilities may be 100% up and running, not all programs are. This could change over time. If there’s a particular program you’re interested in, it would be best to ask. (For example, the Spanish Lessons are not yet a part of the program there, though it is listed on their website as one of the services they offer.)

IMG_6503.JPGIs there a charge for any of the “Gotcha Covered” amenities and are they guaranteed if requested? (cribs, strollers, Gerber baby food, bottle sterilizers and warmers, step stools, bathrobes, bath tubs, changing tables, baby monitors, beach toys) The amenities are always available and should be guaranteed whether or not you request them ahead of time. Also, the Gerber food, while not organic, is suitable for children as young as six months old.

What is Nickelodeon Place? Listed on the Activities page is “Nickelodeon Place,” but what exactly is it beyond a character meeting spot (which is listed as a separate activity anyway)? Well, essentially it’s everything and nothing rolled into one. It is the general name given to the large area that contains all of the separately listed activities (Aqua Nick, Aqua Bite, Just Kiddin’ Kids Club, Character Central, Plaza Orange amphitheater, Nick kNacks, and the Sports Hub). So, though it is listed as a separate activity, it, in fact, isn’t.

IMG_3829.jpgWhat is the character meeting/Character Central situation look like? Is it organized or arbitrary? How will I know when to show up? Many of the online reviews contained complaints of not seeing any characters while on property. I was told that there is a set schedule that varies each week depending on variables such as weather and occupancy. So, it is set. But not that set. This schedule can be picked up upon arrival.

What about character dining? What are the options? How easy or hard is it to book? Currently, the only dining options with characters are breakfasts and those breakfasts only occur on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday from 8-10am is the TMNT Power Breakfast and on Sundays from 8-10am is the PJ Jam Breakfast. While these are the only days with character breakfasts, I was told that this can change depending upon demand. Since the supply is limited, these meals can be hard to get, but fortunately, character breakfast reservations can be made prior to arrival through contacting the concierge.

Can I make dining reservations in advance? While you can make character breakfast reservations in advance, you cannot make regular dining reservations in advance. These reservations should be made on property with your personal concierge or the lobby concierge. UPDATE: After getting directly in touch with the resort’s concierge (rather than through Facebook) I have been told you can make dining reservations prior to your arrival.

Is babysitting available? How much is it? And for what times? Evening babysitting is available. The cost for this is $20/hour for up to two children. Each child under four requires one babysitter for themselves. During the day, children over four can be dropped off at Just Kiddin’ and the same pricing applies for any other children who are being watched by a babysitter. UPDATE: The price per hour is until 11:00 p.m. If the service is needed additional hours, the guest is responsible for the Taxi fee to get the nanny to his/her final destination. The Taxi cost is additional to the fee per hour.

What is the process for vetting the babysitters? This is still a question I’m waiting to have answered. I will update this when, and if, I get a response. UPDATE: The babysitters are certified, and they do run background checks (as they do on all staff). Most sitters speak English or another language (as well as Spanish).

What is Just Kiddin’? Will my four year old be doing the same activities as the older children there (up to 12 years old)? Just Kiddin’ is a daytime drop off location. IMG_7709.JPGIt has both free play and scheduled activities. These scheduled activities are subject to change and will be given at check in. All kids will be together. So, yes, your four year old will be in the mix with the eight year olds and the twelve year olds. There is no separation by age.

Are there connecting rooms and can they be guaranteed? As a family of five, our room options are somewhat limited, especially if you’re like us and want a separate room for the grown ups to sleep in. If that’s what we want, we have to book a Pool Super Villa. And that is soooo much more space than we need (and sooooo much more money than we want to spend). Fortunately, you can book two connecting rooms (in certain buildings). Pads connect with other Pads and Pads connect with Swank Suites. As far as guaranteeing those? I was told they should be able to guarantee them.

When can spa reservations be made? Truth be told, this is one of the few questions that I have struggled to get answered. I have not heard from anyone, and the follow up on promises to get me that information has been nonexistent. This just leads me to the conclusion that it either contains some top secret information, the pricing is still being set, or the services are not entirely set (or there is just a real difficulty in acquiring this information). UPDATE: The spa services can be made in prior to arrival. I am still waiting for a current and correct menu for spa services.

Does the hotel provide transfers from the airport? Once you book your stay, you will be given the option of choosing to also book a transfer from the airport to the hotel.Transfers are done through Nexus Travel, the resort’s official transportation company. You can also book directly with them at www.nexustravel.com.

This trip is designed for relaxation and restoration, and some of the details are what I needed to get that process started. I’m looking forward to those smooth, sunny days, resting my weary bones on a soft-padded lounge chair outside my hotel room, listening to birds singing and watching the sun reflect off the cool blue of the pool out the door of my swim up suite. Or, more likely, trying to frantically use said lounge chair to create a barrier in my attempt to corral my little people so they don’t get too curious about that pool. And when I feel a bit overwhelmed at those climbing, crawling, eager little legs, I will remind myself to be thankful for that curiosity and the little explorers that that curiosity is creating.

Keep checking back for updates and a post-stay hotel review.

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.

How to Turn a Trip to Walt Disney World into a Vacation

There is nothing worse than getting back from traveling and feeling like you need a vacation. In our house our arrival home goes a bit like this: People come in. Bags come in. Bags go to master bedroom and over the course of five days are unpacked and the contents are put into piles dependent upon final destination. Piles grow smaller as adults and little people rummage through them looking for specific items such as jackets and hair brushes. Diminished piles slowly make their way to where they belong and the contents are shoved into place. Sort of. Empty suitcases remain in rooms for weeks. If fortunate, they make it to stairs of attic. Then there are the endless piles of laundry (I am a sucker for a hotel that has a washing machine so I can do it before I get home). This is the same routine. Every. Single. Time. And it is my Achilles heel of travel. And this is only worse when the travel was exhausting, emotionally and physically. And a trip to Disney World can be both those things.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be those things. In fact, if it was those things for my family, I assure you my husband and I would not be going three times a year. And there’s no way we’d be bringing our little people with us. Whenever we go, whether for two days, five days, seven days, or any other number, we always leave with the same thought: I wish we had one more day here. It’s not because we need more time to see one more thing. It’s because we want it. We want to escape the real world one more day and relax amidst the cacophony of Disney (and probably avoid doing the laundry). So how can a place so loud, so colorful, so fast be relaxing? Here are a few tips on what we do to make all that noise a wonderful, calming, harmonious place to be.

Take a break: Walt Disney World is overwhelming. For me. I’m a grown up. That being said, I can only imagine what it’s like for my littles. It’s like their dreams staring them in the face. It’s the unicorn at the end of the double rainbow. It is emotional for them no matter how many times they go, so they need some breaks from that magical place. One way we do this is by making a point of sitting down to eat with our kids at Disney World. As soon as making dining reservations becomes an option to us, we do it. It is so important that my husband used to wake up in the middle of the night and in the darkness get on his computer and find us places to eat (and there are very few things he would get himself up in the middle of the night for). Fortunately, the reservation structure has changed, so this isn’t necessary anymore. At the parks, we all get to put the swirling world aside for a minute and just sit in a cool place, a comfy seat. IMG_2888.JPGWe usually try to sneak in the added bonus of dining with characters–it’s one less line to wait on and the kids don’t feel the need to rush through eating to get back into the fray. It gives us a chance to talk and recharge. And seriously, no one wants to deal with a hangry toddler (or said toddler’s hangry mother). We also generally try to plan an early exit every third or fourth day. We go to the park in the morning (preferably one with morning magic hours), and then we come home so that the littles who still nap can get real naps (because let’s face it, they’re barely napping in the stroller) and the five year old can get some pool time. Another way we unplug from Disney is by taking advantage of their play areas. The parks have places for little people to blow off steam. So when we see the toddler or infant strapped in the stroller, desperate to get out and walk or crawl after a stretch of “grown up” activities, we go to those places like the Baby Centers where the kids can watch tv and wiggle around, The Boneyard play area in Animal Kingdom, or the indoor play area at the end of Journey into the Imagination with Figment ride in Epcot. There is so much to do, but we’ve found that pushing our kids and not taking breaks leads us to more disastrous outcomes than spending an extra half hour running through a sprinkler leads us to.

Prepare: Along the same lines, we make sure we’re well acquainted with our hotel and with the park (and all their separate events). Walt Disney World has a ridiculous number of things to do and places to be, but my husband and I have just figured out that we can’t do them all. Granted, we have the luxury of knowing we’ll be back, but even without that, I can’t imagine we’d waste a fast pass on a roller coaster our children can’t go on when there are more important things to use them on (like meeting princesses, of course). So, we decide what’s most important to our littles and work from there. My five year old is crazy excited to try splash mountain for the first time, so it’s one of the first fast passes we booked for our next trip. IMG_3195.JPGThen we hit all the others that we knew the little people loved. We know what rides usually have shorter (or at least manageable) lines and we don’t fast pass those (a little internet research will provide this info too). And the day of? My husband is constantly shifting our fast passes around to see if a new time opens up, or if there’s no line on a ride we have a fast pass for he’ll cancel it and book a new one for another ride. The point is, we try to make the most of our time and prioritize. Also, we pay attention to the weather. Sometimes a rainy day is the best day, as long we’re prepared. If it’s just going to pour all day, we head to Epcot (and yeah we wear those silly looking ponchos–how else do you push a stroller and keep dry?). There is so much to do at Epcot indoors, so it works for us. And on the upside, rainy days mean fewer people, which is always a plus (especially when dealing with the new Frozen ride).

Engage the Littles: Bored little people can make a long day even longer. My bunch of littles like to take their time and wander, but that’s not always a possibility when dealing with Disney World and a gazillion people meandering through the park (especially when our little Elsa decides she needs to use her powers to freeze those gazillion people). So, often they’re in the stroller amidst their, often loud, protests. And honestly, at some point those little legs are just so exhausted they need to take a break. To keep the little people happy while they’re sitting or while we’re waiting, we take advantage of the adventures that Disney has to offer. There’s Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure at Epcot, Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom at Magic Kingdom, and Wilderness Explorers in Animal Kingdom. In addition to these specific scavenger hunt/puzzle type of activities (which have generally been too complicated for my little people), there are the continuous hunts for hidden Mickeys, penny presses (they sell books to put the pressed pennies in), FullSizeRender.jpgand pin collecting (and exchanging). The most exciting of all the hunts that my littles do are the special ones that Epcot puts on. At Easter they scouted for hidden eggs in the World Showcase,
and when they completed the chart, they got a prize. During the Food and Wine Festival, they hunted down Remy standing with a specific ingredient, and again, they won a prize upon completion (a special pin). The egg hunt and the Remy hunt both made my five year old happier to be in Epcot than she has ever been (excluding those times with the Frozen ride, of course).

Keep It Light: Maybe it’s because I’ve been lugging a little person around with me for five years (not to mention the 9 months prior), or maybe it’s because each of my three littles travel with quite a bit of…well…stuff. Either way, when strolling around the parks at Walt Disney World, the last thing that I want are bags banging into my shins as they dangle from the stroller hooks or bags wrapped around my wrist or worse, a child on my hip so that I can fill the stroller with even more stuff. Nope. Doesn’t work. I mean, I’m the kind of person who avoids carrying anything if I can. Stuff, clutter, just bothers me. The last thing I need is stuff cluttering up my little bit of Disney space. We have two ways of combatting this. First, we bring a few small things from home to give the kids in case they start to get that crazy kid urge to absolutely positively need a new something. A little piece of princess jewelry picked up at that sacred space known as the dollar spot at Target? Done. And when my little gets tired of it? It’s small enough to drop into the single small backpack she puts in the bottom of the stroller. Now, I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t say that we do in fact indulge our littles, and they often come home with ridiculously more than they left with. But, we get this shopping out of the way early in the trip so that we can have it directly shipped back to the hotel rather than have to deal with it all day. We buy it and never see it again until we decide to pick it up at the hotel store (this only applies if you’re staying on a Disney property). No worrying about whether the small pieces of the castle have dropped somewhere or the car has been vroooooomed into oblivion. And if we’re leaving the next day, or that afternoon, we just have our packages shipped to the front of the park and pick it all up on the way out (this can be done regardless of what hotel you’re staying at). I don’t have to constantly check for things. My little people don’t have to collapse into a heap because they’ve lost some part that is integral to their enjoyment of their new toy (aka any part they deem valuable, occasionally even packaging). Their daddy doesn’t have to frantically run through the park searching out a lonely Tinker Bell lying listlessly amongst the flowers. It’s all bagged up and waiting patiently for us.

Be a Grown Up: Just because we’re surrounded by talking animals and women dressed as princesses doesn’t mean that my husband and I can’t focus on being a grown up from time to time. Back to that prepare thing. When we book our hotels, we know our hotel before we get there. We determine what rooms are available, what amenities are available. When we have family with us, we ask them to watch our kids one night so we can have dinner together at the hotel. When no one is there to help us physically get away, we request a room with a balcony. After the littles go to sleep, we slip out to the balcony for a glass of wine and grown up conversation. But grown up time doesn’t need to be restricted just to the hotel. Often, my husband and I can barely have a conversation in our own home before our little people go to bed (the five year old hears everything we say, the two year old just likes to make sure it’s his voice that we all hear, and the 10 month old gets so excited by the two year old that he just screams. It’s great. Really.). At Disney, though, we can have longer conversations than we’ve ever had. The kids don’t care about what we’re saying to one another when there are flying elephants and spitting camels in the vicinity. This is our breathing time, our rejuvenating time.

Disney World can make a person’s head swirl. Just the thought of it exhausts some people, but it doesn’t have to be exhausting. In fact, it can be more relaxing than those few moments when all the children in the house take a nap and you finally stumble upon five unexpected minutes of quiet (before panic sets in that you may not be using these little golden nuggets of time effectively and there’s laundry to get done and dishes in the sink so maybe you should run and get that done instead of just basking in this pure silence…mom guilt is real). Disney can be that place that has no “to do” list; it can be that place that fills your cup rather than depletes it.

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.