Preface: This isn’t my normal blog post, but this is what’s fresh and real. I hope it is relevant and even fun for some of you. As always, thanks for reading!
I just spent four days at Disney World on a park hopping tour with six children. Based on our rough estimate, we’ve done this twenty seven times in the past two years. The faces of the children have varied and we’ve actually had an extra once or twice. In every case, we’ve had no less than three in diapers and the age range has varied from a few weeks to eleven years.
Let’s just say that we don’t land quietly in the Magic Kingdom.
There is a lot of preparation each night. Clothes and shoes are all lined up, ready for the joint effort that will dress the littles as they rise. Diaper bags are packed and lined up near the door. A plan is in place for portable breakfast. Mom is the last one to bed and the first one up each morning. This sort of preparation is key and my offspring has this down to a science. She’s a super mom!
Lunches and snacks are prepared the night before, as well. We love that the Disney companies allow us to bring food into the parks. Food that travels well, like peanut butter and jelly, solid fruit and cheese sticks are great. Anything that can be eaten on the run is our preference. Of course, the lunchbox menu varies by park, since we have favorites that we love to purchase and eat in each. And lest you think we brown bag it all day, we’ve learned to snack on the run to maintain blood sugar (thereby reducing meltdowns…at least among the children) and sit everyone down for a good meal in a favorite quick serve restaurant mid-afternoon. Since we are a large presence, it’s best to plan away from the peak service times and we’ve found this approach works great when planning our day.
We push three strollers. At most parks we skip the tram and hoof it to the park entrance. Loading the tram with strollers, half a dozen bags and coolers along with six children is not only serious heavy lifting, we fill a lot of seats. If we’ve parked too far away – this typically happens at the Magic Kingdom, Mom and Dad push the strollers to the entrance, loaded with all of the bags, and the grandmas ride the tram with children in tow. Our motto: “Trams are for people, not stuff”.
The next stop that requires stamina and some serious skills is bag check. This is not an exercise for the weak or timid. All of those diaper bags and lunch bags, as well as any personal items like fanny packs or purses have to be checked by the Disney security staff. It’s a contest of efficiency and speed and one of the first opportunities of the day to show kindness to the park staff. It’s also the first opportunity for a child to get separated, so we typically assign one adult to corral any “loose” children.
While we are on the topic of getting lost, we always have the conversation with the children about what to do if they get separated from the crew. “Look for a cast member – they will be wearing a name tag.” And when we enter the park, we immediately point out cast members and draw attention to said name tag. I would love to tell you that we’ve never actually lost a child, but we have one little boy who notices everything and sometimes stops to investigate. Let’s just say that we can vouch for the efficiency of Disney’s parent location procedures.
In addition to the age variation, we have four boys and two girls. Princesses are high on the list for one sister, and to their credit, the older brothers have stood in long lines with her. When Anna and Elsa debuted it was a family affair. We couldn’t wait to meet them and everyone hung in there in spite of a chilly rain and long line. However, we’ve learned that at times it’s efficient for our crew to divide and conquer. That said, we make sure to frequently regroup and have lots of shared experiences.
There are plenty of blogs that are dedicated to helping you get the most from your visit to Disney World, so I won’t try to do that. This post is about assuring you that you can do it with lots of littles. My recommendation?
Take a least one grandma (two is even better). In the afternoon, help Grandma find an out of the way spot for the littles to nap in their strollers. This is the time for her to put her feet up, sip on an iced coffee and celebrate the joy of introducing a new generation to the magic of Walt Disney.
On this trip we logged in excess of 20,000 steps on Magic Kingdom days and nearly as many at other parks. I must be honest, it’s not all fun and games. The days can be long, and it’s a very different day with infants in tow. Although we appreciate baby care centers, they are never nearby when you need them. Take a thermos of hot water if you’ll need to make formula on the fly. Hot water is not easy to come by in the parks.
In Central Florida it’s hot this time of year, and afternoon showers are typical. Make sure you have protection from the rain, not only for yourselves but also for those strollers. If you don’t have a stroller cover, just make do with a clear parka. Buy them BEFORE you go to the parks – your wallet will thank you! You are already carrying all of that other stuff in…what’s a few rain parkas?
If you have to exit the park near closing, be prepared for crowded monorails and melt downs…possibly by the children. It happens, friends. I will say that making sure everyone has recently had a high protein snack is a good plan – and may reduce the meltdown potential. But it’s not a long ride, and then all of those good people who were judging you will have something to discuss when you go your separate ways (insert sarcastic smiley here!). And most likely, your preschooler will magically feel better and the ride home will be much more pleasant. Grace in these moments is harder to extend but I find myself in need of it as well.
I love experiencing the parks with children. I’ve found that sharing the wonder and joy through their eyes is magical. On a recent visit, as we drove onto property via Western Way, my three year old grandson spotted the welcome sign that features Mickey, Minnie and Donald. He said “Home.” Yes, little buddy, I agree. It’s always good to come home.