Walt Disney World is a whole different vacation spot when you’re traveling with a small child. You start being worried less about what rides have the longest lines and more about where you can change the baby. You learn all of the resources Disney has to offer that we never needed as adult-only visitors. So even though Chris is a Disney Expert due to his family’s many trips there, we learned a lot on this trip:
1) The awesomeness of Disney’s Baby Care Centers.
I had never even heard of these until I started seeking out advice about visiting Disney with a baby. There’s one in each park, all fairly tucked-away and not that advertised. We mainly used them to change Sprout, and for that alone they were worth seeking out. They had the largest, most luxurious changing tables I’ve ever seen. While we didn’t need them, they also had private rooms for nursing mothers (a godsend in the heat), and baby supply stores selling diapers, wipes, formula, bibs and baby food.
2) That the Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom is the best value in all of Walt Disney World.
Yes, the Magic Kingdom has a working barber shop! I thought it would be super adorable for Sprout to have his first haircut as Disney World, so I made an appointment ahead of time. This place totally exceeded my expectations. It’s tiny – only three chairs – but period accurate, with spinny chairs, large mirrors and lots of dark wood. The barber we had was very personable and patient, clearly experienced in working with very small children. Before he started, he stuck about eight Mickey stickers on Sprout, all over his shoes, legs, and shirt. After he finished, he signed a certificate, put the cut hair in a little bag, and gave Sprout a pair of Mickey ears with “My First Haircut” embroidered on the back. And the cost of all of this luxury? $18! You can’t buy Mickey ears by themselves for that price. Even if your kid (or you) is too old for a first haircut, they offer very reasonable kids and adult haircuts. For just some fun in the park, they’ll also gel and glitter your hair for $5.
3) Never underestimate the value of a good baby playground.
As a new participant in the Toddler Brigade, Sprout is obsessed with walking as much as possible and going up and down stairs. However, the main areas were way too busy for toddling very far. Fortunately, we found almost every little kid play structure and spray ground in the parks. In particular, the small structure outside of Splash Mountain and the interactive fountain in Epcot between Mission Space and Test Track were just the right size for him. In fact, watching him run so confidently down the little hall and up the stairs at the Splash Mountain playground was one of my proudest moments so far.
4) Some of the rides kids enjoy the most are the least appropriate for them.
While Disney has plenty of rides that appeal to teens and adults now, the original ones at the Magic Kingdom are still some of the most appealing to little kids. They’re really simple and engaging, with lots of colors and animatronics. While some of them still hold up well – I adore the Haunted Mansion – a lot of them clearly reflect the cultural baggage of the time period they were created in. It’s A Small World’s racial and cultural diversity may have been well-intentioned at the time but comes across as trading in some nasty stereotypes now. (Apparently Africa doesn’t have any buildings!) Country Bear Jamboree mocked the maudlin country songs of the time on Roy Rogers, but what is considered appropriate for children has apparently changed a lot since then. I’m not into overly protecting Sprout, but lyrics like “Mama, don’t whip little Buford…I think you should shoot him instead,” “Tears will be the chaser for your wine,” “Every boy who turns me on turns me down,” and “And a great big puddle of blood on the ground” left me giggling in horrified amusement. You expect the radio to talk about sex and murder, but not the critters at Disney! But perhaps the worst is the Pirates of the Caribbean, where the PG-13 movies arguably toned down the content from the ride. Scenes of pirates burning entire cities and selling off enslaved women were originally supposed to evoke lurid fascination, like the horror comics of the 1930s. But now that we’ve so romanticized the idea of a pirate – reinforced by the gobs of pirate merchandise for kids available right after the ride – the whole thing turned my stomach. No, Disney, I don’t want my boy to be a pirate. We’ll stick with the Jedi Training Academy at Hollywood Studios instead. As problematic as Jedi are, at least they’re on the side of good. Or we’ll hang out with Tom and Huck on their island across the way.
5) Where all of the produce stands are.
While I’m fine with having dessert and junk food some of the time, I don’t think vacation means an endless supply of fries and ice cream alone. Fortunately, Disney actually has some healthy snacks available if you know where to look. Every park has a stand selling fresh fruit (and often other healthy snacks): in Animal Kingdom in Harambe in the Africa section, in Hollywood Studios on the way to the Tower of Terror, in EPCOT in the Land pavilion, and at Magic Kingdom in Liberty Square.
6) That all of the outdoor rides close when it thunders.
One of the major disadvantages of going in August are the afternoon thunderstorms. As we had storms almost every day, we also found out that for safety reasons, Disney closes all of the outdoor rides and playgrounds for an undetermined period of time when it starts thundering. This isn’t too much of a problem in EPCOT and Hollywood Studios because they have very few outdoor rides. In Magic Kingdom, it shuts down Dumbo, which was disappointing to me because Sprout and I were in the midst of waiting for it. But where the thunder really becomes challenge is in Animal Kingdom, which has a ton of outdoor rides. The best bet is actually the safari ride, which does stay open, allowing you to see all of the animals that come out to enjoy the rain.
7) That Disney World has a petting zoo.
This is something that was of zero interest to me an adult but immediately appealing when visiting with a little kid. It’s in Rafiki’s Planet Watch in Animal Planet and beautifully well-run. Instead of having the animals in cages or behind fences, they had roped areas that the animals could retreat to when they were sick of being pawed at by kids. Because they didn’t have the kids feed the animals, they were all pleasantly calm, even the goats. And of course, they were wonderfully clean. Because the area is far away from the main park, it was also blessedly uncrowded.
8) Even Daddies can’t resist the siren call of a plush Olaf. Even if the kid only saw the first ten minutes of the movie.