I have to admit, I was both super excited and kind of nervous about taking my toddler to Disneyworld. My husband, my mom and I planned a trip there for my son’s second birthday (after our first trip got cancelled, but that’s another story), and we had an excellent trip.
First things first, to save my sanity and keep my expectations in check, I really made the goal of the trip to just have a leisurely, relaxing, fun time doing whatever my little guy wanted to do. This didn’t have to be the all out, non-stop trip it can be when he is a little older and appreciates every detail more. That being said, it was 100% worth it to go as he loved it! At first my husband was a little skeptical if he was old enough to appreciate it, but he definitely was. For this trip I really made my objective just to introduce him to the world of Disney, so we didn’t have to hit every single ride and attraction, didn’t need to feel rushed, and could make an easier decision on what to hit and what to skip. Maybe not everyone is as crazy of a planner and traveler as I am, but I point this out because since he is so little (and frankly this trip will be something I remember much more than he does), I didn’t want to be disappointed we wasted money on stuff he didn’t get into or that we didn’t “do enough.”
That all being said, I learned a lot from friends before I went and had several things that helped me prepare in advance. Here are my tips for traveling to Disneyworld with a toddler, but a lot of these apply to Disneyland and even Universal Studios, too!
Pack your own snacks.
Disney prices for snacks (that’s lets face it, your kid may just throw on the ground) can be a bit overpriced, so before you leave, stock up on favorites like fruit snacks, granola bars, goldfish, applesauce pouches, etc. If nothing else, you may eat them yourself! Plus sometimes hunger hits while you’re waiting in line so having plenty as a back up is a lifesaver. That goes for a water bottle too! Don’t forget you need to hydrate.
Get Fast Passes and Rider Switch Passes
If you stay in a Disney resort you can sign up for three passes per day per person so you can skip a long line for a shorter one (I believe this only applies at Disneyworld, not Disneyland, but I could be wrong). If the wait time is 60 minutes, the Fast Pass wait line may only be 20 and when you’re traveling with a toddler, skipping that wait is vital. They also have a rider switch option so if you have a child that is too small to ride on the ride, you simply go up at your fast pass time with your kid with you, then they’ll give you a ticket or a badge so that you can swap out and ride again. For instance since we had myself, my mom and husband, we would all go up to the entrance with my son, they would give us a ticket, and one of us would stay with my toddler. The other two would ride, get off and then the person who stayed out would go with one of us that already went. You need three people old enough to go (so invite Grandma and Grandpa or Auntie), but at least that way you can experience rides together still.
Stay in a Disney Resort for convenience.
You might think staying in the park would be pricey, but it was a great value and convenience for us with a toddler and less expensive than I would have thought. 1) We got Fast Passes which saved us time so we got to do more with a child with a small attention span. 2) We got shuttled to and from parks so we didn’t have to hassle with where we were going, didn’t need to rent a car (more savings!), and didn’t have to haul his car seat on the plane across the country. 3) It was really extra magical! For us, since we traveled in the off season it only ended up being $95/night most nights we were there, which I thought was totally reasonable, especially since we didn’t need a rental car.
I didn’t do the best at this because I thought it would be warmer in Florida in February, but you forget that you’re not just out in the high temps of the day, but also the chilly morning and night. Brrrr! It got cold. Think of the time of year and bring light/heavy clothing and blankets with that in mind. Even in the summer you may want layers since being in the AC when you’re wearing shorts and a tank top can get chilly too.
Bring a carrier.
Even though my son is two and likes to walk or ride in his stroller most of the time, I was really happy to have my sling to pop him on my hip while we were in line. There’s a spot for stroller parking by most rides, so carrying your kid in line can get heavy and putting them down and expecting them to stay by you isn’t always realistic either, so that helps. Which brings me to…
Don’t be afraid of the toddler leash.
I’m going to be totally honest — before I had kids I judged parents with children on leashes. I said I would never be one. My child would learn to stay by me. Ha! Well, he is pretty good, but at a big place like Disneyworld I didn’t want to risk it and I’m sooo glad I didn’t. He actually (mostly) liked wearing a big boy backpack and the leash part just helped keep him by us in line or while walking. We got the Skiphop bee backpack which has a detachable leash and also has a handle up top so even if I tucked in the leash part, I could grab it up top to keep him by me. THIS IS ESSENTIAL.
Buy souvenirs in advance.
That may sound weird because that’s the opposite of a souvenir, right? You can still get a thing or two there, but if you buy Disney shirts, toys, etc outside the park it’s so much cheaper for essentially the same or similar stuff and your kid won’t really know the difference. I bought my son Mickey Mouse shirts to wear while we were there for $6 and $7 at Ross and Amazon (compared to similar ones there for $25+) and a stuffed animal for $8 versus $30 in the park. I just gave it to him at opportune moments and he had no idea where it came from. There still may be stuff you want specific to your trip, but you can save by thinking ahead what your kids may want and buy the more special stuff you can only find in the park.
Plan to have stroller naps.
I wasn’t really sure how naps would work out, but my son was great sleeping in his stroller. Unless you know your kid will really not tolerate sleeping there, make sleeping in the stroller on the go your plan. We planned our best so we wouldn’t be transferring on the shuttle between parks during naptime (they have to get out of the stroller on the shuttle), but otherwise he was so exhausted from all the fun he just conked out.
Have a plan, but be flexible.
I feel like that’s sort of the motto of most parents with toddlers, but it’s most definitely true for a trip to Disneyworld. I think with Disneyland you can sort of just go with the flow, but Disneyworld is so big with its four parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot) you need to decide what is your priority, what days you want to hit what, and time out your Fast Passes and which rides you want to hit at naptime versus when your kid is awake. That way you can make the most of your time. You obviously still have to go with the flow and not have crazy expectations you’ll hit it all because with a toddler in tow, because that just isn’t going to happen.
Prioritize your favorite rides and parks.
Since my son is 2, Magic Kingdom was his favorite, but all the parks offered stuff exciting for his age. His favorite rides from each were the following (though we didn’t hit everything available):
Magic Kingdom: Flying Dumbos, Winnie the Pooh, Prince Charming Carousel, Mickey’s Philharmagic, Aladdin’s Flying Carpet, It’s a Small World, and Peter Pan. Also the fireworks show is an obvious favorite, but if you have more than one night there, I suggest doing one night in the front of the castle with the huge crowd, and another night over by the carousel behind the castle. That’s the spot in between the places they shoot them off, so not only is it fairly deserted, it also is super cool to be surrounded by fireworks in every direction of you!
Animal Kingdom: Petting zoo, Flying Triceratops, the Lion King show, and the animals on the Tree of Life. And from an adult perspective, don’t miss Expedition Everest! That’s worth the Fast Pass wait.
Epcot: The Seas with Nemo and Friends, Finding Nemo Aquarium, Journey into Imagination with Figment (which took me right back to the early 90s…ha), and the Gran Fiesta Tour. The World Showcase is also great as it basically takes you through mini representations of countries all over the world showing off cultural features condensed into a little area and it’s a pretty walk. I highly recommend the crepes and gelato over by France and Italy!
Hollywood Studios: Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure (which I actually remember playing on as a kid!), Toy Story Midway Mania, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. Also I have to say I think this probably had the least in terms of stuff for my 2-year-old, but it also probably had the most characters wandering around the park which made it easier to get pictures and meet and greets.
Overall, really just focus on letting your little one(s) enjoy the trip and don’t stress hitting it all. Seeing them take in the magic is so fun!
I got this big pumpkin at our pumpkin themed baby shower and I just couldn’t resist hollowing it out to put Mr. Z in it. i scraped out, cut holes, and then I lined it with a blanket so he was cozy rather than sitting in the slimy pumpkin in a diaper. He was actually totally willing to just chill there amazingly! It’s like a pumpkin bumbo. Haha! He was so cute on the porch as my little jack-o-lantern!Read More
It wasn’t quite what I expected.
I always thought I’d know when I was pregnant before taking a test. I expected I’d be one of those women that can guess boy or girl before an ultrasound and that I’d perhaps even be able to sense my baby’s personality from within my womb. I’m in tune with my body and my intuition, but through my whole pregnancy experience, it was surprising how little I could sense. As my due date approached I was nervous how I’d know I was in labor.
Now for those of you that think of labor like in the movies, this sounds crazy. Doesn’t your water break and then you rush to the hospital? Not quite, for most women. Going into labor is something that happens over days and weeks while your body inches closer and closer to preparing for birth. Everyone from my midwife, to my friends and coworkers, to the internet said “you’ll just know.” So I tried to be patient and wait until I knew.
I was particularly nervous since I had been experiencing prodromal labor, which is basically a more intense version of pre-labor. While women have practice labor or “Braxton Hicks contractions” all through their third trimester, generally Braxton Hicks are only mildly painful or painless and don’t rhythmically come one after another. Prodromal labor contractions can be super intense and be at regular intervals apart, just like labor. Since I’d been experiencing just that for hours at a time each night, gaining with intensity and consistency as I neared my due date, you can imagine my lack of confidence that I’d “just know” when I was in labor. Since I’d been planning a natural hypnobirth, I figured it was good practice breathing and visualizing through the “surges,” as we call contractions in hypnobirthing.
I didn’t know it, but labor started.
I woke a little after 2am February 13, one day before my Valentine’s due date, with surges. I figured I’d start timing them, just in case, but I had no overwhelming feeling this was the real deal. For a lot of women this would indicate labor, but to me who had been experiencing this for weeks, it wasn’t that out of the norm. I decided it was best not to wake my husband until I was sure since he’d need his rest to support me if it was. Most of my surges were 5-6 minutes apart, but some were longer or shorter so I wasn’t convinced of their consistency. I had remembered my boss telling me when she gave birth to her daughter she would get in a bath with lavender and if it wasn’t real, contractions would stop or slow, but when it was real it kept going strong. Mine did not stop, but the timing changed anywhere from 2 to 15 minutes apart, so I thought certainly it probably wasn’t it and I’d just “enjoy” the practice. I sat in the bath and googled a couple things about going into labor. Posted in a Baby Center forum thinking maybe someone would respond at 3am. Then I sunk into relaxation and envisioned an opening flower while reciting my well-practiced birth affirmations in my head. I went through the rainbow relaxation in my mind, not even thinking of words, but of swirling inky mists of color, one flowing into the next while the scent of the lavender oil soothed me. I was a quiet, relaxed “polar bear” just like I had learned in class.
I got back out of the bath and laid in bed at 3:45. Still didn’t slow. Then I got a big hunger surge. While this is common in labor, it also happens in the third trimester in general and I had justified my hunger since my body had been working for hours in the middle of the night. So I gave up on sleeping at 4:45 and went downstairs for a bowl of cereal.
I was a little more suspicious at this point, but still not ready to admit anything since I didn’t “just know.” But just in case, at 5:15am I decided to do a quick clean of the house. I also wrote some notes in my phone (that I’m using now, in fact) on what had happened so far so if it was real, I’d remember. Pregnant women do crazy things with nesting hormones.
All through this my surges were getting closer together, roughly 2-4 minutes apart with a few longer ones mixed in there. Just enough to make me unsure. It was uncomfortable, sure, but not so much I was convinced of anything.
I decided to lay on the couch at 5:30. And this is where my notes end and the rest comes from memory, which also coincides when I figured out I was in labor. I laid down and fell sound asleep for 8 minutes. Surely, SURELY that off of a time meant I wasn’t in labor since they had been so much shorter. Now I could sleep, I thought. Then a super intense one woke me up a minute and a half later. So intense I got up and ran to the bathroom and felt a tiny gush. It had surprised me so much though that I couldn’t definitively say whether my water broke or if the intensity caused me to lose bladder control. I had another intense one shortly after that and decided I might “just know.” At least enough to wake up my husband.
I ran into our bedroom and said “Nathan, I think I might be in labor!” Nevermind that it was an ungodly hour, Nate (and consequently our dog too) jumped out of bed to my aid as if he’d been awake the whole time. I ran straight to our bathroom and in one-worded cavewoman speak, instructed him to time my surges and explained what had been happening.
My contractions were one and a half minutes apart.
Now for those that don’t know, many docs say to come in when contractions are about 5 minutes apart, but my midwife was more liberal and said since it was my first and I was planning to go natural anyway, 2-4 minutes was perfectly fine. Well here I was even further along than that and just barely realizing I *might* be in labor. Crap! I felt rushed.
Yet even then, after hours of surges and all these signs, I still couldn’t tell you for sure I was in labor. My husband was pretty convinced though and at this point I was at least convinced enough that we should call the midwife on call. My husband talked to her, but of course since I hadn’t woken him this whole time and had only relayed everything in cavewoman speak, he couldn’t answer half her questions. I guess I didn’t set him up so well by letting him sleep… She wanted to talk to me, but at this point I couldn’t talk through my contractions and it was so hard to get out of my mammalian brain and into my thinking brain at this point. Logical thinking is not natural in labor! How I wasn’t convinced this was real yet, I really don’t know, but I had been so relaxed through everything up to then. I finally took a deep breath and told her as much as I could in the 30 seconds I had after one ended before the next started. She said to head in and my midwife, Lindsay, would meet me there. I was still unsure, but ready to go along with it.
Nate ran and grabbed all our stuff while I tried to prepare myself to move. All denial ended when I looked down and saw there was blood. There was no mistaking that. I was in labor.
For weeks I had approached childbirth with little to no anxiety or fear. In that moment staring down at the blood I suddenly panicked with the realization that this was real and only going to get harder and more painful. I’m assuming my water really had broken and that’s why it was suddenly so much more intense. In a moment of weakness and fear I started bawling my eyes out that this was finally the real thing and I hadn’t realized it until it was so late I was immersed in it. I was tired already and knew with surges this intense and close together, there would be no rest. I had gone all that time by myself with no problem, but now I was suddenly breaking down. Luckily Nate being the well-trained “gorilla,” or protector of my birth, calmed me down and was my rock while I tried to regain focus. I lost all my willpower and sunk into his arms, completely vulnerable and scared. Everything I had been training myself not to feel in my desired “empowered birth” came out when my fear took over. But this was it. It was time to go.
We were about to head out, but while I had been sitting for hours pondering if I was in labor or not, I couldn’t help but think of how bummed I’d be if I didn’t get to finish my baby bump series with a 40-week picture. Since I was 39 weeks and 6 days, I obviously hadn’t taken it yet. But what can I say? I like documenting my life and I do social media for a living…how much more “Pinnable” is my series if it’s completed, right? #seriousnerdalert Anyway, so as Nate tried to get his wife that was in VERY active labor out the door, I screamed, “No! I want my 40 week picture! We’re just going to have to do it now!” He tried to talk me out of it over and over, but there I was stubbornly putting on the striped shirt I’d worn for my baby bump pics every two weeks since the beginning, setting up my tripod and preparing the self-timer on my camera (as I’m thinking how it’s too bad it’s dark so the lighting was going to suck…priorities). I told him how we’d pose, I’m pretty sure by grunting not actually talking, and waited out the surge I was having so we could take it in the few short seconds in between. My uterus calmed, I pressed the shutter button, and posed just as the next one was getting ready to begin. The camera clicked and I half waddled, half limped through my surge, tearing off that shirt and putting on another as I said, “okay, now let’s GO!”
And then I went on the longest car ride of my life.
Luckily at 6am there’s very little traffic, but when your surges are that close together every teeny, tiny bump of the road feels like unbearable shooting pain. I let my eyes go blurry with the lights and tried to zone out as much as I could. I had my birth affirmation CD going with the calming voice of Marie Mongan talking me through the car ride.
We pulled up and Nate supported me as I dazedly walked into the reception area. They asked if we had time to check in. No. They asked if I wanted a wheelchair. Yes. I couldn’t even answer with anything other than a slight head nod at this point. I half closed my eyes letting myself go into my zone as they wheeled me down the hall to a room. Oh, how different it all looked in this laboring state, flying by in a wheelchair, than it did on the friendly hospital tour we had been on weeks before. They wheeled me to room 7. No, that wouldn’t do, it wasn’t prepped. Room 5.
I had spent a couple hours several weeks before picking my perfect birth outfit so I wouldn’t have to wear a scratchy hospital gown. I’d done research online to pick something that would make me feel beautiful, comfortable, and empowered to move however I wanted. I had checked with my midwife to make sure what I bought was okay. And now here I was, walking into the room and stripping down faster than a Vegas showgirl in front of people I didn’t know without a care in the world. Yes, I was definitely in my mammalian brain.
They checked me and I was a 7. I heard the friendly sound of my midwife’s voice and felt relieved. I knew my midwife, Lindsay, had my back and was there to support the birth I wanted. My memory gets all blurry here, but I labored awhile bent over the bed, then on the toilet, and finally in the tub. Each one was a little better than the last, but I just didn’t want to move. In the tub, the jets bubbling against my tummy distracted me and helped me breathe through the pain. By this point I was getting the unbearable urge to PUSH, but with where I was, pushing was making me bleed so I had to hold back. I laid there and tried with every ounce of control I had to relax every muscle, every nerve, and every cell throughout my entire body, just as I had practiced. That was the only way I could keep from pushing. I’d lose my concentration ever so slightly through a surge and my whole body would convulse and push. Over and over Nate told me not to push and to relax. I whined, “I’m trying not to, but it’s so hard!” Lindsay told me she knew I could do it. She motivated and supported me as a midwife and doula all in one to keep me focused. My husband held my hand and stroked my hair, back, and forehead. I remember my arms dangling, my face squished on the side of the tub, whispering to him, “I love you.” I got out of the tub and was at a 9 for what felt like forever. When I got to 9.5 my midwife suggested I could push like I wanted and she could just move the last bit of cervix out of the way.
Thank goodness, I got to push.
Pushing felt INCREDIBLE! After hours of not pushing, letting myself use all those muscles was just what I needed. Nate set up the iPod with the hypnobirthing tracks as I let myself go into the strength of my body. Unfortunately because I still wasn’t quite to 10, I used a lot of energy without a ton of progress moving him down. I pushed, breathed him down, and pushed for hours through surges like my body was telling me to, but I was inching very slowly to the finish.
I was losing energy.
I had barely gotten a couple hours of sleep and all I had eaten since 6pm the night before was a bowl of cereal. I remember wanting to ask what time it was, but thought better of it. If it was too late I didn’t want to know and right then I could still think it was morning. As I lost energy, I started to come out of my strong self and back into the fear and weakness I had felt when I realized I was in labor. What if I couldn’t do this? I had shared why I was choosing a natural birth with my family and friends partly because I fully believed it and knew I could do it, and partly for “insurance” in case I doubted myself in a moment of weakness. I knew it would give me the strength to hold myself to it. I was beyond exhausted. But I had to keep going.
They brought me some juice and gave me some sugar in fluids. I had no desire to eat anything, but I knew I needed something to keep up my strength. Nate switched on Pandora to upbeat flamenco guitar to pep me up. I only vaguely remember the conversation but everyone in the room oooed and ahhhed at his music selection. I focused on opening and getting my baby down, but my strength wasn’t up enough to get him there. I finally got him crowning, but with each surge I’d get him two steps forward just to have him take two steps back. I thought to myself, wasn’t this supposed to be the fast part? But he’d crown and go back, crown and go back. Three separate times I got him a little further out and my midwife, bless her heart, had to push him back in because his heart rate dropped from the 120s to the 50s. All that work and I had to do it all over again. I was trying my hardest not to be defeated, but I felt almost to collapse. I just kept telling myself I had to do this and the only way was forward. But he couldn’t get passed my perenium. Later I found out that many athletic women, particularly figure skaters and ballet dancers, have really tight pereniums. Go figure being fit actually made getting him out harder. Having not only skated for the last 20 years, but also having trained (very cautiously) up to 13 weeks, I’m sure that didn’t help that situation. I watched in the mirror for motivation and felt the hair on his little head, but while I gave it everything I had, I was just losing too much energy. I had to do it as soon as possible. While it wasn’t in my plan, I decided to do an episiotomy. I could feel it was that or tearing and knew I wouldn’t be able to go much longer.
And then I did it.
With the next surge my midwife made an itty bitty cut and I gave it every ounce of strength I had left as I roared through the ring of fire. His head was out and Lindsay said to wait for the next surge for the shoulders and body, but I knew I could do it and was going for it. After about 11 hours of labor and 3 1/2 hours of pushing I was ready to get this thing over with already! And at 1:17pm out he came into the world and straight to my belly where I met my son for the first time.
And more surprises came.
I always thought I’d know my baby, but I didn’t. This beautiful, dark-haired little boy had grown in my womb for nine months and I had no idea who he was. I always thought I’d cry. I do whenever I watch birth videos. Even fake births in sitcoms and movies. Yet here I was, so in shock of this little person that all I could do is just stare at him, my whole body beyond exhaustion, shaking from the hormone rush and too tired to shed a tear. I don’t even know words to quite describe the emotions I was feeling. Overjoyed, dazed, overwhelmed, empowered, and after exerting all that strength, ready to rest. Nate held us both as I made my first attempt at breastfeeding — again, surprisingly something that didn’t come naturally.
When I was a little girl I imagined having a baby. When I was a teenager and young adult I feared childbirth. When I researched natural birth I readied myself for the experience and imagined what my birth story would be like. All throughout my pregnancy I prepared myself for labor and motherhood. I had literally thought about this from so many angles almost my entire life, and yet it was nothing like I imagined. Not better, not worse, just different. It was incredible in ways I hadn’t expected, and missing parts I thought would be there.
And then I became the whole world.
They took him away to check his vitals and my mother came in. As she looked at me, teary-eyed, I finally broke into tears. Here was the woman who had given this same gift of life to me. She sacrificed her body, time, and money. Devoted countless hours of listening and never-ending support. A woman that is my comfort zone, making me feel at home, protected, and loved anywhere in the world. Someone whose body literally built mine from tiny cells and whose constant care shaped me into the person I am today. She is my mommy and completely and utterly irreplaceable. And as I looked at her and realized everything she is to me, at that moment I knew I’d have to be all of that for my son.
And then he became my world.
As I laid in my hospital bed nearly 24 hours from when it all started, I looked across the room at the tiny person that had just come into my life. My husband was passed out on the pull out next to me and my sweet Zachary was cooing in his sleep. I had still only slept fewer than 2 hours in the last 48, but I couldn’t sleep — all I could do is stare in awe at him. Every single muscle in my body was sore from the greatest workout of my life and I ached in places I’ve never even seen. My nipples already hurt from my attempts breastfeeding and my left hand was completely numb from grasping so hard. I felt utterly spent and invigorated all in the same breath as the hormones of natural birth pulsed through me. I looked at my newborn son, this person I had just met a few hours earlier, and knew every sacrifice I had already made was worth it. I was completely entranced by him. I rolled him over to me and knew from that day forward he was my world. Life would never be the same — and that was the day I became a mother.Read More
And seriously, I have been craving marinara like a madwoman. Bring on the Italian food!
See my baby bump series here!Read More