Whether it’s for an entire trip or just a few hours, parenting solo in Walt Disney World can pose a few challenges. I’ve travelled alone to Disney many times with my oldest son, who is 9-years old, but I haven’t had to spend long hours alone in the parks with him and his younger siblings. On our most recent family trip, I had to put all my solo parenting skills to the test when a crisis came up at my husband’s job, requiring me to spend about four days out of eight alone with all three kids in the park! At first I was a little panicked, but I found that once I got into it, it was fine. Here’s what I’ve learned:
The bathroom issue can be a thorny one. Do you let young opposite sex children use the bathroom without you? I’ve found it depends on the kid and the situation:
- If you feel uncomfortable, take your opposite sex child into the bathroom with you. I probably wouldn’t bring a 12-year old boy into the ladies room, but I will occasionally bring in my oldest in with me if I’m uncomfortable with the area. So yes, I brought him into the restroom with me and Universal Studios. Sorry Universal; sorry, there were a lot of drunk people around that day. On the other hand, I feel pretty comfortable letting him use the restroom alone in most of the Disney parks, provided that I’m right outside although it also depends on how crowded the parks are and what type of events are going on at the time.
- Consider using companion bathrooms, but keep in mind that these are directed towards guests who need assistance.
- Base your decision on your child’s personality, not their age. If you feel uncomfortable allowing your child to use the bathroom alone, don’t do it.
- Don’t forget the babycare centers in the parks for children who are not yet potty-trained. Older siblings accompanying babies may also use the facilities; there are televisions for them to watch while you care for the younger child.
- Try brightly colored glow in the dark necklaces for night. Buy them before you leave–it’s cheaper.
- Bright colored and/or matching shirts will make them stand out in a crowd in case they wander away.
- Kids should know your cell phone number. If they’re too little to remember or if you think they’ll forget, purchase temporary tattoos with your phone number on them before your travel.
- Consider childproofing your room if you are traveling with children under four-years of age. Be particularly mindful of doors that open to patios and.
- Tell kids that if they get lost to ask a cast member or another mom with kids for help.
- If your kids are on the border age-wise for the stroller and you’re thinking of forgoing it on this trip,consider renting one just in case. I found that having a stroller for my four-year old twins, who haven’t used a stroller since they were two, was a lifesaver. While they didn’t stay in it that much, we had a rule that when we were moving for longer distances, two kids had to be in the stroller and one had to have his hand on the handle at all times. This made getting in and out of crowded parks a lot easier for me and gave me peace of mind that they weren’t going to get distracted and wander off.
Rides are mainly an issue if you’re traveling with several children under 10-years of age due to height requirements and the fear factor of some rides.
- You have to be 7-years old to ride alone at Disney.
- You can fit three into a seat on certain rides, like Peter Pan, the Haunted Mansion, Finding Nemo, and even Dumbo.
- If your older kids ride alone, make sure they ride in front of you so you can keep an eye on them..
Playgrounds and Pools.
- The Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground at Hollywood Studios is notorious for being the place on property to lose your kids. There’s only one exit, so if you’re comfortable letting slightly older kids run around while you watch the exit to make sure they don’t leave, you can give it a try. Otherwise, skip it.
- Stormalong Bay, located at the Yacht and Beach Club, can be a difficult place to watch young children, as it’s a large pool with many twists and turns.
- Value resort pools are wide open and give you a unobstructed view. While some guests may lament the lack of slides and vegetation around the pool, it’s a plus when you’re solo parenting.
- Resort “quiet” pools, which are pools that are not themed, are easier to maneuver with small children because there are fewer obstructions (i.e., they’re often just a big, simple pool, hence the term “quiet”).
Calling for Back-Up.
If possible, plan ahead for some grown-up time or breaks.
- Consider inviting a trustworthy teen, friend or relative. You’ll pay for their vacation in exchange for some help with the kids.
- Disney’s childcare centers are reasonably priced, safe, and a lot of fun for kids ages 3 – 12. You’ll find them at several deluxe resorts. You don’t need to be a guest of the resort (or even a guest staying on WDW property) to use the childcare centers.
- Try a babysitting service like Kids Nite Out. You can read about my experience with Kids Nite Out here. I’ve used them several times and they are very reliable.
Finally, some trips just require you to lower your expectations. Once you get your footing, you can try to ramp it up a bit but until then, don’t try to go into “theme park commando” mode. This is the time to slow down and follow your kid’s pace.
Not every family has two parents, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the parks with your kids. It just takes a little bit of planning. Oh, and of course, some pixie dust.