Becoming Disney Parents: The Transition from Disney Couple to Disney Dad & Mom

by PJ Pettigrew, PassPorter Guest Contributor
Last modified 06-30-2011

Photo illustrating Walt Disney World - Touring

We made many trips to Walt Disney World as college students and then DINKS (Double Income No Kids), and considered ourselves Walt Disney World experts, but that comfortable feeling quickly diminished with the birth of our daughter.


Our Disney style was suddenly cramped by this short person who needed naps and didn’t meet the height requirements for the good rides. We wondered if our Happy Place was all of a sudden going to create more hassles than we were willing to deal with, resulting in a less-than-happy place for us new parents. I will admit, we had our struggles, especially when our daughter got a bit older, but experiencing Disney through the eyes of a child–seeing the wonder and amazement on her face–is truly a priceless experience.

Children enjoy even the little things photo
Children enjoy even the little things

Disney World through the eyes of a child

To give you a bit of background on myself and my family – I grew up in California, a frequent visitor to Disneyland. My husband was born and raised in Miami, and started going to Walt Disney World in 1974. When our two worlds collided, a Disney family was born. We honeymooned at the Grand Floridian Resort, my first stay on Walt Disney World property, and began a tradition that I hope never ends!

Our daughter’s first visit to Walt Disney World was at six months old, for her first Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. I had researched tips on taking young children to Disney before the trip and felt really prepared to tackle this challenge, but there were still issues that we were left to figure out on our own. The first challenge was realizing we didn’t own a good stroller to take to the parks. I admit I should have given some thought to our frequent Disney trips when we registered for all those baby gifts, but it must have slipped my mind. We ended up with a basic umbrella stroller for quick trips and the big fancy stroller with the steering wheel for daughter and the iPod jack for us, for those afternoon walks around the neighborhood. Neither of these would work well for a day at the parks. We needed a streamlined stroller that would recline for naps and not be too big for folding on buses.

After much research, we purchased a third stroller specifically for our Disney trips, a Combi Cosmo. We chose this stroller because it is pretty light and it folds up very nicely, not just folding together, but the sides also fold in, which makes it very compact, especially when packing a vehicle to drive to Florida. It also includes a carrying strap to sling it over a shoulder. The one downside was that the basket under the stroller is not as large as other makes and models, but it has suited our purposes wonderfully and quickly became the only stroller we used, even at home.

At first we felt so weighed down having to carry this stroller, diapers, baby wipes, snacks, toys, etc., to ensure we were prepared for whatever happened throughout the day. Our comfort zone was shattered before we even entered the first park, when we realized we couldn’t just breeze by security in the ‘No Bags’ line any more. However, it didn’t take long to feel at ease. For the first time, we felt ourselves strolling at a leisurely pace down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, just enjoying every minute of our daughter’s first visit to our Happy Place, instead of rushing to the first ride as usual. The Mayor welcomed us and it felt like we were home again. We started teaching our daughter our family Disney traditions, such as riding Pirates first, having a Mickey Ice Cream sandwich in the afternoon, and a Dole Whip in the evening while watching the parade. Our daughter was wide-eyed and in awe most of the day, but she reached a point where she had experienced sensory overload, and became a bit of a handful. This is when we had our first Baby Care Center experience, and they are a God-send! My best advice is to take advantage of them whenever possible, even if it’s just to sit down in the air conditioning and let your child color or read a book. We also had to learn to take a break in the afternoon to go back to our room to relax and take naps (ALL of us!)…no more commando trips! Decompression time is a must, especially on a first trip.

We also had to learn the art of the baby swap. Baby swap is great for the parent who gets to ride the ride, but what does the other parent do with the child while waiting his or her turn to ride? Character greetings are always a good diversion during the day, as are shows with short waits, like Carousel of Progress or Country Bear Jamboree, but we learned to save our baby swap rides for later in the evening when our daughter was (hopefully) asleep in the stroller and unaware that one of us was missing.

Dining also became an issue. We had always enjoyed the nicer Disney restaurants and worried we would be limited to nothing but character meals from now on. This hasn’t been the case exactly, but we did have to alter our plans for the first few years. Our nice dinners had to become nice lunches, as our daughter was too tired and antsy by dinner time to sit still in a nice restaurant. At lunch, she would be hungry and better behaved. Our Brown Derby dinners became lunches and everyone was happy.

Our daughter started teaching us, as well. We started stopping to smell the roses…literally! We learned to enjoy playing in the fountains at Epcot and in puddles on a rainy day. Afternoon naps are not a waste of time, and a quick dip in the pool can cool you off in a short amount of time; just don’t forget the sunscreen!


So, for all you Disney adults who fear all the fun will end when children are added to the mix, please know you are not alone - it can be done and still be enjoyable! Now, our daughter is five years old and is helping us plan our Disney trips. They have truly become a family affair.


The awe in a child's eyes photo
The awe in a child's eyes

Disney World through the eyes of a child




About the Author:
PJ Pettigrew is a rocket scientist, life-long Disney fan, and now Disney mom who is enjoying experiencing Disney through the eyes of her daughter as if it were all new again.


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Reader Comments:

Wonderful, heartwarming article, and funny, too!! We opted to take our kids when only 1 or 2 years old and loved it. It is about creating special memories. That is one feeling we have gotten at the parks, whether in Anaheim, Orlando, or Hong Kong.

     mickeyfans on June 30, 2011 @ 11:31 pm
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I remember the first time we took our DD to WDW when she was 9 months old. After going to WDW with DW three times, we too, were not sure what to expect with our baby tagging along. We were fortunate enough to have my in-laws with us to help let me and DW take off to do our own thing (our sort of baby swap).

We learned that our days were shorter at the parks, but the part about splashing in the water spouts and looking at more details really hits the mark.

Tomorrow we leave for WDW and our now 14 year old DD can ride all the rides with us and is ready to see the World late into the wee hours of the morning.

Thanks for a nice story about those first moment with your baby.

     swidman on July 1, 2011 @ 9:19 am
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I am a 37 year old Extreme Disney fan who got married a year ago and am expecting our first child in October. I have visited WDW 13 times and DL twice. All of them were with family, friends, boyfriends or single. I have never been with my now husband nor with small children (other than when I was a small child myself). The next Disney trip I will take will be reintroducing my husband who hasn't been since the 80's and introducing my child to Disney. It will be a completely different experience than what I am used to, I am sure. This article is very helpful in explaining some of the differences i will experience in touring with children. While I know it will be different, I absolutely cannot wait to turn my new family into a Disney family!

     arielsrl on July 1, 2011 @ 9:46 am
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Thanks for the kind comments! I will say that it only gets better as your child gets older and I am SO looking forward to when she's 14 and wants to stay for those 3 AM EMH (although I may not be up for it any more ;-).

Arielsrl - it will be a different experience so try not to get frustrated when things don't go like you had hoped. We had our meltdowns a couple of times where I just wanted to pack it all in and go home (this was when our DD was around 1 1/2) but everyone took a deep breath and remembered that we needed to learn to make new traditions together as a family.

     Poohj80 on July 12, 2011 @ 11:36 am
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Poohj80;3714164 >Thanks for the kind comments! I will say that it only gets better as your child gets older and I am SO looking forward to when she's 14 and wants to stay for those 3 AM EMH (although I may not be up for it any more ;-).

Arielsrl - it will be a different experience so try not to get frustrated when things don't go like you had hoped. We had our meltdowns a couple of times where I just wanted to pack it all in and go home (this was when our DD was around 1 1/2) but everyone took a deep breath and remembered that we needed to learn to make new traditions together as a family.


Thank you! Hope I'm ready for it! smiley for :)

     arielsrl on July 14, 2011 @ 4:36 pm
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Great story! I took my DD to DL when she was only 6 months old! I was tagging along with my mother and my much younger siblings for their 2nd trip (they were only 5 & 8 yo). I still smile and laugh at the pictures of my DD riding on the Dumbo ride with her grandmother (I sat in the elephant in front just to get the pics!) she would giggle uncontrollably when the elephant was up high in the air - maybe because the breeze would tickle her baby hair but either way it is a great memory and we always refer to Dumbo as her favorite ride. We too bought a new stroller for the park. After one day of renting a park stroller - it wasn't comfortable enough and when reclined it didn't provide good shading - plus all that metal and vinyl, yuck! (well, it was back in 1996) so we headed out to find a mall and bought an upscale umbrella stroller - before they were the norm: reclining seat with good basket and sunshade. Enjoy all the years to come! We've been to DL many times and to WDW about 8 times in the last 5 years (now that we live on the East coast) - my DD is now 15 and we are still rocking the EMH at night together! It helps too that we've become DVC members for our many trips to the park. Looking forward to being a Disney Family for generations to come!

     niffertini on August 26, 2011 @ 11:26 pm
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niffertini;3760290 >We've been to DL many times and to WDW about 8 times in the last 5 years (now that we live on the East coast) - my DD is now 15 and we are still rocking the EMH at night together! It helps too that we've become DVC members for our many trips to the park. Looking forward to being a Disney Family for generations to come!

We joined DVC before our DD was born and it has made it SO much easier to share our happy place with her. Of course, all her friends are jealous because we just got home from her 17th trip to WDW (some were just one or two nighters when we were in FL for something else, but DVC makes it easy to just call up and book a room on short notice), but now that we're tied to the school schedule, we'll have to slow down her trips a bit.

     Poohj80 on October 13, 2011 @ 12:04 pm
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Updated 06-30-2011 - Article #695 



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