As a single parent to a toddler, there are times when I have found myself steering clear of certain activities for either emotional or logistical reasons, or both. And I must admit that a recent weekend trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., almost fell into that category, until I remembered that Disney World is one of the most child-friendly places on earth, and navigating it would not be much different than navigating my everyday life.
So if you're a single parent and wondering whether you can swing a trip to the "Happiest Place on Earth," here's how I did it, just Ellie and me.
(Editorial Note: Disney is the parent company of ABC News. As a Disney employee, the writer is granted free admission to Walt Disney World).
1. Use the Magical Express and check your bags.
Disney provides transportation to and from its resorts for no extra charge 24 hours a day via Magical Express transportation. If your flight arrives between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., Disney handles your bags for you as well, which means if you check your bags at the airport, the next time you see them is when they are in your room. You can reserve Disney's Magical Express Transportation online or by calling (407) WDW-Magic.
And if you're wondering how I managed to get to the point of checking my bags with an 18-month-old in tow, I went the route of the ERGOBaby carrier that is the one baby item I cannot live without. It is comfortable, allows me to carry my daughter while keeping my hands free, can be worn on my back or front, and holds kids up until they are 45 pounds.
When it's time to return home, some of the major airlines allow you to check in for your flight at the resort, which means you can check your bags on-site, again giving you one less thing to schlep.
2. Ask for a preferred room at your resort. When I was booking our stay at Disney's Pop Century Resort, I explained that I would be traveling alone with an 18-month-old and they offered a preferred room (which does cost slightly more than the standard rate) that put us close to the pool, transportation and dining hall. It really made getting around a lot easier, and cut down on the amount of time I was carrying her to and from different locations.
Also keep in mind that Disney provides transportation (bus, boat or monorail) between the resorts and the parks, so you don't need to worry about how to get around once you are on Disney property.
3. Rent a stroller.
If you're traveling alone with a child, keeping your hands as free as possible is the name of the game, which is why I didn't want to be bothered with a stroller unless I was inside the park. So instead of bringing a stroller with me, I rented one. It was actually quite easy and I never encountered a line, but it will cost you about $15 a day (a little less if you rent for multiple days). There are rental locations at the entrances of the Disney Theme Parks, Disney Water Parks and the Downtown Disney area. And there is ample stroller parking outside all rides and venues, and attendants helping keep that area organized.
A couple things to keep in mind: The strollers are a plastic and aren't really comfortable for napping, and there is a bit of a walk from the transportation to where you pick up the stroller. So it might be worth it to bring the front pack along or get ready to give a few piggy-back rides.
4. Take advantage of the lockers.