June 5, 2024

How We Handled Naps and Bedtime at Disney World

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Traveling with little ones can be overwhelming. You want to enjoy the new adventures, but you also know sleep is really important. So how do you balance it all?

In this blog post, I share our top tips for helping your little ones sleep while you’re traveling.

So this week, I’m giving you a real-life example of how we did that this past winter when we went to Disney.

In this blog post, I’ll share:

  • How we balanced naps and bedtime with making memories
  • How we spent each day in Disney
  • General travel tips for going to Disney with kids

Before I dive in, I first want you to know that our Disney experience was different than most, as we were there for my daughter’s Make-a-Wish trip. So there is a lot about planning a Disney trip that we just don’t know because we didn’t have to do it. But that also means that some plans were made for that were out of our control – we wouldn’t ever choose a 6 am flight, but that’s what we were given, so we had to roll with it!

How we Handled Naps and Bedtime at Disney

One of our top travel tips is to try to make time for naps when you can. And with that, try to keep bedtime somewhat normal, certainly moving it earlier or later, when necessary. There’s got to be some give and take!

So here’s what that give and take looked like at Disney.

Starting with the day of travel, we were definitely wide-eyed when we got our itinerary. Our flight departed at 6 am, and they scheduled an escort service to pick us up at 3:30 am – with a 6, 4, and 1 year old.

So we prepped our older two that it would be a strange night and that we’d be pulling them out of bed in the middle of the night, keeping them in their jammies, and having breakfast at the airport. I knew the older two wouldn’t fall asleep in the car, because there would just be too much excitement. And I really hoped the baby would fall back asleep, but that didn’t happen.

Everyone stayed awake the whole drive to the airport, at the airport, and even on the flight. Someone met us when we landed and got us all settled with our rental car and car seats and such, and then we had 45-minute drive to Give Kids the World, which is a really cool “village” where Make-a-Wish families usually stay, as well as families from other wish organizations.

Our one-year-old thankfully fell asleep about 10 minutes into that drive, and then Jason sat in the car in our driveway with her so she could keep sleepinp. I think she had about an hour nap, which we were really thankful for.

But we were at our little house by about 10 am, which meant we had the whole day ahead of us. However, we had been up since 3:30 am. At first, we thought we’d spend that first day at Sea World – we knew we didn’t want to jump right into a Disney park when we were running on fumes, but we wanted to maximize our time there!

We thankfully scrapped the Sea World idea and just hung at the Give Kids a World village for the day, which was definitely wise. They have some fun rides there, an arcade, a pool, and a playground, so we had plenty to do.

And even though Give Kids the World had a Christmas Party that night that sounded fun, we had to prioritize sleep if we wanted to enjoy the next few days! So all three girls were in bed by 6 pm, and I think Jason, me, and my parents were all in bed by 8. We were exhausted!

So there’s the first example of some give and take there, for the sake of sleep. Had we been in charge, we never would have booked such an early flight. It left us in a strange position where we technically had a full day there, but we all lost 4 hours of sleep the night before. It cut into our overnight sleep AND nap time that day. And we didn’t want to start our trip on fumes! So we had a very necessary early bedtime for all of us that night, and I think everyone slept until about 8 am the next day!

Now let’s talk about how we handled naps and bedtime over the next few days.  

Naps

Our youngest was 15 months old when we went, and we were in the midst of transitioning her to one nap when we went to Disney (although we ended up going back to two naps when we came home – I share more about that on this podcast episode!). But the Give Kids the World Village was about 30 minutes from the parks, so there was just no way we were going to come home for a midday nap and then go back to the parks again. It’s a lot of work to get in and out of the parks!

We had a double stroller at the parks for our older girls, and I had my Ergo carrier for Isla, so the plan was motion naps. So every day she took some kind of carrier nap that lasted 20-30 minutes, although she often didn’t fall asleep until closer to 2-3 pm.

And I will say, I really didn’t work for these naps, or I would have made myself crazy. If she was rubbing her eyes, or getting fussy, or getting extra cuddly, I would start singing our sleep song, cuddling into her more, bouncing a bit. But if she perked back up, I let it be! I didn’t look at the clock at noon and think, “It’s nap time, I better do everything I can right this moment to get her to sleep!”

I was absolutely aware of the time and certainly wished she’d sleep, but I wasn’t about to miss out on the fun and joy and memory-making because I was so stuck on her napping right then.

I did have our travel sound machine with us, though I only pulled it out a few times. Did it actually help? Who knows, but it made me feel better that it was on.

So those were the carrier naps, and she also often fell asleep for about 15 minutes on our drive back home in the evenings. And as the days went on, she started taking a cat nap on our drive to the parks, too; sweet girl was so tired!

Bedtime

Because her naps were super short and not the most restful, not to mention a full day at Disney is exhausting for older kids and adults, alike, we almost always went back to our little village so we could have dinner and a decent bedtime. We often gave our babe more of a snack dinner and put her to bed ASAP (between 6-7 pm), and our older girls were still in bed between 7-8.

Was it a bummer to do earlier/normal bedtimes while at Disney? Honestly, not really.

Sometimes a bit stressful just thinking about how tired she was and wanting to balance doing that last ride we were hoping for but knowing we were dancing with fire. But Olivia and Avery were pretty exhausted by the end of the day, and we honestly were, too! So it was probably for the best, anyway.

And then Isla slept for 13-14 hours most nights, making up for that lost daytime sleep! The last day she woke up shortly before 7 am (which is early for her!), and also early given the short naps she was taking. It was the beginning of that overtiredness really catching up with her.

Once we got home, I’d say it took around 4-5 days until we really felt like her sleep was back to normal and that she’d made up for that sleep debt. Our older girls’ sleep wasn’t really thrown off while we were away, so they didn’t really have to catch up! Though they definitely enjoyed some slow days at home.

The other thing that was different sleep-wise for all of our girls was that they all shared a room! We’ve all shared a hotel room a few times, but this was the first time all three girls were in the same room for a few days. The older two share a room at home, so nothing was different there, but Isla was now also in the SlumberPod in their room.

We would have usually kept her in our room, but in our little house, there were two bedrooms and a couch bed in the living room. One of the rooms had two twin beds, and the other room had a queen or king bed. So girls were all in one room, my parents slept in the other bedroom, and we slept on the pull-out couch.

We made sure to remind Olivia and Avery that if they heard Isla stir in the night to remember that mommy and daddy can see and hear her and will help when necessary. We also reminded them that if their Hatch came on and Isla was still asleep, we needed them to try to sneak out quietly so she wouldn’t wake up! And they did really well with it.

I was a bit worried that Isla’s overtiredness from so many missed naps would cause her overnight sleep to be rougher, then making the girls’ nights more rough, but that thankfully didn’t happen. I do think there was a night or two when she cried out for about 3 minutes, and my husband and I were definitely on edge, but we waited and she was able to go back to sleep! And the older girls didn’t budge.

All things considered, sleep went pretty well on this trip! We usually try to make naps more of a priority when we’re away, but when it’s your daughter’s Make-a-Wish trip, and to Disney, nonetheless, you break some rules.

Because naps were really up in the air, we did, however, prioritize bedtime! And it was honestly helpful for everyone, because like I’ve said, Disney is tiring for everyone!

If the thought of figuring out how to balance naps and bedtime while on vacation feels overwhelming to you, or sharing a hotel room with your family, or having your kids share a room together feels impossible, our comprehensive travel guide is for you! It helps take so many question marks out of traveling with kids, and also gives you the confidence that a few off days and nights won’t mess up your little one’s sleep forever. Check it out!

How We Spent Each Day

Here’s a little overview of how we organized the rest of our time in Florida.

Day One

We spent our first full day at Magic Kingdom. It unfortunately closed at 6 pm that night because they were having a special ticket-only Christmas party that night, but we wanted to go there on day one when we were all the freshest because it was the park we were most excited to experience with the girls.

So we stayed right until it closed and then went back to our village for a later dinner!

Day Two

The next full day was split between Animal Kingdom and Epcot. One of the welcome guys at Give Kids the World said those were good parks to share in one day, and we were thankful for his advice! So that was a bit of a longer day, and the only day we had dinner in the parks.

Day Three

The next day we took a little pause from the big parks and had a slower and shorter day at Sea World. The girls got to do a little horseback riding at Give Kids the World that morning, as well as hang with some characters at breakfast, then we went to Sea World.

It started raining around 4 pm or so, so we headed back to the village earlier than planned and it was really nice to have that slower-paced and more chill day in between the more full days.

Day Four

The next day we went to Hollywood Studios. My husband was excited to see the Star Wars area, and there were some fun shows and rides the girls enjoyed. We also saw the most characters here!

We also made this a shorter day, as Olivia had a special star ceremony scheduled for that evening back at Give Kids the World. Every wish child that stays there gets to write their name on a star that is then secured to the ceiling somewhere in this magic castle. So when you go in, you see thousands of stars from kids who have stayed there before. Not something most people have to plan their Disney travels around, but very powerful for us! The girls also got to have a little “spa time” after the star ceremony.

And that night Jason and I went on a little date night to Epcot to see the fireworks! We asked the girls if they wanted to join us for fireworks or stay back with my parents (who were for sure going to stay back with sleeping Isla), and they chose to stay back with Grandma and Grandpa for a movie night, so that was a treat for us.

Day Five

Our flight was scheduled for 3 pm on our last day, so we just hung out at Give Kids the World again before heading out.

General Tips for Going to Disney with Kids

Now for my Disney-specific tips when it comes to going there with kids:

Bring Grandparents!

Kind of kidding, but mostly very serious. Bring grandparents or aunts and uncles or friends, because having extra hands is so helpful! We were able to divide and conquer for more rides, Jason and I got a date night, and we had extra hands to push the stroller and take bathroom breaks.

Jason and I would have been so much more tired had it just been the two of us! Plus it’s more sweet memories shared with more people, so it’s a win win win.

Crowdsource for ideas!

Even though our trip was planned by Make-a-Wish, I was still really overwhelmed trying to plan the day-to-day things we’d do like rides, meals, what parks what days, etc. So I asked around! I reached out to three friends who had either been to Disney several times or were there recently, and I got really different and really helpful advice from all of them!

They shared what rides their kids especially loved, and which ones we could easily pass on. They let us know which rides had a quick drop that we should prep our kids for, where we might get surprisingly wet, or the rides that would be a relaxing boat ride to help us reset.

They told us about their favorite food or snack places and which parks they’d just skip altogether. So definitely ask around to get ideas, tips, and tricks as you’re planning the trip!

Have a plan!

Once you crowdsource ideas, have a pretty good idea of what rides you want to go on, which shows you want to see and what times they’re playing, which days you’ll be at which parks. In my opinion, at least, Disney is not the kind of place you want to wander around and fly by the seat of your pants. You could easily miss something or gas out before getting to the activities you really want to!

Don’t rush out the door!

One of the best things we did was take our mornings slowly. We didn’t set alarms, but let the kids be our alarms. And we didn’t rush everyone out the door! We enjoyed our breakfast and always rode the carousel at Give Kids the World multiple times before heading out.

We knew we had the whole day ahead of us, and starting our day out rushed would have landed us all in grumpier moods pretty quickly.   

Plan for some intentional downtime.

One of my friends said her family planned a whole day in the middle of their trip to just spend at their resort, enjoying the pool, taking actual naps, and having fun there. Because again, Disney is exhausting! And I loved that idea!

Another friend said they stayed at a resort right on the Disney property, so they did actually head back for nap time a couple of days. Especially the night they all went to the fireworks, they made sure to have a lot of downtime that day.

If we had been in control of our trip, I think we would have had a few more days in Florida and planned an extra down-day there, but again, that was out of our control and we wanted to maximize the experience! So our downtime looked like later mornings, earlier evenings, and that slower day at Sea World.

Downtime can also look like shows! We went to the Lion King Show at the Animal Kingdom, and the Beauty and Beast show and Frozen Sing-a-Long at Hollywood Studios. It just helps change up the pace of rides and walking, and also gets you in some shade.

Get a lightning pass.

Because we were there with Make-a-Wish, we had a lanyard that let us get into any lightning pass lane at any time. Which was of course amazing, and my husband and I joke that this trip kind of ruined us for Disney. If we ever go back, it’ll be a rude awakening not being able to go on as many rides and having to plan way more!

My understanding of a normal lightning pass is that you purchase the pass and then have to schedule what time you plan to go on a certain ride with that lightning pass. So you have to have some sort of plan going into the day and how you’ll navigate the parks. But I definitely recommend doing so, because some of those lines are long! And I just cannot imagine waiting in line for 1.5 hours with young kids – sounds pretty terrible to me.

You can wear and/or nurse your baby on most kid rides!

Isla napped in the carrier while we were on the Peter Pan ride, for example! I rarely took her out of the carrier for rides, and if I did it was to pass her on to someone else or to feed her. Very convenient!

Strollers

Because we were there with Make-a-Wish, we were able to snag a double stroller from the Disney parks every day rather than bring our own. The nice part of using the Disney strollers was that it was one less thing for us to travel with. A downside is that they weren’t as comfortable and didn’t have all the storage compartments our stroller at home has. And if we had to pay, I think it would have been something like $30 a day, which isn’t cheap!

But something else to consider between renting or bringing your own stroller is that you have to fold up your stroller to take the little parking lot trams to the entrances! And that would be frustrating if you load your stroller up from the car, then have to take everything out to fold it up for the parking lot tram, then load it all back up again once in the park.

One final thing to consider with strollers is to somehow decorate your stroller. Put a balloon or ribbon on it or something, because those stroller parking areas get super crowded, and sometimes your stroller gets moved. So marking it clearly is an easy way to keep track of it in all the chaos!

Food

I feel like one of the big Disney things is to schedule meals with characters or book certain restaurants ahead of time. I want to say that we did not do any of this and did not feel like we missed out! You have to book those meals with characters pretty far in advance, and while I’m sure they are special, we didn’t feel like we missed out not having them. There are plenty of other food options in the parks! So hopefully this takes some pressure off of you.

Go in the cooler months, if you can!

This is purely personal, but if you have the ability to choose, I highly recommend going in the cooler months! Disney is tiring enough as it is, and throwing in heat would make it so much harder.

And being there around Christmas was magical! Although it also meant we didn’t see as many characters just walking around, because they were apparently laying low before the Christmas parties in the evening. But just something to consider.

Give Kids the World

This final piece isn’t actually a tip at all, more of a PSA. Like I mentioned, we were there with Make-a-Wish, and the property where we stayed is called Give Kids the World. I could do an entire episode on Give Kids the World, because it’s truly remarkable. We could have stayed there all day every day and been pretty happy! And it’s almost entirely volunteer run, which means hundreds of volunteers weekly.

There are several retired men and women who volunteer there regularly, or who come down for a few weeks a year simply to volunteer here. There were also sports teams there for a volunteer project, or college groups on their winter break. So if your family or some organization you’re connected with is ever looking for a really cool way to serve others, I highly recommend looking into volunteering at Give Kids the World.

Conclusion

Hopefully this post helps you get a real-life experience of how we navigated our kids’ sleep while on our Disney trip, as well as helps you plan your own Disney trip, a bit.

The big plan here is to make amazing memories and plan for sleep. Plan so many fun things, and recognize you just can’t do it all. We were not about to cut out of the Disney parks every day for my baby’s midday nap, that just didn’t make sense. But we also weren’t going to stay in the parks every night until 9 pm, because bedtime! And overtiredness!

And if we wanted to be able to really enjoy each day, we all needed to sleep. And I really mean we all needed sleep, as the adults were exhausted by the last day, and we were probably getting more sleep than usual while there.

Also remember you never really know what to expect and you can only control so much. There were days I really wished my babe would have fallen asleep sooner, or slept for way longer, but that’s out of my control! And I would have been so miserable had I thought I could do more about it, or like it was my fault.

So plan what you can, and then keep open hands with what you just can’t plan. And remember it’s all temporary!

And remember, if you want to feel this same confidence when it comes to traveling, the travel sleep guide will be a great fit for you!

With Grace,

Lauren