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Holiday 2019 Family Vacation: Disney World and Universal Studios

Our First Vacation with Baby

I had already started planning our third family vacation to Disney World and (our first) to Universal Studios months before I found out I was pregnant with our firstborn son, Darius. I had put down the initial deposit immediately after our previous trip in December 2018, and I did not find out about the baby until February 2019. I decided to keep our plans going because Darius’s due date was the end of September 2019 and we would not be going on our vacation until December.

The baby was born a few days late, right at the beginning of October. I also required an unplanned C-section due to a particular birth complication, which I had not been anticipating nor factoring into our travel timeline. It turns out that recovery from a C-section is quite an intense ordeal, and it was in the weeks following the baby’s birth that I began questioning our intentions to continue with our vacation that would happen only mere weeks down the line. I also worried that maybe we were taking our son to such a crowd-heavy destination too young, perhaps exposing him to too much at one time.

I have an amazingly supportive husband, Curtis, who I credit a great deal with helping me to recover from my surgery and start regaining my strength. He also kept insisting that we would be able to keep our Disney/Universal plans, though he acknowledged that we might not be able to do and see as much as we have in our past trips to Orlando. Curtis encouraged me that our breastfeeding son would do great, that he was protected by the antibodies I was passing him via breast milk, and that we would be taking reasonable precautions to minimize his exposure to germs. By November, I was regaining much of my strength and going on mile long walks. I watched our son grow and thrive with each passing week. By December, I felt confident that I would be able to walk through the parks, and confident that he would be safe as well. The one lingering concern I had was my ability to go on any of the good rides. I would overcome this fear on Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest roller coaster, with a boost of confidence given to me by a kind stranger with whom I related based on our shared C-section experiences.

Overall, our trip spanned fourteen days: eight nights at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, three nights at Universal Studios’ Portofino Bay Hotel, and two overnight road trips between Orlando and Maryland. Our little one did so well at just two and a half months old. We asked a lot of him: spent seven full days total walking through the parks, had to do a lot of rider switch/child swap, and endured some unique breastfeeding situations, but what a family vacation it was. As for myself, this trip allowed me the opportunity to learn a lot about having confidence as a new and recovering mother, and overcoming multiple (irrational) fears that would have otherwise had me keeping the baby in a tiny, tiny bubble at home. I also got to see a couple of old friends, one intentionally and one not, which was also a major highlight of my trip. Finally, my younger sister Danielle also joined us for the Universal Studios portion of our trip, and being able to hang out with her newest nephew made the trip that much more worth it.

My husband and I really value the benefits of travel and cultural exposure for our son. Here's to many more adventures with our little Darius in the future!

Day One: Check in

For the Disney World portion of our trip, we stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We enjoyed a room with a safari view, and got to wake up to the animals outside of our terrace every morning. That night, we met up with a friend of mine from college, Stephanie, and her boyfriend, and spent many hours discussing life and politics and the Marvel Universe at one of the resort bars. Baby slept in his stroller while we gabbed away. I think our conversations also upset a couple of old grey-haired boomers who were sitting at a table next to us…oh well, I guess.

Day Two: Magic Kingdom

Our first day in the parks proved a bit of an adjustment for me. In the past, we would get to the parks by 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning. With our new baby, we definitely would be getting to the parks much later than we had in years past. On our first day, this caused us to miss a couple of our FastPass+ that I had planned months earlier.

For lunch we dined at Tony’s Restaurant near Town Square, and dinner brought us to the Beast’s Castle for a three-course affair at Be Our Guest Restaurant. At night, the park transitioned to its special ticketed holiday event, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the highlight of which was an amazing Christmas parade that included a particularly impressive Toy Soldier march.

Day Three: Animal Kingdom

It was on this day that I lost my fear of being able to go on roller coasters post-surgery. After rider-swapping with my husband, I made it all the way to the ride gates before I turned around suddenly and said out loud to no one in particular, “I don’t think I can do this.” The woman who was standing behind me (also a single rider), asked me why, and I suddenly just began pouring my guts to her. I explained that I had just had a C-section only ten weeks before, and I was afraid that I couldn’t do something as intense as a roller coaster. She asked me if I had fully healed, and I told her I had. She then told me that she herself had two C-sections many years prior, and that her surgeries left her feeling sore for almost a year. She assured me that as long as I was healed and my doctor had not put me on any restrictions, that there was no reason why I couldn’t enjoy myself on the coaster. This all happened in the one minute before the ride gate opened. I made a quick decision and allowed myself the opportunity to get on a roller coaster that I had otherwise very much been looking forward to. I didn’t want to let my fear prevent me from riding. I got on, no turning back, and was totally safe and pain-free. I had a great time and overcame a major post-surgery fear. I just wish that her face wasn’t blocked out in our ride photo, so that I could remember the face of the woman who helped me so much that day.

Day Four: Epcot

Epcot is by far my favorite park. As someone who has done a lot of world traveling, particularly within the last several years, I just love the Epcot World Showcase. The Morocco Pavilion is my little niche…it reminds me so much of the real thing (we traveled there in January 2018).

Day Five: Chill Day at the Hotel

Day Six: Hollywood Studios

We arrived at the park’s entrance by about 06:45, and there was already an immense crowd of people lining up to get in. Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge had just opened up a few months before, and the newest ride, Rise of the Resistance, had opened only days prior to our arrival. I had been reading that it is not possible to get onto Rise of the Resistance the traditional way—that is, show up to the ride, wait on a queue for a couple hours, then you’re on. Due to the ride’s crazy popularity, you have to get a “boarding pass” online via the MyDisneyExperience app once you get into parks. Needless to say, everyone shows up early and the boarding passes get fully distributed twenty minutes into the park’s opening time. Luckily, our hard work and patience paid off…we got our boarding passes and successfully did a rider switch for Rise. We finished this night with out-of-this-world drink concoctions and snacks at Oga’s Cantina. I opted for the Blue Milk…I still don’t really know what it was exactly that I drank though.

As for the little one, well, we dressed him up as Baby Yoda, of course. He got a lot of attention and compliments that day.

Day Seven: Epcot

We took a second trip to Epcot, to which we traveled via Disney’s new gondola transportation system, the Skyliner.

Day Eight: Last Night at the Hotel

Day Nine: Travel to Universal Studios, Loew’s Portofino Bay Resort

I haven’t been to Universal Studios since 2005, and my husband has never been. Neither of us have ever stayed at any of the Universal Studio resorts. When we arrived at Loew’s Portofino Bay hotel, we were in awe…it is a beautiful resort that reminds of actual Italy, which we had just traveled to back in April for our babymoon.

We took a pleasant ferry ride to and from the parks every day, which were a close 5 minutes or so away.

Day Ten: Universal Studios

My sister Danielle flew in that morning and immediately joined us on our first day in the park. We spent the day at Universal Studios, a bit underwhelmed by the overabundance of 4-D ride experiences. Our attitudes swiftly changed as we entered the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, however, and we easily spent most of our day in Diagon Alley: we ate at the Leaky Cauldron, walked down Knockturn Alley, visited Ollivander’s where my husband chose his wand (unfortunately not the other way around, apparently only one person per show is allowed to have their wand choose them), and escaped from Gringott’s Bank. We also unexpectedly ran into an old friend of mine and his girlfriend and had a nice long conversation reminiscing and catching up.

Our thoughts on the butterbeer: pretty delicious, actually. A yummy little sugar coma.

Later on in the night, Danielle and Curtis grabbed a couple Duff beers from the Simpsons land.

Day Eleven: Universal’s Islands of Adventure

We spent the majority of our second day here at Islands of Adventure, where the real big-boy rides are. After entering the park, we got right onto the Hulk, then headed over to the other half of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Hogsmeade. We also spent a few hours here, honestly because the Wizarding World is just that amazing. We got on the Forbidden Journey, ate at Three Broomsticks, drank at Hog’s Head Pub, and hopped on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. We didn’t even have to wait on the queue for this newest attraction at Universal, either. After a couple of hours being down due to weather concerns, the ride re-opened suddenly while we were just nearby. My sister, determined to beat the crowds who would be rushing back to get on, ran towards the ride entrance while I was still drinking my butterbeer. I became very flustered, trying to rush through a growing crowd and queue with my stroller, a baby, unfinished drinks, and a bunch of unsecured baby accessories. I just wasn’t prepared to be on a ride queue so suddenly, and I must have looked like a hot mess. Meanwhile, one of the ride attendants apparently took pity on me, and allowed me to get myself together before walking all of us—Danielle, Curtis, Darius, and I—up the back route and directly to the front of the line. There are decent people in the world—don’t forget it.

I even got to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures twice, due to the Child Swap feature.

At the end of the night, we hopped onto Hogwart’s Express and rode into King’s Cross Station, back to Universal Studios.

Day Twelve: Drive Back Home

The Food

At Disney World, we had purchased the Deluxe Dining Plan, which essentially gave us three meals a day in sit-down restaurants, and which included an appetizer, an entree, a dessert, and one alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink at every meal in addition to two daily snacks. Curtis and I decided by the third or so day that this dining plan was definitely excessive, but we trekked on through our food Olympics, not letting anything go to waste. The next time we come to Disney, we’re definitely going to go back to the standard Disney Dining Plan (which we do find worth it). Now we can say we’ve done the Deluxe option, but man…that was a lot of food.

Our first night at our hotel, just after our arrival, we ate dinner at Jiko right at Animal Kingdom Lodge. This was definitely my favorite meal of the trip.

At Magic Kingdom, we ate at Tony’s Restaurant for lunch, and at Be Our Guest Restaurant for Dinner.

At Animal Kingdom, we had lunch at Rainforest Café, and a delicious dinner at Yak and Yeti restaurant in Asia.

Our first day at Epcot, we dined at Tutto Italia (Italy pavilion) for lunch, and then in Restaurant Marrakesh (Morocco Pavilion) for dinner.

During our first break from the parks, we opted to stay at our hotel for eating, Sana’a for lunch, and Boma for dinner.

We had some drinks and light snacks at Oga’s Cantina in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios.

During our second trip to Epcot, we ate lunch at Tokyo Dining, and then headed back to the hotel for dinner at Boma.

Our last night at Disney, we had dinner for a second time at Jiko. I loved my first meal so much that I changed our reservations around and went back for a second taste.

We spent most of our breakfasts at Boma in Animal Kingdom Lodge.

At Universal, we decided not to do one of their dining plans, since we were staying at Portofino Bay, and none of their restaurants would be included in the dining plans.

Our first night, we ate dinner at Bice, at Portofino Bay.

While in the parks, we ate lunch both days in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, at the Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks. We also dined at Mythos restaurant in Islands of Adventure.

Second night’s dinner was back at Portofino Bay Hotel, Mamma Della’s, where we were serenaded.

Our last dinner was at CityWalk’s Chocolate Emporium.

The Rides

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