A new mom contacted the Parenting Panel to share her anxiety and ask our advice. As an Annual Passholder, she and her husband regularly visited the Disneyland Resort and hated dealing with nighttime crowds, even before her baby arrived. She explained, “You can't see where you are going and everyone mushes together. I would try to weave my way through, but no way I can do that with a stroller. Some of the areas, like Adventureland, are very poorly lit at night and hard to see through. The nighttime shows grind everything to a halt” This week we asked the Parenting Panel: Getting around at night with kids. How do you navigate the parks at night with a stroller... Or other types of carrier?
Parenting in the Parks columnist Adrienne Krock’s three boys are now 13, 11, and 8. They’ve been visiting the Disneyland Resort since they were each just weeks old and Annual Passholders since their 3rd birthdays. Adrienne writes:
I readily admit: I hate crowds. I really, really do. Many times this dictates how I approach the parks and I have to confess, my kids’ park experiences have been stunted because of it. My husband and I regularly enjoyed Fantasmic! before we had kids, but I will not even admit in this very public forum how few times we have taken our children to see the show. Between crowds, tired kids, tired parents, and the cover of darkness, I can relate to the apprehension a new mom might feel.
Here are my top three strategies for dealing with nighttime crowds:
- S-L-O-W D-O-W-N – This is pretty much brilliant advice for any parent in any situation at a Disney theme park, in my opinion. When we’re there with the kids, theme park life slows down. Sometimes the best strategy is just to step back and let the crowds go by. We do not overschedule our evenings, we pick and choose which attractions to hit. The first step is dealing with the pre-show crowds. Yep, we arrive early and stake out our spots. Once the show ends, we take our time leaving. We find a place to campout and let the crowds pass us or we head in the opposite direction, towards an attraction that might still be open but otherwise ignored by the crowd. We plan accordingly to pad our schedule with time before and after whatever show or attraction we want to see or visit. If we do have to walk through a crowd, we stick to the right and plan to take our time.
- Parent tag team – I take advantage of having my husband (and/or other friends or family) with me. Between the two of us, his personality much better lends itself to handling the crowds. In the days when we brought our stroller, I might let him push it so I could avoid that stress. Sometimes, then and now, I let him walk in front of me to “navigate the crowd”. Now, this can cause more stress than help. If I let him walk in front, he might walk too quickly and I become lost and frustrated. In that case, I have two choices: I can either be the front-forward parent, making him keep up with me, or, we divide and conquer. Rather than stress out about staying together, we make a meeting spot. For example, if we need to navigate through Main Street at Disneyland Park, we will agree on a meeting spot on the other side of Main Street – either the center of Town Square or the bathrooms outside the Main Gate, near Guest Services, should we get separated.
- Be brave – Frankly, after I had children, I learned how to be even more outspoken than I was before. Sure, I’m a very gregarious person but I really do not like having to “stick up for myself” or be assertive. Sometimes, crowds just call for a bit of assertiveness. One night, Doc walked ahead of me while I followed, pushing our tandem double stroller and time and time again, people jumped in between us. Before I knew what was happening, I heard myself calling out “Excuse me!” When they turned to look at me, I said, “My husband is right up there and you stepped in between us—I need to catch up to him.” Lo and behold, they had no clue they cut us off, and graciously let me through. There’s no reason to be belligerent or rude, but I learned that night that a quick, cheerful “excuse me, I need to stay with my family” could quickly get our family back on track.
Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:
The Disney parks are a wonderful, colorful place to stroll through during the day. Nighttime can be on some new and interesting challenges as you navigate the different paths while, at the same time, attempting to navigate through fellow guests. Much like traffic after a sporting event, things can get confusing an a bit unnerving at times. To be honest, it may seem hard to believe that the parks at night can be a stressor, but there are ways to help ease the tension in an unfamiliar situation.
Personally, I do not mind crowds. However, I do mind crowds at night when I’m trying to keep track of my family. At one time, this included pushing a not-so-compact stroller through the parks, as well. Like many other scenarios, the first time you deal with one, you learn quite a bit. Here are some thoughts and tips from my past:
- Be aware of where you are in relation to where you need to go – Yes, this does sound simpler than it is at times, especially if you are toward the back of the park and you are not very familiar with the park’s layout. Glancing through the map a few times during the day, noting where you are and what it looks like on the map is a good way to learn the lay of the land.
- Have a small flashlight handy – While the might may be your friend, having a small flashlight to glance at the map at night can really be a big help. We found some multicolored lights that not only has a small LED flashlight on one end, but acts as an electric glow stick on the other. This is a great option as you can turn it on at night, attaching it to a stroller if you have one, and that way, everyone can follow the light.
- Don’t go against the flow of traffic – While this is always a good tip in courtesy, it is even more important when visibility is down due to reduced lighting. Granted, sometimes you can’t help but being stuck “on the wrong side of the road” but try to keep to the right when at all possible.
- Follow cast member directions as to how they are directing traffic – This is important especially when parades are setting up or have just past, when congestion is at its worse, especially at key viewing stops.
- Don’t try to leave at peak times – After a parade, fireworks, or other nighttime show, crowds are always worse. Transportation is also going to be congested. Consider waiting 20-30 minutes while everyone files out. Do a bit of shopping. Grab one more snack. Have the PhotoPass photographers take your picture a few times. Soon enough, you will find yourself in a very light crowd, able to slowly stroll down to the exits at the end of Main Street.
- Leave early – If you think that staying afterward will be too much for your group, there is always the option of leaving the parks a bit earlier. Sure, this may not be the first choice, but there are times when it might be better to get some extra rest than to deal with denser crowds.
Like anything else, planning a bit ahead is important. Keeping a cool head if stuck in a crowd is something that can really pay off in the long run. Soon enough, you will be loving the nighttime at the Disney parks.
Mary Kraemer is an avid Disney fan and travel consultant with CruisingCo/MouseEarVacations who loves to travel with her husband and children to Disney destinations as often as possible. Mary writes:
I’ll admit it’s been a pretty long time since I’ve been to a Disney park with kids in a stroller, but truly, I never felt like there was any different strategy for navigating crowds with a stroller, day or night.
My observation about Disney crowds is that whenever people perceive a space nearby, they try to move into it, so I was always vigilant about making sure that my stroller’s space (which is not always visible from 3 feet higher up in a crowd) was maintained. Whenever someone started to move into that space, I’d have to tell them that it’s not empty space; my stroller is there and there’s no place to move.
Actually, when my three kids were young, I felt much safer with them in a stroller than on foot because it was easier to keep them contained in the stroller and not get stepped on by people in a crowd. I’ve jerry-rigged my double stroller to accommodate three kids on more than one occasion so that we could get through crowds (and I didn’t have to keep track of three little ones walking with me). Hey, it wasn’t particularly classy looking, but it fit the need at the time, and kept my kids safely contained.
If you’re concerned about a stroller in the parks at night, I’d suggest getting some glow bracelets or sticks and attach them to the stroller. A little brightness in the crowd will help define the stroller’s space. Perhaps a balloon (especially one of the flashing light ones) will help, but make sure it’s not in your line of vision!
Another strategy is patience! Wait until the crowds dissipate. Trying to get through Main Street after the fireworks, for example, can be frustrating if you have a stroller. So, why not stay put, relax as the park as the crowds begin to leave, and then enjoy a leisurely walk down Main Street… perhaps only 15 minutes after the fireworks end? When you look at the big picture of things, you’re probably not going to arrive at your hotel (or car) a lot later than if you’d been moving en masse, but you’ll definitely feel a lot less stressed!
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