Thankfully, Walt Disney World makes it pretty darn easy to dine with little kids. Meals for children under age three are free in many circumstances, high chairs are available everywhere, and healthier side dishes are now de rigueur in kids’ meals.
And of course you should know that with the one teeny exception of Victoria & Albert’s, even the smallest children are welcome at any Disney restaurant. Don’t even spend a moment worrying about whether it’s OK to bring your baby with you to dinner. It’s absolutely, 100%, fine. No kidding.
But while the restaurants are happy to have your baby on board, from a logistical standpoint, dining with a smaller baby can pose a bit of challenge at Walt Disney World, or anywhere else for that matter.
Restaurant meals can be particularly arduous if you have a new baby that’s too small to sit at a high chair. What do you do with the baby while you’re eating? How to do you balance feeding the infant and feeding yourself?
Here are some ideas to make dining with your baby go as smoothly as possible.
You’ve Got Two Choices…
With an infant, you really only have two options when going to a restaurant if you actually want to, ya know, eat. You can hold the child or set him/her down somewhere.
Holding your baby can take a few forms. You can literally hold the baby in your arms, thus giving you only one hand free to use for eating. If you go this route, don’t plan to order anything like a steak, which would require two-handed maneuvering of a fork and knife.
The second alternative for holding would be to employ some sort of carrier, either a Baby-Bjorn-style front carrier, or a sling. These options will give you both hands free, but may make some seating positions quite awkward.
Of course if you have more adults than infants you can tag-team the whole affair, taking turns holding the baby and eating.
If you’d like to use two hands to eat and have the adults eat together, you’ll need to set the baby down. The main way to set your pre-high-chair-age child down is in a stroller.
Dining With A Stroller
The good news is that many of Disney’s quick service venues will allow you to bring a stroller inside. And all of the quick service restaurants with outdoor seating will allow you to keep your baby in the stroller while you eat, no questions asked. Whew!
But Choose Your Counter Service Venues Wisely. Even if you can use your stroller in a restaurant, you’ve only won half the battle. You still have to maneuver your stroller through the food acquisition process.
I’ve written before about the challenges of dining with small children at the multi-line quick service restaurants. When you’re traveling with an infant, it may make sense to plan even your quick service dining in advance to avoid these minefields.
Scout out the reviews and photos of possible quick service dining options here on Disney Food Blog and also take a peek at the menus on AllEars.net. The bigger and more varied the menu, the more likely you are to find the dreaded multi-line service that you want to avoid.
Ask for Help at the Quick Service Venues
If you are in a situation where you’re at a quick service restaurant with a baby/stroller and a tray of food, it’s perfectly OK to ask a cast member to help you carry your tray to a table.
And if you’re transporting any hot liquid (coffee, soup, etc.), even if it has a lid, I INSIST that you get help carrying your tray. I say this as a mom who more than once has tried to be a food transport hero and ended up accidentally dumping dinner on the baby. Even if you don’t see a cast member readily available to help, ask at the register. They’ll call someone over to assist. It’s no trouble at all.
Table Service Restaurants Do Not Generally Allow Strollers Inside
Most table service restaurants at Walt Disney World have a no-strollers policy; there will be a stroller parking lot outside. This makes sense — if every guest with a baby brought their stroller into the restaurant, there would be no room for the servers to navigate.
That being said, they can make exceptions. If your child is asleep in the stroller when you arrive at your reservation, the host or hostess may take pity on you and allow you to bring the stroller and your snoozing babe to the table. It never hurts to ask.
One of my personal favorite meals in all my many years of Disney dining happened when my oldest daughter was an infant. We had reservations at Les Chefs de France in Epcot. Hubby and I had expected to be on baby entertainment duty, but just as we arrived at the restaurant, dear daughter fell asleep.
They allowed us to bring her inside snoozing in the stroller, giving us an unexpected hour and a half of luxurious leisure. We split a delicious bottle of wine and savored the stolen moment.
How Do I Eat At a Table Service Restaurant if My Baby is Awake?
If your baby is awake when you arrive at a table service restaurant, they are unlikely to allow you to bring a full-size stroller inside. Now what?
Some of the Disney restaurants may have a special bucket-style infant high chair just for guests like you. Be sure to ask if this is available.
But here’s a tip: don’t leave this up to chance! If you can, make a combo stroller/car seat travel system your “vehicle” of choice during your trip.
One such stroller is the Graco FastAction Fold Travel System, but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of similar models.
If you have a stroller/car seat travel system, you can unclip the car seat, leaving the wheels and frame behind in the stroller parking area. You will certainly be allowed to bring the baby in the seat into the restaurant. You place this on a chair or booth next to you, or depending on the style of high chair available in your restaurant, the car seat may be able to be clipped on top for better height positioning of the infant.
Of course you could still hold your baby while dining, but with a lengthier table service meal, this can be more cumbersome than at a brief counter service meal.
Beware the Buffet
I think Disney’s buffet restaurants are the bee’s knees, but not when you’re traveling with an infant.
In a larger buffet restaurant like Chef Mickey’s, you may not have a clear sight line from the food to your table. You simply can’t leave the baby there unattended…and this means you have to take the baby with you to get your food.
So you’re carrying a baby, and a plate, and trying to serve yourself hot food, perhaps in multiple courses. All that requires a degree of coordination that I was never able to master.
If you’ve got more than one adult in the party, you can have one person stay with the baby while the other fills his/her plate, and then switch places. This works, but then you’re never actually eating your food with your partner. It’s eating, but not dining.
Because of this, when you’ve got infants in the group, you may want to skip the buffet service meals. Remember, this doesn’t mean that you’re out of luck for character dining. Several Disney character meals offer plated or family style food service where they bring the food to you.
When Do You Feed the Baby?
Another consideration when planning your dining is to decide when you’ll feed the baby. Do you try to feed the child and yourself simultaneously, or do you feed the baby before or after, but not during your meal service?
Depending on your child’s development stage (nursing, bottle feeding, baby food, finger food) and how quickly he or she eats in relation to you, the answer may vary.
You should know that breastfeeding is allowed in any public space in Florida, including restaurants, but you should consider your own enjoyment of your meal as well. It may be more comfortable for you to nurse first and give the baby a small toy for amusement when you consume your food.
Children of all ages — including infants — are welcomed at nearly all of the Disney restaurants, but there’s a lot to determine about how you’re going to be most comfortable eating with your kinds in these locations.
These recommendations, suggestions, and tips come from a seasoned mom who’s vacationed in Disney World for many years — we hope they’ll help you navigate a few mini-minefields and have a wonderful trip with your new bundle of joy.
So parental types, have you traveled to a Disney destination with an infant? What were your dining strategies? Did some types of restaurants work better than others? Let us know in the comments below — we’d love to learn from you!
Thanks to fellow members of the Disney World Mom’s Panel for sharing your photos!