When I shared our packing adventures, I mentioned that I packed a cinch sack for each of us. These are lightweight bags that can be worn backpack style. My boys collect them by the dozen from shoe manufacturers and soccer tournaments. We had plenty of them just hanging in the mud room. As a matter of fact, Nicky thought he could pack for the entire trip in them. He couldn't. (But he did try.) Every day at Disney, I loaded each bag with a water bottle, some trail mix, and granola bar or two and, on one fateful day, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If the children chose to bring iPods or Leappads with which to take pictures, they went in these bags. At the end of the day, I did bag management and turned them all inside out, gave them a good shake, and a quick rinse if necessary. The next day, I filled them again.
The snacks allowed us to avoid "hungry crankies," for the most part, and easily let us delay lunch until around 2:00, when most of the lunch crowds had already left the restaurants. Water bottles were easily refilled at water fountains. I can't overstate the importance of snacks and drinks. All I'll mention is that some of us had neither on the last day. Furthermore, at Animal Kingdom, there are no tops on drink cups, so if you want to walk and sip, you are out of luck without a water bottle. Ask me how I know.
About "buddies." One of my biggest fears was that we'd lose a little girl in the crowds. This fear was magnified when we realized that the crowds were much, much bigger than we had anticipated. We did not, however, employ a buddy system. I'm well aware of the much-touted use of buddies in big families. An older child is assigned a younger child and takes the responsibility of helping with everything from getting dressed to going potty to making sure he doesn't get lost. Mike and I made a conscious decision not to assign buddies. We wanted our big kids to be on vacation. We wanted them to relax and not to live in constant fear of crowds and at the constant mercy of the demands of little ones. As a family, we talked about how important it was to stay together and we made sure to impress upon all of them to watch out for each other, but Mike and I assumed all the responsibility for keeping an eagle eye out and doing frequent head counts. If a big kid hoisted a little one onto his shoulders, it was because he wanted to have her there, not because it was his assigned job.
Sarah spent nearly the whole time strapped to me. I think we were all glad to know where she was. Karoline flits around every day and all the time so we did have to keep a close eye and her and if she walked, she held a hand. I brought an umbrella stroller. Then, truth be told, when I learned that free stroller rental was one of Mike's perks, I rented a double stroller every day. And we used it constantly. It was big and sturdy and ever-so-helpful for tired little people who couldn't walk fast enough to keep up with their big sibs. When the crowds were super bad, we put Katie and Kari both in the double rented stroller and Mike pushed. Everyone was secured in big crowds, particularly when the big boys were with us, because Patrick and Christian corralled those "little" boys in their own special ways.
I have to say I loved holding them close. I loved being "just us" in the middle of crowds. If there is one magic thing I could have bottled and taken home, it would be the permission to be fully available and fully present to my children all day, every day. We were very blessed to stay in two bedroom villa with a living space and kitchen between the rooms. The kids had one huge room (with big boys sleeping in the living room) and Mike and I had a beautiful room with our own bathroom. We had time at night to be grownups and get away from the constant noise and activity of children. But the days? The days were all theirs. And we wouldn't have had it any other way.