Traveling as a family can be an adventure, whether your destination is an hour away or halfway around the world. But when you're making your journeys with kids in tow, it's not always easy! In this regular monthly column, mom and savvy traveler Mary Dixon Weidler will bring you smart ideas about how to make your trips fun for everyone.
For Toddlers Up to Three
For Children Up to Eight
For Preteens or Older
My major New Year's resolution this year is to take my brood to Orlando, home of Mickey Mouse, Shamu and a hundred different dinner theaters. Because of the age range of my children - or, as I put it, the gamut from "Tower of Terror" to "Barney's Playhouse" - planning is a must for this trip. This is going to be interesting!
The first thing to decide is where to stay. I know that on an active vacation such as this one, you spend limited time in your room anyway. Following this logic, you may want to book the cheapest hotel room you can find. However, when you travel with a large family, you'll find relaxing after a hard day of water parks and standing in line essential, and that's not easy to do when you're on top of one another in a little hotel room. (And if you rent two, you double the price, so where's the bargain?) The answer: Look for a condo rental. We are renting my brother's Kissimmee time share for the week (and I would highly recommend a similar arrangement for any large family group traveling together - somehow the vacation isn't the same if the bunch of you are sharing a small hotel room, no matter how little time you spend there!)
If you aren't fortunate enough to have a relative with a condo timeshare (and there are plenty in Florida), you can look to rental guides and information from the Florida Travel and Tourist Bureau for people who are willing to rent their own timeshare. There are numerous reasons for doing this aside from the obvious space advantage. We all know how expensive it can be to eat out while on vacation - and let's face it, there aren't that many choices - diner food is diner food, no matter what cute moniker or mouse ears they put on it. It's nice to be able to stock the condo pantry with your family's favorites and maybe even have a home-cooked meal one night of the trip. (Even my kids get tired of Mickey Dee's at times.)
Another advantage of renting a condo is the washer and dryer that are in (or just outside) the unit. The last time I vacationed in Florida we stayed in a hotel suite, which had a mini-kitchen and dining area, but I really missed the washer-dryer (especially when I wasted one full day of my hard-earned vacation in a Florida laundromat!)
If you are going to stay in a hotel while in Orlando, you'll have to decide if you want to stay at one of the large on-site facilities on the Disney grounds or an offsite hotel. Just remember that the closer you are to Cinderella's castle, the more you're going to be paying for your accomodations. If you don't plan to emphasis Disney World on this go-around, you may be better off at one of the nearby chain hotels that offer quicker access to SeaWorld, Universal Studios and other attractions.
Now is also the time to make a preliminary itinerary - even if it's to get a head start on buying multi-day tickets and making reservations at the more popular dinner sites, like the Hoop de Doo Review, a Disney-based old fashioned hoedown so popular with visitors that tables are booked months in advance. My family attended this dinner show on our last visit to WDW (8/96) and found that it was well worth the extra effort. The show was entertaining for all ages and the dinner - finger foods like fried chicken, out of this world barbecue ribs, and strawberry shortcake - was delicious. (My son, who was six at the time, still raves about those ribs!) For those of you who aren't into down-home entertainment, Disney offers a Polynesian luau. Other independently-owned venues in the Orlando area offer a wide array of dinner show choices, from King Arthur's Court to the Arabian Nights. Just make sure to reserve your spot now!
Click and Go!