Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tips for Disneyworld and Orlando with a Toddler

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We recently took a wonderful vacation to Orlando with our 22 month old. We were fortunate enough to stay for 7 nights, so there was plenty of time to see a variety of the sites in the area. This was our first major vacation with our toddler, so we were a little apprehensive about how he would do on such a long trip away from home. (Be sure to read this post for tips on packing and this post for tips on doing Disney on a budget.)

Our worries were unfounded, he had a great time! If anything, we were surprised that Kieran slept more than we anticipated (cutting his canines and/or two year molars probably played a part in that). With our relative success, I thought I would share my tips for vacationing in Orlando with a toddler:

1) Don't overdo it: give your toddler as much, if not more, time for naps every day as you would at home. With the extra running around you are bound to do, she will tire out faster than she does at home.

Kieran fell asleep at Magic Kingdom during the Haunted Mansion ride, and at Animal Kingdom during the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. Disney really wore him out!

2) Bring your carrier and full-sized stroller (the kind with the basket underneath): If your toddler is anything like mine, he'll be asking "up? up? up!" much more often than he wants to run off on his own. Busy theme parks and new places can be overwhelming for toddlers, they'll need to reconnect with you often. My Action Baby Carrier was a life saver (our Ergo would have worked just as well, but Tom prefers the ABC).
The stroller came in handy not for Kieran, but for our stuff. We brought a soft-sided cooler with us and carried it in the stroller at the parks (it stayed in the rental car at the beach, etc.). We also threw the backpack in the stroller instead of hefting it around. At Disney, there are places to leave your stroller at virtually every ride, and we never had a problem with theft. I guess since everyone is doing it, there is safety in numbers.

3) Don't restrict yourself to Disney: Orlando is within an hour of the East coast and Atlantic Ocean, and less than two hours from the West coast and the calmer Gulf waters. We visited both while we were there (Cocoa Beach twice and Clearwater Beach once), and I think Kieran's favorite days were at the beach. He loved splashing in the waves and jumping on our rented boogie board, and he spent hours building sandcastles and searching for seashells.
There are also dozens of state parks to visit in Florida, many within an easy drive from Orlando. We took a day trip to Blue Spring State Park, and Kieran loved taking a dip in the chilly spring water almost as much as he liked playing on the park playground after we ate lunch there.

On our last day (at Tom's insistence), we visited one of several fancy Orlando miniature golf courses. The boys had a good time hitting golf balls near a "volcano" and several water hazards.

And a few more Disney-specific tips:

4) Take advantage of the "Rider Switch Pass" and "Single Rider" lane options: We used Kieran's nap times to do roller coasters. Several of the big kid rides at Disney parks have "single rider" lanes that move at a much faster rate than the regular lines. At Animal Kingdom, Tom rode Mount Everest three times in a row in under 30 minutes. When he was done, I handed him the sleeping baby and took a turn on the roller coaster. Other rides have "rider switch passes." For these, the waiting adult gets a ticket and the riding adult gets in line, then you switch after the ride is over. The person who waited gets into the "Fast Pass" line with the switch pass and saves time in line.

5) Do the parades: Yes, Kieran enjoyed the Dumbo and It's a Small World rides, the Finding Nemo musical and the carousel. But his favorite part of the parks had to be the parades - we watched the entire Spectral Magic parade at Magic Kingdom (the night parade) and Mickey's Jammin' Jungle parade at Animal Kingdom, and we caught the last half of the 3:00 parade at Magic Kingdom. For all three Kieran stood at attention the entire time - waving, dancing, pointing, and interacting with the cast members and characters who came to give out high fives and comment on how cute he was (he wore a Superman t-shirt on Halloween and got several comments on it). The music is catchy and the cast/characters/floats are entertaining. We highly recommend the parades.

6) Take your own meals, snacks, and water into the parks: Like I wrote in my post on Disney on a Budget, you can save an enormous amount of money by bringing in your own meals to the parks. You can also save time - time spent waiting in line at food stands and waiting for tables at sit down restaurants. Afternoon showers are a perfect time to eat your own picnic lunch underneath one of the many shop awnings. Everyone else will be trying to get into the restaurants - you can eat quickly and queue up for the next ride.

Do you have any more tips for visiting Orlando and Disney with a toddler? Let me know in the comments!

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