We love checking out new places, and when it comes to traveling our daughter is a real trooper. She’s (mostly) well behaved on airplanes, isn’t too picky about what she eats, loves sleeping in hotel rooms, has a passport and willingly totes her own backpack. That said, traveling with a three-year-old can still a stressful experience.
When it comes to small kids, there’s so much extra stuff you need to pack along and, of course, you have to consider whether your travel destination is kid friendly. You find yourself wondering and stressing about stuff like whether you’ll be able to buy diapers if you run out? Does the pool have life jackets or do you need to bring one with you? Where will you fit naps into your itinerary? Is macaroni and cheese on the menu?
And that’s just the little kids. When traveling with older kids, entertainment and activities become more important.
And what about you? Is there any time left for grown-up “R&R” on a family vacation? I did a little research (lucky me!) and found a magical place that appeals to kids of all ages: Walt Disney World.
For Younger Kids
Let’s start with the youngest guests – the babies! Walt Disney World is conscious of the needs of babies (and parents). Something you’ll find at each theme park is a baby care center. Walt Disney World Marketing Associate Yadira Ambert explains what that is. “It’s air conditioned. The parents can go there to change a diaper or feed the babies. There are high chairs available. There’s a room set up for activities for children where there are cartoons available.”
Traveling with babies usually requires you to lug a bunch of stuff along. But if you don’t want to bring a stroller with you, you can find single and double strollers for rent at the theme parks. Cribs are available upon request in the rooms so you don’t have to worry about bringing a pack ‘n play with you.
Waiting in line is to be expected at any theme park. Disney World is no exception. Depending on when you visit and the attraction, wait times can vary from a few minutes to much longer. The FASTPASS reservation system reduces the wait and is available for several rides tailored to small children. Click for a list of these rides. You can also get a FASTPASS at Magic Kingdom to meet Mickey Mouse.
For the slightly older kids, Ambert says, “Each one of the theme parks has a dedicated area to toddlers and preschoolers.” That includes the Disney water parks – Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.
When it comes to choosing a resort for families with young children, Katie Gallagher, an Associate Marketing Manager, offers this advice, “Try and stay at a resort hotel that’s closest to what you think you’ll be enjoying most. Being close to what you’re going to enjoy most is a huge help especially for families with children.” (Speaking from experience, a short bus ride can make a big difference in avoiding a meltdown with a tired child.) All Disney resorts have kiddie pools and some have playgrounds as well. Life jackets are available for free.
If you want to get a break from your kids and enjoy some grown-up time, in-room babysitters are available for hire. Additionally, some deluxe resorts have children’s activity centers that are open in the evenings at the cost of about $11.50 an hour.
The Disney World website has a page dedicated to traveling with little ones that can help answer specific questions. You can find attraction height requirements, a vacation-packing list and all kinds of other information.
For Older Kids
There’s plenty for older kids to do. If you’re staying on Disney property, they can start with the hotel pool. That’s always a popular hangout. Of course, there are the theme parks and the water parks, too.
If you don’t think that’s enough to keep them entertained – or if this isn’t your kid’s first trip to Walt Disney World, there are many other activities available.
Scott Brown is a Resort Marketing Strategy Professional Intern. He can rattle off the diverse assortment of activities. “We have all kinds of recreational activities at all the resorts. We have everything from campfire programs at different resorts. On top of those, we have water sports located at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. They have wake boarding, tubing and water skiing.” One of the more unique adventures is a kids-only cruise … with a theme. “The pirate cruisers are pretty interesting because they take you all over the place to look for buried treasures,” says Brown.
If you want to take in the wildlife, there are even spots within particular resorts that you can go fishing. If your kids want an even more exotic experience, try the Wild Africa Trek. It’s available to kids over age eight.
Heath Rosenbaum with Disney Resorts and Parks puts it this way. “You really can’t do this anywhere else. You get to repel over our amazing hippo and alligator pits. It’s a thrill." Rosenbaum was quick to add, "You’re totally safe!”
For those who prefer to get pretty rather than dirty, there’s the Bibbidy Bobbit Boutique where girls transform into Princesses. It’s best for girls age four to nine. Older girls can experience the Disney spas which have some services tailored to tweens and teens.
If you need additional information about traveling with kids, you can ask questions of the “Moms Panel” who are every day moms who share their personal vacation experiences.
What about you? Walt Disney World's Ambassador assures me that there’s fun for all ages. Norman Vossschulte says, “We have lots and lots of adults that want to feel like children again. We always say come and feel like a child when you come to the parks.”
Most of the activities mentioned above are for grown-ups, too. Even “big kids” want to ride the attractions. Don’t worry about missing out because you’ve got to stay with the little ones. You can do a “rider swap”. Yadira Ambert explains how it works, “Say the Dad goes into the attraction with the older child, the mom waits outside, they enjoy the ride and when they come out it’s mom’s turn. The family goes through the line together and gets a pass that says “rider swap”. It’s almost like a fast pass for parents.”
If you need a break from the theme park craziness, there’s always the spa. “This is the best kept secret. It’s just amazing that you can add that to your vacation,” says Associate Manager of Market Strategy Adriana Lopez. “We moms just want to relax from the hustle and bustle of every day. What a wonderful thing to have your husband and kids going to the park and you stay at the spa and get pampered. You just feel like a princess.”
Safety First For All
One thing I’ve seen firsthand is that the people at Walt Disney World work hard to keep your kids safe and happy.
Recently, while at Animal Kingdom, my daughter tripped and fell. A Disney cast member immediately rushed to our aid to make sure she was all right and to find out whether we needed additional medical attention. Eliza was just fine – a little scrape, not even any blood, but I was amazed by the quick and concerned response.
Ambassador Vossschulte says, “At Disney we pride ourselves on safety. We make sure that when Mommies and Daddies come here with their children they are safe.”