No city in the world is geared more to family travel than Orlando. In addition to its theme parks, Orlando's recreational facilities provide an abundance of opportunities for family fun. Most restaurants have lower-priced children's menus (if not, the appetizer menu works just as well) and fun distractions such as place mats to color while younger diners wait for their food. Many of the hotels and resorts offer children's activity centers.
All parks have a cool baby care center for heating formula, nursing, and so on, and diaper changing tables in the restrooms.
Scarier rides have what’s called a child swap. That provides an area where one adult can wait with a child while their partner rides and then switch off so the other gets a chance without having to wait all over again. Many rides also have a bypass corridor where chickens can do their chicken-out thing.
Note that many of the park's attractions have minimum height requirements. Universal also recommends that expectant mothers steer clear of some rides (also noted in the listings).
Your stroller will not be allowed inside most attractions, and it will not be attended in parking sections, so never leave anything valuable in it. Come prepared with a system for repeatedly unloading valuables. Also have something that covers the seat; just like parked cars, strollers get sizzling hot when you leave them in the Florida sun. Finally, tie an identifying marker (like a white flag, as in “I surrender”) to yours so you can identify it amid the sea of clones.
Some outfits deliver nice models to hotels (but charge less if you pick them up in person): Magic Strollers (www.magicstrollers.com; 866/866-6177), World Strollers, in the Welcome Center of Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores (15569 State Rd. 535, Orlando; www.lbvfs.com; 407/238-9301), and Baby Wheels (www.babywheelsorlando.com; 800/510-2480) among them.
Here are more suggestions for making traveling with children easier:
Are Your Kids Old Enough? — Do you really want to bring an infant or toddler to the parks? If you plan on visiting Disney several times as your children grow, then the best age for a first visit to Disney is just about 3 years old. Why? Because the kids are old enough to walk around and enjoy the sights and sounds, as well as a good deal of the rides and shows. The thrill rides would most likely frighten them, but most inappropriate rides for the tiny-tot set have height restrictions that prevent any unfortunate mistakes. If, however, this is going to be a one-time trip, then I recommend waiting until your children are between 7 and 10. They'll still be able to appreciate the wonder of the experience but won't have reached the stage where all they'll want are chills and thrills.
- Packing -- Although your home may be toddler-proof, hotel accommodations aren't. Bring blank plugs to cover outlets and whatever else is necessary to prevent an accident from occurring in your room. Most hotels have some type of crib available; however, they are usually limited in number. Some hotels can also supply bedrails, though they are not as readily available as cribs are. Outside of hotel supplies, your biggest packing priority should be sunscreen. Locals can spot tourists by their bright-red sunburns. Both parents and children should heed this reminder: Don't forget to bring and use sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30. If you do forget it, it's available at convenience stores, drugstores, and some theme-park shops. Young children should be slathered, even if they're in a stroller. Be sure to pack a wide-brim hat for infants and toddlers. Adults and children alike should drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Accommodations -- Kids younger than 12, and, in many cases, those as old as 17, stay free in their parent's room in most hotels, but to be certain, ask when you book. Most hotels have pools and other recreational facilities that will give you a little no-extra-cost downtime. If you want to skip a rental car and aren't staying at Disney, International Drive and Lake Buena Vista are the places to stay. Hotels often offer family discounts; some offer Kids Eat Free programs, and some provide free or moderate-cost shuttle service to the major attractions. International Drive also has the I-Ride Trolley, which travels the length of the road and makes numerous stops along the way.
- Ground Rules — Set firm rules before leaving home regarding things such as bedtime and souvenirs. It's easy to get off track as you get caught up in the excitement of Orlando, but don't allow your vacation to seize control of your better judgment. Having the kids earn their own money or at least allotting a specific prearranged amount for them to spend works wonders. Making them part of your decisions also works well. They'll be far more cooperative when they understand that everyone in the family gets a say in the plan for the day and that they will eventually get to do something or go somewhere that they want to.
At the Parks — Getting lost is all too easy in a place as strange and overwhelming as the theme parks. Toss in the crowds and it's amazing it doesn't happen more often. For adults (yes, they get lost, too) and older kids, arrange a lost-and-found meeting place before you arrive in the parks, and if you become separated, head there immediately. Make sure your kids know to find a staff member (point out the special name-tags worn by the staff) to help them. Attach a name-tag with the child's first name and your cellphone (or hotel) number to the inside of younger kids' T-shirts and tell them to find a park employee (and only a park employee) immediately and show them the tag if they become lost.
- Read the Signs — I've often explained to children—irrespective of their ages—that if they hear screaming, that's a pretty good indication that a ride may not be the best choice for them. With younger kids, you have to be steadfast in your decisions, though most height restrictions will keep those who really shouldn't be riding at bay. With the older ones, well, you may have to indulge them a bit and let them ride just one—they likely won't make the same mistake twice. Note that once you get past the height restriction, age is not always as much of a deciding factor when it comes to rides as one might think. It really depends on your child's previous experiences and personality.
- Take a Break — The Disney parks, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld all have fabulous interactive play areas offering both parents and young kids a break. By all means, take advantage of them. They allow kids to expend some of their pent-up energy after having to wait in lines and not wander far from Mom and Dad all day long. They offer a nice break for you, too (if you can sit down to watch them, that is). Note that many of these kid zones are filled with water squirters and shallow pools, and most of the parks feature a fair number of water-related attractions, so getting wet is practically inevitable—at least for the kids. It's advisable to bring along a change of clothes or even a bathing suit. You can rent a locker ($10–$15) for storing the spares until you need them. During the summer, the Florida humidity is enough to keep you feeling soggy, so you may appreciate the change of clothing even if you don't go near any water.
- Show Times — Schedule an indoor, air-conditioned show two or three times a day, especially during midafternoon in the summer. You may even get your littlest tykes to nap in the darkened theater. For all shows, arrive at least 20 minutes early to get the better seats, but not so early that the kids are tired of waiting (most waits are outside in the heat at Disney; Universal has covered queue areas at most attractions).
- Snack Times — When dreaming of your vacation, you probably don't envision hours spent standing in lines, waiting and waiting (unless you have done this before, that is). It helps to store some lightweight snacks in a backpack, or in the stroller if you have one, especially when traveling with small children. This may save you some headaches, as kids get the hungriest just when you are the farthest from food. It will also be much healthier and will certainly save you money, as the parks' prices are quite high.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.