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 ($7–$10) 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.
Keep an eye out for coupons discounting meals and attractions; they can be found practically everywhere. The "Calendar" section in Friday's Orlando Sentinel newspaper often contains coupons and good deals. Many restaurants, especially those in tourist areas, offer great discounts that are yours for the clipping. Check the information you receive from the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, including free or cheap things to do. Additionally, many hotel lobbies and attractions have free coupon books for the taking.
Most of the major theme parks offer parent-swap programs in which one parent can ride without the children, then switch off and let the other parent ride without having to return to the end of the line. Inquire at Guest Services or Guest Relations, near the park entrances, for details on which rides are included.
All parks have a baby care center for heating formula, nursing, and so on. But think carefully about whether your child is ready for the theme parks. Too many parents consider an Orlando vacation such a rite of passage that they rush into it too early without considering whether their child will find the experience overwhelming, or even if they’ll remember it. I agree with many parenting experts who say that about 3 years old is the minimum age. It's not just that many younger children get wigged out when they see their first costume character, but also because it's no fun for a kid to get turned away from a ride they have their heart set on.
Some experts say kids are not truly ready for the rigors of theme parks until they can walk on their own all day. Whether or not very young children are advisable, they are possible: 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. Many rides also have a bypass corridor where chickens can do their chicken-out thing.
Stroller Rental—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. At Disney, strollers cannot be larger than 31 inches wide and 52 inches long (which is still pretty big). Some outfits deliver nicer models than Disney’s 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.
Parental Touring Tip -- Many of the attractions at Walt Disney World offer a Rider Switch program designed for parents or guardians traveling with small children. While one adult rides an attraction, the other stays with kids not quite ready to handle the experience; then the adults switch places without having to stand in line again. The bonus (beyond the obvious) is that the kids able to ride the attraction will get to ride again, too. Notify a cast member if you wish to participate when you get in line. Most other Orlando theme parks offer this option in some form, too.
Here are more suggestions for making traveling with children easier:
To avoid tears, familiarize yourself with height restrictions in advance. They are posted at the parks’ websites and listed on the maps. Universal also keeps physical gauges in front of both its parks. Everything is measured in inches, so if your child is usually measured in centimeters, multiply by 0.393.
Bring supplies to kid-proof your hotel room.
Slather your kids in sunscreen. Florida sun is even stronger than you think.
Dress kids in bright colors. You’ll spot them faster if you’re separated. Some parents even put their phone number on their kids with temporary tattoos. You might also want to wear a distinctive hat or shirt yourself so they can spot you.
Dress to get wet. There are water playgrounds, plus frequent rains.
Baby changing tables are in both women’s and men’s rooms. No sexism here. At least in this. All those princesses hunting for men is another matter.
Hotels offer “kids eat free” programs. Ask.
Theme park strollers are easy, but basic; they don’t recline, and they won’t secure kids younger than toddlers. Folding "umbrella" strollers have distinct advantages. They make getting onto trams, monorails, and into other tight spaces easier (not just for you—also for people waiting for you).
Take a picture of your child in the day’s outfit to show someone in case you get separated. Teach your child to go straight to the nearest employee if they lose you. Everyone is well trained in reuniting families.
Think carefully about whether your child is ready for the theme parks. We agree with many parenting experts who say that about 3 years old is the minimum age. Younger children get wigged out by costumed characters and are too short to ride some rides they may have their hearts set on. Some experts say kids are not truly ready for the rigors of theme parks until they can walk on their own all day.
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.