This time last year, Mr J and I were planning our first trip abroad with Wonderboy – wistful sigh! We decided to go the whole nine yards and head to sunnier climes in Florida, or more precisely, Orlando. We were off to chase some Disney magic – eek the excitement!
I spent every spare minute scouring cyberspace to glean some hints and tips for taking an almost 3yr old to Orlando. I googled, spoke to friends, joined Facebook groups, checked out travel forums, searched Pinterest … there was no stone left unturned. I found plenty of info for babies and loads about taking school age children but very little in one place for older toddlers or pre-schoolers – and let’s be honest, they’re a different kettle of fish entirely.
With much planning we had an amazing time so for those of you considering an Orlando adventure, here is Part 2 of our tried and tested tips based on our own experiences. Part 1 focussed on accommodation, cars and the need for a buggy but Part 2 covers everything else! I’ll be writing specific park posts later but here are some more general things we learned …
All Day Suncream
This is my top, top tip! By the time you’ve got snacks, water, hats, change of clothes, sunglasses etc you don’t also want to be carrying big bottles of suncream around too – not to mention the faff and stickiness of applying it throughout the day. We used Ultrasun F50 for Wonderboy and F30 for ourselves and it was amazing. We’re big fans and used it for our honeymoon in California and when we went to Antigua and we have never burnt once (that includes me with the transluscent white skin!!). We did take a regular travel sized F50 in our day bag just in case but we never needed to use it.
Less of an Orlando tip and more of a general holiday suggestion. While you might feel a little suspect going through immigration with bin bags and masking tape in your luggage, I’d highly recommend this (or tinfoil) to black out your little one’s bedroom windows in a bid to avoid them waking at 4am. The Florida sun is super bright and gorgeous but that doesn’t mean you want to be looking at it at silly o’clock. Curtains don’t seem to be a big thing over there so we were glad to be able to darken the room.
Take Your Time
We definitely benefitted from taking things slower and focussing on quality instead of quantity in terms of activities. While there are certainly things for toddlers and their families to enjoy at Universal, Busch Gardens, Discovery Cove and the various waterparks, we decided to focus our time on the four Disney Parks in order not to be cramming everything in …
And we’re so glad we did! Sure, it meant we missed lots of amazing things (oh dear, we’ll just need to go back!) but I’m not sure even a group of adults could do everything in Orlando in a fortnight. It meant we could take each day a bit easier, making time to go back to our accommodation most afternoons so Wonderboy could have a nap and wake up refreshed for dinner. Everything takes longer with tiny ones and it’s nice to be able to enjoy the moment without hustling everyone along.
Get to the Parks Early
We found hitting the parks first thing was the way to go. The first hour was generally the quietest and we made the most of shorter queues – bonus with an impatient 2 year old who obviously has no concept of time.
Ditch your fashionable changing bag and use a rucksack. Not the most glamorous I’ll admit but it’ll leave your hands free to take photos, push the buggy or entertain your little one.
All the Disney Parks are happy for you to take drinks and snacks in (the only restrictions are large coolers and not allowing straws into Animal Kingdom to protect the animals) so we took plenty of water with us to save some pennies and time in queues. If you freeze a couple of bottles the night before they’ll keep everything else cool and will melt throughout the day providing you with much needed cool refreshments.
Always Have a Distraction at Hand
Whether you’re queuing for a ride, waiting for dinner or shopping, always have something for the littlies to do. We found pipe cleaners, snacks or little figurines provided the most distraction and went a long way to putting some time in when it was required.
Portions Are Large!
To be honest, food portions varied from place to place but, especially at lunchtime, we all shared food. We found in the Disney Parks one adult and one child meal from the Quick Service places did the three of us fine for lunch and we like our food! Dinner was different as we often ordered things that Wonderboy wouldn’t have eaten so tended to still get a children’s meal. Also, it’s worth noting that under 3’s often eat free in restaurants (especially away from the theme parks) with paying adults so look out for that.
Get Out of the City
Endorsing the take it slow approach again – make the time to get away from the mad hustle and bustle of the city and head to the beach. There are loads to choose from but we visited Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral. At Jetty Park you pay ($15 in 2014) to park but it’s a super clean, lifeguard supervised beach and it even has the bonus of a children’s playground to boot. It was super quiet when we went which was fantastic, the water was really calm and they even have outdoor showers, clean toilets and a café with drinks and hot food. It was more than worth the 55 min drive to get there and was a great little day trip. Cocoa Beach and Clearwater are other popular options worth considering, it just depends on how long a drive you’re happy with.
Legoland was a 45 minute drive away and a brilliant day out. We’ve not visited the UK park (yet!) so can’t make a comparison but there was loads for smaller kids to do and it was much, much quieter than Disney so it made for a more relaxed day. Look out for ticket deals if you’re buying park tickets before you go (I’d recommend it) and remember you can use Tesco Clubcard points to get free entry – even to the Orlando park.
And that’s it! Hopefully I’ve saved you some time scouring cyberspace as I’d have loved to see all this info in one place when we were planning our holiday.
Have a fabulous time and remember to add your own tips below!