Often regarded as the ideal family destination, Florida attracted a record-breaking 126.1 million people in 2018 – and it’s not hard to see why.
With visions of elfin faces lighting up with joy at their favourite cartoon character, small feet paddling on warm and safe shores, and the whole family enjoying an Orlando villa resort within easy reach of the world-famous theme parks, parents often view Florida as a must-visit part of the world.
And with the “pester power” of children well documented, the fact that Disney World holds the same sway over kids’ imaginations as Narnia probably plays a large part in the decision making process too.
But as well-suited Florida is to a family holiday, with children in tow things are rarely plain sailing, and even the best laid plans can suddenly go awry. By keeping these travel tips in mind on a holiday to the Sunshine State, you can make sure the trip is as magical as your children have imagined it will be, and holidaymakers both young and old can have a wonderful and relaxing time.
Think about location
Of course, if you are going to Florida with your children, it’s unlikely they are going to let you get away with skipping a trip to The Magic Kingdom and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – but you don’t have to be tied to the theme parks if you don’t want to.
This being said, Orlando (as a central location within an easy hour drive of many beaches) is always going to be a good option. With all the advantages of an itinerary-busting choice of activities and the chance to get away from it all just by jumping in the car, Orlando is popular for a reason. However, Florida offers a huge amount of opportunities to get off the beaten track if you prefer – and if you want to spend some time doing the “touristy” stuff before heading off somewhere a bit different, you can always split your time between two locations.
The area around Tampa Bay and the Gulf Coast is a great place for a family beach holiday – blessed with a quintessentially Floridian feel and shallow, gentle surf – and there’s even the Busch Gardens theme park for a rollercoaster fix. With aquariums, museums and zoos to visit too, you’ll be spoilt for choice for entertainment, but with a more relaxed atmosphere than some of the state’s biggest tourist draws.
Older children may appreciate the snorkelling and diving to be enjoyed in the subtropical Florida Keys, while the Atlantic-facing Space Coast has world-class waves and plenty of surf schools.. There are also numerous national parks dotted around the state offering more opportunities for non-commercial and rustic fun, with camping, fishing, wild swimming and wildlife spotting all available to visiting families.
Trips to Florida – and particularly Disney World – can have a “once in a lifetime” feel to them, and families have often saved for a long time in order to make the most of this special vacation. But while the impulse to pack in as much stuff as possible is understandable, pushing children past their limit with too much to do can result in crankiness and family strife.
It is important to plan ahead, but allow for spontaneity and the chance to follow a few of your children’s whims (they might ask to go to the beach rather than visit a zoo, for example). Try to think of your itinerary as more of a rough guide than a sacred writ. It’s also especially important to schedule in rest days if your holiday is centred around theme parks, and be prepared to let the kids sit-out some rides should they – when actually faced with the prospect of a loop-the-loop – suddenly find the idea rather scary.
The great thing about children is that they can be surprisingly entranced by very simple pleasures, so you may find that some of their happiest days are spent simply playing with each other by the pool or making sandcastles at the beach. It’s definitely advisable to pre-book some key events well in advance, (knowing roughly where you are going to have breakfast, lunch and dinner can provide good structure to your days too) but if you give children a little room to relax, it will be easier for you to relax too.
Keeping kids happy in theme parks
There’s much debate over the perfect age to take children to Disney World, but ultimately this decision will come down to you – you may want to see your toddler’s joy at seeing Mickey Mouse, create early memories for children who still believe in everything magical, or give your teenagers a fun-filled experience of fantastic roller coasters. Whatever their age, remember to take into account these pointers and your theme-park experience will be the best it can be.
Pack for different types of weather
While generally warm and temperate, Orlando’s weather can turn on a dime, so having a pack of ponchos to hand is a good idea (especially as the ones sold in the theme parks can cost $10 each!) and will also help keep you dry on water rides. Cooling towels can also help keep small people cool on hot and humid days – and, of course, plenty of sunscreen is a must.
Establish a meeting place
While theme parks tend to have very effective methods for helping lost children, establish a distinctive meeting place so your children have an idea of where to head should the family get split up – which could save lots of time and worry.
Wear old, comfortable shoes
Visiting theme parks involves plenty of walking and waiting in lines, so it’s not the best time to break in new shoes – especially as bad blisters can put a cloud over the day.
Book your Fastpass options in advance
Free with the cost of park admission, the Fastpass option at Disney World gives you the option of choosing three rides to have short wait times every day you visit – and with popular attractions sometimes involving a 2-hour queue, this can save a lot of time. You can book either 30 or 60 days in advance (depending on whether you are staying on the resort) and it’s highly recommended to take advantage of this option. Alongside Disney’s Rider Switch, where both you and your partner can go on a ride while the other looks after the kids without having to queue twice, this means you can catch your favourite attractions even if your children are too small to go on themselves.
This post was written by travel experts Top Villas, who provide families with luxury Orlando villas near Disney.