Family Travel FAQ  

by Pool Builders on 07-02-2013 in Articles

Q: What is the best way to purchase Walt Disney World tickets?

A: Go on the official Walt Disney World website. Here, you can find some deals/special tickets. The site has a very helpful section for first-time visitors, where you can find all of the information you need to plan your trip. For example, Magic Your Way Base Tickets give each member of your travel party entry to one theme park a day each day of your ticket. The longer you play, the less you pay per day. The average price per day for a seven-day Magic Your Way Base Ticket is much cheaper than the price of the same single-day ticket.

Don't forget, there are Florida resident discounts, too. Keep in mind that the prices listed do not usually include tax.

Also, try Mousesavers.com. The site regularly features deals and highlights some insider tips.

I find the park-hoppers great because there isn't as much pressure to do everything all at once. You can spend the morning at one park and the evening at another. We ate a leisurely family dinner at Epcot and went on a few rides and had a wonderful evening without feeling like we had to pack everything in because we could go back the next day.

With kids, there are bound to be eating and napping schedules, so it is nice to have as much flexibility as you can.

Q: How can I save money at theme parks?
A: Bring a backpack filled with drinks and snacks. Glass is not allowed in the parks, but plastic bottles and juice boxes are fine. Bring your own camera, sunscreen and ponchos (in case it rains or the kids go on water rides).
In addition, many rides end at the entrance to souvenir shops. I tell my kids prior to entering the parks that they will be allowed one souvenir at the end of the trip. This way, they know what to expect and do not constantly ask for trinkets. I give them a strict budget for their gift of choice as well.

Q: Do we need to travel with a car seat? What are the laws in Florida for child safety restraints?
A: This is a smart question, as safety should always come first when traveling with kids and laws do vary state-to-state.

Florida uses the national safety regulations for kids and car seats. They follow a "4 Steps for Kids Guidelines," which is also posted on the website for the Florida Highway Patrol:

Step 1: Babies from birth to one year AND 20 pounds ride in rear-facing child seats in the back seat of the car.
Step 2: Toddlers from one year (and at least 20 pounds) to age four (& 40 lbs.) ride in forward-facing child seats in the back seat of the car.
Step 3: Children ages four (and 40 lbs) - eight (or 4'9" tall) should ride in booster seats in the back sea of the car.
Step 4: Children over age eight (or 4'9" tall) may use the vehicle's seat belt in the back seat of the car.
ALL children 12 and under should ride in the back seat of a vehicle.
Before you leave, check out the Florida Highway Patrol website. Regulations change, so you would need to make sure the information is current. In addition, the Florida Highway Patrol has officers in locations throughout the state that can assist you with any child seat safety questions/concerns. They will make sure your seats are properly installed.

Rental agencies like Hertz Rent-A-Car charge an average of $11 per day for a car seat. Make the reservation ahead of time if you choose to rent a car seat and make sure to tell them if you are going to need a rear-facing one. They usually offer a booster for older children as well.

If you do plan to rent a car seat with your rental car, you may want to purchase a restraint system for the airplane. I recently found a product for parents who don't want to carry their bulky car seats on the plane. Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES) is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This new child safety restraint would actually fit in a purse or diaper bag.

If you are traveling with an infant, I would bring a car seat that attaches to your stroller (since you'll need that too). Do not count on taxis to have one. Bring your own so you know you are set; you can check yours with your luggage, so you are not carrying too much on the plane.

Q: Do you have any packing tips?

A: I do suggest bringing lightweight jacket or windbreaker, as the temperature can drop a few degrees in the evening when you are out watching fireworks, parades and relaxing in air-conditioning. I have my kids wrap their jackets around their waists so I do not have extra things to carry at the attractions. In addition, I would wear capri pants or light-weight pants or skirts in the evening.

Most days, you'll just need lots of shorts, T-shirts, swimsuits, sunscreen and cover-ups. Bring the most comfortable walking shoes you own and do not worry about fashion. Comfort goes before beauty at theme parks.

Lock up your good jewelry in a safety deposit box and leave it at home. I also suggest bringing a waterproof disposable camera so you don't have to worry if it rains or your camera gets splashed on a water ride.

In the end, don't stress too much about packing. It can be done easily and very quickly - especially for visiting Florida, where flip-flops and casual dress are widely accepted.

Q: What should I bring to keep the kids busy during travel?

A: Bring things that will make your life easier. For example, I never travel without my sons' baseball mitts, a ball and trading cards. My boys will start a game of catch right on the beach. Car trips and hotel rooms are great for quiet activities like trading collectible cards.

I also suggest bringing books that teach kids about the destination and its history. You can make your own "Florida 101" book by printing pages from websites like VISITFLORIDA.com and stapling them together. Or make a pretend passport and give them a sticker stamp for each place you visit. Try picture books of the areas you're visiting if your kids are too young to read.

Another fun way to incorporate learning is to have the kids become "junior reporters" and journal about their experiences. My son wrote an essay about how we went "Scooby-diving" at the Florida Aquarium. Those trip memories are so wonderful to cherish as a souvenir for years to come.

Q: Do you have safety tips for the crowded theme parks and airports?

A: Carry pictures of your kids in your wallet or take pictures on your cell phone to have in case they wander. Have your kids wear identification bracelets with your contact number inside. Make sure you tell them what to do if they get separated from you.

I also bring walkie-talkies, which are nice to have if you are traveling with a big group of people and want to separate and re-connect after rides or naps at the theme parks. Mine have an eight-mile radius, which is perfect for most locations and resorts.

Q: With baggage restrictions and charges, how can a family travel light - especially when carrying diapers, formula and large baby equipment?

A: Make sure to check out my video on packing for a family trip to Florida on VISITFLORIDA.com. I demonstrate how to get your whole family's stuff in one bag in one hour. I do it myself for a family of four so I know it can work.

The key to packing light and being under a 50-pound weight limit is being organized and having the right packing tools.

If you are traveling with small children, try Babies Travel Lite. They can deliver your supplies directly to your travel destination. As a special service to their customers, Babies Travel Lite maintains an online travel guide with a comprehensive list of domestic and international equipment rental companies.

If you choose to rent baby equipment like strollers, playpens and highchairs, make sure to check cleanliness and safety measures, as well as recalls by government agencies that regulate such things.

Q: What do we do for transportation once we arrive in Orlando to get around International Drive?

A: Call the resort where you are staying and ask them for a recommendation of a taxi company that they work with on a regular basis. You can also try another option: Get a ride to major Orlando attractions for only $1.25 on the I-Ride Trolley. You can snag a deal if you plan to ride regularly. Running daily from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., the I-RIDE Trolley serves hundreds of destinations within the International Drive Resort Area.

If you plan to navigate Walt Disney World Resort, their transportation systems (monorails, buses and boats) provide free door-to-door access to all four theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney and more than 20 resorts.

For visitors to downtown Orlando's arts, culture and dining scene, there is a free bus circulator called LYMMO, offering guests rides along a three-mile loop in the heart of downtown.

Q: How do I know which rides my child can go on at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure?
A: Since all of the rides restrictions go by height, I suggest looking at Disney's Magical Beginnings "Attraction Height Chart" before you get to the park.

For Universal Orlando Resort, check out the height charts here.

As a family rule, we go to the attraction's website before we head out so my younger son knows what he can ride. I can assure you that it is a sad day for a kid who is hopefully standing under that ruler - only to discover he or she cannot ride as his or her big brother or sister breezes by. The tears can be avoided by knowing the requirements ahead of time. In general, 48 inches is the standard height requirement for the larger coasters.

Q: Can we bring our pet with us to the theme parks?

A: Many people do not know this, but Best Friends Pet Care at Walt Disney World offers daytime and overnight boarding as well as special services like extra walks, cuddle time and ice cream breaks.

Accommodations are available for other critters such as rabbits, ferrets, small rodents, birds and non-venomous snakes (provided guests supply a carrying case). All animals are required to have up-to-date vaccinations; puppies and kittens must be old enough to have received a full set of the required vaccinations before boarding.

Q: How can we best enjoy Florida during the hot summer months?

A: First, most resorts and hotels have a swimming pool. My suggestion is to hit the theme parks early and then go back to the pool during the midday hours when the sun is at its strongest. Then, return to the parks at night to enjoy the beautiful summer nights.

Universal Studios Orlando has some great cool-down spots as well, where visitors can enjoy indoor, air-conditioned shows like Blue Man Group, which is a separately ticketed event.
Alternatively, make your whole theme park trip based around the water. Orlando has loads fantastic water parks. SeaWorld's Aquatica, certainly keeps everyone cool with wave pools, slides and a white-sand beach. Walt Disney World's Blizzard Beach is another favorite. Kids and kids-at-heart will also enjoy Orlando's Wet 'n Wild.

For an alternative to theme parks and water parks, I also suggest spending time in Orlando's many air-conditioned shopping venues and restaurants..

Don't forget to pack hats, sunscreen, and portable fans, which will also help you beat the heat. And, it is very important for everyone to remember that once you feel the need to re-hydrate, it is usually too late; pre-hydrate the night before you head out into the hot sun and drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Q: What can you suggest for families to enjoy outdoor adventure or wild animal viewing?

A: I suggest letting the kids explore wildlife in the Tampa and Orlando areas. Orlando's Discovery Cove allows children 6 to 12 to swim with dolphins. Read my article called "Lions and Lessons" about Tampa's Big Cat Rescue and Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay. I am sure that would keep your animal-lovers quite busy!
The Florida Aquarium, also in Tampa, features some incredible wildlife adventures too, including swimming in the coral reefs, feeding sharks and boating trips to see wild dolphins in the surrounding waters. Go to their website for all the details on the behind-the-scenes private tours. They cost a bit more than the entrance fees, but they are definitely worth it.

Q: How can we keep the bugs away?

I suggest asking your pediatrician what type of repellent he or she would prefer. Some doctors recommend the deet-free kind, but just call and ask before you head to Florida for your vacation.

Here are a few helpful suggestions:
Wear protective clothing and make sure that kids are covered as much as possible. You can buy a special net to put over the stroller to keep the bugs away from babies.
Deet-free herbal insect repellents are available at most grocery/drugstores in Florida.
Early morning, dusk and evening are the worst times of day for mosquitoes. Apply repellant and re-apply when needed.

Q: We are traveling to Florida with a large family. How do we find a vacation home or condominium for rent?

A: Here in Florida, rental homes are often the most affordable, spacious option - especially when traveling with extended family or friends. I suggest looking at these to cover most bases: Discover Vacation Homes, ResortQuest and a host of others on VISITFLORIDA.com. I think you will be happy with the results.

Q: What's the closest beach to Orlando attractions?

A: The closest beach is Cocoa Beach, about an hour away from Orlando. If you're making the trip, I would also visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex while you are there. The 72 miles of Florida's Space Coast is a must-see on my list of where to visit with the kids.

Another wonderful family-friendly beach option is St. Petersburg/Clearwater Beach (less than a two-hour drive). I grew up there and can tell you that the beaches are clean and beautiful. Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach has plenty of activities for young families, including the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise and dolphin-watching excursions. If you are up for some adventure, you can try parasailing or jet-skiing.

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