Orlando with Kids: A Survival Guide

Are you planning a family trip to Orlando, but you wake up at night in a cold sweat thinking about keeping your kids happy and safe? Don’t panic. We’ve been there before and we’ve got a few pro-tips to ensure a fun and memorable Orlando experience.

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Kim Harington

27. February 2019

A family trip to Orlando can be a fun and exciting adventure (key word being can), but traveling there with young children can pose a few problems. Touring the theme parks disrupts a child’s normal schedule which adds to the frustration of long lines, tiring days, and new surroundings. Avoid these situations, as well as meltdowns, by following these tips.

Fireworks at Disney World.Unsplash/Park Troopers. 

1. Avoid Crowds

No matter what age your children are, you will all have a much more enjoyable time if you visit Orlando during slower seasons. Peak attendance at the theme parks occurs on major holidays, during spring break, and during the summer months.

Traveling with school-age children makes it harder to avoid peak times, but you can still avoid crowds by arriving at the parks when they open. Mornings are much less crowded.

2. Allow Everyone to Pick a Favorite

Whether it is a certain ride in the parks, a parade, or another area attraction, ask every family member to pick a favorite ”must do” activity. This makes every one of your kids feel important while making sure each one gets to do that one thing they have been looking forward to. It avoids meltdowns that happen when children feel left out.

Having everyone pick a favorite activity also allows you to have a more detailed plan in place before the trip begins. Maybe all their favorites are at one park, maybe they’re all at Disney and not Universal. This kind of information can make a huge impact on what tickets to buy and how much time you’re spending in certain areas.

3. Plan Downtime

Feet reaching out from a pool, in relaxed position. Unsplash/Joe Pizzio. 

The Orlando theme parks are huge, and even adults can feel wiped out halfway through the day (especially if you go during summer months). Arrive at the parks when they open and head straight to the rides known for the longest wait times. Then ride the rides and attractions until lunchtime when you can leave the park to eat in a quiet location. Go back to your hotel for a swim and an afternoon nap before heading back for more rides and attraction.

Scheduling a little R&R for everyone will make a big difference in attitudes and behaviors. An hour or two back at the hotel can be a lifesaver once those afternoon crankies set in.

4. Compare Onsite to Offsite Hotels

If you are visiting only one resort such as Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando, consider staying at one of their onsite hotels. These hotels offer perks that can make your vacation much more enjoyable such as early entry to the parks, free transportation, and the ability to skip the notoriously long lines. It also puts you closer to the parks so that you can easily go back to your room for afternoon breaks and snacks.

If you wanted to see more of Orlando than just theme parks, staying offsite is generally cheaper and easier to come-and-go from compared to hotels onsite. Research Orlando before you go to find which areas hold the most appeal for the entire family.

5. Rent a Stroller

Smart parents will rent a stroller for the kids even if they are older. The theme park strollers are large enough for five to six-year-olds to fit in comfortably. Having a stroller provides kids with a place to sit during parades and gives tired parents a break when they hear little ones asking to be carried.

6. Choosing the Right Parks

Rollercoaster, at dusk. Unsplash/Pedro Velasco. 

The key to having a great experience is in picking age-appropriate parks. Among Orlando's many parks, including Disney and Universal Studios, there is something for everyone. Preschoolers love Disney, especially the Magic Kingdom, while teens can't resist Universal’s thrill rides.

Unfortunately, these parks don’t really play well together. While both Disney and Universal offer bulk discounts when you purchase tickets to several of their parks, there is no such deal for a combo of Disney and Universal tickets. Meaning, if you wanted to go to Islands of Adventure one day and Animal Kingdom the next, plan on paying full price for each.

7. Take Advantage of Rider Switch Programs

If you have children that are too young for certain rides, use the rider switch programs the theme parks have available. Disney’s baby swap and Universal’s child swap allow both parents to enter the line with the kids. When you reach the boarding area, one parent rides while the other stays with the young children. After the first parent rides, they switch.

This ensures that no one is left out of their preferred activities (parents too) and that safety is never sacrificed for fun.

8. Stay Safe

The parks are large and congested. Stay safe by planning ahead. Families wearing matching shirts are easier to spot if a child wanders off. Show kids what theme park employees look like, and explain that if they need help, these are safe people to talk to. Take a picture of the kids each morning so you can show people if they do get lost. Most importantly, designate a very specific place to meet if you get separated.

9. Keep Busy in Line

While many parks have made an effort to create queues that are more engaging than in the past, lines get boring for all ages. Bring a bag packed with items to keep kids busy. This could be a snack, a storybook, or a small novelty toy. Think up games to play too. ”I Spy” can make the wait more fun, and it will feel like the time passes by quicker.