My husband and I recently spent our vacation in the happiest place on earth — Disney World in Orlando — with three of our grandchildren (ages 10 and 7-year-old twins) along with our son and daughter-in-law. It was a trip we'd been planning for six months. If you're planning a trip with your grandkids, I thought I'd share a few tips that helped us before we left and while we were there.
1. Count it down. Since young children can’t conceptualize time, when we got down to two weeks before our trip, we made a paper chain, each link representing one day. Since several children were involved, their names were alternated on the links so each child could participate. One link was ripped off per day until departure. For our grandchildren, the anticipation was just as exciting as the actual trip.
2. Rent a scooter. Papa Kurt, my husband, has trouble walking at a fast pace, so we rented a scooter for him so he could keep up with us. There are many local companies that will deliver the device to your hotel, along with a charger. Scooters and wheelchairs get priority seating, along with all members they travel with, on all transportation in Disney (bus, monorail, boat). You can also rent directly from each of the parks, but you must return the scooter when you exit the park.
3. Rent a stroller. We also rented a double stroller with a pull out canopy for the 7-year-old twins. It facilitated keeping them in check, and they could relax in the shade provided by the canopy.
4. Strategize souvenir buying. As the exit for each ride is directly through a gift shop, we had a discussion about souvenirs and told the children to wait until the end of the trip to decide what they really wanted. A trip to Downtown Disney’s “World of Disney” offers the largest selection available. We did this the day before our return home. If you make purchases in any of the parks and are staying at a Disney property, your packages can be sent directly to the pickup counter at the gift shop at the resort at which you are staying. Pickup is at 9 p.m. and delivery is 1 p.m. the next day.
5. Request maps before you go. Since we were staying at one of the Disney properties, we called Disney before we left requesting maps of the resort parks we planned on visiting (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios). Disney sends really nice personalized maps along with peel-and-stick dots to mark venues of interest. This helped us map out how we approached our Disney adventure in each park which also piqued the anticipation factor.
6. Order groceries ahead of time. We placed a grocery order through gardengrocer.com. Don’t wait too long to do this, as they have a daily quota of 15 and once it's reached, no additional orders will be taken for that day. We were staying for five days and had adjoining rooms, so we ordered basics such as a case of water, two gallons of milk, orange juice, cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit, butter and bagels. We brought our own disposable bowls and plastic utensils.
7. Consider the meal plan if you are staying at one of the Disney properties. We had a plan that offered one counter service, one quick service and one snack per day per person. We booked our counter service meals in advance, as popular restaurants that offer character appearances during the meal book quickly. We ate at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort, the Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom, the Askershus Royal Banquet Hall at the Norway Pavilion in EPCOT (includes two 5 x 7 portraits with one of the princesses, and a meet and greet with four other princesses), and the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at Hollywood Studios (no characters at this restaurant).
8. Bring ponchos. As it rains quite frequently in the afternoon at Disney, be prepared by bringing rain ponchos. If you purchase them in the park, you’ll pay $8-$10.
9. Purchase autograph books in advance. Since the characters have large-oversized gloves on their hands, have a big pen or sharpie to make it easier for them to sign the books.
Here are some tips while visiting the various Disney parks:
10. Use the Fast Pass option. This allows you to ride within a certain time frame without waiting in line. The Rider Swap option, only available on certain attractions, allows you to wait with a child who is too small for a ride, then hand off the child to another adult in your party and get on the ride without waiting in line again.
11. Add on some extras. If it’s within your budget, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or the Pirate’s League, where the children can be pampered and get makeovers as their favorite characters, are guaranteed to be a huge hit with your grandchildren. Boutiques are located inside Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom and at the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney Marketplace. Packages range from $54.95 to $189.95 and are for ages 3-12. Advance reservations are recommended.
12. Be sure to visit EPCOT. To our surprise, EPCOT was our grandchildren’s favorite park. It was the technology-laden, hands-on experiences that were available after the attraction. The faster the ride, the better they liked it.
It was nice to be able to share in the magical experience of Disney World with our grandchildren as we did with our own children years ago. The overall cost of the trip has increased manifold, but the experience was priceless!