One of my most vivid memories was the first night of an impromptu family trip to Walt Disney World. It was about 9:00 p.m. After a full day of park touring we were exhausted and ready to snuggle in for a night of rest in our room at the Contemporary Resort. Hubby and I were winding down, reading the newspaper on one bed. My then 6-year-old twins were cuddled in the other bed. And their nine-year-old sister was camped out on the daybed. I was overcome by a feeling of peace and warmth. We were a family. Together. Safe and sound and peaceful.
Needless to say, this moment of zen was short-lived. Hubby started complaining that he wanted to sleep and my light was bothering him. The twins, not used to sharing a bed, began kicking each other and making cover-hog accusations. My older daughter screamed that she wanted the noise to stop. After several rounds of musical beds, trips to the bathroom, a call to housekeeping for extra blankets, and many threats of no-Space-Mountain-tomorrow-if-you-don’t-quiet-down-RIGHT-NOW, I think we finally settled down around 11:00 p.m. So much for togetherness.
Although our room was lovely, it wasn’t the best set-up for us getting the rest we needed. Disney may say that a particular hotel room sleeps four or five (or more) people, but how do you make sure that many people can actually, well, sleep in that room?
Get the Right Size Room
When choosing a Walt Disney World hotel, most people consider price, location, and room capacity to be the key data points. However, beyond simply the number of people allowed to stay in the room, you should also consider how many separate sleep surfaces are there. For example, there are rooms sized for four people at the Wilderness Lodge which are furnished with two queen-size beds. Other rooms at the same hotel have a queen-sized bed plus two bunk beds – three distinct sleep surfaces instead of two. For a family with children of different genders, or a blended family, the extra sleep surface could greatly improve the quality of their vacation. Additional sleep surfaces may also be important for unrelated adults or multigenerational families traveling together. Make sure you reserve the version that works for you.
A family of five (two adults plus three children), could have each of the kids on a separate sleep surface at the Fort Wilderness cabins or the All Star Music Family Suites. The same result could be achieved by getting two rooms with a connecting door. Connecting rooms are available at all WDW hotels (this must be requested in advance). In my family of five, we can technically stay in one room at the deluxe resorts, many of which are equipped with two queen-sized beds plus a single daybed, but we’ve learned through hard experience that we’ll all be better rested if each of the three kids has her own sleep area. Maximizing sleep surfaces cost effectively may mean making concessions in other amenities. For example, getting two rooms at a value resort (four sleep surfaces) may be comparable in cost to one room at a deluxe resort (with three sleep surfaces). You’re trading monorail access and water slides for better sleep and access to two bathrooms. Different families will find each of these options more or less appealing.
Before booking your trip, take an honest assessment of your family’s sleep needs. Does one child go to sleep much earlier than the other? Do the parents want a door between them and the sleeping children? Can siblings share a bed without fighting? Do different family members have vastly different sleep environment needs for noise, light, or temperature level? Each of these factors may influence your room requirements.
For those with nonstandard needs, there are a number of unique room types at Walt Disney World: rooms with trundle beds at Port Orleans Riverside, junior and deluxe suites at many of the hotels, units with substantial outdoor space, and multi-room villas. It can be a challenge to figure out the exact configuration of each room type on the Walt Disney World website, sometimes picking up the phone and speaking with a reservationist be a quicker route to booking for guests with specific needs. Rooms can be booked by calling 407-W-DISNEY or through a travel agent.
Modify Your Space
You may sleep easier if you make some minor modifications to your room. All Walt Disney World hotel rooms contain at least one table and two chairs. During your stay, it may make sense to rearrange these items. For example, when my kids were small, they often had difficulty falling asleep if they could see me and tell that I was still awake. If this is your situation, try positioning a chair to block you child’s sight line to you. You can also move a chair into the bathroom for similar effect. I’ve done many a crossword puzzle on a chair in a hotel bathroom while I waited for a child to fall asleep. At the value and moderate resorts, it is also possible to move a chair just outside your room door to sit there while your children are dozing. In this situation, remember to keep your room key with you at all times and be courteous to guests in neighboring rooms.
Disney does not advertise the availability of rollaway beds, but there are a very limited number of them for use in rooms that are large enough to accommodate their size. This means that you won’t be able to get a rollaway in a value resort room – there simply isn’t enough square footage – but if you need one in a deluxe room, this might be possible. While you shouldn’t count on having a rollaway, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.
If a room with an extra bed isn’t available or isn’t in the budget, it may make sense to bring your own “furniture” in the form of a sleeping bag. My oldest daughter would much rather sleep on the floor than with either of her squirmy sisters. Most airlines will allow you bring an extra bag for less than $25. This fee is substantially less than any room upgrade would be. Just be sure to straighten up in the morning so that housekeeping can do their work. Also, safety dictates that you not use items such as sleeping bags to circumvent the fire code maximum number of persons per room.
Even the most minor of room modifications can help. Disney housekeeping is happy to provide extra pillows or blankets for your room. When my children have shared a bed, we’ve made good use of this service by creating a pillow “wall” between the kids and giving them each their own blanket. We’ve had more success getting them to sleep in a timely manner when they don’t have to struggle for control over the covers.
Ask for the Right Room Location and Configuration
I’ve often been asked which is the best room location at various WDW hotels. The answer to this varies greatly depending on your goals. If you want to save walk time, then being close to the food court, bus stop or pool may make sense. If you want to sleep soundly, then you may have more luck being away from the hotel’s amenities. My husband always requests a room far away from the elevator banks so that we are not disturbed by other guests speaking in the halls on their way to the parks.
If you are traveling in warmer months, try asking for a room on the first floor with patio space or on an upper floor with a balcony. These outdoor areas can serve as a parental retreat while the children settle down for the evening.
Special Considerations for Babies
All Walt Disney World resort hotels allow an additional guest in each room if that guest is a child under the age of three sleeping in a Pack ‘n Play crib. Disney provides these cribs and associated bedding free of charge. However, my experience is that the younger the child, the more sensitive he or she is to variation in the sleep environment. Bringing a familiar crib sheet and blanket from home may provide an extra measure of comfort for a little one.
Many guests with crib-age children find that they can create a makeshift private room for baby in the moderate resorts. Many rooms at this price level have a feature which allows the vanity area near the bath to be enclosed via a sliding door or curtain. Setting up the crib behind the curtain may prevent the baby from being awakened by light or noise in the rest of the room. This can be especially helpful when attempting to get children to nap during the day.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
There are a number of small electronics that may improve your sleep experience in any hotel room:
- Nightlight: Children who are wary of unfamiliar surroundings or afraid of the dark may sleep better with a nightlight on.
- Booklight: Allows adults to stay up and read while children are falling asleep.
- Baby monitor: If you’re planning to sit on your room’s patio or balcony while your children fall asleep, a baby monitor can keep you fully apprised of their activity level.
- iPad, iPod, or other smart device: Download a noise machine app (I like Ambiance) to muffle ambient room sounds. Watching a stored movie on the iPad keeps the room light level lower than turning on the TV.
Explore Off-Site Alternatives
I am a strong proponent of staying inside the Disney bubble when on vacation. However, families with complicated sleep needs will likely find more varied room configurations offsite. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World includes extensive reviews of and recommendations for offsite hotels.
What’s Your Best Tip?
Is your family always able to sleep well together in one hotel room? What strategies have you used to make everyone’s nighttime routine more relaxing? Let me know in the comments below.