Best Week Ever is a series that began as a way to take you along for a jam packed journey through Orlando’s theme parks and other attractions. Along the way our contributors have changed, but our approach remains: to make the most of every visit. This past week I have been fortunate enough to have one of my absolute best weeks ever, and I am excited to share some of the highlights with you.
Independence Day Weekend is a cause for celebration throughout the entire country. In recent years it has meant traveling to my parents’ home and spending time with my brother, sister in law, and my five nieces and nephews. Such was the case this year. Cedar Key, FL feels worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of Orlando. It is about a two and a half hour drive to this island that sits in the Northwest corner of Florida. This little island has a small town feel; there are no chain restaurants, one school, one gas station, time moves slower here. If you have enough time in your Central Florida vacation for a side trip somewhere in Florida, consider Cedar Key for a dramatic change of pace.
Cedar Key, FL
The drive to and from is actually one of my favorite parts of a visit to Cedar Key. There a few routes from which to choose, each having at least one portion that consists of driving through backroads, past horse farms, goat farms, and country landscape. Driving through this scenery made for a beautiful way to start Independence Day 2016.
Country road in Marion County, FL
I arrived back in the metropolitan sprawl of the Orlando area close to lunch time. I made the journey from one small town and was about to head to another. Later that afternoon a friend and I arrived at Celebration, FL. This is the town that Disney built. It is perfectly manicured and was the catalyst for the birth of many other planned communities throughout the country. Although Disney no longer owns the community, if you are a Disney fan a visit to Celebration will prove entertaining and enjoyable.
Visitors enjoy the lake at Celebration, FL while waiting for the July 4th concert and fireworks
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Picture from my disposable camera from my 1989 Disneyland trip (I am on the right).
Let me start by saying that I do not have children of my own, nor do I travel anywhere with children. So, you’re probably wondering what makes me qualified to speak on the subject? Well, I do have one major qualification: I use to be one of those theme park children.
Even though I did not go to Disneyland a lot as a child (it was too expensive for my family), I did visit other Southern California theme parks quite often — specifically Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood. My parents managed to teach me a lot about planning, having fun, and cherishing each experience, so below are the four strategies that I would like to pass along to you to help set up everyone in your family for a happy theme park experience.
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by Angela Dahlgren
on May 20, 2015
For some, the thought of flying on a plane with kids is simple and carefree.
For me, not so much.
Don’t get me wrong – I have an amazingly easy child who travels very well. Still, I would be lying if I didn’t admit prior to flying with her, I become a Nervous Nelly.
For those of you who can relate to my anxieties, here is a list of ideas and items for entertaining your child on a flight to Walt Disney World, Disneyland or anywhere else. Although who are we kidding, why go anywhere else when you could go to some of the happiest places on earth? 😉
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by Alex Duncan
on February 10, 2015
Yoo Hoo! So I do not know if you people realise but it is definitely quite a big thing picking out your next blog post topic, especially when you are “international” and can’t just pop to the parks for some quick research without missing quite a few days of school. I do not think I would mind as much as my teachers…
The view from the air over London on our way to Florida
I had my lightbulb moment on the train coming home from school. I was sitting with a friend who usually gets the bus, not the train, home. We were gossiping like a pair of average thirteen year old girls (yes, I am now a teenager, whoop) and she said to me, “to be honest, you have travelled by train so many times now that you could probably go to Disneyland Paris all by yourself.”
Plane Selfie! Ready for the flight – tips all adhered too.
This made me realise that I am quite an experienced traveller now and an expert on aeroplanes (airplanes) to and from Florida. Why would I want to go to Disneyland Paris when I have the option of Walt Disney World? Where instead of adding layers of clothing I can wear shorts and flip-flops. So I’ve decided, thanks to this deep inspiration, that I should write a blog post highlighting and sharing some of my favourite travel tips which will make up an aeroplane survival kit for children travelling with their parents.
Well with that out of the way, let’s get on with my tips!
Survival Kit with Top Tips
1) Headphones: I know that this seems silly but I find the airline provided headphones uncomfortable and useless on the older planes. The newer Airbus A380’s (which sadly do not fly from London to Orlando) are so much quieter that any headphones are fine. Good headphones can also double up as a sleeping method on any flight. I always find it easier to go to sleep listening to Taylor Swift (please feel free to substitute for your favourite artist or band), or you can casually just have a jamming session because you feel like it. Alternatively, if you are lucky enough to own noise-cancelling headphones (wish list) these are great as you can do all these things and have a bit of peace and quiet too.
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by Erin Foster
on December 8, 2011
You think a Walt Disney World vacation sounds like fabulous fun. Your next door neighbor thinks that a Walt Disney World vacation sounds like fabulous fun too. If you have enough of these conversations, inevitably your neighbor (or your sister and her kids, or your in-laws, or your college roommate and her family) will come up with the brilliant idea that if you’re both going to have amazing Disney vacations, then wouldn’t it be great to have those vacations together.
Whoa, hold it there partner. Traveling with another family could be a wonderful experience for all involved, or it could be a way to beat a perfectly nice relationship to death with a grotesquely over-sized turkey leg. Before you book those connecting rooms, take a minute to consider some thoughts about whether multi-family travel is right for you.
Do you have the same philosphy about souvenirs as your companions?
Now before you start thinking that there is NEVER a situation where you’ll be comfortable traveling with another family, there are also some pros to group vacations that may outweigh any cons:
If you do decide to take the plunge, here are some guidelines you may want to set before you travel:
Over the years, I personally have traveled to Walt Disney World with neighbors, my parents, my sister-in-law and her family, my Moms Panel buddies, and even some unrelated babysitters. There have been great successes (priceless photos of the extended clan) and some frustrating challenges. Meeting at 8:00 does actually mean meeting at 8:00, why don’t some people understand that? What have your experiences been? Have you enjoyed your journeys to the World with others, or are you going nuclear-family-only from now on because of a negative situation? Give us your tips in the comments below.
by Guest Author
on May 31, 2010
Longer stays allow for more relaxed touring of MK
Travelling to Walt Disney World from the United Kingdom requires a mammoth 8-9 hour flight, which means many, including myself, chose to spend at least 14 nights in Orlando to make the long trip worth it.
The question is should visitors, both international and domestic, follow a touring plan when on such a long trip or is it better to take a more relaxed approach to visiting the many attractions at WDW?
The first thing to consider would be what you want to get out of your vacation. Are you totally focused on Walt Disney World or do you want to visit some of the other attractions in the area such as Universal Orlando, Sea World and Busch Gardens?
Many guests coming from international destinations like to get the most out of their vacation, which means they chose to visit all of the eight major theme parks listed. Eight parks in 14 days is no easy feat, meaning it’s probably best to follow a touring plan, ensuring your time efficient on your trip.
What about if you want to focus on just visiting Walt Disney World in that time? Is it really necessary to follow a strict plan when you have so much time at your disposal?
Following a plan gives you more time to relax around the pool or at the hotel
Even when visitors to WDW give themselves upward of 14 days to make their way around the parks it’s still best to follow a touring plan.
Touring plans aren’t just good for fitting a lot into a small space of time, they also ensure that guests wait in line for as small amount of time as possible. It may seem more relaxing to spend your extra days not following a plan, but it means you may spend a lot of that time in line rather than enjoying yourself.
When I go to Walt Disney World I’m usually with people 18 and over, which means the adult 1-day touring plans for each of the four parks are ideal, or if we don’t want to see everything we’ll use the selective touring plans, which focus on the best attractions in the park and leave out the slightly less popular attractions.
My group may follow these plans for our first visits to each of the four parks then if we want to go back we’ll at least stick loosely to the plan in order to ensure that we avoid the long lines and big crowds.
The two-day touring plans for small children and the ‘happy family’ two-day touring plan for the Magic Kingdom are ideal for those on extended trips where you don’t want to be running from one attraction to another but still want to avoid long lines. The same can be said for the ‘not a touring plan touring plans’ at the other three parks.
Following a plan on a trip also offers other advantages. If you’ve covered all four parks with a plan then want to go back again you know what attractions are quiet at what times and when to go in order to avoid big lines.
Following a plan on my long vacations has allowed me to see so many other attractions in the Central Florida area I never would have done if I hadn’t had covered the parks so efficiently. It also allowed me to use my extra time relaxing by the pool or back at the hotel rather than stuck in lines.
Regardless of how long your vacation is it’s still beneficial to follow a touring plan for your visits to the parks and I know it’s something I’ll be doing on all of my upcoming trips.
Michael Owen is a blogger and UK resident who blogs regularly over at Theme Park Daily!
(photo #1 by Chris Harrison, photo #2 by Brissea)
on July 22, 2009
So much for me keeping to a bi-weekly schedule, huh? How hard could it be to sit down and write about a place that I adore? Suffice to say, folks, I’m sorry about my absence from cyberspace. But if you’ll bear with me, I’ll finally continue my three-part series: Teens n’ Tots Touring.
This time, I’m talking about single-parent families. I confess one of the reasons that I haven’t posted until now is that I was figuring out what I could say. I wasn’t sure if I could make a Disney World itinerary easier for single parents with both preschoolers and adolescents. For several weeks I was banging my head against a wall. For example, I was terrified at the prospect of guiding you readers through the multi-age horror that is Tomorrowland. (I imagined a single-mother being pulled on one arm by a teen bound for Space Mountain and on the other arm, a toddler determined to drive at the Tomorrowland Speedway.) But in a moment of Buddha-like enlightenment, I realized my mistake: I was trying to treat single-parent families like two-parent families.
Unfortunately, single parents just don’t have the same luxuries when it comes to a Disney World vacation, such as another pair of arms or a more daring partner to do the rougher rides with teens. Still, that doesn’t mean that a single mom or dad can’t take their kids to Disney. Like all things are when you’re a single parent, it just takes a bit more planning and a little sacrifice.
Of course, if you think that your teenager is ready, you can let him or her tour on their own with emergency cash and a cell phone. But if that isn’t the case for you, this article will be focused on families that want the teens to stay with them. I am going to take you on a park-by-park explanation of how to accomplish this task, including: all-age rides, easy dining, and tips on preventing meltdowns. So let’s start at the beginning, the Magic Kingdom.
I. Magic Kingdom
For all kinds of families, the Magic Kingdom has some major perks: there are thrill(ish) and tame rides, princesses and pirates galore, and plenty of transportation to-and-from the park. Now the downside is that “MK” can be tricky to navigate. This is because the streets go around in a circle until you reach the end of Frontierland. But interestingly, the themes of the “lands” can help put you in the right direction.
For instance, Frontierland, which is based on the Old West, is on the west side of the park. Liberty Square, which is themed on America before the westward expansion, comes before Frontierland. East of the American lands is Fantasyland, the theme of which is a European faire. Next to fantasy is the sci-fi-themed area, Tomorrowland. (In-between is a cartoon land, Mickey’s Toontown Fair. Make of that what you will.) The only land that I couldn’t fit into this device is Adventureland; it’s south of Frontierland and west of Main Street USA. Speaking of Main Street USA, it is simple enough to find: it’s where you enter and exit.
Below is a list of Magic Kingdom attractions that most teens and tots like. I’ve made notes when an attraction may frighten a little kid — or big grown-ups, for that matter.
· Jungle Cruise (there is a scene in the dark with fake snakes)
· Pirates of the Caribbean (there are scenes in the dark, fake fire, and lots of skeletons)
· Haunted Mansion (there are ghosts, ghouls, skeletons, and dead bodies)
· Peter Pan’s Flight
· Mickey’s PhilharMagic (if your tots get scared, they can take off their 3-D glasses)
· The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (don’t laugh; teens like the optical effects)
· Mad Tea Party (make sure wild teens ride in a different teacup than tiny tots)
· Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
· Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor (teens can text in jokes for the CGI characters to perform)
Epcot presents a peculiar challenge for single parents. It’s the favorite park of many young adults, but not very popular with most little guys. What the little kids do like about Epcot is not what most teens do. Specifically, Epcot has awesome thrill rides, such as Test Track and Mission: Space. Both of these (as well as the other headliner, Soarin’) have height requirements.
If you can, it helps to give your teens some independence in Epcot. (After all, aside from its enormous size, there’s not much in Epcot that makes it hard to handle.) There are two alternatives to this: 1) skip Epcot, or 2) stick to World Showcase and Future World West. If single-parents want their families to stay together, they’re going to experience World Showcase in a different –- but no less enjoyable — way.
As opposed to focusing on the limited attractions, single-parent families should tour World Showcase as it was meant to be done. Slowly sample the offerings of each pavilion. You can shake the maracas in Mexico, play with marionettes in China, and eat puff pastry in France. In fact, I would recommend this form of touring to anybody! If your toddler get bored with World Showcase, find each pavilion’s KidCot Fun Stop; they are craft centers in each pavilion that kids love.
The only problem with this plan is the problem with Epcot: its size. Epcot is nicknamed “Every Person Comes Out Tired” and this is especially true for a young child. Be sure to pack painkillers in your First Aid kit. Even if your toddler denies having foot pain, regularly check their feet for blisters. If anyone — including you — is worn out, find a bench in the shade, buy a cool drink, and just relax. If your tot is antsy, drag your group to the Germany Pavilion; there is an elaborate, outdoor train-set there that toddlers could watch for hours. Everyone else can sit nearby.
Below is a list of attractions at Epcot that most teens and tots like. I’ve made notes when an attraction may frighten participants.
· Spaceship Earth
· Innoventions (teens and tots will like different areas)
· Universe of Energy (tots will not know who Bill Nye the Science Guy is and there are dinosaur animatronics)
· Maelstrom (this almost didn’t make the list; there’s a 20-foot plunge, dark, and monsters)
III. Hollywood Studios
To be honest, I’ve been dreading this section most of all because Hollywood Studios is the dream of any adrenaline-loving pubescent. It also has some shows that are hits with toddlers. But sadly, there isn’t any overlap. Since the thrill rides have height requirements, even if a small child wanted to ride them, he or she couldn’t. Plus, even an enthusiastic teen will tire of the gushy, singsong entertainment provided for the little dudes. What’s the solution?
The normal approach of only experiencing attractions that both groups like would make for a short day at the Disney Studios — though this is becoming less true every year. You can always skip Hollywood Studios, but if you don’t want to do that, my advice would be to maximize the power of the FastPass.
For example, get two FastPasses for Tower of Terror. Proceed to a showing of Playhouse Disney ~ Live on Stage or Voyage of the Little Mermaid, depending on your tike’s preference. You can grab a snack or watch some street theatre afterwards. By this point, your FastPasses should be valid. Have your teen go first and wait for them to finish at the Child Swap station. If you want to ride too, hand your toddler off to your teen and go ride.
For attractions such as Star Tours and Fantasmic, it helps to have a brave toddler. In the case of shows, if your tot gets scared, you can just leave and wait for your teen. If your younger kid gets frightened on a ride, teach them to close their eyes and cover their ears. But never force your child to ride something; it can ruin the vacation for them. Feel free, however, to force your teen to do certain things. Many so-called “kiddie” attractions have wide appeal, even if they look juvenile — i.e. Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
Below is a list of Hollywood Studios attractions that most teens and tots enjoy. I’ve made notes when attractions may frighten small children.
· Beauty and Beast ~ Live on Stage
· MuppetVision 3-D (if your tots get scared, they can take off their 3-D glasses)
· Toy Story Mania
· Voyage of the Little Mermaid (once teens are in the theatre, they usually enjoy the show)
IV. Animal Kingdom
I have a feeling that you will like the Animal Kingdom. Aside from three or four attractions, its offerings delight the whole family. In fact, my only counsel to you for the Animal Kingdom is to be careful about your meal schedule. In my opinion, this park does not have sufficient dining options (to demonstrate, of the six counter-service locations, one of them only offers tea, espresso, and cookies). The rule-of-thumb for Animal Kingdom eateries is to ‘zig’ when everyone else ‘zags;’ either have lunch very early or late. You do not want to be stuck outside in a food line at the busiest time — roughly 11:30pm to 2pm.
One other thing that I should mention before you let your teens loose in the Animal Kingdom: remember that it can be difficult to navigate due to the tall trees that block streets from view. Remind them that if they get lost, they should return to Discovery Island at the center of the park — the street signs are very well marked on the Island. Also, a teeny-tiny note: remind your teens that if they ride Kali River Rapids that they should not keep their cell phones in their pants. Their bodies and their phones will get soaked.
Below is a list of attractions that most teens and tots like at the Animal Kingdom.
· Festival of the Lion King (there’s one scene with fire and it can get loud)
· Kilimanjaro Safaris
· Pagani Forest Trail
· Flights of Wonder
· Kali River Rapids (there’s a 38in. height requirement; you will definitely get soaked)
· Maharajah Jungle Trek
· Finding Nemo: The Musical (make sure your kids have seen the film or it won’t make sense)
V. Water Parks
Being at a water park with a toddler can be daunting. Safety has got to be top priority if you splurge on the water parks. Yet, this alone doesn’t create much of a touring problem. The issue that single parents will face is that the slides that teenagers love the most have height requirements.
The best solution is to go to Typhoon Lagoon instead of Blizzard Beach. Blizzard Beach is almost all slides that your tot can’t go on while Typhoon Lagoon has several non-slide attractions, including a wave pool, a scuba diving simulation, and a ‘river’ for floating (although in fairness, I should say that Blizzard Beach has a great raft slide that everybody can ride). My parents will tell you that the tot-area at Typhoon Lagoon is superior in design to the one at Blizzard Beach. In addition, there are more places to eat at Typhoon Lagoon.
VI. “Character Hunting”
‘Character hunting’ is when a Cast Member, costumed as a Disney animated character, signs autographs for and takes photos with guests. Toddlers — if they can get over the enormous size of the characters — love it! Teenagers usually do not. How do you character hunt with your toddler and satisfy your teen?
First of all, don’t get in line every time you see a character. Keep to your tot’s favorites. If everybody is too irritable to keep touring and you spot Donald Duck, rest assured that most characters can be found again at other parks. Then when you do character hunt, make your teenager the photographer. It gives us teens something to do and makes us feel like we’re being good big siblings.
I hope that this post was worth the wait. If you have questions about this Disney topic or any other, please ask them in the Comments. I’ll do the best that I can to answer them. Have a magical day!
on May 28, 2009
Welcome to the first installment of my three-part series: Teens n’ Tots Touring! Nowadays, there are a lot of families with kids over age 10 and kids under age 5. Planning a Disney itinerary is hard enough without negotiating between these vastly-different ages, so I’m here to help. In this first installment, I’ll focus on families that have multiple teenagers.
Five years ago, I became a big sister. My little brother took his first Disney trip (not counting in-utero) when he was 11-weeks-old. Ever since then, my beloved parents have been coordinating the desires of two teens with a Buzz-Lightyear-loving-somewhat-bold-heat-hating tot. But until my big brother went to college, my parents had one thing on their side: there were two teens. How could this possibly be helpful? Simple: safety in numbers. It meant we could leave our parents without being alone. It’s hard to find danger in Disney, but it can happen. And in case of a medical emergency, having a brother or sister there is parentally reassuring. While my big brother and I were gallivanting through Tomorrowland or screaming on our fourth ride of Test Track, our parents could ride It’s a Small World with my little brother sixteen times in a row. In addition, separating the teens and tot meant that the youngster could go take a nap at the resort while the adolescents stayed in the parks. Mealtime is a great excuse to rendezvous. Just don’t forget to give teens their tickets so that they can FastPass attractions, and make sure they have a cell-phone or walkie-talkie.
However, it may be that you have younger teens or you can’t trust them to run off without you in an unfamiliar place. The answer to this dilemma is splitting up the parents. (This post assumes that there are at least two adults in the group; I’ll give advice to single parents next week.) Whichever adult – the mom, godfather, or grandpa – is most daring and, it should be said, has the best health, can accompany the teens through the parks. But let the kids lead itinerary-wise. If at all possible, send a willing non-parent with the teens; they’re far less likely to be accused of acting “embarrassing.”
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on May 13, 2009
Girls’ Night Out in Disney World is a blast! Downtown Disney, the Boardwalk, and Epcot’s World Showcase, are all great places to have fun with the divas. But what if you have somebody under-21 in your GNO group? Mexican margaritas, German beer, French wine, martinis, G&T, and vodka, just became illegal. (And in case anybody got a non-Disney-esque idea, Mickey does check ID.) But in addition to no buzz, how does a mom, fun aunt, or another lady friend, entertain the teen or preteen while still doing stuff that everybody else likes?
In my experience, the best way to lower social inhibitions among girls (without alcohol) is chocolate. Chocolate ice cream is preferable, but chocolate chip cookies, hot cocoa, or chocolate candies, will do the trick. I recommend Ghiradelli’s Chocolate Fountain at the Downtown Disney Marketplace, Selma’s Cookies at the Boardwalk, or Boulangerie Patisserie at the France Pavilion. If you check out DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney, the Cheesecake Factory Express inside (open seasonly) has the best chocolate cupcake ever to bless the earth with its awesomeness.
Shopping is a must, of course. At Downtown Disney, World of Disney is so darn huge (50,000 sq. feet!) that everybody will probably find something they like. But the new must-do for girly gear Downtown is TrenD. I haven’t been able to personally see the store yet, but from the reports, no teen girl or young woman can skip TrenD. The store sells clothes, accessories, pillows, writing stuff, even furniture! And oh my gosh, Tinker Bell! If you want a nuclear bomb with Tink on it, I bet you could find it at TrenD. As for other stores, avoid Summer Sands. The bikinis are cute there, but they’ll make you feel guilty about all the chocolate you ate.
All of the World Showcase pavilions are great for browsing, but if you actually want to buy something: visit the China Pavilion for adorable parasols and fans, the Norway Pavilion for winterwear (Go fleece!), Italy for headache-inducing perfume, Japan for pricey jewelry and “Hello Kitty” nostalgia, and the France Pavilion for make-up (I like to tell people I bought it in France, which is kind of true).
As for the Boardwalk, there are a couple of stores, but the main attractions at Boardwalk are the activities. A personal favorite are the dueling pianos. And for your older teens: watch the guys watching TV at the ESPN Club.
If your budget is tight, though, you can have a Girls’ Night Out right at your resort! Both the Port Orleans resorts have live, free entertainment (a musical comedy show at Riverside and a jazz club at French Quarter) on select nights. The Polynesian has some very fine-looking lifeguards and God’s gift to earth, Dole Whip soft-serve. All the resorts on Seven Seas Lagoon, the Boardwalk, Yacht & Beach Club, and Caribbean Beach, have beaches – and more fine-looking lifeguards.
What it comes down to for a G-rated (okay, PG) GNO at WDW is that there are no rules. Let your adolescent know that whatever happens in Disney will stay in Disney; they don’t need to worry about being embarrassed. Squeal like crazy on rides, dance in the middle of the street, and flirt with the cashier! Act like you’re buzzed even though you can’t be. Buy too much, stay out too late, and be too loud! To please your teens, just keep moving until they don’t want to anymore. Then get a cold drink – preferably one that’s pink – and wish on the stars at the most magical place on earth.
Thanks for reading, everybody! If you have any questions about teens in Disney, feel free to ask them in the Comments. I’ll try to answer them in my next Thursday post!
on April 23, 2009
Howdy, blog readers! My name’s JillAnn – that’s not a typo – and I’m a few months short of 16. Despite my age, I’ve been lucky enough to go on 19 WDW trips (all cost-conscious trips, of course) and write for The Unofficial Guide for 3 years! In the most recent edition, the 2009 Guide, you can read my “best and worst Disney dessert” reviews.
So I’ll be giving a teen perspective on Disney World – minus only a love of Tower of Terror. If you have no idea how to include your teens in your trip planning, what your adolescents want from a resort, how to set them free in the parks without letting them loose, and more, I’m here for you. I’ll also probably make forays into food commentary – old habits die harder than Bambi’s mom.
I’m psyched to be blogging about my favorite place in the whole universe. Next time (if Len Testa hasn’t fired me by then) I’ll either be helping dads in creating a WDW father/daughter date, or I’ll give tips on getting teens excited about a trip to Disney World. Unless, being a teen, I don’t tell you what I’m doing and then sneak back in at 1a.m.