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Friday, January 30, 2009

Advice: Taking Grandchildren to Disney World


Dear Aunt Savvy,

We're taking our four-year-old granddaughter to Orlando, where we will be spending two weeks. We plan to spend a total of five non-consecutive days at Disney World and do other activities the rest of the time.

The child's parents will not be accompanying us, so my husband and I will be responsible for her care and safety.

I have to admit: I'm really nervous about this trip because we have never spent an extended amount of time with our granddaughter, who is a very active and high maintenance child.

What are some suggestions for helping to keep her happy and entertained?

--Nervous Nana
Dear Nervous Nana,

Funny you should ask.

Aunt Savvy recently returned from the House that the Mouse built, having been accompanied by her feisty grandchild.

It is quite understandable that you are nervous; young children, by their very nature, are high maintenance, so it will pay to prepare beforehand. And both you and child will need some time to adjust to each other, so Aunt Savvy's first piece of advice: plan to spend Day 1 of your trip chilling out, perhaps splashing around in the hotel swimming pool or engaging in another low-impact activity.

Aunt Savvy is relieved to know that your trip is stretched out over a two-week period; while Disney is a lot of fun, it is also a very intense visual and auditory experience. Families often do not realize this and try to cram in five consecutive Disney days, returning home needing a vacation from their vacations. Your idea of spending every other day at the park is a good one, and you are fortunate that you are able to do this.

Before departing from home, go to AAA for special deals on tickets and parking on the Disney lot; you will still have to pay to park, but you may get a deal that will get you close to the park entrance. While you are at AAA, pick up a guidebook to Florida (or California if you're going to Disneyland). They also sell, at a discount to members, good guides specific to Disney.

Children love Disney and the Disney characters and will squeal with glee at the prospect of meeting Goofy, Donald and Mickey; however, the reality is more complicated. First of all, children embrace the familiar, and being away from Mom and Dad for an extended period can be disorienting. So be sure to pack some favorite toys, portable DVD player, and DVDs. You may end up watching Peter Pan 95 times, but such is the price for traveling with a youngster.

If possible, plan your trip for the "off" season, avoiding, at all costs, the week between Christmas and New Year's.

No matter when you go, the park is often very crowded and wait times for attractions can be up to 90 minutes. In addition, the various parks are sprawled out, requiring much walking, all of it on concrete. Your job, then, is to lessen the impact of Disney's dark side, mostly having to do with tired, cranky, scared, bawling, and hungry children.

Oh. And bushed grandparents.

So here are some tips:
1. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. While it may be tempting to dress your little princess in a princess dress and princess shoes, don't do it. Trust Aunt Savvy on this one. If Princess must dress up, bring regular clothes for her. In the winter, bring light jackets; it can get cold at night, and buying jackets in the park can be expensive. Bring a favorite toy for your granddaughter and sunglasses for everyone.

2. Bring portable snacks, such as raisins, trail mix, cookies, and/or granola bars. Don't carry whole fruit; Disney offers fresh fruit, about $1.00 per piece. It is worth paying a little extra not having to lug around heavy, water-laden food. Plan to eat at least two meals in the park. Yes, it is expensive, but this a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so just pull out that credit card and close your eyes.

3. Bring or rent a stroller in park. Yes, she's a big girl now, but you will use it. A lot. If nothing else, you will have a place to put all your purchases, but Aunt Savvy would be willing to bet $50 that your little girl will take a nap some time during the day. Remember: your granddaughter has shorter legs than you, and as she tries to keep up with you, she will tire quickly.

4. In the summer and on warm days, bring a bottle of water, frozen if you have a freezer in your hotel room. The ice will melt fast, offering you at least a few hours of cold liquid. You can always refill the bottle at a water fountain, so drink up.

5. Bring a small camera or get a photo card from a Disney character. When your grandchild visits a character, a photographer snaps a picture and then scans your card. Later, you can access your character photos from the Disney website.

Aunt Savvy took a Flip camera and filmed the following scene:
Not bad for a video camera that fits in the palm of your hand.

6. At the park, get a FastPass for the most popular attraction; you will be assigned a time that will allow you to be admitted ahead of the folks not having FastPasses. If you arrive at the park early enough, you can often get another FastPass, but you have to wait about three hours before receiving another one.

7. Plan to eat during non-peak times; otherwise, you will encounter long food lines and harried food servers. Instead, spend traditional meal times hitting attractions, when the lines are smaller because everyone is eating or trying to eat.

Aunt Savvy adores 2:00 p.m for lunch and 7:30 - 8:00 p.m. for dinner. Hence, the snacks you have packed to tide you over--but do allow for some ice cream, which can be purchased from carts.

The secret to having a positive Disney experience: don't follow the crowd; go to the attractions that have the shortest waiting times, posted at each attraction.

8. Don't buy souvenirs in the park; you can often find the same stuff much cheaper at Wal-Mart and the various souvenir shops all along U.S. Highway 192. Best of all, you won't have to lug "stuff" all over.

9. As the day wears on, the crowds tend to thin out; this is when to hit the popular attractions you have missed.

10. Leave the park about 30 minutes before closing--you'll avoid much of the rush to catch the monorail or ferry back to the parking lot.
On a side note:

If possible, check out Old Town, a kind of outdoor mall that offers something for everyone; this funky and cool place even offers a small amusement park--with little or no waiting times. For grandpa, there are car shows and Friday and Saturday nights. (NOTE: Aunt Savvy is not affiliated with Old Town, nor is she paid to advertise or plug it. She just loves hanging out there when she is on vacation.)

Collage of Old Town

For your off days, there is plenty to do in the Orlando/Kissimme areas: shopping, miniature golf, water sports, antique hunting. Your AAA Guide can offer you more specific ideas for activities.

Have fun, and take some time to relax.


Note: This is not a real question, but a what-if scenario based on a possible family problem. Aunt Savvy will always disclose when a question is based on a scenario.

Aunt Savvy would be pleased to consider answering your real questions for this site.

If you you would like to add anything or don't like Aunt Savvy's advice, comment to this post.

(Comments are moderated, so please don't double post.)

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