If you're traveling to Florida with your family, reading these frequently asked family travel questions and answers can help.
By Carrie McLaren
While every family has different needs, there are common threads. Read these frequently asked questions to find tips to make your upcoming travels easier.
- What is the best way to purchase Walt Disney World tickets?
- How can I save money at theme parks?
- Do we need to travel with a car seat? What are the laws in Florida for child safety restraints?
- Do you have any packing tips?
- What should I bring to keep the kids busy during travel?
- Do you have safety tips for the crowded theme parks and airports?
- With baggage restrictions and charges, how can a family travel light?
- What do we do for transportation once we arrive in Orlando to get around International Drive?
- How do I know which rides my child can go on?
- Can we bring our pet with us to the theme parks?
- How can we best enjoy Florida during the hot summer months?
- What can you suggest for families to enjoy outdoor adventure or wild animal viewing?
- How can we keep the bugs away?
- How do we find a vacation home or condominium for rent?
- What’s the closest beach to Orlando attractions?
- What are the average temperatures in Florida during the winter holidays?
A: Check out the official Walt Disney World web site. Here, you’ll find some deals/special tickets and be sure to keep an eye on their special offers page. The site has a very helpful section for first-time visitors, where you can find all of the information you need to plan your trip. For example, Magic Your Way base Tickets give each member of your travel party entry to one theme park a day each day of your ticket. The longer you play, the less you pay per day. The average price per day for a seven-day Magic Your Way Base Ticket is much cheaper than the price of the same single-day ticket.
Don't forget, there are Florida resident discounts, too. Keep in mind that the prices listed don't usually include tax.
Also, try Mousesavers.com. The site regularly features deals for off-Disney property hotels and resorts, along with offering insider tips too.
I find the park-hoppers are helpful because there isn't as much pressure to do everything all at once. You can spend the morning at one park and the evening at another park. My family and I enjoy starting the day at one park, then taking a mid-afternoon break at our hotel for pool time and naps, then we visit a different park around dinnertime and stay for the nightly fireworks. This is also helpful if you have little ones – you’ll feel refreshed and ready for more adventures.
A: My family and I like to bring a few drinks and snacks with us. Glass isn't allowed in the parks, but plastic bottles and juice boxes are fine. Also, be sure to bring your own camera, sunscreen and ponchos (in case it rains or the kids go on water rides).
In addition, many rides end at the entrance to souvenir shops. I tell my kids prior to entering the parks that they will be allowed one souvenir at the end of the trip. This way, they know what to expect and don't constantly ask for trinkets. I give them a strict budget for their gift of choice as well.
A: This is a smart question, as safety should always come first when traveling with kids and laws do vary state-to-state.
Florida uses the national safety regulations for kids and car seats. They follow a "4 Steps for Kids Guidelines," which is also posted on the website for the Florida Highway Patrol.
For children up to 3 years old, the restraint must be a separate carrier or a vehicle manufacturer's integrated child seat. For children ages 4 through 5 years, a separate carrier, an integrated child seat, or a seat belt may be used. For passengers age 6 through 17 years, a seat belt must be used while riding in a motor vehicle.
Before you leave, check out the Florida Highway Patrol website. Regulations change, so double check that the information is current. In addition, the Florida Highway Patrol has officers in locations throughout the state that can assist you with any child seat safety questions/concerns. They'll make sure your seats are properly installed.
Rental agencies such as Hertz Rent-A-Car offer a daily fee for car seat rentals. Be sure to make a car seat reservation ahead of time, as availability varies by location. Also be sure to notify them if you are going to need a rear-facing one. They typically offer a booster for older children as well.
If you do plan to rent a car seat with your rental car, you may want to purchase a restraint system for the airplane. I recently found a product for parents who don't want to carry their bulky car seats on the plane. Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES) is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This child safety restraint is small enough to fit in a purse or diaper bag and assists children between 22 and 44 lbs.
If you're traveling with an infant, I would bring a car seat that attaches to your stroller (since you'll need that too). Don't count on taxis to have one. Bring your own so you know you are set; you can check it with your luggage, so you aren't carrying too much on the plane.
A: I always suggest bringing a lightweight jacket or windbreaker, because the temperature can drop a few degrees in the evening when you're out watching fireworks, parades and relaxing in air-conditioning. I have my kids wrap their jackets around their waists so I don't have extra things to carry at the attractions. In addition, I would wear capri pants or light-weight pants or skirts in the evening.
Most days, you'll just need lots of shorts, T-shirts, swimsuits, sunscreen and cover-ups. Bring the most comfortable walking shoes you own and don't worry about fashion. Comfort goes before beauty at theme parks.
Lock up your good jewelry in a safety deposit box and leave it at home. I also suggest bringing a waterproof disposable camera so you don’t have to worry if it rains or your camera gets splashed on a water ride. Bring along a few Ziploc bags with you to keep your phone, money, room keys and other items dry in your pockets – you never know when you might get caught in a rainstorm or a wet theme park ride or show.
In the end, don't stress too much about packing. It can be done easily and very quickly – especially for visiting Florida, where flip-flops and casual dress are widely accepted.
A: Bring things that will make your life easier. For example, my kids love coloring, so I always bring along a handful of washable crayons and books. A great place to stock upon travel toys is at the dollar section in stores – they always have smaller toys, that I don’t mind if we end up losing or they get left behind.
I also suggest bringing books that teach kids about the destination and its history. You can make your own “Florida 101” book by printing pages from websites like VISITFLORIDA.com and stapling them together. Or make a pretend passport and give them a sticker stamp for each place you visit. Try picture books of the areas you’re visiting if your kids are too young to read.
Another fun way to incorporate learning with older kids is to have them become “junior reporters” and journal about their experiences. Buy each child a journal and allow them to write stories your adventures. Maybe it’s about their first time on a roller coaster or a day at the beach. As a parent, you’ll be happy to have those trip memories to cherish as a souvenir for years to come.
A: Carry pictures of your kids in your wallet or take pictures on your cell phone to have in case they wander. Have your kids wear identification bracelets with your contact number inside. Make sure you tell them what to do if they get separated from you. It's a good idea to have a designated ‘meeting spot’, so if others get lost, you can gather at the agreed place.
I also bring walkie-talkies, which are nice to have if you are traveling with a big group of people and want to separate and re-connect after rides or naps at the theme parks. Mine have an eight-mile radius, which is perfect for most locations and resorts.
Q: With baggage restrictions and charges, how can a family travel light – especially when carrying diapers, formula and large baby equipment?
A: The key to packing light and being under a 50-pound weight limit is being organized and having the right packing tools.
If you are traveling with small children, try Baby’s Away. They can deliver your supplies directly to your travel destination. They have items like strollers, highchairs and even beach equipment. It’s an easy way to keep you from bringing everything from home.
If you choose to rent baby equipment like strollers, playpens and highchairs, make sure to check cleanliness and safety measures, as well as recalls by government agencies that regulate such things.
A: Call the resort where you are staying and ask them for a recommendation of a taxi company that they work with on a regular basis. You can also try another option: Get a ride to major Orlando attractions on the I-Ride Trolley. You can snag a deal if you plan to ride regularly. Running daily from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., the I-RIDE Trolley serves hundreds of destinations within the International Drive Resort Area. A single fare is $2 for adults and $1 per ride for children. I would suggest buying your passes online – the unlimited ride passes can save you quite a bit of money if you plan on being in the area a few days.
If you plan to navigate Walt Disney World Resort, their transportation systems (monorails, buses and boats) provide free door-to-door access to all four theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney and more than 20 resorts. For those staying on Disney property, Disney’s Magical Express shuttle service offers complimentary airport transportation from Orlando International Airport to each of Disney’s resorts.
For visitors to downtown Orlando’s arts, culture and dining scene, there's a free bus circulator called LYMMO, offering guests rides along a three-mile loop in the heart of downtown.
Q: How do I know which rides my child can go on at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure?
For Universal Orlando Resort, check out this help height chart for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.
As a family rule, we go to the attraction’s website before we visit the parks – that way there's no disappointment when we reach the park. I can assure you that it is a sad day for a kid who is hopefully standing under that ruler – only to discover he or she cannot ride as his or her big brother or sister breezes by. The tears can be avoided by knowing the requirements ahead of time. In general, 48 inches is the standard height requirement for the larger coasters.
A: Many people don't know this, but Best Friends Pet Care at Walt Disney World offers daytime and overnight boarding as well as special services like extra walks, cuddle time and ice cream breaks. You can even stop by and visit your pet during the day or before bedtime each night.
Accommodations are available for other critters such as rabbits, ferrets, small rodents, birds and non-venomous snakes (provided guests supply a carrying case). All animals are required to have up-to-date vaccinations; puppies and kittens must be old enough to have received a full set of the required vaccinations before boarding.
A: First, most resorts and hotels have swimming pools. My suggestion is to hit the theme parks early and then go back to the pool during the midday hours when the sun is at its strongest. Then, return to the parks at night to enjoy the beautiful summer nights.
Universal Studios Orlando has some great cool-down spots as well, where visitors can enjoy indoor, air-conditioned shows like Blue Man Group, which is a separately ticketed event.
Alternatively, make your whole theme park trip based around the water. Orlando has loads fantastic water parks. SeaWorld’s Aquatica certainly keeps everyone cool with wave pools, slides and a white-sand beach. Walt Disney World's Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon are both favorite parks.
For an alternative to theme parks and water parks, I also suggest spending time in Orlando's many air-conditioned shopping venues and restaurants. The Orlando area has some fantastic outlet shopping – a great place to save money!
Don't forget to pack hats, sunscreen, and portable fans, which will also help you beat the heat. And it's very important for everyone to remember that once you feel the need to re-hydrate, it is usually too late; pre-hydrate the night before you head out into the hot sun and drink plenty of water throughout the day.
A: I suggest letting the kids explore wildlife in the Tampa and Orlando areas. Orlando's Discovery Cove allows children 6 to 12 to swim with dolphins. Check out this helpful article "Lions and Lessons" about Tampa's Big Cat Rescue and Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay. I am sure that would keep your animal-lovers quite busy!
Stop by Clearwater Marine Aquarium and visit rescued dolphins, otters, sharks, turtles and more. Animal care experiences are available for ages 5 and up.
The Florida Aquarium, also in Tampa, features some incredible wildlife adventures too. My family and I had an incredible tour where we met penguins. Other activities include feeding sharks and boating trips to see wild dolphins in the surrounding waters. Go to their website for all the details on the behind-the-scenes private tours. They cost a bit more than the entrance fees, but they're definitely worth it.
I suggest asking your pediatrician what type of repellent he or she would prefer. Some doctors recommend the Deet-free kind, but just call and ask before you head to Florida for your vacation.
Here are a few helpful suggestions:
- Wear protective clothing and make sure that kids are covered as much as possible. You can buy a special net to put over the stroller to keep the bugs away from babies.
- Deet-free herbal insect repellents are available at most grocery/drugstores in Florida.
- Early morning, dusk and evening are the worst times of day for mosquitoes. Apply repellent and re-apply when needed.
Q: We are traveling to Florida with a large family. How do we find a vacation home or condominium for rent?
A: Here in Florida, rental homes are often the most affordable, spacious option – especially when traveling with extended family or friends. I suggest looking at these to cover most bases: Discover Vacation Homes, ResortQuest and a host of others on VISITFLORIDA.com. From townhomes to larger houses, there are a large variety of homes for any sized gatherings.
A: The closest beach is Cocoa Beach, about an hour away from Orlando. If you’re making the trip, I would also visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex while you are there. The 72 miles of Florida’s Space Coast is a must-see on my list of where to visit with the kids.
Another wonderful family-friendly beach option is St. Petersburg/Clearwater Beach, (less than a two-hour drive). Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach has plenty of activities for young families, including the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise and dolphin-watching excursions. If you are up for some adventure, you can try parasailing or jet-skiing.
Florida's "rainy season" runs from about June through September. In central and north Florida, we feel a fall-like coolness and break from high humidity near the end of October. "Dry season" is typically November through March/April.
The temperatures in Florida vary, depending on the region. Here’s a typical average forecast for December by city:
- Daytona Beach: High 70°, Low 49°
- Fort Myers: High 76°, Low 55°
- Jacksonville: High 66°, Low 44°
- Key West: High 76°, Low 67°
- Miami: High 71°, Low 52°
- Orlando: High 72°, Low 51°
- Pensacola: High 63°, Low 44°
- Panama City: High 65°, Low 40°
- Tallahassee: High 65°, Low 40°
- Tampa: High 72°, Low 52°
- West Palm Beach: High 76°, Low 58°
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