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Visiting Orlando with little kids…

We recently came home from the JPMA show in Orlando, and we brought along our two little girls, ages 2 and 4. Those who know me can verify that I am an obsessive information hound. When I was planning this trip last year, I searched high and low for good information about visiting Orlando with very young children. I didn’t find much. Now, with only two trips under my belt, I’m no guru, but I’ll share what I’ve learned.

We’ve stayed at the Saratoga Springs resort at Walt Disney World both times we visited Orlando. It’s part of the Disney Vacation Club group of hotels, but you don’t need to be a member to stay there (we’re not). The big advantage is the villa-style accommodations, which offer multiple bedrooms and full kitchens. The resort is really beautiful, but like all Disney hotels it is large. It’s fairly new, and the furnishings are lovely. The resort is not close to any of the theme parks, but it is a nice walk to Downtown Disney, which is a great (and free) place to go with the kids to get a taste of Disney magic and some good food. To get to the parks, you need to use the Disney bus service, which is pretty efficient, but not particularly fast.

We’ve found that patience and flexibility are the two keys to enjoying Orlando attractions with very young kids. We visited Sea World this year, which was outstanding. The shows were excellent, and there was almost no waiting – we just walked from show to show, took our seats and enjoyed.

Disney is a whole other animal. Even on a quiet day, the parks are incredibly crowded. We’ve had good luck going near the end of the day. We keep it low-key, focus on the kiddy rides and we make sure to catch the Spectromagic parade, preferably from a quieter vantage point further along the route. On this last trip, we managed to see the entire parade, ride Dumbo and It’s a Small World all in less than an hour.

Epcot and MGM don’t have much to interest the under-4 crowd, so stick to the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. My favorite guidebook for Disney is called The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

Obviously, there is no more kid-friendly place on earth than Disney World. Every restaurant has crayons and activities for kids. But make reservations for Priority Seating whenever possible. Otherwise, you may end up waiting for a long time. For character dining, you need to call waaaay in advance. Consult a guide book for details on this craziness.

Gearing up
You can rent strollers at every Disney theme park for a fairly nominal fee. The strollers are reasonably nice, but they don’t recline. Of course, after a day of tromping through a theme park, most kids won’t care – I saw hordes of slumped over, snoozing children in those strollers. You can bring your own stroller, but you do need to park the stroller fairly often for rides, so there’s a risk of theft. We brought our Mountain Buggy Urban Double into Sea World and we didn’t have a problem. Last year, we took our Phil and Ted’s into the Magic Kingdom, and it worked really well. Don’t even think of skipping the stroller. A typical day in a theme park involves walking upwards of 10 miles. Very few young kids can handle that. I also kept my Hotsling in my purse and used it constantly, since my little one likes to be held when she’s cranky.

Helpful links: – an comprehensive (unofficial) online guide – a very good site with photo tours of all resorts – Disney travel specialists. Really nice guys. – a blog-style information hub. Very thorough. – Disney guide for your handheld or iPod – worth every penny. Don’t skip the option to get the menus for every restaurant (SO helpful). – An official Disney site offering special deals and programming for families with young children. This is brand new. Warning: turn down the volume on your computer’s speakers.

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