Believe it or not, there’s even more to Disney World than the fantastic fun at theme parks. Our series wrap-up includes resort options and accommodations during your stay.
Any parent or grandparent who has tried to please children of different ages knows it rarely can be done with finesse when planning a vacation. I seemed to overlook that norm before begging – yes, begging! to take our grandkids to Walt Disney World Resort. Not only did I have to please 11-year-old triplets, but I also had to keep a 19-yearold and a 22-year-old happy. The reality hit me when we were checking in at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa and everyone was asking, “What’s next?” After a deep breath, I reminded myself that this was the most magical place I knew, an exciting destination with fun adventures and charming accommodations for kids of all ages.
When it comes to attractions, we discovered older kids, like my grandchildren, usually enjoy thrill rides such as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith in Hollywood Studios, or Space Mountain in Magic Kingdom, while the younger set likes Affection Section and Conservation Station in Animal Kingdom, as well as attractions such as Peter Pan’s Flight in Magic Kingdom. You’ll find information on which ages are best suited for all the parks’ rides and attractions at disneyworld.disney.go.com.
Lisa Morse of Henrico says her 7-year-old twins may share a birthday, but Zachary and Sarah have very different ideas when it comes to what they enjoy at Walt Disney World Resort.
During a recent visit to the “happiest place on earth,” Morse found that her son favored the Star Wars Jedi Training Academy in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, while her daughter had great fun with everything relating to fairies. “In Epcot they had set up a temporary fairyland with topiaries,” Morse says, noting that it was a highlight for Sarah.
Many attractions are geared toward all ages, making them an easy choice for the entire family. Morse and her family chose Soarin’ in Epcot as their all-time favorite family ride. “We also enjoyed the shows and the entertainment in the parks,” she says.
At the parks, if you want to experience a ride that may not be suitable for little ones, you can go to the Fastpass location at the attraction and ask if the ride has an available Rider Swap. This allows members of your family to take turns waiting with youngsters too small to ride and then swap out to ride the attraction. It can all be done without standing in line twice.
If you are traveling with children of different ages, you may find it advantageous to arrange for younger children to play at one of Disney’s Children’s Activity Centers while you take their older siblings to the park. There are six of these centers to choose from at various Disney World resorts, for kids 4 to 12. Cost per child is $11.50 per hour, with a two-hour minimum charge. Reservations are recommended for most locations and required for some. You can book reservations by calling (407) WDW-DINE. The centers can be used by anyone visiting the park.
All Disney resort hotels also offer in-room childcare (an additional cost) for ages 6 months to 12 years in partnership with Kid’s Nite Out. All nannies are trained in CPR and basic first aid. You can even have a childcare specialist accompany you and your family during your visit to the parks to provide a helping hand. For more information, call Kid’s Nite Out at 407-828-0920.
Dr. Brett Law’s 5-year-old twins, Max and Skyelar, were constantly entertained during their time at Disney. The family stayed at Port Orleans – Riverside, where the twins had fun splashing around in the pool. “I was surprised at how easy it was to take the buses to the parks,” says Law. “It was nice not having to drive and find parking.”
Each morning, Law and his family would head to the massive food court at the hotel to grab breakfast before going to the park. “We also did the breakfast at Cinderella Castle one day and that is great because you get into the park before it opens [to the public],” he says.
To ensure that your Disney experience appeals to all members of your family, it’s important to choose an on-property hotel that suits your needs. With 26,000 guest rooms at the Resort, there’s definitely something for families with kids of all ages. Disney has an online vacation package at disneyworld.com that will allow you to plug in information and come up with the right resort hotel.
Many families with young children select accommodations in one of the “monorail resorts” – Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, or Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – because they are near Magic Kingdom (the park with the most attractions for younger children) and they offer convenient monorail transportation between the hotels and Magic Kingdom or Epcot.
Law can attest to the allure of the Magic Kingdom for children. “That [to the twins] is Disney,” he says. “You could see their eyes light up.”
The Boardwalk area is another accessible location – for my family, the most accessible. Hotels include Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, and Disney’s Beach Club Resort, as well as the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin hotels. All of these properties have walking or boat access to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Just a note to water lovers, the Beach Club features Stormalong Bay, a huge pool with waterfalls, a lazy river, and a waterslide, and is probably the best pool area on Disney property.
As far as staying at a property that is definitely out of the ordinary, I would suggest Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. While it is the farthest hotel from most of the parks, it does have a 40-acre wildlife preserve where you’ll get to see exotic animals roaming around day and night. There’s nothing like waking up and looking out to see giraffes and zebras wandering about.
Mary Elmore of Hanover has been to Disney more than 20 times with family and friends. One of her favorite Disney hotels is Wilderness Lodge. “I love it because of the atmosphere,” she says. “It doesn’t feel like you are in Florida. You feel like you’re in the Pacific Northwest with big green trees and a lakefront.”
Other recommended properties include Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter. The Caribbean Beach has piratethemed rooms as well as a renovated pool area. Port Orleans – French Quarter has recently renovated all of its rooms. It also has a delightful outdoor area with a fun pool for kids.
You’ll find the largest number of rooms (and guests) at Disney’s value resorts, which include Disney’s Pop Century, All Star Music, All Star Movies and All Star Sports hotels. The All Star Music property offers family suites that can sleep up to six. Disney’s new Art of Animation Resort, opening next year in phases, will also offer these popular family suites. The property will feature four themes: The Lion King, Cars, Finding Nemo, and The Little Mermaid.
If you need more room for your family, you may want to consider one of Disney’s deluxe villas where you can book a one-, two-, or three-bedroom villa complete with full kitchen and laundry. Families who prefer the great outdoors can rent a campsite at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground (with nearly 800 available) and either pitch a tent or bring along an RV.
Regardless of how old your kids are, where you stay, or what you do when you’re at Disney, you will have a magical time. As I’ve said lots of times before, “It’s definitely my happy place” and I hope it will be yours as well.