Sunday, October 20, 2013

Disney with Kids Tips & Tricks: Travel - Post 1

As a mom of 3 kids (and crazy enough to take them all to Disney World at the ages of 7 and barely 3) and a planner, many of my friends and acquaintances call to ask me about tips and tricks for traveling to Disney. I'm determined to put it all in writing to share with all of you who are trying to prep for a Disney experience.  
I'm not going to tell you what the most current app is for finding out the wait times for rides are - there are plenty of places to research that (and I used several), but I am going to share with you little tips that can save you money and sanity.

A little about us that may give you some perspective into our trips.  The first time we went to Disney World, the twins were only a twinkle in God's eye, and our oldest was 3 and a half.  The first time we took the twins, they were barely 3, and one has sensory processing disorder and several food allergies.  
You may wonder why we didn't wait until we were absolutely certain that the kids would remember all of it?  We wanted them to be able to enjoy all of the magic with the innocence of small children, and they DID!  We have pictures of the wonder as our oldest met his favorite character, our daughter (having just learned to skip) skipping through the parks in her princess dress, and our little guy looking up in awe at Mickey and Pluto.  I'm so glad we didn't wait.  We will go back next year which will make them 5, 5, and 9, and they'll remember it all, but it will be a new and different experience for each of us - no doubt another that we'll treasure for other reasons altogether.
Dog-pile on Daddy while at the airport
Let's start with how are you getting there:  Driving?  Flying?
We fly to Disney (but we have made other long road trips in the same time frame, so I have tips for those, too.)  It was our first time to fly with the twins, and they all still required carseats.  We flew Southwest because we had several free flights because of airline miles, but it also meant that we needed to alert the airline about the peanut allergy and that we bring EpiPens on board.

EpiPens  (non-issue if driving)
Many experts will suggest that you do NOT run EpiPens through airport security scanners.  IF you need to bring EpiPens on the plane, I would highly encourage you to make sure that they are the ONLY item(s) that the person bringing the EpiPens through aiport security carries.  Ultimately, because it hasn't been scanned and contains a liquid, security will pat down the EP carrier AND go through ALL of their belongings.  Because we didn't realize this, I was carrying a backpack full of carefully packed items to entertain, feed, and treat the kids on the plane ride as well as my personal items.  So even after I was checks, my shoes were sprayed and tested, the EpiPens examined,  Ugh.  So much for all of my careful planning and packing.  Note to self - do not EVER do that again.

Carseats (non-issue if driving)
If you do research regarding transporting carseats on airlines, you might find that they may suffer the same damage they would in a car accident.  When you've spent $250 per seat, you don't want to risk that kind of damage.  We wrapped them in bubble wrap, used packing tape, labeled them with our information, and tucked them each into an over sized trash bag used for yard debris.  Ours all came out just fine.  (I am not guaranteeing your results if you do the same.)

My husband and I went back and forth on this.  I wanted to gate-check the stroller so that we could more easily navigate the airport with the kids.  He didn't want to hassle with it, and he wanted to check it at the curb.  Ultimately, we chose to check it at the curb, and we survived.  We knew before we left that we would take our Sit-n-Stand stroller and leave it at the home we were renting.  They had a couple of strollers there, but we really wanted a double stroller for the twins.  We didn't expect to use it again much except for trips to Disney, and if it's no longer there when we go back, we won't be heartbroken.  You can also rent strollers at Disney for the time that you are there.  They are expensive, but it can also save you the hassle in the airport.  You can also rent them from an off-property company that will even deliver them to/pick them up from your hotel/resort.  Even if your kids are big enough to not need a stroller, having one to haul around everyone's belongings is awesome!  Adding a couple of stroller straps can also be helpful, just be mindful of the sign you'll be using to identify it. (More on that in Preparation & Packing.)
Cake pans, reward tickets, games, magnets, and activity buckets for long road-trips

You know your kids better than anyone else, but consider bringing items that they have NOT used before.  Maybe a new coloring book or lap-sized chalkboard from the dollar store?  A cookie sheet or cake pan full of magnets, magnetic "paper" dolls, or other activity.  Cookie sheets and cake pans can be great for the car or a plane, because they help keep items from rolling off into the floor, and you can nest multiple pans for multiple kids before passing them out for the trip.  It's also possible to paint them with chalkboard paint (just make sure you get the paint that works for metal surfaces) to create yet another way they can be used - think Tic-Tac-Toe, artwork, etc.  Here is a list of free printables to create your own activity book.  Of course, we all know how convenient an iPad or smartphone can be when it comes to appeasing little ones, but we like to save those for the end of the trip when everyone is most restless. 

Rewards & Tracking
Regardless of if you're driving or flying, consider picking up or making little "rewards" (stickers, new magnets, Bingo game cards for the whole family, word searches, puzzle erasers - a favorite in our family, etc.)  These can be passed out at timed intervals for good behavior, and it breaks up the trip into manageable time frames for the little ones.  When driving, we have implemented a ticket system for long drives.  Every hour, we would pass out a ticket for good behavior during that time, and an "bonus" tickets could be rewarded at any time for sharing with each other, etc.  Then, every 2-3 hours, I would open the "store," and the kids could trade in their tickets for rewards from the goody bag.  On an airplane, it is easier to forgo the tickets and just pass out rewards as needed; the tickets are more cumbersome across plane aisles and rows.
In addition to the rewards, we tied a ribbon from the back of the car to the front of the car along the passenger side and attached a cardstock car to the ribbon with modified paperclips.  The ribbon was marked in equal measurements, and the paper car started at the very back end of our vehicle.  As each hour (or 50 miles or other measurement) passed, we moved the car along the ribbon to the next mark.  Not only did the kids enjoy watching our progress, but I even found that my husband would reference the moving cardstock car to see how much further we had to go.  This eliminated the "are we there yet?" and "how much longer?" questions.  It was AWESOME.  In response to those questions (which only happened early on in the trip,) I would respond, "Where is the car?"  Eventually, they would say, "MOM!  Look!  We are soooo far from home!"  or "We are more than half way there!"  Ah, happy mom.  

Snacks, Treats
Depending on the age of your little ones, what foods you allow, and what your family's needs are, this should be catered to your family.  When considering snacks and treats to pack for the actual trip, be sure to have something that can help with ear-popping (jelly beans, Starburst, baby bottle, fruit chews, etc.)  Be sure that your snacks are easily portable and that you have kid cups with lids, because the airline cups with lids do not pass muster when it comes to little ones.  

Sensory Processing Disorder
I made a ton of magnets with pictures of the different activities we would encounter and bought a small magnetic dry erase board to create daily schedules.  I taped a ziploc bag to the back of the dry erase board to hold the magnets.  It made it easier to help discuss the day and expectations as well as make changes to the schedule quickly if needed while still providing an easy visual reference.  
We brought the Listening Therapy mp3 player and special headphones, a weighted vest, weighted blanket for sleeping, a weighted Mickey Mouse (more on that in a post about preparation and packing,) and all of his paperwork from doctors and therapists.

Need to book?
If you haven't booked your Disney vacation yet, I would LOVE to help you!  I am an Authorized Disney Vacation planner (in addition to being a mom of 3 munchkins.)  You can check out my website or Facebook page to contact me.  

Next up - Disney with Kids: Where are you staying? Hotel? Disney Resort? Condo? House?

Other Disney trip topics (more to come):
Where to Stay
Preparation & Packing
Tickets, Schedule, & Parks
Packing List for Parks
Autograph Books

All Disney posts (including Elf on the Shelf ideas.)

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