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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trip to Florida with three kids

Well I just got back from my yearly vacation to Florida. I don't normally go this time of year, but last February I had a new baby at home and the wife and I decided it was better to postpone things. It was hard waiting so long to take a break, but in the end it was worth it. We had a great time.

My parents live in Florida not far from Orlando. They live on a gated community for folks 55-years-old or older. It's a rather new community, as all the homes are less than 10-years-old. What makes it stand out (and why my dad chose it) is that the homes are wrapped around an 18 hole golf course. The houses closest to the course have nets to stop the balls from hitting the houses. Although a few years ago when I went there the nets didn't stop my balls. I actually had to quit because I hit too many houses.

We don't normally go to Florida in October. In fact, it actually felt weird leaving Michigan when there was no snow on the ground. Usually we take this trip in February, although with a new baby at home back then traveling 22 hours in a minivan was the last thing we wanted to do. And it wasn't necessarily the baby that stopped us from going either, it was the 6-year-old-full-of-energy-and-hates-to-sit-for-long-periods-of-time girl. We figured as soon as the baby fell asleep the 6-year-old would have one of her fits. So we postponed.

The trip to Florida was uneventful until we got into Florida. By this time traffic was so slow it took us an extra two hours to get to my folks. We figured the delay was due to all the snowbirds going south for the winter. Other than that the ride was not too bad. We stopped every 2-3 hours to give the kids a break. Actually, we usually kept driving until my baby decided it was time to stop.

I have to tell you, though, that we're thinking of always going to Florida now in October. The weather was so much more tropical than in February. When we go during the winter we usually go swimming only once, and usually that's when the air and water are technically speaking too cool to be swimming. Yet, being from Michigan, we tough it out.

In October the weather was 85 degrees every day, and we went swimming in nice warm water every day. There was one day we went to Disney during the day and when we got back to the resort (we stayed at a Disney resort during this trip for three nights) I declared myself dad of the year and took my two older kids swimming at 11:00 at night. It was also raining that evening, but it was sooooo warm.

We stayed at my parents one night, and then we decided to get a Disney resort this year. My wife got some kind of deal. Normally it costs $500 a night, and we stayed for $500 for three nights. Still it was a lot, but it was worth it.

I'm more of a follower, but my wife is one of those Disney nerds. She knows every thing about Disney -- all the tricks. When we arrive there are long lines. She got a tip once that people in America tend to move to the right. So, if you go to the left the lines are shorter. We usually are through the ticket booths before most people even budge in their respective lines. It's kind of neat how that works.

Then we get into Disney and we get a fast pass to whatever the main ride is, and then we go to the other rides until it's time to use up our fast pass. Another tip is that wherever you like to be most, whatever section of Disney you like best, you should go there first, because it's not as busy early in the morning.

And, for lunch, we usually make a reservation at one of the restaurants that allow you to enjoy a buffet while your kids get to meet certain characters. Of course everything is expensive at Disney, and eating in these places is even more expensive. At Disney we take our kids to the Crystal Palace where they get to meat Winnie the Pooh and friends. If I remember right, lunch was $25 an adult plate (and my 11-year-old son was considered an adult). While the kids and my wife were concerned about meeting the characters and taking pictures of such, I was busy getting our money's worth of food. I'm telling you I never left one of these places without my stomach sticking three feet out and my belt loosened to make room for it. Yet I was a happy trooper upon exiting. Plus it was nice to sit for a while.

We ended up going to one of these places somewhere in Disney three times. We went to the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom and I can't remember the place in MGM Studios (I guess it's now called Hollywood Studios) and then again on my baby's first birthday at Micky's something at one of the more attractive Disney resorts. This is where the kids met Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and Goofy.

Another advantage to paying for these places is you get to go on rides instead of waiting forever in the parks to meet the characters.

Now, here's a tip I have for any one who is interested in going to Disney with kids. I highly recommend you skip all the parks except the Magic Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom has a bunch of rides the whole family can go on and there are a ton of them. You never have to just stand around. The other parks have fewer rides, they are far apart, and the rest of the stuff they have are shows that you have to attend at certain times. The shows are boring for adults (at least me), and the kids usually fight over where to go next. With my son being 11 and my daughter 6, you can see why there might be some anxiety. I felt bad for the boy because most of the places we went were for really little kids. Although he was a champ.

So, my tip is to skip all the other parks and just go to Magic Kingdom. The exception is if you go alone with our spouse or adult friend. If you want to go on a good date, or getaway at Disney, Epcot is the place to go. We didn't do this this year due to lack of time, but we did a few years ago and it was great.

Whatever Disney location we go, we usually try to go when there is a night parade. You have never seen a great parade until you see a parade at Disney at night. If nothing else it's an amazing light show. Of course to get a good spot you have to be in Main Street about an hour before the parade. You'll have to find a spot on a curb and sit there all that time. Not fun to do with kids. This year the boy and I saved the spot while the girls shopped. It's worth it though, in the end, to have a good spot on the curb -- trust me.

However, this year we were too late to get a spot on the curb and ended up sitting against one of the shops. The parade is up high, so this spot turned out to be just fine. However, with a spot way back here I had to hold my daughter so she could see. Thankfully an elderly man let my daughter stand on his scooter so I didn't have to hold her.

With temperatures at 85 degrees nearly every day this trip to Florida I will have to say was one of the best ever. It may have been the best since our honeymoon


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