I just love this article on the Huff post by M. Blazoned. The first time I read it I was cracking up. She’s hysterical and pretty spot on! Let’s be honest, a vacation pre-kids may have meant snacking on delicious cheese and wine in between sightseeing in Europe or, lounging on a beach with a yummy cocktail in hand as you soaked in the sun and a good book. A vacation with kids is just a tad different… I get quite a few questions about travel and essentially how to make sure that it’s as close to a vacation as possible with kids in tow.
Back in February my family and I took a trip to Florida. This was going to be our first “big” trip with our three-year-old twins, as any other travel we had done had been fairly local. (With twins the thought of travel is a bit scary those first few years!) I convinced my husband that since we would already be in Florida we might as well go to Disney World. To be clear, this was definitely not the vacation part of our trip in my book! However, I knew my daughters would have a blast and they did. As I planned the trip I did wince at the thought of their sleep suffering but we survived fairly unscathed! Here’s a guide to how we survived and truly enjoyed our “vacation.”
Itinerary: Way back when we started to plan this trip I tried to be as mindful as possible of my daughters’ sleep schedule; starting with our flights and our plan for the week. When we scheduled our flights I found a midday flight. (Morning would have also been great but it wasn’t an option.) While this did mean that we would be flying during nap time, which I knew meant no nap for two excited three-year-olds on their first plane ride ever, but I also knew that we would get to our destination by late afternoon and therefore I could compensate for the missed nap with an early bedtime. Additionally, when I booked our fast passes (this was all new to me!) and dining reservations for Disney I tried as best I could to schedule times that would not totally destroy a potential nap. Finally, I knew a few days in Disney World would be quite enough for our little travelers and we planned for a majority of the week to be spent in a more low-key part of Florida.
Pre-trip Prep: For the two weeks before we left I really tried to prioritize my daughters’ sleep. Ok, ok, I always do! But even more so than usual I was mindful of any missed naps or too late bedtimes. I wanted them to be as well rested as possible before we left for our trip. I also followed the recommendations in our travel blog post and packed Redi blackout shades for the house we would be staying in, travel white noise machines (old iPhones), and all of the items my daughters associate with sleep – a favorite stuffed animal, blanket and lovey. I rented cribs through a local baby equipment rental company for the house, and I called ahead to the hotel at Disney to request two pack and plays for our stay there. In addition, when we selected an option for our hotel room I made sure that we would have somewhat separate sleeping areas. We opted for a one bedroom suite rather than a standard hotel room and it was absolutely worth it. Unfortunately there are very few things that are low cost in Disney but I felt it was worth it to spend a bit more to make sure that my daughters could still get the sleep they needed without my husband and I having to hide in a quiet, dark room midday or earlier than we wanted at nighttime. This was our first big family trip and likely the only one we will take for a while so I wanted to make sure we all enjoyed it!
Since the beginning half of our week was spent in a much quieter part of Florida I continued to prioritize their sleep as much as I could while we were there. We enjoyed the beach each morning but did take a break midday for naps before heading out for activities each afternoon. It was really nice to have some downtime in the afternoon with just my husband and then be able to go out as a family with well rested children! This also allowed us to arrive at Disney still in rested state.
Disney: Holding firm to my guideline of “less is more” we spent 3 full days at the hotel but only went to the park two of those days. If we had planned to be in Disney World longer I would have planned visits to the park every other day with three-year-olds. A “catch- up” day in between would make a BIG difference.
To make the most of our time we got to the park right when it opened both days. (A helpful hint is that while the rides at Magic Kingdom open at nine most days you can get into the park itself an hour before to get to Starbucks and a few other breakfast options.) We got to the park around 8 AM so that when the rides opened at 9 AM we could head right to them and it worked really well. I had planned ahead of time which rides I knew my daughters would want to do so that we didn’t waste tons of time wandering around the park. We scheduled our fast pass rides for this time of day too. Both days I had a lunch reservation for 11:45 or 12:00 so that we could head back to the hotel midday for naps. After more than three hours of rides and walking around the park we were definitely ready for a break! By the time my daughters were actually asleep their nap was about an hour later than it should have been and would have been at home but they napped nonetheless. I wanted to be mindful of their sleep needs while not letting it completely dictate our few days there. Both days after nap time we headed back out to Epcot. Fortunately this was walking distance from our hotel and was the “easier” part of our day. (Another recommendation I’d make-Staying at a hotel that is walking distance to one of the parks makes life much easier with little ones and strollers!) After a good two hour nap our daughters were ready for more rides and fun! The solid midday nap allowed us to stay out much later than what would normally be bedtime. Both nights we were back at the hotel around 9 PM, normally a time I would gasp at in horror, but this was the part of our trip that we knew would be less than ideal sleep-wise and we had prepped for it. The girls got to see the fireworks and have a late night ice cream and certainly did not feel as though they were missing out on anything! They were also quite ready to crash by that point in the day.
Home Sweet Home: Our first full day back at home was unfortunately a work day for both my husband and me. However I was able to arrange for my in-laws to watch my daughters so that they could stay home from preschool and take a nice, long nap in their own beds. The name of the game was catching them up on sleep! For the week that followed I ensured that their naps happened at the right time and that there were no missed naps. I also did the same with bedtime. I focused on catching them up on sleep and making sure they got back on track ASAP and did so with minimal effort.
All in all, it was a vacation that we all enjoy remembering. Our daughters had as much fun as I had hoped and my husband and I enjoyed it as well. Watching the girls soak in the magic of Disney World was great and the beach part of our trip actually felt pretty darn close to a vacation! The moral of the story is really balance. We tried to keep their sleep tanks full before we left and tried not to completely empty them while we were away. You can only expect so much behaviorally from three-year-olds if you’re going to expect them to power through a vacation like a seasoned world traveler! By maintaining a balance everyone stays happier and who knows, it might even start to feel like a vacation!
Lauren Stauffer is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email, and FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook for more great sleep tips!
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