Taking The Grandchildren To Orlando | My Family Travels
Pluto carousel at WDW
Dining with views of the shark tank.
Snorkeling with my grandson.
Dolphin swim at Discovery Cove.
The whole place is magical!

What could be more daunting for senior travelers than facing the prospect of a week at Orlando, Florida’s many theme parks with hyperactive grandchildren? Where could we find other things to do in Orlando? Where would be the cheapest Disney World tickets? Even more fear factors plagued two healthy, 70-something grandparents:

•  Could we keep up with our grandson at a respectable walking pace in the vast theme parks? (Yes, but wheelchairs for the less ambulatory are widely available).

•  Would our stomachs rebel on a high-speed roller coaster? (No need to find out; there are always young people looking for a ride partner!)

•  How about the proverbial waiting lines at each attraction? (Long, but there are short cuts.)

•  Would there be shady spots to get respite from a possibly scorching sun and aching feet? (Yes, but not enough.)

Our concerns were unfounded. Thanks to advance planning, we had an absolutely wonderful time and saw thousands of seniors (what Disney calls their Golden Years Market) calmly having a good time as well.

Too Much to See & Do

No one can visit Walt Disney World, Universal, Discovery Cove and Sea World in a single day. There is far too much ground to cover, too many interesting things to see, and way too many attractions you won’t want to miss.

Most seniors with grandchildren spend at least two days in the theme parks but more is better; we had four non-stop days (two at Disney, one at Universal, one at SeaWorld). If you’re not planning an itinerary with a travel agent, it pays to surf the Internet. The Orlando Convention & Visitors Bureau is a website where you can find guidance for most grands and indecisive grandchildren.

The multi-park, length of stay passes are cost-efficient, but beware that almost everything you touch costs money, except for the several Orlando restaurants where kids can eat free with an adult purchase.

For that reason, it’s not a bad idea to give each grandchild a firm spending budget so that they learn what to buy in the way of souvenirs, snacks and toys.

Getting Around Efficiently

Every theme park has its own brochure which lists and describes every attraction with show times, height restrictions for all rides (crucial information if you have young grandchildren), dining (very important), shopping and entertainment locations.

Pick up a set at your hotel on arrival and decide where you want to go ahead of time. Very young children will function better with only half a day in the theme parks, spending the afternoon at the hotel for R&R.

What could be more daunting for senior travelers than facing the prospect of a week at Orlando, Florida’s many theme parks with hyperactive grandchildren?  These fear factors plagued two healthy, 70-something grandparents:

•  Could we keep up with our grandson at a respectable walking pace in the vast theme parks? (Yes, but wheelchairs for the less ambulatory are widely available).

•  Would our stomachs rebel on a high-speed roller coaster? (No need to find out; there are always young people looking for a ride partner!)

•  How about the proverbial waiting lines at each attraction? (Long, but there are short cuts.)

•  Would there be shady spots to get respite from a possibly scorching sun and aching feet? (Yes, but not enough.)

Our concerns were unfounded. Thanks to advance planning, we had an absolutely wonderful time and saw thousands of seniors (what Disney calls their Golden Years Market) calmly having a good time as well.

The Most Grand Orlando Attractions

A major hit and an unbeatable photo op is the Character Breakfast at Disney World. At the Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace Restaurant, we shared a huge buffet breakfast with many other visiting families and strolling Disney characters. Afterwards, trying to decide which theme park rides are worth waiting for brings inevitable compromise. We found older kids were eager to head out to the “Splash Mountain” and “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” rides, while the youngsters and seniors voted to visit the “Haunted Mansion” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

A grand experience of another kind is the “Kilimanjaro Safari” in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In an open vehicle, we sat and explored the savanna plains and hill country, and forded rivers to view lions, rhinos, elephants and giraffes roaming freely in their natural habitats. Magically, only walking distance from Africa, we discovered Asia and went whitewater rafting on the senior-friendly “Kali River Rapids.”

The “Sharks Deep Dive” in Sea World was an attraction even my frightened wife was sorry to have missed. Grandson and Grandfather were outfitted in regulation wetsuits, gloves, shoes and snorkel gear (all provided), and together shared a submerged cage in a 120-foot-long pool teeming with over 50 different species of shark. At point blank range we noted the one common feature among them is sharp teeth! We emerged with fingers and toes intact and both pronounced the experience a highlight of our trip, albeit an expensive one. It costs $150 per person, plus tax, including the gear, the pre-dive briefing and an educational presentation about the world of sharks.

A budget alternative is to book a table at the Sharks Underwater Grill, where you see these denizens of the deep through a plate glass wall right alongside your table (also thrilling). A huge grouper even comes over to see what you are eating. Once you are at Sea World, the renowned “Shamu Show” is a must for all ages. In a stadium setting, superbly trained Orca whales put on an Oscar-winning performance for a spellbound audience; the first 10 rows should bring a raincoat.

In contrast to a jam-packed grandstand, SeaWorld’s sister park, Discovery Cove, offers quiet sandy coves for swimming and sunbathing, snorkeling among exotic fish and the chance to see hundreds of colorful tropical birds in a flight-free aviary. Yet another exciting prospect (and another costly add-on) is the opportunity to swim in calm shallow water with beautiful Bottlenose dolphins under a trainer’s guidance. It apparently tops the wish list of teenage girls, but was of little interest to our shark-swum grandson. (It pays to ask grandkids what they’d enjoy, too.)

On another day we toured Universal Studios and the exciting Islands of Adventure entertainment complex. High on the list is the “Incredible Hulk” roller coaster ride. If your grandchildren are tall enough to ride, they’re old enough to make new friends on any of these terrifying coasters, so grands can use the time to rest aching feet in the shade, perhaps under an umbrella at an adjacent kiosk or restaurant.

We found Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” a charming ride for children of all ages, from 2 to 92. In fact, Universal offered many attractions for the whole family to participate in together. At Universal Studios, we particularly enjoyed “The Revenge of the Mummy,” where guests hurtle through Egyptian tombs on a psychological thrill ride. The Mummy’s tomb is actually a soundstage littered with ancient civilization props — the indoor roller coaster courses through misty, dust-encrusted tunnels on a magnetic propulsion launch wave system. The sleek “mine cars” seat 16 in harnessed comfort, secure enough for your grandmother and any brave toddler above 48″. You go past an amazingly dead–but lifelike–6’8″-tall, shredded-linen robot, holograms, 3D effects, shrieks and flames to a real surprise ending. (We’ll never tell, no matter how many scarab beetles you cover us with!) “Men in Black – Alien Attack,” based on the blockbuster movie, is a very popular ride-through video game where you zap the aliens with your laser gun and rack up a score. Grandma beat everyone on this!

Most nights, we actually had enough energy left to experience some more of the “Disney” flavor, watching fireworks after dark at Disney World, strolling through the lively Downtown Disney shopping and dining complex, dining out in Universal’s CityWalk and watching myriad global visitors shopping the boutiques, all adding their own edgy energy and color.

The Most Grand Orlando Lodging

By the way, our hotel, the Nickelodeon Family Suites Hotel,  was cherished by our grandson because the family rooms with adjacent kids’ bedrooms have bunk beds, a telephone, TV with DVD Player and the latest video gaming systems! In a huge courtyard within view of our room, the big swimming pool was well used far into every evening, and we were comfortable allowing our grandson to visit the busy video arcade by himself. Family entertainment, very capably staged by the hotel’s managers and staff, was a nightly attraction for kids and seniors. Since our stay, the property has undergone an even more child-friendly transformation, and now has more waterslides, some kitchen suites, a kids’ spa, and live interactive shows involving slime.

By the end of the stay we had only one more question; did our grandson really enjoy himself?

That question was answered on the very last night as we stood on the moving walkway headed away from Citywalk‘s “NBA City” restaurant, when he looked around at the lights, the sights and the shops he’d just plundered and said in awe, “This is paradise!”

One Last Tip: Beating Long Lines

Each theme park’s employees/cast/guides/whatever are courteous, well informed and unfailingly enthusiastic.

Happily, they will explain the short cuts available to those who plan ahead (free) and to those who can afford them (expensive). The added value of these “Priority Entry” deals is undeniable; you can act and feel like visiting celebrities on Universal’s special VIP Tours of its two theme parks, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. At $150 plus tax per person for a 1-Day/2-Park pass, that may be a bit pricey for some but it is a great way to go. It includes admission to the parks, valet parking, a personal escort to insure red carpet treatment, and priority entry to the rides and attractions of your choice so that you never have to wait in line. Reservations can be made for the VIP Tour by calling ahead (407/363-8295).

At Disney, Fast Pass will cut down waiting time considerably at many attractions and is a welcome no-charge option. Our grandson showed us how it works. Insert your Park Entrance ticket at a Fast Pass station at participating attractions. You will be given a computer-generated Fast Pass “return time.” Now the family can go sightseeing, eat, shop or go to another attraction in the park instead of waiting in line. Then you zip back to the Fast Pass lane at your appointed return time and hop aboard.

Another way to cut down on the waiting time, at no expense, is to head deep into your chosen theme park early in the day for the most popular rides, since kids usually get enticed by all of the big attractions immediately inside the entrance.

Another tip is to head for the most popular attractions when special events like fireworks, parades and the scheduled shows draw major crowds.

 


This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.