The Cool Mom Picks guide to a cooler Orlando vacation. Part 2: The 5 and under Set

This is the second post in a three-part series on Orlando vacation tips from Cool Mom Picks.


Traveling with kids under five comes with its own set of challenges. The first challenge being: Should I even do this at all? We unequivocally say, yes! As frequent travelers ourselves, we know that the earlier you travel with kids, the sooner they become good travelers–which means new experiences, broader horizons, and meals after which you don’t have to do the dishes. (Heh.)

So how do you get the most out of an Orlando vacation with the littlest kids? We’ve got some ideas for you.


visiting orlandoBest advice ev-ah: It’s not all about the rides.
Adults tend to think of the Orlando theme parks in terms of the fantastic rides, but to smaller kids, everything is new and exciting. Not just the things you wait in line for. From the sculpted trees at Disney, to a fountain in a town square, to a restaurant chair shaped like something funny.

So when you’re planning your trip, make sure you allot for spontaneous time, in which kids can just discover and enjoy whatever it is that grabs their attention.

Stick to attractions that are age-appropriate
Pretty much everything in the Magic Kingdom‘s Fantasyland is perfect for little kids, and besides, you can’t miss the requisite First Dumbo Ride. Universal Orlando Resort has a fantastic Seuss Lagoon area and even the littlest kids can ride the rides if you’re with them. SeaWorld has a whole children’s play area called Shamu’s Happy Harbor, and of course the animal shows always appeal to kids.

Speaking of which…don’t count on character photo ops
Don’t be surprised if a guy in a giant Pooh suit is terrifying to your kid who loves the “on TV” version of the very same Pooh. We ourselves have had to pass up some awesome photo ops (darn it) because we knew it freaked our toddlers out completely. There’s always next trip, right?

Rent a stroller, don’t bring one
If you’ve got 3-4 year olds who aren’t quite out of a stroller yet but are pretty good on their own, leave the stroller at home and just rent one at the park. It’s a huge load off, and you don’t have to worry about someone swiping it.


green meadows petting farmKids like stuff besides theme parks, too.
Having been to Orlando quite a bit, there are a few other attractions we can recommend for younger kids. We really like the Orlando Science Center which has that “touch everything” kind of experience during the day, with lots of hands-on creative play. Plus, hello Science!

If you like animals, the Brevard Zoo is of course great for toddlers and preschoolers, who love riding the train and getting to feed giraffes and lorikeets. Seriously cool. There’s also the Green Meadows Petting Farm (we haven’t been there ourselves but we hear it’s nice) and don’t forget Gatorland–they do have a splash park and a petting zoo area.

Snacks are your best friend
A bagful of crackers, or a squeeze tube of applesauce or peanut butter is a lifesaver when the crankies set in and you’re still 15 minutes from getting on that ride.

Orlando inner tubeSchedule in down time

Little kids can’t go go go all day without melting down. Let alone their parents. If you’re planning a longer trip to Orlando, spend some time at the hotel pool or take an hour drive to Cocoa Beach or the Canaveral National Seashore.

Get a sitter!
We know that wrangling little kids can take a lot out of you. Don’t be afraid to get a reputable sitter for the night and sneak a little grownup time in. You can arrange it through the hotel, or check services like Sitter City and

And if you need a date-night destination? Liz swears by Emeril’s Restaurant on Universal Citywalk. Definitely worth the cost of the sitter. And the cost of the Banana Cream Pie. Yum.

Agree with our tips? Disagree? Have any of your own suggestions for little Orlando travelers for our readers? We’d love to hear them!

Cool Mom Picks is delighted to be partnering with our sponsor, the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau for this 3-part series. Find more about Orlando or plan your Orlando vacation at

And see our first post: Orlando Money Saving Tips here.

[tigger photo: liz at goddess in progress]

Cool Mom Staff

We spend our time looking for cool stuff so you don't have to. Hope this one fits the bill.


  • Reply August 23, 2010


    I couldn’t leave my children with a sitter service. The purpose of a “family” vacation is to be with the family! Plus there is no way I would leave my children with people I don’t even know with all that goes on in today’s world.

  • Reply August 23, 2010


    Oh Valerie, after tromping through the parks for a couple of days parents need a break too. And chances are after eating, sleeping and potty breaks within inches of each other your kids need a break from you. Besides, if you are staying at a Disney resort you can bet your bum you can trust their babysitters.

  • Reply August 23, 2010


    My toddler goes to bed at 7, and we try to stick to that schedule, even while on vacation (grumpy child = no fun for anyone!). I would totally NOT feel guilty for getting a sitter to stay with him while my husband and I went out!

  • Reply August 23, 2010


    I can’t say that I have ever used a sitter service, but I have taken recommendations for sitters that I have never met, don’t know their parents personally, and don’t have any real personal connection with. Not sure that I see the differences here. Reputable services wouldn’t survive if they employed/recommended improper folks. Plus, we all know that, statistically, most of those bad things that happen are not strangers, but family or friends.
    Certainly, a family vacation is for family, but for many it is their only vacation. I don’t think one or two nights away at all detracts from that.
    Thanks for the tips CMP!

  • Reply August 23, 2010


    I must be cheap because we are still taking our sit n stand stroller in a couple of weeks to Disney with our just turned 6 year old and 3 year old…I just can’t justify paying $35/day for a stroller when I could use that money on something else….

  • Reply August 23, 2010


    We just got back from Club Med Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.* Regardless if you choose a Club Med or another all inclusive resort or cruise, I am completely sold on the idea of having a kids’ program where you can drop your child for an hour or all day- depending upon your own comfort level and that of your offspring. Our kids loved our vacation and it was wonderful that all of us got to do things independently and together.

    For example, my 10 year old went snorkeling on his own and felt so proud of his independence. Our 14 year old spent a little bit doing “Crazy Signs” with us and then off to his own cohort until lights out. I got to grab a massage while my husband went kayaking with the kids.

    There was something for everyone and we could opt to do it as a foursome, threesome, twosome or alone. I like options available.

    Also, when I was little my parents utilized hotel sitters and would plan to have the sitter arrive after my parents had put me to bed. This meant they grabbed a late dinner and since we were on vacation, we all slept in a little longer then next day.

    *Disclosure: I write a family travel column for Club Med. However my opinions about the resort are my own, based upon my own experience and that of my family.

  • Reply August 23, 2010


    We’ve used the Kids Nite Out (KNO) babysitting service at Disney on a few occasions now and have been nothing but delighted with them. It’s a family vacation, yes, but a dinner out with my husband is still a rare and beautiful thing, and Disney boasts some really terrific restaurants. Our girls love that a KNO sitter arrives with a suitcase of age-appropriate activities, and we love that the sitters are fully vetted with background checks. I adore my kids, but 24/7 for 10 days straight…it was lovely to enjoy a quiet dinner out with the guy who made those bundles of joy possible. :)

  • Reply August 23, 2010


    i have to say a trip to disney would be the last place on earth i would ever want to go (yes, i am one of those people who can’t stand disney and the whole load of crap that it stands for) but that being said there is nothing wrong with a little “me time” on a holiday. for me, the “us time” would have to wait until we are home with our own sitter as i don’t feel comfortable leaving my daughter with a stranger at a hotel. who knows, maybe i’ll feel different when she’s old enough to let us know if something wasn’t right, but by then it shouldn’t be that hard to take her to nice restaurant anyway. and just because it’s “disney” doesn’t make it anymore safe then if it was “beaches” or the like. that i think is a very dangerous way of thinking. but hey, i hate disney and i am a skeptical new yorker at heart. carry on.

  • Reply August 23, 2010


    Ah. I have met quite a few of the ‘we don’t leave our kids with people we don’t know’ parents. And it gave me pause, for a moment or two.

    But Further questioning almost always revealed that they have… Family! living in the same town, some, even on the same street. And by family, I mean grandparents who love to babysit.

    Since our nearest relatives (of any description, willing or no) are a 600 mile drive away at best, or a trip across the Atlantic, we go for strangers, that our friends and neighbors have recommended…

  • Reply August 30, 2010


    I highly recommend the Orlando Science Center. We were there with a 4 1/2 and 1 1/2 year old and they could have stayed there all day! It’s a great place for a break when the parks are too hot or it’s rainy.

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