Back in January of this year, we had a great family trip to Florida for a five day Disney cruise and a week at Disney World. Unfortunately, my husband wasn’t able to stay on in Florida after the cruise due to work commitments so I ended up spending the week at Disney World with the kids on my own. Now, I’ve done solo trips with each child individually before, but this was the first time on my own with both of them for this long. Overall, it went really well.
Let me say first thing: in no way can I compare spending a week on your own with my kids to being a real single parent. Parenting with two full time parents is exhausting and I can’t even imagine how challenging it must be to raise kids on your own. I’ve talked to single parents who say that family holidays are especially challenging because of the logistical challenges of being the sole adult responsible for pretty much every part of the trip. But after this trip, I can say with confidence that if you’re looking for a great destination for a single parent family, you can’t get much better than Disney World. Here’s what I found.
A) The “Disney Bubble”
While Disneyland in California is in the middle of a big city, Disney World is it’s own self sufficient resort. Staying on Disney property is a great option for the single parent traveller because transport to and from the airport as well as around Disney property is included. You just arrive at the airport, hop on the bus and get delivered to your hotel. While a rental car is definitely quicker and more convenient in many ways, I loved the fact that I never had to figure out a new vehicle or navigate new roads while managing the kids on my own. Once you’re there, everything is clean, friendly, safe and predictable. This might seem a little boring for some, but I have to admit that it may be just what you’re looking for when traveling on your own with kids.
B) It’s not (that) expensive
You can easily spend a fortune on a Disney vacation. At $500+ per night, the deluxe resorts can eat up thousands of your vacation budget and a single character meal can cost upwards of $80 for an adult and two kids. However, the accommodations at the lowest end of the price range are surprisingly affordable and offer many of the same perks as the pricier ones. We stayed in one of the standard rooms at the brand new Art of Animation Resort for $124 per night. The room was small and basic but very clean and the resort grounds were gorgeous. We could have saved a few dollars more by staying at one of the older budget level resorts. We also brought cereal, fruit, instant noodles and snacks along and managed to get away with buying only one meal per day. In total we spent less than $2000 for accommodations, food and theme park tickets for the entire week for the three of us. I felt it was great value for what we got.
C) It pays to plan ahead
Disney World had this great new Fastpass system that lets you book up to three reservations for rides or shows per day. Guests who stay on property are able to book their Fastpasses up to 60 days in advance, which I did back in November. I can now say that the system worked beautifully. We never waited more than ten minutes for any ride and I found the system very easy to use. It really paid to do some research to figure out how to make the best use of your Fastpasses to avoid waits, especially when dealing with two impatient kids in line. With the MyDisneyExperience app on your phone or tablet you can check the current lines at all the attractions, see where the closest washrooms are located and check the menus of nearby restaurants and food carts when the kids are getting hungry. It’s almost like having an extra set of hands.
D) If in doubt, bring a stroller
We rarely bring a stroller on vacation anymore and when we do it’s usually just the single. With two parents there’s always the option of carrying a child for a while if needed. But with two kids and only one of me, I felt like I needed some options for this trip. I knew the double stroller would be too much for me to manage on my own so I ended up bringing the single stroller plus a roller board that clipped onto the back of the stroller for the second child to ride on. It ended up working fairly well, even though it was a bit awkward to disassemble and fold for the bus rides to the park. Our hotel room was a very long walk from the bus stop and at the end of the day it was very nice to not have to carry anyone home.
D) Your kids will get sick of each other (and you too)
Here’s something I never considered when planning this trip: for an entire week, the three of us were never farther than about 15 feet from each other. We were pretty much constantly within sight of each other. Now I know some real single parents would probably laugh and say, “well, what did you expect?” but I had never actually considered that part of the trip when I was planning. At home there’s school and other activities, and even in the house there is a lot more space to spread around. While we were on this trip, if one of us went somewhere, everyone had to come along. Even if only one wanted ice cream, we all went to the ice cream shop and waited in line. My thrill loving daughter had to skip some rides that my son was too nervous to try. My son had to go on a few rides he didn’t enjoy because they were my daughter’s favourites. When one person had to pee, we all trooped off together and hoped one of the big stalls was available.
While this wasn’t all bad, and I was proud of the way my kids were able to compromise, it was more challenging than I had expected. I missed our usual “divide and conquer” strategy and I personally struggled with my own impatience as we were always forced to go at the slowest child’s pace. I also missed the one on one time that we usually get with each of our children when we travel. There are, however, a few options at Disney World that could be useful. There are kid’s clubs at several of the hotels that you can book for a few hours at a time. They aren’t cheap at about $15 per hour per child, but if was on a longer trip with the kids I’d probably find it worthwhile to enjoy a bit of time on my own or with one child at a time.
So if you’re a single parent looking for a great, low stress family destination, Disney World in Florida is a great option. And let’s face it, no one deserves a great vacation more than you.